The end of the Cold War signaled the end of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force working closely together in support of the long-range penetrating strike mission; for the better part of the nearly 30 years that have followed, they each have gone their own way, with disastrous results.
The Air Force has shifted the balance of its force from long-range strategic bombing aircraft to short-range tactical fighters. The Navy, after the failure and cancellation of its A-12 Avenger II aircraft program, the planned replacement for the A-6 Intruder, effectively pulled out of the long-range strike mission all together. These decisions could be understood against the context of the 1990s and U.S. campaigns in Kuwait and Kosovo, which were waged by land- and sea-based aircraft flying short distances from their airfields and carriers, but they did not take into account the old dictum that, “The enemy gets a vote,” and vote they did.
Both Russia and China noted with alarm U.S. actions in the Middle East and in the former Yugoslavia and made significant investments in what have come to be known as anti-access/area denial, or A2AD, weapons. These systems, made up of combinations of long- range sensors, advanced surface-to-air missiles, and long-rang aircraft, as well as cruise and ballistic missiles, were designed to push American power projection forces outside their combat effective ranges, with the intent of prohibiting the United States from executing regime change within either China or Russia. Both nations, which are now recognized as rising great powers, chose to zig while the United States zagged, with great effect.
This study, building upon previous studies of the carrier air wing and long-range bombers, seeks to identify a path forward for the United States military with regard to long-range penetrating strike. It does so by suggesting areas for increased investment in strike capabilities within the U.S. arsenal and then seeking opportunities to more fully integrate those capabilities into one coherent joint concept of operations that fully leverages the potential of land-based and carrier-based strike.
Such an approach would allow the nation to revitalize existing capital investments such as its aircraft carriers and long-range heavy bomber and sustain its position as the superpower even in an environment characterized by rapidly rising powers who seek to offset American dominance.
Click here for the full report (30 PDF pages) on the CNAS website.