Airpower Offers Hybrid Warfare Advantages

In the matter of hybrid warfare—the term of choice covering employment of both sophisticated and low-end weaponry by either state or non-state actors—tactics, weapons, and composition of enemy forces will become more opaque and convoluted and elements of airpower will become more not less relevant, defense analyst Michael Isherwood said Thursday during a General Billy Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies event unveiling his new Mitchell Paper “Airpower for Hybrid Warfare.” Drawing on case studies over the years, Isherwood said the old lines of conflict that broke down low-end counterinsurgency from full-theater conventional war will no longer apply. “There’s a risk in just worrying about the low end,” he said. Airpower, with its persistent intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, mobility, and precision strike capabilities, will be critical in hybrid warfare. For instance, he suggested the F-22 Raptor provides ample overwatch, strike, and sensor capability—all assets that ground commanders want in today’s fight in Afghanistan. However, he acknowledges, “The minute I tell you it’s an F-22, everyone suddenly goes negative and says no that’s overkill.” He said, “I think that’s the wrong answer,” because commanders need to focus on the capability they want, not necessarily the airframe. Isherwood said that F-22 critics forget that airspace can easily be denied or defended, with modern surface-to-air missiles available even to non-state actors, which is why platforms such as the F-22, F-35, and a new bomber are important to the nation’s future defense strategy.