Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder

Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne lays out the cards.  The average age of USAF inventory is 23.9 years today and will rise to 26.5 by 2012.  Fund asset replacement now, or start losing wars:

The Air Force’s older fighters aren’t up to defeating a modern air defense system or modern foreign fighters, Wynne said, and in a fight with Venezuela or Iran, such aircraft would probably be shot down.

“No [USAF] fourth-generation fighter would be allowed into war over Tehran or over Caracas, once they buy what the Russians are selling them,” Wynne said. He noted that as far back as 1999, only stealthy B-2s and F-117s were actually allowed to overfly the murderous air defenses around Belgrade in operation Allied Force, and foreign air defense systems have improved dramatically since then.

“If you as Americans want to be coerced, we’re starting down that road,” he admonished.

— John A. Tirpak, “Warning: USAF is “Going Out of Business“.  Air Force Magazine Online, September 21st, 2007.

The list of inventory which requires replacement is pretty depressing.  More or less every air superiority and ground attack fighter rolled out when I was a kid.  The entire tanker inventory.  The entire milsat C4ISR constellation.  The US Air Force, after all, has been at war for seventeen years—ever since Desert Shield/Desert Storm.  And the equipment is showing all of that wear and tear.

The irony is that SECAF Wynne is part-architect of the current problem.  He decided to downsize the Air Force by 40,000 men and women in order to help pay for recapitalisation.  But in Wynne’s own estimation, that grand plan is not realising the savings he envisioned.

It was Wynne’s idea, he said, to “voluntarily downsize and restructure the force, just like an industrialist would do, in order to gain the resources to recapitalize his asset base.” The reductions targeted 40,000 full-time equivalent uniformed slots.

However, “it isn’t working,” Wynne admitted.

“What does that mean to an industrialist?” he asked and answered: “It means you are going out of business. It is simply a matter of time.” All that has been accomplished, he said, is to slow down the pace at which Air Force aircraft race toward their retirement dates.

“This can’t go on,” Wynne asserted. “At some time in the future, they will simply rust out, age-out, fall out of the sky. We need, somehow, to recapitalize this force.”

No matter who occupies the White House in 2008, I don’t see them pushing for a massive Air Force-centric defence appropriation.  And if by some miracle the future President backs such a funding boost, what are the odds a military-hostile Democratic Congress is going to ante up?

Good luck with that, Mr. Wynne—you’re going to need it.  And God help America if you don’t get it.  Maybe USAF airmen can take a page out of the CF’s book during our mid-90s funding crunch, and get second jobs delivering pizza.

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