March 1, 2010

The Obama Bomber

Robert Dudney’s editorial, “The Obama Bomber” [January, p. 2], highlights a long ongoing issue on our Air Force bomber status. For over a half-century, the debate between political administrations and current and retired Air Force leaders on developing bombers has always been at odds. There was always a budget problem as to whether we should address replacing the B-52 fleet.

I became involved with the initial research and development cadre for the B-1. We received armchair advice from [those in] Congress as to whether we could afford it, but whenever we briefed them on the amount of money going into their state and the corresponding jobs it would produce once in production, we received favorable funding for the program. Within our own Air Force operational wings, the debate on the merits of having a stick versus a wheel in the cabin brought so many opinions.

Today, we are hearing about whether to have a manned or unmanned bomber, as well as should it be conventional or a nuclear bomber. Once the “nuclear” word is spoken, flags go up, for we have yet to make the public feel comfortable about having nuclear energy. Using nuclear [weapons] as a “US umbrella over our allies” may be in our best interest, but I wonder if our allies would feel the same way. Indeed, exploratory discussions are valuable at the beginning, but once pen is put to paper, we in the Air Force should have a united agreement as to the best bomber we can deliver to meet the future threats of the world. For whatever bomber we end up with and considering the past history of the B-52, we may have this new bomber in our inventory for a very long time.

Col. Ronald L. Baker,

USAF (Ret.)

Springfield, Va.

Your recent editorial on “The Obama Bomber” seems to conclude that the new weapon for global strike is a subsonic long-range bomber, probably manned, probably nuclear capable, with sophisticated equipment for reconnaissance, ultimate avionics, and extreme stealth. I believe that such an aircraft will be enormously expensive, subject to the same syndrome you accurately characterize for the F-22 and the B-2.

I believe the answer to highly responsive global strike is a conventionally armed ICBM. The Peacekeeper missile system clearly demonstrated all the technology needed except for terminal guidance of the earth-penetrating projectile(s). Such a system would have to be based on the coasts to provide for ocean splash of spent stages and to clearly separate the CICBM from the nuclear ICBM. The cost per missile precluded serious consideration of ICBMs for conventional delivery in the past, but some new factors are now extant. The most expensive parts of an ICBM were the inertial guidance and the nuclear warheads. GPS resolves the guidance cost, and conventional earth penetrators are nowhere near nuclear warhead costs.

The future mission for global strike is most likely a time urgent target, probably heavily defended, and possibly buried. An earth penetrator delivered in 30 minutes at Mach 8 would take care of that class of target. A lot of work was done on potential terminal guidance of re-entry vehicles, but the ICBM force has been such a “Lost Patrol” since SAC was stood down, that few even know what is possible in terms of accuracy.

Careful analysis might rule out a CICBM, but I believe it is wise to consider it before we attempt to build an aircraft system that has to strike the toughest targets while also doing the ISR mission. Attempting to design something in between an SR-71 and a B-2 will prove to be very costly.

Lt. Gen. Aloysius G. Casey,

USAF (Ret.)

Redlands, Calif.

Combatants and Collaborators

David Wood’s article “Holding Fire Over Afghanistan” claimed civilians died when a German air controller called in an air strike “on a gathering of Taliban fighters who had hijacked two fuel tanker trucks” [January, p. 28].

How do we know this? I have two reasons for questioning this:

1. Taliban fighters don’t wear uniforms, so how do we know that any of those killed were civilians?

2. Anyone who gathers around a celebration of the hijacking of a fuel tanker is either a combatant or a collaborator.

Capt. Glenn C. Tuley,

USAF (Ret.)

West Melbourne, Fla.


With considerable interest, I have read and reread the article by Peter Grier in the January issue of the magazine, describing, to some extent, the STRAT-X study [“STRAT-X,” p. 52].

I found the article well written, erudite, plenty of camp verbiage and use of words to delineate the considerations pertinent to the siting and launching of missiles which it was “hoped” would deter attack from the USSR. Yet I had to look in vain for discussion of the other half of considerations which (I hope at least) were in the purview of the contract given the RDA.

Please correct me if I’m wrong (I admit to being opinionated, bigoted, and biased), but in the article I found no attention to the problem of “aiming point accuracy.” With the present possession of our GPS capabilities, most any target on Earth can be located to amazing accuracy. As an engineer in the mid-60s with GE’s DSD, I learned that the location of Moscow was some longitude and latitude—plus or minus 25 miles.

If my high school geometry still pertains (A = pi x r2), Moscow (probably) was somewhere within an area of some 2,000 square miles.

Bullet, baseball, or bomb—to likely hit a target, its location, and the expectable trajectory from where you are to where it is, need to be considered and used.

Lt. Col. James W. Dopp,

USAFR (Ret.)

Cortland, N.Y.

The Light Attack Aircraft

Sometimes it’s like talking to a rock: Irregular airpower is not about US capability; it’s about building indigenous airpower. To paraphrase (and correct) Mr. Marcus Weisgerber’s thesis in “The Light Attack Aircraft” in the January 2010 issue [p. 56]: The US Air Force does not need to re-evaluate the mix of systems needed to provide CAS and armed overwatch in irregular conflicts in the future. The US Air Force needs to have effective airpower that puts local forces in the lead for irregular conflicts. We’re not going to see Iraqi and Afghan pilots in F-35s anytime soon.

If it’s our fight, conventional or irregular, USAF airpower has shown itself more than capable of meeting the challenge, albeit at a high cost and with some resistance at the irregular end of the spectrum. However, when the conflict turns into an insurgency or irregular warfare (IW), it is essential that local forces take the lead in their own fight. To do this, local forces need airpower tailored to their needs and resources. USAF irregular airpower, including light attack, has definite utility in the fight, but that cannot be its primary mission. The primary mission for USAF in these conflicts must be to provide and demonstrate an initial capability while building local forces’ capabilities with systems that fit within the local government’s resources. That’s a capability for budgets measured in millions, not billions, of dollars. Cessna Caravans with sensors, C-27s, and AT-6/Tucanos, not TR-1s, C-17s, and F-16s.

Light attack is only one aspect of a complete airpower package that must include lift, ISR, etc., along with a robust training and advisory element that can take a demonstrated USAF capability and develop the local force’s ability to acquire, operate, and support that airpower.

Absent this key point, it is easy to see why irregular airpower requirements compete poorly for limited resources. The focus must be on developing indigenous airpower to even begin to understand the requirement.

Col. John Jogerst,

USAF (Ret.)

Navarre, Fla.

As a three-tour close air support vet of the Southeast Asia war, I was excited to read about the interest in a cheap, light attack, turboprop fighter.

The need: easy to maintain, extremely fuel efficient, long on-station time, and, oh, did I mention cheap? (Does that sound like an AT-6B, which we already operate—and is a US-built airplane?)

Then you go on to read what the procurement guys want: global positioning links, laser guided munitions, terrain scanning capability, jet engines, eventually, two jet engines, a forward-firing Gatling gun, an electro-optical-infrared system, etc., etc. In other words: another F-16!

So, your concept of “a bunch of young lieutenants and captains who are out there [fighting] every day, working with the ground forces … and getting really, really good at it” goes down the technology tubes.

Naw, the Army would really hate that.

Lt. Col. Jack Doub,

USAF (Ret.)

Valdosta, Ga.

A Habit of Heroism

As a sergeant, E-4, of the late ’60s era, I felt immense pride reading about the heroism of Duane Hackney [“A Habit of Heroism,” January, p. 63]. To have been a part of USAF during his service serves to remind me of the selfless, dedicated airmen with whom I served.

Thanks for all you do for our active duty personnel and veterans.

Julian C. Steiner

Bell City, Mo.

I was honored to be in the 1967 group of Outstanding Airmen of the Year and sat next to Duane Hackney at the AFA awards dinner in Atlanta. He was an impressive and humble young airman, but had one fear. As dinner ended, he said to me that he sure wanted a cigarette but that his mother was in the audience (sitting with my wife) and would kill him if she saw him smoke. He was an honor to the uniform.

CMSgt. Al Zarb,

USAF (Ret.)

Enumclaw, Wash.

Silver Bullet Blunder

I’m a retired USAF master sergeant and a World War II history enthusiast. Thanks for a great article on the “blunders” between the Japanese Army Air Force and Navy Air Force in your December 2009 issue [“Silver Bullet Blunder,” p. 68]. It makes you wonder how many more American lives would have been lost if they had worked together. I enjoyed the article and learned something also.

MSgt. Jerry Felder,

USAF (Ret.)

Gulfport, Miss.

I found the article “Silver Bullet Blunder” to show an interesting coincidence—whether the author is making an oblique point or just had an accidental insight, the analysis is relevant. He said, “The Japanese leaders now believed that a major war could be won by a small number of superior aircraft flown by superb crews.”

I think this same fallacious thinking is prevalent today in Secretary Robert M. Gates’ decision to limit F-22 production. While the “boots on the ground” thinkers might draw additional ammo from the comment, it bodes ill for those who would place all their bets on one capability of limited capacity, no matter how good those things are.

The rest of the article adds insight into the current psychology of our leaders as well and is recommended reading with these parallels in mind.

Lt. Col. Thomas M. Hargrove,

USAF (Ret.)

Grapeview, Wash.

More on Speed

I would like to explain to retired Lt. Col. Richard F. Colarco the advantages of spending money on combat speed (supersonic) since the F-100 was introduced [“Letters: The Sixth Generation Fighter, December, p. 4]. I’m most impressed that he actually recognizes his ignorance of the advantages of speed in combat aircraft as well as his demonstrated ignorance of the history of combat engagements involving supersonic speed. I’m relieved that he doesn’t appear to ever have been in a position to require the advantages of speed in a real life-and-death combat situation. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance, of course, as long as you aren’t placed in a position that actually requires the knowledge of modern air combat tactics like setting the requirements for modern fighters of the future. I could quote some statements by some current DOD leadership to highlight the horror of reasoning in ignorance, but I’ll pass that up as an apparent lost cause in the current military budget crisis.

One of the phrases I learned early in my career of flying fighter aircraft is “speed is life.” This phrase means different things to different missions, but it is true for a variety of missions and situations (not all). I can assure Lieutenant Colonel Colarco that the requirements planners don’t sit around and wonder what would be fun for pilots, so “let’s make it go really fast.”

The dilemma comes when actually explaining modern Western (US) tactics. If I could explain it in Air Force Magazine, then potential adversaries would have access to the tactics as well. It’s kind of like telling al Qaeda that we’re listening to them and giving the details how we’re doing it in the New York Times. In the perverse world of modern journalism, it probably gave the reporter’s career a boost, but it also has the deadly consequence of the enemy figuring a way around our tactics. If Colarco and I both got in F-15 simulators and started 50 miles apart with the same parameters (altitude, speed, missile inventory, etc.) I can guarantee that he would be a “mort” every time if he stayed subsonic. Eventually after many times of taking multiple missiles in the cranium (remember we’re in simulators), he might figure out a few things that help him survive a little longer (including supersonic speed). But there’s a world of difference between surviving a little longer and establishing air dominance (F-22 with the correct tactics). There aren’t any tactics I know of that say the F-22 will supercruise until the plane runs out of gas and not make it to the fight. That tactic would come from reasoning in ignorance. Fast acceleration and a high supersonic top end is a wonderful thing to have in your bag of tricks, and a severe disadvantage without. I know it’s a stretch, but you’ll have to take my word for it that the US became the most advanced Air Force in the world by studying the art of air combat and learning (and applying) a few things over the years.

Col. Jim Drake,

USAF (Ret.)

Kaneohe, Hawaii


Retired Gen. John Michael Loh says it like it is [“Letters: Gates and the B-2,” January, p. 4]. We can all hope there is someone in that current “can of worms” called the Capitol who is willing to stand up and be heard on what USAF (not Gates) says and knows what is best.

Gates is as wrong with his current opinions as he was in firing Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

It is apparent I am thinking like a fighter pilot. I was in 1944 and for a while after that.

Lt. Col. Stanley E. Stepnitz,

USAF (Ret.)

Decatur, Mich.


The last page of your issue every month, “Airpower Classics,” which features a new noteworthy airplane is so informative and interesting. The Hawker Hurricane featured in December is a worthy subject. The specifics about the armament may not be totally accurate since the British aircraft used .303 machine guns and you list it as sometimes having .50 caliber machine guns. Otherwise, a great layout on that page.

Richard Domingue

Tucson, Ariz.