The U.S. Air Force may be the biggest kid on the block, but China is growing up pretty fast.
A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said the Air Force does not have enough stealth fighters and bombers to wage a successful air campaign against China.
But when asked why the service is treating China like a bogeyman, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said there are other reasons why the Air Force needs to modernize its fighter and bomber fleet.
“My view is the Air Force needs these modern systems to meet a range of potential challenges,” Donley said after giving a speech Wednesday at the Capitol Hill Club. “Our joint military team and our coalition partners have long depended on the United States Air Force to bring to the table air superiority.”
Donley insisted that the Air Force’s need to modernize its fighters is “independent” of developments or political-military situations in any particular country.
But the last air-to-air combat was in 1999. During operations in Libya, the Air Force opted not to use the F-22, which is designed to defeat air forces that don’t yet exist, because it didn’t have a mission.
When asked what other adversary would require the Air Force to have air superiority fighters and long-range bombers, Donley would only say that the service has already talked about “other international challenges, potential adversaries as well as sophisticated air defenses” that might pose a challenge to the U.S.
“The ability to penetrate that airspace and to accomplish missions that might be assigned by national leadership is an important core capability for our Air Force,” Donley said.
Outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has mentioned China as one reason why the Air Force needs a new long-range bomber.
“Do you think that the Chinese have established one of the world’s best air defense environments in their eastern provinces just to invest their national treasure — or, for that matter, that the Iranians have established integrated air defenses around certain locations in their country?” Schwartz told reporters in February.
“I would say they are not doing this for the fun of it; they’re doing it because they have a sense of vulnerability. And I ask you: What is it that conveys that sense of vulnerability to others? One of those things is long-range strike and that is an asset that the United States of America should not concede, and that’s why [the]long-range strike bomber is relevant and will continue to be relevant.