Other Nations Gaining on U.S. in Air Power

WASHINGTON – The United States must modernize its fighter jets to maintain air supremacy, a top Air Force general said on Wednesday citing the success of advanced Russian-made jets against American planes in a recent exercise as signaling an erosion of its overwhelming advantage.

Gen. Hal Hornburg, head of U.S. Air Combat Command, said a U.S. air-to-air exercise with the Indian Air Force in February, in which India used Russian jets to defeat aging American F-15Cs, revealed “that we may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we once thought we were.”

Defense experts in both the United States and Europe, however, have said it is unlikely that America — with vast spending power and a major industrial base — would lose its dominance in military technology.

U.S. defense officials have said Indian SU-30, Mig-27 and older MiG-21 jets, some armed with Russian-made AA-10 air-to-air missiles, got the best of F-15s based in Alaska in exercise “Cope India” high over northern India.

Hornburg said in an interview with military writers the air maneuvers emphasized his service’s push for expensive, stealthy new F/A-22 “Raptors” being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters being designed by Lockheed with input from allies.

He declined to discuss classified results of the exercise but said, “Something like Cope India, when we find that some of our advantages aren’t as great as we thought they might be, leads me to remind people that we need to modernize our air-to-air capability.”

Hornburg added, “We have been saying for a long time that we need newer fighters to do more things,” and that the Indian exercise could be a “wake-up call” for Washington.

Russia’s Sukhoi aviation works and the Moscow Air Production Organization company have been designing and building increasingly advanced fighters such as the MiG-29 in recent years. India, China and other countries are buying the warplanes — some with contracts for co-production.

France and Sweden also build advanced combat planes and a consortium of four European countries, including Britain, are producing the Eurofighter “Typhoon” jet.

“I see air forces across the spectrum and across the world becoming better and better as each year passes. That just means that we have to do the same thing,” said Hornburg.

“With air superiority, everything is possible. Without it, hardly anything’s possible” he added. “People jump to the conclusion that it is ours just because we go. And that’s blatantly false.