Dead Man Flying
Regardless of how much the Air Force has to
shrink, it can’t do the air superiority mission with just fourth-generation
fighters, no matter how “efficient” they may look on paper, Chief of Staff Gen.
Mark Welsh said on June 17. During an AFA-sponsored Air Force breakfast event,
Welsh acknowledged that USAF will field a “mix” of fourth-generation F-15s and
F-16s as well as fifth-generation
fighters like F-22s and F-35s “years into our future.” But the F-35 is not negotiable, he said. “When we truncated our F-22 buy, we ended up
with a force that can’t provide air superiority in more than one area at a
time,” he acknowledged. The F-35 “is
going to be part of the air superiority equation whether it was intended to be,
originally, or not.” Competitors with fifth-gen fighters will field them not in
15 to 20 years, but “five to 10 years from now,” Welsh said, and if the US
doesn’t have a credible fifth-gen force to counter them in a “high end
fight” it will be “in trouble.” There’s
“nothing else that can do” what the F-35 can, he said. “Out there where people
fight and die, for real, if a fourth-generation aircraft meets a
fifth-generation aircraft, the fourth-generation aircraft may be more efficient,
but it’s also dead.”
—John A. Tirpak
In More Depth
|Gates Versus the Air Force
In his book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes the Air Force as “one of my biggest headaches”—a perception USAF leaders were never able to turn around during his tenure.
A Systemic Problem
Air Force Secretary Deborah James acknowledged the Air Force does “have a systemic problem” within its nuclear forces, though she said she is confident the mission itself remains strong.
The A-12, Settled At Last
After a 23-year seesaw legal battle in which both sides were at some point “up” by more than a billion dollars, the Navy and its A-12 contractors have put the A-12 controversy to rest with a settlement.