01 November 2007

That's Two

The American Prospect argues for abolishing the Air Force, an argument that the Secret Blog has also made. Hard to imagine this juggernaut being stopped....


Susan's Husband said...

I find it interesting that air superiority is mentioned exactly once in a long article about the Air Force and even then in an off hand manner. While the author is correct that strategic bombing is no longer (if it was ever) an important capability, air superiority is absolutely critical to modern warfare. That the author basically ignored what is (IMHO) the most important function of a modern Air Force, I have some doubts (despite his agreement with you) about how straight his rhetoric is.

What might make sense, though, is to shift all in atmosphere operations to the Army / Navy / Marines and recast the Air Force as the Space Force, responsible for out of atmospheric operations.

Anonymous said...

Those armchair generals, always preparing for the last war.

Peter Burnet said...

Super idea. We'll get on it just as soon as we've finshed winding down NATO.

David said...


I don't read him as saying that air superiority isn't necessary. Quite the contrary, I think he would agree that it is necessary because of all the advantages it gives ground troops and the surface navy. What he is saying, and what is clearly true outside of general war, is that saturation bombing, as an end in itself, is a bad tactic. This is so obviously true in counter-insurgency operations that not even the air force is suggesting that we carpet bomb Iraq or Iran.

joe shropshire said...

The thing about capital weapons is that if you ever need to use them in earnest you are in heaps of trouble, so whatever the arms race is at the moment, you have to win it. Also, the capital weapon of the day isn't the B-52; rather it's the GPS constellation, and the F-15E that it downlinks to. So the whole "no need for carpet bombing" argument is both true and the same argument the Air Force has been making for the last 25 years at least. And you're taking a, ahem, bold risk if you're trusting the Army to spend its first dollar to stay abreast of the next Chinese UCAV. Edward Luttwauk used to make the same sorts of points all the time (he was all for a United States Defense Forces, modelled on the IDF) but he also used to patiently explain that there is no substitute for a broad-based effort, and that you never ever cede the high ground. I doubt the Prospect cares very much for the second part of that argument.

Beppo said...

The government is going to piss money down its leg on something. Why not have it be something cool like the Air Force? Would you rather it spent the money on socialized medicine like some other people that want to abolish the military?

David said...

I'm all for the government pissing our money away on cool weapons that we never have to use. I'm not aware of any evidence that the Army isn't perfectly capable of doing so.

I'm against socialized medicine. I'm amused by the fact that people on both sides think that the difference between Canadian health care (75% paid for by the government) and US health care (45% paid for by the government) is (i) solely the result of that fact and (ii) an important question of principal.

joe shropshire said...

The argument is that the Army will piss your money away on weapons that it will have to use. Also, by the Prospect's calculus we should be abolishing the Navy right along with the Air Force. After all, no SSBN has ever fired even one of its ballistic missiles at a real target.

Susan's Husband said...

I don't read him as saying air superiority isn't necessary, as well, and I didn't claim that.

My comment was about the very short shrift he gave the subject, which (since saturation bombing is de facto off the table) is the most important mission for an air force. Do you not find it odd that the subject doesn't rate more than a sentence in an article discussing the USAF and its mission?

David said...

But air superiority, in context, is ground support if we assume that the mainland US hasn't be invaded.

Susan's Husband said...

What, in that broad a context, isn't ground support? Or is your view that air superiority can be achieved with the same aircraft and doctrine as other ground support?

My view is that the author avoid discussing this point because it creates a mission for the USAF and he wants to avoid that. It seems more than a little disingenuous.

I am not claiming that the Army couldn't conduct air superiority missions should the USAF be eliminated, but that avoiding that discussion requires a very large rug and broom.

Hey Skipper said...

First, pay attention to why the AF became a separate service in the first place. (Hint: it had everything to do with airpower being held in thrall to the Army's ground combat concerns. See Operation Torch.)

Second, what do you think the odds are that, had the Army retained control of airpower, they would have developed anything other than an endless succession of A-10s? Similarly, in what possible reality would the Navy develop an air capability that extended beyond the littoral?

Each realm of warfare imposes its own constraints. The army simply cannot, nor should it, think in terms much beyond troops in contact. The Navy cannot think beyond the oceans and the littoral. The Air Force must think globally, but also cannot think in terms much beyond speed and transience.

Asserting, as this author does, that the Army and Navy can accomplish the Air Force's roles and missions is as bald a piece of ahistorical nonsense I have recently had the misfortune of reading. As just one example, the Navy's air combat performance during Desert Storm was considerably inferior to the Air Force's. The Navy, because its institutional focus is ocean based warfare, had paid nowhere near the attention the AF had paid to precision guided munitions.

(As it happens, Cornerstones of Information Warfare, which I wrote, discusses the realms of warfare.)

What he is saying, and what is clearly true outside of general war, is that saturation bombing, as an end in itself, is a bad tactic.

He is tossing much more than that in his intellectual blender. He admixes Rolling Thunder (while ignoring the historical lessons of interdiction) and the strategic bombing campaign (while completely ignoring precision munitions for which the Air Force was responsible), all the while assuming that no one learned anything from the violence WWII perpetrated upon Giulio Douhet's airpower theories.

SH is correct that Farley gave air supremacy very short shrift, and Farley compounds that error by not even mentioning mobility or force projection.

It makes no more sense to abolish the AF than it does the Navy or the Army.

Yes, the redundancies are wasteful. But there is no substitute for the competition inherent in a three (and a half) service arrangement.

And absolutely no way of vitiating the tyranny of realm characteristics upon institutional thinking. (Which argues, perhaps, for a completely separate service specializing in Information Warfare ...)