This Is How America's F-22 Raptors Would Take On China's Air Force

David Axe

Key point: It's an innovation born of necessity.

The U.S. Air Force is rewriting its war plan for the Pacific, the flying branch's new commander for the region told reporters at the Pentagon in late November.

Gen. Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces, said he wants smaller groups of U.S. warplanes to rapidly move between bases in order to frustrate an adversary, and to do so while the enemy -- that is, China -- is jamming American communications.

"How do we move small packages around pretty quickly to complicate things for our adversary?" Brown, who has been in his current position since the summer of 2018, rhetorically asked, according to Defense One. "[T]hen also how to operate in a contested environment, because I can’t guarantee that my [communications] will be up the entire time."

The ideas Brown mentioned aren't actually new. They slowly have been developing for years in Air Force, Army and Marine Corps intellectual circles. Brown said he's working to "operationalize" a classified Pacific Air Forces strategy that his predecessor Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, now the commander of U.S. Northern Command, originally championed.

The twin ideas of distributed forces and independent command could point the way toward a more flexible and resilient form of U.S. air power that's less reliant on large bases and top-down micromanagement and could help to offset China's own expanding military power.

Ironically, a shortage of F-22 stealth fighters helped to drive the new approach to aerial warfare.

In 2013, the U.S. Air Force’s Alaska-based 3rd Wing devised a new way to deploy its 40 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters in order to make the most efficient use of the limited overall number of Raptor airframes -- just 120 or so of the roughly 180 F-22s in service are "combat-coded" and equipped with the latest software and weapons.

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