Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do We Really Need an Air Force?

No bureaucracy advocates for its own dismemberment, but since I’m not a member of the Air Force I feel quite comfortable doing just that.

But first, some thoughts on the sea, the land, and the air:

Last week we discussed Seapower. Control of the sea is a tangible thing – you can ship what you want (from soldiers to toys) to where you want, and in wartime deny your enemy such luxuries. And while you cannot possess the sea in the same way you possess territory, you can control it in a similar fashion. Control of the air is less tangible and frankly, less useful, than controlling the land or the sea.
People live on the ground (duh, I promise this train of thought is going somewhere). Wars are political and politics takes place on the ground. The focus of the war has to be the ground in some fashion. Never has a war been fought solely in the air, for control of the air. The air war is always subservient to, and intimately tied to, the ground war.
Air superiority is an outdated measure of excellence. I do not mean to discount the use of flying machines to move troops and supplies – but rather to make the argument that aircraft as a primary means of fighting a war is outdated. The days of the dogfight are done, for now. And the closest possible candidates to resume air-to-air combat are phenomenally far behind in capability.
One of the benefits of airpower is its ability to remove friendly lives from danger, while delivering destruction in neatly wrapped packages. The problem is that this capability doesn’t suit the brand of wars we find ourselves in at the moment – namely COIN operations. And COINOPS (unrelated to Cyclops) appear to many bright minds to be the wars of the foreseeable future.
Our military forces are in a difficult predicament – they must be able to fight today’s wars and be ready for the wars of tomorrow. There is a mystical balancing point between ability to fight today and projection as to what will be needed in the future.

With all that in mind, here is my modest proposal:

1.      Dismantle the Air Force as we know it.
2.      Redistribute components of the USAF between the Army and the Navy

Though this proposal is a fantasy, and will never even be considered, I'll press forward.
The benefits include:

1.      Less bureaucracy – when the Army needs a bomb, it calls the Army – not a separate branch.
2.      More Connectedness –Airpower is primarily in support of the battle on the ground. If it is controlled by those fighting on the ground they may be better suited to developing capabilities more useful to that space.
3.      Less squabbling – the Army won’t have to fight with the Army over who gets to fly helicopters and who gets to fly fixed-wing aircraft. The Army will take responsibility for aircraft with ground-focused abilities – bombers, UAVs, transport. The Navy will take responsibility for air-to-air capabilities as well as aircraft focused on defeating Naval targets.
4.      Less duplication of efforts – The Navy will be the only branch with fighter-jets and take over the quest for air superiority in terms of air-to-air. The Army and Navy would likely both have bomber aircraft and in the event of a war in the littoral may have to coordinate on some level with ground forces (if ground forces are needed beyond the Marines)
5.      Potentially better for the budget - Saving on buying the same aircraft for the Air Force and the Navy by just buying the F-35 just for the Navy.

I’m positive there are serious flaws in this argument, but it was an entertaining thought-exercise. I hope to have provoked a response from someone in the ether. How would you better arrange military forces to meet the needs of today and likely foes of the future?

No comments: