Cover: Operational Imperative

Operational Imperative

Investing Wisely to Bolster U.S. Air Bases Against Chinese and Russian Attacks

Published Jan 17, 2023

by Christopher Lynch, Rachel Costello, Jacob L. Heim, Andrew Karode, Patrick Mills, Robert S. Tripp, Alan J. Vick

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China's and Russia's increasingly aggressive actions toward neighboring countries have shifted the attitudes of defense policymakers about both aggressors over the past two decades. Not only is there a growing consensus that China and Russia represent significant threats to U.S. interests, but there are also growing calls for actions to counter the threats.

For the past several years, the RAND Corporation has analyzed cost-effective mitigations to air base attacks, including both Agile Combat Employment (ACE) and alternative solutions. ACE is a concept that would move the U.S. Air Force from operating out of a small number of very large, fixed airfields to a more-flexible posture of operating from a cluster of locations that would enable greater movement and agility. A successful ACE concept would both aid in combat power generation and protect aircraft for later use. Alternative solutions include active ballistic and cruise missile defense systems and many forms of passive defense, such as hardening, redundancy, deception, dispersal, and rapid repair capabilities.

In this Perspective, the authors synthesize past RAND research on Chinese and Russian missile threats to U.S. overseas air bases and how the U.S. Air Force can cost-effectively counter these threats.

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