Air Force Airpower
The Air Force is capable of deploying, as part of its expeditionary forces, seven to eight fighter wing-equivalents (FWEs) to a distant theater in a matter of days as an initial response in a major theater war (MTW). Additional wings would follow within the first month. These forces would operate from local bases where infrastructure exists and political agreements allow. Navy and Marine Corps air wings similarly can be employed in distant contingencies on very short notice; these forces provide a unique ability to carry out combat operations independent of access to regional land bases.
In a major theater war, bombers would deliver large quantities of unguided general-purpose bombs and cluster munitions against area targets, such as ground units, airfields, and rail yards. Bomber forces also would play a key role in delivering precision-guided munitions (including cruise missiles) against point targets, such as command and control facilities and air defense sites.
The ability of these forces to have an immediate impact on a conflict by slowing the advance of enemy forces, suppressing enemy air defenses, and inflicting massive damage on an enemy's strategic infrastructure will expand dramatically over the next 10 years as new munitions are deployed. The more advanced weapons now entering the inventory or in development will enable bombers to bring a wider range of targets under attack, while taking better advantage of the bombers' large payloads. The rapid-response, long-range capability provided by bombers could make them the first major U.S. weapon system on the scene in a fast-developing crisis. For remote inland targets, bombers could be the only weapons platform capable of providing a substantial response.
Specialized aviation forces contribute to all phases of military operations. Two of their most important missions are suppression of enemy air defenses and aerial reconnaissance and surveillance. Air defense suppression forces locate and neutralize enemy air defenses. Airborne reconnaissance and surveillance forces are a primary source of information on enemy air and surface forces and installations. These forces bridge the gap in coverage between ground- and space-based surveillance systems and the targeting systems on combat aircraft. Airborne reconnaissance systems fall into two categories: standoff systems, which operate outside the range of enemy air defenses; and penetrating systems, which operate within enemy air defense range.
The Air Force recast the operational employment of the bulk of its tactical aviation forces through the creation of aerospace expeditionary forces (AEFs). Under this concept, the fighter/attack force, as well as some bomber, tanker, and transport aircraft, were grouped into ten AEFs for the purpose of specifying day-to-day readiness levels and availability for overseas contingency deployments. Readiness to meet MTW demands will remain unchanged. The main benefit of the AEF process will be the long-term predictability of future deployment prospects, much as the Navy has accomplished with its cyclical overseas deployments. This predictability should greatly aid Service personnel in planning personal and family commitments. The Air Force's basic unit organization-squadrons and wings - did not change. Air Force reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft will remain outside the aerospace expeditionary force concept for the time being, based on their relatively small numbers and occasionally very heavy deployment demands.
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