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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Tom Clancy’s Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing is a dated tome. While the book is ostensibly updated, that’s not strictly accurate. Instead, a chapter is included with an also dated update on where things are going. That’s fine. I don’t have any issues with reading a vision of a fighter wing at a moment in time, but a lot has changed. For example:

  • F-22 production was dramatically reduced and put in service way behind schedule, and the F-22 still doesn’t have a strike package. AIM-9X support is half a decade away as is AIM-120D support in earnest. The F-22 is thus a special purpose asset, and not an F-15 replacement.
  • B-2 production was capped and the thing is stupid-expensive to maintain and operate. As the most expensive platform ever developed for the delivery of dumb (unsmart, not unwise) weapons, it’s a pretty nice joke. Now equipped with the JDAM, it’s a compelling asset for massive ordnance delivery on known hard targets while air defenses are still intact. So it’s a niche product, but it has a role.
  • The B-52 is the most successful bombing platform ever built. It will be in service two decades after the B-1 by current plans, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the B-2 was retired beforehand.
  • Then relevant (if declining) aircraft such as the F-117, F-14, F-4, EF-111, C-141 are retired.
  • The C-17 is real and we’re making super galaxies.
  • There’s a new tanker on the way (okay, that just happened, so not a huge deal).
  • The F-35 happened and is approaching reality and has its own slew of issues, delays, and overruns. At least it will support helmet cueing for the -9X, unlike the F-22.
  • Drones with missiles.
  • There’s this thing called an A-10. Granted, it was a thing in Clancy’s book but he all but ignores it.
  • … and so on

On one hand, these are just current events and things that have happened. Unfortunately, they also represent dramatic shifts in how the modern air force operates. This makes the point of the book (ostensibly not just a pornographic tour of the Air Force’s weapons systems) somewhat irrelevant, as the concepts of warfare have changed dramatically in the intervening years. By his own admission, Clancy’s picture of the composite fighter wing he profiled has fallen apart at the time of his update, so that’s something.

Anyhow, so the book falls down a bit on talking about the “modern air force.” For a tour of a lot of military hardware, it’s not a bad introductory text. There’s a lot of redundancy and a several things that are discussed before they’re introduced, but it could all be fixed with a good editor. I assumed Clancy would have access to one of these, but I guess not?

Clancy’s efforts to then try to document his experience with the fighter wing in question is downright horrible. He’s not good at this sort of writing. He then follows it with a hypothetical “what-if” scenario, which gets him into writing fiction. At least he’s well know for that, if not particularly great at it either.

Reading it on the Kindle was somewhat interesting, because all of the diagrams and photos lost a lot in the translation. Pagination and formatting of the text was also inconsistent and crappy. Nothing surprising, there, but it was sort of a pain.

Whatever, I’m not disappointed that I took the time to read the book, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to anybody looking for anything but a history of what a chunk of the air force was like a couple of decades ago.