War & Peace

“I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” -Captain America

I went to engineering school at RPI in Troy, NY, including Army ROTC for my first two years. It hit home for me that 9/11 was a real thing, not just something on TV, when I got up before dawn on 9/12/2001 to raise the Flag, and looked up into a night sky with no planes flying.

I left the Army after the second year because it forced me to take a hard look at who I really am, and decided that I don’t want the story of my life to be about death. For me that also meant not working for defense contractors when I graduated, which is a big deal for a mechanical engineer looking for work on Long Island – it eliminated a lot of job opportunities, including many of the best paid options.

Our nation needs to cut down on war spending, invading other countries under weak pretexts when the truth is, our corporations want their resources. We shouldn’t be trying to change governments in other lands unless there’s some Nazi-type genocide going on there or something at that level, and then it should be a UN effort.

Many Greens want much deeper cuts, full nuclear disarmament. I understand the regrettable reality, that there will always be adversaries who can only be dissuaded from attacking us or our allies by the credible threat that we could destroy them in response. I was a fencer in high school, and after withdrawing from ROTC I took up karate – an injury stopped me just short of a black belt. The most important lesson there is that to attack is to make yourself vulnerable; the greatest sport fighters draw their opponent into attacking first. We shouldn’t be starting fights, but still need to be ready to finish them.

When it comes to choosing what weapon systems to fund and what to ignore, that’s where we need a lot more engineers in Congress. Just because I refused to make them, doesn’t mean I don’t know them well. My father is an electrical engineer who did work in defense aviation most of his career, so trips to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City became extensive lessons on how they work.

I know a LOT of engineers, and literally all of them interrupted about 30 seconds into the first time they heard about the F-35 to say almost exactly, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” The short version is, every other military aircraft is built to focus on one mission from the beginning, and optimized for it. Some later get modified to serve in other roles, but that’s secondary. This one was made for 3 at the same time, and the old adage “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one” is very true here. I’d never have let this even get onto a drawing board, let alone off it – this is already the most expensive military program we’ve ever had, has an expected lifetime cost is $1.5 trillion, and doesn’t even all work right yet.  

Fair warning, the rest of this is a full-on geek-out. The bottom line is, I understand the technical side of how a lot of military hardware works, they can “talk nerdy to me” and I won’t let lobbyists sell us a bill of goods like this again.

Meanwhile the Air Force wants to use that to replace the A-10, which has one of the lowest per-hour operating costs of any military jet, and is specifically optimized exclusively for one of the most common and dangerous missions they are asked to take on – close air support.  The pilot sits in a titanium bathtub of armor to shield them from ground fire, it’s got two independent engines that aren’t very fast, but are highly fuel efficient, it has two completely independent hydraulic systems AND mechanical linkages for all the control surfaces. 

The whole plane is built around a 30 mm autocannon down the centerline that was made to tear through Russian tank armor – it does a pretty good job on terrorists in bunkers too, and the cockpit has iron sights for it.  So it can fly for a very long time over the target area, low and slow with a clear view to tell friend from foe and intimidate enemy forces, and even if it takes fire to the cockpit, both hydraulic systems and the targeting computer are out, one engine, one half of the tail, one elevator, and half of a wing are missing, the pilot can still make an air strike and get home alive.  We haven’t made a new one since 1984 (I was a year old).

The F-35 relies on stealth to not be noticed until it’s already destroyed the target, not so easy when you’re flying in low to make sure you don’t hit friendly troops by accident.  It’s got only one engine, one hydraulic system, no armor for the pilot, so if any one of those get hit, it’s going down, plus the autocannon there is added in as an afterthought with much less ammunition capacity, the bullets are only 25 mm instead of 30 (which means 30% less mass, so less penetrating power), it still can’t hit the broad side of a barn, and it can’t fire without damaging the plane yet. 

One thing need to do is stop wasting money on the F-35, at least the Air Force version, and make an A-11: reverse engineer the A-10, don’t fix what’s not broken, but modernize it with ~40 years better manufacturing technology and electronic systems.  We’d save a fortune and have more of what the people on the ground in harm’s way all say is their favorite air support.  We can’t really stop making the B-variant, STOVL, because the UK has two new aircraft carriers designed around it – nobody else makes any aircraft that can take off and land on them, we’re on the hook for producing them and designing a new one from scratch would take years.

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