Retired Vice Adm Robert Dunn remembers being called to the Secretary of the Navy’s office. It was 1989 and the US Navy was still at the peak of its Cold War, 600-ship glory. Defence spending, however, was already in decline and the navy’s top civilian, Henry Garrett, had a tough decision to make. As deputy chief of naval operations for aviation, Dunn’s portfolio included two projects for a carrier-based, long-range strike aircraft – a re-engined Grumman A-6E Intruder called the A-6F – and a far more ambitious project called the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II.
“We can’t afford the A-12 and the A-6F,” Garrett told Dunn. “Which one do you want?” “I think we better go with the A-12 because that is going to be a more capable aircraft,” Dunn said. Almost 22 years on, however, Dunn says: “In retrospect, I don’t know if it was good advice or not.” In fairness, there were few options. An era of naval aviation was coming to a close. In 1989, navy leaders could choose between two projects for a long-range strike aircraft; by the end of the next decade there were no such projects in development or anything similar in service.