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Airpower!

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I have a piece up at Real Clear Defense discussing the latest Air Force white paper:

Alex Ward of the Atlantic Council thinks the world of the Air Force’s new strategic white paper, A Call to the Future, suggesting that the document is the best of its kind. Contra Ward, I think that the white paper concentrates so much on the future that it ignores the present problems that will inevitably structure how the organization moves forward.

Addressed to “Airmen and Airpower Advocates,” America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future sounds a lot of familiar notes. It hypes the concept of “strategic agility,” a worthy contribution, but ends up defining the service’s contribution in reactive terms. A Call to the Future tackles procurement failures and speaks to the need for partnerships, but fails to contribute seriously to the most gripping procurement problem the Air Force currently faces – the F-35 – or to provide a framework for thinking about the failure of airpower partnerships in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, the legendary Bill Sweetman on Grounded (squee!):

It’s unlikely that the U.S. Air Force will be abolished in anyone’s lifetime, whatever University of Kentucky professor Robert Farley, author of Grounded—The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force, may think.

A few commentators have already raised the obvious issues: that the USAF already provides essential enablers to the Army and Navy, rather than being obsessed with bombers and independent airpower; that neither the Army nor the Navy would be well suited to take over things like space launch and operations, or airlift; and that not much money would actually be saved without eliminating entire missions.

But Farley’s book makes a bigger argument: that the case for an independent air force is based on the false assertion that airpower can win wars on its own. In doing so, the book exemplifies a toxic, and irrational skepticism toward airpower, and only airpower, which pervades some military thinking.

More on this one later.

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  • rea

    So, keep the Air Force, abolish, the Army, Navy and Marines, says Sweetman.

  • Sweetman’s piece is too short to support his suppositions; I’d like to see him & Farley debate.

  • cpinva

    is sweetman arguing that airpower alone can win wars? I must be misreading or misunderstanding what he wrote, because no one, with even a bare knowledge of airpower since wwI (and this would include me), would say something like that, and expect anyone else to find him credible.

    right?

    • Just a Rube

      I read it more as:

      -airpower alone can’t win wars, but that’s not sufficient reason to abolish the Air Force

      and

      -while the Air Force may have ideological blinders, an air force tied to some other branch would bring its own ideological blinders (he brought up specifically the Marines’ support for Prompt Global Strike, which he correctly notes is terrifyingly insane).

      • The issue is an independent AF. I don’t see why it’s needed. Air is auxiliary to land/sea combat.

        • Just a Rube

          Certainly. I just felt Sweetman’s counterargument should be fairly described; he does have some reasonable points.

          I’m honestly unsure about whether an independent AF is a good idea or not; I mainly wanted an excuse to poke fun at Prompt Global Strike, which is a terrible idea supported by lunatics and a former Marine general who was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  • Just a Rube

    As always, never read the comments on the linked article.

    • liberalrob

      Never get out of the boat…

  • wengler

    I think the Army could put things in space provided the government gives them the tools to do it. And then the spaceships themselves are naval vessels.

    • liberalrob

      Anybody can put something in space given the tools.

      Every Science Fiction story ever written defines spacecraft as fundamentally naval vessels. There has to be some logic behind that viewpoint.

      Also, there is no “air” in space…

  • efgoldman

    It would be worth abolishing the Air Force just to get that cesspit of an academy in Colorado Springs closed.

    • joe from Lowell

      The Legendary Bill Sweetman really doesn’t like Clausewitz.

      I’m not sure what this has to do with Farley.

      • liberalrob

        I read his objection as being that Clausewitz is so 19th-century (18th, really). How can anyone who had no conception of modern airpower have anything useful to say about it?

        Nobody tell him about Sun Tzu, he’d have an aneurysm.

  • joe from Lowell

    You know what would really demonstrate a belief in strategic agility?

    Buying a bunch of low, slow, cheap, multi-purpose planes.

    It’s a good thing we spent all that money to replace the F/A-18. Those totally suck, and aren’t flexible at all.

    • I’m waiting for the first group to have a drone air force. Some country (or whatever Blackwater is calling itself these days) will build a few dozen low slow single purpose (maybe even single use) planes. The computing power to run them is available in the average smartphone. After that, it’s a matter of programming an autopilot and picking a target. It wouldn’t necessarily be cheap, but it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than a conventional air force.

      • liberalrob

        And probably a hell of a lot more effective at accomplishing most modern missions. You don’t need multi-million-dollar supersonic jets to perform ground attack. If Amazon can deliver packages accurately with cheap drones, so could the Army.

  • liberalrob

    I haven’t read the book so perhaps you’ve already addressed it, but I think the primary obstacle to abolishing the Air Force would be political, not doctrinal. Once a bureaucracy is established it’s very hard to un-establish it.

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