04 January 2006

Military Updates

Air Force And Navy Getting Smaller

The Air Force plans to reduce its number of active duty military personnel by 40,000 people over the next six years and the Navy is also reducing its active duty force levels. The Air Force reduction is attributed to "[a]utomation, fewer (but much more expensive) warplanes and easier-to-maintain equipment."


The latest term in military lingo is "fobbit". It means those soldiers "who spend most of their time in FOBs, or Forward Operating Bases," a job which is much safer than being a combat soldier (although the distinction is less obvious in Iraq than in many prior wars).

Air Force Tankers

The Air Force will have open bidding for a new class of refueling tanker aircraft. These aircraft extend the range of cargo planes and fighters by allowing them to get more jet fuel on the fly. Originally Boeing was to get the deal, but this fell apart in a corruption scandal. Now European manufacturer Airbus, and perhaps military aircraft manufacturer Lockheed, may join the bidding. The winner is likely to be an adapted civilian jet liner or cargo plane, as the engineering requirements are essentially the same for these planes not intended to enter combat zones.

The Air Force, Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard currently have a little under 500 KC-135 tankers based on the Boeing 707 airliner that entered service between 1957 and 1965, and about 54 KC-10 tankers based on the DC-10 airliner. There are also about 30 tankers based on the C-130 short range transport plane, mostly used for refueling helicopters. The previous Boeing only plan had involved an Air Force lease of about 100 Boeing 767 based tankers, but was scuttled when John McCain revealed illegal efforts by agents of Boeing to get Congress to pass the economically unfavorable deal. Unlike bombers, which age slowly because they are rarely used in anger for extended periods of time and don't require the same high tempo training regime as fighters, tankers are used far more heavily for missions like shuttling C-130s and fighters to new bases that are long distances away.

The Air Force likes to think of tankers as their answer to aircraft carriers. Several tankers allow several squadrons of fighter aircraft to deploy far from bases on the ground, just as a carrier does, but with less advanced notice and less of a long term presence in a hostile area. Also, tankers, unlike aircraft carriers, don't have to worry about being slowed down while submarines and mines are cleared out. On the other hand, while a tanker can refuel the plane, they do nothing to alleviate the fatigue of the fighter pilots who must spend the entire misson including time spent travelling far from base to the mission area, in their seats.

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