If You Want Peace, Prepare for Absurd Scenarios


I followed a link from The Weekly Standard‘s blog to a post by David Axe discussing Air Force Monthly‘s coverage of an F-22 getting shot down in some simulated combat by an F-16. Lieutenant Colonel Dirk Smith notes that “the beauty of Red Flag is that we were able to go out and practice our tactics in a challenging scenario, make a mistake, learn alesson, and be that much better prepared for actual combat.” Axe, in a section the Standard quotes favorably, concurs:

I totally agree: failure is the best way to improve. And if losing one simulated dogfight against other Americans flying F-16s was such a profound experience for our Raptor jockies, imagine what they might take away from a no-holds-barred match with experienced foreign pilots flying a genuinely dissimilar aircraft, say Indian aces in Su-30s or veteran Russian pilots in Su-27s – or even top British aviators in the Royal Air Force’s new Typhoons.

Uh huh. But think about that. Why would the US Air Force be fighting Indian aces in Su-30s? And that’s to say nothing of the Royal Air Force. I don’t want to say it’s inconceivable that the United States would find itself engaged in a struggle for air superiority with a near peer-competitor but it’s way, way, way, down on the list of contingencies that any reasonable person would be hedging against. Alien robots seems like an only slightly less plausible adversary.

Robert Farley threatened a little while back to write on the question of whether we ought to have an Air Force at all, and I think it’s a topic that needs further exploration. Clearly, the military needs air power, but setting up a separate, coequal, “air” service seems to create very bad institutional incentives to over-invest our resources in the sort of things that would justify the existence of an air force.