Christina Ortiz-Dixon

Oct 27th 2022

Combating Area Denial Zones: US Air Force Stealth Fleet Needs Upgrade


Over the last 20 years, anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zones have entered the global military strategy conversation in a big way. Although A2/AD methods have been around since antiquity, recent technology advances have catapulted them to center stage. Non-Western players like Russia and China are growing their resources to use A2/AD to their advantage, according to Defense One.

The Chinese investment in ballistic missiles, submarines and air defense implies that they are focusing on preventing access to their shores. At the same time, Russia is growing their capabilities to advance their agenda and test the waters in Eastern Europe. The abundance of A2/AD technology strengthens their ability to control who can enter certain areas via normal transportation methods. Using their advanced air systems, Russia can hold a region hostage by controlling or monitoring an area’s railroads, airports and ports, according to Defense One.

While these A2/AD arsenals are expanding, the U.S. military has a dire need to meet the challenges this new world poses.

The Air Force Needs a Stealth Upgrade

Currently, only 12 percent of the U.S. Air Force fleet can operate in anti-access/area denial zones, according to National Defense Magazine. This poses a problem for the U.S., not only in terms of national security and protecting our fleet, but also when it comes to protecting our place in the world as a leader in military technology.

In early 2017, the Air Force tasked Northrop Grumman with building a new stealth fighter called the B-21 Raider. According to National Defense Magazine, the B-21 Raider “is expected to give the Pentagon a new long-range strike system that can carry nuclear or conventional weapons deep into well-defended enemy airspace and not get shot down … Pentagon officials have said … they expect the aircraft to achieve initial operating capability in the mid-2020s.”

Another potential win for the Air Force would be adapting current A2/AD capabilities to meet modern-day challenges. While the B-21 is in production, the B-2 fighters are testing modifications to their Defense Management System, which uses sensors, software and other radar-evading technology to preserve and expand their stealth abilities. The upgrades would integrate new technology and modernize the fleet, said

Meeting the Challenge

Ideally, counterinsurgency methods like working with international partners to expand areas of operations and gathering intelligence to develop strategies would be at the forefront of any plan of action, according to The Royal Swedish Academy of Air Sciences.

At the same time, mainstream counterinsurgency isn’t enough; defense systems and stealth technology need upgrades to match the threatening parties’ technology so that both tactics can work together in the fight against aggressors.

Meeting the challenges A2/AD zones provide is a long game, one that needs smart technology to counteract the actions being taken by other players. While we grow our arsenals and expand our own capabilities, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the growth and advancements of other countries’ assets and how they are using them to wield power.