In 2012, a prospective study by the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) questioned the future of Western aviation and aerospace superiority in the light of the development of surface-to-air threats and counter-strategies from the air (1): while mastering the sky was presented as our first line of defense and the condition of any first entry-level operation, the study predicted that the western advantage of the air and space domains would gradually erode over the next few decades until it would potentially jeopardize the strategic efficiency of the air force.
If the foresight is good reflection on human action in an accelerating world (2) “, it is clear that the trends identified by IFRI from 2012 have actually accelerated: almost ten years later, in 2021, the Ministry of Defense’s strategic update confirms the diagnosis by pointing out” dissemination of effective access and denial capabilities, modern fighter jets or missiles of all types“While remembering our persistent shortcomings in the mission of suppressing enemy defenses and in the ability to penetrate in depth with these units (3). In this context, the Air and Space Force (AAE) must prepare to meet five major trends, grouped into two structuring challenges.
Dissemination of powerful denial of access and denial opportunities
The first major challenge thus concerns the proliferation of denial positions (anti-access) and denial of territory (denial of area ). For more than thirty years, the Air Force has truly embodied one of the asymmetric advantages of Western countries, allowing them to intervene unhindered to deal with crises and project strength when needed. This supremacy went hand in hand with a perverse effect: we thought we were making the enemy disappear– more or less consciously – as well as its ability to withstand the conflicting equation. However, our competitors have not remained inactive: on the contrary, they have observed and then in particular invested in catching up on what has been achieved by drawing up real counter-strategies from the air. Like the citadels of Vauban in the 17thand century, these positions have a dual purpose: defensive on the one hand by increasing the “entry cost of operations” (by avoiding symmetrical confrontation); offensive on the other hand by restricting an actor’s freedom of action near a given area and by allowing the creation of implemented facts. Their distribution responds to three major trends.
The advent of integrated surface-to-air defense systems
First of all, the deployment on earth of increasingly effective surface-to-air defense systems greatly limits the freedom of action of our armed forces and their ability to act. These systems benefit from technological advances, whether for detection (reducing the benefit of stealth) or eavesdropping. This effort is all the more problematic as the implemented systems are increasingly integrated into successive layers – and in fact more resilient to a negative attack – and as the armies have largely disinvested in the capabilities that allow them to be suppressed. . (such as offensive electronic warfare for example).
In Europe, the NATO Allies’ freedom of action is thus threatened by the systems that Russia has implemented in the Baltic Sea (Kaliningrad Oblast) or in the Black Sea, which means integrating low-level ground-to-air defenses for up to a very long time. row S ‑ 400 and soon S ‑ 500 systems. This position allows Russia to control important circulation or posting sites at Europe’s borders and to influence its neighborhood. In addition, the proliferation of systems of Russian origin is also problematic for freedom of action in the Mediterranean, whether in its western part (S-350 in Algeria), central part (through the conflict in Libya) or eastern (S-400), SA -17 and SA-22 in Syria).
In Asia, China is catching up with forced march to catch up with Russia after copying it for a long time. Its very far-reaching HQ-9 systems are thus to be found in its strategy of insidious appropriation of the South China Sea, which is nevertheless crucial for European strategic supplies. Finally, it is very active in the export sector, as evidenced by the sale of HQ-9 batteries to Pakistan and its exploration in Africa.
The age of missiles and drones
If the A2 / AD positions are often reduced to their defensive component, our opponents will also develop significant offensive capabilities. Russia has thus developed a whole arsenal of missiles (ballistic, cruise, hypersonic (4)) allows it to delve deep into European theater and thus threaten the infrastructures (ports, airports, fixed lines of communication) that are crucial for the design of European forces. All of these capabilities serve as an intimidating stance that should allow Russia to deter the opponent from intervening to oppose an aggressive maneuver on its part.
In addition to Russia, the regional powers are investing massively in deep means of attack: the expansion of the range and the increase in the precision of these means are accompanied by new vulnerabilities for the positioning of our forces as well as for the structuring of our air defenses. , by exposing them to the risk of erosion (destruction) or their destruction (harassment). In particular, the increasingly massive use of drones and other looting ammunition constitutes a breach, as has been observed in the conflicts in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, the ability to strike the enemy in depth is no longer the privilege of the great powers: the vertical (upgrade) and horizontal proliferation of DRAMs (drones, rockets, artillery, missiles) offer those who take advantage of new prohibition capabilities likely to challenge air superiority. These vulnerabilities speak in favor of an all-encompassing and integrated vision of air defense and anti-missile defense, ranging from the fight against drones to defense against ballistic theater missiles.