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Retiring Air Force intel chief sounds alarm on American air superiority

OXON HILL, Md. — The U.S. Air Force’s former top intelligence officer warned a roomful of generals this week that the U.S. has lost its air power advantages and is dangerously ill-prepared to stop the gap-closing efforts of China and Russia.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former F-15 pilot , challenged Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ fundamental belief that U.S. air power vastly overmatches any foreign military.

“For the first time, our claim to air supremacy is in jeopardy,” Deptula told the Air Force Association’s national convention on Monday.

At the same forum last year, Gates defended ordering a halt to the production of the Air Force’s vaunted F-22, saying that by the time China produces a fighter comparable to the F-22, the U.S. will have more than 1,000 F-22s and F-35s.

The Air Force Association has openly opposed Gates’ stance and this year Deptula came armed with a 15-minute video titled “Threats to 2010 Air Supremacy.” His presentation attempted to reopen more than just the F-22 fight, warning that from surface-to-air defenses to air-to-air fighters, the U.S. was letting others catch up. These future threats, he said, are now current.

There is “a global revolution to modernize air defense systems,” the video’s narrator explained. Russia and China are deploying or building better surface-to-air missile, or SAM, systems that could one day prove too much for U.S. fighter aircraft.

Within the decade, it said, both nations could field fighter jets nearly comparable to the F-22.

“When taken in total, our potential adversaries can create a nearly impenetrable box that our legacy fighters cannot enter, thus denying us our air supremecy,” it said.

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After showing the video, Deptula dismissed “the notion of overmatch in the realm of air dominance,” a reference to the Gates position.

It is unclear how much weight Deptula will be able to lend to those in the Air Force, or on Capitol Hill, clamoring to defend air power procurement programs. Gates frequently has said he wants the Pentagon to prioritize building a force and arsenal ready to meet the most current and plausible threats.

So far, Gates has been largly successful, and Deptula’s presentation was riddled with worst-case scenarios.

“The dominance we’ve enjoyed in the aerial domain is no longer ours for the taking,” Deptula said.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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