Jan. 1, 2010

Gates and the B-2

“Hear, hear” for Robert Dudney’s editorial [“The Real B-2 Mistakes,” November 2009, p. 2] correcting Secretary Gates’ flawed logic on why each B-2 ended up costing $2 billion. The basic business principle Congress and some in the Pentagon consistently fail to follow is return on investment. Since the development and successful multiyear production of the F-16 and F-18, they have rejected every argument that promotes return on investment in defense acquisition.

Can you imagine the president of Ford, after investing billions to develop the Ford Fusion, telling the board of directors that Ford should produce less than 1,000 to keep total program costs low? He’d be fired at Ford, but promoted on Capitol Hill!

With Mr. Gates’ logic, every new weapon system will end up a “silver bullet.” The F-35 and the KC-X tanker may be the next casualties of this insane logic. Let’s hope saner minds prevail.

Gen. John Michael Loh,

USAF (Ret.)

Williamsburg, Va.

Disappearing Species

As technology progresses, aesthetically pleasing contemporary fighter aircraft are soon becoming a disappearing species [“The New ‘Balanced’ Air Force,” November 2009, p. 28]. Generation 4 aircraft and their predecessors all have a history and legacy that will be completely apart from succeeding ones. It will seem strange indeed to see F-15s, -16s, and -18s classified as vintage aircraft.

MSgt. Michael O’Hearne

USAFR (Ret.)

Charlestown, N.H.

[Regarding] air superiority: Are we on the right path? I am concerned that our Air Force is putting too much faith in too few airframes. Can the F-22s be in all the places we want them all at once? How about base defense: Are we thinking enough about protecting our airfields, not to mention military facilities, in general

Our potential adversaries, the Chinese, are updating older fighters, MiG-19s and MiG-21s, in vast numbers, not to mention new fighters and attack aircraft being fielded.

There must be more thought into the area of quality and quantity, and depending too much on quality.

Let’s not forget the lessons of the Vietnam War when our pilots were at a disadvantage with little close-in dogfight training, unreliable missiles, fighter planes with limited maneuverability, and no guns. These problems were addressed, to an extent, as the war progressed, too late for many of our pilots and aircrews. We should have used such aircraft as later model F-86s, F-5 Freedom Fighters, and F-100 Super Sabres, but that’s a discussion for another time.

We need to remember the dark days of World War II, just after Pearl Harbor, when we were greatly outnumbered, and less than 10 years later when the North Koreans attacked South Korea. We were outnumbered and soon outclassed when the MiG-15 entered the conflict.

Matching the enemy on a one-to-one basis is certainly not needed in today’s combat arena, but we cannot and should not take this to an extreme.

Another thing we need to address is making sure we have enough mothballed aircraft available that can be brought on line quickly in the event of a sudden war.

World events are too unpredictable to base our future force structure on a few scenarios. We, as a nation, need to stay on our toes.

Thomas R. Jantz,

St. Clair Shores, Mich.

Just Do It

The Marines operate UAVs, but they don’t use their few, expensive officer-pilots to do it [“The Airman’s Creed: Just Do It,” November 2009, p. 36]. USAF might try the same thing. Then, USAF’s “stop-lost” UAV officers can get on with their career progressions.

USAF should also think outside of the manning box for cyber operations. Logic suggests USAF could have sooner-cheaper-better cyber operations using civilian nerds, near where the civilian nerds already live. This could avoid another stop-lost career dead end for USAF officers.

Paul J. Madden

Seatac, Wash.

Air Invasion of Burma

John T. Correll’s article, “The Air Invasion of Burma” (November 2009, p. 50), notes that Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold quickly grasped the utility of British Maj. Gen. Orde C. Wingate’s strategy for fighting the Japanese behind the lines in Burma. They gave Wingate their full support.

That’s another inspiring example of the excellence of America’s military leadership in World War II, and a major reason why we won the war. In the best of the American “can-do” tradition, they were open to new operational concepts.

We also had the good fortune to be led by broad-minded government leaders like Roosevelt and Churchill who would give the green light to such efforts.

Gregg M. Taylor

Clearwater, Fla.

Imagine my delight, when I received my regular copy of Air Force Magazine, to find your story, “The Air Invasion of Burma,” as one of the feature stories.

Although it brought back a flood of memories for this troop carrier pilot instructor (there aren’t many of us left), it omitted any reference to the part many of us played in the origination of that special entity.

After my enlistment and training period as an [Army Air Forces] pilot, I was assigned to Bergstrom Field in Austin, Tex., where some of us were trained as instructors by senior airline pilots of major airline companies, in commercial DC-3s, on loan from their companies. I’ll never forget my instrument check ride, given by Frank Aiken, a captain with United Air Lines. After a two-hour ride “under the hood” as he called it, in one of their on-loan flagship DC-3s, we landed and Aiken, without a word to me, walked us back to the ready room, threw his check sheet board on the table, and announced to my squadron leader, “Well, we finally got one.” He then turned to me, held out his hand for me to shake, and said very quietly, “You’re the first to pass, nice job.”

Since the troop carrier concept was just being born, we new instructor pilots not only had to learn the art of glider towing but also glider snatching, glider flying, double glider towing, and the evacuation of wounded personnel from torn-up landing areas, but also had to train new pilot school graduates, in those disciplines, to be the “best they could be,” when performing such arduous missions.

Although the original troop carrier concept wasn’t without its flaws in both concept as well as actual performance, I like to think we, as all comrades in arms, performed our assigned mission in typical Air Force manner, despite the odds and with enough success to have merited a “well done” from the top brass of the armed forces.

Thank you for your article and for the memories it rekindled in this old, but proud, troop carrier pilot-instructor.

Don J. Daley

Harrisonburg, Va.

Eighty Year Legacies

I understand that the Obama Administration has other priorities in mind. However, I have read many of the same type of articles as the essay by John Tirpak on the KC-135 saga. And, all of this rhetoric bothers me since the premise is that “some KC-135s will be in service for 80 years or more” [“Washington Watch: Another Try at KC-X, Three Tanker Tracks,” November 2009, p. 8].

What has happened to our national defense posture? We are fighting two wars, with Operation Iraqi Freedom winding down and the war in Afghanistan beginning to expand. If we are going to fight and even if we are at peace, we need a much stronger military. Therefore, all of the haggling over buying this weapon or not is ridiculous.

If you read your magazine, you will also see that various other aircraft—B-52H, F-16, C-5, B-1B, etc.—are being retired! So, it seems prudent that we should replace these planes and do it with all possible dispatch! I think the enemy that gave us 9/11 is more of a threat to the United States than Hitler and the Japanese ever were since we were able to rally and defeat them. This time, it may not be so.

William Reid

Essexville, Mich.