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Slap Shots 

Wednesday, Apr 16 1997
Cows From the Wild Blue Yonder
With the closing of Alameda Naval Air Station this April 25 and an already deserted Presidio and Treasure Island, as well as the decommissioning of Fort Ord farther south, our national defense presence in Northern California is fast approaching that of Huck Finn with a slingshot. In plain terms, we are wide open for an enemy attack from the Pacific, whether they're out to steal our Twinkie-owned sourdough bread or level what's left of our freeway.

But what about the defenders of liberty elsewhere in the United States? How are they faring with drastic cuts in military spending? Are they watching nervously over their shoulders for the fall of the budget ax? At this moment, in the middle of a Midwest winter, at least one branch of the service is adjusting to downsizing the best it can. The top minds in the Air Force are sending one another e-mail messages about using cows as military weapons.

An internal memo titled "An Exciting New Air-Ground Weapons Idea," crafted by the bored weapons and tactics experts of a USAF bomb squadron, broaches the concept of using live cattle as bombardment ordnance, based on an alleged news report of a recent incident off the coast of Japan. A search of news databases turned up no such report, but Air Force e-mail describes this supposed scenario: Sailors clinging to the wreckage of a sunken Japanese trawler were questioned and, to a man, all insisted that in the middle of a clear blue day, a cow had fallen from the skies and landed on their vessel, shattering the hull and sinking it within minutes. According to this version of the alleged news report, the men were immediately imprisoned and kept in the clink for several weeks, until the Russian air force sheepishly came forth and admitted that yes, it was probably one of their cows.

Supposedly, the crew of a Russian cargo plane found a bovine wandering around a Siberian airfield, stole the critter, forced it into the hold of their plane, and took off. Unfortunately the aircraft was not equipped to handle a live animal, especially an angry, confused, half-ton animal. To prevent a crash, the crew shoved the stupid, rampaging beast out of the cargo hold, approximately 30,000 feet above the aforementioned trawler, which was innocently chugging its way through the Sea of Japan.

After the memo summarizes -- rather tersely -- this purported and perhaps apocryphal tragedy at sea, one boredom-fighting U.S.A. flyboy has eagerly attached his addendum:

"Editorial Comment: Some days are just not as good as others. However, this could be the threshold of a whole new generation of anti-ship weapons. They are relatively cheap, sustainable, reasonable shelf life, and little if any test equipment required. On the down side, ballistics would clearly be a challenge, and without GPS updates the CEP could be excessive. The Navy would clearly argue that even with 'precision cows,' airpower could never sink a battleship."

Another member of the bomber squadron has added his opinion:
"B-52 Editorial Comment: This sounds like an internal-only weapon. Probably way too much drag for external carriage, not to mention that the average cow is much too heavy to carry on a MAU-12 ejector rack. Sounds like an excellent 'reuse' opportunity for the now otherwise orphaned MHU-29C single-carriage clip-in racks. ... Perhaps a useful application in the XCAS, XAI or XINT types of missions being proposed for B-52Hs ... CBU-87s external and cattle internal! Toss ... Steaks Away, off wet!"

Now, for those with pencils and paper ready: GPS stands for Global Positioning System, a method of guiding movements of objects using satellites. CEP stands for Circular Error of Probability; that is, a measure of the accuracy of a weapon. A MAU-12 ejector rack is a rack that carries bombs, mounted outside the plane. MHU-29C single-carriage clip-in racks are racks that carry bombs inside the belly of a B-52. XCAS, XAI, and XINT are code names of actual Air Force missions. CBU-87 refers to a cluster bomb unit containing many small bombs that fan out over a target in a clamshell pattern. Toss is an acronym for Trajectory Offset Scoring System, a camera on a bomb training range that watches bombs as they hit the ground and scores the accuracy of the results. Steaks Away refers to the ordnance used, in this case live beef on-the-hoof. Off wet is an extension of bomber pilot lingo; i.e., "off dry" designates bombs that have been dumped over land, "off hot" means the plane is still armed with bombs that have not been dumped, "off clean" means the bomb load has been emptied. In this instance, someone has made up the term "off wet" to suggest the bomb load has been dumped over a body of water, and is a phrase that does not exist in official USAF parlance.

Sleep tight, America -- even with a drastically trimmed defense budget, this combination of resourceful minds and unlimited natural artillery will guarantee we have nothing to fear.

Address all correspondence to: Slap Shots, c/o SF Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8152; e-mail:

By Jack Boulware

About The Author

Jack Boulware


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