Articles

The US's military edge over Russia and China has come down to one plane

Since World War II, the US has dominated the skies in any region in which it wishes to project power — but recent competition from countries like Russia and China threaten to erode that edge, and only a small group of elite pilots maintain the US's edge in air superiority.


Russia has deployed powerful missile-defense batteries to Syria and its European enclave of Kaliningrad. The US Air Force can't operate in those domains without severe risk. US President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged that these missile deployments greatly complicate and limit the US's options to project power in Syria.

Also read: Here's how support drones will make the F-22 deadlier than ever

China has undertaken the breathtaking feat of building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea, outfitting them with runways and radar sites that could allow Beijing to establish an air defense and identification zone, the likes of which the US would struggle to pierce.

Russian S-400 Triumph medium-range and long-range surface-to-air missile systems at the Victory Day parade in Moscow. | Wikimedia Commons photo by Aleksey Toritsyn

Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, speaking during the State of the Air Force address at the Pentagon, said of the Air Force's dwindling dominance: "I believe it's a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It's actually something you have to fight for and maintain."

The US has the world's largest Air Force, but it's important to remember that it's a force stretched thin across the entire globe. In the Pacific or the Baltics, smaller, more concentrated powers have reached parity or near parity with the US's gigantic fleet.

Only one US airframe remains head-and-shoulders above any and all competition — the F-22 Raptor.

The F-22 is the first fifth-generation jet fighter ever built, and it is like nothing else on earth. The plane can execute mind-bending aerial maneuvers, sense incoming threats at incredible distances, and fly completely undetected by legacy aircraft.

F-35s and F-22s fly in formation. | US Air Force photo

The coming F-35 Lightning II, a stealthy technological marvel in its own right, has an impressive radar cross section approximately the size of a basketball. The F-22 however, blows it out of the water with a cross section about the size of a marble.

For this reason, the F-22 Raptor remains the US's only hope for breaching the most heavily protected air spaces on the planet. Even so, an expert on Russian air defenses told Business Insider that F-22 pilots would have to be "operationally, tactically brilliant" to strike against Russian-defended targets and live to tell the tale.

However, a recent article by The National Interest's Dave Majumdar seems to confirm that the US's Raptor pilots are indeed brilliant.

"Typically, we'll train against the biggest and baddest threats because we want to train against the newest threat on the block," one F-22 pilot told Majumdar.

"We're fighting against the most advanced operational threats we can," said another.

F-22A Raptors with the 94th Fighter Squadron drop joint direct attack munitions. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II

Even though the stealthy F-22s hold an overwhelming advantage at long range, because they can target enemies long before those enemies can see them, the Raptor pilots train for up-close-and-personal conflicts as well. While close range confrontations hugely disadvantage the F-22 pilots, they continue to train uphill and achieve impressive results.

As the most capable plane in the world, the F-22 pilots exist as a kind of "insurance policy" against the most advanced threats in the world, according to Majumdar.

"Even when flying against the most challenging simulated threats—advanced Russian fighters such as the Su-35 and S-300V4 and S-400—it is exceedingly rare for an F-22 to be 'shot down'. 'Losses in the F-22 are a rarity regardless of the threat we're training against,'" an F-22 pilot told Majumdar.

Military Life

'Operation Cure Boredom' is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it's a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin's 1990-1994 enlistment in the world's best Air Force.

This chapter, called "Guest on the Range," is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

The top 6 reasons people decide to join the infantry

Deciding to join the military is a huge step for anyone looking to make a life-altering change. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a member of the armed forces is the vast array of professional opportunities the service offers.

You can sign up, ship out, and, within a few short months, be guarding a military installation as your newfound brothers- and sisters-in-arms sleep.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

These high-tech glasses could change how sailors train

Training has evolved over the years but the core elements have always remained the same. There's an instructor and a bunch of students. They go over material, both in theory and in practice, mastering the skills required by the job. But no matter how good the teacher, students will always need a refresher from time to time. So, that means it's time to go back to school — or does it?

Now, mixed-reality technology — including smart glasses — could change the way sailors learn the skills they need to serve.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

6 US conflicts that would (probably) make terrible video games

When developers set out to make video games, their focus should always primarily be on crafting a fun and engaging experience. Oftentimes, you'll see video games set far in the future so that developers can place an arsenal of advanced, sci-fi weaponry in the hands of the player — because it's fun. Other times, they'll take cues from real wars and toss the player directly into the heat of a historical battle — because that's fun, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Tactical

How to start a fire with only one hand

Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.

It gets cold out there at night, so it's important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you've been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

The Marines' newly-armed Osprey tests guns, rockets, and missiles

The Marine Corps is now arming its Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a range of weapons to enable its assault support and escort missions in increasingly high-threat combat environments.

Rockets, guns, and missiles are among the weapons now under consideration, as the Corps examines requirements for an "all-quadrant" weapons application versus other possible configurations such as purely "forward firing" weapons.

Keep reading... Show less

It's been 10 years since the Air Force retired the Nighthawk

It's been 10 years since the United States Air Force retired the F-117 Nighthawk (an aircraft so secret, Nevada folklore labeled it a UFO).

"The Nighthawk pilots were known by the call sign 'Bandit,' each earning their number with their first solo flight. Some of the maintainers were also given a call sign," said Wayne Paddock, a former F-117 maintainer currently stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Keep reading... Show less