RUSI Combat Air Conference 2022

Next-generation combat air programmes are competing with modernisation efforts for existing fleets and weapons systems. The conference explores how sufficient combat air mass, lethality and survivability can be achieved for a state to stay viable in potential peer and near-peer conflicts.

calendarclock - (GMT)
locationOnline / Institute of Directors, London


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has graphically demonstrated the need for air forces to adapt to help re-establish NATO warfighting credibility. As next-generation combat air programmes compete with the modernisation of existing fleets and weapons systems for finite funding, how can sufficient mass, lethality and survivability be achieved?

Threats to Western freedom of access to the air domain include, but are not limited to, advanced integrated air defence systems, adversary fifth generation combat air systems and advanced precision strike capabilities which threaten airbases and maintenance hubs. Meanwhile most NATO land- and maritime-domain forces remain heavily dependent on overhead ISTAR and responsive air-delivered firepower for survivability and lethality in a high-intensity context. Therefore, there is a collective defence imperative for NATO air forces to maintain or in some cases regain credible warfighting capabilities against modern state-based threats. As such, striking the correct balance between investments in modernisation of existing fleets and weapons systems, developing the next generation of combat air platforms and improving operational resilience, readiness and redundancy is a critical challenge.

In the UK, the Future Combat Air Strategy includes work on the Tempest Programme alongside modernisation for the Typhoon force, growing the F-35B Lightning II force, a return to dispersed fast jet exercises alongside many other elements. However, continued pressure on capital investment and operating costs will force hard trade-offs to be made. Italy and Sweden are both working alongside the UK on future combat air technologies, but have their own unique operational and political drivers. They face a similar balancing act. Elsewhere in Europe, France, Germany and Spain continue to refine the concepts and industrial agreements required for the SCAF/FCAS next generation combat air system, while also modernising their respective Rafale and Eurofighter fleets and re-orientating their geopolitical threat planning and defence budgets in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For smaller nations, the dilemmas posed by modernisation and resilience requirements are starker. Poland, Norway and Finland are all examples of different approaches being taken to finding the correct balance as they transition to a new generation of combat aircraft.

In Washington DC, retaining military overmatch against Chinese forces in the Indo-Pacific imposes a totally different scale of challenge. Across the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps, a range of major acquisition programmes such as NGAD, B-21 Raider, F/A-XX and Skyborg are competing with F-35 procurement and legacy fleet modernisation imperatives.

This conference will draw on presentations and debates between experts, capability planners and stakeholders across the NATO alliance and partner nations.

Main Image Credit Sgt Peter George, Creative Commons 2.0 licencing | Typhoon F35 RAF


  • Palantir

    Sponsor of the RUSI Combat Air Conference 2022

    Find out more
  • Lockheed Martin

    Sponsor of the RUSI Combat Air Conference 2022

    Find out more

Sponsorship opportunities

Sponsorship opportunities are available. Please contact Justin Bronk:

Not a RUSI Member?

  • Get a great ticket discount with RUSI Membership

    As well as attending conferences at a preferential rate, receive invitations to exclusive member events and access to RUSI Journal Newsbrief and Defence Systems

    Join today


  • -


  • -

    Welcome Remarks

    Justin Bronk, Research Fellow for Airpower

  • -

    Session One: Doing Things Differently

    It is widely accepted that air forces must move beyond traditional approaches to innovation, procurement, strategy and doctrine development to avoid obsolescence or irrelevance. This panel will explore novel approaches and how they might be applied.

    Chair: Will Blyth, UK Defence Strategy Lead, Palantir


    • Bryan Clark, The Hudson Institute
      Innovating for the Right Wars
    • Air Vice Marshal Johnny Stringer, Rebellion Defence, RAF
      Reinventing Airpower Strategy and Harnessing the Commercial Sector
    • Atherton Carty, Advanced Development Programs, Skunkworks
      The Skunkworks development philosophy in the 2020s and beyond
  • -


  • -

    Session Two: UK Force Modernisation and Resilience

    The Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced the vital importance of combat mass and resilience for modern air forces. The panel will focus on the efforts underway to build on the strengths and mitigate shortcomings in the UK’s current combat air fleets.

    Chair: Dr Jack Watling, Research Fellow, RUSI


    • Air Commodore Mike Baulkwill, Combat Air Force Commander, RAF
      Enhancing the Warfighting Capabilities of the Combat Air Force
    • Colonel Philip Kelly, Head Carrier Strike & Maritime Aviation
      Building the Future Maritime Aviation Force
    • Dr Sophy Antrobus, Research Associate, Freeman Air and Space Institute
      Barriers to Modernising and Building Operational Resilience
  • -


  • -

    Special Session on the Air War over Ukraine

    This session will examine the use of air power by both Ukraine and Russia during the war, potential explanations for unexpected trends, and what initial lessons might be drawn by other air forces.

    Justin Bronk, Research Fellow for Airpower, RUSI

  • -

    Session Three: European Next-Generation Combat Air Ambitions

    There are two European next-generation combat air development programmes. The panel will hear UK, German and Italian representatives on their respective roadmaps, and how their next-generation plans fit within overall combat air modernisation.

    Chair: Dr Sidharth Kaushal, Research Fellow, RUSI


    • Air Cdre Jonny Moreton, Head of Combat Air Acquisition Programme, RAF
      The Future of UK Combat Air Development
    • Col. Rupert Ficker-Reissing, German Air Force
      German Air Force Modernisation and the Future Capability Roadmap
    • Col. Gianmarco Di Loreto, Italian Air Force
      Balancing Force Modernisation and Operational Effectiveness
  • -


  • -

    Session Four: Drowning in the Bow Wave? The US Airpower Challenge

    Panellists will explore the challenge facing the United States as it attempts to balance very ambitious next generation development programmes with ongoing F-35 procurement and the increasingly expensive modernisation and life-extension requirements of its legacy fighter fleets.

    Chair: Justin Bronk, Research Fellow for Airpower, RUSI


    • Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, US Air Force
      4+1 and the Route to Sustainable Force Modernisation 
    • Heather Penney, Senior Resident Fellow, Mitchell Institute
      The US Air Force’s Fighter Challenge
    • Dr Heather Roff, Senior Research Scientist, CNA
      The DoD Debate on Autonomy and Automation in Weapons Systems
  • -

    Closing Remarks

    Justin Bronk, Research Fellow for Airpower, RUSI

Explore our related content