In September, the Tailhook Association—the nonprofit association of naval aviation—convened its annual symposium in Reno, Nevada. This year’s symposium commemorated the 50th anniversary of the founding of TOPGUN, the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School. A crisis in air-to-air combat in the early days of Vietnam brought the school into being in 1969; commentary from Tailhook 2019 suggests a new crisis is at hand.
If so, its consequences could prove dire. Back then the foe was North Vietnam, a doughty opponent that nonetheless posed little threat outside its borders. Today, China has emerged as a serious military competitor across the Indo-Pacific even as Russia resumes its station as a world power. It is one thing to reinvent yourself when you can learn from past mistakes without fear of losing a war—quite another when you are fighting a peer competitor and could suffer a defeat of seismic proportions while trying to adapt.