Combat Air Power:

Joint Assessment of Air Superiority Can Be Improved

NSIAD-97-77: Published: Feb 26, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1997.

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GAO evaluated the air superiority mission to: (1) identify the overlap among the military services' planned capabilities; and (2) determine whether the joint warfighting assessment process relating to air superiority was useful to assist in making program and budget decisions about these capabilities.

GAO found that: (1) the services have overlapping capabilities for achieving each of the five component missions of air superiority; (2) overlaps exist primarily in the systems to defeat enemy aircraft and ballistic missile systems; (3) while some degree of overlapping capabilities may be necessary and/or unavoidable, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not determined how best to reduce overlaps in the post-Cold War era without unnecessary effects on force capabilities; (4) the process used by DOD's air superiority joint warfighting capabilities assessment team to make its assessment provided a useful, though limited, result and used a meaningful method of displaying the results; (5) in February, 1995, the JWCA rated overall air superiority capabilities as acceptable with some risk through 2001, and rated 5 of 45 functional elements inadequate; (6) team identified several functions for which joint capabilities were determined to be inadequate,and DOD classified the descriptions of the inadequate capabilities; (7) although the assessment pointed out several inadequacies in existing forces, it did not adequately address several major issues regarding the overlap of capabilities, priorities of future acquisitions of air superiority weapon systems, or alternative means of meeting the highest priority requirements; (8) further, it did not assign ratings of warfighting capability over a long enough period of time to be useful for establishing acquisition and budget priorities; (9) the assessment did not examine certain key issues related to the modernization of forces for the air superiority mission; (10) for example, the assessment was limited to the 6-year period, fiscal year (FY) 1996 to FY 2001, and many of the weapon systems being planned were not included in the assessment because they are in development and were not scheduled to be available in the active force until after FY 2001; (11) further, the results of the assessment indicate that the acquisition of major aircraft systems like the F-22 may not be justified because acquisition of new aircraft is not clearly related to the functions rated inadequate by the joint assessment team; and (12) other critical issues that were not evaluated during the assessment include the need for and affordability of the acquisition of three new tactical fighters, appropriate timing for replacing F-15s with F-22s, the need to replace each F-15 with an F-22, the operational utility of the F/A-18E/F compared with the F/A-18C/D, and the appropriate size and makeup of the forces to be acquired for theater ballistic missile defense.

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