The Best Defense

A surprising and courageous critique of the F-35—yes, from an Air Force officer

The other day I marveled at a piece on UCAVs in Air & Space Power Journal, only to hear from Jim Gourley that there is a second terrific and courageous article in the same issue.

Col. Michael Pietrucha argues that the F-35 is leading the Air Force into a disastrous situation in which that service will be irrelevant to most American military operations. The F-35, he says, is hugely expensive, but "offers little improvement over its predecessors." It and the higher-end F-22 are preparing the Air Force for the conflicts that are most worrisome, he worries, but not for those that are most likely. If current trends continue, he warns, the combat Air Force soon will consist of "a short-range, long-runway fleet shorn of EW/SEAD support."   

He proposes an alternative force that consists of the F-35s already purchased, plus revamped versions of the F-16 and F-15 that borrow sensors and systems from the F-35, and some saved A-10s, plus a new "light combat" aircraft. This would result in a mix of capabilities that would enable the Air Force to be expeditionary and also carry out CAS missions, which I am sure soldiers and Marines would appreciate.  

Interestingly, he urges the Air Force to study the example of the Army in the cancellation of the Comanche attack and scout helicopter in 2004. This made me think of another Army decision, the smart one made in the 1980s to not get involved in the V-22 Osprey. The Marine Corps went ahead and pursued the V-22 and, as far as I can see, wrecked Marine Corps aviation in the process.

The Army's Comanche cancellation reminded me of one of my favorite strategic lessons, that the most important strategic decisions often are about what not to do. These also can be the hardest decisions.

Steve Snodgrass via Flickr

The Best Defense

Last chance to vote on the Future of War!

If you haven't yet voted in the Future of War essay contest, this is your last chance. I plan to tally the results on Sunday and run them sometime next week. 

You can read the essays at this page.

Then you can vote by e-mailing me using the address at the bottom of my bio. In the subject line, please put CONTEST, and vote for your no.1 and no. 2 choices, by the number on each essay.

by Enokson via Flickr