At a Veteran’s Day luncheon in Birmingham, Alabama in 2017, General Chuck Horner gave a dismal assessment on the state of readiness for the U.S. Armed Forces, particularly the US Air Force. The chief architect of the air war campaign in the 1991 Gulf War utilized his professional knowledge and experience, dating back to his Vietnam War days as a Wild Weasel pilot to paint a hard truth about the United States’ ability to wage war in a post Iraq/Afghanistan War climate, especially against potential near peer adversaries. “We just aren’t ready. Given the state of troop burnout due to massive deployments, troops being stretched thin, coupled with many of our aircraft being grounded due to a host of factors, and ongoing pilot shortages, I’m afraid that if this nation was to suddenly find itself at war with a country on or even near our level and capability, everything that this nation has fought for over generations may very well be lost”, the retired 4-star Air Force general stated.
In March of 2018, it was concluded that approximately only 71.3% of the US Air Force’s planes were flyable. The chief reason for this is the overwhelming wear and tear on aircrafts that have seen continuous flight and fight since the beginning of the 2001 Global War On Terrorism (GWOT), not to mention deterrence operations over the skies of Syria. This evolves into a higher tempo of maintenance. The situation becomes even more hampered by a shortage of USAF maintenance personnel. The 2014 troop draw down is largely to blame. A rush to replace those who should have perhaps never been forced out saw an immediate swelling of the ranks at the expense of having lesser skill set and experienced maintainers. This is not just an Air Force problem, but a service wide problem. The US Army and Navy/Marine aviation components are experiencing the same set of dilemmas, although maybe perhaps not as much.
Troops entering the Armed Forces in the late 1990’s and now 21st Century were told that, “This is not your daddy’s Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines”. This clearly meant that the present climate would be much different than that our predecessors faced during Vietnam, The Cold War, and post-Cold War of the early 1990’s.What is needed is a newer Air Force top to bottom. Even with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rapidly fading into the history books, the current state of the USAF is finding an increasingly great difficulty to meet the global missions it’s being tasked with. Given the parallel situations among the aviation communities of it’s the Armed Forces as a whole, the current state of the USAF and military and its global strength, reach, and power, such a state of unpreparedness only projects the US as powerful on paper but incapable of a long protracted war. Furthermore, it only invites a potential Pearl Harbor scenario in which the US may not be able to rebound from.
Recently in September, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson reported to Pentagon officials that what the USAF needs are more squadrons. Her response echoed other senior level analysts in that the USAF and military as whole should be focused on fighting the next war against seriously even matched foes such as Russia, China, and a now nuclear aggressive North Korea. The now 16 year old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has taken a serious toll on both personnel and aircraft alike. Persons such as Secretary Wilson have suggested that perhaps a budget friendly and cost cutting measure would be to develop and field a lower cost light attack aircraft that would be instrumental in handling ISIS and Afghan insurgent groups. This would free up large budget aircrafts such as the F-22, F-35, and legacy aircrafts such as the F-16, and B-52. Such aircrafts utilize capabilities and technologies that far exceed mission requirements. In short, why would you use an F-35 to bomb a small group of rebels holed up in a barn? Situations such as these could be better handle by a cheaper but just as effective Embraer A-29 Super Tucano or Beechcraft AT-6B Wolverine.
Senior analysts concluded that the F-22 has a maximum cost per hour range of $70,000 whereas the aforementioned light attack planes would cost about $2,000 and yet strike with the same precision capability and effectiveness. Secretary Wilson has endorsed the fielding of such light attack planes. By using such aircraft, the USAF will be able to continue to modernize its fleet, while reduce mission costs and further wear and tear on existing aircraft. Retired Marines Congressman Mike Coffman and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis support the idea of using an airframe that would be better suiting for low level conflicts and adversaries. As a matter of fact, Congressman Coffman suggested that other services procure the proposed light attack aircraft. Furthermore, even the biggest supporters of the aging A-10 Warthog suggest that the proposed light attack weapons are the only viable replacements for the A-10. “It’s time to engage the threats of the 21st Century by using the right platform to get the job done without breaking the tax payer’s wallets” he recently stated in the Air force Times.
The writing is on the wall. Other aggressive nations are rapidly investing in the air assets that will directly impact and challenge the US’ air superiority and supremacy. The only logical responses are to counter those threats with all necessary elements. The problems are very well known and the resources are there to counter them. In the years leading up to WWII, this same pattern was seen among the Imperial Japanese Naval and Army Air Forces and German Luftwaffe. Countermeasures to these ever increasing threats to US naval and air supremacy which protect US interests to be invested into with all senses of urgency. Our national security is at stake. This is not our father’s military…