Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
This paper examines the Anti-access threat the United States may face in 2035 and the challenges this threat poses to U.S. military operations. As potential enemies in the Pacific and Middle East expand more and more resources developing increasingly accurate and longer range ballistic and cruise missiles the viability of sustaining U.S. operations at bases within short striking distance of these potential enemies becomes more difficult, if not impossible. The situation is most acute in the Pacific where vast areas of open-ocean provide few basing options and both China and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea are leaders in ballistic missile development. Defending close forward bases either passively or actively may not be possible either due to cost or practicality. With U.S. forces, including naval forces, pushed further from potential enemy targets the need for air refueling capability will become even more critical than it is today. However, in 2035 U.S. air refueling capability may be less than it is today. Increasing flight distances and decreasing air refueling capability means that any Global Strike aircraft will need to have sufficient range to strike targets from distant bases without requiring any of the precious airborne fuel that will be critical to getting fighter type aircraft to their targets. The next air-breathing global strike platform will need an unrefueled combat range of at least 3000 nautical miles to overcome the growing Anti-access threat. Without a platform with sufficient range, the U.S. risks allowing sanctuary areas for enemies to place their highest value assets.