Why America Needs an Independent Air Force - War on the Rocks (2023)

Robert Farley, Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014).

It’s not every day someone argues that an entire service of the United States Armed Forces should be disappeared. But that is exactly what Robert Farley proposes in his new book, Grounded. Farley makes a case for the elimination of the U.S. Air Force, basing his argument on the inaccurate notion that strategic bombing is the sole reason for its existence as an independent service. He also takes the Air Force to task for not adequately supporting ground forces. He believes Air Force aircraft are best subsumed into the Army and Navy for better support of soldiers and sailors. In doing so, Farley disregards what the Air Force does best—air domain dominance—and undervalues a key component of United States historical successes in combat.

Air domain dominance doesn’t just happen. The mission requires the right people, equipment, training and doctrine to succeed. Undertaking a Capability Based Analysis (CBA) offers a means of evaluating the potential impact of Farley’s recommendation on this fundamental Air Force mission. A thorough CBA takes into consideration the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, logistics, personnel and facilities required for a given mission.

Air Force doctrine prioritizes achieving command of the skies above the land and maritime battlespace first and foremost in any conflict. And, doctrine is written based on lessons learned in prior conflicts. The United States Army and Navy are the best in the world at dominating land and sea, and each service continually updates its doctrine to retain superiority. An independent Air Force, drawing on decades of combat experiences in the air domain, is best suited to create air-centric doctrine. United States dominance in the five core Air Force missions would be diluted and dominance in the other domains would be at risk if the other services were forced to absorb the Air Force’s mission and responsibility for air domain doctrine. Far from streamlining American defense structures, subsuming Air Force personnel and materiel into another service would build larger, more cumbersome, and less focused organizations.

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Each branch of the U.S. military has unique, service-specific priorities based fundamentally on the domain in which it fights. Air Force aircraft and equipment are hardly integral to either the Army’s or the Navy’s priorities. The idea that the Army or Navy would, upon absorbing this equipment, reorganize to prioritize air dominance alongside ground or maritime operations ignores the lessons that led to the creation of a separate air service in the first place. Army dominates on land, and the Navy on sea. Those are big responsibilities.

By focusing on one domain, each service organizes itself to maximize effectiveness in that domain. Adding additional domain requirements would create an intrinsic conflict in organization. For example, a bomber wing is best employed to attack an enemy’s air force. Yet, it is also capable of supporting soldiers, tactically and operationally. If the Army were given bombers, they would be dispersed to support ground combat units. To do otherwise—to maintain the current emphasis on the air domain—would betray the organizational structure that has contributed to the Army’s dominance on land, and would equate to a simple name change for the Air Force. But this is not Farley’s argument. He believes the Air Force should support ground forces—period. Adopting such a change in the Air Force’s strategic orientation would dilute the value of Air Force personnel and materiel currently dominating the air.

Further, if a desire to save money encouraged the U.S. to heed Farley’s suggestion to forego air dominance, then a far more cost effective alternative would be to just disband the Air Force and mothball the aircraft. The United States military could be collectively oriented solely toward land and sea-specific missions. But savings would need to be weighed against new requirements that should be expected to arise. For instance, the Army would have to devise a method to protect soldiers from air attack. Surface-to-air defenses would become far more pervasive within the Army organization. Rather than brigade-level air defense, the Army would have to consider company-level air defense in order to maintain agility. This added requirement would inevitably slow the Army down. And, there is ultimately no guarantee that the defenses would protect soldiers from air attack, since enemy air forces would train to defeat ground-based air defenses.

As a result of the Air Force’s doctrinal emphasis and its organization, the service’s materiel acquisitions are naturally focused on the air domain. The B-2, for example, was designed to be the best bomber in the world. Navy aircraft carriers and Army tanks are similarly designed and procured with such service-specific requirements in mind. An independent Air Force with a focus on the air is best positioned to understand the performance tradeoffs necessary to acquire air dominant aircraft. While both the Army and Navy also have aircraft, those aircraft were conceived and produced for unique purposes: to support Army and Navy missions. To be sure, Air Force aircraft can do this, as well, a fact that has always created confusion for scholars like Farley. But the fact that Air Force aircraft can perform the same missions conducted by aircraft of the other services does not mean that having them do so represents their best use.

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In terms of training, Air Force airmen are purposefully equipped with the skills to dominate the air domain. The selection process is rigorous and designed to recruit people with the right attitude and aptitude to excel in this domain. At each step in the development process, they are continually challenged and evaluated. The training is intense, and designed so that the first time an airman sees combat, he/she is ready to rule the air. Significantly, this training approach is not limited to pilots. Numerous career fields in the Air Force have a combat component to them. Combat controllers, joint terminal attack controllers, combat rescue, security forces, logistics personnel, and many others play their part at times under fire.

New airmen put their training to the test at Red Flag, where they engage in realistic mock combat on a large scale for the first time. The two-week exercise was designed after analysis showed that this type of intense training increased survival rates in combat. Red Flag is also the first time air dominance comes together in a holistic fashion. It is in this boiling cauldron of supersonic death where one first understands how each core mission supports and is supported by the primary requirement to dominate the air.

Red Flag is built around the objective of attaining air superiority over a determined, well-trained, and well-equipped air foe. The aerial choreography required to fight and survive in a three-dimensional domain is like ballroom dancing in a tornado. While the Army’s soldiers who fly are incredible at hitting targets in close proximity to troops, they are neither trained nor equipped to fight in three dimensions. Eliminating an independent air force and incorporating it into the Army would inevitably signal the end of training such as that embodied in Red Flag, leaving American combat aviators vulnerable against an enemy air force whose training remains oriented toward winning in the air domain.

Besides seeing such a transformation in their training under Farley’s proposal, airmen who would be transferred would probably suffer slower promotions in a new service. The Army’s very reason for being is to excel in combat on land. This fact has two important implications. First, Army aircraft and pilots are employed in support of the main effort—the soldier on the ground. And second, the Army emphasizes ground combat experience as a qualifying characteristic in its leaders. Therefore, the aviation career field would have trouble promoting those airmen trained to fight and win in aerial combat. The Army may initially get some of the former Air Force’s personnel, but frustrated by lack of support for their inculcated desire to target the enemy’s air force, they would likely soon separate. Many personnel may choose not to transfer to the Army or Navy in the first place, since these services’ respective missions are not that for which they signed up and were trained.

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Additionally, forced retirement would be required for much of the Air Force leadership. While some senior officers and enlisted personnel would be retained for continuity, leaders in the Navy and Army with the ground or sea experience that is most valued in these services would generally replace them. The experience and knowledge that Air Force flag officers attained over years of fighting in the air domain would be lost, jeopardizing prospects for success in any future conflict through an unfortunate lack of institutional knowledge of air combat.

Moreover, the dangers that would result from this loss of knowledge would be exacerbated by inevitable changes in the focus of professional military education. Airmen would no longer spend a lifetime studying air combat, resulting in potential blind spots for senior DoD leadership. Eliminating professional military education focused solely on the air domain could mean that future Army and Navy leaders would painfully relearn those lessons.

The benefits of an independent Air Force are far too many and complex to adequately examine in this space. But this article seeks to provide a thoughtful analysis of Professor Farley’s proposal. The United States needs armed forces that are well-trained, well-equipped, well-led, and capable of fighting and winning America’s wars as cost effectively as possible. Farley’s suggested elimination of an independent Air Force, however, would cost billions, make DoD less effective, and displace thousands of talented people. On the basis of these conclusions, and mindful of the incredible record of success achieved by America’s armed forces from the advent of the airplane to today, we ask ourselves whether we are willing to bet the lives of America’s sons and daughters, and the security of this nation, on Professor Farley’s recommendation. We are not.

Colonel Scott D. Campbell, U.S. Marine Corps;Captain Charles L. Cashin III, U.S. Coast Guard;Captain William J. Parker III, U.S. Navy; andColonel Robert S. Spalding III, U.S. Air Forceare Military Fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations. Charles E. Berger, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation,is the National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former naval officer. The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government.

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Book Reviews, Commentary

FAQs

Why do we need an independent Air Force? ›

The most important rationales for air force independence are that operations in different media require different services (the division between earth, air, and water means that we need three services); that service differentiation should depend on the ability to plan and conduct independent campaigns; that the need ...

When did the US Air Force separate from the US Army? ›

On September 26, 1947, by order of the Secretary of Defense, personnel of the Army Air Forces (AAF) were transferred from the Department of the Army (formerly the War Department) to the Department of the Air Force and established as the United States Air Force (USAF).

Does US Air Force go to war? ›

The Air Force does go to war when they are needed, and it is actually a requirement for all Air Force personnel to be able to bear arms in defense of their country.

Why is the US Air Force important? ›

The United States Air Force, (USAF), one of the major components of the United States armed forces, with primary responsibility for air warfare, air defense, and the development of military space research. The Air Force also provides air services in coordination with the other military branches.

Does the Air Force ever fight on land? ›

Air force ground forces and special forces are ground forces, and may include special operations units that are part of a nation's air force. Airmen assigned to such units may be trained, armed and equipped for ground combat and special operations.

Why does every country need a military? ›

A military is intended primarily for warfare, but can also perform humanitarian work such as supplying food, water, and medical care to those in need. In most modern countries, the military is used strictly for defense (and said humanitarian work).

What does the Air Force do when not at war? ›

Peacetime/non-wartime activities of air forces may include air policing and air-sea rescue.

How powerful is the U.S. Air Force? ›

The United States air fleet

As of late 2021, the United States Air Force (USAF) is composed of 5217 active aircraft, making it the largest, the most technologically advanced, and the most powerful air fleet in the world.

How many fighter jets does the U.S. have 2022? ›

Current Active Inventory: 5,209 Aircraft. The following represents an overview of the modern aerial fighting capabilities of the United States Air Force (2022). The service currently counts 5,209 total units in its active aircraft inventory.

Is Air Force better than Army? ›

If you prefer a job that sees more combat, though, the Army may be the right choice for you. If you have more interest in technology, you'll find more opportunities in the Air Force. But there are ample opportunities for combat ground roles in the USAF and also plenty of tech jobs in the Army.

How much does an Air Force pilot get paid? ›

Average U.S. Air Force Pilot yearly pay in the United States is approximately $71,038, which is 17% above the national average.

How often does Air Force go to war? ›

The task of defending the people and resources of the United States is our top priority. For our Airmen, this means the possibility of being deployed to an active mission site every twenty months.

What rank do pilots stop flying? ›

Over 90% of the pilots within a flying squadron who make it to 20 years will retire as an O-5. For those who wish to continue their career, they may be eligible for promotion to O-6 after four years as an O-5.

Is the Air Force the most important? ›

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps are now tied with the Air Force as Americans' choice as the most important branch of the United States' armed forces, with the Navy and the Coast Guard far behind.

What are 3 facts about the Air Force? ›

What is the Air Force Known for in the Modern Military World?
  • The Air Force Has Over 300,000 Active-Duty Airmen in Its Ranks. ...
  • The Air Force Used to Be a Part of the Army. ...
  • The Air Force Provides Transportation for the President of the United States. ...
  • The Branch is Famous for Tracking Santa Claus.
17 Sept 2021

Why was war in the air important? ›

The goal in the air war was to win command of the skies by shooting down the enemy's planes in order to allow one's own planes to take photographs of the enemy's positions, thereby providing important intelligence for one's commanders, and targets for gunners.

How far can Air Force One travel? ›

7,800 statute miles

Can Air Force One fly around the world? ›

According to The White House's official website and webpage on Air Force One, this is the answer: "Capable of refueling midair, Air Force One has unlimited range and can carry the President wherever he or she needs to travel."

What happens if you desert the Air Force? ›

Desertion carries a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement of five years. For desertion during a time of war, however, the death penalty may be applied (at the discretion of the court-martial).

Why is the U.S. military all over the world? ›

The Korean and Cold Wars sped up the expansion of US military infrastructure to other countries. Containing Soviet communism led the US to set up posts all over the globe to ensure a geopolitical foothold in places that were vulnerable to Soviet influence — which basically meant everywhere.

Which country army is No 1 in the world? ›

China has the most active military personnel. Vietnam has the most military troops, including active and reserve. At 801 billion US dollars, the United States has the greatest military budget. The United States boasts the world's most powerful military.

Which country is without military? ›

Andorra has no standing army but has signed treaties with Spain and France for its protection. It has a small volunteer army which is purely ceremonial in function. The paramilitary GIPA special forces unit (trained in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue) is part of the national police.

What are Air Force soldiers called? ›

The Air Force has "airmen." The Department of the Navy has "sailors" and "Marines." The Army is filled with "soldiers." Members of the Coast Guard are referred to as "Coast Guardsmen" by the media (and "Coasties" by their brothers and sisters in arms).

Which country has the first Air Force? ›

First Air Force
First Air Force (Air Forces Northern)
CountryUnited States of America
BranchUnited States Air Force (18 September 1947 - present) United States Army ( Army Air Forces, 20 June 1941 – 18 September 1947; Army Air Corps 19 October 1940 – 20 June 1941)
TypeNumbered Air Force
13 more rows

Is US military stronger than China? ›

The United States retains unrivaled military power, and China is not in a position to challenge it.

Which country has the best Air Force in the world? ›

United States Air Force

As per the reports, by 2021, the United States Air Force (USAF) is comprised of 5217 active aircraft, making it the largest, the most technologically evolved, and the most powerful air fleet in the world.

How many fighter jets has Russia lost Ukraine? ›

But not by much. Independent analysts have confirmed, through photo and video evidence, the destruction of 184 Russian aircraft. The Ukrainians have captured another 73 aircraft from the Russians for a total of 257 confirmed Russian losses.

What is the U.S. most advanced fighter jet? ›

The F-35A is America's most advanced multi-role fighter. It routinely demonstrates unmatched capabilities and combines stealth, advanced sensors, and information sharing systems. It is already proving itself in eastern Europe and will be the cornerstone of the U.S. Air Force's fighter fleet for decades to come.

What country has the fastest fighter jet? ›

2/9 Soviet: MiG-31: 1900 MPH

The MiG-31 Foxhound broke several world records when it was launched in 1977, including the record for highest altitude reached in less than 5 minutes. Like the MiG-25 it can hit nearly 2000 MPH. The MiG-31 has the privilege of being the fastest fighter jet in use by any nation to this day.

Who gets paid more Army or Air Force? ›

The U.S. Air Force salary per month is the same as the U.S. Army. Pay in each of the five American military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) is based on a combination of rank (pay grade) and time in service.

Which is harder Air Force or Navy? ›

Some argue that because the Navy requires trainees to swim, that the Navy's boot camp is harder while others argue that since the Air Force's basic training is longer, that it can be considered harder. It's a toss-up. It's really up to the individual to decide what training, Navy vs Air Force, is hardest.

Who pays better Air Force or Navy? ›

If you're considering a military career, you might wonder which military service – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or Space Force – has the best pay and benefits. At a basic pay level, the answer is simple. The military pays the same regardless of branch, according to your pay grade and years of service.

How many hours does an Air Force pilot work? ›

Inadequate flying hours reduces pilot proficiency and correlates with increased accident rates. According to figures provided to Air Force Magazine, pilot flying hours across all types of aircraft in the Active-duty force averaged 10.1 hours per month in fiscal 2021, down from 10.9 hours in 2020.

What do Top Gun pilots make? ›

Salary: $34,500 to $97,400. Plus good benefits and a $225,000 signing bonus — guaranteed.

How long do Air Force pilots serve? ›

Pilots incur a 10-year service commitment from the date they complete training and are awarded an aeronautical rating. Airmen in these roles are evaluated for continued service one year to 18 months before the completion of this commitment.

How many times has Air Force beat Army? ›

Through 2022, the Air Force Falcons hold the most trophy victories with 21. The Navy Midshipmen have won 16. The Army Black Knights trail with 9. The trophy has been shared on five occasions, most recently in 2021.

How many soldiers does the U.S. Air Force have? ›

329,614

Can you leave the Air Force after 4 years? ›

You can voluntarily separate from the Air Force once your service obligation, also known as your contract, has been fulfilled. This will normally result in an "honorary" discharge and you will receive full veterans benefits associated with your service.

Are there female TOPGUN pilots? ›

Lately, my Twitter feed is full of praise for “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the 1986 hit. But little of the chatter has mentioned one of the film's most significant achievements: the inclusion of a fighter pilot nicknamed “Phoenix,” played by Monica Barbaro. Phoenix is, significantly, not a love interest.

How long do pilots have to rest? ›

§ 91.1059 Flight time limitations and rest requirements: One or two pilot crews.
Normal duty
(1) Minimum Rest Immediately Before Duty10 Hours
(2) Duty PeriodUp to 14 Hours
(3) Flight Time For 1 PilotUp to 8 Hours
(4) Flight Time For 2 PilotsUp to 10 Hours
2 more rows

Do pilots stay awake long flights? ›

Resting in the cockpit

Only flights that are longer than eight hours require an additional pilot to be on board so one pilot at a time can rotate out for rest. On shorter flights, US regulations expect both pilots to remain alert for the entire length of the flight, without any chance for rest during the flight.

Does the Air Force ever fight on the ground? ›

Air Force Special Warfare (AFSPECWAR) comprises ground combat forces that specialize in airpower application in hostile, denied and politically sensitive environments. AFSPECWAR enlisted specialties include Combat Control, Pararescue, Special Reconnaissance and Tactical Air Control Party (TACP).

Why is the Air Force so important? ›

Its mission, simply put, is to defend the nation through the control and exploitation of air and space. Although obviously tasked with flying missions, most personnel work on the ground in various construction, support and technical capacities.

Do Air Force soldiers fight? ›

The Air Force is the national military branch that will primarily conduct aerial warfare, and it is the branch of a nation's armed services that will be responsible for aerial warfare, and they are just as important as other sectors like the army or navy.

What is the most powerful branch of the U.S. military? ›

The US ARMY the most powerful branch of the United States military and The most powerful branch in the Whole world. Coming second is the Airforce, then the Navy.

How big is the U.S. Air Force? ›

United States Air Force
Size328,820 active duty personnel 152,231 civilians 69,056 reserve personnel 110,000 air national guard personnel 5,217 aircraft 406 ICBMs
Part ofUnited States Armed Forces Department of the Air Force
HeadquartersThe Pentagon Arlington County, Virginia, United States
33 more rows

How hard is the Air Force? ›

Air Force basic training is one of the most difficult challenges anyone can undertake. The Air Force prides itself on excellence, perseverance and has extremely high standards it expects recruits to rapidly start meeting. Recruits are tested physically, mentally, and emotionally.

What is the main purpose of war? ›

War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. object we must render the enemy powerless; and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare.

What is the advantage of having an air power during war? ›

Air power offers civil and military leaders a powerful tool to fight terrorism, and due to its speed, range, and flexibility, it is one of the most powerful military tool used in conventional wars.

What does air war mean? ›

air warfare, also called aerial warfare, the tactics of military operations conducted by airplanes, helicopters, or other manned craft that are propelled aloft. Air warfare may be conducted against other aircraft, against targets on the ground, and against targets on the water or beneath it.

How much do Air Force One pilots make? ›

How much does a Pilot make at U.S. Air Force in the United States? Average U.S. Air Force Pilot yearly pay in the United States is approximately $71,038, which is 17% above the national average.

What is Air Force 1 called when the president is not on it? ›

When VC-25A or the currently under development VC-25B are in the air but not carrying the president, air traffic controllers may refer to them by their tail numbers, Special Air Missions (SAM) 28000 and 29000, or by a call sign of their choosing.

Who protects Air Force One? ›

Air Force One is maintained and operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, part of the White House Military Office. The Airlift Group was founded in 1944 as the Presidential Pilot Office at the direction of President Franklin D.

How long can a plane fly without stopping? ›

A: This depends on the size of the plane, its efficiency, and how fast it's flying. A modern Boeing 747 can fly about 15,000 km (9,500 miles) when it's flying at 900 kmh (550 mph). This means it can fly non stop for almost 16 hours!

What is the longest flight in the world? ›

For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page. Editor's note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers. Singapore Airlines currently operates the longest flight in the world: a whopping 9,527-mile nonstop journey from New York to Singapore.

Who travels with the president on Air Force One? ›

Air Force One can seat up to 70 people, which typically includes the president's senior advisers, Secret Service officers, reporters from various media outlets and other guests who may be accompanying the president.

Do you go to jail if you quit the military? ›

Desertion carries a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement of five years. For desertion during a time of war, however, the death penalty may be applied (at the discretion of the court-martial).

Do you get paid after leaving Air Force? ›

In most cases, Airmen and Guardians who have completed 20 years of active service are eligible to receive Retired Pay at the end of their career.

What is the point of a private military? ›

Private military contractors are hired for protection, not combat missions. The companies normally look for veterans or people with law enforcement experience, and they recruit all around the globe. Rene de Nevers, an international affairs professor at Syracuse, says the work can be lucrative.

Why is the Air Force a separate branch? ›

In the major reorganization of the Army by War Department Circular 59, effective March 9, 1942, the newly created Army Air Forces gained equal voice with the Army and Navy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and complete autonomy from the Army Ground Forces and the Services of Supply, serving as a separate service in all but ...

What is an unaccompanied tour in the Air Force? ›

An unaccompanied overseas tour is a tour served overseas without command-sponsored dependents when dependents are authorized at that location. “During these moves, service members not only have to adjust to their new jobs, but also to a new culture and country, which takes time,” said Lt. Gen.

Is air superiority fighter important? ›

Air superiority facilitates combat power by enhancing combined arms operations and the maneuverability and firepower of one's forces. Combined arms operations use two or more weapons systems in such a way that it is difficult for an adversary to defend itself from both.

How much does the military pay a private? ›

Rank
Rank<2 Years Experience6 Years Experience
Private (E1)$3,849.93*$3,849.93
Private (E2)$4,314.87$4,314.87
Private First Class(E3)$4,537.26$5,114.97
Specialist or Corporal (E4)$5,026.14$6,101.55
2 more rows
8 Aug 2022

What are private soldiers called? ›

A mercenary, sometimes also known as a soldier of fortune or hired gun, is a private individual, particularly a soldier, that joins a military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military.

How much does a private army cost? ›

A Private is a enlisted soldier in the United States Army at DoD paygrade E-1. A Private receives a monthly basic pay salary starting at $1,833 per month, with raises up to $1,833 per month once they have served for over 2 years.

Who goes to war first? ›

The Marines are often the first on the ground in combat situations, leading the charge when conflict arises. They also serve on Navy ships, protect Naval bases and guard U.S. embassies.

Which military branch goes to war first? ›

The Marine Corps is often first on the ground in combat situations.

How long can Air Force One stay in the sky? ›

Flugzeuginfo.net notes that the range of a Boeing 747-200 is 12,700km - equating to a maximum of 14 hours of flight at cruising speed. Of course, the VC-25As are modified, and their range will vary slightly from this.

Do Air Force members fly for free? ›

Service members and their families can use Space-A flights to travel around the country and world at little to no cost. Though sometimes unpredictable, military flights are perfect for families with flexible plans and limited travel budgets.

Can Air Force One fly anywhere? ›

Capable of refueling midair, Air Force One has unlimited range and can carry the President wherever he or she needs to travel.

Does the US have air superiority over China? ›

While the United States still has unrivaled air-to-air capabilities, “continuous improvements in Chinese air capabilities make it increasingly difficult for the United States to achieve air superiority within a politically and operationally effective time frame, especially in a scenario close to the Chinese mainland”, ...

What is US current air superiority fighter? ›

The F-22 brings stealth into the day, enabling it not only to protect itself but other assets. The F-22 engines produce more thrust than any current fighter engine.

What is Russia's main air superiority fighter? ›

Sukhoi Su-35
Su-27M / Su-35
A Russian Air Force Su-35S
RoleMulti-role fighter, air superiority fighter
National originSoviet Union (Russia since 1991)
Design groupSukhoi Design Bureau
10 more rows

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