America Without an Air Force
One final time this week we return to the NY Times Oped by Marine Paul Kane which proposed scrapping the US Air Force, turning over its assets and mission to the Marines and the Navy. Whatever the merits of the proposal or lack of, a close look at Sec Gates 2010 defense budget reveals we may be seeing the demise of the separate air service anyway. Loren Thompson’s breaks down the figures for us:
Gates wants to end production of the only long-range airlifter currently being built, the C-17, at 205 planes… Also, Gates is increasing the size of ground forces that would use airlifters by 92,000 personnel while expanding operations in Africa. Nonetheless, he decided to terminate C-17 without completing a new mobility study.
This was our biggest disappointment in the new budget, as airlifters have been some of the hardest working weapons in the War on Terror. And not only do we need more, but I imagine our current very-overworked C-17 fleet needs replacing as well.
Gates proposes to end the F-22 fighter program at 187 planes while sticking with plans to buy 2,443 less pricey F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — about 1,800 of which would go to the Air Force. But the two planes were designed to operate together with the F-22 providing air dominance and the F-35 focusing on ground attacks.
Actually, we think the problems with the F-35 goes far beyond its usefulness as an air superiorly fighter. Ever increasing costs seem to be plaguing this so-called “less pricey” aircraft, and we see no need why this should change but likely increase. What we are getting is a fairly mediocre platform at a gold plated price, more than the well-proven 4.5 generation Super Hornet, and still useful legacy aircraft in production, which can carry the same weapons as the F-35. Add to this are the increasing capabilities of UAVs and we see no need for a mass production of $100 million “affordable” jet.
secretary Gates said on April 6 that “we will not pursue a development program for a follow-on Air Force bomber until we have a better understanding of the need, the requirement and the technology.” Money set aside for a future bomber has been taken for other purposes, leaving the service with a decrepit fleet of 160 cold war bombers. Only a handful of these planes — the stealthy B-2s — are likely to survive a prolonged encounter with modern air defenses.
It still amazes us that just as the manned bomber is finally living up to the expectations of the early airpower prophets, such as Douhet, Trenchard,and Mitchell, thanks to precision guided bombs, no one sees any use for them anymore. And in an age where bombing has proved more essential than the air superiority mission, the only new warplane purchased by the USAF in this decades has the F-22 Raptor. How typical is military logic!
Secretary Gates has stood by plans to develop a new tanker. That’s good, because most of the planes in the aerial refueling fleet are approaching half a century of age. But even on tankers, it isn’t so clear Gates knows what he’s doing.
Alas, no one in the procurement process, whether in Congress or the Pentagon knows either. Neither do we, but one thing we are sure of is the tankers’ essential role in American airpower, and the giant void that would exist in the USAF’s capabilities if all were scrapped. If so, then we can expect that Marines and Navy air might get what they want, consider they either have their own tankers, or forward deploy close enough to the warzone to lessen the requirement.