Underneath is the realization that, when the primary potential adversary of the U.S. is spending as much effort on developing long-range missiles designed to kill aircraft carriers as it is on developing aircraft carriers of its own, the era of Top Gun diplomacy is over.
Cheap isn't elegant, but it can still be deadly
The only thing that will fit in that bill is an arsenal of smaller, cheaper fighting machines that are less wasteful of human life and far simpler to develop, maintain and operate than the sexy, flashy fighters that have formed the public image and first-response option for the U.S. military for three quarters of a century.
So rather than Iceman and Maverick lighting up the skies at Mach 2, firing missiles and homoerotic comments in all directions, poky, odd-looking drones circle endlessly until they spot their targets.
It's too expensive and too logistically difficult to deal with every international crisis by sending in mission-resource packages thick with stealthy electronic countermeasure platforms, racy fighters, sleek bombers and more refueling planes than any single military action should really require.
Instead, unsexy little R/C planes, the ones real pilots call "toys," semi-autonomous robotic drones no one really likes but many are coming to fear, will destroy the target with a carefully placed missile, or cannon fire or, if the budgeting issues become really dire, by precision-bombing terrorist leaders with a big rock.