Don't mess with what is working for the American military

If a football team is running the ball effectively, it will keep right on running the ball, play after play. “Make the other team stop you,” is how coaches put it. Sometimes fans may want their team to try to pour it on and throw deep passes even when it has the lead. But the goal is to win. Taking unnecessary risks may make it more difficult to do so. Sticking with what is working can get a team to a bowl game.

The same thing holds true in military policy. It seems like Congress has not been distracted by the crisis in Afghanistan, because they are pushing a $24 billion increase to military spending above levels requested by the Biden administration. It is important to keep our military strong and to fund it at high levels to preserve the peace.

The United States has the world’s most powerful Air Force. It has had it since about the middle of World War II. Even as other branches have struggled a bit with modern warfare, the Air Force projects force everywhere at all times.

It can do that because of the miracle of refueling tankers. We need to continue to fund this program while making sure to stress that American produced tankers have been proven to work for the Air Force. Just like in football – don’t change the playbook midstream.

American fighters and bombers refuel in the air, after they take off and before they engage the enemy. That allows them to go anywhere and fight anyone. They always have a home-field advantage.

Now, though, the Air Force is considering whether to make a change on the fly. It plans to replace hundreds of aged tankers. So far it has invested some $1.6 billion flight-testing a new model tanker, known as Pegasus. That tanker is certified to refuel just about everything the Air Force flies.

“Assuming the service does not wish to repeat this costly and protracted process with a different aircraft, KC-46 would seem to be the obvious candidate for the next increment of tanker purchases,” military analyst Loren Thompson writes. This is the aerial equivalent of running the football. Keep doing what is working.

However, as if to prove that it is never safe to assume the obvious: some are pressing for the service to take a look at another, as-yet-unproven model.

European giant Airbus is looking to sell its untested tankers, and it is teaming up with American company Lockheed Martin to do so. The European planes would be shipped to Alabama for some final assembly. This may please a handful of workers in one state, but it would add unnecessary time and expense to the project to replace the aging tankers.

“The Airbus tanker is not certified by civil aviation authorities to the standard required by the Air Force,” Thompson notes. Getting it approved would cost time. And money. “In addition, it would have to be certified by the Air Force’s internal regulatory body for use as a refueler with each of the 15 aircraft types for which KC-46 has been approved. This will require hundreds of millions of dollars and several years to accomplish.”

There is simply no point in spending all this money for all this testing when the Air Force already has a system in place that is working and getting the job done. As a bonus, that existing system is already built here in the United States on a dedicated assembly line. Why would the military want to outsource such an important project when it is already succeeding with a  homemade plane?

It is relatively early in this game, and there is no doubt that Lockheed and Airbus will pull some trick plays in the months and years ahead. Expect them to try to apply political pressure in Congress and within the Pentagon.

However, they simply cannot top the technology that is already serving the country in Pegasus. The Air Force has tested that system under combat conditions, and it works. It will continue to work since the service is already flying some 180 Pegasus models. This is one area where we simply must keep it simple. No Air Force in the sky can match ours. Investing more in the right tanker will keep it that way.

Greg Young is host of the nationally syndicated Chosen Generation Radio Show which airs Monday through Friday on stations coast to coast. He served as a Russian Linguist at the USAF, discover more at

Image: National Archives / no known restrictions

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