Veterans Day 2017: What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Burns and Novick The Vietnam War – A Counter Anthology

The PBS documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick has received critical acclaim  and has been recommended for showing in schools. It follows Burns reputation well as a work of film art.

For all its ‘truth telling,’ I simply cannot get in tune with its overall context. This Veterans Day post focuses on the Vietnam veteran with remembrance of all.

“This documentary succeeds in vividly evoking sadness and frustration. But that is not all there was to the story. “The Vietnam War” strives for a moral equivalence where there is none. The veterans seem sad and detached for their experience, yet 90 percent of Vietnam War veterans are proud to have served. So there’s a large gap between what we see and the attitude of the vast majority of veterans.” Bing West

Veterans understand their heritage.  They know the links from Valley Forge and Gettysburg, from Belleau Wood to Midway and Normandy, from Chosen to Ia Drang. They know that all war is brutal, friends are lost, and scars are created for a life time. But the veterans of the Vietnam War carry forever a different kind of scar, one made not by the battles but rather by their own government leadership and fellow countrymen. Carried by each individual to some lesser or greater extent, it manifests itself for Americans as the long black wall pictured below.


The second Vietnam War lasted from November 1955 until April 1975, almost twenty years. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick  created an eighteen hour  ten part narrative of that war and their craftsmanship is certainly evident and superb. Comments hail its excellence and heap praise for unveiling things not previously known, touting it as an educational high point.  They  took ten years to research North and South Vietnamese sources along with those of the U.S. and then craft the type documentary Ken Burns is famous for.
Ten years… and they got it wrong.

From the opening episode, something struck me as off key. Only a boy in the 50’s, my knowledge of war was through John Wayne movies. Trying to understand my piece of Vietnam – the airwar of ’72 – for my own education and for background for this site, I’ve read a bit on the early days, but not nearly enough to critique Burns telling of the early history. But even so, the more I watched, the more uneasy my thoughts. Eventually I found a link to John Del Vecchio’s articles, and others like Bing West and Andrew Bacevich who began to provide experienced and well founded counter arguments to the PBS documentary.

No ten part series can cover everything, but as noted below, crucial aspects are either completely missing or mentioned in an “oh by the way” manner masking any possibility of actionable understanding. Probably even more damning is the series methodology of equivalency from battles to protesters to POWs to government officials of all participants to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who did the dirty work despite a country that in large part did not  support them. An event is presented, true as far as it goes, then the narrative moves on with no further comment or link to context or eventual ramifications. (From my own perspective airpower was not effecting the war as planned and needed, but never a mention of why or how things changed from Rolling Thunder to Linebacker I and II beyond the obvious of the ’72 Christmas attacks on Haiphong and Hanoi. Believe me, there was a lot more of pertinence to tell.) It’s as if Obi-Wan is saying ” these aren’t the Droids you’re looking for, move on, move on, nothing more here of interest.”

Much more I could say, but my decision for a Veterans Day post was to present the following sixteen counter Vietnam War documentary articles/links by six distinguished and experienced authors.

  1. John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues.  He served as a combat correspondent for the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) 1970-1971.
  2. Bing West served in Marine infantry in Vietnam. He is the author of The Village, which has been on the Marine Commandant’s reading list for 45 year
  3. Andrew Bacevich, , is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. The period of the author’s own tour of duty in Vietnam corresponds with episode nine of this series.
  4. Terry Garlock was a Cobra helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War.
  5. Stephen J. Morris is the author of Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia and working on a book about the Vietnam war during the Nixon years.
  6. Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady was a Dust Off air ambulance pilot in Vietnam. He is a recipient of the Medal of Honor  and is former president of the Medal of Honor Society.

While each author overlaps on key points with the others, there is significant diversity in approach for each writer. Even if you do not read each article in its entirety, the excerpts more than highlight the faults of the Burns, Novick series. For all the war’s noted  issues, faults, missteps, and long term negative impact on this country, this is not the narrative of enlightenment on a war that to this day impacts the country and its veterans. This documentary in all its artistry is not what the country and its veterans deserve.

Burning History: (in 8 Parts)

Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game.

John M. Del Vecchio,

September 13, 2017

Ossifying the False Narrative

The Vietnam War, a new 10-episode, 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, will begin airing on PBS stations in less than a week. From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false  cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will by omission, not by overt falsehoods.

False narratives create aberrant behavior and cultural complications.

September 18, 2017

Covering Up Original Sins

The Ambassador, The Newsmen, and the Imperative for American Conventional Military Intervention.

September 20, 2017

Deceptions and A Teaspoon of Sand

Errors or abuses in the pursuit of freedom are not justifications of the abandonment of that pursuit.

A teaspoonful of sand: Does anyone recall the Jim Roan anecdote about achieving a good life, where he compares it to baking a cake. One, he said, should put in all the very best ingredients: the best eggs, the best milk, the best flour; and if possible they should be included in perfect proportion. The oven is preheated just so, so cooking time can be precise. But then, at the very last moment before popping the pan into the oven, some people put add to the batter a teaspoonful of sand. The results turn out to be something completely inedible. This is what Burns has done with his series. There are many good elements included, many accurate stories told, but it is as if into every episode he has added a teaspoonful of sand.

September 21, 2017

Understanding The Roots of Perversion

Op Plans York, El Paso 1, El Paso 2… If you don’t have a clue to what went on behind the headlines, you have no moral authority to produce a cultural-story altering documentary. Shame on you!

There is so much more real material on the events covered in the last episode it will take a book, or many books, to cover in any sort of depth.

Mr. Burns and Ms Novick, shame on you! You either don’t have a clue to what went on behind the headlines, or you have chosen to present a very lopsided story designed to alter a far more accurate cultural-story.

September 24, 2017

Preparing the Battlefield; Preparing the Viewer’s Mind

Story creates self-image, and cultural story creates cultural self-image. Behavior is consistent with self-image. If you can control the story, you can control behavior.

…To portray NVA soldiers, Asian boys, as happily and willingly giving their lives for “the cause,” as if Asians don’t value life in the same way Americans do, is subtly racist.

The first week is complete, the second week is about to start. It feels like we’ve had a semester break (and personally I’d like to get back out climbing). Episode 5 has been the set-up for where we’re going—the Tet Offensive, The Paris Peace Talks. Will we see the realities of what happened on the ground in Vietnam, or will we see Vietnam mostly through the eyes of U.S. and world politicians, and the anti-war movement?

Things do fall apart in 1968, but militarily they fall apart far more for the NVA and VC than they do for the ARVN, Americans and allies.

September 26, 2017

Symbols, Symptoms and the Derangement of Thought

Once again omissions and juxtapositions create and convey a skewed reality.

Yes, we were lied to by our government and our politicians, as this and the next episode aptly show. But we were, and are being, lied to by the information branch of our society, the news media, with equal or worse consequences. Much of the lies of the latter have become part of our historical narrative. A paradigm shift is mandatory. Our current ambient cultural story and worldview has been skewed from reality and is leading us, as a nation, down a road we may find leads to a place we never intended going.

September 28, 2017

Slogging Through…

Twilight Zones, Alternative Dimensions, Truth, Justice and The American Way.

Perhaps I live in an alternate dimension, or perhaps the film makers of this series (and many of those they have chosen to interview) live in the twilight zone. …With all the scholarship that followed the “end of the war,” the repetition and reinforcement of disproven narratives is disturbing. Worse, it opens old wounds.

I feel compelled to return to my opening thoughts. I recognize all the America troops—soldiers, Marines, airmen, etc.—interviewed for this series by Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick. I don’t mean individually. I mean I knew men like them in Vietnam. And I’ve known vets like them in the years after the war. But it seems to me, in general, this is not who we were in Vietnam. This is a small and skewed fraction. So who were we? In so many ways we were the best of the generation, the ones willing to meet the challenge, to repulse an enemy, and to secure the land of a people we barely knew. Many of us, even if we didn’t wear this on our sleeve, were willing to “bear any burden… oppose any foe…” in support of liberty… willing to die in support of the right to peace, to freedoms and to self-determination free of communist tyranny. Believing we were betrayed, angry at the government or the command, or believing in the cause, our discipline differed from many of those portrayed in the documentary. That’s just who we were. The most basic characteristic of the American soldier was his unexpressed support for Truth, Justice and The American Way.

October 1, 2017

The Fallacy of Inevitability and The Truncation of History

Final Thoughts: Paradigm shifts regarding the meaning of unwinnable, and the phrase the war ended, are imperative.

The war was unwinnable. This is the underlying motif in every episode, the main message of the entire series. And it is a fallacy. The theme begins with episode 1, Déjà Vu which ends with the devastating loss by the French at Dien Bien Phu, but never tells us why the base is there in the first place or that the North Vietnamese and Chinese communist were attacking in Laos in an attempt to widen the war. Déjà Vu is meant to be an omen that what happened in 1954 will inevitably reoccur in 1975. Burns hammers at this point through the following nine episodes, sometimes subtly other times blatantly, through four American presidents, through edited clips showing only their fears, skepticism, pessimism and duplicity.

But to claim inevitability and the un-winnability of the war for the allied side is to also infer that the communist side with all its aggression, coercion and tyranny somehow had a moral superiority or a mandate from the fates.

… Now I think, “Thank God that series is over.” But it’s not over. This series will likely be picked up by thousands of school districts and colleges across the country and around the world, and used to indoctrinate the next generations of young minds. This should be opposed. The series is offensive not only to millions of American veterans who served honorably and with pride, but to anyone who still believes in truth and academic integrity.

The war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos did not end in 1975. More Southeast Asians died in the following ten years due to fighting and communist tyranny than died during the ten years of active American involvement. The repression in all three nations continues to this day.

With all the promise and potential, with all the wonderful presentations, the incredible photography and the moving musical scores, the slanting by choice of material and by massive omission renders this series not history but propaganda.

This is the eighth in a series of eight essays on the Burns/Novick program. Please like, forward and share this essay.

Missing from Ken Burns’ ‘Vietnam’: The patriotism and pride of those who fought

Bing West, September 19, 2017

The film is meticulous in the veracity of the hundreds of factoids that were selected. Everything depicted on the American side actually happened. But that the chosen facts are accurate doesn’t mean the film gets everything right. Indeed, the brave American veterans are portrayed with a keen sense of regret and embarrassment about the war, a distortion that must not go unanswered. And the film implies an unearned moral equivalence between antiwar protesters and those who fought.

Burns’ theme is clear: A resolute North Vietnam was predestined to defeat a delusional America that heedlessly sacrificed its soldiers. The film follows a chronological progression, beginning in the ’40s. Right from the start, harrowing combat footage from the ’60s is inserted to remind the audience that a blinkered America is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the French colonialists. The main focus of the documentary is the period of fierce fighting from late 1965 to 1972.

… This documentary succeeds in vividly evoking sadness and frustration. But that is not all there was to the story. “The Vietnam War” strives for a moral equivalence where there is none. The veterans seem sad and detached for their experience, yet 90 percent of Vietnam War veterans are proud to have served. So there’s a large gap between what we see and the attitude of the vast majority of veterans.

Their sense of pride — so vital for national unity — is absent from the documentary. And that’s a glaring omission.

Past All Reason

The new series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is mesmerizing. But it doesn’t answer the questions about the Vietnam War that many are still seeking.

Andrew J. Bacevich, September 19, 2017

Well-intentioned and artfully executed, The Vietnam War—Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour-long documentary series on PBS—is not history, but rather story-telling and remembrance. Balanced, exhaustive, and relentlessly solemn, it glides along the surface of things, even when that surface is crowded with arrogance, miscalculation, deceit, and bloodletting on an epic scale.

According to one promotional trailer prepared for the series, “In war there is no single truth.” Embedded within every war (as in other forms of human endeavor) are multiple truths—some of them trivial, others very important indeed. The purpose of history is to unearth and engage with those truths that have something to teach us. This requires a willingness to interpret and render moral judgments. Yet Burns and Novick have an aversion to interpretation and steer clear of judgments.

…According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was “begun in good faith, by decent people.” It comes closer to the truth to say that the war was begun—and then prolonged past all reason—by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage. Those who fought in the war and those who fought against it will certainly want to watch this series. Yet to find the answers that many are still searching for, they will have to look elsewhere.

Be skeptical of Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War’

Terry Garlock, September 19, 2017

The series began showing on PBS Sunday, Sept. 17, and with Burns’ renowned talent mixing photos, video clips and compelling mood music in documentary form, the series promises to be compelling to watch. That doesn’t mean it tells the truth.

For many years I have been presenting to high school classes a 90-minute session titled “The Myths and Truths of the Vietnam War.” One of my opening comments is, “The truth about Vietnam is bad enough without twisting it all out of shape with myths, half-truths and outright lies from the anti-war left.”

… Perhaps you will prove me wrong. Watch carefully, but I would advise a heavy dose of skepticism.

Skeptical of Burns’ ‘Vietnam,’ Part 2

Terry Garlock, September 26, 2017

Some readers didn’t much care for my column last week advising skepticism on Ken Burns’ new PBS series on “The Vietnam War.” I understand that, and am not surprised some would think of me sympathetically as trying to justify my role as a young man in what they have been taught was a horrible mistake. But the truth is I am cautioning readers, not rationalizing.

… By mixing facts with leftist distortions, like repeatedly stating the war was clearly unwinnable even before America became directly involved, Burns and PBS are driving the anti-war left’s stake through the heart of history. The leftist version is being made official among those who buy the PBS description of Ken Burns as “America’s storyteller.”

Fits right in with the current passion for revision of history, doesn’t it?

Burns’ film on ‘The Vietnam War’: A great lie

Terry Garlock, October 3, 2017

Great lies have an element of truth, and while Burns tells a great story in film, that does not make his stories true.

The documentary misleads viewers from the beginning with two false premises, first that Ho Chi Minh and his North Vietnamese were nationalists dedicated to reunify North and South Vietnam.

In fact, the North was determined to impose Communist rule by force on South Vietnam. We were there to stop the spread of Communism in southeast Asia. The difference is vast.

America’s part in the war was certainly not immoral or misguided as Burns portrayed, and the war was not unwinnable from the get-go, the second false premise the film pushed repeatedly from different angles.

… The public at home knows nothing about life in that world and has no business watching idiotic talking heads on TV and second-guessing from the comfort and safety of their living room. We should stay out of wars until we can’t, and when forced to fight we should squash our enemy like a bug then tell the public about it when the awful task is done.

That is why — if I were king — we would apply Lesson 3: Journalists in a war zone could write anything they wish, but no photos and no videos until after the war is done. Citizens with sufficient brains and motivation could read and be informed, but the masses would have to wait until after the conflict closed to have their feelings manipulated by powerful images.

Part 2: Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary is a great lie

Terry Garlock, October 10,

There certainly were villains in the Vietnam War, but a bit different than the film portrays. The chief villains were Communist invaders intent on conquest, feeding to naive anti-war types like Burns and his predecessors the cover story of being nationalists, like a Vietnamese version of George Washington’s patriots.

Without Communist aggression there would have been no war. Ho Chi Minh’s mission of conquest made America’s stand to defend South Vietnam a noble cause, even though our own villains screwed it up badly as we fought to stop the Commies.

… Since the public doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize the film’s omissions and distortions, viewers will be swept along by powerful scenes, mood music and interviewees they won’t know were cherry-picked for the war’s turning them into tormented victims.

For hordes of viewers who have no idea they are being fed the big lie, the Burns film will become the standard by which the Vietnam War will be judged. Most viewers won’t know and won’t see in the film that the vast majority of us who fought in Vietnam are still proud of our service and would do it again, and they won’t know their trust in Burns’ film is one more disappointment we will cram into our box and close the lid tight.

2017 The Bad War; Vietnam gets the Ken Burns treatment.

Stephen J. Morris, Oct 23, 2017 |

The great history of the Vietnam war is still waiting to be written. The considerable research efforts and brilliant visual presentation of Burns and Novick (and Ward in the companion book) have captured most of the story of the Kennedy and Johnson years. But they have failed to do justice to the years 1968-73, and thus to the war as a whole.

Even more importantly, they have failed to grasp the nature of the enemy we were fighting. Ho Chi Minh’s calculated plan to market himself and his Communist movement as primarily nationalist was effective both for naïve Vietnamese intellectuals and peasants and for naïve foreigners—even through to today. But Ho and his Communist comrades always considered themselves part of a world revolutionary movement, something much bigger than merely a revolution in Vietnam. They frequently referred to themselves as the outpost of socialism in Southeast Asia. (That is why after their victory in 1975, they provided captured American weapons to the Soviet Union for use in Communist insurrections in other nations, most notably in El Salvador in the 1980s.)

The problem is that it is difficult for most people who have never experienced one to grasp the nature of totalitarian movements based on an internationalist revolutionary ideology—and much easier psychologically to reduce it to the familiar, which is nationalism.

Five American presidents and most of their top advisers did not fall into this intellectual trap. But the producers of The Vietnam War did. After a century of experience of totalitarian movements and states, and more than 70 years of experience of Vietnamese communism, the time is long past for educated Westerners to be so duped.

Rewriting History: ‘Beyond Shameful': Don’t Fall For This Deceitful Vietnam Flick

Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, November 11, 2017

(General Brady is a recipient of, the Medal of Honor. He is former president of the Medal of Honor Society.)

Needless to say, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “documentary,” “The Vietnam War,” has caught the attention of Vietnam veterans. Except for the John Kerryites, the feedback is decidedly negative.

The filmmakers’ obsequious devotion to the Vietnam-era media narrative is breathtaking. Many call Burns and Novick’s “Vietnam” a hatchet job. That attitude certainly has merit, but I barely got past Tet when it was clear to me that what they were doing was more subtle than a hatchet job. A better description is: The filmmakers damned us – not only the veterans, but America as well – with faint praise.

They use a deceitful journalistic tool of gathering token credibility bites from those on the other side of their preordained narrative in an effort to appear objective. Burns and Novick’s “Vietnam” is plagued with media malfeasance including obfuscation, omission and some really messed up moral equivalences.

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Thinking Multi-Role “Strike Fighter”

Blown Slick Series #11


Air to air is what you do going into and coming off of the target. Ed Rasimus, Air Force Vietnam War F-105 and F-4 fighter pilot  

In the previous post, I suggested as a thought experiment that one draw a straight line graph comparing fighter aircraft performance/capabilities over time beginning with WWI and say the Sopwith Camel, then continue through WWII with your choice of best fighter (Spits, Zero, Mustang, Corsair), on into the Korean War and the MiG-15 and F-86, then to Vietnam and the MiG-21 and F-4, and next on to the F-14/ F-15/16/18 group. I suggested that you would not find the F-35 on an extension of that line. Irrespective of cost, schedule or development problems, it is a different type “fighter” plane with intent to conduct air combat in a different way.

The last a/c on that line would be the F-16 and F/A-18.( The F-22 is a departure along the way to the F-35 as a Fifth Generation fighter). These two a/c are the results of the mid 70’s Light Weight Fighter (LWF) competition between the YF-16 and YF-17. With the Cold War  ongoing, it’s understandable why the focus was entirely centered on air to air warfighting and dogfighting capabilities.


While the Air Force selected the F-16 to compliment the F-15 and the Navy decided on a variant of the YF-17 to become the replacement a/c for both their fighter F-4’s and attack A-7’s, both a/c very quickly were adapted as multi-role “strike fighter” type combat aircraft.

  1. What is the significance of multi-role strike fighters?
  2. Essentially a one size fits all kind of design, is this the best way to fight in future air battles?

The current manifestation of airwar is predominantly air to ground and day-day in the Middle east it’s primary focus is support of ground troops or attack on fleeting insurgents “hiding amongst the people.” That is certainly not to say that if air combat is required with Russia or China, that serious air-air won’t be a major aspect of war in the air, and that contingency can not be overlooked or minimized without dire consequences.

Since the war in Vietnam, the emergence of surface to air  missiles (SAMs) as a major defense threat has grown exponentially. Returning from Vietnam, attack aviators knew from experience that their A-4’s, A-6’s and A-7’s had numbered days. Indeed the Air Force had always focused on afterburner a/c for both air-air and air-ground.  Their version along with life time upgrades of the F-4  is a perfect example. Unlike the Navy whose Phantoms were designated for strike support from air-air threats and fleet defense, but were integrated into strikes thus carrying bombs on occasion, AF Phantoms were considered multi-role fighters from earliest introduction. In Vietnam, focus was a function of the wing and base location.


The MiG pilots are a lot better than the average German pilot toward the end of WWII….Sometimes, when they’ve forced us to jettison our bombs before reaching the target, we’ve had to go in and teach them a lesson or clear them out.  But our basic job over there is to bomb targets, not chase MiGs. If they happen to get in the way, so much the worse for them. Robin Olds

So with the growing (mostly Russian developed) SAM threat,  Survivability  would demand future a/c be designed with significant increase in thrust to weight and weapons and sensor capability that would allow more stand-off in weapons delivery. While the Navy evaluated two separate versions of the YF-17 for fighter and attack roles, in the end it just made sense cost wise to develop the F/A-18 Hornet as a strike fighter. In essence, when you increased thrust to weight with afterburner, no matter what else, you had inherently an air-air capable fast mover, and certainly at minimum a self-escort capability.

As noted the desire for a light weight, cheap, highly maneuverable air-air fighter for the Air Force, very quickly became a jack of all trades AND has been very good at a multitude of missions including taking over the SAM suppression/destruction role.

Boyd3Late Air Force Colonel John Boyd – he of Energy Maneuverability theory, noted by many as father of the F-16, OODA Loop concepts and Patterns of Conflict warfare concept development – noted that men fight wars and use their brains, therefore proper priority is men, ideas, and then technology.

With the advent of the computer, networks and overall information technology growth in capability by leaps and bounds, the military and defense contractors cannot but chase what could be game changing potential. But in fairness, many warfighters have justifiable concerns on plans to carry out warfare more as a function of the wonderfulness of technology in place of the experienced-based focus “manning the equipment vs. equipping the man.”

That said, one cannot ignore the level of threat provided by technology in prosecuting war in the air. Tactics of WW II, Korea, and Vietnam will get aviators killed. The technical difficulties of the radars and radar guided missiles (Sparrow for example) of Vietnam days are long gone. The dogfights of historical aviation can still occur, (and still train for) but are highly unlikely as evidenced in the 40 some-odd air-air kills beginning with Desert Storm.

We near the end of Airpower Analysis by Boris mostly because “how to fight in future air-warfare” is rightfully carefully protected and not open to unclassified debate or writing. But researching what is available tells me that application moves into a different line of thinking and action. It’s not off the mark to consider a new norm in air combat being established.

In that light, the next post should be enlightening – the debate between retired LtCol David Berke (USMC) and Pierre Sprey conducted by Aviation Week. Berke is unique in his flight experience in that he’s instructed at TOPGUN, flown the F-16, F/A-18, F-22 and F-35. Sprey was a participant in the Light Weigh Fighter program and heavily involved with the A-10 program development. Their views of airpower are significantly different



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Airpower Analysis Phase II: F-35 – Flying Circus Center Ring

Blown Slick Series #10


For some time now, center ring for the airpower flying circus has been the F-35 Lightning II. But since the F-35 was similarly noted as the elephant in the room in #8 in this series some time ago, much as transpired as the a/c moves into operational status within the USMC, USN, and USAF, along with the first Israeli F-35 Adir’s beginning to fly.

To date the Blown Slick series has discussed attack pilots, fighter pilots, fifth generation aircraft, analysis tools and metrics, offered selected books on air warfare and taken a broad look at the ideas behind airpower theory. This post focuses on the F-35 -in the center ring of the airpower “circus.” It serves to provide links to updated operational status before we continue on with more airpower analysis from the “attack pilot” side.


Over time much F-35 writing has focused on cost/schedule/technical problems and with mostly end game agenda of cancelling the program.  For writing on the positive side, much  presented has been what the a/c is supposed to do, rather than what it has actually been able to perform. Only recently have articles begin to emerge from the pilots who are in the early stages of learning the a/c, its capabilities and developing tactical employment schemes. Bottom line, the “fat lady can’t end the opera” until day-day operational aviators have their say.

The first part of this post covers general considerations of the F-35 as it evolves into the airpower picture and the second part will provide several “reports” from the operational introduction environment.

First, a few general thoughts in observation of the JSF program over time:

  • Words mean something. The a/c is  called a “fighter” because that’s what the AF has always done and Navy is following that terminology.The “F” in F-35 de-focuses the issue. Had it  been A/F or A-35.  focus could have been seen more readily on the main mission of attack with air-air capabilities.  Indeed, the Marines needed to replace the Harrier, the Air Force wanted a strike compliment to the F-22 air-air capability, and the Navy beginning with F/A-18, driven a lot my CV deck space limitations and maintenance plus of limiting the types of a/c onboard had completely bought into the multi-role strike fighter concept.
  • The severe defensive threat environment drives fighter-attack a/c design to high powered/maneuverable multi-role concepts BUT one size fits all in a/c design is most likely a bridge too far
  • Somewhere fairly early on, I’m guessing some programmatic perspective got lost and  strayed beyond a reasonably foreseeable vision of needed capability, emerging technology, and understanding of the process required to reach the end game.
  • It is no longer 1965 and the beginning of Rolling Thunder. As the Vietnam War began, the AF and Navy had gotten way ahead of themselves both technically and operationally with expectations of air-air radar and the radar guided Sparrow missile and the whole idea that beyond visual range (BVR)  – no further phone-booth dogfighting engagements – with the F-4  was the new norm. That is not even close to the real world today. Facts from our Middle East air combat demonstrate that in 44 or so air-air kills, only one or two were even insight engagements and certainly were not the result of true dogfights. The fighter merge after exchange of BVR missiles is certainly possible but highly unlikely. Combat pilots need to and will ensure they can “fight” their a/c, but winning Red Baron events is not their mission. In that light the whole F-16 vs F-35 test data point thing was blown way out of proportion
  • The Close Air Support (CAS) thing with the A-10 is also very misconstrued  Here we get into language again.  Many authors seem to equate CAS with all of the bomb dropping air to ground mission. The A-10 is doing a remarkable job but its not all just CAS. The story line here, is that CAS is an attack mission and lots of a/c can do it along with other attack missions that aren’t in close regard to troops on the ground. A more important distinction is the level of threat. High level surface to air systems are available on the market.  An attack a/c like the A-10 needs a fairly low threat environment. While the F-35 replaces the A-10 programmatically, there’s more to this story, and as such will receive separate treatment shortly.
  • Finally, I think there are several story-lines here that complicate the issues. Because of 5th generation aspects (stealth, sensors, fusion, C2/AWACs type stuff, the real story is way behind compartmented walls. The story line that does come out is a function of all the elements above without good insight inside the security walls and this really muddies up the product. In addition,  the intel, info, sensor, C2 side story line is unlike anything we have ever done in a tactical strike fighter. This has been offered as a  re-norming of airpower application and would appear different from what  other country 5th gen a/c are doing. The 35 possibly suffers from a lot of just “well that’s not the way we do it.” I’ve called the F-35 the “Sheppard of the battlespace” and will remain interested to see where that train of thought goes.

In #8 Part 3 I suggested  a thought experiment:

Draw a straight line beginning with WWI and the Sopwith Camel. Continue through WWII with your choice of best fighter (Spits, Zero, Mustang, Corsair), on into the Korean War and the MiG-15 and F-86, then to Vietnam and the MiG-21 and F-4, and next on to the F-14/ F-15/16/18 group. If you think it makes sense  add the F-22 Raptor, all together depicting   a linear  evolution of fighter and multi-role a/c.

I noted that the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will not be found on that line. with caveat of course that it must live up to its potential, but does the F-35 with its stealth, sensors, information fusion and transfer capabilities not give a different perspective on future airpower? The following articles begin to provide pilot based experience that would seem to support the re-norming thought.

Key points:

USMC F-35B deployment

VMFA-121 departs for relocation to Japan

First Marine Corps F-35 Squadron Deploys to JapanMarine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 departed its former headquarters at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, on Monday en route to its new base at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan“The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft is a true force multiplier,” Capt. Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for 3rd MAW, said in Tuesday’s announcement. “The unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.”

Israeli F-35I

Israel Takes Delivery of First Pair of F-35I ‘Adir” Aircraft  The Israeli Air Force (IAF) took delivery of their first two F-35I ‘Adir’ stealth fighter aircraft on December 12th arriving in country at Nevatim AFB. The two F-35I’s are the first of 50 aircraft that Israel has agreed ofer-shafir-double-formation-passes-shot-sky-2-00020to acquire under an agreement that was signed six years ago. The IAF now will begin a process of training and testing to fully determine how to best utilize and integrate the aircraft into their defense program. The term  ‘Adir’ in Hebrew can mean mighty, powerful, noble and great.

Red Flag F-35C Results

At Red Flag ‘It’s Tough To Be Legacy Aircraft In An LO World’:  Most Red Flag coverage so far has focused on a statistic – the F-35A’s at the Air Force’s toughest combat training exercises are killing enemy aircraft at a rate of 15-1. But one of the pilots flying themaxresdefault F-35s — Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander — says: “The kill ratio isn’t that important. We are more focused on the SAM and IADS threat.” Think Russian-made S-300s and 400s. Capt. Stephanie Anne Fraioli explains the fundamental difference between a fourth- and a fifth-generation aircraft: “With fourth-generation fighter airframes, speed and energy equaled life and survivability. In the fifth-generation realm, information equals life.”

Navy F-35C’s Arrive at Lemoore

F-35C’s Arrival at NAS Lemoore:   Naval aviation reached a significant milestone on January 25 when the first four F-35C Lightning II aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station160401092056-nas-lemoore-exlarge-169 Lemoore. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces noted “the aircraft’s stealth technology will allow it to penetrate and conduct attacks inside threat envelopes, and its integrated sensor packages collect and fuse information to provide a common operational picture for the carrier strike group and joint forces, and most importantly, enable long range identification of air and surface targets. Without question the F-35 is required to win the future high-end fight, but it will be effectively complemented by the 4th generation capabilities and capacity of our Super Hornets – as well as the rest of our future air wing – to include carrier-based unmanned platforms.

The Aviators Perspective

F-35 pilot: Here’s what people don’t understand about dogfighting, and how the F-35 excels at it: According to Lt. Col. David “Chip” Berke, the only US Marine to fly both the F-22 and the F-35, the public has a lot of learning to do when assessing a jet’s capability inscreen shot 2017-01-03 at 31146 pm warfare. “The whole concept of dogfighting is so misunderstood and taken out of context, We need to do a better job teaching the public how to assess a jet’s capability in warfare.”There is some idea that when we talk about dogfighting it’s one airplane’s ability to get another airplane’s 6 and shoot it with a gun … That hasn’t happened with American planes in maybe 40 years.”

Gillette-300x264Squadron Fighter Pilots: The Unstoppable Force of Innovation for 5th Generation Enabled Concepts Of Operations: To understand the intangible of pilot performance and the future combat success of the F-35, Lightning II, one just has to listen to what the military pilots who actually are fly the aircraft are saying, all other critics are second order. (Note, this is a long article, but worth the read as it includes comments from all service pilots, test pilots and senior commanders.)

It would appear the day-in-day-out strike fighter pilot thinks we’re on to something.  No new high tech weapon comes in easily, but the F-35 is here. The next post will focus on the “attack mission” in more dept. Real added capability is still in work, and so….


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Thinking Airpower in Context: American War in Seven Charts

Blown Slick Series #9

Rough Riders

 Seven Charts That Help Explain American War

  1. How Many Years In Its History Has America Been at War?
  2. Where Has America Fought?
  3. Why Has America Fought?
  4. How Does America Fight ?
  5. Who Are America’s Formal Defense Partners?
  6. Why Is the American Military So Attracted to Technology?
  7. So How Much Does It All Cost?

Give the focus of the Blown Slick series, upon reading this article by Aaron Bazin*, it seemed only natural to question what then is the impact of airpower on these seven and how is airpower influenced by how we approach the issues? In a concise way, the issues and charts highlight airpower usage in war and need to be one piece of Blown Slick’s airpower mosaic. Below are quotes from only two of the questions/charts. I will leave it to the reader to explore the  complete article here. Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants and Such (Part 3)

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 3/3)

Continuing from Part 1 & 2 – the “something new”

Airpower Application and 5th Generation Aircraft


The term “fifth-generation aircraft” is part of the problem facing the future of airpower. The usage of the term might suggest a linear relationship to preceding aircraft, so that one could argue that F-18s and F-16s can be upgraded and become 4.8-generation aircraft, closely replicating 5th generation capability. For the proponents of F-22 and F-35, they believe this is simply not the case.  For them, the fifth-generation aircraft are a benchmark for a new approach to air power, and leads to the thought by some that 5th generation aircraft will result in “Re-norming” of Air Operations. This will be the subject of a separate post, but for now from Re-Norming Air Operations: Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants and Such (Part 2)

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 2/3)

Continuing from Part 1 – drilling down

Airpower threads

To make reasonable decisions in regard to analysis of future airpower, and also how implementation of emerging technical and derivative tactical concepts plays into the application of airpower, one must certainly have some understanding of these elements:

  • current potential crisis and warfare environments (subjects of future articles)
  • overall theories of airpower (some discussion in this series)
  • necessity for a truly joint, even integrated, approach to warfare that has been provided through experience (to be discussed in future articles but can be particularly seen in the AirSea Battle concept and in regard to potential problems related to operations in the South China Sea)

Historical context also must guide airpower’s future evaluation and application.  Quoting from Part 1:

Airpower is all about power projection and mobility. It is the theoretical and eventual conceptual application that comprises the application of military strategy and strategic theory to the realm of actual aerial warfare via strike warfare tactics, techniques and procedures.  

And so our background on airpower moves to the historical context of airpower application in regard to power projection, and strike warfare.

Application of Airpower (Something Old) Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants, Fallacies, Bonfires, Something Old, Something New

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 1/3)

Airpower characteristics itemizes strictly enduring physical features:
speed, reach, height, and as a consequence ubiquity, agility, and concentration.

KKong Empire St Attack

A relatively high technological focus by air forces is inevitable, necessary, and indeed desirable. But the balance is wrong if that focus translates in practice into an air force that bears some resemblance to a costly and exclusive combination flying club and science and engineering society at the expense of what should be the dominant features of a fighting force… Colin Gray

What follows is a perspective of airpower in light  of its history, current application and future trends and potential. The discussion is not focused on airpower theory per se, nor is it anywhere close to being comprehensive. In 3 parts, it is intended to be viewed in context of previous and future articles as offering some pieces of the  mosaic.


Continue reading

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Users’ Guide Part 2 – Tools

Blown Slick Series #7 (Part 2)


… We will use this scheme of pulling things apart (analysis) and putting them back together (synthesis) in new combinations to find how apparently unrelated ideas and actions can be related to one another.     Boyd

Part 1 provided an introduction to the Blown Slick analysis process and the boundary conditions and related operational threads as airpower’s past and future are perceived.  Throughout the time since airplanes were first employed in warfare, there have been many rules/assumptions/lessons learned, some good, others proven outright wrong, and some still staking their ground. Here in Part 2 the concepts of intersections, triangle perspective, and snowmobiles are introduced. Their application in a manner in which the elements are combined and contrasted with past elements and with those potentially significant as the result of emerging technology will hopefully assist in gaining usable perspective for future airpower. Continue reading

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Users’ Guide for Building A Blown Slick “Snowmobile”

Blown Slick Series #7 (Part 1)

To discern what is going on we must interact in a variety of ways with our environment. In other words We must be able to examine the world from a number of perspectives so that we can generate mental images or impressions that correspond to that world. More to the point We will use this scheme of pulling things apart (analysis) and putting them back together (synthesis) in new combinations to find how apparently unrelated ideas and actions can be related to one another.   John Boyd


Proposed theories and historical use of airpower  are discussed in detail in many excellent books, PhD theses, and blogs covering air warfare, its organizations, people, technology, and operations. In the previous post in this series selected key references were provided that are currently in use for Blown Slick – Light Attack Fast Pursuit Airpower Analysis.

This series, as noted in previous offerings, intends to  provide and discuss elements that appear to have significance for understanding and future application of airpower in a mosaic style . The metric of the series success will depend on not only the what and the how of the analysis, but also most importantly on how critical aspects are pieced back together to offer a future view for consideration and critique.

Given that the mosaic approach will most certainly jump around, here in this piece,  I am providing short descriptions of the mental and organizational  tools I’m using -sometimes in combination – for not only gaining perspective on future airpower, but also for how I offer the information to Remembered Sky readers for their own consideration. The following (in two parts) is both a guide and a reference, certainly for me to stay focused and hopefully for readers to comprehend why certain elements are discussed in a particular manner. Continue reading

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“It’s Only Reading If You Do It”

Blown Slick Series #6

It is a true statement but not an indictment, that the fleets of the world never had a formal requirement for an airplane, or a submarine, or a communications satellite. Instead, in all cases, a debate was established within the fleet (indeed, within the fleets of the world) and over time, doctrine, technology, people, and organization came to fruition.


Requirements cannot be divorced from detailed understanding of their implementing strategy. In practice, the best requirements come from operators who understand technology in detail and who can, in their mind’s eye, envision the new tactics it makes possible.
Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle

Googling “airpower” will get you nearly 41,600,000 links and Amazon Books near 2000 entries. So prior to getting into more specific topics, this post offers for reader consideration a small handful of books and studies covering multiple aspects of airpower and war in the air that I have found of great interest and use, and indeed to certain different degrees, are references for future articles. Continue reading

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