The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments announces the release of a new report by Senior Fellow Mark Gunzinger: Sustaining America’s Strategic Advantage in Long-Range Strike.
In this report, Gunzinger describes the formidable risks associated with the rapidly dissipating long-term US military advantage in long-range strike systems. He then presents a new conceptual framework for thinking about future long-range strike capabilities and offers suggestions on how the Defense Department can field a long-range strike “family of systems” to restore America’s advantage in this key military capability.
“Despite their crucial role in every major conventional conflict over the past seventy years, following the Cold War the Defense Department accorded low priority to developing new long-range strike capabilities,” according to CSBA President Andrew Krepinevich. “We need to take immediate steps to sustain these capabilities or risk losing our advantage at the very time when existing and prospective rivals are fielding forces that threaten our short-range systems’ access to forward bases and the littorals.”
Since the Cold War, the United States has become accustomed to conducting theater airstrikes from close-in bases and carriers. But future operating environments may be far less permissive. Potential adversaries seek to deny the United States unrestricted use of nearby airbases and US Navy carriers operating off their coasts. Moreover, with the proliferation of advanced air defenses, the vast majority of the US military’s bombers, which are not stealthy, will be far less effective. Together, these changes in the operational environment call into question DoD’s preference for short-range stealthy strike and long-endurance non-stealthy UAVs at the expense of next-generation stealthy, long-range ISR and strike capabilities.
DoD also faces a far more austere future. Falling defense budgets will require affordable solutions to meet the challenge of maintaining America’s strategic advantage in long-range strike. This can best be accomplished through a joint family of systems, including both standoff and penetrating aircraft that can operate independent of close-in bases and can hold at risk both fixed and mobile targets around the globe.
Gunzinger offers a set of recommendations to meet DoD’s long-range strike capability shortfalls. These recommendations include:
- Initiating a new Air Force program to procure up to one hundred optionally-manned penetrating bombers capable of operating against fixed and mobile targets in degraded C4ISR environments;
- Developing an air-refuelable naval UCAS with at least a 1,500 nautical mile combat radius that is survivable in the face of advanced air defense networks;
- Investing in a joint cruise missile that could be launched from long-range and short-range strike platforms and be capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear warheads;
- Developing a small inventory of conventional prompt global strike weapons for limited strikes against very-high-value targets requiring response times measured in hours; and
- Fielding an AEA platform to support long-range strike operations