Where Eagles Double-Dog Dare

We’re getting ready to sell $60 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, largely in the form of F-15 Eagle fighter jets. In other news, we’re getting ready to sell all of our old elephant guns to the Eskimos. The Eskimos will probably get more use out of the elephant guns than the Saudis will get out of the F-15s. You can shoot polar bears with elephant guns.

An F-15 Eagle is made to shoot down other airplanes and darn little else. Oh, sure, they made a handful of the two-seat Strike Eagle version that was made to compete with the Navy’s all-weather A-6 Intruder tactical bomber. But the Intruder and Strike Eagle were designed for nape-of-the-earth radar-evading missions, and nobody goes in low anymore. It’s too easy to run into a cloud of anti-aircraft BBs. The Navy has abandoned the Intruder. The Strike Eagle is still in the Air Force inventory so old navigators can have a fast combat jet to fly in; all the service’s other multi-seat planes are big bombers or trash-haulers (logistics aircraft). At $31 million a pop, the Strike Eagle is an expensive way to let senior officers gainfully ride out the end of their careers. They could fly a desk into the sunset for a lot less money.

The single-seat F-15 Eagle, the one we’re selling the Saudis, was designed for one mission and one mission only. Yepper, air superiority, 24/7/365, that’s all we do and that’s why we’re the world’s finest, bar none. We’re the reason there hasn’t been a successful air strike on a U.S. soldier or citizen or on American soil since World War II. Well, yeah, there was them Scud missiles ole Hussein dropped on our troops in Desert Storm. We didn’t shoot them down, but they kind of blew up in mid-flight on their own, uh, before we could get to them. Yeah, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

And about that 9/11 thing, well, we either didn’t get there in time or we didn’t get permission to shoot, I forget which. Whatever the case, it wasn’t our fault. Blame somebody on the ground; I’m not sure who. Maybe it was that Brownie guy.

Pardon me for subjecting you to the sound of an Eagle driver making excuses at a mission debrief, but the Cuban Eight logic behind why we’re selling an air superiority fighter like the F-15 to the Saudis is more disturbing still.

Let’s do a quick review of what most air power theorists consider to be the basic tenets of air superiority. God created air superiority on the eighth day, and it consisted of a sacred trinity: offensive counter air (OCA), defensive counter air (DCA), and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). OCA involves protecting good guy bombers and other airplanes from bad guy fighters. DCA involves protecting good guy grunts from bad guy bombers. SEAD involves protecting good guy bombers from bad guy surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). It gets confusing when you try to describe what role good guy fighters like F-15 Eagles play in all this because it depends on how they get tasked on the air tasking order (ATO) and what kinds of detailed guidance the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) gives them in the special instructions (SPINS).

Sometimes the DCA function is solely performed by air defense artillery (ADA). Sometimes OCA is performed by interdiction or strike aircraft (INT or STK) that bomb the bad guy fighters before they get airborne. Sometimes the DJFACC (the JFACC’s deputy) has to run around and explain to everybody what the JFACC meant in the ATO and the SPINS, and sometimes the DJFACC has to apologize to the Joint Force Commander (JFC) for something insubordinate the JFACC said about him in public. Sometimes things get so confusing that you can’t tell your AIM-120 from your AMRAAM (they’re the same thing: air-to-air active-radar missiles carried by all front line U.S. Air Force and Navy fighter jets).

In air combat exercises, U.S. fighters have a wicked penchant for shooting down their bomber buddies and getting shot down by friendly air defense artillery. In Operation Desert Storm, F-15s accounted for 36 of the Air Force’s 39 confirmed air-to-air kills. That’s an impressive sounding number until you consider that pitting the Iraqi Air Force against the U.S. Air Force is like taking on an armored division with a brigade of horse cavalry.

The F-15s didn’t fare so well in a 2004 air combat exercise against the Indian Air Force. Flying the latest generation Soviet- and French-built fighters, the Indians whipped the American Eagle drivers in 90 percent of the mock engagements. The U.S. Air Force cited these results when trying to convince Congress of the need to buy more of the stealthy F-22 Raptor stealth fighters at $150 million-a-pop fly-away cost.

The Air Force apparently didn’t bother to tell Congress that the F-15s had performed so poorly in the exercise because they’d fought without their radars and radar missiles. Any modern fighter deprived of its radar gear is about as capable in the air-to-air arena as Snoopy’s doghouse. Of course, it’s normal in air exercises for one side or the other to play “bogey” by simulating older generation fighters. It’s also normal for the U.S. Air Force to try to baffle Congress and the rest of us with wild-blue bull manure.

But whether the F-15s we sell to the Saudis come with radar missiles or not, they’ll be more than sufficient to do the job they’re supposed to do, which is, as the AFP news service puts it, to “counter the threat posed by Iran.”

Iran’s air force is about as potent as a warm bottle of Yoo-Hoo. Its most capable combat jets are the F-14 Tomcats we sold them when bell bottoms were in, and they haven’t been maintained properly since Elvis died, and the airframes we sold them have no air-to-ground capability. For the Saudis to buy F-15s to defend themselves from attack by Iran’s F-14s is like double-dog daring a quadriplegic across the street to walk over and take a swing at you.

As for defending the Saudis from an Iranian nuclear attack: on Sept. 6 the International Atomic Energy Agency reconfirmed for the umpteenth time that Iran is not diverting any of its nuclear material for nefarious purposes, i.e., it has no nuclear weapons program. If it did have a nuclear weapons program, and if it did manage to make a nuclear weapon, and it also managed to make a ballistic missile that could reliably carry said weapon to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis’ new F-15s wouldn’t be able to shoot it down. No fighter aircraft manufactured by anyone has the capability to bag ballistic missiles.

So our $60 billion F-15 sale to the Saudis is a crock of sound and fury signifying that we, the mightiest nation in the history of humanity, still have no idea how to conduct an enlightened foreign policy. Our malignant modus in the Middle East continues unabated; arm everybody to the hairline and then claim a broad regional war will break out unless we maintain a military presence to keep the peace.

And thus our Israel-friendly War Borg ensures that its Long War spans the entirety of our New American Century and survives into the next one.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.