Close-in air attacks still needed despite new ‘Stand-off’ weapons tech

The report, called “Long-Range Strike: Resetting the Balance of Stand-in and Stand-off Forces,” makes a particular and decided point of stating a carefully calibrated mix of both approaches is what a fast-evolving modern Air Force needs. The study points to a series of significant variables with which to create this point, such as for example size, shape, scope and timing of attacks.

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Long-range attacks, such as for example cruise missiles launched from more than 500 miles, can at times occupy to one hour to arrive, which makes it more difficult to destroy moving or relocating targets; direct attacks focused on penetrating operations can often use “on-board sensors and other capabilities to complete the entire kill chain against time-sensitive targets,” the research states.

The B-21 Raider – artist’s impression.
(U.S. Air Force)

Also, closer-in penetrating aircraft can carry larger amounts of smaller bombs, something which enables longer-dwell time and an ability to track and hit newly emerging targets. More bombs may likely be needed in a heavily defended area to overcome the numerous countermeasures likely to thwart, disable or intercept attacking weapons. Hitting penetrating targets, also, can be a tactical advantage significantly specific to Stand-in weapons attacks conducted by stealthy, penetrating aircraft, the study explains.

“B-2s can deliver 5,000-pound direct attack ‘bunker buster’ weapons and even the 30,000-pound GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator on hardened targets,” the study states.

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Within this same logical framework, the study continues on to say that longer-flying Stand-off weapons could be more susceptible to being detected and intercepted, simply because they could be larger and spend more time traveling through the air. Citing the extent to which Russian, China, Iran and others have now been developing increasingly more advanced countermeasures, the study explains that U.S. precision strikes will continue steadily to face progressively more serious challenges when it comes to distinguishing targets:

“[C]ountermeasures include developing layered air defenses that will intercept incoming weapons; fielding increasingly mobile ground-based weapon systems to create it harder for U.S. ISR systems to discover and track; and hardening/deeply burying crucial installations to create them harder for weapons to destroy. Weapons destroyed or otherwise defeated by enemy air and missile defenses can raise the total number of weapons needed to kill a set of targets,” the study says. 

Despite all these facets, there needless to say remains a pressing and immediate dependence on “Stand-off” attacks as well, given fast-emerging technical progress with enemy air defenses. The study makes the point that Stand-off weapons are specially useful at the start of a campaign because, naturally, they involve less risk to humans and will target key fixed infrastructure such as heavily defended command and get a handle on centers.

Also, the advent of stealthier, more precise weapons, such as the Air Force’s Long-Range Stand-off weapon cruise missile, promise to create highly desired tactical advantageous assets to warfare. Advanced in-flight sensors and guidance systems are increasingly enabling long-range weapons to elude enemy air defenses. In addition, long-range weapons with this kind can both conduct ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) sometimes and also “test” enemy air defenses for soon to reach closer-in attackers.

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For example, newer maritime variants of the Tomahawk missile are actually better in a position to reconfigure trajectory in-flight to destroy moving targets. Also, it goes without saying that air defenses over territory controlled by an advanced adversary are likely to pose a very significant risk to human pilots working to penetrate the vicinity. Nonetheless, the necessity for effective “Stand-in” attacks are expected to justify the added risk, while needless to say considering that maximum risk-reduction measures would be put in effect.

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What much of this clearly points to is that, while of course, a variety of both Stand-off and Stand-in attacks are essential, stealth just isn’t going anywhere. Essentially, there will remain an obvious and pressing need for attacking forces to retain an ability to penetrate heavily fortified and defended areas to successfully optimize offensive operations.

fundamental concept is excatly why attack plans often follow a certain logical sequence, you start with Stand-off weapons to soften air defenses, to be followed by stealth bombers meant to achieve air supremacy to open an essential “air corridor” whereby less stealthy, fast-maneuvering fighters can attack. Finally, with this point, the Air Force is not only engineering a new generation of stealth having its B-21 but in addition making progress adding high level, air-defense detecting sensors to its B-2.

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