FOX TWO, POP ONE
Paul Woodford is a former F-15 pilot and the following is a guest post from his excellent blog.
The F-22 Raptor, originally meant to replace the F-15 Eagle, has finally scored an air-to-air kill. Just a hundred and three to go, boys and girls, and you’ll catch up to the Eagle. If luck smiles upon you, not all future engagements will be against defenseless unarmed non-maneuvering stationary targets!
I should be embarrassed: in the days leading up to the shutdown, I didn’t think it’d be doable with air-to-air missiles, either radar or heat-seeking, and that some poor fighter jock was going to have to try to gun it down, which would have presented all manner of tricky problems. I went public with a tweet to that effect.
It turned out I was wrong, and the balloon was destroyed with what was almost certainly a heat-seeking missile, an AIM-9X. The AIM-9Ls & Ms I’m familiar with from my days flying F-15s had incredibly sensitive seeker heads, but there was no way they could’ve seen a balloon; the X must represent a giant step in technology.
If today’s AIM-9 missiles are able to track the minuscule IR energy of a balloon, than today’s radar-guided AMRAAMs might be good enough to guide on the tiny radar return from a balloon’s payload or sensor package. But I wouldn’t want to risk it; if I’d been in charge of the mission, I’d have done just what the Air Force did: go for a heat-seeker shot. Why? Radar guided air-to-air missiles have a lower probability of kill than heat-seekers, and you’d want to splash the target on the first try. Especially since everything you do will be plainly visible to thousands of taxpayers down on the ground. Go, Air Force — you did it right!
I’m also proud the Air Force used Frank 01 and Frank 02 callsigns for the Raptors sent to shoot down the balloon. Frank Luke was a WWI ace with 19 kills, most scored against German observation balloons. Luke, an Arizonan, was popularly referred to as the “Arizona Balloon Buster.” Luke AFB in Phoenix, where I trained on the F-15 (and where new F-35 pilots train today) is named after him. I can’t help but think that in addition to acknowledging part of its heritage, the Air Force (and the spirit of Frank Luke) also saw the humor in it.
Because you know F-22 pilots will forever more be the butt of balloon jokes. I hope they have thicker skins than Chinese President Xi Jinping, who so hates being reminded who he looks like he puts people in prison for pointing it out and has banned the movie Christoper Robin, an adaption of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. You did notice Winnie on the patch, right? Genius.
On the political side, I don’t have much to say. Had I been President, I hope I would have done exactly as Biden did, ignoring the squealing of Republicans and MAGAts and waiting patiently until the wind blew the balloon over water, then downing it quickly and decisively. Will it impact our relations with the Chinese? Sure. And so what? What a stupid way to spy on other countries, anyway, launching balloons that can’t be guided and are totally at the mercy of winds aloft. That’s what satellites are for, and doesn’t China have a bunch of those in orbit already?
Howdy! I’m Paul, and this is my blog. It’s the best blog. You can buy me a cup of joe if you agree!
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