Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, suggested on Dec. 8 that the Joint Warfighting Concept (JWC) needs to beef up its airpower component.
“Word on the street is, when recently wargamed, the proposed joint warfighting construct didn’t fare very well,” Deptula said in a virtual conversation with Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella Jr., the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations. “Perhaps, part of that is due to the fact that airpower was not incorporated into the concept for the wargames to the degree that might optimize its potential.”
Guastella declined to discuss the JWC wargames, but he said that they would help the Air Force to determine approaches and a force structure for future wars.
“I’m certainly not going to comment on ongoing wargames that we do at classified levels in the Pentagon,” he said. “But we are 100 percent focused on developing, not only the technologies, but the approaches, to prevail in the high-end fights. That means iteration. So we’ll try things. They may work. They may not work, and we’ll go back and re-evaluate that. It’s something we’re taking very seriously. We’re doing it in a joint approach.”
“Without a doubt, having a better understanding of how to apply airpower in a high-end environment is something that we need to continue to fight for because when you think about it, the memories and the understanding of a lot of the leadership, me included, has been focused on the low-end counterinsurgency fights–the wars of our generation,” Guastella said. “Only recently have we pivoted to thinking of how to truly deter and defeat a high-end adversary. We have to change the thinking, and it means we have to change how we use airpower and what is the shape of the Air Force. What may have been effective in yesteryear’s campaign may not be the optimum investment in the future. Getting that balance just right is someting that the joint warfighting game efforts help us expose.”
The JWC in the works takes its cue from the 2018 National Defense Strategy and assumes “high-end” adversaries, such as China and Russia, will contest DoD’s logistics chain to prevent U.S. forces from deploying.
A main aim of the JWC is to shorten the observe, orient, decide and act targeting cycle significantly–a speed that “will overwhelm an adversary and hopefully create the environment where we no longer have to worry about fighting that war,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), said in September.
While Operation Desert Storm in 1991–a campaign that Deptula helped devise–had 40,000 to 50,000 aim points, a campaign against China or in Europe could have “upwards of 100,000 aim points,” Deptula said on Dec. 8. “You don’t do that with missiles,” he said.
“We need to take an effects-based look at putting effectiveness back into the cost effectiveness equation,” Deptula said. “Missiles are multi-million dollars a shot. In one shot, they’re gone and dispensed with. They’re not reusable. Airplanes are reusable.”
While hypersonic missiles and long-range strike platforms, such as the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21, are under development, it is uncertain what the future balance will be between stand-in and stand-off weapons.
“You cannot conduct a major regional contingency with standoff or missiles alone,” Deptula said. “Discipline needs to be imposed on the services by the secretary of defense because we need each of the capabilities that each of the services provide, and they’re all running to the latest shiny object, which is long-range fires.”