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Flightline Friday: Five Military Weapons That Should Not Have Been Scrapped May 20, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

I stumbled on this post, and found it very interesting for two reasons: one, it is always fun to contemplate might have beens, considering different courses of action that could have been taken that may have been better than the one actually done.  Secondly, it’s interesting because it’s quite naive in parts, and seems to not comprehend the severe state of degradation in the nation’s military, especially in its air and sea arms.

So, the list, in brief, with my comments:

  1. General Dynamics F-111:  I agree, it was a heckuva a platform, much more a medium bomber/heavy attack plane than a fighter, showing the long influence of the fighter mafia in refusing to fly anything without an “F” in front of it.  No tactical aircraft in USAF history has had the -111’s combination of range and payload.  But, my problem with this recommendation is that, while the 111s were retired way too early in 1996 as a strictly cost-saving move (one that left USAF seriously handicapped in some scenarios, especially electronic warfare), today, 20 years on, those birds would be getting very, very old.  The newest would be 40 years old, and they were always something of a bear to maintain.  The D-model, the most capable in theory, would have to have been retired by the mid-90s anyways as it was literally impossible to find parts.  The E and F could soldiered on for another 10-15 years, but by now would be very long in the tooth.  Nice idea, but unrealistic.
  2. Grumman F-14 Tomcat:  Ditto, even more, while Tomcats remained in low-rate production through the 80s and into the early 90s, most were built in the 70s and had become maintenance nightmares by the time they left service in 2006.  The few F-14D models built starting in 1988 were much better in this regard, and it’s a crying shame Dick Cheney was allowed to cancel production after only 55 planes built, instead of the several hundred planned, in favor of the much-less capable F-18E/F.  The Tomcat also had very long legs, absolutely priceless in combat, and is still far superior today as a fleet air defense fighter than the F-18E/F will ever be.  The Navy probably should have gone with the Tomcat for its future fighter back in the early 90s, to my mind, but it would mean they would put carriers to sea with even fewer fighters than they have today (usually, only about 40, instead of the 70-80 of the 70s/80s/early 90s), but they would be far more capable than the ones they are stuck with now (whose range limitations are truly severe).
  3. Spruance Class Destroyers: The argument here is less to have kept them in service than to have at least maintained them in mothballs.  I argue a little differently: both the Sprucans and the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates should have been kept in service rather than spend tens of billions of dollars on black shoe admiral surface combatant showpieces of dubious usefulness, like the Zumwalt class destroyers, Littoral Combatant Ship, and even large scale production of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers.  By putting surface ships on a moratorium during the period 1990-2010 and using the many Sprucans and Perrys built in the late 70s and 80s (the former, especially, being very capable and thoroughly modernized) to form the core of the fleet (while building some new Burkes), the Navy could have freed tens of billions to properly reconstitute its air wings and keep many important types – like the Tomcat, Invader, and Viking in service.  But the Navy is still led predominately by surface warfare types, akin to the battleship admirals of old, who won’t believe their precious fleet is obsolete until it is sitting on the bottom of the sea floor somewhere.  Plus, the Spruance Class destroyers were perhaps the most capable ASW ships the US Navy ever produced, and have never been adequately replaced.  Anti-submarine warfare in the surface fleet is a glaring weakness in the US Navy that is only beginning to be addressed – and 15 years too late.
  4. B-52G Stratofortress:  The argument here is strained, the G’s – produced in larger numbers than any other B-52 version  – were retired due to the START treaty of 1992.  Given the post Cold War environment, I don’t think there was really ever even a remote chance these could have been kept in service. The Soviets/Russians were pretty adamant they go, and it was either that or cut more effective delivery vehicles like ICBMs/SLBMs.  Yes, the G model would have been more useful in the kinds of wars we’ve wound up fighting, but at the time, seemed like a fairly no-brainer decision to cut.  Plus, they would be really, really old now, and were handicapped by poor-performing engines (something the B-52H dramatically improved on).  I’d say this one is mostly a pipe dream, and fails to take into account the budget realities of the past 25  years.
  5. All retired supercarriers:  The argument here is that they should have been kept in mothballs and not scrapped, as is occurring to basically all retired carriers now down in Brownsville.  I agree, that’s a stupid and short-sighted move, at least in part.  Holding ships in mothballs costs a trifle in the grand scheme of things, and while bringing them back to operational service might take a few years and cost billions, it is still far, far cheaper and quicker than building a new carrier.  Basically, the entire reserve fleet of carriers is now being scrapped (with CVN-65 Enterprise remaining in reserve for a few years).  BUT, on the other hand, most of these ships were badly run down and really didn’t have much life left in them.  Saratoga is about the only exception to this reality (having undergone a thorough modernization in the late 80s right before retirement) and perhaps Kitty Hawk.  I know Enterprise was in horrific condition on her last cruise (I know sailors who served on her), JFK was down to three screws and had irreparable boiler and reduction gear problems, America was sunk in a very important test, Connie and Independence were in really bad shape when they retired, not sure about Ranger and Forrestal but I think they were pretty well spent, too.  Having said that, I see no major reason to scrap all of them, at least 3 or 4 retired carriers should always be kept on hand as major national resources worthy of keeping around and as surge assets should there ever be some kind of terrible war.

His honorable mentions:


  • OV-10 Bronco – Would have been a useful counter-insurgency assets in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Indeed, so useful, updated version were sent to Iraq and the Af to test to see if they should be brought back into service.  I hope it happens, they are dirt cheap to acquire (or should be) and operate and make a lot more sense to use in low-intensity counterinsurgency operations than $120 million F-22s]
  • Iowa-class battleship – The Marines need the fire support. [Dumb.  Hideously expensive, their guns are now outranged by 5″ laser guided projectiles and their manning costs are horrific.  Not needed]
  • Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships – While old, the America-class ships take five years to build. [Kind of agree, but these ships had problems and were not terribly well designed.  They were getting quite old.  Wouldn’t mind having them around, but in a world of draconian budget limitations, they don’t make sense]
  • M551 Sheridan light tank – The 82nd Airborne Division needs some mobile firepower. [They have it in the Stryker AGS, don’t they?  Plus, that 152 mm gun was never worth squat.  Literally useless, at least against armor.]
  • S-3 Viking – Anti-submarine plane would also have been useful for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, and as a tanker.[Couldn’t agree more, one of the more colossally stupid decisions the Navy has made in the past 20 years. Cheap to operate, could carry a ton of gas and act as a tanker (which the Navy desperately needs), never should have been retired.
  • F-117 Nighthawk – The original stealth fighter could be very useful. [Meh. Somewhat useful.  A light attack aircraft with a limited mission set and pretty expensive to operate]

I can think of some more, but this post is getting long.  One thing not many people know is how small the tactical air fleets have become under Bush/Obama.  USAF is down to about 150 air superiority F-15s.  That, plus about 150 F-22, means USAF now has fewer air superiority aircraft in service than deployed for Desert Storm in 1991.  The number of F-16s is plummeting, as well. So when people freak out about the A-10, they are really missing the big picture. Everything is being gutted under Obama.  I have no idea what they spend all those hundreds of billions on (pay, health care, and gas, mostly), but it sure ain’t on new aircraft, or even old ones.  The Navy has purchased over 550 F-18E/Fs (not counting Growlers) but somehow only has about 2/3 of that number in actual service.

And so it goes.  There are supposedly 76 B-52Hs “in service” but only about 40 are available for combat at any one time.  20 B-2s yields about 10 for actual combat.  The military is a near total mess – soldier’s M4 carbines are literally falling apart in training – but still the money goes out the door in a torrent.  I can’t explain it.  Bad decisions, PC bullcarp, lack of focus, the steady domination of left-wing politics at the command level, have all managed to severely degrade the US military, all in the past 7 years.

But Trump will fix it all.  I have every confidence.



1. richardmalcolm1564 - May 21, 2016

I was going to break crockery if the Tomcat wasn’t #1 on this list – I can settle for #2, however.

At the least, the Navy should have opted for the SuperTom, if they were insistent on a major upgrade.

I think the supercarriers being reduced to scrap or coral reefs is defensible because, as you say, they were all in poor condition – these ships had all served a very long time, we sometimes forget, being older than most of their crew at retirement – but also because they were manpower intensive (one of the biggest reasons why the Iowa class had to go). The Ford and later Nimitz class really take advantage of automation.

What’s killing us the expense of developing, building and maintaining each subsequent generation of aircraft. The more expensive, the fewer you get. They’re more capable in theory, but it also means more eggs in fewer baskets, and these plans can’t bilocate.

Had we not chosen to try to have the F-35 do *everything*, I do wonder if we couldn’t have increased the quantity of tactical aircraft overall for the Navy and the Air Force by diversifying systems. The only role where the F-35 really makes much sense and really makes a major upgrade over legacy systems is for the Marines. It is limited consolation that the military ends up with bare cabinets and dubious hardware after every major war.

2. Blaine - May 21, 2016

I’m just glad you didn’t retire this series of posts!

Agree with most of your thoughts. The Navy is a mess. However, a lot of the dollars are going to the submarine force, which while it pains me to say, is the Navy’s most capable area IMHO.

Tomcat of course. Watched those things for hours doing flight ops in the Med on the JFK in ’02.

OV-10’s… We should talk about those.

I would add A-6E/EA-6B to that mix. Old but could have been restarted right along with the F-14. Awesome airplanes, extremely capable platforms.

Tantumblogo - May 23, 2016

I don’t mean to pick on the Navy. All the services are a mess with regards to procurement. I was kind of hard on the surface warfare types, but if you look at naval operations since WWII, surface types have almost always been in a supporting role, while the air wings have been the principle means of power projection. I agree keeping the A-6 would have been invaluable, again, a ton of range/payload and a highly developed sensor platform. I can see an all Grumman fixed wing tactical air fleet being far more capable than the Boeing one we have now.

I forget the details exactly, but because of several design faults, the Super Hornet in tanker config can only offload a few hundred pounds at the required range, making it almost useless. So the Navy has to rely on USAF tanker fleets, which is OK, but does defeat one of the prime arguments in favor of carriers, being self-contained means of delivery power projection towards national objectives untied from nearby friendly bases.

Tantumblogo - May 23, 2016

Oh, and I have some old school F-16 gold I might post today if I have the time.

3. Camper - May 21, 2016

Check the post. Long list of HTML text.

4. David - May 23, 2016


Great post as usual. One thing to add:

Capt. Wally Schirra, USN (Ret) and a veteran of three space flights, penned in his memoirs about how sad it was that much of the leftover hardware from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo was scrapped. While some hardware went to museums or was utilized for Skylab, a large part was scrapped. Boy, we could have had a space station by 1985 had it been saved.

Quite a few other astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days feel the same – Gene Cernan for one.

richardmalcolm1564 - May 23, 2016

No kidding.

Left built but unused were:

1 Flight ready Skylab space station (now in Smithsonian)
2 Saturn V rockets
4 Saturn 1B rockets
2 partially built Saturn IB rockets
3 Apollo Command/Service Modules

With all that, you could have done another Skylab Station with a full set of missions. The hardware was already built.

Alternately, the money saved by cancelling Apollo 18 and 19 came to about . . . $40 million.

Instead, we ended up with the remarkable but white elephant Space Shuttle. That’s government for you.

richardmalcolm1564 - May 23, 2016

P.S. There was actually a serious proposal to adapt the second Skylab and use the excess hardware in 1976-78, which would not have cost much. It would also have provided a more viable foundation for a space station for Shuttle to use right out of the gate.


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