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aimval-aceval and US Air Force Investment in TacAir post-Vietnam

The us Air Force’s and Navy’s semi-autonomous radar- and infrared-guided air-to-air missiles performed miserably in air combat over Vietnam. Despite accusations that the military’s overreliance on complex technology was to blame, the two services continued to invest in ever-more advanced fighter aircraft and high-tech missiles after the war. In 1977 at the behest of Congress, the Air Force and Navy spent almost a full year evaluating air combat tactics and new infrared-guided air-to-air missiles. According to the services’ interpretation of the results from the aimval and aceval tests, future air combat demanded both improved infrared-guided missiles and revolutionary radar-guided missiles. The apparent paradox—testing infrared missiles to justify a more expensive radar-guided missile—was seized on by the military “Reformers” as emblematic of the us military’s unhealthy fascination with exorbitantly priced high-technology. This paper discusses the pivotal aimval-aceval tests, including their laborious design process and execution, and their subsequent role animating the early-1980s public debate over military technology. This understanding is crucial when evaluating the relative significance of organizational inertia in the Air Force’s air-to-air procurement decisions following Vietnam. Additionally, the aimval-aceval tests offer evidence of three pathologies that distinguish military tests from their typical civilian exemplars: military tests cannot be conducted independent of the service(s); the tests are generally inflexible and unreplicable; and their data are usually shrouded by classification concerns. These pathologies make it difficult to reconcile divergent interpretations and resolve controversies that emerge from military testing activities.

Affiliations: 1: PhD Candidate, Engineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building E40-261, Cambridge, ma 02139-4307 sfino@alum.mit.edu

10.1163/22134603-00201005
/content/journals/10.1163/22134603-00201005
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