Fighting the last war and losing the next

When I selected helicopter flight training upon graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had a General Officer tell me, “I didn’t spend a half million to get you through the Academy so you could go fly a helicopter!” The Air Force was dominated by the fighter pilot mafia at that time.

L. Todd Wood is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LToddWood

L. Todd Wood is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LToddWood

Well, I did it anyway, as I wanted to fly Special Operations. I separated in 1994 and one reason was I didn’t think I had a career in the USAF as a helicopter pilot, even if I did fly MH-53Js for one of the most elite units in the world, the 20th Special Operations Squadron.

Funny how things change. After 9/11, special operations became the show.  My old wing commander, General Norty Schwartz just retired as Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

My point in relating all this is that throughout history, nations have tended to train and prepare to fight the last war. We obviously need a robust special operations capability in our military. We will be fighting the War on Terror for decades to come. We are still in Japan, aren’t we?

However, my fear is we are losing sight of the forest for the trees. I recall a story I was told of a student pilot landing a T-37 jet trainer at some USAF pilot training base in the 1980s. He landed the plane gear up and destroyed the aircraft. The SOF (supervisor of flying) officer ran up to the pilot after the fire crews had removed him from the jet and screamed at him, “Didn’t you hear me on the radio yelling at you to get your landing gear down?”  The student pilot responded, “I couldn’t hear anything, there was this horn going off in the cockpit.”

It was the gear up warning horn.

Well, my fear is we are not preparing for a possible conventional conflict growing over the horizon. The horn is blowing and we are ignoring it.

The Chinese are developing a blue water navy to challenge the U.S. Navy at some point in the future. Yes, my U.S. Navy friends, they are no where close at this point. However, remember asymmetrical warfare? They don’t have to be everywhere. They just have to overwhelm you at one point in time.

We own 100+ of our next generation fighter jet, the F-22. We used to build thousands of aircraft. How long will 100 jets and 20 B-2 bombers last in a real conventional conflict? I think, not very long. Again, the Chinese have hacked our technology and will mass produce the same aircraft in the near future. And it is only a matter of time.

Supposedly an American General Officer was speaking to a Vietnamese General after the war.  He said, “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.”  The Vietnamese General responded, “That may be true, but it’s also irrelevant.”

One of the only responsibilities of the Federal Government enumerated in the U.S. Constitution is to provide for the national defense.

The Obama Administration is dead set on reducing the U.S. military budget footprint. That is the reason for the Chuck Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense. Obama figures he will take the lead in reducing military spending and our force structure. Is this wise?

Machiavelli famously said, “It’s better to be feared than loved.” I don’t think any banana republic dictator is scared of the United States at this point.

Drones have a place in warfare; but, we can’t be feared by only playing with drones so our politicians won’t be embarrassed by having things go wrong with boots on the ground. Air Power can be effective, but one thing you learn as a military officer is that you need people on the ground in a conflict to prevail. If you don’t know history you are doomed to repeat it.

The sequester is coming. Defense cuts are inevitable. We are entering a dangerous time. We need leadership who can manage those reductions with foresight and vision.

If we can’t find these leaders, we will lose the next war and your grandchildren will be speaking Mandarin.

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  1. abaworlock says:

    As a country of armed citizens I don’t think we need to worry about an actual invasion of the US, however as long as our government and politician insist on strong arming other countries and pissing them off we definitely need a military that is to be feared. That’s as long as we stay armed. Our government needs to reject the “Freedom From War DEPARTMENT OF STATE PUBLICATION 7277 ” treaty that Kennedy signed in 1961 and any treaty that Obama signs. These treaties are unconstitutional. technically these were acts of treason.

  2. Reblogged this on Gds44's Blog.

  3. I understand the last post’s point, but you’re assuming we will be armed at that point. We cannot even mount a resistance to this tyrannical government in politics so I am not too confident we could against a foreign invader. I speak Mandarin ad have many friends from the PRC. The new generation is not bent on retribution like the old guard is but, they are a pragmatic people who are just as much about Chinese primacy as we are American. “Carrier Killers” and the new stealth tech that Todd has pointed out they have hacked, are a serious problem that concerns me greatly. They are foreign policy ‘realists” as we used to be. Now, we spread ourselves beyond being able to handle third world countries.


  1. […] wrote a column several weeks back about the risks of preparing to fight the last war. I think that applies here. We are neglecting our nuclear and conventional force capability. Obama […]

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