🔷 Breaking Barriers

If you’re new around here, welcome to the club!

Long-time readers may remember this week’s topic—we do it every February. For those new to the club, you’re in for a treat. This week, in honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting a badass in fighter pilot history. If you read carefully, you might spot the multiple badasses we’ve highlighted this week.

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Credit: AI

Benjamin Davis Jr.

Benjamin O. Davis Jr. probably isn't a familiar name to most people, and that's a shame.

As the namesake son of the 1st black general in the Army, he definitely had a lot to live up to—and boy, did he!

Ben Davis Jr. helped transform the Air Force by breaking one barrier after another over decades. In fact, his accomplishments are so unbelievable that they sound made up; we have to bulletize his accomplishments because there are so many. Here’s how he started:

  • Attended West Point 1932-1936 as the sole African American

  • Spent 4 years racially isolated from his class-mates in hopes he would quit

  • Graduated in the top third of his class, becoming the 4th African American West Point alum (the first in 40+ years)

  • Commissioned as only the 3rd serving black officer in the Army

  • Wanted to fly, but was rejected from the Army Air Corps due to his race

  • Served in the infantry

Six years later, President Roosevelt ordered the military to create a black flying unit and unlocked Davis’ next level of awesomeness:

  • 1st African American to solo a US military aircraft

  • 1 of the first 4 African American fighter pilots

  • 1st combat commander of the 1st all-black fighter squadron (99th Pursuit Squadron)

  • Led the 1st black squadron to see combat (Operation Corkscrew)

  • Led as the 1st black group commander; his 332nd Fighter Group is more recognizable by its nickname The Red Tails

  • Led 67 missions in WWII, awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross

  • Led the plan to racially integrate the Air Force after President Truman’s 1948 executive order

  • 1st black fighter wing commander

  • Led the initiative to establish the Air Force Thunderbirds

  • 1st black Air Force brigadier general (1-star)

  • 1st black Air Force major general (2-star)

  • 1st black Air Force lieutenant general (3-star)

He retired in 1970 but in 1998 was promoted to 4-star general by President Clinton.

Do yourself a favor and fence off 10 minutes to watch this video about Ben Davis. Amazingly, he’s also responsible for establishing the Median Line that defines the separation of mainland China from the island of Taiwan and creating the nationwide 55mph speed limit during the 1970s oil crisis.

Someone needs to make a movie about this man—so we’ll continue to highlight Ben Davis Jr. every February until they do.

In That Number

$300 million

The first tranche of the Pentagon’s Replicator initiative is reportedly using $300 million of funds shifted from other accounts. Four different committees in Congress now have to approve the reprogramming request, or the whole plan to field thousands of drones to deter China in the next 18 months could be dead on arrival.


In the movie Red Tails, Colonel Ben Davis Jr. was portrayed by actor Terrance Howard. However, the character’s name used in the movie for the character was Colonel A.J. Bullard. Why?

A) The writing team made a mistake

B) There was already a “Davis” character and the writers didn’t want to confuse the audience

C) The name was based on inspiration, not historical accuracy

On the Radar

Increment 1 of the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program down-selects will occur in the next few months. In the running are 5 companies—Boeing, Lockheed, Northrup, General Atomics, and Anduril. The Air Force expects to cut the field to 2-3 companies for development—3 if there is industry cost-sharing since the Air Force can’t afford to fully fund 3 CCA providers for Increment 1. Eventually, this will lead to 1—and possibly 2—companies producing CCAs.

  • The Merge’s Take: Increment 1 is catching headlines, but Increment 2 of the CCA program is right behind it. The design contracts will be awarded in the next 7 months and are expected to follow a similar tiered down-select approach as Increment 1. Check out the CCA program patch.  

Boeing is still in price negotiations with the Air Force for the E-7 Wedgetail. The first 2 prototypes are being built under a $1.2B undefinitized contract action (UCA), which allows work to begin while hammering out details like terms and pricing.

  • The Merge’s Take: The issue sounds like Boeing originally assumed the US variant would be close to the UK E-7 being produced, but it’s now clear the two variants are more different than anticipated, and the additional non-recurring engineering is one of the sticking points. The clock is ticking: these prototypes are still under construction, yet the Air Force is supposed to field 26 Wedgetails in the next 8 years. Boeing and Northrop Grumman (radar-maker) are making plans to increase production, but that’s still no guarantee.

The Air Force announced its largest reorganization ever, with plans to implement the sweeping changes with a sense of urgency.

  • The Merge’s Take: This will be the legacy of Secretary Frank Kendell’s 50+ year career. For defense tech requirements and funding, that’s getting consolidated into the new Integrated Capabilities Command. Additionally, the Air Force is setting up the Office of Competitive Activities to coordinate classified programs and a new Program Assessment and Evaluation Office to provide common strategy and analytics for resourcing decisions.

The price of satellite data services has dropped 77% over the past few years, thanks to SpaceX’s aggressive development and deployment of 5,400+ high bandwidth low-latency Starlink satellites

  • The Merge’s Take: From the military perspective, the term to know is ‘Proliferated LEO.’ There are simply so many satellites, in so many regions, across so many frequency bands that it’s extremely resilient—unlike GPS. Do you even BLOS, bro?

They Said It
“I would love to have more EXs."

— Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, the Director of the Air National Guard, about the future role of the F-15EX and the possibility of procuring more beyond the reduced number of 104 jets currently planned.

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C. The name was inspired by a very real historical figure named Eugene Bullard. He was the first African-American military pilot in the world, the first African-American to score a kill, and the only African-American pilot in WWI. Bullard wasn’t allowed to fly in the US military because he was black, so he flew with the French as an American volunteer. His plane was painted with a daggered heart and outlined with “TOUT SANG QUI COULE EST ROUGE”—which translates to “ALL BLOOD RUNS RED.” Check out this picture of him and his plane.

OBTW, actor Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character in the same movie, Major Emanuel Stance, was also inspirational—named for the first African American soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the post-Civil War era.