Spirit Math

Five percent attrition of a fleet is serious degradation, especially when it happens in one day.  It sounds like something that would happen to a military force after a hard-fought battle.  Its like losing 64 F-16s, or 26 KC-135s, or 4 B-52s.  What is was, was a single B-2.

It’s too early for us to know why the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off in Guam this weekend, but we do know that the two pilots survived the ejection.  One pilot is still hospitalized with the customary spinal-compression injury.  Ejection is a terribly violent experience.  Somebody must have been praying for them.

Smart pilots honor the potential danger of their ejection seats.  Honor is a bit like fear.  Nobody really wants to eject, the idea of it is scary.  Typically a pilot knows it is time to “bail-out” when his fear of staying in the aircraft exceeds his fear of ejecting.  So what caused the fear?

It might have been a fire, but we’ll know for sure later.

The Air Force is performing a professional investigation, after which it will reveal all those details to those who need to know.  Ultimately that information will be used to make the B-2 a better weapon system.

Somebody once said, “That which doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.”  Losing five percent of a fleet doesn’t sound like we’re getting stronger.

The price-tag of the advanced technology jet has brought some attention to this crash, but the question of how much the loss of one aircraft from a small fleet degrades the overall force hasn’t been addressed. The B-2 has been around for 20 years, and this is the first crash.  Not a bad record, but we only made 21 of them.  In comparison, over 700 B-52s were built.  Of course, things were different then.

It’s like supply and demand.  The fewer of something you have, the more it’s worth.  And we’re not going to make any more of the bat-winged bombers. So now each Spirit is worth even more, at least when it comes to accomplishing the mission.

The Global War on Terrorism has demonstrated that the freedom forces need heavy bombers.  The F-22 fleet’s size gets plenty of attention, as does the F-35’s.  While those jets have great promise for what they  are designed to do, they’re not heavy bombers.  The bomber roadmap needs to consider our peacetime attrition.  It is overly optimistic to plan on no losses.  Even the best Air Force in the world occasionally loses one.

Above all, we need to plan for that when we build all of our air fleets.

It just makes sense.

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