Air Force MSgt. Mandy Mueller, 39th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight chief, reads a holiday letter on Dec. 11, 2019, at Incirlik AB, Turkey. SSgt. Joshua Magbanua
Photo Caption & Credits


Nov. 30, 2023

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Due Credit

Until I read the article from the October edition titled “Credit Where It’s Due” [p. 47], I had not before seen any requirement specifying that an aerial victory had to be achieved while operating as an “aircrew flying manned aircraft.” I have no doubt that this additional discriminator was included rather recently as an effort to exclude any tally of aerial victories scored by pilots flying remotely piloted aircraft.  

Then, I read the incorporated article titled “Deciding Victory Credits,” and the narration included this statement: “In my opinion, ground-based pilots who shoot down unmanned enemy aircraft deserve credit, but in a different category from those who risked their lives flying in combat.”  In terms of risk to life, one has to ask the question. What is a greater risk to life, flying from a ground station under threat of artillery fire, or shooting a beyond-visual-sight missile from 30 to 50 miles away while being undetected?  

This reminds me of the foolish notion that medals that would be awarded to aircrew who encountered enemy fire would have those medals denied if they flew the same mission with such skill as to go undetected and avoid enemy fire. Efforts to apply such a discriminator then logically would deny credit for a BVR [beyond-visual-range] missile shot, but award it for a cannon shot, or deny credit for shooting down an unarmed transport aircraft, based upon some notion of risk to life. In truth, such an effort is rightly ridiculed.

The Air Force keeps tweaking their rules for aerial victory credit, and the result is each time there are new technologies, the Air Force is required to reconsider the rules. The solution to this perpetual problem is simplification, and it’s long overdue.  Simplicity states that when an aerial vehicle is destroyed, then victory credit is earned for destroying it. 

 If it took multiple people to actually detect the target, then fire and guide the weapon causing the destruction, then the credit is shared equally, and so on and so forth. That concept was properly applied during World War II, as pilots who attacked enemy airfields got proper credit for destroying aircraft on the ground. These missions were very dangerous, with a far-higher loss rate than air-to-air encounters with enemy aircraft.

Yet, many years later, these victory credits were rescinded.  So much for the idea that victory credits should carry with them a risk of loss of life!

It should not matter if the target is a balloon, or fixed wing, rotary wing, or remotely piloted aircraft, or even autonomous aircraft. Pilots who from an F-15 shoot down an enemy RPA deserve as much credit as one who shot down a MiG-21 over Vietnam.  With the advent of remotely piloted combat aircraft, capable of detecting and shooting down aerial vehicles, the time is quickly approaching when that discriminator about “flying from manned aircraft” is going to look very questionable. Get rid of it now. 

Whether you’re inside the aircraft, or flying it from a ground station, truth remains the aircrew detecting the target, firing the weapon, and guiding the weapon all earn equal victory credit.  And while we’re on that subject, perhaps that would finally include the notion of AWACS radar operators getting due credit for their role in shooting down enemy aircraft, starting in Vietnam.

All that would mean we had no actual aces in Vietnam, as Charles DeBellevue would only have about two victories, with an equal share of those six going to his pilots, and the AWACS controllers, who detected and tracked the enemy aircraft and vectored the F-4 to its firing solution. 

If you destroy an aircraft, then the credit is recognized and awarded. If it took a crew to do it, then the entire crew shares the single destruction in equal percentage. If you do it by yourself, then the credit is singular.

Maj. Ken Stallings,
USAF (Ret.)
Douglasville, Ga.

I was really looking forward to reading “Credit Where It’s Due” in the October issue. Unfortunately, after reading through all of the twists and turns in the kill credit process, I’m not sure what the conclusion is.  

Has the Air Force reached an agreed on basis that harmonizes all of the different era standards into a single cohesive listing?  Has the kill credit process been harmonized among the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps services or are there still multiple standards?  

Where is the official repository of the agreed-on kill credits? I feel the article has no conclusion and the title remains unanswered. Even more intriguing, will the Space Force count kills and of what? Will there be a Space Ace?

Hank Caruso
California, Md.

China, China, China

In my opinion, the editorial “China Syndrome” [September, p. 2] is right on target. I think China’s housing stock is overbuilt. This is an important economic fact because new housing construction accounts for at least 25 percent GDP.  If new housing construction were to stop, the GDP would drop by 25 percent. If housing construction even slowed by 20 percent, it would mean a 5 percent drop in GDP. 

China’s urbanization is at 65 percent for 2021 and has been increasing at 1.5 percent per year. With an endpoint of 80 percent urbanization, it would appear that China has 10 more years of housing construction at the present rate. However, estimates for vacant housing range from 7 to 13 percent of the urbanization rate which means maybe only one to five years of construction left. This is why housing construction companies such as Evergrande are having such problems.  

China has been trying to project that it is going to overtake the U.S. economically.  For example, since 2000 its steel industry doubled and then doubled again and again, … but today China produces 57 percent of the world’s steel. The steel industry can’t double again to increase China’s GDP. China is hitting market saturation.

If China’s economic growth slows dramatically or even contracts this decade, this could lead Xi to try and divert the attention of the people of China to something other than the economy. In 1905, Czar Nicholas thought a war with Japan would divert the attention of the people of Russia from their domestic problems and unify the country. Let’s hope Xi doesn’t go down the same path, but let’s be prepared.

William Thayer
San Diego

Rules Are Rules

Regarding the two letters on recruiting in your October issue [p. 5], I agree with both writers that the Air Force is sacrificing discipline for diversity by lowering recruiting standards. Permitting longer hair length and more visible tattoos, while easing drug testing criteria and grooming requirements, dilutes the discipline necessary to mold an effective fighting force. 

During my Air Force Officer Training School stint in 1964, I was taught that the military runs on rules that apply to everyone, with no exceptions. Because if everyone in uniform did their own thing, you’d have a mob, not a military. Nearly 60 years later, that seems to be happening.  

Richard Reif
Flushing, N.Y.

William Tell

I enjoyed your October article regarding William Tell 23 [p. 32] which brought back great memories. In the summer of 1986 I was the new commander of the 4484th TEST Sq. at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. We were a tenant and assigned to  the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.  

In the first week of my new assignment I was asked to the office of the 475th Weapons Evaluation Group Commander Col. “Lucky” Ekman. The WEG was in  charge of William Tell, the Weapons System Evaluation Program, drone targets, and other activities at Tyndall. Colonel Ekman asked me if my squadron could produce real-time videos of live missile firings from the Gulf of Mexico for WT 86 scheduled for October. 

As an Eagle driver with zero engineering expertise I respectfully said, “I’ll have to get back to you.” He’d asked me the question based on my squadron’s reputation. We had a few fighter pilots, numerous junior officer engineers straight out of the Academy, and numerous senior NCOs with vast radar, electronic countermeasure, weapon/radar interface, design, and construction experience. In fact we were the only squadron in Tactical Air Command authorized to modify an aircraft. 

When I brought this before these young engineers and senior NCOs their eyes lit up.  After procuring an old video transmitter for a guided weapon off a dusty shelf at Eglin courtesy of Systems Command, they got authorization to modify a two-seat Eagle from the 325th Fighter Training Wing. 

After weeks of effort they had an antenna on the beach, cables from the beach to a makeshift video facility, and with my in-house USAF photographer in the back seat, the task was complete.  Somewhat crude but totally operational and for the first time the WEG had live video from WT 86 contestants that could be observed 50 miles away in an air-conditioned building. 

Two years later I was a member of the 475th WEG for WT 88. By now much improved video could be watched by participants and spectators in a large auditorium as it happened, just like in the movies. What a blessing for me to have been surrounded by these superb young officers and senior enlisted. 

“Can’t” was not a word they understood.

Col. Robert A. Corson,
USAF (Ret.)
Spring, Texas