Ranking the Air Force’s Challenges by Google Results

Final Approach

The fate of the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane, like the one seen here preparing for an April flight in Southwest Asia, is among the issues facing the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Like most Americans this weekend, I took the opportunity to go out into the sun and partake in that most American tradition of grilling and beer over a three-day weekend. Now, most of my friends are not part of the military-industrial complex where the readers of this blog often reside, and as such, they sometimes ask questions that those of us inside the bubble wouldn’t think to ask.

One such friend asked me a simple question I’ve been mulling all weekend — “What’s the biggest issue facing the Air Force right now?”

My initial response was “the budget,” which is certainly what top service officials are quick to bring up when you ask them about their concerns. But I realized that what we may see as the biggest hurdles for the service may not be what the rest of the world sees.

So, as I have so often done when I don’t know the answer to things, I turned to Google, opened up the News tab, and started typing in potential topics. And then, in the parlance of modern journalism, I decided to rank the results.

Now, let’s be frank here: this isn’t the most scientific method. There are almost guaranteed to be overlap in the number of articles here, and wire services such as the AP could be picked up and reposted numerous times. But it does give a general sense of what news services are reporting, at least. More importantly, the authors of this blog are journalists, and doing anything scientifically is a tricky undertaking for us, despite the occasional foray into math.

Without further ado — the Google news rankings for various Air Force challenges

  • 1) “nuclear” AND “air force” — About 12,500 results

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing issues with the nuclear community took the top position. That’s driven both by the heavy coverage of the story from both domestic and international press alike, and by the fact the AP has been a big part in driving that story. (Remember – every AP pickup will register here.) To try and wind it down some, I ran a query on “‘nuclear’ AND ‘failed’ and ‘air force'” and results dropped down to About 4,190 hits, a much smaller, if still significant, number.

  • 2) “sexual assault” AND “air force” — About 7,750 results

Second ranking goes to the topic of sexual assaults within the service. This is neither a new issue nor one that seems to be going away, but both Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh have pledged to work with Congress to try and find solutions.

  • 3) “F-35” AND “air force” — About 7,470 results

The F-35 is the gift that keeps on giving, news wise. The massive, multinational program has plenty of detractors, and it’s easy to see why, given historic cost overruns and delays for the high tech fighter. While the program is picking up steam these days, it remains a lightning rod.

  • 4) “spaceX” AND “air force” — About 4,830 results 

Elon Musk’s decision to file a protest lawsuit against the Air Force might not be making him any friends in the service, but it’s certainly worked as an attention-gathering mechanism.

  • 5) “a-10” AND “air force” — About 4,500 results

The A-10 has been a hot topic for eight months now, ever since word first leaked that the plane, best known for its close-air support mission, might be on the chopping block for the FY 2015 budget. While the House and Senate appear to have spared the plane, at least for one year, the service is determined to divest the entire fleet in order to save billions of dollars. Expect that fight to continue.

  • 6) “u-2” AND “air force” — About 1,280 Results

Another one of the tough budget cuts the Air Force has made is the move to divest the venerable U-2 spy plane. Incidentally, the system that is knocking off the U-2 — the Global Hawk unmanned vehicle — has even less hits. “Global Hawk” AND “air force” tops out at 711 stories.

  • 7) “KC-10” AND “air force” — About 45 Results

And last but not least, we have the poor KC-10. For sure, the tanker is in fine form right now, but the service plans to divest itself of the KC-10 fleet come 2016 if sequestration is not rolled back — and service officials have been uniform in warning that they see little movement in that direction. Expect the stories on the KC-10 to grow as 2016 gets closer.

What other major issues do you think the service is facing? Got better terms to search on? Let us know in the comments…

Aaron Mehta

Aaron Mehta

Air Warfare Correspondent at Defense News
Aaron covers the Air Force for Defense News. In his spare time, he tweets about the Air Force for Defense News. Follow him @AaronMehta
Aaron Mehta