By lex, on July 27th, 2007
A few years back – before the latest brawl – I ran a detachment of 6 FA-18′s, 2 Tomcats, an S-3 and an E-2C ashore in Kuwait. It was a regional “engagement” exercise, designed to cement our relationship with our allies.
The Kuwaitis had bought for themselves – a requirement from which the US Navy profited – new lot FA-18′s with upgraded engines. Much higher thrust-to-weight than the installed engines we had used up to that point. If you’re flying an FA-18C after a certain lot, you can thank the Emir for the extra oopmh.
Good deal all the way around. Win-win.
This was the first exercise of the type that we had executed ashore. Previous hacks had been fought from the ship. Our Hornets had up to that point been loaded for wartime ops: Five pylons, two drop tanks and they’d had to come back with half their internal gas to land aboard ship. The Kuwaitis had flown their machines slicked off, or nearly, and planned to land at around 20% internal fuel. With their higher performance engines. It mattered.
Over the course of the preceding years, they’d pretty much had the US Navy for lunch. They’d taken to boasting.
When I took the detachment ashore I insisted that our maintenance folks bring us down to a single tank, and take two wing pylons down. I knew that – enhanced engines or not – with our higher state of training, we’d be OK in anything like a fair fight. It wasn’t like we were cheating: In a pinch, with your life riding on it, you’d blow the wings clean if you had to. Jettison everything you could that wasn’t part of the solution. The configuration I’d asked for was a good simulation from a drag count perspective.
The Kuwaitis were good pilots, by and large. One of them I flew against – his callsign was “Flash” – was excellent in fact, and he had rock solid reasons to detest the Saddamite regime. Another story.
He was one of the top 10 or 12 guys I’d ever flown against. (It’s worth pointing out that, having served as TOPGUN instructor, I’ve flown against the very best our country has to offer. I know from good.) The Kuwaitis were nevertheless surprised when they came up against our underpowered jets in a similar configuration. It wasn’t about having us for lunch anymore. It was about surviving. Or, failing that, keeping “face.”
They’re proud, the desert Arabs. They live in a difficult environment. Proud men indeed.
CAG objected at first, when he heard about my plan to even out the fight. He wanted to keep the jets ready for combat ops, fully loaded with external stores and pylons. I told him that it was important for our allies to understand that we were strong. That we were worthwhile friends. That we were tough competitors. That we couldn’t be beat.
They had to understand that, if it came down to it? That they couldn’t win.
It wasn’t easy for them. With their more powerful engines, they were really good at 1v1, but our training leveled the field. They weren’t bad at 2v2, but we were better. We ran wild when the numbers got bigger than that. They are rich men, but ours is a rich country. We surprised them.
You’d have maybe smiled to hear them talk, coming back from the aerial brawls. To see the sudden doubt come in their eyes, these proud men, these lions of the desert. They were used to winning, but things hadn’t turned out the way they were used to.
They had to reconsider.
Jules has the story of a meeting engagement between 9 US soldiers in two HMMWV’s and 40-odd al Qaeda jihadists – goombahs described by the AP as “resilient.”
There were so damned resilient that by the time it was all sorted out 35 of them were ticking down to room temperature and seven were wearing zip ties.
Two US soldiers lost their lives over a 23-hour battle – it matters because we actually care about our folks. Nor are we going to “win” through kill ratios.
Don’t mean to be dismissive, but more “resilience” like that and the bad guys might as well be sitting in the garage running tubes from the exhaust pipe into the passenger cabin. Get it over with.
Fighting an insurgency you win by not losing.
Flip side of that coin?
You can’t win by losing. Every time there’s a stand-up fight they get their a**es kicked.
These too, might have to reconsider.