The Need for Collaborative Combat Aircraft for Disruptive Air Warfare

Arlington, VA | February 6, 2024 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Research Studies series, The Need for Collaborative Combat Aircraft for Disruptive Air Warfare by Col Mark Gunzinger, USAF (Ret.), Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments, with Maj Gen Lawrence A. Stutzriem, USAF (Ret.), Director of Research, and Bill Sweetman.

Projecting decisive military power to distant theaters has long relied on the Air Force’s ability to achieve air superiority by conducting offensive and defensive counterair missions to defeat an adversary’s fighters, surface-to-air missiles, battle managers, and other air defense threats. Today and in the future, an effective air superiority force is an essential baseline requirement for any joint operation to defeat China’s aggression in the Pacific, the pacing challenge for sizing and shaping the U.S. military. The Air Force’s ability to provide this core warfighting requirement is now at risk. This report assesses the potential for a family of uncrewed collaborative combat aircraft (CCA) to reduce this risk by increasing the lethality, survivability, and capacity of the Air Force’s air superiority operations in highly contested environments.

The prescription for preventing this failure is not a secret—the DOD and Congress must provide the Air Force with additional resources to properly size and shape its air superiority forces for peer conflicts. Advances in autonomy and other uncrewed systems technologies have created a unique opportunity to combine the lethality of 5th and 6th generation fighters with CCA that are designed to disrupt and defeat China’s counterair operations. The Air Force could begin to acquire CCA at scale to reduce risk and deter China this decade. This stands in contrast to other, more exquisite solutions that are necessary to keep pace with China but may not be available in numbers for years.

The Mitchell Institute’s Research Studies serve as an authoritative avenue for innovative, in-depth, insightful, and effective ideas and solutions for strengthening America’s aerospace power.

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Image: Design by Kristina Parrill & Madeline Portway; photos: U.S. Air Force

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