Fighting the Air Base: Ensuring Decisive Combat Sortie Generation Under Enemy Fire

Arlington, VA | July 11, 2024 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Policy Paper series, Fighting the Air Base: Ensuring Decisive Combat Sortie Generation Under Enemy Fire by J. Michael Dahm, Senior Resident Fellow for Aerospace and China Studies.

U.S. Air Force commanders must be prepared to fight their frontline air bases like any other weapon system. This report details why air bases must have the capacity to counter complex integrated air and missile strikes, rapidly reconstitute their operational capabilities when damaged, and continue to generate combat effects while under attack. These capabilities are critical to the success of future joint force operations.
Yet over the past 30 years, Air Force air base defenses, especially in the Western Pacific, have atrophied due to a lack of resources and funding. These deficiencies imperil the service’s ability to provide joint commanders with force generation and striking options to secure U.S. interests and defeat aggression that threatens the international order. The study examines the ways the Air Force and supporting military services can field cost-effective air and missile defense solutions to confound adversary targeting efforts and drive up attack costs against U.S. air bases in order to remain a relevant “inside force” capable of fighting alongside America’s allies and partners. Failing to present an adequate air base defense strains alliances, incentivizes potential aggressors, and may ultimately result in a strategic loss that has existential consequences for the United States and its allies.

The Mitchell Institute Policy Papers is a series presenting new thinking and policy proposals to respond to the emerging security and aerospace power challenges of the 21st century. These papers are written for lawmakers and their staffs, policy professionals, business and industry, academics, journalists, and the informed public.

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