The U.S. Military’s ‘Top Guns’ in the Air Have a Big Weakness

In the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pentagon has more or less taken air superiority for granted; but that complacency is coming back to haunt the Department of Defense.

Neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Robert Gates took air power seriously, and as such, the U.S. Air Force is left with a tiny fleet of 186 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors instead of the minimum 381 it needs. If that wasn’t bad enough, those F-22s have not received the upgrades that would keep them at the top of their game. The Raptor doesn’t even have a helmet-mounted cueing system or the latest AIM-9X version of the Sidewinder missile integrated onboard yet. Perhaps more troubling is that while the Air Force is working on integrating the AIM-120D AMRAAM onboard the jet, even this newest version of the venerable active radar-guided air-to-air missile is already being challenged by enemy digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers and will soon be outranged by new Russian and Chinese weapons.

In recent weeks, the Air Force has come out publicly about the need to develop a new long-range air-to-air missile. Service officials have been privately complaining about the problem for the last several years. The reason for that is China’s new PL-15 long-range air-to-air missile—which if the artist’s impressions are accurate—bears more than a passing resemblance to the European ramjet-powered MBDA Meteor missile. A ramjet-powered missile would have longer-range than a purely rocket-powered weapon and it would have exponentially better terminal phase performance. Indeed, the Chinese reportedly test fired the first PL-15 test article last month on Sept. 15. Meanwhile, Russia, too, has its own ultra long-range air-to-air missile named the K-37M—and possibly another weapon called the izdeliye 810—in development.

Air Combat Command commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle is well aware of the problem—he told reporters as such at the Air Force Association convention in National Habour, Md., last month. A new weapon that can outrange the PL-15 and operate in a DRFM jamming environment is an “exceedingly high priority” for the Air Force, he told reporters. “The PL-15 and the range of that missile, we’ve got to be able to out-stick that missile,” Carlisle said—as quoted by Flightglobal.

Source and read full article: The National Interest

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