The Last Ace

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) calls Cesar Rodriguez the last ace, despite the fact that he only had three air-to-air kill when he retired a couple years ago, because it’s the closest anyone’s come to the required five kills in a long, long time — which says more about American air power than it does about the skills of our pilots:

American pilots haven’t shot down many enemy jets in modern times, because few nations have dared rise to the challenge of trying to fight them. The F?15, the backbone of America’s air power for more than a quarter century, may just be the most successful weapon in history. It is certainly the most successful fighter jet. In combat, its kill ratio over more than 30 years is 107 to zero. Zero. In three decades of flying, no F?15 has ever been shot down by an enemy plane — and that includes F?15s flown by air forces other than America’s.

Rival fighters rarely test those odds. Many of Saddam Hussein’s MiGs fled into Iran when the U.S. attacked during the Gulf War. Of those who did fight the F-15, like the unfortunate pilot framed on Rodriguez’s wall, every last one was shot down. The lesson was remembered. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam didn’t just ground his air force, he buried it.

That dominance is eroding, Bowden argues:

Some foreign-built fighters can now match or best the F?15 in aerial combat, and given the changing nature of the threats our country is facing and the dizzying costs of maintaining our advantage, America is choosing to give up some of the edge we’ve long enjoyed, rather than pay the price to preserve it. The next great fighter, the F?22 Raptor, is every bit as much a marvel today as the F?15 was 25 years ago, and if we produced the F-22 in sufficient numbers we could move the goalposts out of reach again. But we are building fewer than a third of the number needed to replace the older fighters in service.

I find it odd that he discusses the future of air superiority at length with no mention of UAVs.

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