View Full Version : Understanding Airpower: Bonfire of the Fallacies

12-07-2008, 05:22 PM
Found this gem on another forum:

Understanding Airpower: Bonfire of the Fallacies by Colin S. Gray (http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/ssq/2008/Winter/gray.pdf)

A great balanced paper on the capabilities and limitations of airpower.

This study rests upon two vital assumptions, both of them anathema to post-modern minds. First, it believes that historical truth can be found, or at least approached. Second, it believes in the utility of ambitious theory. The discussion here flatly rejects the proposition that “history” simply comprises competing “fables” told by historians with interests and attitudes.

Similarly, it dismisses almost out-of-hand the belief that one theory is worth about as much as any other, which is not very much. This analysis seeks to find plausibly verifiable truth and, as a consequence, to identify error, the “fallacies” in the secondary title. To understand airpower, most especially American airpower, is a task imbued with high significance for national and international security. But, this task is harassed and frequently frustrated by both unsound history and incompetent theorizing. The problem is that those who debate airpower typically seek the history that they can use to advantage, not the history that strives honestly to be true. As for the theory of airpower, it never did take off safely; it continues to fly in contested skies or to taxi indecisively on the runway. No single short study can aspire to correct for 90 years of poor history and shoddy theory, but it can at least make a start.

The hunter who seeks to find and slay fallacies about airpower finds himself in a target-rich environment. Paradoxically and ironically, airpower’s most forceful advocates, from the time of Billy Mitchell (1920s) to the present, also have served as its worst enemies. The prime loser has been US national security.

Read it all, some sacred cows get slain, both for groundpounders and airpower advocates.

Ken White
12-07-2008, 06:35 PM
Rarely do I read a paper by a civilian strategist with which I do not have rabid disagreements; this one is an exception. He's pretty much correct in my view.

He makes two notable statements:
"...But, those politicians need to understand that in wars where airpower cannot be the dominant tool in the military tool bag, the United States may well prove to be fatally short of the means and methods essential for sufficient strategic advantage. When airpower leads, which is to say in regular warfare, the battlespace is healthily tilted, probably precipitously, in America’s favor."
. . .

"...the US Army and Navy. The former noble institution, today and in the future, more and more must be the supporting, rather than the supported, force in regular conventional warfare. In warfare against insurgents, the reverse is true."I agree with the former with the caveats that the word 'fatally' is simply a probability and not a necessity, insuring that it is not fatal is up to us...

The second caveat is that even in regular warfare with airpower 'leading,' it is not omnipotent nor can it be. He effectively says in the body of the paper that it cannot be then puts that statement in his summation. That could lead to confusion...

The second quoted statement is generally correct in my experience and observation. I think that's a mild cautionary to a couple of more vocal occasional posters hereabout -- from both directions... :D

12-08-2008, 12:17 AM
...much of a religious man, but....


Great piece. We're gonna need a big freezer for all that fresh beef....

12-08-2008, 01:18 AM
Even only a very cursory skimming of Gray's piece reveals it to be a remarkable little piece. Great stuff.

Then again, it is by Colin S. Gray, after all.:D

Ken White
12-08-2008, 04:27 AM
I was about to become worried enough to get a couple of Pats to come look for you... ;)

12-08-2008, 02:10 PM
Just read the new issue of the Air and Space Power Journal (http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj08/win08.htm) and some more cows get slaughtered:

To begin with is this interesting article arguing that the AF should make CAS it's basic function and not counter-air:

Editorial Abstract: Today’s war on terror requires the Air Force to employ all of its varied weapons effects for engaging in this fight. To do so, the author suggests that the service must make the support of US ground forces its tactical thrust by ensuring availability of the effects of combined arms. He proposes that the Air Force can realize that goal by fielding mission-specialized equipment, using the appropriate aerial platform, properly organizing core units, and integrating training.

The meat of the piece:

The traditional mind-set with regard to Air Force missions is that air superiority enables all other missions. Without air superiority, other roles (e.g., interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses [SEAD], or CAS) become difficult, if not impossible, to execute. Hence, the Air Force has emphasized the development and fielding of specialized air superiority fighters, most recently the F-15A, F-15C, and F-22A. The Air Force developed this group of aircraft and trained its pilots to do one thing: destroy enemy aircraft in aerial combat.

All of the Air Force’s other fighter-based roles were levied on the other group of fighter aircraft. Although capable of using air-to-air weaponry, these platforms were expected to execute the other Air Force roles, such as interdiction, offensive counterair (OCA), SEAD, nuclear strike, FAC(A), and CAS. Aircraft in this second grouping often performed multiple roles. For example, the F-16C is, or was at one time, expected to perform all of the above functions.


I suggest a change to the Air Force’s mind-set. We should stop viewing air-to-air assets as the priority and focusing their capabilities on a single role while allowing other “nonspecialized” aircraft to handle all other fighter-based tactical roles. Instead, we should reverse the situation by elevating the CAS and FAC(A) (close-support) roles to paramount importance

No surprise this was written by an A-10 pilot! I think he makes some very good points, but his overall analysis is flawed. The main problem is that I don't agree with the "either-or" nature of the argument. The implication is that one needs to gut dedicated fighters in order to ensure there is adequate dedicated CAS. Why can't the AF have a dedicated fighter and a dedicated CAS aircraft (an A-10 follow-on) and why can't the mindset change to where air superiority and CAS are coequal?

Regardless, a very interesting read and good food for thought.

Edit: Oh, and there's this article too (http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj08/win08/maue.html), which calls for ending the aviator continuation pay bonus program! That's gonna make some people unhappy!

12-08-2008, 04:28 PM
I was about to become worried enough to get a couple of Pats to come look for you... ;)

I'm armed, dangerous, and have a beer fridge full of booze, and I'm not afraid to use it (the contents of said beer fridge that is...).;)

Work, amongst other things (but on a break now - finally:mad:).

Entropy wrote:

Just read the new issue of the Air and Space Power Journal (http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj08/win08.htm) and some more cows get slaughtered:

To begin with is this interesting article arguing that the AF should make CAS it's basic function and not counter-air:

What that article is proposing is not just about slaughtering sacred cows; it's about turning the entire AF into hamburger. While I have to admit to a certain level of satisfaction with the author's observations and proposals (but, these feelings are wrong...), I have some doubts. In my dream world I would still like to see the Army taking over CAS, tactical air transport, and a few other things, and let the AF do the whole Air Defence bit (excepting tactical/low-level AD for the Army), strategic airlift, and the like. Intriguing article, though. Sort of fits in some ways with Gray's latest piece.

12-09-2008, 01:22 AM
Read it all, some sacred cows get slain, both for groundpounders and airpower advocates.

Tattoo that on your Brain when you read it. In his final conclusion and his restatement of the fallacies as they should be, not much really changes at all. Read his original piece he talks about that the Air Force commissioned him to do.

12-10-2008, 09:15 PM
Sorry, I was lazy. When I first joined this forum, I had been out of factory work for months and occupied some of my time actually researching and thinking, so during my first few months here I had done my homework at least part of the time before I spoke up - and then I found new work, and got progressively intellectually lazy. Still, no excuse, especially since I'm on temporary lay-off right now (it took its sweet time coming) and have no excuse for not taking the time to do my homework before shooting from the lip. I do stand corrected.