Monday, April 02, 2007

Strangelove's Revenge

Or, How Gregg Easterbrook Learned to Quit Worrying and Love the Bomber:

The withering away of the bomber corps reflects planning assumptions a quarter-century old. Then, the thinking was that precision-guided munitions delivered from low altitude by jet fighters would take over nearly all conventional bombing roles. As recently as a few months before 9/11, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the mothballing of 30 B-1 bombers on the theory that they'd never be used in a modern, fighter-dominated air war anyway. Pentagon planners assumed that bombers would play a secondary role while low-flying fighters put the smart explosives on the target.

Instead, unexpected technical breakthroughs resulted in extremely accurate munitions that can be dropped from high altitude by bombers, at less cost and risk than using low-flying fighters. The result has been that during the Afghanistan and second Iraq campaigns, most of the air punch has been delivered by a handful of the remaining bombers. Some 80 percent of the bombs dropped during the U.S. seizure of Afghanistan fell from bombers; the share dropped on Iraq since March 2003 is nearly as high. Though bombers have in this decade turned out to be far more important to U.S. military action than Pentagon strategists expected, the government still plans to invest fantastic amounts of money in fighter planes that would be used mainly to drop bombs.

Which demonstrates better than a Tullock-Buchanan book how government works...and why:

A bomb called the JDAM was developed that locates itself in three-dimensional space using GPS signals, and continuously corrects its position via satellite guidance as it falls. First dropped in 1999 during the NATO campaign to force the Yugoslavian army out of Kosovo, the JDAM proved almost eerily accurate, reliably striking within about 10 feet of its target. And because JDAMs have no engines—little fins adjust the bomb's position—these munitions aren't expensive by military standards, about $30,000 each. Other advances, like the development of tracking devices that work at high altitude, made bombers even more attractive. Suddenly lumbering, high-altitude bombers could do what only low-flying fighters with crack pilots had been able to accomplish, putting bombs exactly on the aim point. And the bombers could do it much cheaper, with much less risk of being shot down.

....In the Afghanistan and second Iraq campaigns, a few dozen bombers did the work tacticians assumed would require hundreds of fighter planes.

Yet the Pentagon plans a breathtaking new investment in fighter planes, while doing naught but study what type of bomber might be built decades in the future. One reason is that the emergence of the accurate bomber just wasn't in anyone's playbook.

....There are other factors at play. One is that almost two decades of lobbying and logrolling stand behind that $320 billion fighter purchase plan. The fix is in with key congressional committees, and the pork has been elaborately scheduled for division among constituents and congressional districts. The aerospace contracting lobby does not want any change in the copious money flow now authorized for new fighters.

....This is why the Pentagon has not been crowing much about the success of its bombers above Afghanistan and Iraq: If that were understood, the case for spending $320 billion on smart-bombing fighters would fade.

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