The Corner

National Security & Defense

Could the U.S. Air Force Lose the Skies?

An F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, England, flies away from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, after receiving fuel during Exercise Valiant Liberty off the coast of England, March 5, 2020. (Technical Sergeant Emerson Nuñez/USAF)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., the new chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force for Hoover’s “Capital Conversations” series. A fighter pilot, General Brown is the first African-American service chief in military history. As the immediate past Commander of Pacific Air Forces, in Hawaii, he had a front row seat on the growing aerospace competition with China and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, which is fielding its own stealth fighters and modernized bombers. He also served as the deputy of U.S. Central Command, facing the modern air defenses supplied by Russia throughout the Middle East (and Asia). All this has convinced him that the U.S. Air Force faces perhaps the biggest challenge of the post-Cold War era: how to adapt to a radically more competitive environment, or risk being unable to ensure American dominance of the skies.

On taking over as chief of staff, General Brown released a strategy document, “Accelerate, Change, or Lose,” giving his vision for how the Air Force can meet the new global challenge. It’s been 67 years, since April 1953, during the Korean War, since a U.S. soldier was killed in action on the ground by enemy air fire. For nearly seven decades, America has essentially owned the skies, allowing our forces to operate globally with no fear of attack from above. If we lose that security, then the entire American way of war since Korea will be thrown into doubt.

It was a fascinating conversation with General Brown, including some stories about the famed Tuskegee Airmen, references to Marvel v. DC, and which fighter from any time in history he’d like to fly. You can watch our discussion here.

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