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?
Last month the Associated Press Stylebook posted this on Twitter: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college educated.”
The French were not amused, and a week later the AP Stylebook took a half-step back: “We deleted an earlier tweet because of an inappropriate reference to French people. We did not intend to offend. Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But ‘the’ terms for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.”
Nancy Nall, a journalist and blogger whose takes and opinions I normally agree with, had this to say about the AP Stylebook kerfuffle: ‘I believe the crime of putting a definite article before a group of people is known as ‘othering,’ one of the many, many terms I see on Twitter these days. And this practice, of allegedly making people feel more included by changing small things in the language we use, is something I have very mixed feelings about. … Call people what they ask to be called: That’s fine. But there’s something creepy about white, educated people correcting everyone else.”
I generally agree with the AP’s first tweet: you would never say or write “the Blacks” for the very good reason that everyone will immediately understand anything you say after that is going to be judgmental, opinionated, probably demeaning. Same with “the French,” “the disabled,” “the college educated,” etc. You’re slapping one color of paint on a bazillion diverse individuals who just happen to be French, disabled, or college educated.
At the same time, Nancy Nall is right: while anyone with an ounce of awareness would never say “the Blacks,” we all say “the French” — the French included — so get a grip, language police!