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Bending the Eagle's Wing - How Advanced Air Defenses put the Enemy's Vital Centers Beyond the Reach of American Airpower

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Technical Report

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Air War College School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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This study examines the relationship between advanced integrated air defense systems and coercive airpower. Improvements in air defenses and the proliferation of air defense systems among states adversarial to the US threatens to degrade the effectiveness of airpower as a coercive instrument. SAM designers appear to have learned more effectively from airpower victories in the Bekaa Valley, Libya, and Desert Storm than the US and have made improvements to their systems that provide credible defense against stealthy aircraft. An adversary who possesses these systems may be able to dissuade the US from using airpower to coerce them for fear of suffering prohibitive losses. These systems make aerial coercion too risky and expensive to be considered an attractive option for national leaders. To reverse this trend, the US Air Force must restructure its force, acquiring large numbers of cheap, unmanned vehicles to swarm an enemy IADS instead of relying on a small force of gold-plated manned strike aircraft that may not be able to operate in the envelope of these lethal air defense systems.

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