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Ret. Lt. Gen. David Deptula Says Air Force Has "Peers, Not Near Peers"

\***The Future of Air Force War*****

Ret. Lt. Gen. Deptula is the current Dean of theMitchell Institute for Aerospace Studiesand former Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. During his tenure, he supervised development of a wide range of strategies, policies and assets, to include fixed-wing surveillance planes, advanced sensors, and drone technologies. Deptula served as the principal air attack planner for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, was the Joint Task Force commander in Iraq from 1998-1999 where he commanded no-fly zone operations, led the initial air campaign that kicked off Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. Deptula Air Force Bio

Deptula: "We have peers - not near peers"

Warrior: What are some of your thoughts regarding those who raise questions about the size of the Air Force?

Deptula: The Air Force today is simply too small and too old to successfully conduct all the missions it has been assigned. Additionally, it is not at the readiness level it needs to be to meet the needs of the new National Defense Strategy. We have a geriatric air force, which is the smallest, oldest, and least ready Air Force the US has had in the history of its existence. We are no longer facing near-peers, but peers given the advancements in the Chinese and Russian military. It has been 27 years since Desert Storm, and for the last 17 years we have been engaged in counterinsurgency operations. As a result, readiness for high-end challenges has atrophied.

Warrior: What, in your view, do the Air Force modernization priorities need to be?

Deptula: In terms of immediate priorities, the Air Force has its priorities correct by working on the procurement of the KC 46, F-35 and B-21. Also, it is headed in the correct direction by understanding that the future is going to present an insatiable demand for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. Information needs to be collected by every platform with an integrated way of sharing that information. We are moving toward a future where we view every system as a sensor as well as a shooter.

Warrior: How will the Air Force need to build future drones?

Deptula: The MQ-9 Reapers will serve us well for a long time into the future in the kinds of permissive threat environments that allow them to operate in an unconstrained fashion. Moving forward however, we need more capable drones that can function in high-threat scenarios and operate with increased survivability. Stealth needs to be a part of this.

Warrior: Some now say stealth technology is simply not anywhere near as effective against modern air defenses. Some have even begun to raise the question as to whether stealth could become obsolete?

Deptula: Bi-static radar can help detect low observable aircraft. However, to intercept a stealth aircraft requires transfer of detection from a large acquisition radar to a much smaller interceptor radar either on an aircraft or a missile that can track—or maintain continuous “lock-on” of the low observable aircraft. When you transfer track from an acquisition radar to a weapons interceptor necessary to engage at longer ranges than the stealth aircraft can detect and fire at the interceptor, that dramatically reduces the probability of the stealth aircraft being engaged. Detection is not what it is all about, you have an entire kill chain where every element must be successful to intercept and destroy a low-observable aircraft.

Warrior: Why does stealth still provide a tremendous advantage, and can you elaborate on how it does so?

Deptula: Stealth dramatically increases the probability of survivability due to it reducing the probability of success of each of the multiple elements of the kill chain that must be accomplished for a successful intercept. Once a low observable aircraft is detected, that signal needs to move beyond a ground-based radar to either a surface-to-air missile or an interceptor aircraft. That means you are transferring the track or detection signal to a radar that is significantly smaller than the first radar used to detect. Even if the smaller radar can detect the stealth aircraft, it now has to track it, and in the case of an interceptor aircraft when it engages the stealth aircraft it will have to shoot a missile that has an even smaller radar with a much smaller detection capability. Furthermore, fusing mechanisms can also be affected by low observability technology. So, as you can see stealth complicates every element of the kill chain and significantly increases the probability of the stealth aircraft’s survivability. In a high threat environment stealth is a prerequisite for success.

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Warrior: How are 6th-Generation conceptual efforts progressing?

Deptula: The Air Force has done a very good job with its first enterprise capability collaboration team (ECCT) for air superiority. It was chartered by the Air Force Chief of Staff with the task of exploring the air superiority mission with an eye toward the year 2030 and beyond. It addresses the fact that we are moving into a future where aircraft need to be looked at as not just elements of their own, but as a system of information nodes—sensor-shooter-effectors. The underlying concept of operations being that the next generation air superiority aircraft will be part of a much larger ISR, strike, maneuver, and sustainment concept—known as the combat cloud—that involves the seamless sharing of information creating an advantage in situational awareness beyond that of the adversary. This can allow for a new paradigm of warfare designed to create an offensive and defensive complex that an adversary will find virtually impossible to defeat.

Warrior: Do you mean advanced, next-generation sensors and weapons systems?

Deptula: It is about creating an entire system of systems that is self-forming and self-healing with a greater degree of awareness than an adversary can achieve, and a much greater degree of survivability. The approach is one that views military operations in terms of wholistic elements of an information-shooter-effector complex. That will require a lot more going into the design of the next generation of combat aircraft than how fast and far it can fly - or what the numbers of weapons it can carry.

Warrior: The entire Pentagon is intensely focused upon multi-domain fires consisting, in part, of interconnected joint assets operating in tandem in war?

Deptula: Multi-domain operations is much more that “fires operating in tandem.” It is an operating paradigm better described as a ‘combat cloud.’ There are other terms, ‘fusion warfare,’ ‘mosiac warfare,’and others. There are a variety of different terms, but it is about how every airplane, ship, land vehicle and spacecraft are not viewed as individual systems in and of themselves, but rather in the context of how they collect information and assemble it in a manner that gives U.S. forces an advantage in situational awareness. They are sensor shooter nodes sharing information in a ubiquitous and seamless fashion to better out-smart any enemy. For an adversary, this is a difficult concept to attack. If an enemy takes out some of the elements, the information is automatically re-routed to the rest of the force automatically with the assistance of artificial intelligence.”

Warrior: The Army and Air Force are pursuing a joint, multi-domain strategy intended to result in a new doctrine. The Army, Air Force and Navy - as well - have been conducting joint fires exercises in the Pacific. How do you see this taking the next steps?

Deptula: The concept is based on the ability to penetrate and operate in contested airspace, gather information, and share it in a seamless and ubiquitous manner across the multiple domains of air, sea, land, and space. Creating a self-forming, self-healing multi-domain combat cloud employing all aspects of service component capabilities in an interdependent fashion that has the potential to create a conventional deterrent and a war-winning enterprise. The concept is also centered around weapons engagement authority that exists across an entire operation. It may be that an F-35 detects an attack before an Aegis cruiser knows that an enemy missile is launched. Then, an F-35 engages and launches the interceptor that comes off that Aegis cruiser. We can’t do this routinely today, but it is where we need to be in terms of our collective thinking. Cyber is going to have the same impact upon our ability to create military strategies. It already is a fundamental element of war, yet in terms of policy we still need to integrate cyber across all our operations. We will see a lot more movement in this regard in the future.


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