As Americans, we have become accustomed to believing that the United States Air Force has plenty of fighter aircraft available to defend America anywhere and anytime. In the past, this has always been true.
But since last November, this has not been true. The Air Force simply does not have enough planes to do the job at this time. Two events have converged to make this happen -- the Iraq war and the grounding of America's entire fleet of F-15 fighter aircraft.
Last November 2, an F-15 fighter crashed in Missouri. It was determined the plane crashed because of structural problems, and the same problem probably existed in many other F-15 fighters. This caused the Air Force to ground around 450 of the aircraft.
Normally, these aircraft would just have been replaced by F-16 fighters, but it turns out that the F-16's are the fighters carrying the load in the Iraq war. They can't do duty in both places at the same time. This meant the Air Force didn't have enough airworthy fighters to defend America.
The Air National Guard (ANG) from several states has been called up to plug the holes in our air defense. The California ANG is now covering the entire West Coast, while the Vermont ANG is covering the whole Northeast. The Minnesota ANG has been sent to Hawaii, and the Illinois ANG is now in Louisiana.
For three weeks, there were no American planes to cover Alaska. During this period, Canadian CF-18 fighters (pictured above) covered Alaskan airspace. There is now a squadron of the new F-22 fighters in Alaska.
The Air Force had just begun the process of replacing the F-15's with F-22's, but they are not being built fast enough to replace all of them quickly. The Air Force has not said how long they expect the F-15's to be grounded, but since it is a structural problem it could be quite a lengthy period of time.
The grounding of the F-15's couldn't have happened at a worse time. This is just one more example of how we'd be much better off if we weren't fighting Bush's dirty little war in Iraq.