Leadership: Age Discrimination in the Air Force

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May 10, 2007: The U.S. Air Force leadership fears that they will end of commanding a force of ancient, although very effective, aircraft. Call it the "curse of the B-52." These half century old bombers are, currently, the most cost effective aircraft for delivering bombs. This is somewhat humiliating, given that two new generations of bombers (the B-1 and B-2) were built during the last fifty years, but neither is as effective, or at least as cost-effective, as the "BUFF" (Big, Ugly Fat F****r).

Currently, the average age of air force aircraft is 23.5 years. Six years ago, it was 22 years. The air force wants to get it down to fifteen years, but this will cost nearly half a trillion dollars, spent over the next two decades. Many legislators are reluctant to provide that kind of money, when existing aircraft, while old, still prove themselves capable in combat. The A-10, for example, is over three decades old, but is still the best ground attack aircraft there is. Why get a new model, when the existing ones perform so well? Many air force generals wish the B-52, A-10 and other elderly, but still capable, aircraft would just disappear. That won't happen, and the air force is being compelled to spend more money maintaining the older aircraft. But, as Congressional bean counters point out, that's still a lot cheaper than designing and building new aircraft. Fact is, much of the improvements for warplanes are in the form of new electronics and weapons (smart bombs, missiles and, real-soon-now, lasers), not new airframes and engines.

The good old days of the 60s and 70s, when the average age of warplanes was under ten years, will never return. That's because current aircraft are so capable, and expensive. Back then, aircraft were a lot cheaper, and new technology wasn't as expensive. It took a lot less time to develop new designs. Those days will not return, and elderly aircraft will remain the norm for a while. Get used to it.

 


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