Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force

Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force

Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force

Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force

Excerpt

In April 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made clear his plans to cut production of the F-22 Raptor to 187 planes. The Raptor, a stealthy fifth-generation fighter with extraordinary speed and maneuverability, had made no contribution to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, despite a price tag of around $150 million.

Advocates argue that the Raptor, designed for high-intensity conflict against peer competitors, will have its day. However, over the past sixty years a disturbing number of expensive United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft have never seen combat. The USAF bought 384 B-36 Peacemaker bombers in the 1940s and 1950s. None ever dropped a bomb in anger, even over Korea. None of the 2032 B-47 Stratojets ever saw action. Twenty-six of the 116 fast, beautiful B-58 Hustlers crashed, but none ever caused any damage to an enemy. Not one of 342 F-106 Delta Darts saw combat in Vietnam or in any other theater.

More modern aircraft have surely done better; the B-1B Lancer and the B-2 Spirit, extraordinarily expensive bombers intended for missions against targets deep in the Soviet Union, now drop bombs on lightly armed insurgents in Afghanistan. Moreover, other services sometimes have the same problem; few of the navy’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines have ever launched a missile at a live target. Nevertheless, a clear pattern has emerged in the sixty-five years of air force history. The USAF has built itself around a vision of warfare that does not, despite tremendous investment, meet the defense needs of the United States.

The United States needs airpower, but not an air force. While every military mission requires aircraft, the country does not need an independent military organization dedicated to the employment of airpower. Granting independence to the U.S. Air Force was a mistake in 1947, and maintaining the USAF remains a mistake today. The air force won its independence on theories of the decisive effect of airpower on war but has . . .

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