WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. J.D. Harris, vice commander of Air Combat Command, discussed the F-35 during a field hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on June 18.
The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on air dominance and the critical role of Fifth Generation fighter aircraft.
Harris was asked to testify on this subject since Air Combat Command is responsible for organizing, training and equipping the Air Superiority mission for the U.S. Air Force.
Currently, the US Air Force conducts the Air Superiority mission with a mix of 4th- and 5th-generation aircraft, consisting of the F-15C, F-15E, F-16, F-22, and F-35.
“The role of our 4th Gen fighters will diminish over time due to two main reasons. The first is they will age out and be replaced by more capable F-35s,” Harris said. “The second reason is our 4th Gen fighters will soon become unable to operate in highly contested environments where advanced air defense systems may render them useless.”
One of the topics that Harris focused on during his testimony was the growing internal challenges the U.S. faces in maintaining dominance in Air Superiority.
“One of the largest and most expensive, in terms of money, manpower, and time to overcome is the size of our force,” Harris said. “Another second order effect of 15 years of near continuous combat deployments for our fighter force is the current manning levels.”
He further explained that the majority of dual role aircraft in Air Superiority capable units have been spread thin and the force that successfully acclimated to the requirements of post 9/11 combatant commanders has spent less time training for highly contested environments, stating that capability is not where it needs to be.
Although our air superiority capability remains at the highest level, Harris said, our near-peer adversaries are closing the gaps in technology, weapons, and airpower capabilities.
“Although aircraft are some of the most expensive and challenging systems to develop and field, our competitors have made progress in the quest to match and counter American aerial capabilities,” Harris said. “We are witnessing the emergence of advanced aircraft such as the T-50 from Russia and the J-20 and J-31 from China, with full expectations that foreign military sales are in their future.”
According to Harris, foreign militaries are integrating innovative data-link technology similar to the U.S. Air Force, which coupled with the internal carriage of newly developed long-range active missiles, threatens one of the U.S’s longest winning streaks.
Upon concluding his speech, Harris thanked the committee for their dedication and attentiveness to the Air Superiority mission.
“I have no doubt that this partnership will continue to propel our forces and the combat output so desperately desired by our combatant commanders,” Harris said. “I look forward to continued collaboration and the success it will bear for the Joint Force and our Nation.”
This is the first of two hearings at which ACC will testify on air superiority. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, is scheduled to testify in front of the full HASC TALF subcommittee in Washington, D.C., July 13.