A new generation of Russian and Chinese-built long-range air-to-air missiles could threaten the critical nodes that enable U.S. air operations. Those nodes include the AWACS, various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, aerial refueling tankers and electronic attack aircraft.
Long-range air intercept weapons—coupled with the right fighter could disrupt the ability of the United States to conduct sustained air operations in both the Asia-Pacific and the European theaters. Essentially, Russians and/or Chinese forces could pair long-range air-to-air missiles with aircraft like the Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound, Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA and the Chengdu J-20 to attack American AWACS, JTARS and aerial refueling tankers like the Boeing KC-135 or forthcoming KC-46 Pegasus. Especially over the vast reaches of the Pacific where airfields are few and far between, lumbering aerial refueling tankers could be an Achilles’ Heel that Beijing could chose to exploit.
The United States also has the ability to take out the same systems on the Chinese and Russian side.
This would bring both sides down from 21st precision warfare to something closer to 1970s era air to air combat.
An airborne early warning and control (AEW and C) system is an airborne radar picket system designed to detect aircraft, ships and vehicles at long ranges and perform command and control of the battlespace in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack aircraft strikes.
Modern AEW and C systems can detect aircraft from up to 400 km (220 nmi) away, well out of range of most surface-to-air missiles. One AEW and C aircraft flying at 9,000 m (30,000 ft) can cover an area of 312,000 square kilometers (120,000 sq mi). Three such aircraft in overlapping orbits can cover the whole of Central Europe
Refueling planes are needed to extend the operating range of fighters and bombers. This enables aircraft carriers to stay out at safer ranges.
GPS is needed for precision targeting of weapons. Precision targeting enables fewer missiles or weapons to be used to accomplish the same mission.
Vietnam era combat did not have many of these systems.
SOURCES- National Interest, Free Beacon, wikipedia