The Airpower Respite
The astonishing success of airpower enabling the Surge in Iraq to dramatically reduce violence and place Al Qaeda on the defensive, is proof positive of the ability of precision weapons to win our nation’s wars. The time is ripe for America to cast off last century weapons which are straining the Defense Budget to the breaking point, relying instead on the new robot weapons such as UAVs, cruise missiles, and smart bombs.
We could then conceivably conduct “warfare on the cheap”, dramatically downsizing and eventually disposing of conventional weapons such as stealth jets, heavy tanks, and supercarriers, all of which are products of a previous century and era of conflict. Such arms are increasingly irrelevant in modern war, and are ever burdensome on industry, strategy, logistics, as well as the taxpayer. Too much defensive armament and armor are now carried on board these relics of another age, as personified by the $300 million Raptor Fighter, the mercifully canceled DDG-1000 destroyer, and the bloated $200 million Future Combat System.
In contrast to these last century arms which we can afford in fewer and fewer numbers each year, tactical airpower is affordable and plentiful. Jet fighters bought off the shelf can easily carry the same precision bombs and missiles which we think only stealth fighters and bombers should carry. It is this stubborn mindset that refuses to acknowledge that platforms are no longer revolutionary, but the digital arms these vessels carry.
The revolution in arms refuses to wait. Already in Iraq and Afghanistan tens of thousands of new MRAPs, Strykers, and uparmored Humvees are in service, while the armored divisions still use M-1 Abrams tanks built in the 1970s and 80s. In the three decades it took to design and build the USAF’s only new jet fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the services have fielded dozens of new unmanned aerials vehicles of various shapes and sizes which are revolutionizing air warfare. Also, while the navy cancels or delays one missile battleship after another, various new stealth boats, corvettes, and conventional subs have been tested. If only our sea service had the nerve to order such cheap and versatile small craft in quantity!
Savings garnered by scrapping our huge and aging conventional inventory would go to long range UAVs which can stay aloft seeking its prey for days compared to a manned jet which can endure only a few hours of flight time. Armored cars such as the Stryker and MRAPs which have proved so essential in Iraq and can be easily produced in many thousands should displace the lumbering battle tanks, which are now so heavy, no country is designing a traditional track armored vehicle for the first time in almost a century. Other savings would go to equipment most used in all our wars such as helicopters and tactical transports, which we rarely have enough of.