Dismissing Tom Clancy’s Fanboys In the USAF

Cover for the book Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing by Tom Clancy

In his foreword to Tom Clancy’s 2004 book Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing, a retired USAF general named John M. Loh writes: “This book chronicles the creation of a command with a unique culture—the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command. It possesses the leadership, the combat power, and the highly trained, competent people to provide the world’s best combat air forces anywhere in the world, at any time, to win quickly, decisively, with overwhelming advantage and few casualties. Tom Clancy does a masterful job of telling us all about it. I am proud to have served as the first commander of Air Combat Command, and proud to commend this book to your reading pleasure.” (Location 226)

Not only does the general validate Tom Clancy’s outrageous claims about USAF pilots being the finest in the world, as one would expect from those who have both been thoroughly indoctrinated in the myth of American aerial supremacy, it just shows that the USAF liked Clancy because he published propaganda books that served their interests.

For those who have followed my writing career as a military reformer, you know that Tom Clancy sticks in my craw, and I am always keen to rebut his arguments, which never contain footnotes, or any documentation other than the words of defense contractors.

Although Clancy is no longer with us, General Loh still is, and I would like to offer the following news to him and other Clancy fanboys and ask them to possibly reconsider their bragging. In previous articles and books I have argued that smaller air forces, such as the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Air Force have outstanding reputations, and pilot selection and training that outmatches the USAF.

To give just one example, consider Exercise Combat Hammer at Elgin Air Force Base in 2010. In this exercise, Canadian CF-18 pilots flew against USAF F-15s and F-16s, and they thoroughly outperformed the Americans, despite using an older but recently upgraded fighter. In an article on the Canadian Air Force website, sadly no longer online, titled “CF-18s get perfect ‘hit’ score on Ex Combat Hammer” (published Nov 15, 2010) the author says “Exercise Combat Hammer evaluates a tactical fighter squadron’s ability to execute air-to-ground operations; in other words, to prove weapons effects from initial build-up to final impact against both moving and static targets”.

In the end, the Canadian 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron cleaned up. “The squadron was evaluated by American and Canadian experts. Once the dust settled and the scores were tallied, 409 TFS had outstanding results: of 18 laser-guided bombs dropped, all 18 hit the desired target for a 100 per cent score. Not only were the results a source of pride within the squadron, the 86th[Fighter Weapons Squadron, USAF] recognized the score as a new evaluation record. 409 TFS is the only unit (American or foreign) to achieve 100 per cent hits against moving targets at a Combat Hammer since the exercise started in the mid-1980s.”

This little example just goes to show that US militarism and hubris are not well grounded in fact. Back in 2010, the USAF ate humble pie, and it was not the first time, nor will it be the last. Let’s hope that the USAF will improve pilot training because it is sorely lacking these days, and war with Russia or China may just be around the corner. General Loh’s promises of quick and easy victories by the USAF are misleading, dangerous, and must be challenged, especially now.


Tom Clancy; John Gresham. Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing (Tom Clancy’s Military Reference Book 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

409 Tactical Fighter Squadron. “CF-18s get perfect ‘hit’ score on Ex Combat Hammer” November 15, 2010, Canadian Air Force News website.

Roger Thompson is a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, the author of Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture, a former researcher at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters and Korea’s first Star Trek professor.