Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne made an appearance at a D.C. think-tank on Wednesday to do some A.F.-style scaremongering. Noting that the the average age of the service’s airplanes is at 24 years and climbing (the highest ever), Wynne said that every attempt to free up cash for more new planes had failed, according to Air Force magazine:
It was Wynne’s idea, he said, to “voluntarily downsize and restructure the force, just like an industrialist would do, in order to gain the resources to recapitalize his asset base.” The reductions targeted 40,000 full-time equivalent uniformed slots.
However, “it isn’t working,” Wynne admitted.
“What does that mean to an industrialist?” he asked and answered: “It means you are going out of business. It is simply a matter of time.” All that has been accomplished, he said, is to slow down the pace at which Air Force aircraft race toward their retirement dates.
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.
So what’s a withering Air Force to do? There are options for transitioning to a smaller, but more relevant fighter force, which should be equipped with long-range aircraft:
But even if the Air Force does “go out of business,” never fret, America. In our wisdom, we bought extra air forces. There’s the Coast Guard for sea patrol, search and rescue and even limited counter-terrorism operations. There’s the Customs and Border Patrol for many domestic jobs. The Marines do close air support like nobody’s business (although they’re guilty of JSF-addiction, too). And the Army’s got a lock on choppers for every conceivable task.
And don’t forget the Navy. With a fleet of more than 20 mobile airfields (aka “aircraft carriers”) boasting choppers, radar planes, the nation’s only fast tactical jammer jets plus the affordable, flexible F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with a brand-new super-smart electronically scanned radar, these days the Navy is a better air force than the Air Force. The only thing it doesn’t do that the A.F. does, is heavy airlift and heavy aerial tanking. So when the Air Force disbands out of despair, hopefully sometime next year, I would propose transfering those missions to the Navy … and giving the Air Force’s Predator drones to the Army, which would probably make better use of them anyway.