The picture above, as you all probably recognize, is of a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber. What you probably do not realize is that this bomber, of which 92 are still on active duty, was first manufactured in 1955 with the last being made in late 1962. That means the youngest B-52 is 51 years old! How many of you would consider driving a 1962 Ford or Chevy as your everyday car? Well, that is exactly what we ask the men who man these bombers to do. The B-52 has a 5-man crew. To be fair, only the latest models are still in use, and they receive a degree of maintenance which guarantees the safety of the crew. Still, it is flying on something you cannot replace, the airframe, and that airframe is at least 51 years old. The Boeing 707 was the heart of the long-range commercial fleet when these aircraft were first produced. Anyone flown on one of those lately? Why do you think that is?
Within the Air Force inventory are the B-1 and B-2, but neither can fly the mission of the B-52. So why do we not just retire them? Because we are not ready to say the nuclear bomb era is over and this aircraft still reigns supreme when it comes to carrying such a payload.
The front aircraft above is a KC-135, a refueling aircraft, which just happens to be refueling a B-52. This aircraft was first delivered to the Air Force in 1956, and if it looks a little familiar, it should, it is the military version of the Boeing 707. According to the Air Force, it stills has 414 of these aircraft on active and reserve status. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965. That fleet is no younger than 48 years old, most older. To be fair, the Air Force, reinforced its refueling fleet by buying a military version of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, the KC-10, which were built after 1981. But military cutbacks allowed a purchase of a total of 59 of these aircraft, far fewer than needed to replace an already aging KC-135 fleet. The entire KC-10 fleet is at least 20 years old.
The picture above is of an Air Force C-5A. This air craft was first delivered to the Air Force in 1970 and were produced, in the “B” and “C” models, until 1989. A fleet of 59 C-5 “M” models are scheduled to be delivered. Still, the bulk of this fleet is at least 20 years old. In 1991 the Air Force started taking delivery of its replacement, the C-17.
The picture above is of the Navy’s F-14, first delivered in 1970, but fully retired in 2006. The Navy replaced this aircraft with the F/A-18, seen below.
The picture above is of an Air Force F-15. It was first delivered in 1975. This aircraft, however, is still in production costing taxpayers about $140 million a copy.
The aircraft above is the Air Force F-22. It cost about $140 million a copy. This is the aircraft the Air Force prefers to the F-15. Strangely, the F-22 is no longer produced, the last coming off the assembly line November 2011.
Keeping the peace is expensive, particularly in a world as unpredictable as this one is. The majority of servicemen and women are not interested in going to war, but when they must, they would prefer to do it with equipment that was developed for today’s circumstances.
Take your 1962 Ford to your mechanic and tell him you want it to have a catalytic converter, GPS, satellite radio, air conditioning, and all the other bells and whistles. He can do it but by the time he gets finished you will wonder why you did not just buy a new car in the first place. Yes, you will have all the bells and whistles of today’s car but you are still going to have a 50-year-old body, frame, and numerous other parts. As foolish as all this sounds, it is exactly what people are expecting of the military. You are asking our military men and women to fight tomorrow’s wars with yesterday’s equipment. Please, tell me the logic of that?
I was recently told that the money we spend on new F-22 aircraft would be better spent on education. The sophistry of that argument is incredible. I absolutely think we should spend more money on the education of our young people, but not to the detriment of those charged with protecting our country.
Just as a bit of a post script, present plans include keeping the venerable B-52 for the next 20 years!