Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why Air Force Needs Lots Of F-35s: Gen. Hostage On The 'Combat Cloud'

Why Air Force Needs Lots Of F-35s: Gen. Hostage On The 'Combat Cloud'

Technology is not enough. What's equally essential is ideas for how to use it. Wielding new weapons in the same old way is a recipe for defeat. As the US military today invests in innovative programs, none larger than the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, it must also invent innovative concepts of operation.

The Air Force's point man on global deployments is Gen. Michael Hostage, head of Langely, Va.-based Air Combat Command. Recently, two members of the AOL Defense Board of Contributors, Dr. Robbin Laird and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, sat down with Hostage to discuss not just the new weapons systems, but a new vision of how to use them, an emerging concept of operations that Gen. Hostage calls "the combat cloud."

Instead of focusing on individual planes, squadrons, or "strike packages" executing a particular mission, the new concept looks at all the deployed aircraft as a whole, linked together by secure wireless networks into the "combat cloud." This cloud would be enabled by "fifth generation" aircraft -- specifically F-22s and a substantial number of F-35s -- and their ability to connect electronically both to each other and to legacy aircraft. This critical connectivity would be built in to any systems added in the future, such as the proposed long-range intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and strike aircraft.

What follows is an edited excerpt from Laird and Deptula's conversation with Gen. Hostage.