By Lt. Col. Paul Darling, a US Army infantryman assigned to the Alaska National Guard.
It was with a very small amount of surprise that readers saw a retired US Air Force general, pilot and adviser to Boeing and Northrop Grumman advocate for hundreds of new, expensive stealth bombers using justifications dating to the 1930s [“Stealthy Deterrence,” Commentary, July 20].
And why should we be surprised? These justifications have worked brilliantly.
The US Air Force’s ability to remove the taxpayers from their money while purchasing aircraft we never use even has a monument at Monthan-Davis Air Force Base. This sprawl of aluminum in the middle of the Arizona desert should be a pilgrimage for all who seek true understanding of US defense policy since the end of World War II.
We should have little doubt we will buy more and more aircraft for wars we won’t fight. But perhaps even a token resistance to the military industrial complex may be remembered like Thermopylae — a failure, but at least a glorious one.
Quickly addressing the nuclear deterrence role, the Air Force has never completely explained how 1,500 warheads on missiles throughout the world fails as a deterrent in the absence of manned penetration bombers. The Chinese and Russians lack our bomber capability. Do we state they lack a nuclear deterrent? Redundancy is, indeed, grand.
And no doubt STRATCOM’s plans dutifully include these bombers in their archaic calculations. The question is whether the plan couldn’t be adjusted with little loss of deterrence, but with much loss of spending. The general further remarks that it was a couple of B-2 bombers flying from Missouri to South Korea and back that forced North Korea to back down from its saber rattling. Is the general’s point that the North Koreans had forgotten we had bombers and needed to be reminded?
If our enemies can so quickly forget we have a deterrent, it isn’t much of a deterrent. One might conclude the mission wasn’t to remind Pyongyang, it was to remind Capitol Hill. Regardless, our current B-2 fleet can continue to provide that capability. If two bombers can conduct that mission, it seems foolish to buy hundreds.
On the conventional side, the planned long-range strike bomber (LRS-B) begins to make more sense. The great advances in missile technology by our enemies seem to shock our Air Force. As a service that has largely neglected missiles and their capabilities, their surprise is professionally disappointing but, again, unsurprising.
If our bases and tankers upon which short-range strike aircraft depend cannot be defended properly, then a long-range option becomes obviously required. Why the USAF would demand 1,760 F-35s as well as hundreds of new bombers, however, makes one question whether it is convenience and not combat driving their justifications. Simply put, either Air Sea Battle or New Offset is correct. They are mutually exclusive concepts. The Air Force must not be permitted to use both simultaneously to spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
While the world and technology have changed greatly since the jet age started 70 years ago, we seem to wish to avoid the implied advantages of technology and the force-multiplying effects they have. Precision-guided munitions have revolutionized the use of conventional aircraft. What once took 1,000 bombers over Schweinfurt now requires but one. Calculations of required aircraft made before the universality of PGMs are irrelevant.
The idea of a never-ending assembly line for bombers, I have no doubt, has great appeal to many in the Air Force as well as the aerospace industry. This understandable appeal must be weighed against the complete lack of need, however. If we wish to dust off “old foes” as justification for Cold War-era-sized inventories, we must first ask why the nuclear deterrence so successful at culminating that war peacefully no longer applies.
A jaundiced view would be that for certain organizations, the war that matters is the war over procurement dollars. The battlefield is the budget with the enemies all occupying the same building.
I refuse to accept that. Rather, we fail to appreciate what nuclear deterrence, advanced technology and a changing global landscape actually demands of our armed forces. This would not be the first time a military ignored the future for a fight in the past. It would, however, be the first time the past was ignored as well as the future. I believe, with an admittedly unjustified faith, that will not happen this time.