Lightning in a Bottle: How Air Force Culture Contained the Rise and Fall of the AQM-34 Lightning Bug
SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIR AND SPACE STUDIES, AIR UNIVERSITY MAXWELL AFB United States
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Unmanned aircraft have been part of the military arsenal for almost a century. Currently unmanned technology have garnered high visibility within the civilian political realm and become a force multiplier for military combatant commanders. The acceptance and promotion of remotely piloted vehicles RPVs has ebbed and flowed depending on the political, fiscal, and military landscapes. The Lightning Bug was one highly useful iteration of unmanned aircraft. These aircraft began as simple reconnaissance platforms designed for the Cold War against the Soviet Union but morphed into a vital tool in the limited nature of Vietnam. However, despite the tactical, operational, and strategic effects the Lightning Bugs had during the Vietnam War, soon after the conflict ended the Air Force turned its back on the technology. This study analyzes the major influences that led to the rise and fall of the Lightning Bug. The assessment first sets the context by looking at the dominance of Strategic Air Command SAC in the 1950s and 1960s, which created a culture of prestige and power. Next, the paper looks at Tactical Air Command TAC during the same periods and the struggles the command faced with relevance and identity. Third, the author looks at how the Vietnam War set the stage for TACs assumption of dominance within the Air Force. Finally, this paper tackles how the cultural battle of two commands influenced the rise and demise of the Lightning Bug program. This paper is a testament to the importance of culture as its influence pervades all aspects of an organization including decision-making.
- Pilotless Aircraft