NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – Urban combat is often seen as the purview of ground forces, but as population density grows around the globe, the Air Force must invest in precise technologies designed for populated areas, the service’s top officials said this week.

Leadership from the Marines and Army expect to deal with continuous urban operations, said U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and hence his service will need to make sure it is adding the right capabilities to support the ground-based components.

“We go as a joint team. So as they focus on urban warfare, we’ve got to focus on urban warfare. And so, it comes up with a far broader series of questions than the munitions piece. What kind of persistence are you going to have? What kind of network do I need?”

The comments came during a Sept. 19 media briefing by Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as part of the annual Air Force Association conference.

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“What kind of Air Force do we design for 2030 that can fight and win in an increasingly urban environment? If in fact the globe is becoming more urbanized, we’ve got to stay out in front of that,” Goldfein added.

The chief acknowledged that means the service is looking at potential new platforms suited for urban warfare, but he stressed that the focus is more on creating a multi-domain network which, when combined, can deliver on range, payload and persistence.

And while Goldfein downplayed the focus on munitions, Wilson did emphasize that the world will “no longer tolerate” imprecise strikes from the United States, which has major implications for the kind of weapons designed in the future.

“Urban warfare has implications for our science and technology strategy as well. What are the kinds of directed energy weapons that all of the services are going to be moving towards? That has implications there on the size of the weapons,” she said.

However, the secretary was also quick to praise the current generation of weapons, such as the small diameter bomb, being employed in Iraq and elsewhere. She told reporters of a situation where Iraqi forces were pinned down by enemies, and required a strike that would not only take out an enemy position 13 meters from the Iraqi troops, but also collapse a wall in a certain direction.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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