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Document created: 1 March 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2008

Range and Persistence

The Keys to Global Strike

Col Phillip S. Meilinger, USAF, Retired

Editorial Abstract: Global attack, one of the US Air Force’s distinctive capabilities, is directly attributable to range and persistence. These two abilities, long problematic for the Air Force, rely on very old airframes (bombers and tankers) and increasingly unreliable strategies for overseas basing. Colonel Meilinger proposes the acquisition of new platforms to ensure continued Air Force supremacy in these areas, including new long-range strike platforms, improved air refuelers with defensive capability, and unmanned strike platforms.

Even before the invention of the airplane, visionaries had debated what effect it would have on warfare; indeed, novelists wrote of aerial armadas that would defeat the tyranny of terrain. Aircraft would fly over seas, mountains, and fortresses that hindered armies and navies. From the airy heights, aircraft could devastate an enemy’s defenses.

At the same time, we also noted the airplane’s limitations—technical challenges that we needed to address and overcome. In the decades since, we have aggressively attacked all of these challenges and made dramatic improvements. We have effectively dealt with the issues of speed, payload, navigation/accuracy, self-defense, safety/reliability, all-environment operations, and connectivity/responsiveness through technology and operational solutions. One technical problem, however, has not so readily lent itself to fixing—range and the associated factor of persistence.

Global attack is one of the US Air Force’s six distinctive capabilities, as defined in its doctrine.1 “Global” means “range.” To neutralize or hold at risk targets thousands of miles distant, we need strike assets that can put ordnance precisely on target at great range—a tremendous challenge. The distance an aircraft can travel (range) and its time on station (persistence) are functions of fuel and human endurance. The Air Force has tried to meet these two requirements through forward basing, air refueling, and long-range strike platforms (bombers). Today, those first two options are becoming increasingly problematic.

We may not have access to air bases close to a conflict for political reasons, or they may be vulnerable to attack. Air refueling carries risks in an era of long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. Long-range strike platforms, perhaps mated with standoff weapons, offer the logical solution to the global-strike mandate.2

Forward Basing

The United States requires access to overseas bases near a crisis area. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force used 36 air bases, many of which it had to hastily construct or upgrade. This is not a new problem. Air operations at the beginning of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars were constrained by a shortage of air bases having the requisite runways, ramp space, utilities access, and maintenance facilities.3

Air Base Politics

As mentioned above, we may not have assured access in future crises for two reasons. The first is political: a country may prove unwilling to allow US military forces to use its soil or overfly its territory. It may wish to help but nonetheless demur due to disagreements over US objectives, domestic concerns, or fear of reprisal.4 We witnessed a demonstration of the first case during Iraqi Freedom when France and Germany did not agree that an invasion of Iraq was necessary and lent no support to the US-led effort. Similarly, after Operation Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia was reluctant to allow US aircraft to use its bases for strikes against Iraq because of domestic opinion. Furthermore, Spain’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2004 after a terrorist attack on the Madrid train system showed how reprisals can dictate government policy.5

Operational flexibility and foreign-policy initiatives can mitigate these concerns. Thus, despite the denial of airfields in Saudi Arabia, facilities in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Pakistan, and elsewhere proved sufficient. Yet, the coalition air commander in Iraqi Freedom—T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, then a lieutenant general—warned that the United States could not count on such bases: “In the future, we will require deep strike capabilities to penetrate and engage high-value targets during the first minutes of hostilities anywhere in the battlespace.”6

In short, we have assumed that if a country is in trouble and requests our help, then it will make bases available for our use. Now, however, the United States finds itself in need. We require bases in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. Will they be available?

Air Base Vulnerability

The greatest utility of overseas bases is their proximity to potential crisis areas. The greatest limitation of overseas bases is their proximity to potential crisis areas. The issue involves vulnerability—an old problem. Following World War II, Strategic Air Command deployed most of its bombers to forward bases in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia—within unrefueled striking distance of their targets in the Soviet Union.7 In 1954, however, a RAND study concluded that these bases were vulnerable to a Soviet strike. This report had enormous impact—within a year, the Air Force ordered its first KC-135 tanker.8 The new strategy called for launching bombers from bases in the United States—air refueling would get the strike aircraft to their targets and back. Strategic Air Command then pulled its bases back to the periphery for use as staging areas in the event of war.

US fighters remained at European bases—North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airfields that had dispersed facilities, hardening, air defense systems, stocks of spare parts, and pre-positioned fuel and ordnance. We believed that these semihardened bases would survive a Soviet strike—at least until the Air Force ran an exercise called Salty Demo at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in 1985, which measured an air base’s ability to survive conventional as well as chemical attacks and then generate sorties afterward. The scenario envisioned simulated air strikes by Soviet aircraft and ground attacks by Spetsnaz commando units, subjecting Spangdahlem to simulated destruction. Personnel built an Alternate Launch and Recovery System (ALRS)—a temporary runway—and then deliberately blew it up.9 Buildings or systems designated as “destroyed” by enemy attacks were out of play for the remainder of the exercise. Personnel judged as injured received “treatment” in the hospital and, if appropriate, returned to duty. Those “killed in action” were out of the exercise. Combat engineers repaired craters made in the ALRS, and crews launched and recovered aircraft on the repaired surface.

Although details remain sketchy, enough data has emerged from Salty Demo to indicate that such attacks would have had a serious impact on the wing’s ability to function. We would need to initiate a host of actions to ensure that an air base could survive and fight while under attack: improved chemical protective gear, hardened shelters, technologies for the rapid repair of runways, redundant communications, perimeter defenses, and better air defenses.10

The results of Salty Demo proved as sobering as the RAND study of 30 years earlier. Ironically, however, the problem appeared so massive that we decided we could do little about it. Rebuilding NATO airfields to enable them to survive a Soviet attack would cost billions of dollars. Fortunately, the Cold War ended a few years later, so we forgot the problem of air base vulnerability—until Desert Storm in 1991.11

Iraq could not compete with the coalition in the air, so it relied on an asymmetric strategy that saw 88 Scud missiles fired at coalition forces and Israel. Our defenses stopped few, if any, of these missiles, and one killed 28 US soldiers and wounded 97 more in a barracks in Saudi Arabia.12 Consequently, the Air Force once again began worrying about its air bases. Fortunately, our ballistic missile defenses have improved since then. During Iraqi Freedom, Patriot missiles intercepted all nine of the Iraqi ballistic missiles fired at “defended assets,” but we have certainly not eliminated threats.13

Cruise missiles are emerging as a serious threat. We have difficulty detecting these weapons at their ground locations because of their small size and lack of extensive support equipment. When launched they don’t generate a dramatic fire plume, as do ballistic missiles—a characteristic that allows detection by satellites. They fly subsonically at low altitude, following an irregular and unpredictable path. “Look-down” radars have difficulty distinguishing them from ground clutter, and the Patriot’s radar cannot pick up these low flyers until it is too late.14

Worse, we face a proliferation of cruise missiles, with over 75,000 located in 75 countries today. Although most are antiship versions, some—notably the Chinese-made Silkworm—can be converted into land-attack variants that have a range of over 300 miles. During Iraqi Freedom, we failed to detect (much less intercept) any of the five cruise missiles that the Iraqis fired at coalition positions.15

The weaponized light aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) also represents an emerging threat. Over 400 different light-aircraft “kits” are available on the commercial market: some cost less than $30,000, have a range of several hundred miles, and can carry a payload of 500 pounds. Replacing the pilot with an autopilot guided by the global positioning system—also available commercially for around $5,000—produces a large weapon difficult to detect and stop.16 Worse, cruise missiles and UAVs are ideal platforms for dispensing chemical or biological agents. Acting like crop dusters, they could easily spray deadly substances over a wide swath of land.

Finally, we must consider the threat of enemy ground forces and terrorists. In Vietnam, Vietcong attacks destroyed 99 US Air Force aircraft and damaged another 1,170.17 Sanitizing the area around US facilities presents problems as well as possible tensions with host countries. The terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in June 1996 resulted partly from Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow the extended defense perimeter necessary to ensure the barracks’ safety.18 We should also note that North Korea has 22 brigades of special forces who, in the event of war, will infiltrate the south and attack US/South Korean air bases.19

Clearly, because overseas bases face numerous threats, we may not have access to them in future crises. The austere bases hurriedly established for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were of a vulnerable, almost flimsy, nature. Aircrews and support personnel often lived in tents; aircraft, logistics facilities, and fuel supplies were similarly exposed. Enemy aircraft or missiles could have wreaked havoc there. We should assume that enemies in a future crisis will target our air bases. Will they survive and permit sustained combat operations? If not, then we will have an increased need for long-range strike assets.

Air Refueling

Air refueling became widespread in the 1950s, and during the Vietnam War, most of the US strike aircraft that flew over North Vietnam required it—essentially turning tactical fighters into strategic bombers.20 But this dependence on aerial refueling presents problems. Our current tankers—the KC-10 and KC-135, based on commercial-airliner designs—are not stealthy and have no self-defense capability. Until now, this has not caused problems—we have never lost a tanker to enemy action.21 How much longer can we guarantee this invulnerability?

Antiaircraft artillery (AAA) and SAM systems, a longtime bane of aircraft, have claimed far more US planes than have other aircraft.22 Since World War II, air-to-air combat claimed only around 210 of the approximately 3,250 US Air Force aircraft lost in fighting—about 6.5 percent of the total.23 AAA and SAMs are the real killers; unfortunately, a proliferation of new SAMs poses an enormous risk to our planes.

The most dangerous of these SAMs, the so-called double-digit missiles (SA-10, -12, and ‑20), have a “hit probability” of at least 90 percent against nonstealthy aircraft, making low-maneuverability platforms such as tankers or airlifters especially vulnerable.24 Russia, China, India, Iran, and Syria now field these SAMs. The SA-20, the newest and most capable foreign-made SAM system, is mobile, has a range of over 200 miles, can engage six targets simultaneously, and can be reprogrammed quickly. An upgraded version of this impressive system is already under development.25 Even with heavy jamming and clever tactics, our nonstealthy fighters would find these missiles a very serious threat, and our tankers would not have a chance. In the air war over Serbia in 1999, the NATO air component commander remarked that his greatest nightmare was that somehow the Serbs would acquire an SA-10 or SA-12 battery.26 Fortunately, they did not.

Long-Range Strike Platforms

The access issue, when combined with the emerging SAM threat, means that we would have to base aircraft outside the range of enemy missiles or far out at sea. Aircraft would then air refuel as they approached the enemy’s border. Because of the SAMs, tankers would have to remain over 200 miles out, imposing a limited penetration capability on current strike fighters—assuming they could get past the SAMs. Moreover, they would have little persistence once they reached enemy airspace. At normal airspeed, every hour a fighter loiters reduces its combat radius by 250 miles.27 This means that fighters would almost certainly have to go after fixed targets because the lack of extra fuel would not allow a hunt for mobile targets. Since the F-22 and F-35 will not have greater range than current fighters, the SAM threat that keeps the tankers at bay will limit their penetration to barely 100 miles.28 A need to maneuver would reduce their range even more.29

One solution for extending the effective reach of these fighters entails arming them with standoff weapons. We have several options available. The conventional air-launched cruise missile (CALCM) can carry a 3,000-pound warhead over 600 miles. The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a stealthy cruise missile with a range of over 200 miles (a proposed extended-range version would go 500 miles), has a 1,000-pound warhead and can be reprogrammed to a new target while in flight. The standoff land attack missile-expanded response (SLAM-ER), another reprogrammable air-launched cruise missile, has a 500-pound warhead and a range of over 150 miles. The Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB) can glide up to 60 miles, and the Low Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS)—a small flying bomb under development—is designed to loiter for up to 30 minutes or travel 100 miles. On the downside, only the SDB and LOCAAS are currently programmed for the F-22 and F-35. The longer-range and more powerful CALCM, JASSM, and SLAM-ER are too large for these new fighters.30 In sum, current plans call for mating our short-range stealthy fighters with only short-range standoff weapons.

On the other hand, long-range strike aircraft have proven invaluable for US military operations, handling a disproportionate load of strike missions and weapons delivered. In Desert Storm, B-52s flew 1,741 combat sorties—only 3.9 percent of the total strike sorties flown by the coalition—but dropped 32 percent of all tonnage.31 Over Kosovo/Serbia, bombers flew 322 of 9,500 strike sorties—only 3.6 percent—yet delivered 48 percent of all munitions. Six B-2 stealth bombers proved especially valuable during the operation, flying 45 combat sorties that averaged 28–32 hours in length; these few missions—less than .5 percent of the total—accounted for one-third of all the precision-guided munitions dropped during the war.32 In Afghanistan, 18 B-1s and B-52s operating out of Diego Garcia logged 10 percent of all strike sorties but dropped 67 percent of all munitions during the critical period from October through December 2001. Of note, these bombers, which flew missions lasting 12–15 hours, did not usually have assigned targets when taking off; rather, they arrived in the area and loitered, waiting to receive “emerging targets” from air or ground controllers.33 B-2s also flew in Afghanistan—one sortie lasted 44 hours. In Iraqi Freedom, B-1s and B-52s accounted for more than two-thirds of all the bombs dropped in that conflict.34

Persistence and Crew Fatigue

Persistence has endured varying fortunes. In one sense, the desire to remove the transitory nature of airpower—one of its traditional criticisms—has always been strong. Air refueling solved one problem but did little to alleviate the physical limitations inherent with crew members on small aircraft. The issue of crew fatigue induced by long flights, combined with excessive stress and frequent deployments, has been well studied. Basically, the human body and mind get tired when immobilized, cramped, or bored—they need sleep. Flight surgeons sought to discover how sleep could be deferred or stolen in small increments to enable a short-term boost in performance.

The usual response to these problems—diet, exercise, physical fitness, and a stable routine—is usually ineffective. Alternatively, personnel in multicrew aircraft take short naps in flight. Pilots of single-seat fighters, however, do not have this option, so medication becomes the next step. Since the early 1960s, the Air Force has employed “go/no-go” pills to regulate the sleep cycles of aircrews—to make them sleep before a flight and keep them awake during it. No-go pills have had mixed success. Aircrews often do not want to take them, or, because of nervousness or other distractions, the pills simply don’t work.

Go pills—amphetamines—are designed to keep pilots awake. During Desert Storm, 57 percent of fighter pilots in single-seat aircraft reported using them.35 Reputedly fairly benign drugs, they may nonetheless produce such side effects as cardiovascular disturbances, psychiatric problems, addiction, drug tolerance, and disruptions in sleep recovery—certainly not minor re­actions.36 In April 2002, an F-16 pilot bombed what he believed were enemy troops near Kandahar in Afghanistan. In fact the attack killed four Canadians. The pilot claimed that he had taken go pills, and his defense attorney at the subsequent court-martial used as a mitigating circumstance the fact that a flight surgeon had prescribed them—despite their known deleterious side effects.37

In sum, absent the possibility of getting up, moving about, stretching, or using the latrine, a pilot can go no more than 10 hours strapped into a single-seat fighter. Even then, ground crews often have to help the exhausted Airman from the cockpit upon landing. All of this means that acquiring long-range strike assets will become an imperative, given the possibility of fighting a future enemy on a large continental landmass such as China.38

To illustrate the problem, fighter aircraft traversing the 2,000 miles separating the Asian continent from Guam, the nearest air base on US territory, would require at least four tanker hookups. This would still take a heavy toll on the aircrews. A round-trip mission from Guam to the Asian coast at normal airspeeds would take nearly 10 hours—certainly a grueling assignment.39 In bombers, crew members can get up and move about, perhaps even nap during long flights.40 During the Vietnam War, the B‑52s based on Guam flew thousands of such combat sorties. In Kosovo, B-2s flew missions lasting more than 30 hours from their base in Missouri with no degradation in performance.41

One should also note that the increasing reliance on UAVs makes a great deal of sense. These platforms, combined with more capable sensors and precision weapons, offer possible solutions to the problems with range/persistence. UAVs allow a previously unobtainable loitering capability—with no crew-duty limitations.42


Perhaps the most enduring theme of air and space power is its global character, which enables the United States to project influence worldwide. Although Airmen have grappled with a number of technological challenges for a century, a nagging issue remains—range and the associated need for persistence. In decades past, we addressed these problems by forward basing, air refueling, and long-range strike aircraft. Today, forward bases may not be available due to political constraints or the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles tipped with weapons of mass destruction. Increasingly effective ground-based air defenses will render our nonstealthy air refuelers too vulnerable to fly close to a crisis area.

Part of the solution may still reside in a new tanker for which the Air Force is now soliciting bids. Given the age and increasing problems with the KC-135 fleet, this has become an essential step. Although a new tanker probably won’t have stealthy features, the Air Force should insist that it incorporate a self-defense capability that would permit the aircraft—and accompanying fighter-bombers—to approach enemy territory more closely and thus deny the adversary a larger sanctuary.

A long-range strike platform for the future remains the most logical solution. Numerous designs for this mission have emerged—anything from hypersonic unmanned vehicles to stretched “FB”-22s. However, we must maintain our emphasis on range—the crucial nut that needs cracking. Moreover, the Air Force must not allow the budget process to cut this new program. Yes, many priorities vie for scarce dollars, but long-range strike must stay at the top of the list. Similarly, stealthy standoff weapons that can fit inside the small internal bomb bays of the F-22 and F-35 should make up part of the solution. In decades past, we endured the distressing phenomenon of air-delivered ordnance receiving short shrift. That tendency has changed due to the revolution in precision-guided weapons, but the trend must continue. Also, we must find something other than medication to squarely address the very real problem of crew limitations. Using aircraft with multiple crew members offers one solution, as does the use of unmanned strike platforms.

What we must not do is rely on short-range fighters—a policy that assumes away the problems of access, tanker vulnerability, and crew endurance. That would be foolish. For nearly a century, we have wrestled with the issues of range and persistence—the ability to hold enemy targets at risk from extended distances. The Air Force’s distinctive capability of global strike demands long-range strike assets.

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1. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003, 76–82, https://www

2. Conventionally tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles offer a possible option, but they have serious drawbacks, including cost, small numbers, inability to hit moving targets, and the difficulty experienced by observers (China and Russia) trying to distinguish between a conventional- or nuclear-weapon launch.

3. Robert F. Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, 1950–1953, rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 67–73, 109–12, 191–94, 394–99; and Robert F. Futrell with the assistance of Martin Blumenson, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: The Advisory Years to 1965 (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1981), 110, 177, 263–64. See also Squadron Leader Sal Sidoti, Air Base Operability: A Study in Air Base Survivability and Post-­Attack Recovery (Canberra, Australia: Aerospace Centre, 2001), 26–31, 38.

4. See David A. Shlapak et al., A Global Access Strategy for the U.S. Air Force (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/2005/MR1216.pdf. During Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986, France and Spain denied overfly rights to F-111 aircraft launching from Britain, essentially doubling the flight duration.

5. Fear of reprisal is not simply about terrorist attacks. Because Portugal allowed US aircraft to land at Lajes Air Base, Azores, to refuel en route to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Arab states cut off oil shipments to Portugal. Shlapak et al., Global Access Strategy, 22.

6. Laura M. Colarusso, “Suddenly, USAF Wants a New Bomber,” Defense News, 7 June 2004, 1, 8, http://www.global security.org/org/news/2004/040607-bomber.htm.

7. See Elliott V. Converse, “United States Plans for a Postwar Overseas Military Base System, 1942–1948” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1984); and Harry R. Borowski, A Hollow Threat: Strategic Air Power and Containment before Korea (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), chap. 4.

8. A. J. Wohlstetter, “Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases,” Study R-266 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, April 1954). The increasing speeds of jet bombers such as the B-47 and B-52 also necessitated a jet tanker that could keep up.

9. Bombs that penetrate a runway or taxiway surface cause significant damage due to the rupture and upheaval of underlying layers. Repair is neither quick nor easy. Sidoti, Air Base Operability, 88–94.

10. For an unclassified overview of the exercise, see Headquarters USAFE/PAM, “Salty Demo Q’s & A’s,” 11 October 1984, Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, AL, file K570.01. See also John T. Correll, “Fighting under Attack,” Air Force Magazine 71, no.10 (October 1988): 50–55; and Edgar Ulsamer, “The Fog of War,” Air Force Magazine 68, no. 10 (October 1985): 74–78.

11. For an excellent overview, see Christopher J. Bowie, The Anti-Access Threat and Theater Air Bases (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2002), http://www.csbaonline.org/4Publications/PubLibrary/R.20020924.CSBA_AirBases/R.20020924

12. Col Charles A. Anderson, “Air and Missile Defense,” Army, January 2004, 41–47; and Theodore A. Postol, “Lessons of the Gulf War Experience with Patriot,” International Security 16 (Winter 1991/1992): 119–71.

13. Iraq fired 20 ballistic missiles in 2003, but only nine came within the Patriot’s range and were intercepted. The rest, fortunately, fell in uninhabited areas. Anderson, “Air and Missile Defense,” 46. See also Testimony of Dennis M. Gormley, Senior Fellow, Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, 108th Cong., 2d sess., 9 March 2004, http://cns.miis.edu/research/congress/testim/testgorm.htm.

14. For a discussion, see David A. Fulghum, “Cruise Missile Battle,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 21 May 2004, 51–53.

15. Anderson, “Air and Missile Defense,” 46; Improvements Needed to Better Contest Technology Exports for Cruise Missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, GAO Report 04-175 (Washington, DC: General Accounting Office, January 2004), 13; and Dennis M. Gormley, “The Neglected Dimension: Controlling Cruise Missile Proliferation,” Nonproliferation Review 9 (Summer 2002): 23. China is developing a new cruise missile with as-yet-undetermined capabilities. See “Chinese Developing New Antiship Cruise Missile,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 31 May 2004, 23.

16. An Internet search will turn up several aircraft kits and autopilot systems. Note that China’s cruise and ballistic missiles have “satellite-aided” guidance systems for increased accuracy. Ironically, US-provided signals from the global positioning system could be used against it. ­Stephen J. Flanagan and Michael E. Marti, eds., The People’s Liberation Army and China in Transition (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 2003), 23.

17. Alan Vick, Snakes in the Eagle’s Nest: A History of Ground Attacks on Air Bases (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1995), 68. In Vietnam, more US aircraft were destroyed on the ground by guerillas than in air-to-air combat.

18. For a copy of the report, see Lt Gen James F. ­Record, Independent Review of the Khobar Towers Bombing, parts A and B (Tucson, AZ: Davis-Monthan AFB, 31 October 1996), http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/khobar/recordf.htm. To eliminate the threat from an 82 mm mortar, for example, one needs a defensive perimeter with a radius of four miles. Sidoti, Air Base Operability, 115.

19. David A. Shlapak and Alan Vick, “Check Six Begins on the Ground”: Responding to the Evolving Ground Threat to U.S. Air Force Bases (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1995), 41.

20. The Air Service had experimented with air refueling since the 1920s but found it impractical for the huge air fleets of World War II. With the onset of the Cold War, the concept took on added importance as air planners needed to ensure that bombers could hit targets deep in the Soviet Union. Air refueling was essential. Because far fewer bombers were necessary in the age of nuclear weapons, air refueling became more practical. Richard K. Smith, Seventy-Five Years of Inflight Refueling: Highlights, 1923–1998 (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998).

21. The C-17 has been fitted with passive defenses to ward off heat-seeking SAMs that it might encounter during takeoff and landing from forward bases. Because tankers generally do not operate in such locations, they do not have even this limited capability. Robert Wall, “The Next Step,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 23 August 2004, 58.

22. Kenneth P. Werrell, Archie, Flak, AAA, and SAM: A Short Operational History of Ground-Based Air Defense (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1988), 177.

23. William T. Y’Blood, MiG Alley: The Fight for Air Superiority (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2000), 43; and Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966–1973 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 311.

24. James C. O’Halloran, Jane’s Land-Based Air Defence, 2004–2005 (Surrey, United Kingdom: Jane’s Information Group, 2004), 157.

25. John A. Tirpak, “The Double-Digit SAMs,” Air Force Magazine 84, no. 6 (June 2001): 48–49, http://www

26. See Dr. Benjamin C. Lambeth, “Kosovo and the Continuing SEAD Challenge,” Aerospace Power Journal 16, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 8–21, http://www.airpower.maxwell

27. Bowie, Anti-Access Threat, 13.

28. Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft reports the combat radii and payloads of US fighter aircraft as follows: F-16: 780 miles with two tons; F-15E: 790 miles with 12 tons; F-18E/F: 1,087 miles with two SLAM-ER missiles (one ton); and F-35: 690 miles with two tons. The official US Air Force Web site does not list the range of the F-22, but unofficial sources state that it will fall in the F-35 category. The F-22 can carry one ton of air-to-ground ordnance. All of these aircraft can also carry air-to-air missiles. Paul Jackson, ed., Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, 2003–2004 (Surrey, United Kingdom: Jane’s Information Group, 2003), 548–671. The F-35 and F-22 could carry external fuel tanks, but doing so would degrade their stealthy characteristics as well as inhibit their maneuverability.

29. One F-15C pilot commented to me that “if a C-model gets into a full-up fight, has to drop all three of its fuel tanks, and turns several times, it could find itself bingo fuel in just a very few minutes.”

30. Lockheed Martin has begun research on a standoff cruise missile that is not only stealthy but also small enough to fit inside the new stealth fighters. “Lockheed Martin Develops Smaller Standoff Cruise Missiles,” Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, 21 July 2004, 1.

31. Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey: Summary Report (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993), 15; and Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. 5, A Statistical Compendium and Chronology, by Lewis D. Hill (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993), 232–33.

32. Benjamin S. Lambeth, NATO’s Air War for Kosovo: A Strategic and Operational Assessment (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001), 63, 87, 91.

33. David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Heavy Bomber Attacks Dominate Afghan War,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 3 December 2001, 22; and “Operation Enduring Freedom: The Air Campaign,” efreedomnews.com, 12 January 2003.

34. William M. Arkin, “U.S. Military Ain’t Broke Yet,” Los Angeles Times, 27 April 2003, M1.

35. David L. Emonson and Rodger D. Vanderbeek, “The Use of Amphetamines in U.S. Air Force Tactical Operations during Desert Shield and Storm,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 66 (March 1995): 260–63.

36. Darlene Schultz and James C. Miller, “Fatigue and Use of Go/No-Go Pills in Extraordinarily Long Combat Sorties,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 75 (April 2004): 370–71; and Alain Buguet, Dianne E. Moroz, and Manny W. Radomski, “Modafinil: Medical Considerations for Use in Sustained Operations,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 74 (June 2003): 659.

37. For the official US Central Command report acknowledging that the pilot was prescribed go/no-go pills, see http://www.centcom.mil/CENTCOMNews/Reports/Tarnak_Farms_Report.htm (accessed April 2006). For the Web site originated to plead the pilot’s case, see http://www.harryschmidt.org (accessed April 2006).

38. Bowie notes that only 18 percent of the world’s air bases usable by US fighter aircraft (runways 6,000 feet long and 145 feet wide) are located in Asia. Anti-Access Threat, 71. RAND says that the minimum runway length for fighter operations is 7,500 feet and 12,000 feet for large aircraft such as tankers. If one uses these criteria, even fewer airfields would be available. If large aircraft reduced their fuel load, they could use shorter runways, but this would reduce their endurance. Shlapak et al., Global Access Strategy, 49.

39. The distance from Diego Garcia to Baghdad is 3,342 miles; Diego to Tehran 3,260 miles; and Diego to Kabul 2,888 miles.

40. For how distance from base to target reduces sortie rates, see William D. O’Malley, Evaluating Possible Airfield Deployment Options: Middle East Contingencies (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001).

41. Rebecca Grant, The B-2 Goes to War (Arlington, VA: Iris Press, 2001), passim.

42. Northrop Grumman Corporation is exploring the idea of turning its high-altitude Global Hawk UAV into a tanker. Although the aircraft would not be stealthy, the conversion would at least remove the risk to the aircrew in a high-threat environment. See the image in Aviation Week and Space Technology, 5 March 2007, 19.


Col Phillip S. Meilinger, USAF, retired

Col Phillip S. Meilinger, USAF, retired (USAFA; MA, University of Colorado; PhD, University of Michigan), has 30 years of service as a command pilot, staff officer, and educator. He flew C-130 and HC-130s in both Europe and the Pacific, while also working in the Pacific Airlift Control Center. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, he worked in the Plans Directorate on the Air Staff in the Pentagon. He has taught at the Air Force Academy as well as the Naval War College and served as dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies (now the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He is the author of five books and over 75 articles on military theory and operations. Upon retiring from the Air Force in 2000, Colonel Meilinger worked as a defense contractor in the Washington, DC, area. He retired again in 2006 and now lives in the Chicago area, where he is a freelance writer.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University

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