Episode 2 – An Air Force on the Brink: The Case for Modernization

Episode Summary

In Episode 2 of The Aerospace Advantage, host John Baum brings Gen John Corley and Col Mark Gunzinger onto the show to explore the history that led to the oldest and smallest Air Force inventory in service history. After Baum explains the current state of play, Col (Ret.) Mark “Gonzo” Gunzinger, the Mitchell Institute’s Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments, explains in greater detail the background mechanisms in Washington that led to a small, old Air Force aircraft inventory. Focusing on the F-22 program as a case study, Gen (Ret.) John Corley, former USAF Commander of Air Combat Command, offers his firsthand insight into military acquisition programs. Corley provides his lessons learned and describes the need for continuity and future planning, and he explains how politics can affect strategic level force planning. Baum summarizes by highlighting the need to procure the right tools to tackle the wide range of threats that the U.S. military faces.

Full Topic Guide

Episode 2 of the Aerospace Advantage explains why the Air Force presently fields the oldest and smallest aircraft inventory in its history. The episode covers the hard lessons learned that can rest these circumstances and  inform future decision-making. The show starts off by Baum laying down a broad overview regarding the advanced age and small size of key mission aircraft.

Mark “Gonzo” Gunzinger then discusses the historic trends that yielded this including the immense impact of 9/11 on defense spending decisions regarding the Air Force. Gonzo argues that budget-driven planning usually results in building a force geared toward past wars, not one addressing the future. Gonzo discusses the need to reset today’s fragile aircraft inventory.

Gen John Corley, former Commander of Air Combat Command, provides in depth insight in a specific case study by explaining his firsthand experience during the battle over the F-22 program. Gen Corley describes that the competition over resources and the lack of unified mission support ultimately led to its cancellation. He also dives into the behind-the-scenes struggle between addressing the challenges of today versus the threats of tomorrow.

Baum summarizes the main issue in play: The Air Force is too old, too small, and increasingly fragile. Acquisition programs like the F-22 epitomize how there is failure of forward thinking in budget-based acquisition programs, and this leaves the military with fewer options to counter increasingly complex threats. The episode cautions that budget pressures driven by COVID-19 risk repeating negative patterns that have undermined past Air Force fleet modernization efforts.

The episode wraps with Baum introducing the topic of the next episode: the current threat landscape facing the U.S. military. Baum will explore this topic, and the need for aerospace power to meet these threats, with former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Dr. James N. Miller, and Mitchell Institute’s Director of Research, Maj Gen (Ret.) Larry “Stutz” Stutzriem.

Time Marks

3:59 – Baum lays down the problem statement for today’s episode

5:33 – Baum interviews Gonzo to discuss how the Air Force got so small, so old and so fragile

8:45 – Gonzo discusses the what it means to cut Air Force procurement programs like the F-22

16:49 –Gen John Corley discusses the fight over the F-22 program

27:10 – Gen Corley offers his advice to future Air Force leaders on how to avoid pitfalls like the cancelling of the F-22 program

31:07 – Gen Corley describes the trap of the “Program Next” mentality

33:56 – Baum summarizes the lessons learned from the interviews

35:53 – Baum outro and introduction of the topic and guests for Episode 3: The Threat Landscape


Host: Lt Col John “Slick” Baum, USAF, ret.

Producer: Daniel C. Rice

Executive Producer: Douglas Birkey

Guest: Gen John Corley, USAF, ret.

Guest: Col Mark “Gonzo” Gunzinger, USAF, ret.


General David Goldfein quote from Brookings Institute Event found here

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