Dear Boss, I Don't Just Quit, I Give Up

Editor's Note: For background and history of the "Dear Boss" letter, see this post.

Dear Boss,

I don’t just quit. I give up.

Why should I keep on bleeding myself and my family dry on MQT, CMR, FMC, UTE, RAP, FLUG, DTS, TDYs, OPRs, ATSO, SARC, CBTs, AT/FP, IA/IP, UCIs, SORTS,OREs, ORIs, AEFs, IPUG, BMC, when in the end nothing that I do seems to matter? To put it another way, why should I put service before self when my Chief is systematically dismantling my service? To use a perhaps appropriately joint analogy, I’m a strong swimmer – so why stay aboard a ship whose captain is running it aground?

You might think that out in the field we don’t notice what’s going on at Headquarters. You might think that we’re too busy doing more with less, coping with the administrivia of yet another ancillary ground training requirement from some staff puke’s rice bowl, trying to magically improve our “readiness” reporting with geriatric jets that can’t make UTE [See Note 1] and a glut of inexeperienced wingmen that we can’t absorb – that we are too busy to notice that what leadership is doing. Well, we aren’t. When I was an FNG [New Guy], all I cared about was sounding good on check-ins, staying visual, flying good formation, and studying the 3-1. But now I know that senior leadership matters, and what my leadership is showing me is that nothing I do matters or ever will.

As if twelve years wasn’t enough of boring meaningless holes in the sky while our most demanding combat skills atrophied and we prematurely aged our inventory. Now, after a decade of drinking “green” tea and filling “in-lieu-of the Army doing its job” taskings and the “Cult of COIN,” I’m not sure if I’m in the Army or in the Air Force. I’m “all in”: CAS is king, and my Chief publically endorses Gate’s decision to kill the F-22 because Airpower is really just airborne artillery (who needs air dominance in Low Intensity Conflicts?). We’ve instituted two weeks of bivouacking and other mud-infested activities into our basic training so our young enlisted troops are better equipped to integrate and employ with the Army as the Army. We’re all hooah, nation building, and winning hearts and minds. Last I checked, infantry wasn’t an AFSC, and occupation wasn’t part of our 4+1. [See Note 2]

Even AirSea Battle is a setback for the Air Force. Tell me how AirLand Battle, a linear, sequential, and attrition based doctrine in which Airpower is subordinated to Land maneuver, is a good inspiration for AirSea Battle? Tell me how the Navy has the necessary expertise to have input and a vote regarding the requirements and design of our new bomber, or anything else in our portfolio? Tell me how AirSea Battle exploits the inherent asymmetric, parallel, strategic, and effects-based advantages of Airpower, and how USAF senior leadership is championing Airpower so we can do what is needed in this pivot to the Pacific? Joint does not mean the same or subordinate, but we’ve clearly forgotten that over the last decade. We’ve bent over backwards to prove that we’re “all in,” eviscerating our unique, core capabilities in order to prove that we’re good joint team players. I have no trust that AirSea Battle will end up any different.

Why should I have any hope? Being a good joint team player, my leadership offered up $4.8B in cuts (out of a total $5.2B cuts across the DOD baseline) while the Navy only lost $900M and the Army grew inside their baselines.  I understand that this might be a rational approach to managing my household budget, but this is not home economics. Is this how we signal that Airpower is an essential element of AirSea Battle and our new strategic guidance? The last time we bought this few aircraft was in 1916, when we were still the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps. In just FY13, the Army and the Navy will buy more aircraft than the Air Force will buy in the entire FYDP [Future Years Defense Plan]! Everything I see indicates that senior leadership doesn’t understand, or worse, doesn’t care, why we have an independent Air Force. I thought the job of the CSAF was to organize, train, and equip – and be the strongest advocate for those responsibilities? When will my Chief have the integrity to put service before self? When will my Chief have the moral courage to stop being a yes-man and start telling the truth, start protecting our unique capabilities, start advocating for, even championing his Air Force?

I’ve never heard a Marine apologize for being a Marine. Every Soldier I know will proudly and loudly promote the Army. Sailors don’t feel compelled to marginalize or deny the Navy as a “Global Force for Good.” Yet my Chief can only say that we’re “all in” and are committed to being good, supporting partners in the joint team – as if we are just auxiliary members. Has my Chief ever read FM 100-20? What about the Key West Agreement?  I’m accused of being an “Airpower zealot” because I proudly believe in my Air Force, what is unique about it, and what we do. I have worked with and have tremendous respect for and admire the other services. They are consummate professionals and an integral part of our national power as Littoral, Land, and Sea forces. But I became an Airman for a reason and I’m tired of apologizing for being an Airman. None of the other services can do their jobs without us. We bring policy options, capabilities, and alternatives to our Nation that no other service can. If you don’t have an Air Force, you don’t have a joint force. The Navy is buying twice as many fighters as the Air Force is this year, and you wonder why my faith is shaken?

So now my Chief tells me that we will get smaller, but that we will remain a ready force.  Really? We’ve already divested so many fighters that our squadrons are broken. It doesn’t matter how much O&M you throw at us (as if there were any budget left after the cuts our leadership offered up); we cannot make the UTE necessary to create the training capacity required. Now we’re divesting more aircraft, and we’ll never be able to adequately train our young guys. We’re getting smaller and less capable and we can’t stop it. Although we never received as many Raptors as the national strategy requires, senior leadership emphatically denied any fighter shortfall.  We refused a “4.5 Generation” gap-filler, and now the F-35 is slow-rolled with no plan B on the table. Our force was humiliated and betrayed by the shameful and disingenuous capitulation written by the Chief and Secretary after the F-22 cancellation. What happened to our core values? Instead, we’re changing the scenario to fit the tactics! Drop the requirements to meet force structure realities which are dropping to meet budget bogies. So much for a strategy-driven force structure, or even any strategy at all. Next we’ll probably drop experience definitions to meet our aging rate and PCS cycle. Avoiding a “Hollow Force” is a nice talking point; but at least in the 1970s we got the F-15, F-16, and A-10, while simultaneously developing the B-1 and F-117. My Chief is out of airspeed with full aft stick and a boot-full of rudder in an unrecoverable spin [See Note 3].  

So you can keep your Bonus Take Rate and whatever other variables go into your Rated Distribution and Training Management models. Money isn’t going to keep me here. I didn’t become a fighter pilot because I wanted to get rich. I became a fighter pilot because I believed. And after everything I’ve seen, my trust and faith in the Air Force is so broken I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore. This flight path marker is buried in the dirt. I’m punching out.

Editor's Note: If you didn't click through to the link at the beginning of the letter, please go there now to read about the history of the storied USAF "Dear Boss" letter and for some additional background.

Note 1: UTE is Utilization rate, the number of times an aircraft can fly per month. Mission capacity, whether training or combat, is dictated by the number of aircraft available in a squadron (based on maintenance and depot availability) multiplied by UTE. The less aircraft a squadron has, the more each aircraft has to fly.

Note 2:  "4+1" Refers to the unique Air Force capabilities, also known as the Air Force enduring contribution: (4) Air & Space Control (which includes Air Dominace), Global ISR, Global Mobility, and Global Strike; (+) plus Command and Control in Air, Space & Cyberspace.

Note 3: Aft stick and full rudder deflection are pro-spin control inputs; that is, they are deliberate and conscientious control inputs that will cause an aircraft to enter a spin and will keep the aircraft in the spin condition. 

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Tags : disruptive thinkers


After reading this letter I was stunned. Realizing it came from an Air Force officer just left me shaking my head.

This "guy" lost his argument when he started whining about “in-lieu-of the Army doing its job” taskings coupled with two weeks of "mud training".

His white scarf self immersion is so complete he can't understand the current primary threat to his nation or the severe challenges his fellow service/servicemen were dealing with to defend the nation. To place his self absorbtion in cotext, 3752 soldiers have died in the last decade. The Air Force hasn't broken a hundred. I'm sorry we aren't doing our "job" well enough for you...

Before he can talk about "core values" he needs to go back to a commissioning source for a refresher and do some study on the value of selfless service. He dishonors both himself and his service with such trite whining. Look forward to some professional discussion on the pros, cons of one's service and how it might fit into the joint picture. Hopefully the next airmen can write a cogent respectful piece so it can be taken seriously.

The problem with the author's assessment that the USAF has been underfunded and should have stood up more to Secretary Gates was:

a) The last group of USAF leaders that did that were fired. More can be fired for assuming they know more than civil leaders.

b) In actual wars fought since Vietnam, the majority of those dying have been ground troops. Guess that explains Secretary Gates monetary emphasis on MRAPs, Predator/Reaper, and CAS to reduce ground deaths. The author states that the USAF has received tasking “in-lieu-of the Army doing its job” while appearing to overlook that perhaps the Army could do its job if it had sufficient force structure to get away with USAF, Navy, and Marine 6-7 month tours instead of the 12-15 month ones Soldiers endured through most of the war.

c) In real USAF and Navy aircraft losses of recent wars, the causes were primarily air defenses, not air-to-air. Threats can afford air defenses. They can't afford numerous 5th gen fighters. Even Russia and India will buy only 250 T-50s. India is not our adversary while Russia does not want to fight us due to MAD and multiple problems at home. Legacy non-stealthy aircraft have trouble surviving against current air defenses let alone those coming in the next 30-40 years. More legacy aircraft is not the answer.

d) The new report to Congress on China has a chart on page 29 showing that only 310 Chinese fighters are within range of Taiwan despite 1570 mostly old fighters aircraft being available overall. Taiwan has 388 fighter aircraft within range of China and many are in underground hangars. Looks like China fears their airfields and aircraft being bombed on the ground near the coast as much as we do via our AirSea Battle concept. Bombing and missiles are not one-sided. A Chinese fighter destroyed or stuck on the ground is denied access to Taiwan and the South or Each China Sea.

e) The USAF got RAND to do a 2008 study with assumptions that only 6 F-22 could be on station at any given time near Taiwan and that most aircraft in Japan would get eliminated on the ground. It then took 72 Chinese aircraft to eventually run the F-22s out of ammo and gas. Never mind that we might surge F-22s if the enemy surges its fighters. But wait, RAND did not consider air defenses, did not include Naval aircraft like the F/A-18E/F and future "baby-seal" F-35s, and assumed no Taiwanese or Japanese aircraft would participate? Huh? Japan and South Korea get massively missiled and do nothing?

f) If the USAF could afford to build the A-10, F-16, F-15, B-1, and F-117 in the Carter/Reagan years and later, they did it because there was a similarly strong Soviet threat. Aircraft were cheaper then, too. Now the threat is far smaller and aircraft are much more expensive and complex due to stealth, costly engines, and sensors. Quantity does not have a quality of its own if the quantity could not shoot down a stealth aircraft even if it was temporarily on its tail. It does not have a quality of its own if air defenses can shoot down non-stealthy aircraft with ease. That kind of eliminates the argument that we should simply buy more legacy aircraft or "lower observable" aircraft like Typhoon, F/A-18E/F, or Silent Eagle with about a one meter radar cross section (RCS) compared to the .0013 sq meter or 2 square inch size of the F-35 as cited by Wikipedia. The J-20 has a canard and engines that will increase RCS. Its size and two large engines should show up well on the F-35 infrared search-and-track and radar sensors. It also does not have low probability of intercept radar. If it emits, it is found and jammed, and it won't outrun an AIM-120D.

g) Carl assures us, incorrectly (Carlo?), that the F-35 cannot beat the J-20 or T-50, and the F-22 will quickly be attrited. Wait Carl, it took 72 Chinese aircraft to eventually run off 6 F-22s. What if we added some F-35s from the USAF, Navy, and Marines to the mix. Could the F-35s hang back and be missile trucks for the sensing F-22s to pick off all those 72 inbound aircraft? If six F-22s downed just 36 aicraft assuming two misses out of eight AIM-120, and twelve F-35s downed another 36 aircraft assuming one miss out of four AMRAAM, doesn't that add up to 72? Aircraft Guns? Won't some Standard Missiles and Taiwan Patriots find their mark. What about some of those 388 Taiwan fighters? Will Japan sit idly by after missiles hit their country? Allies are good. So are other service aircraft and air defenses if we don't assume them away.

h) Bottom line: Brilliant public relations campaign this AirSea battle. As TX Hammes said in a recent debate with Bryan McGrath that you can see at, we could perform a distant blockade of vessels coming to China with oil by simply placing a squad of Marines or Army troops on each vessel to halt them or assure they went to Japan or other allies instead of China.

i) If we did attempt to bomb the interior, why not attack near the coasts with fighters instead of bombers the enemy knows may have nukes? If refueling aircraft top off F-22 and F-35s within a few hundred miles of China, that allows ample range to reach most coastal interior airfields and air defenses. We still have B-2s for more of the interior. We have ample B-1B and B-52H with standoff JASSM-ER. We have sub and surface Tomahawks. F-35s can sink Chinese ships with JSOW. Virginia class subs and our few Sea Wolfs can eliminate the rest of the surface and sub fleet. What's the panic?

j) What if an aerial refueling capable UCLASS or a C-130-like stealth aircraft could get closer to shore or overfly China? Could F-22 and F-35 not then fly at will overhead? Which can defend themselves more easily loitering over enemy territory, a bomber or fighter? Could airborne troops not be inserted into Taiwan even after its occupation or SOF troops into China? If we plan to spend $35 billion on KC-Y, and $55 billion on long range strike-bomber (never mind that 187 F-22s cost at least $420 million each which makes fewer procured $550 million B-3s unlikely) couldn't some of that money create 50 stealthy optionally-manned C-130-like aircraft that could bomb, aerial refuel, or drop airborne troops and supplies?

I see some other commentators have already detected the flaws in "Move Forwards" paragraph g) analysisi, wildly optimistic predictions for the AIM 20 and AMRAAM missles; The problem with relying on ANY study of that kind, is the underlying assumptions, usually based on whatever wunderwaffe the contrators are selling this procurement cycle (Stealth, AIM 20 or AMRAAM) are basically GIGO.

And what little historical data we have are two or three generations old. Does anyone even KNOW (off hand, from open sources?) how many air-to air missles the UK or Argentina expended "In Combat", for what result in the Falklands, whish is probaly the most recent real world analogue. Every air campaign since has been a case of extreme overmatch....

Meanwhile, the Air Force contiunes its twenty year effort to dispose of the A-10 (The most useful platform for the recent missions), and has made no effort to procure a follow on.

And has suceeded in NOT operating the C-27, which if I understand correctly only survives becasue of the political peculiarties of the Air National Guard.

And so on....

Move Forward:

C) I don't quite get the point.

E) I guess I'll have to read the Rand report. But until I do, what kind of fighters were they assuming the Red Chinese had?

F) Gen Cartwright gave a talk at USNI that you can link to at Information Dissemination. He said something interesting about stealth tech. He said the level of stealth is really dependent upon the the processing power of the radar trying to track and the processing power follows Moore's law. That being true I think that you had better not depend too heavily upon stealth for survival because the advantage it confers is fleeting. Then that being true I think it follows that airplanes would have to fall back on what airplanes have always fallen back upon for survival, performance. F-22s have performance and the T-50 and J-20 will have performance. That performance won't allow them to outrun AAMs fired from within effective range, but it will allow them to stay out of the effective range of the airplanes carrying those missiles if they don't have good performance too, like say the baby seal (I like that).

G) Carl assures correctly, as does Carlo. As I asked before, what kind of aircraft does the Rand paper assume the Red Chinese will operate? Being as how the Chinese designers are as smart as us and they have the advantage of knowing as much about any of our tech as we do thanks to Red China's computer espionage effort, I think it would be prudent to assume that going up against the J-20 would be about the same as going up against an F-22. So for me, people who say a force of baby seals could handle a force of J-20s assume that a force of baby seals could handle a force of F-22s. I don't think I've heard anybody say that.

Forgive me Move Forward but I actually started laughing when I read that you figured 75% of AAMRAMs launched would kill a target. It is a good missile but to figure 75% will kill a target seems to go slightly beyond optimistic. It also assumes the Red Chinese are passive jerks who will agree not to try not to die.

H) A distant blockade is still a blockade and I believe an act of war. They probably would react to that by breaking ships and planes that belong to us in other places.

I) If you have refueling aircraft running racetracks within a few hundred miles of China that may be within range of a big fighter with a lot of range like the...J-20. (My personal uninformed opinion is that is what that big airplane is for, to destroy tankers and transports way far away. With those gone we're sunk.) We do have a lot of B-1s and B-52s, no wait. The tone of your paragraph here bothers me a bit. It is just a bit too certain. We have this this this and this and it will all take care of that. No problem. That doesn't panic me but I worry about it.

J) Now, now Move Forward. You know an F-22 ordered today for delivery tomorrow is not going to cost an additional $420 million. The actual cost is but a fraction of that, about $187 million if I remember correctly. It is the cost to produce that airplane on a line that already is running since all the development costs have been spent.

You could create 50 stealthy C-130 like aircraft that would be stealthy until the next gen radar with faster processing could see them. Then you would have 50 really expensive C-130 like aircraft that weren't stealthy.

I would not want to be nor advise any of my relatives to be an SOF guy or a paratrooper dropped into occupied Taiwan or mainland China. They would end up quickly in the bag like I believe most of the South Vietnamese guys dropped into North Vietnam or I think I read all the ROC guys dropped into Red China.

I think Move Forward has this under control, but I would add a response to this:

H) A distant blockade is still a blockade and I believe an act of war. They probably would react to that by breaking ships and planes that belong to us in other places.

Of course a distant blockade is an act of war. It's not something the US would do casually, it would be used only if war were initiated by the other party. It's also a capability the Chinese know we possess, and that serves as a strong deterrent to rocking the boat. It's not just about oil, either. The US could effectively interdict virtually all merchandise exports and commodity imports to and from China. As far as " breaking ships and planes that belong to us in other places" goes, the whole point is to use the ships and planes outside the limited range within which the Chinese can break them.

I see no reason to assume that we'd be duking it out with the Chinese in their own comfort zone when we can lay on a choke hold on terms that favor us. And given that the Chinese know we have that capacity, I see no reason to assume that they'd provoke its use.

Don't worry Dayuhan. He can always use reinforcements. You can too.

The Red Chinese ain't stupid nor passive. I think they will be able to break ships and planes far beyond ranges we think they can in ways that will surprise us. Their comfort zone is something we can only guess at. I don't think it wise to be what I perceive to be complacent about us being able to take them so easy.

Are you suggesting that the US is stupid and passive, and has no capacity to surprise?

Your projections seem to be based on the assumption that the red chicoms are not only unspeakably evil, but also omniscient, omnipotent, and preternaturally competent and efficient, and of course that those on the other side are bungling idiots. That seems well exaggerated.

Certainly you and I can only guess at what the Chinese can and cannot do; one assumes that there is information around that is not being revealed to the public. As I said, espionage is and always has been a 2-way street.

In any event we can no longer work from the assumption that we must maintain absolute and overwhelming dominance over everyone, everywhere, at all times. That's not affordable. That doesn't mean that the US can't maintain sufficient capacity to make conflict an extremely unappetizing prospect for any potential antagonist.

He winds up. He pitches. He strides forward and swings. POW! Another self served pitch hit right out of the park.

I know there is info around that is not being revealed to the public. I just don't think whatever it is really changes much, regardless of what the brainiacs inside the beltway would have us think.

The point of c) is that the Russians have said they will buy 250 T-50s...a build that remains to be seen since their aircraft also will cost $100 million each. Look at the Russian defense budget and how far the mighty have fallen. Then look at how many realistic threat nations can actually afford to spend more than even $10 billion a year on defense. Hint: very few. Divide $10 billion by $100 million and calculate how many nations could buy more than a few dozen T-50s over many years of small purchases. 186 F-22s is more than enough against 250 hypothetical T-50s and J-20s. Everything else the Russians and Chinese fly could be handled by F-35s.

F-35s also can handle air defenses. Link a jamming EA-18G to a F-35B and C and you get a much-reduced range of ground air defenses. F-22s will try to find them with radar pictures and radar detection sensors. F-35s can too, but also can complete the combat ID and targeting picture with EODAS and laser-designation to take out a moving air defender or hidden one amongst civilians with small diameter bomb II. Be careful Carl, I read a lot of forums, too. That doesn't make either of us experts, but there are enough there that say APA is full of it to make one think.

Historians like to point to poor performance of Vietnam era Sparrows to indict the whole concept of beyond visual range engagement. Ponder this Carl, if you have an all stealth fleet and see something non-stealthy coming your way, why won't modern LPI AESA radars and AIM-120D make short work of that aircraft. No fratricide possible. Most of Chinas and Russias aircraft will not be stealthy. They would die quickly. These are not F-4s, mechanical radars, and Sparrows we are talking about. Reality changes. Past is only prologue if you ignore Moore's Law where it applies.

As for e), no they were not J-20s. The Chinese have 1500+ fighters but nearly all of them are old junk or copies of Russian aircraft. It isn't that the Chinese are not brilliant, but they have yet to demonstrate capabilities to build their own engine and make their own aircraft that are not copies...until the J-20, which still uses Russian engines that are less than reliable. We'll see how many they can crank out with their budget and how good they will be. Even your buddies at Aviation Week believe it may be more of a supersonic bomber than a fighter. By 2020, when the Chinese are fielding a few squadrons of J-20s, we will have 185 F-22s and hundreds of F-35s, plus 20 B-2s, and lots of Tomahawks and JASSM-ER to hit J-20 airfields.

As for f) I saw the Gen Cartwright speech day's ago. He was not nearly as negative about the F-35 as some implied. He talked more about the potential for closing apertures to avoid being a victim of cyber/jamming/deception. Our F-35 radar jamming capabilities and what the Israelis did to the Syrian air defenses a few years ago when they attacked the nuclear site should tell you we are ahead there, too. The fact that an EA-18G is flying around with an F-22 painted on its side should tell you that as well.

As for a 75% Pk for AIM-120, I believe the historical rate is 73% before improvements and current AESA radars. If it is slightly less, the Patriots and Naval air defense missiles will more than make up the difference. If the bad guys have 250 top of the line planes and lose 50 a day, how many do they have left in 5 days? We still have probably 100 F-22s and a thousand F-35s remaining even in the most pessimistic of scenarios.

Move Forward:

I don't worry at all about the T-50 in Russian hands. The mafiosos who run that joint won't buy enough to matter in any event.

The F-22 first flew in 1997. The J-20 first flew last year, 14 years later. To believe that an inferior number of F-22s will be able to handle superior numbers of J-20s is to assume that those Chines aircraft designers aren't as good as ours and didn't do much thinking in those 14 years. I think that unwise.

You probably read too many forums. To me you seem to believe our cool stuff will work as advertised and we will be able to find what an intelligent enemy is trying to hide. I read a lot of history and it never seems to work out that way.

No I don't think I will ponder an all stealth fleet. We will never have one and even if we did buy things that were stealthy when purchased, they wouldn't be stealthy when that new sensor or computer got fielded.

Well if that Rand report didn't consider the J-20 it is useless when trying to figure 2020 and after. You did note how I, little ole me, figured it would be used didn't you? We will see how good the Chinese do with the airplane. I know I keep saying this but I don't think it wise to assume they can't do what they say they can.

If you care to contact me somehow, we can make a bet, a small one, about us having hundreds of F-35s by 2020. We will have to come up with something more definite than "hundreds" but I will make the bet.

I hope those missiles are good at penetrating rock because a number of those PLAAF bases are dug in.

Gen Cartwright's presentation was good wasn't it? Did you see where he said "We built the F-35 with absolutely no protection for it from a cyber standpoint."? I thought that was interesting since the Red Chinese seem to place extraordinary emphasis on cyber warfare.

An EF-18 got a simulated F-22 kill in a war game? You know we only have 180 of those things and you would think they could find smarter pilots for them. Smart aleck remarks aside, everything that goes to war can get kilt.

Trusty Wikipedia tells me that AIM-120s have killed 9 fixed wing and 2 helos operated by the Iraqi Air Force, the Serbian Air Force and the U.S. Army respectively. That is too small a sample to draw any good conclusions about how well it will perform in battle against top flight opposition. You can if you want to though.

I figured it out. If the bad guys lose 50 airplanes a day and only have 250 to start with, that means they will have none left at the end of 5 days. (I love story problems.) There is still part of the story problem left though. How is it they lose so many a day and we lose so few? Aren't they trying hard? That kind of loss ratio happened in Korea and Syria but that was a very long time ago.

"To believe that an inferior number of F-22s will be able to handle superior numbers of J-20s is to assume that those Chinas aircraft designers aren't as good as ours and didn't do much thinking in those 14 years."

They aren't as good as ours. Period. Their pilots aren't as experienced. Period. It cracks me up that the same folks who badmouth the complex three-service F-35 will sing the praises of F-22 until the cows come home. It's the same company, and surely many of the same engineers are still around. They are putting some of the stealth materials and techniques on the F-22 from the F-35 to reduce costs.

In contrast, China has proven repeatedly to the Russians that just as they will make knock-off handbags and pirated videos, they feel free to reverse engineer Russian jets and call them their own. The Russians don't even like to sell them jets or air defenses anymore because of that. Yet Boeing and G.E. seem perfectly willing to help them better learn our aerospace techniques, don't they.

We have different cultures. To simplify and risk stereotyping, ours is about innovation and willingness to buck the system within semi-ethical boundaries. Theirs appears to be about hard work, copying/stealing others work, being less assertive unless in charge, polluting, and practicing less than ethical leader practices in terms of corruption and seizing/maintaining power without elections. The internet is changing that, which is why they have such a huge internal challenge suppressing free thought.

I have more confidence in our engineers, pilots, and military/civil leaders. The confidence I have in the Chinese is that their greed factor will identify to them that it makes no monetary sense to go to war with the U.S.

You know people were very surprised by the quality of Japanese planes and pilots in 1941. Our forces have also been surprised by the quality of the Indians, the Chileans and Swedes in various exercises. The Chinese themselves gave us almost more than we could handle on the ground in Korea. Blind confidence that we are just better by golly, hasn't cut it in the past. It rarely does.

I don't care if the Chinese play fair when it comes to making effective weapons. I care if that weapon works well or not. How they got the effective weapon doesn't matter. Boeing and GE may or may not be willing to help the Red Chinese develop weapons. It is a moot point. The ChiComs steal the tech via the internet and the effect is the same. If they put an inlet configuration on an airplane that GE and Boeing developed, the air molecules don't care. They still go the same way, stolen tech or no.

You should read James Fallows article about Red Chinese internet censorship. Very clever those guys.

I have confidence that the Chinese engineers are almost every bit as good as ours our. At least good enough to produce things that are good enough, sort of like the difference between German and Russian tanks in WWII. I also have confidence that their pilots, being men like ours, can be every bit as good as ours given the training. They just have to decide to do it. That can happen tomorrow or may have happened yesterday. I have confidence too that both sets of military/civil leaders can be equally adept at screwing up. However, at the current time I think ours are more able to pull the wool over their own eyes concerning the true nature of a police state and those who rule it.

You may have confidence in the greed of the CCP but you should have more confidence that their greed is actually defined by power. The have it and they won't give it up. If the country were wrecked and everybody went back to the 19th century, that would be unfortunate but as long as they were still on top, it would be just a cost of doing business. That is how I figure the CCP anyway.

Oh...this is minor but I can't resist. The F-22 and the F-35 are made by the same company. North American made the Mustang and the Navion too, but the Navion was no P-51.


"The Chinese themselves gave us almost more than we could handle on the ground in Korea."

That statement like any other is subject to context and meaning but as worded is more than arguable on several grounds. I'd go so far as to say it's incorrect and / or hyperbole...

"I have confidence too that both sets of military/civil leaders can be equally adept at screwing up. However, at the current time I think ours are more able to pull the wool over their own eyes concerning the true nature of a police state and those who rule it."

That one OTOH is probably largely correct but omits two things. First, theirs are every bit or more as likely to make poor decisions and screw things up. Secondly, one should not let abhorrence of evil dictate ones logic. ;)

North American also made AT-6 and the B-1 neither of which was or is no P-51 or Navion. Different strokes and all that. Horses for courses, as they say. You know as well as I do (and as well as Bill Sweetman does...) that aircraft designed for quite different missions do not compare at all well, nor should they..

Look at the bright side. We are by my admission and your constant illustration, screwed up. We've always been fortunate in that our erstwhile opponents have been, even if only slightly and in different ways, just a teeny bit worse. I don't see that changing.


I will of course defer to you completely on the Chinese in Korea.

As far as North American goes, what you said was the point I was trying to make and I obviously made it poorly. Different planes do different things and have different capabilities. A common manufacturer confers neither goodness nor badness.

I hope their being worse doesn't change. I don't know if I am as optimistic as you on that point, or maybe I am, or not. It changes around.

Carl, I know this:

"A common manufacturer confers neither goodness nor badness."

is true so far as the capabilities of the birds. In this case, the fact they have quite different missions and capabilities by design is known but LMs contribution should be enhanced on the 35 by their 22 experience. I think his point was the degree of engineering knowledge and production line capability continuity in two aircraft one of which immediately succeeds the other in production would tend to be beneficial and advantageous to the overall quality, not the design parameters or capability, of the second bird...

The Chinese in Korea benefited from surprise -- because MacArthur and his idiot Intel Chief, Willoughby refused to acknowledge there were Chinese present and from mass -- there were a lot of them (though that mass provided us with a whopping number of targets; their casualty rate throughout was horrendous). After that initial 'surprise' (even though 1st Mar Div was reporting Chinese prisoners in late October of '50...) they never regained the initiative and they were not forced out of Korea only due to US domestic political wrangling tying the hands of Ridgeway and demanding we stay at or below the 38th Parallel. They're whippable. So was the USSR. Eminently and easily so in both cases...

The point Move Forward and Dayuhan are trying to make, I believe, is that today's China has its own rather massive set of political, economic and people problems. While they are every bit as intelligent and capable as we are and they have benefited from significant espionage and cyber probing, they also have some structural impediments. The math favors them on population and focus -- in almost everything else, it's neutral or favors us. Focus is important -- but it can also lead to target fixation...

Add the fact that they're trying to convert a mass peasant Army on the USSR model into a more western like operation with far fewer people and to develop and NCO Corps, better train pilots and give them more then 100 or so flying hours a year (big time simulator users today...) and get more sea time for the PLAN and they've got developmental and transition problems. Remains to be seen how their good looking new aircraft really do and how long it will take them to get into effective operational service. Nope, they have some problems. More than us...

They are whippable, but so are we, especially if we are complacent. And I see complacency in believing that they can't do at least as well or even better than we can. They do have big problems no doubt. But I read a book a long time ago about the grave problems extant in the Red Army in the 70s and 80s and the author said that won't matter unless the Red Army was opposed. To oppose them and make those deficiencies tell required effort, real effort on our part. I will agree with you that they probably, not certainly, have more problems than us, but only in the long run. Those problems won't hurt them unless we try to stress them some. Faith that we are better because we are won't stress them.

Perhaps their good looking new planes won't do well and will take forever to get into effective operational service. But perhaps they will do great and get into good service far sooner than we expect. I am afraid we only have a plan A for the first case and our plan B for the second is faith that it won't happen.

I admit that this came as a bit of a shock:

What happened to our core values? Instead, we’re changing the scenario to fit the tactics! Drop the requirements to meet force structure realities which are dropping to meet budget bogies.

I wonder what "core values" are involved here. I also wonder how anyone in any branch of government service can fail to see that all operations, civilian and military, are necessarily constrained by those "budget bogies" and the realities they impose. It seems the author of this piece, and some others commenting here, think the US should have bought more F-22s. Ok, fine... given the reality of limited military budgets, what other budget lines should be sacrificed to achieve that goal?

If "core values" mean the belief that the Air Force should get whatever it wants regardless of real-world budget constraints, then those cor values are outmoded and need to be reassessed. Everybody wants more of everything. Resources are limited and everybody is going to have to learn to live with less than what they wanted. One response to that reality is to give up. Another possible response is to hustle, get creative, and find or make ways to do more with what you've got. Despite constraints we've still got more than anyone else in the world by a huge margin, so the panic and disgust seem a bit out of place.

The core value to which I think he is referring to is keep the enemy air force from bothering our ground troops, transport aircraft, ships etc.

The budget item that should be sacrificed is the F-35 and anything anywhere anytime anyplace that has to do with reflective belts.

Is the USAF incapable of keeping the air force of any likely enemy from bothering anyone? Or are the 2 J-20s currently undergoing tests in China (putting that program at about the same place as the F-35, possibly farther behind) being spun into an argument for pushing still more money into aircraft?

Of course it's possible to say that the F-22 should have been continued and the F-35 scrapped, but there's a bit of hindsight there: what's known now may not have been known when those decisions were made. I wouldn't want to unconditionally condemn those decisions without hearing from people on the other side of the story. I doubt that those decisions were made entirely frivolously.

I'm certainly not sufficiently well informed to have a position on the merits of one aircraft vs another. I can, however, say that the days of unlimited procurement and the assumption that we must enjoy absolute dominance over everyone, everywhere in any conceivable circumstance are over. This is simply not affordable, and economic fragility is probably a greater danger to the US at this point than any military threat. The need to live within our means and scale our values and ambitions to those means has to be implanted at every level of government operation. Again, one response to that reality is to give up and walk away. I don't think that's the only possible response.

I'd be curious to hear what a pilot in the Israeli Air Force or Taiwanese Air Force, or others used to working under far greater constraints in the face of far more imminent threats, might say about the letter...

Last things first.

The Taiwanese haven't fought anybody for a very long time. When they did fight they did it with close to the best aircraft and weapons we had available to give them. They were at no tech disadvantage. Right now they sure would like it if we sold them some F-16s.

Same thing with the Israelis. Since 67 they have fought in the air with no tech disadvantage. To the contrary, since we started subsidizing the IAF they have had very great tech advantages over their adversaries.

The Red Chinese have demonstrated that they can get advanced airplanes into the air a lot faster than we think they can. If I remember right, they say the J-20 is going to be operational before 2020. I believe them. We only know of two J-20s flying now. There may be more. We don't seem to be very good at finding out anything the Red Chinese don't want us to find out. And of course in addition to the J-20 there is the other advanced fighter the Red Chinese are rumored to be working on.

God alone knows when the F-35 will be operational. It won't make much difference anyway. All the pilot in that little light bomber can do to a J-20 or Pak-FA is wave at it as it flew by too high and fast to catch or shoot at.

I don't mind unconditionally condemning those who curtailed production of the F-22 in favor of the little light bomber that will be all things to all men. Robert Gates did that because he believed what he was told about the airplane. He was lied to and shame on him for believing the F-35 uniformed project managers and the manufacturer. With his background he should have known better. Anything known about that airplane now was known then or it was strongly suspected. You can hear both sides of the F-35 saga from source after source after source. There is no end to the commentary on that thing.

The USAF can handle things well enough now. I'm not worried about now, I worry about 8 and 10 years down the road. Nobody has to push money into aircraft. Just accept that if you don't, you won't be able to handle the other guys planes.

Carl, the problem is that we all make comments about the F-22, F-35, J-20, and T-50 without any access to any of the classified information involved. Air Power Australia is the worst offender making engineering claims based on perceived rather than actual aircraft and pilot performance.

Our pilots are experienced. Threat pilots are not and cannot duplicate what our pilots have gained over the past decade at any price. That's why you get one-sided performances such as Israel vs. Syrian aircraft and pilot performance in 1982 that were thought to be closer in capability. Not.

Threat pilots do not get the hours/training, the reliable engines, the same level of stealth and communications connectivity, or the sensors and precision weapons. F-35 has an electro-optical sensor and laser designator for ground attack that the F-22 does not have and never will. F-22 flies at 60,000' whereas F-35 targeting of mobile and unknown targets surrounded by civilians must occur much lower. F-35 also launches from 22 sea platforms. Given A2/AD threats, even if we had more F-22s, would we have safe bases to park them? When R&D, engines, upgrades, procurement etc ARE considered you get F-22 prices exceeding $400 million each vs. the F-35s $161 million. O&M cost differences are similarly one-sided.

Even if we started over tomorrow on brand new stealth aicraft for all three services, three different platforms would mean higher, not lower costs and much later fielding. The Chinese and Russians may each have about two stealth aircraft. We have over 200 with many more around the corner. All indications are that ours will be harder for radar to detect than theirs. Even if China fields a few J-20 units by 2020, they will be vastly outnumbered, still won't have a sea-based stealth platform, and will be about 5 years away from having a population far older than ours...the slide into an aging Chinese population that is less likely to want to go to war.

If the cooperating Air and Sea services would concentrate more on building a limited number of stealthy UCLASS and C-130 like aircraft with stealth that could drop airborne troops, serve as aerial refuelers, or drop bombs, they would not need a long range strike-bomber for many years. The B-52 and B-1B could launch other loitering stealth platforms from standoff. That would BE the LRS with other capabilities to assist the ground and stealth fighter force that exist or are programmed.

As General(ret)Cartwright pointed out, if you create a greater unmanned aircraft force, you can spend far less per hour in peacetime training because you can do it in simulators...not a $50,000 per hour aircraft. Without the human complication of needing to peform the OODA loop while experiencing G-forces, modern simulators could duplicate the actual RPA combat experience of enemy fighters and air defenses to a far greater degree than manned flight. You afford it by reducing our nuclear forces...a Cold War cost we can neither afford to modernize (in excess numbers) or even think of using.

Move Forward: Last things first again, because it is easier for me to keep track that way.

Unmanned aircraft forces and their capabilities and how they are going to save money and all the talk about that is just talk. I'll believe it when I see it and I don't believe I'll see it in my lifetime, and I'm not young. Reapers dropping bombs on flip-flopped infantry don't mean nothing when it comes to fighting a big war against a capable enemy.

You could have an invisible airplane, like Supergirl used to drive to drop airborne troops and they are still airborne troops, waiting for relief that if it doesn't come soon enough via the ground means they go into the bag.

You may believe many more F-35s are around the corner. I don't. It keeps slipping and slipping and slipping. So I don't think those J-20s will be outnumbered. Even if a miracle happened and flocks of F-35s appeared on the ramps and the decks, they couldn't touch the J-20 or the Russian fighter. You aren't outnumbered by something that can't touch you. We have around 180 aircraft that can deal with those things. That's it.

Since when does the a Chinese population get a say about going to war or anything else. It's a police state.

Don't play Pentagon games with the prices of various airplanes. The F-22 R&D costs are spent. To get an extra airplane of the soon to be close if not already production line is an incremental cost. That is what you should compare to the never seems to stop increasing money going into the F-35. Moot point though. There is almost no chance we will buy more F-22s. It would make Robert Gates look bad. We will have to make do with Typhoons or maybe the Russkis will take pity on us and sell us some of their planes.

Don't care that the F-35 can target ground targets better. F-16s can do that. I care that the little light bomber that can't can't handle the very high performance fighters the Russkis and Chinese are building.

Over the last 10 years our pilots have gained valuable experience droning around between 12 and 14,000 feet waiting for somebody to call them to drop a bomb on the head of somebody who mostly can't shoot back and with no aerial opposition to worry about. That experience won't be much good fighting somebody with an actual air force and good missiles to shoot at you.

It may be comforting to some that the IAF stomped the Syrians 30 years ago or that we think that our pilots are really the greatest. It means little to me. All it takes is practice to get good and a little thought. We don't have a monopoly on that. And if an enemy combines that practice and thought with superior machines then we get stomped. I wouldn't feel good about depending upon what we think threat pilots don't have for survival.

Air molecules move the same for us and them, classified tests or not. So somebody who knows what they are doing can figure out the general performance characteristics of an airplane just by looking at it. Once you have photos and just a little bit of info about their engine tech you can make pretty good guesses as to what you will face. Of course it helps if you figure that they are as smart as you are.

On what do you base your assessment of the J-20 and PAK-FA capabilities? You seem to be viewing Chinese and Russian capabilities through the most optimistic lens possible and US capabilities through the most pessimistic lens possible.

Have you considered the possibility that the Chinese flashed a glimpse of the J-20 and issued an optimistic forecast on entry into service precisely to encourage us to bankrupt ourselves with a hysterical response?

I have no idea what the F-35 can and can't do, though I suspect it's neither as good as its supporters claim nor as bad as its detractors claim. Like so many other issues it's become politicized, and without access to more information and knowledge than either of us have, it's difficult to form an opinion. Would it be cheaper to scrap it, buy more F-22s for the AF, and build completely new aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps and the CAS role? I haven't the information to make that assessment. Do you?

It might be wise to recall that these overwhelming hordes of J-20s and PAK-FAs are extremely hypothetical at this point.

Dayuhan: Wait a second...I have to catch my breath...good, the bout of hysteria has passed.

No I do admit that I never figured that the Red Chinese have constructed two fighters that they say are prototypes that aren't prototypes but merely winged Potemkin villages. I figured they were just doing what they have been doing, making fighters that get better with each iteration.

If you have no idea what the F-35 can or can't do, you haven't tried to find out. There is much much info available on that airplane. And you don't need more info than we can get to make a reasoned judgment about the utility of that airplane. Like I said before, the behavior of air molecules is the same secret clearance or not. No need to wait for the Godword from the higher than top secret crowd.

And yes I do have enough information to make an assessment about the worth of the F-35. So do tens of thousands of others. Enough info on that airplane, both financial and performance, is easily available to come to a conclusion.

You don't have to be pessimistic to know how screwed up the US ability to get planes in the air or ships in the water is. You just have to read the paper.

I already explained how people who know what they are about can determine the general performance of aircraft just by looking at them.

And as far as hordes of J-20s or PAK-FAs goes, once the F-22s are gone (180 won't last long) they won't need hordes of them to wreck us. You can't stop what you can't touch. At this point in the year 2012, the threat posed by those airplanes is hypothetical. But one of these days, we will wake up and it will be 2020 and then the threat won't be so hypothetical. I torment myself with hysterical worries about the future. Oh, I am feeling faint again.

If our ability to get planes in the air is so bad, how come we have 180+ 5th generation fighters in service and the Russians and Chinese combined have none? If 180 F-22s won't last, how long will those planes last that don't even exist?

Of course you can assume that competing programs will surge ahead in quantum technological leaps without encountering development bugs, bureaucratic cock-ups, and the whole gamut of problems, and of course you can assume that everything the US does will fall flat, and you can assume that a war with China is imminent and when it comes that Chinese Air Force will be something utterly different than what it now is... and then you can panic. The assumptions seem to be a bit over the top, or more.

I'm well aware that a great deal has been written about the F-35. As I said, the issue has become politicized, and when that happens people with agendas spill out the words in voluminous quantities. As a general rule I take the Olympic Diving Score approach to those disputes: assume the high and low scores (or the polar opinions) are compromised and toss them out of the mix. Even with what's left, I haven't the expertise to evaluate the relative merit of the opinions on the table. Have you?

Best to take these things with multiple grains of salt, just as when some "analyst" looks at a photo of a PAK FA and declares that everything else in the sky will henceforth be obsolete. I recall hearing the same about the MiG-29, way back in the day...

We were supposed to have over 700 F-22s originally. We have 180. I don't remember when the F-35 was originally supposed to go into service, it has changed so often it gets confusing but a quick internet check revealed a production ready design was supposed to be ready by last month. It isn't close. It's still years away. It has taken years and years to figure out what will replace the KC-135s and none have been replaced yet. I don't know how many years it took to get the V-22s going. A lot. I also forget how many years we've been trying and how many times we've tried to replace the scout helos. A lot. So bearing in mind all that, I think it more than fair to say we have trouble get planes into the air. Artists conceptions and killer powerpoint presentation on the other hand...

Dayhan, I don't quite know how to respond to the second question in your first paragraph except to say again that I am considering how things will look 10 years from now.

I try not to panic. Pete Conrad said you aren't allowed to panic if you still have any control over the airplane. I assume the Red Chinese will keep doing things quicker than we figure, as they seem to have done with the J-20. I assume also that we won't keep to the skeds we announce, as we have done with just about everything.

I do have the expertise to judge the relative merits of the options on the table. So do you. What you do is listen to the opinions and arguments presented and then make a decision. All these decisions are made ultimately made by civilians anyway and civilian politicians at that. They ain't any smarter they you or me. If it were any other way we would blindly trust the manufacturers and the services. You can't do that because as George Marrett said (and he would know), they lie.

You remember that about the MiG-29? I don't. I remember people thinking it was a good airplane and being relieved when we got our hands on one to examine, but I don't remember talk about everything else being obsolete. I do take thing with multiple grains of salt, especially things the gov says.

Yes, we have 180 5th gen fighters in service. Nobody else has any. They plan to buy them as they go through testing and debugging. We plan to buy more as they come through testing and debugging. This doesn't seem quite as dire as you paint it.

Your assumptions about what might happen in 10 years seem based on a long string of assumptions, some of them marginally supported. While emphasizing the risks of not taking the course you recommend, you neglect to ecaluate the risks of the course you recommend (all courses have risks).

What is clear to all the services, or should be, is that the goal of maintaining absolute overwhelming dominance ian all places at all times under any conceivable circumstance is not economically viable. The possible risks of not holding such dominance are lower than the certain risks of bankrupting ourselves trying to maintain that dominance. Nobody will get what they want, and everyone will have to find ways to do what needs to be done with what they can get - which is still a hell of a lot. Those who can't handle the reality of constrained budgets will have to adjust or give up.

I can read opinions on the F-35 but I haven't the expertise to know what opinions have a sound basis and what opinions are based on politically or economically motivated exaggerations. I assume that those responsible for making decisions have access to a great deal more information and a great deal more professional consultation than I do. I also assume that they know a whole lot more about competing capabilities and competing programs than those outside the tent: espionage is a two-way street, always has been.

As a fighter pilot with that much time in he should have attended formal schools that teach warfighting. Jomini, Clausewitz might ring a bell? Probably not, how about Billy Mitchell, James Doolittle? Warfare is changing, evolve or become irrelevant. A fighter pilot who refuses to say the "B" word (Bomb) is already there, thats you. You are just one generation away from being replaced with UCAVs. Adapt to the modern fight, join the team for the big win. This isnt about looking cool with your scarf and tailored flight suit at the club, its about fighting and winning wars- the current one and the ones to come. Your envisioned air to air enemy and dreams of glory in a furball over Eastern Europe is long gone. Do you understand what the threat is? Do you understand what our national objectives are? It is dishartening to hear CAS called "boring meaningless holes in the sky" when every single TIC in OEF/OIF ended when air arrived on station. It does explain why when the purple air checked with me they were invariably clueless. If you cannot understand that your service is a huge drain on the defense budget, does not contribute to the current fight we are in and simply wants to return to the glory days, then dont let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Welcome to the era of doing more with less- the USMC has been doing it since its inception.

If it ever comes to it (please God that it does not) who and what is going to take care of those J-20s? MBA phrases like "doing more with less" aren't going to cut it when you don't have a machine that can match things like that.

As far as the USMC doing more with less, the motto of the USMC air types should be "doing less with more $, a lot more and even more than that" if the V-22 and F-35 sagas of ongoing...lets be kind and say...disappointment are any measure.

*Sigh* The US Air Force has seen a decade of fat budgets, with little to show for it. It's had to sacrifice people, and allow its existing fighter fleet to age, all for 187 F-22 Raptors. Then it sees its crown jewel the subject of a scathing 60 Minutes investigation.

The US Air Force has inverted John Boyd's famous "People, Organization, Equipment" maxim, and now finds itself wanting.

I'd say, if anything, the Air Force has an identity crisis. It's become increasingly expeditionary, joint, and operates largely in uncontested airspace. It's also had to take on decidedly un-sexy missions--look at the growing UAV field, and the stigma that the operators/pilots operate under.

Starbuck, you should amend your statement to say that the Dept of Defense has sacrificed all in the USAF for the F-35. And all in the Navy and USMC too. The USMC being the Rasputin figure in this drama.

Carl's point is correct but as a note of minor interest, some of us in Korea in the early days did in fact get strafed and bombed by bad guys -- once, for me including a close view of the palest, blond North Korean ever seen in a Beast cockpit as he passed by a hill. Even as late as 1952 when the UN Forces had almost total air dominance, the North could and did still slip random AN-2s or MiGs South at night to harass; not terribly effective but not stopped, either...

I've also been strafed and bombed by the USAF a few times but that's another thread and irrelevant to the point. In that same Korean war, attempts at 'Strategic Bombing' wer broadly ineffective and UN air elements were rapidly shifted to CAS and interdiction (MiG Alley not withstanding...). I only mention all that above to emphasize that we certainly need a functional air combat capability yet we must acknowledge that it can never be error free or omnipotent.

Whether that air combat capability is a separate Air force or not is, to me, broadly immaterial; the issue is that air combat and air support elements be competent and capable. Aside from some national level issues divorced from ground combat, the Navy and Marines also have need of air combat and support capability. I see no major problem if an Air Force flies all that with on big caveat -- air power not owned by the guys on the surface of the earth will never be fully responsive to the needs of those fighting at ground or sea level. For those who would say I do not understand the use of Air power, we can disagree but that is not pertinent to this thread. I mention all that only to make an added but quite critical point -- parochialism is not really beneficial to achieving either more effectiveness or less bureaucratic stifling.

I have no reason to believe all the air elements are not broadly good to go at this time. They have been for most of the 60 plus years I've been around and paying attention -- many of those enjoying that superiority and support Carl mentioned.

FWIW, such 'letters to the Boss' have been around all that time and in all services. All are generally truthful and heartfelt and fairly accurate, none have made much difference. Most authors, like Ron Keys, get it off their chest and drive on -- it's those that continue to drive that eke out minor changes; those that leave the road lose ability to influence things. It is an inefficient system and it's driven by many conflicting political (inter service, intra service, inter community or specialty, domestic political party and individual / personal variants).

It works as well as it does only due to those that point out the flaws as this writer has and those who write or do not but have the fortitude to stick around and try to make a difference in spite of the mind numbing bureaucracy and thoughtlessness. Most of us figure out that we are going to continue to be inefficient unless and until we have a major trauma of some sort to belay some of the political and parochial idiocy. Democracies and their legislative bodies do not want really effective Armed Forces, they want adequate forces. We have suffered from that long before any of us were born. It is, as they say, the American way...

Carl succinctly identifies the problem. The strategic mission of Air Force aviation is not providing Close Air Support. Neither was it the mission of Naval Aviation Units at the outbreak of World War II. The Navy / Marine Corps team solved that problem by providing the Marine Corps with its own Marine Air Wings that today have both Helicopter and Fighter / Attack Aircraft. One Marine Corps Air Wing assigned to support one Marine Division.

Weapons platforms should not be designated the property of a branch of the military, instead each branch should be allowed to possess the weapons platforms and necessary manpower to operate that equipment if it "directly" furthers on a routine basis their achieving their mission in a campaign / battle situation.

The Army's mission is ground warfare and that requires its infantry be supported routinely by artillery, tanks, close air support, etc., etc. The units providing those capabilities should be organizationally part of the Army as they are in the Marine Corps.

The strategic mission of the Air Force is to ensure we control the air using AEW and fighter aircraft capabilities wherever needed; that we have the ability to strategically bomb America's enemies using bombers, attack aircraft, or missiles as appropriate; and to provide large scale logistical support via air into a theater of war.

When needed, Navy Fighter / Attack squadrons supplement Marine Corps aviation units, but that is not their primary mission. The same would be true of the USAF providing B-52 / B-1 bombing efforts in support of ground activities on the occasions when needed.

The Air Force could resolve its budget problems and concentrate on achieving its strategic goals by transferring to the Army those capabilities only intended to support the Army's ground forces. Again, mission responsibilities should not be assigned to a branch of the service based on type of platform. Tanks are not the sole property of armored divisions or the army for obvious reasons. Armored Warfare, however, is the mission solely of the Army.

Perhaps it is time for the DOD's components to be somewhat reorganized based on missions and needed support. Then the aviators assigned to the Army will not have to complain about receiving ground training. The Marine Corps requires all its men and officers to be infantry capable and infantry first regardless of the mission they routinely perform--or at least I believe they still have that requirement.

I get the impression that most of the people on SWJ are American ground soldiers. Unless there are a few 90 year olds commenting (I don't think even Ken is that old) not one has any experience with operating when the enemy has the airplanes and we don't. Seeing as how it has been 70 years since Americans have had to do that, it is only human to believe that that is the way it is and always has been. It hasn't. The Air Force has its faults but they realize, because of their history and training that the Americans having the airplanes and the other guy not having the airplanes isn't the natural order of things. You have to fight for it and since that fight is conducted with machines, you had better have a superior machine if you expect to win that fight. And you had better have superior pilots, ground crews, airfield mtx people, logistics people and on and on and on. None of that is easy to do. But if you don't do it, the enemy has the airplanes and we don't-at which point the Americans get reacquainted with being the targets of close air support.

I think that is what the author of this letter is really trying to get across, the ultimate real reason why we keep the USAF around is to keep the other guys airplanes from dropping bombs on the heads of American ground soldiers. Just because circumstances have been such recently that the Air Force hasn't been called upon to do that doesn't mean that that isn't their primary mission and they really and truly can't do that unless they get the resources.

There are a foolish few who have been on the receiving end of CAS. MiG 17 & MiG 23 - both cannon and bombs, Su 24 with rockets (lots of rockets), Su 25 - bombs, rockets and I assume rotary cannon from the 'ripping paper' sound from its cannon. Mi 8 - rockets, PFM-1 mines (very nasty at night) and bombs (a real surprise that one) and from Mi 24 rockets and I think AGS-17 grenades (empty 30mm casing inside the perimeter).

In Afghanistan they used the rising dust plateau to mask their approach run (I'm sure a pilot will know the correct technical name) where dust stops rising up thermals and saturates the airspace. Despite what looks like clear blue sky an aircraft can disappear in this region (about 1500 m altitude ASL?) You eyeball them diving then - poof - they disappear. They show themselves when the igniter smoke (rockets) appears as two white balls, two muzzle flashes, the aircraft drops below the dust layer or you get visual at a few hundred metres. The pilot hopes (usually rightly so) you can’t traverse your muzzle fast enough or his strafe has knocked you out .

The question of using a MANPAD on the departing aircraft is a joke. The dropping of flares and chaff only helps the ground gunner identify the position of the fleeting target

The effect on the defence for all this CAS is pretty much a zero.

Artillery was more deadly if you were in the open as there was no forewarning engine noise (especially the BM-21) but to the dug-in defender the CAS book didn't seem worth the candle. Mind you that is hardly news. The massive artillery bombardments of WW1, the strategic bombing of Italy and Germany - even tactical bombing at Monte Cassino and Berlin made matters worse for the attackers. Strategic bombing of Japan and North Vietnam would not have prevented massive casualties for the invading force. The CAS at Saipan, Pelalu, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Khe Sanh etc etc all pretty much a waste of effort as far as the grunts were concerned.

These shortcomings in airpower appear to go unnoticed. This lack of a grasp on reality is epitomised by the current ‘Show of Force’ - low passing of jets or even helicopters over suspected enemy positions. Whether by experience or ignorance jets and helicopters are considered by Afghans as a sign of weakness and a prerequisite to inevitable defeat for their enemy.

The one thing they fear is the one thing defenders have feared for thousands of years – ground troops. Like I said earlier this is hardly big news.


Perhaps you were actually there in the 80s Afghanistan on the receiving end and not just making comments based on history. But that's the problem with history or experience even two decades old. Reality changes.

Even Ken's extensive experience is not that relevant on the subject because the Russian pilots he hinted at who strafed him in Korea and perhaps Vietnam had WWII or Korea experience (and aircraft closer to equal) not found in today's Chinese, Russian, North Korean, or Iranian pilots. The Israelis were 85 kills and no losses against the Syrians in 1982. Our joint aircraft and training advantages far surpass that now. Ask the Russians who flew over Georgia how experience makes a difference.

Of course the mindless dumb bombs of WWII were only marginally effective and caused many civil casualties perhaps increasing enemy resolve. Even in Desert Storm, a relatively small percentage of bombs were precision-guided. That changed in OIF/OEF and even in 1999.

I don't deal with classified information much and not at all on this subject. Simply google "Infrared Countermeasures" to see how far the state of the art has advanced beyond simple flares. It's pretty disappointing to have to point that out to someone associating himself with RAND.

Someone incorrectly noted that all battles stopped in OIF/OEF when bombs were dropped or attack helicopters struck. Not true, but pretty close. So close to true that potential foes now either seek to hug us, civilians or civil sensitive sites, or dig themselves into camouflaged tunnels/bunkers...or very deep ones.

It still isn't enough if the enemy can be found. However, adding ground forces to the mix increases the probability of finding the hidden enemy and driving him into the open to be engaged by air and ground weapons.

However, the other thing that has changed is that the US and allies by buying 5th gen aircraft have raised the bar so high that no foe can match us in the air in substantial numbers with equal quality. Add our air defenses and Army/Marine airpower, and I'm doubting our ground forces need to fear being strafed in future wars.

This author should feel free to take his complaints and 2000 hours to the airlines where he will make substantially less than those pilots once made. Reality changes. He can join the Air Guard to augment his income. BTW, I never got more than about 650 hours after a decade as an Army pilot during the Cold War. No public whining from me.

Move Forward,

Most of the history I have read regarding the Soviets in Afghanistan is complete nonsense so I was just giving a personnel account of the effects of CAS I experienced. I find most procurement programs somewhat of a mystery but I imagine there are plenty of experts who can justify with sound argument every aircraft the US ends up buying . Personally it does not bother me one way or the other . I was just attempting to shed some light on the fact that well dug-in infantryman in mountainous terrain can take hundreds of aircraft attacks without sustaining any casualties. It surprised me as much I imagine it would have surprised you.

I dread to think what would happen if the position was on flat country but I never encountered a defensive position in Afghanistan that wasn’t in the mountains and those that I had heard about that weren't all suffered badly. As you rightly claim much has changed in terms of accuracy but I have read the stencilled numerals and Cyrillic lettering on bombs that have flown a few metres past my head as they headed to the opposite side of a valley or the plain hundreds of metres away. But yes I take your word for it that today’s pilot could actually hit me in the chest with his 500 kg guided bomb as I attempted to get a lead on him or one of his buddies – just like in the movies!

The other point I was attempting to make is that Soviet pilots found it difficult to see small fire-posts (say 5m x 5m) even with a quad DsKh 12.7 mm or a twin 14.5mm blazing away at them from 20 or 30 hilltop positions. I have eyeballed pilots fly beside me and seen them whip their heads around in surprise as they spotted me and an my loaders as they flashed by on full power - sometimes lower than my position. They would circle back and usually strafe or bomb the hilltop a km away. In fairness after the first pass the dust did not make visibility any better – for both sides. But this may now be considerably different as you suggest.

Furthermore I was surprised how much energy the shale-like soil in Afghanistan could absorb from bombs and rockets which landed very close. As in much of WW1 trench warfare - being buried alive rather than blown to pieces was the main issue in Afghanistan . Needless to say one could become considerably ‘bomb-happy’ after a day of heavy attack but it sometimes went on for a week with little permanent damage. I have no idea how much detonation speed has improved in high explosive but in 30 years specific impulse in rocket propellant has increased barely 10% and at considerable technical difficulty in manufacture and purchase price. The point I was trying to make was that 30 years ago in the mountains of Afghanistan if you wanted to kill a man in a hole with a bomb from an aircraft you had land it very close to him – much closer than many people realise.

I have always been sceptical when it is stated “They took their dead with them.” But like you have suggested reality has moved on. Glad to hear it.


Move Forward: The US has only about 180 5th generation fighters and we wouldn't let our allies buy any even though they wanted to. That means we and our allies are depending upon less than 200 airplanes to keep the bar raised so high that no foe can match us. The slightest glance at the history of air fighting between relatively evenly matched antagonists shows that 180 airplanes is a footnote.

You should have been whining if after a decade as an Army pilot you only had 650 hours. Piloting skill and therefore combat effectiveness for a pilot are directly dependent upon flight time. The more the pilot force has, the better it is. The less it has the worse it is. Those Israeli pilots were good because they practiced fighting, they flew, a lot. It isn't about having happy pilots, it is about having skillful fighting pilots and that requires a lot of flying time. The good thing is they both go together.

RandCorp: I take it though that you would have preferred not to have been subject to the attentions of those aircraft. Which is the purpose of an air force, to see that you aren't.

Modern CAS and weapons may not be all that effective on things like the Naha-Shuri line. I don't know enough about it to judge. But there is more to fighting a war than attacking people sitting in a cave or bunker. Sitting in a cave or a bunker waiting to be attacked is made easier if the airplanes overhead are yours and can kill the attackers, who unless they are really fast moles, have to move about in the open to get you.

No doubt there are serious shortcomings with airpower. Us Americans are probably the most deeply infected with the airplanes can do it all, all the time virus. But that doesn't mean it isn't vital that the enemy air forces be keep off our backs.

I don't know much about this again, but I have read that Shows of Force actually worked, at least some of the time.

I think you are wrong about the massive arty bombardments not being useful in for attacking ground troops in WWI. Those ground troops could not have gotten close enough to the defenders to do anything without the killing and suppressive effect of artillery. Even the Germans needed it when using their infiltration tactics.

As far as the Pacific island battles go, CAS may not have made all that much difference, I don't know enough about it again. But airpower made a hell of a difference. The Japanese on those islands were completely cut off mainly as a result of naval superiority which was brought about by airpower.

You want some cheese with that whine?

That's it? This fighter jock's big complaint is "filling 'in-lieu-of the Army doing its job' taskings" during wartime? He thinks CAS is beneath the dignity of the Air Force and (anonymously) calls the USAF leadership a bunch of cowards because they aren't pushing to buy more Mach 2 fighters (presumably so that he could duel with the Taliban's fighter jets). If this is in the tradition of "Dear Boss" letters, it sounds quite parochial and petty to me.

I suppose if you were looking to throw a stone at a fighter pilot because you are convinced that the ground game over the last 10 years has been an incredible success for the strategic interests and security needs of the country, you might be on the right track. But you have missed the meaning entirely and should read Peter's companion piece.

Rather than argue back that CAS needs are met via a variety of platforms and that that mission set is covered down on, it is more important to point out that whether it's the fighter pilots, or the rest of the units that make up the Air Force, the temperature is the mostly the same; the field is concerned about the strategic direction of the force after passing 20 straight years on a combat footing.

From your comment, I would assume that any commentary from someone wearing blue would draw vitriol and leave you inconsolably irritated. With the strategic and budget environment, it's unfortunate to see the intolerance. No matter what uniform you wear to includ a business suit; we have a lot of work to do...together.

Thanks, Lion Heart, but I certainly didn't mean to appear critical or dismissive of the Air Force in general, only to this fighter-centric officer who castigates his leadership for trying to make the service relevant to today's environment without needlessly feuding with other services. His disdain for airmen receiving two weeks of "mud-infested" training shows that he has a very narrow view of the Air Force mission.