Harrowing Escape

Mark Bowden’s article “The Last Ace” in the March issue of Atlantic Monthly does a great job relating the wartime tale of retired Air Force F-15 pilot Cesar Rodriguez, who narrowly escaped being shot down by an Iraqi MiG-29 during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The article employs that near-fatal experience to bolster a compelling argument on the need to restore our airpower technological advantage. Rivals, writes Bowden, “can now match or best the F-15 in aerial combat,” but America “is choosing to give up some of the edge we’ve long enjoyed, rather than pay the price to preserve it.” It is not just airmen who will feel the pain, because the “aerial juggernaut” of bombers, strike fighters, command and control aircraft, tankers, helicopters, and drones depend on aerial supremacy and the juggernaut, in turn, “enables modern ground-fighting tactics that rely on the rapid movement of relatively small units.” With the right number of F-22s—and 183 is not it—writes Bowden, “we could move the [aerial supremacy] goalposts out of reach again.”