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Global Air Power Shift: Predicting the Top Air Forces to Become the Strongest by 2030

In 2030, most people will be very familiar with the world’s top air forces. Traditional air powers like the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom will dominate the top spots on the list. These nations are still getting ready for a wide variety of wars, from localized air campaigns against non-state actors to global conflicts. To that end, these superpowers see it as crucial to their national security to have large, easily deployable, and cutting-edge air forces.

It will now include the People’s Republic of China as well. China is smart to bet on increasing its air power to match its position as the second-largest economy in the world. Even though China’s military buildup is already unsettling, the country’s unreasonable stances on things like the South China Sea only make things worse.

1. The United States

The United States has the world’s most powerful “air force” as of the year 2030, thanks to the combined might of its three fixed-wing air arms (the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps).

The United States of America expects to have reached its full potential by the year 2030. The Air Force will continue to use the 187 F-22 Raptors in its current fleet. Also, the 178 F-15Cs in its fleet will be the so-called “Golden Eagles,” which got their name because they have a lot of new radar and infrared sensors. The Air Force has also replaced the F-16C and A-10 with 1,763 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. After purchasing 100 KC-46 Pegasus aircraft, the United States Air Force will have partially revitalized its tanker fleet. The B-21 bomber is expected to go into production, and eventually, a hundred of these next-generation stealth bombers will be ordered.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35C (the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter) will have been chosen by the U.S. Navy by that time. The V-22 Osprey will be used to bring supplies and mail to aircraft carriers at sea, and the MQ-25 Stingray tanker/ISR drone will extend the range of manned fighters. By then, the Marine Corps will almost certainly have a fleet of F-35s that are all either the B model for short takeoff and landing or the C model for use with aircraft carriers.

2. China

There is a tipping point at which the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) of the People’s Republic of China will reach their full potential. While the number of aircraft in service has decreased, the quality of aircraft such as the Su-30, J-11, J-15, and J-10 fighters has increased.

Still, at best, these planes are “fourth-generation-plus” planes. Both the J-20 and the J-31, China’s fifth-generation fighters in development, must be successful if the country is to keep up with the United States and other superpowers.

Combatants play a minor role at best. The PLAAF’s first homegrown long-range transport, the Y-20, will have global reach by 2030. Meanwhile, China is increasing the number of early warning planes and aerial tankers in its air force. Even though tensions are rising in the East and South China Seas, China continues to add more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, especially drones like the “Divine Eagle” tandem-wing drone, to its fleet.

3. Russia

There are many possible future scenarios for the Russian Air Force in 2030. The Russian Air Force could be the second most powerful air force in the world in terms of firepower by 2030, and that’s in the best case scenario, where Russia gets out of its current recession, oil and commodity export prices go up, and Western sanctions are lifted.

The PAK-FA fighter and PAK-DA strategic bomber programs are the two most vital to the Russian Air Force. In order to provide Russia with a fighter on par with the American F-22 Raptor, the country needs the PAK-FA, also known as the T-50. If Russia keeps using its old fleet of fighter jets (MiG-29, Su-27/30/34), it will run out of options at some point. As a replacement for the old Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-22M Backfire, the PAK-DA strategic bomber program is making a stealthy, subsonic bomber that can carry nuclear weapons.

To be clear, this is based on the assumption that Russia’s economy will improve. The Russian air force will be lucky to be in the top ten in 2030, because sanctions, bureaucracy, and corruption will keep cutting defense budgets.

4. Israel

There are currently 312 F-16 multirole fighters, 25 F-15I strike fighters, and 58 F-15A/C air superiority fighters in the Israeli Air Force. The Israeli Air Force is likely to still be the best air force in the region in 2030.

Many of the airframes of the F-15s used for air superiority will be 40 years old or older by the year 2030, making their replacement an urgent priority. After production of the F-22 Raptor ceased in 2011, the F-15C has no direct successor.

Israel will have to choose between keeping its F-15Cs in service longer or switching their duties over to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter until the United States introduces its sixth-generation fighter.

According to Israeli plans, two F-35 squadrons will be up and running by 2021, and a third will form in the 2020s. While this would be a welcome addition, it would only amount to 25% of the total F-16s in operation. Two hundred F-35s or more might be deployed in the future. The use of sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles for tasks like intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, air defense suppression, and aerial refueling are likely to bolster these forces.

5. United Kingdom

The Royal Air Force is expected to reach its highest level of effectiveness in decades by 2030. Fewer than 160 highly capable Eurofighter Typhoons will be available to the air service. RAF Typhoons were first made to fight for air superiority, but now they can also carry and drop laser-guided Paveway series bombs. Their Brimstone missile capabilities are also improving thanks to ongoing efforts. The UK plans to use both human-piloted aircraft and combat drones based on the Taranis UAV by 2030.

The aging Panavia Tornado GR4 strike jet will be replaced by the F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, which are made by several countries and can take off and land vertically. Both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy will use the F-35B, and the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will have a fixed-wing complement consisting of F-35Bs.

Combined, the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy will have around 300 fighters by the year 2030, making them potentially the largest and most powerful air force in western Europe.