Reason #817 Why the Air Force Sucks


Categorie: Air |

“The hardest wars we fight are not on the battlefield,” Air Combat Command chief Ronald Keys said on August 21, “but the wars we fight in the halls of Congress. They are fought in the Pentagon, they are fought in these programs, to make sure the money is paid and eventually the program is operating.”

Keys was talking about the $500-million A-10C upgrade program that gives the venerable attack jet new sensors and weapons. The A-10 is a fine aircraft and a great help to troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if any acquisitions program, even one as cost-effective as the A-10C, represents your “hardest war” as a service at a time when tens of thousands of American servicepeople are risking their lives every day, then your attitudes and priorities are all wrong. And you no longer deserve to be an independent service.

The Air Force wanted new engines for the A-10C, too, but couldn’t afford them. But that’s the service’s own damn fault, and it’s indicative of backwards thinking. The nation’s youngest military service is sinking $200 billion into unnecessary F-35 light fighters when upgraded F-16s would suffice, and God knows how many billions into consistently under-performing space programs. The Air Force bailed out of the potentially revolutionary UCAS killer drone program in order to buy a big new fleet of big new manned bombers for much more money. The service wants to prepare for an imaginary high-tech air war with China instead of fighting the dirty, low-tech wars we’re actually in. Why? Because high-tech superpower showdowns are what the Air Force knows. They’re easy. The low-tech approach to warfare, by contrast, requires patience and smarts, two things today’s Air Force lacks.

Recall that the flyboys recently released an ”irregular warfare manual” to counter the ground forces’ emerging counter-insurgency doctrine. The ground COIN manual calls for people interacting with people to address what are essentially human problems: extremism, terrorism, poor governance. The Air Force manual, on the other hand, advocates traditional firepower over “soft power,” according to excerpts published at Danger Room:

Counter-insurgency operations “often require a large number of security forces in order to protect the population. The effort requires a firm political will and substantial patience by both US and PN [partner nation] governments. Airpower can help alter this equation.” 

A sizeable ground force engaged in protracted COIN operations can inflame the populace against the COIN forces and can wear down the political will of the US government and the local populace. Air Force capabilities bring many advantages, including an “economy of force” that enables the US to have a smaller ground force, which reduces the problems associated with a large “footprint” on the ground.

But airpower is neither as precise nor as subtle as advocates imagine. Just this week an errant U.S. bomb killed three British soldiers in Afghanistan. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Afghan civilians died in mis-aimed air attacks in southern provinces this summer, undermining native support for occupying forces. The most precise and effective instrument of warfare remains the individual soldier, despite the Air Force’s vehement claims. Airpower is necessarily a supporting function. Get used to it, Air Force.        

Air Force photos
Better, smarter A-10s
Air Force priorities screwed up
Air Force abandons killer drone 


19 Responses to “Reason #817 Why the Air Force Sucks”

  1. Marshall says:

    The idea that the Air Force would actually describe their monetarily top heavy operation as having an “economy of anything” let alone “force”, is laughable. They’ll say anything to keep the dollars rolling in.

  2. doc75 says:

    I asked Lt Col John Nagl once about what the Air Force should bring to the counterinsurgency fight. The first thing he said, ironically, was air superiority. Imagine trying to fight a counterinsurgency while watching the skies. USAF is a supporting function for this war, but Putin’s Tu-160′s and Tu-95′s are reminding us that it won’t necessarily be the supporting force next time.

  3. doc75 says:

    I find your comment that “F-35 light fighters when upgraded F-16s would suffice” to be laughable. Let’s try the ground forces analogy: why spend billions of dollars on MRAP when uparmored Humvees would suffice.

  4. [...] The F-35 was mis-designed by Lockheed Martin, turning it almost into a useless paperweight. This is one of the many reasons David Axe quite rightly sees the Air Force as increasingly irrelevant. He also repeats the Obama-slander that an over-reliance on air power creates havoc and kills too many civilians in Afghanistan. But what would he know? He’s only been there. [...]

  5. [...] This China-obsession has led to damaging choices as well. In a tough post, David Axe touches on just how poor the decision-making apparatus is at USAF. After discussing the funding shortfalls for upgrading our most effective CAS craft, the A-10 Warthog, Axe explains: The Air Force wanted new engines for the A-10C, too, but couldn’t afford them. But that’s the service’s own damn fault, and it’s indicative of backwards thinking. The nation’s youngest military service is sinking $200 billion into unnecessary F-35 light fighters when upgraded F-16s would suffice, and God knows how many billions into consistently under-performing space programs. The Air Force bailed out of the potentially revolutionary UCAS killer drone program in order to buy a big new fleet of big new manned bombers for much more money. The service wants to prepare for an imaginary high-tech air war with China instead of fighting the dirty, low-tech wars we’re actually in. Why? Because high-tech superpower showdowns are what the Air Force knows. They’re easy. The low-tech approach to warfare, by contrast, requires patience and smarts, two things today’s Air Force lacks. [...]

  6. [...] Related: Air Force got it all wrong Navy got it wrong, too  How to build a bazillion armored trucks Iraq: short on logistics No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  7. [...] Thing is, this is all the Air Force’s own damned fault. While bombers, tankers, airlifters and choppers — all of which are actually useful — rust away, the Air Force sinks all its money into land-based light fighters that have been rendered mostly irrelevant by the demise of the Soviet Union and its MiG armadas. Instead of adapting to counter-insurgencies and Pacific detente, the Air Force is investing more than $200 billion in 1,800 F-35 Lightning IIs (formerly “Joint Strike Fighter”) to replace all F-16s plus other aircraft, apparently hoping to fight another Cold War. The Center for Defense Information objects: It may be that for some, perhaps all, missions, the JSF is a significant performance step backwards, but one that comes at great cost. As a result, the JSF program may be more a threat to the U.S. military’s efforts to modernize its tactical aviation capabilities than a solution. Whatever value the JSF program might have is that of a technology demonstrator, for which production of more than a very small number of test samples is unnecessary. [...]

  8. Respectful Dissent says:

    Because a limited war conducted and won solely by air power, a la Operation Allied Force, is SO late 90′s.

    Different conflicts are going to call for different combinations of the joint force, and just as air power triumphalism was stupid after Gulf War I and the Balkans, calls to resubordinate the Air Force to a “support” role or de-establish it entirely are just as stupid now, unless you’ve got a crystal ball that proves all of our next conflicts are going to look just like our current invasion and long-term occupation.

  9. [...] Fed up with unnecessary gold-plated fighter jet programs, the service’s impatience with counter-insurgency and its anti-China rhetoric, back in August I proposed the disbanding of the U.S. Air Force. The air service’s missions could be folded into the Army, Navy and Marine Corps without any loss in national power — and we’d benefit from cuts to Pentagon overhead. [...]

  10. SrA Anzalone says:

    Whoever wrote that: you’re dumb.
    While the Air Force should play a simple support role to the Army in Iraq, we are vital in other areas of the world where the enemy is more technologically advanced. I just got back from South Korea. The U.S. Air Force is absolutely necessary there to counter the North Koreans. And if China or Russia comes looking for a fight, we’ll be glad to have the dominating Air Force we have now.

  11. Daniel says:

    If a “Dominating Air Force” is so vital why is it that the Navy owns more Aircraft then the Air Force, or that Americas “first choice Air Force” is Naval Air Forces. The Air Force has been hemorageing money for years, and has produced little in return.

  12. [...] With every improvement Lockheed Martin makes to its proven, affordable F-16 fighter, the rationale for the U.S. spending $110 million per copy on stealthy F-35 fighters takes a hit. Still, the Air Force continues to mortgage its future on its obsession with buying a huge fleet of those new F-35s. [...]

  13. john says:

    Who cares, the chair force pays me pretty well.

  14. John says:

    “If a “Dominating Air Force” is so vital why is it that the Navy owns more Aircraft then the Air Force”

    Seriously? Did you read that in a Dick Marcinko book? Kind of like “Navy SEALS expend more ammo in a year than the entire USMC combined.”

    Before you comment on the U.S. Military, hows about you actual know something about it other than what you’ve learned in video games and on the intrawebs.

  15. Keith says:

    I am currently in the Air Force and i honestly do not see the need for the need for these aircraft that we couldn’t even afford to buy after cutting off the extra 300 we planned to purchase. Just because the type of warfare we are experience with this insurgency, doesn’t mean the “solidier” will be the most vital component to US war fighting. Countries like China and Russia are on the climb technologically; diplomacy will guarantee us another world wide war at some point in the near future. The Air Force is starting to lean towards “Cyber Warfare” while we conintue to contract half the jobs to civilians..whatever is going on, its not in the right direction.

  16. Devin says:

    “diplomacy will guarantee us another world wide war at some point in the near future”

    That statement makes no sense at all.

    The USA is not at war with China or Russia. Pissing away money to plan a imaginary war makes no sense especially when we are engaged in a very real war now and have been for the last 10 years.

  17. Connor Patty says:

    Why waste money on the F-35 instead of just upgrading the F-16? HAHAHA!!!You do realize that the F-35 is a stealth VTOL capable of being both land and carrier based. The F-16 is coming to its end of service in some amount of years, plus it’s not stealth, it’s not a multi-based aircraft and it does not come close in specs with the F-35. To even come close to the F-35, the F-16 would have to undergo so many new upgrades that by the time it’s done being upgrading, it wouldn’t even be an f-16 anymore, not to mention that those kind of upgrades would take way more than double the amount of money needed to do it than they spent on the F-35, which is like the F-22′s little brother and the F-16 is the F-35′s retarded little nephew. And by the way, during World War 2 the US army and navy were responsible for a couple hundred of deaths due to impromperly aimed artillery and shellings that instead of landing on the supposively fixed on enemy target, blew our boys to pieces. And let me also make note that the person who calls in airstrikes on enemy targets is army jtac guys who should have become aware after the first inccedents of US bombs hitting friendlies
    should have realized that they could be in a danger zone if they’re close enough to be killed by one of our bombs like the brave souls before sadly did not, may they rest in peace,and get the hell back to permanent/temporary garenteed safe zone.

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