What the current war games underscored is that, as currently configured, equipped, and deployed, the US Air Force lacks the required combination of lethality and sustainability necessary to wage full-scale conventional conflict against a peer-level foe. The mix of aircraft currently in the US Air Force inventory was unable to ‘compete’ in the war game – even the current model of F-35 was excluded as not being up to the task of fighting and surviving against the Chinese military. Instead, the wargamers completely altered the composition and operational methodology of the US Air Force, providing it with combat aircraft that are either still on the drawing board, or have not even been considered for procurement yet. They also completely altered the ‘layout’ of forces, manufacturing new airfields that do not exist, and connecting them with command-and-control capabilities just as fictional.
There was a time when the notion of US air superiority, if not supremacy, was virtually guaranteed on any battlefield that could be imagined. This was especially true in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the corresponding disintegration of Russian combat power. The US was able to hold onto this edge over the course of the 1990s simply by exploiting the advantages accrued from years of investment made in modern aircraft and combat systems during the Cold War, and the fact no other nation was able and/or willing to invest in their respective military to challenge the US in that arena.
The events of 9/11 proved to be seminal in the decline of American military power. The United States poured its entire national security focus into defeating the forces of ‘global terrorism,’ and engaged itself in the futile act of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. In doing so, the needs of one combat command – US Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for US military interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia – took priority over all others.
Gone were the days when the US spent billions of dollars preparing to fight a major war in the Pacific, another major war in Europe, and a ‘holding action’ in the Middle East. In the post-9/11 world, the sole focus of the US military became low-intensity conflict and counterinsurgency. Every aspect of military existence – recruiting, training, organization, equipment, employment, and sustainability – was defined by the needs of CENTCOM in fighting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. If something did not further the CENTCOM mission, it was either discarded or modified so it would.