If you cannot control the skies, you will lose the war. That has been the case ever since the German Army crossed into Poland in September, 1939. The two most technologically advanced air forces in the world are those of the European Union (EU) and the United States. How do they match up?
The EU brings versatility and a high number of high-performance to the match-up. France, Germany, the UK, and Italy all have designed and built aircraft, either on their own, or working together. Spain has license-built various aircraft as well, and took part in the Eurofighter program.
Fighters and ground-attack planes comprise the bulk of the EUs Air Force. The best fighters the EU can bring to bear are the Eurofighter and the Rafale. Both are also quite capable as attack aircraft as well, carrying anti-ship missiles, land-attack missiles, or precision-guided bombs. The Eurofighter is being purchased in large numbers. Some 620 are to enter service with the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain to replace Tornado F.3s, Jaguars, F-5s, F-4Fs, and F-104 Starfighters. France is hoping for a total of 294 Rafales to replace Crusaders, Mirage F-1s, and Jaguars.
The multi-national Tornado is in service as well, with the UK, Italy, and Germany have a total of 526 of the IDS/GR.4 variants in service. Other planes in service include the American F/A-18 Hornet with Spain, the Mirage 2000 in France, and the AMX in Italy. Versions of the Harrier are in service with the UK, Spain and Italy. Greece has a large number of F-4s and F-16s.
The United States brings in its own combat forces. In addition to the power air arms from the U.S. Navy, the United States Air Force also brings significant combat power. The F-15C, F-16C, and F-15E have proven themselves in combat in Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The United States Air Force is rapidly bringing the F-22 on line, albeit in small numbers compared to the Eurofighter and Rafale. The United States also will bring in the F-35. This is going to be the first stealth aircraft procured in huge numbers (total production is slated to hit about 2,600). In addition, the Navy and Marine Corps bring large numbers of F/A-18C/D and F/A-18E/F Hornets into the mix.
The United States also brings in a huge force of bombers a force the European Union dos not have much less to have any hope of matching. The B-52H, B-1B and B-2 bombers are able hit targets anywhere in the world from bases in the United States. Nothing in Europe can match this. The bombers also become more potent when one considers that these bombers carry air-launched cruise missiles (20 for the B-52, 22 for the B-1B, 16 for the B-2). These allow the bombers to launch outside the range of the most modern fighters.
In support, the EU lags the U.S. They would, theoretically, have access to the 18 NATO E-3s, plus the E-3s in service with France and the UK. The United States has a distinct edge in tactical ECM (with the large force of EA-6B Prowlers), and in aerial refueling (672 KC-130, KC-135, and KC-10 tankers active or in reserve compared to 59 for the EU, which has a mixture of KC-135/C-135s Lockheed Tristars, VC-10s, and KC-130s). The EU is racing to catch up with the A.400 tanker, but the United States has a huge qualitative and quantitative asset allowing its aircraft to reach further than the EUs. The United States also has a huge advantage in airlift. The EU does not have any transport capacity comparable to the C-5 and C-17 aircraft, and the United States has the largest force of C-130s in the world.
When it comes to winning command of the air, the United States has a clear advantage. The quality is comparable with the EUs, and the quantity is much larger. The United States, in come critical areas, is able to do things in a scale that Europe cannot. Short version, when it comes to air war, the United States has a long term edge over the European Union. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)