America’s flying fortress, the Cold War-era B-52 bomber, (pictured at right) has been in service for the last 50 years, running missions in Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. It’s a striking example of how America’s military is being forced to do more with less, relying on decades-old technology to confront today’s challenges. Unfortunately, the B-52 is only one example of the United States’ geriatric fighting force, and with mounting cuts to the military, America’s ability to defend itself is increasingly called into question.
In a new “America at Risk” video from The Heritage Foundation, David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general, gives his view of America’s aging Air Force.
It’s a story he has experienced first hand. Deptula flew an F-15 for the first time in 1977, and 30 years later, his son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same F-15 at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan. The fighter, which was initially planned to have a 4,000-hour service life, later saw its mission extended to 8,000 hours. Heritage’s Rob Bluey reports on one harrowing incident where Deptula came face to face with the consequences of stretching U.S. forces to their limits:
While serving as the joint task force commander in 1998 and 1999 for Operation Northern Watch, Deptula flew 82 combat missions over Iraq. On one mission, as he was headed to a tanker to refuel, the master caution light came on, revealing a problem with the plane. His fuel gauge went to zero. Meanwhile, he was 500 miles away from his base. Fortunately, he was able to land safely.
‘The insulation was so old it simply had deteriorated to the extent where it came off and all of the wiring shorted out,’ Deptula explained. ‘Those are the kinds of things that happen when airplanes get to certain ages.’
While his aircraft was grounded, another set of airplanes traveled from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, on other side of the world, to replace the one that was being repaired.
Ultimately, the Air Force was forced to ground its entire F-15 fleet after one fighter disintegrated during a training mission in Missouri in 2007. In a new paper, Heritage’s Steven Bucci explains the consequences of continuing the trend of cutting the military and stretching U.S. forces:
The Obama Administration is seemingly trying to find ways to pay for the expansion of entitlement spending programs at the expense of the military force, arguing that military spending is a drain on the economy rather than a protector of American society.
While everyone, including military leadership, wants more efficiencies, cutbacks in military programs motivated solely by cost savings are ill-advised. Cutting many of the at-risk programs will leave the U.S. military where they were post-World War II and post-Cold War: hollow and ill-prepared for growing threats.
Stretching the life of military aircraft puts our fighting men and women in mortal danger, and it poses threats for the U.S. armed forces as a whole. In Heritage’s video, Deptula says, “I hear people talk about, well you know, the U.S. military spends more money than the next 17 nations combined. Well, the next 17 nations combined are not committed to maintaining peace and stability around the world. We are.” But in order to keep that commitment, Congress and the Administration must ensure that the U.S. military has the resources it needs to carry out its mission of protecting America.