My question for the US Air Force: Why?

Call me an amateur airpower interlocutor, but when I see the pilgrimmage of the blue-suited horde to the annual convention of the Air Force Association at the Wardman Park Hotel this week, I want to ask the pilgrims with the stars on their shoulders and the self-satisfied smiles of ex-fighter jocks a few fundamental questions, and those questions are these:

Why is that — 60 years after the air force was born — so many people are still struggling to define just what in the wild blue yonder is an air force supposed to, you know, do?

Is airpower applied in isolation of a combined arms strategy really a contradiction of the term “power”?

How more or less effective would the US Army be today if its air arm was never allowed to separate and develop its standalone theories of airpower?

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6 Responses to My question for the US Air Force: Why?

  1. doc75 23 September, 2007 at 8:04 pm #

    Imagine asking this same question right after the first Gulf War or after Operation Allied Force where ground forces played minor roles. Just because we are in the middle of an insurgency war doesn’t invalidate the purpose of a separate Air Force or Navy. If you bring the Air Force back under the fold of the Army, you’ll see airpower restricted to nothing but close air support.

    Now what you should complain to the Air Force about is their inability to control requirements creep in SPACE systems leading to astronomical (pun intended) cost growth.

  2. Stephen Trimble 23 September, 2007 at 9:06 pm #

    Just because land forces played minor roles doesn’t necessarily mean that airpower played the decisive role in either of the two campaigns you mentioned. I’m also dubious that either campaign makes a convincing case that a separate air arm is needed to run an air war.

    In those campaigns and any other that I’m aware of, the use of airpower as a standalone capability against enemy centers of gravity have never alone proven as decisive as airpower theoreticians would predict.

  3. Stephen Trimble 24 September, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    Nice one, Otto. I’ll keep that in mind.

  4. doc75 25 September, 2007 at 12:38 am #

    Steven, I didn’t say that airpower alone was decisive. It’s been a long time since land power alone was decisive (like World War I). I notice you don’t have the same feelings about the Navy. OK, its AFA week not Navy League week so bear with me. Few people believe you can effectively employ military power without an independent navy or at least a navy in a truly joint military like the IDF. So, why concede the air domain and give back to the Army. The Army never, never would have allowed air power to become as much of an asymmetric advantage as it has become. Remember, many of the tenets of airpower aren’t doctrinally correct in the Army. And, in the Army doctrine (ie. process) is everything.

  5. Outlaw 13 25 September, 2007 at 9:12 pm #

    ” If you bring the Air Force back under the fold of the Army, you’ll see airpower restricted to nothing but close air support.”

    That would almost be preferable to the short shrift CAS receives today. They (USAF) talk a good game but when it’s put up or shut up time in the “box” it’s hard to get a whole lot of fixed wing assets on the target. The guys who do make it work their butts off, and they are good at what they do…but they don’t generate too many sorties where I’m at.

    The reason the Army has so many Attack Helicopters is because it can’t get enough CAS from the people who are supposed to provide it. As an Army aviator, I know that if they could the Army would shed us in a New York minute if they could…if the USAF did it’s job. Thank God they don’t or I wouldn’t have a pair of wings and 5000 hours of flight time.

  6. Jimmy Wu 26 September, 2007 at 7:54 pm #

    Doc,

    If the Army was free to develop its own tactical aviation wing, it would not necessarily have focused on CAS.

    In the 1980s when the military was spending acquisition money like there was no tomorrow, field artillery invested a lot of money on “Deep Attack” capabilities, specifically to take care of the “Battlefield Interdiction” target set. (MLRS, ATACMS, and the cluster munitions) If you recall, Battlefield Interdiction was also where the Air Force focused its money on (Pave Tack, F-15E, cruise missiles).

    Similarly, the AH-63/64 program was also focusing on the Battlefield Interdiction targets, which gave us the helicopter ambush doctrine.

    So if the Army took back the Air Force, the battlefield interdiction mission will not go away. Army would have just slapped some armor on the F-15Es so they can do CAS, too :)

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