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Thread: America's Asymmetric Advantage

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    Default America's Asymmetric Advantage

    In this article (http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/09/2009013), the author advocates airpower. Having read many of your observations in the past, I am interested in reading any responses to this.

    It appears as if he is arguing for some form of "air control" policy like the Brits used between the world wars. On the other hand, he does states that we are unlikely to engage in Iraq-style nation-building, so airpower is the answer. Maybe an argument for sticking with punitive operations?

    In any event, he certainly does not seem to see the utility of land-power and even states his belief of no need for an Army and a Marine Corps (which the former Marine in me finds blasphemous). Anyway, I look forward to your comments.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    I would say that this is a rehash of the standard Air Force party line. The Air Force has yet to come to terms with the fact that not every nation or national actor is going to have a military-industrial complex that can be targeted by air power. He also ignores the fact that aircraft losses are extremely expensive (at $2 billion or so a copy, how many B-2s will the Air Force really hazard?) and that losses of six or seven high-value air assets will halt an air campaign.

    Air power cannot engage in nation building. It cannot block a supply line that does not depend on trucks or highly-developed roads. It failed to do so in Vietnam, and has also failed to do so in Iraq. The AF does not like situations that it can't control, so it tries to avoid them.

    You cannot engage in purely punitive operations and then walk away. There is a certain moral obligation to fix what you break, or help create the end state that you desire, once you engage in such operations. Just because the AF doesn't want to do that doesn't mean that the obligation ceases to exist.

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    I am a huge proponent of air power -- persistant ISR, precision fires (usually guided by ground guys), give the US a strategic advantage no ememy can match. But the author -- an AF JAG (instant creditability loss in my eyes) -- conveniently overlooks numerous shortcomings of air power. He cites the killing of AMZ as a major air power success, but doesn't mention (or realize) that that op never would have happened had it not been for a boat load of folks on the ground who rolled up folks over a period of several months to gather the intel to put the ordnance on target.

    And this:
    The relative sterility of air power — which the boots-on-the-ground types oddly find distressing as somehow unmartial — nevertheless provides greater opportunity for the discreet application of force largely under the control of well-educated, commissioned officer combatants.
    is just pompous BS, and discounts the fine enlisted combat controllers we have.

    I do think he makes a valid point about the all volunteer force and the fact that we will probably never be able to employ the numbers of troops on the ground we had in previous wars.
    Last edited by pcmfr; 10-05-2006 at 06:52 PM.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pcmfr View Post

    is just pompous BS, and discounts the fine enlisted combat controllers we have.
    I would also say that's a pretty big swipe at the many WOs who fly Army helicopters.

    I was just reading back through a paper by H.R. McMaster (Crack in the Foundation), and he makes some pretty telling and very valid points about the Air Force's almost dream-like state when it comes to the "transparent battlefield."

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    Default follow up

    First, thank you for the comments. Just a question or two.

    Blair says: You cannot engage in purely punitive operations and then walk away. There is a certain moral obligation to fix what you break, or help create the end state that you desire, once you engage in such operations.

    Please explain. Where does this obligation comes from? From the limited reading I've done, it would seem that punitive operations have been the norm for many years (e.g. the British Empire). In resorting to a moralistic argument, whose morals do we use? I'm not trying to be quarrelsome, I just want to understand the thinking. I've read a few articles advocating a desire to do away with the "you break it -you bought it" theory.

    pcmfr says: the author -- an AF JAG (instant creditability loss in my eyes)

    Please explain. The argument seemed well-reasoned (I'm withholding opinion, afterall that's why I sought input) and I've read many articles cited by this council from non-operators and even non-military authors.

    Thanks for the input and I hope to receive more.

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    Council Member RTK's Avatar
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    "The relative sterility of air power ó which the boots-on-the-ground types oddly find distressing as somehow unmartial ó nevertheless provides greater opportunity for the discreet application of force largely under the control of well-educated, commissioned officer combatants. "

    I refer back to David Kilcullen's 28 Articles: Rank means nothing; talent is everything.

    Additionally, David Galula would argue that it's pretty damned tough to conduct the civil-military operations that take 80% of your time in a COIN environment from 30,000 feet.

    I have a hard time believing that a Major General is basing his argument off of the fact that he doesn't forsee another rebuilding effort like Iraq in the future. More proof that certain elements of leadership are completely out of touch with reality.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    The Air Force is scared to death that the general public will find out how bad they have been ripped off with expensive planes. It is the age of the guided missile!! From the Stinger's to an ICBM. And they should "not" be under the control of the Air force but the Army. Missiles are long range artillery, not an airplane!

    It is wasteful to spend all that money on planes when it can be done with missiles. They are better,cheaper and safer. Not only that but the D3A (CARVER)targeting process is better and easier to understand then what is being passed for EBO.

    I lived in Orlando,Fl. during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and It was the deployment of Army missiles all around south Florida that had as much to do with them giving in as the Naval blockade (which was a good idea). I saw what Army Missile power can do, they would have hit Cuba before the planes could have even be started. This was a very scary time. Since that time the Army has been systematically stripped of the missile artillery it needs to have to support it's land elements, defend the American homeland from air attack and protect USMC elements operating far inland if they need to.

    The Army should declare war on the air force and take back the missiles, and with the help of a few good Marines (Infantry)America will be protected again.

    I don't know what logo will end up on the SWC coin but we should send him one or two so he can get the education that he did not receive in college.

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    Default Undecided

    My conspiracy theory is that this paper is a timely spin piece on air power not focused on the military community, but focused on Congress (dollars). It is timely in that Iraq is becoming ever more unpopular, midterm elections are looming, new and old Congressmen next Spring will have to offer alternatives to "staying the course", so unfortunately this article may sell to the intended audience for all the wrong reasons.

    But looking past that, there are some merits to this article (not much). Air power is our asymmetric edge, and I donít think that can be argued. It currently gives us battlefield dominance in almost all kinetic situations. It is best applied in conjunction with other joint forces, but it can be applied effectively unilaterally to execute punitive raids. I canít argue that, nor can I argue that not all small wars, conflicts, etc. require us to obligate our nation to execute FID/COIN, which is not only expensive economically, it almost always is costly politically (we lose consensus and unity) and morally (we start on moral high ground, but over time our position degrades to the point where we are fighting to get back on the moral high ground as we're portrayed as occupiers and the source of all problems for that particular nation). We should never sign up for COIN lightly, because we are putting our national reputation on line in by engaging in a situation where it is very hard to effect a positive outcome. That means we still require the ability to execute punitive type strikes without buying the country and signing on for nation building as a viable option. Air power permits that at a limited cost (planes are expensive, but so is moving and sustaining a BDE of soldiers). What the article failed to mention (not surprisingly) is the use of air power alone, especially against non-state actors, is frequently perceived as a sign of weakness by our enemies. They donít think we have the will to commit to our troops to the fight, thus if we use JDAMS unilaterally we could very well embolden our enemy. On the other hand a JDAM strike in conjunction with paratroopers dropping in, or Marines coming over the beach presents another image altogether.

    Finally, I think the killing of AMZ could have been executed by any infantry platoon, but why give him the opportunity to kill a soldier and sign off with an IO victory? On the other hand, air power alone never could have found him.

    Overall the article is laughable, but if it works weíll see new work shortly on Air Force Golf Courses and O-Clubs, while the Army and Marines carry the bulk of the fight underfunded.

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    I can't decide if this is bald-faced blind parochialism or one of the most cynical things I have ever read. Did I read this wrong or did he actually marginalize the value winning the hearts and minds the populace and gaining intelligence on the ground? Either he knows absolutely nothing about COIN or he is hoping that his intended audience doesn't. It also it appears that he has drawn the wring conclusions from the Israeli experience in Lebanon. He appears to believe that Israeli reliance on a pure air response early on in the fight was a success despite all the evidence to the contrary. I expect this kind of thing from a fighter jock. I have no idea what his intent was.

    SFC W

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LawVol View Post
    First, thank you for the comments. Just a question or two.

    Blair says: You cannot engage in purely punitive operations and then walk away. There is a certain moral obligation to fix what you break, or help create the end state that you desire, once you engage in such operations.

    Please explain. Where does this obligation comes from? From the limited reading I've done, it would seem that punitive operations have been the norm for many years (e.g. the British Empire). In resorting to a moralistic argument, whose morals do we use? I'm not trying to be quarrelsome, I just want to understand the thinking. I've read a few articles advocating a desire to do away with the "you break it -you bought it" theory.


    Thanks for the input and I hope to receive more.
    I understand your question, and don't find it at all quarrelsome.

    If you look around the world, many of the failed states (in my opinion, anyhow) come from a mix of the old Imperial borders and failed punitive operations (Africa provides many good examples of this...consider the many French operations that have ended up prolonging some conflicts - Chad springs to mind here). Thus I think it can be argued that punitive operations do little to build stability (which is one of our stated goals) and instead work against such stability in many cases. From the moral standpoint, the standard "public line" of the US has been (and will most likely remain) that we can provide a better way of government and/or life for many in the world. If we're going to make the exportation of democracy one of our foreign policy cornerstones, that does bring with it a certain obligation to see our efforts through.

    I would also like to comment on the author's lack of credibility. Any time the AF feels threatened in the budgetary sphere, articles like this start appearing. For historical evidence, take a look at "Setup" by Tilford (link is http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/aupress/...ord/Setup.pdf). Within the AF culture you stumble upon "true believers" such as this JAG general from time to time. They can be very disturbing, and do a great deal to divert AF internal attention from questions like strategic airlift, nation building, and other real world concerns and focus them on things like the F-22, "Airpower will win the war," and other matters.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post
    I can't decide if this is bald-faced blind parochialism or one of the most cynical things I have ever read. Did I read this wrong or did he actually marginalize the value winning the hearts and minds the populace and gaining intelligence on the ground? Either he knows absolutely nothing about COIN or he is hoping that his intended audience doesn't. It also it appears that he has drawn the wring conclusions from the Israeli experience in Lebanon. He appears to believe that Israeli reliance on a pure air response early on in the fight was a success despite all the evidence to the contrary. I expect this kind of thing from a fighter jock. I have no idea what his intent was.

    SFC W
    The AF doesn't really deal with COIN outside of some small communities, so it's a good bet that he DOESN'T know anything about COIN. A RAND report for the AF was referenced in another thread, and so much of it is concerned with the basics of COIN and LIC that you can tell that most of the AF leadership is clueless.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default Oh what a gorgeous example of rhetoric!

    You know, I don't think I have come across a better example of rhetoric in the face (or absence) of reason in years! I have to make this mandatory reading for my students. The imagery! The classic use of atrocity tales and wonder tales! What artistry!!!!

    Bill, you mentioned that you thought this was a sales pitch and I really have to agree. It is pure political rhetoric aimed solely at providing a cleaner, safer (Greener?) alternative to those nasty bow-togs .

    Lawvol, you asked an interesting question.

    Blair says: You cannot engage in purely punitive operations and then walk away. There is a certain moral obligation to fix what you break, or help create the end state that you desire, once you engage in such operations.

    Please explain. Where does this obligation comes from? From the limited reading I've done, it would seem that punitive operations have been the norm for many years (e.g. the British Empire). In resorting to a moralistic argument, whose morals do we use? I'm not trying to be quarrelsome, I just want to understand the thinking. I've read a few articles advocating a desire to do away with the "you break it -you bought it" theory.
    Personally, I wouldn't have argued that it is a "moral" obligation but, rather, an ethical one where ethics is defined as "right action" (I tend to use a Buddhist definition). I would put the emphasis on the successfull achievement of a desired end state, rather than on an obligation to fix what you break.

    You mentioned the British Empire and the use of punitive strikes. Sure, they have been one tool in the general arsenal of force options ever since the first cities started to develope. The problem with that is that they are not the only tool and they may not be the right tool to achieve a specific end.

    What, after all, is the goal behind the application of force? It could be a fairly simple "raid" mentality - "kill the men, grab the women and sheep". It could be a goal of extermination - "kill them all, God will know his own" (God, I love that quote!). It could also be a shear statement of power - "F*$k with us and this is what you'll get." All of these are "punitive" goals designed to produce different results - loot, annihilation, and a "warning" respectively.

    Are those the goals we are trying to achieve in, say, Afghanistan? Nope, so we have to change the tool to achieve the desired result. This isn't a morlalistic argument, this is a utilitarian agrument. In this case, "moral arguments" and moral standings are actually part of the tool kit, and rhetoric is as important as artillery.

    Let's get back to the question of goals. What was the goal in attacking Afghanistan? (BTW, I *really* don't want to deal with goals in attacking Iraq so let's stick with Afghanistan ). The first goal was to topple the Taliban regime as a punitive example of what happens when a nation supports actions that the rest of the world considers to be "illegal". It certainly wasn't out of caring about the Afghan people or the Northern Alliance. This was a punitive raid at the state level with, pretty much, full international support.

    As such, in order to "send the message", it had to not only topple the regime, it had to replace that regime with another that would be acceptable to the world community and would agree to play by the international rules of the game. In order to achieve this, the "new" regime has to have enough social stability to show its own people that it can a) protect them and b) offer a better chance of achieving "success" however success is culturally defined - that could be a greater income, it could be more sheep, it could be better education and, given human variation, it could be pretty much anything.

    We, and by "we" I mean the international community, pretty much went into Afghanistan realizing this even if we didn't know exactly how to achieve it. Sure, we, and now I'm talking about Canadians, used a lot of moral rhetoric about helping the poor oppressed people of Afghanistan, but that was a secord or third order cause (i.e. justification) for popular consumption. The reality was that we wanted a massive regime change and we wanted to send a clear message to any other state that was sponsoring global terrorism. Most of the people involved on the Canadian side didn't really have any axes to grind about what form the government should take, although a number of us hoped for a restoration of the monarchy, mainly because a lot of us believed it would be the most stable form of regime given its 100+ years of history.

    So, back to your initial question, Lawvol.

    "Where does this obligation comes from? From the limited reading I've done, it would seem that punitive operations have been the norm for many years (e.g. the British Empire). In resorting to a moralistic argument, whose morals do we use?"
    The obligation is to ourselves from a purely utilitarian standpoint. The obligation arose because while we were engaged in a punitive strike, the very nature of that strike demanded certain outcomes. This type of punitive strike is, actually, in the best traditions of the British Empire (take a look at the consolidation period in Indian history, say 1850-1890 and, also, the Zulu and Boer wars). The Brits were always quite good at this type of opperation, well, at least until the FO started to get involved . BTW, this specific type of "regime change", and the absolute demographic needs of the British Empire to use it, were behind the founding of British Social Anthropology (but that's another story...).

    The moral arguments are secondary or tertiary arguments which, while very important, are not in and of themselves the reasons behind the goals. As to whose morality we use (and that really is a *very* good question), the answer is surprisingly simple - we use the morality of the group that will be most effective to the selected target. Thus we use Western, Christian based morality on the home fronts and we use Afghan, Islamic based morality in the Afghan front. When I said earlier that rhetoric is as important as artillery, I really meant it, and that means choosing the right round for each particular target .

    Marc
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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Good point, Marc. I used moral instead of ethical, which was poor word selection on my part. "What the general really meant to say was ethical...."

    And if you need more examples of this sort of writing, take a look at a fair amount of what the AF produces for public consumption. Not the Air University stuff, since a fair amount of it is actually good and balanced, but the Air Force magazine stuff and policy-type pieces. They also tend to aim their stuff at political audiences, since the AF was really created by politics. Interesting stuff, in a way.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Thanks, Steve, I will take a look at the AF magazine material. I'm always on the lookout for good examples of rhetoric and myths in action .

    Marc
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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Good point, Marc. I used moral instead of ethical, which was poor word selection on my part. "What the general really meant to say was ethical...."
    Some days, I think I should slap myself in the head . I'm afraid I got too "technical" in my post. You were quite right to use "morals", at least in the sense that we have to live up to our own moral codes otherwise we will just end up feeling that we are immoral and full off guilt.

    Marc
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    Carleton University
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    Default The punitive air option

    I am a strong believer in the combined arms operation and believe that operations that rely on a single type of attack have inherent weakness. I would also point out, however, that the enemy we fight now has been very ineffective in dealing with our air power. It has not been able to acquire or use effectively Stinger type missiles on any consistent basis.

    The problem I see with punitive attacks, is that the enemy we fight now anticipates them and hunkers down to ride out the storm before resurfacing. That is what Saddam expected to do in Iraq and what Osama and the Taliban expected to do in Afghanistan.

    While the post Soviet Afghanistan was not the result of a successful air campaign, it is instructive of what can happen when there is no effort to direct the vacumn that results when a government is destroyed.

    I do think that an air campaign can be effective at destroying the machinery of warfare of a state like Iran. Iran's ability to make conventional war can be destroyed in a sustained air campaign, that would take weeks and not days. What would come next is an open question. The religious bigots who run Iran would probably stay in power and continue their covert war against the US. They would still have to be dealt with. Their ability to make mischief would have to take a different form though.
    Last edited by Merv Benson; 10-07-2006 at 03:48 PM. Reason: typos

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    President Jimmy Carter first exposed the great air force scam when he canceled the B-1 bomber program and wanted to put air launched cruise missiles on rotary launchers inside 747's. Once you have a guided missile that can get to the target the "launch platform air,land or sea doesn't matter"!!!

    It is the weapon that must get to the target, not the transportation vehicle. Why do you want to penetrate hostile air space with a manned aircraft to drop a bomb when you can launch a guided missile from a protected area and still do the same amount of damage.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Air campaigns can be effective, just like any campaign, but the AF gets carried away when they believe that the air campaign can win in ANY situation. And there are some out there who DO believe that.

    The AF has never really studied LIC/MOOTW at a higher formal level unless required by an outside agency. This goes back to the roots of AF doctrine (strategic bombing) and a reflex action on their part to attack anyone who disagrees with their basic belief system. In ways it's almost a hyper-religious reaction, and can be interesting to watch. But it does hamper them when it comes to considering situations that fall outside full-blown warfare.

    Our current foes may have trouble dealing with air power, but it's also worth remembering that air power isn't their main objective.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    The AF has never really studied LIC/MOOTW at a higher formal level unless required by an outside agency. This goes back to the roots of AF doctrine (strategic bombing) and a reflex action on their part to attack anyone who disagrees with their basic belief system. In ways it's almost a hyper-religious reaction, and can be interesting to watch.
    Not that I would disagree, but it might be humourous at some time to analyze the AF rhetoric using a basis in Eric Hoffer's True Believers.

    Marc
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    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Army Air Power

    Below are listed two sites on army missiles that were both given away in treaties with the soviet union. In other words how we really won the cold war. Notice the dates and the range and precision that was established in the 60's,70's. The Sprint missile travels so fast it cannot be seen by the naked eye. The Pershing II besides having incredible range and accuracy can be carried and launched from a semi-tractor trailer.


    http://www.wsmr-history.org/SprintAction.htm

    http://www.wsmr-history.org/PershingII.htm

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