Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On Geriatric Air Forces

The officer grinning in the photo above, standing in front of an IAF Su-30 is Lt Gen Dave Deptula, a retired USAF veteran whose name has begun to appear frequently in the American press for a comment he made to the Wall Street Journal in September: "We have a geriatric air force." His comment has come to represent the massive challenges the USAF faces with an ageing fleet, coupled with unforeseen delays in inductions of new aircraft, specifically the F-35 Lightning II.

I met Gen Deptula in Kalaikunda, West Bengal in November 2005 at the Cope India exercise; at the time he was Vice Commander of the Pacific Air Forces. While I reported only on the Indo-US exercise for the newspaper I wrote for at the time, I also chatted with the General about how India and the US, while essentially incomparable in terms of most parameters, suffered pretty much the same affliction: both are progressively ageing forces with slow inductions that fail to bridge critical gaps. He seemed to agree. My notes quote him as saying, "We've both got very professional air forces. And they have a lot that they can do together cooperatively. It's important that we understand each other and the technology we use. From the discussions I've had here, both air forces have similar strengths. Our two air forces also face similar challenges, including the entry of new generation aircraft and hardware. But there is always benefit to both if we work together. I have personally never seen a more professionally conducted exercise."

Photo / Shiv Aroor


Anonymous said...

If the USAF is "Geriatric", what does that make the rest of the world?

Anonymous said...

^ Either older, younger or about the same depending on whats in service. There are metrics other than airforce size and capability and the USAF has had terrible issues in finding a new jet it can afford to field in sufficiently high numbers.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:31 PM:

But USAF has also transitioned some of their routine basic task to their drones. In relative terms, they may say that their birds are getting old, but in reality there is nobody out there who feels confident enough to take them on. The thing is they are not looking to buy 4++ gen fighters anymore, and yes their new stuff (F-35) will be expensive. But, don't forget once manufactured in numbers, the price will eventually come down. Also, with the increasing use of cruise missiles and drones, the other argument that has been made is they do not really need that many fighters as they did about a decade or two ago. I take their complaint about aging air-force with a grain of salt. To me this is about getting a bigger piece of the budget pie than a real concern at this time.