The Last Ace

The inevitable return of air-to-air combat

At a time when everyone is debating the difficult decisions facing Barack Obama, Mark Bowden tosses one out there that most people aren’t thinking about: should the President fork over the billions of dollars necessary to outfit the U.S. Air Force with a new fleet of fighter jets? In a nutshell, Bowden argues that as other nations stock up on old F-15s (think Russia, China and Pakistan) the Pentagon is quietly bracing for the return of air-to-air combat, which pretty much died in Vietnam. In fact, shooting down enemy planes is such a rarity that the modern-day pilot with the most recorded kills—Col. Cesar Rodriguez—has only three. And he just retired. As the article says, “we can stock the Air Force with the expensive, cutting-edge F‑22—maintaining our technological superiority at great expense to our Treasury. Or we can go back to a time when the cost of air supremacy was paid in the blood of men like Rodriguez.”

Atlantic Monthly