By James M. Perry
President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act on July 26, 1947. Among other things, it set up the Air Force as a partner to the Army and the Navy. It was a big mistake.
I have a modest proposal -- break up the Air Force and distribute its parts to the Army and the Navy, just the way it was before July 26, 65 years ago.
The Air Force these days is in disarray, bogged down by sagging morale, sex scandals, procurement troubles, and even the physical fitness of its airmen.
The first thing to go would be the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missiles, 450 of them bunkered at air bases in North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. "The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited to today's threats, including nuclear terrorism," President Obama said a year ago. Newly installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on record calling for the elimination of the ICBMs.
The problem for the Air Force is that not many of its officers or airmen look forward to being assigned to any of these missile units in remote parts of the country, knowing that, with the end of the Cold War, it's highly unlikely anyone is going to rain nuclear missiles on the United States.
Not long ago, the Air Force suspended 17 of its missile-control officers at Minot, S.D., for laziness and incompetence that included leaving the door open so anyone could walk into their launch compartment. "We are, in fact, in a crisis right now," their commander said.
Airmen aren't really lazy or incompetent. They're just bored. Maybe that's why they are so fat; one report estimated that 12 per cent of them were clinically obsese. A few good Army or Marine Corps drill instructors could put that straight.
Next on the chopping black would be those proud old droop-winged B-52 bombers. The Air Force, starting in 1955, bought more than 700 of them; 85 remain on active duty today, with nine more in reserve. They too are Cold War veterans and should be retired with appropriate honors.
So what's left in our nuclear arsenal?
The Navy is what's left, with its 18 Ohio-class nuclear-powered boats, fourteen of them armed with 24 Trident ballistic missiles, four of them armed with as many as 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. There are always four of them on station, armed and very dangerous.
What Air Force pilots seem to enjoy most is flying supersonic jet fighters. They could simply change uniforms and be top guns for the Army. Another mission is close-air support for troops on the ground, once performed with skill and courage by the old Army Air Corps. Its unpopularity with Air Force pilots today comes across in their attitude about the A-10 Warthog, a tough subsonic aircraft with a lot of armor and a powerful 30mm Gatling gun firing 3,900 rounds per minute. The Air Force wants to replace it with the super-expensive, supersonic F-35. Army pilots would be glad to fly the Warthog in close support of Army troops on the ground, just the way Marine pilots support their infantry on the ground.
The Air Force Academy could be turned into condos.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.