Monday, March 20, 2017

Grounded: The Air Force, Efficiency, and Military's "sacred cows"

The premise of Dr. Farley's book, Grounded, sounds rather provocative if you only read the glib descriptions given by websites who have reviewed the book.  The premise is that the Air Force should be abolished, and that the branch is an example of institutional redundancy.  It would be much more cost effective to delegate the responsibilities of air power between the Army and Navy.  If one takes the time to listen to the author in interviews and reads the actual contents, such a suggestion might not be as provocative as it sounds.  The interest in the topic stemmed from a repeated pattern of behavior observed between the different branches of the military after nearly all major conflicts, where they (Army, Navy, Air Force) would either insist that their particular branch take all the credit, or they would brush off the failure onto each other.  This rivalrous trichotomy has led to such ego fragility as the Air Force trying to control the use of drones.  The Air Force was never fond of the idea of drones, as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates writes in his memoir, but out of doctrinal devotion to their branch as the sole arbiter of air power, they fought to have charge over drone deployment.

Dr. Farley very effectively answers such questions such as why he is singling out the Air Force, and is he really suggesting a unibranch service?  The answer is that the Army and Navy complete their own distinct tasks, and some competition is healthy, as long as it is over substantive policy.  Often, is is during peacetime we see these multiple branches begin to stake their claims of unique capabilities  and indispensability to the Defense apparatus, and air power theory is particularly enthusiastic about the independence of the Air Force.

The genesis of the Air Force in 1947 was partially encouraged and lobbied by aviation enthusiasts and others who were besotted with the Amelia Earhart romanticism of air travel.  Dr. Farley suggests that the USAF isn't simply anachronistic, it was not necessary in the first place.  The superiority complex found consistently throughout intellectual discourse from the Air Force has long been the impetus behind the perceived sanctity and invincibility of Air Power, a notion that Farley says has been proven false myriad of times in the post-WWII era.  Air power is integral to the success of almost any modern military operation, but it has been almost 70 years since the USAF founders said we wouldn't need naval warfare because of the strength of the Air Force.  A 70 year transition suggests that the original assumption might have been flawed, and based on Dr. Farley's description of the reaction he has received, many military personnel consider an institutional consolidation such as this to be a worthy idea.

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