View of the US Air Force in 2035

The Air Force Future Operating Concept is the Air Force’s overarching force development concept. It describes how future Air Force (AF) forces will provide responsive and effective Global Vigilance—Global Reach—Global Power in light of the anticipated future strategic and operational environment. The AF Future Operating Concept broadly portrays how the future Air Force will conduct its five core missions as part of a joint, interagency, or multinational force, or independently in support of national security objectives. The primary audiences for this concept are Headquarters Air Force (HAF) and Major Command (MAJCOM) strategic planners.

Main Vision

In 2035, Air Force pilots are flying afterburning “D” model Joint Strike Fighters alongside drone bombers and a fleet of stealthy unmanned aerial refuelers. In this conflict of the future, manned cargo planes lead packs of cargo drones and new hybrid airships for low-cost shipping to low-threat areas.

The Air Force still loves the F35. They envision a F-35D model. It would presumably be a derivative of the conventional Air Force F-35A. The service also envisions this model as being optionally manned and capable of advanced command and control for other uninhabited systems including the optionally manned LRS-B, uninhabited cargo and aerial refueler, and unmanned missile trucks. The Air Force is already exploring an up-engined variant of the F-35 in its ADVENT (adaptive versatile engine technology) program.

The current program calls for 80-100 long range bomber aircraft. The Air Force’s wants the LRS-B in the Future Operating Concept. They supports analyses showing that the Air Force needs more like 170 aircraft.

Drone swarm, directed energy weapons and hypersonic weapon scenario

Captain Dawson depressed the release button the instant his MMLRs reached their designated launch point. Six thousand miles away from him, his four-ship unleashed 200 pelican-sized vehicles that accelerated to 0.9 Mach and raced toward the enemy coastline. They rapidly aggregated into an evershifting array of decoys and jammers as their networked sensors built situational awareness on the enemy integrated air defense system (IADS).

The enemy quickly detected the mass of incoming projectiles, but the constantly changing picture made it impossible to determine the real targets from the decoys. No matter: their networked missiles and longrange directed-energy cannons would soon decimate this futile attack. Destroyed and disabled vehicles began to fall from the sky, but the remaining units reconstituted and continued inbound.

The enemy did not detect the approaching hypersonic missiles until it was too late. Under cover of the decoy-jammers, another formation of MMLRs had launched the hypersonic munitions from hundreds of miles away. The enemy IADS, saturated by the formation of decoy-jammers, had missed the one fleeting opportunity to target the high-speed munitions. Now in the terminal phase, the hypersonic missiles streaked into their targets. First to be destroyed was the ground-based high-energy laser that had menaced lowearth orbiting satellites for weeks—a cyber attack had locked its elevator into the up position just seconds before the missiles arrived. Other hypersonic salvos destroyed coastal defense cruise missile batteries and attack-boat pens. Finally the joint forcible entry could commence.

Thirty decoy vehicles managed to penetrate the vanquished IADS. Twenty found targets that matched their programmed criteria, striking enemy radar arrays and communication towers with their small integral warheads. The other ten, their fuel expended, self-destructed harmlessly offshore.