Warplanes: April 27, 2005

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Who has the best fighter pilots? This is a question that is probably one of the most important to be answered when one discusses any potential air war. Despite what many folks think, one cannot win a war without control of the air. Infantry might take and hold ground, but airpower decides who ultimately wins or loses a war. It should also be noted that it is the pilots that matter more than the machines themselves. Well-trained pilots can make the most of older planes, while a fancy new aircraft is no good if the pilot doesnt get much flight time, or engages in realistic combat training.

So, who might have the best fighter pilots among those countries with significant aerial combat experience over the last 25 years? The first name that comes to mind is the United States Air Force. This is an organization that is not only headed for major technological advances as the F-22 and F-35 enter service, but it also does some of the hardest training, both in exercises with foreign forces (like Cope India), and against itself (see Red Flag for the most prominent/famous example). Since the ugly divorce from the Army in 1947, the Air Force has continually pursued control of the air, and has become extremely good at it.

The United States Navy is no slouch, either. This is a force whose pilots not only go through strenuous training (Top Gun is perhaps the most famous example), but it also operates off ships and is highly mobile. Navy aircrews have scored in the air (at least six air-to-air kills) in limited operations, but they also have more than held their own.

The British Fleet Air Arm also carried good pilots. This is a force not to be underestimated. Just ask the Argentinean Air Force and Navy, which, in 1982, lost 23 aircraft in air-to-air combat against Royal Navy Sea Harriers without getting any of the British jump jets in return. This force has now merged with the RAFs Harriers in a joint force.

Perhaps the force with the biggest record of air-to-air kills is the Israeli Air Force. This is a force that has fought well in multiple wars, and in 1982, scored one of the most lopsided aerial victories in the 1982 Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot (where the Israelis shot down 82 aircraft with no losses in return). Since then, Israeli fighters have engaged in other combat, including the destruction of two Syrian MiGs in September, 2001.

At this point, perhaps the best of these forces in straight terms of air-to-air kills is the Israeli Air Force, which has scored 56 kills with the F-15 and 47 with the F-16 some of these F-16s have had local modifications. The United States Air Force, however, mixes a good record (43 kills with the F-15, 6 with the F-16C in wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia) with growing leaps in technology and arguably the best training in the world. In this case, a slight edge has to go to the United States Air Force. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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