Rethinking the Combat Air Survivability Mix
April 11, 2019
On 20 March 2019, RUSI brought together a conference that re-examined what the optimal survivability mix might look like in the late 2020s and 2030s, in light of current trends of both combat air systems design and emerging disruptive threat technologies.
It is increasingly common in airpower circles to debate the latest trends in novel weapons systems; the possibilities offered by lethal, highly autonomous unmanned combat aerial vehicles; and the ways that future systems will increase lethality compared with the current generation.
A less-featured part of this debate, which requires urgent attention, is the survivability aspect of combat air. Among Western air forces, attrition in combat is hardly planned for in force design, and there is a political unwillingness to contemplate risking any significant losses in scarce and extremely expensive aircraft and crew.
However, when contemplating how to deter an aggressive Russia and a rising and increasingly assertive China, NATO’s airpower is the strongest source of military advantage.
An approach which is unwilling to take risks or incur losses will not be viable, so airpower must be usable without prohibitive loss rates against forces fielded by these powers.
Without the ability to purchase enough current-generation fighters to offset emerging survivability deficiencies through attrition tolerance, the next generation of developments must significantly improve survivability, not only for those next-generation platforms but also to allow legacy fleets to remain relevant.
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