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Thread: Airpower’s Crucial Role in Irregular Warfare

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Airpower’s Crucial Role in Irregular Warfare

    Airpower’s Crucial Role in Irregular Warfare by Frank Hoffman in the SWJ Blog.

    I'm writing to make everyone aware of an outstanding article on airpower's many crucial enabling contributions to Irregular Warfare. I think this will interest everyone given our previous exchanges on airpower and the COIN manual.

    General Peck's article is a balanced, even restrained, articulation of what airpower can and has brought to today's ongoing irregular campaigns, and highly recommend it. Gen Peck is the Commander of the Air Force Doctrine Center and Vice Commander of Air University. He brings impressive operational and academic credentials to bear on the subject, including his 300 combat hours in the F-15...
    General Peck's article at the link...

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    This is a good article and quite clearly articulates the value of airpower's direct approach. However, I've read this before; not the document, the idea. Gen Dunlap has essentially said the same thing before and I know I've read it elsewhere.

    This idea continues to emphasize airpower's lethal role to the near exclusion of its non-lethal role. To be sure, Gen Peck provided an outstanding discussion of how ISR, electronic warfare and the like contribute to the Irregular warfare fight, but his application of these skill sets is in support of airpower's lethal application. Read through the article again and you will see this. I counted one sentence that specifically addresses the true nature of COIN. It said:

    By providing humanitarian assistance, medical support, and transportation for government officials to remote areas, airpower can promote the government’s credibility and improve the quality of life for its population.
    If airpower is to play a significant and meaninful role in COIN, we must move past its lethal approach (which will necessarily be needed) to an approach wherein the indirect application of airpower is more than an afterthought. For example, less emphasis on lethal platforms might allow us to increase our airlift capability. This, in turn, might allow us to avoid some/all road convoys or provide some/more humanitarian assistance. Additionally, perhaps some of the money saved could go towward increasing our skills in law enforcement, construction, BEAR base capabilities and the like. This would permit the AF to take up some slack for our overworked ground forces. We have the capabilities to do civil affairs/humanitarian assitance type operations, but need to devote resources to this. Airlifting a combination construction and law enforcement team into a town on the heels of combat operation would make more of a difference is future stability than bombs on target.

    The general's emphasis on developing "adaptive, creative, and knowledgeable" airmen is a breath of fresh air. I sincerely believe that we need people willing to challenge tradition in the spirit of improving our Air Force's ability to deliver more sovereign options in the fight ahead of us. And it is in this spirit that I respectfully offer my thoughts.

    That being said, I do believe in the centralized control of airpower. Too many people ask for a specific platform rather than simply telling the expert what they are trying to acheive.
    -john bellflower

    Rule of Law in Afghanistan

    "You must, therefore know that there are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (from The Prince)

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Ok I read the article. It is a catalog of buzz words and listing of ill-defined capabilities. Also I would say that General Peck was the guy who remarked that 3-24 showed too much concern over civilian casualties. See this thread

    The Air Force wasn’t thrilled about the Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency document, which the service said gave short shrift to airpower’s capabilities, as proved in the ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Maj. Gen. Allen G. Peck, commander of the Air Force Doctrine Center at Maxwell AFB, Ala., said he had seen the doctrine penned by Petraeus and Amos, and said that it reflected “a very two-dimensional view of how to fight a counterinsurgency.” If airmen had written it, it would be “different,” Peck observed.

    The Air Force provides “maneuver” capabilities by backing up ground troops with kinetic and nonkinetic means, Peck noted.

    The Air Force is working on its own COIN doctrine and is proposing to the Pentagon that a joint doctrine be developed. The Air Force version is on a fast track to be finished in August. The service is simultaneously pushing for a joint doctrine.

    When that process is under way, “it will be helpful for us to have our Air Force doctrine in hand,” he said.

    USAF agrees with Petraeus and Amos that air mobility is a powerful “asymmetric” capability and certainly endorses the view that ISR—air and space-based systems alike—are critical.

    However, Peck said he was concerned about the doctrine’s tendency to low-rate the value of force applied from the air. He said FM 3-24 does “probably a bit too much hand-wringing over the potential for collateral damage,” because the Air Force exercises great care in selecting targets and uses the minimum explosive power possible to achieve the desired effect.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Ok I read the article. It is a catalog of buzz words and listing of ill-defined capabilities. Also I would say that General Peck was the guy who remarked that 3-24 showed too much concern over civilian casualties. See this thread
    I stuck up a blog comment, but I agree that this is a collection of buzzwords that have been said before by others.

    The AF really needs to break out of its centralized roles and missions mold and look beyond what's been done before and their own interests and see what they can bring to the table for COIN. I'm honestly not sure if the older generation officers can do it...it will be up to the folks in LawVol's group and some of the kids I see pass through there to put those changes forward.

    You have hit on an interesting point, LawVol, with mention of airlifted civic action/construction teams. While airlift has its own limitations, it makes an outstanding surge or quick impact tool. Red Horse-type teams could be lifted into an area in the immediate aftermath of a battle or natural disaster to at least begin reconstruction. Medical teams would accompany them for immediate work. I'd envision a handoff to Army or Marine teams within a few days or weeks, but the AF's ability to airlift these assets makes them an ideal "first responder" type component for COIN.

    As for Peck's "hand-wringing about collateral damage"...how would HE feel if the police smashed up his car in the process of giving him a parking ticket? It's only collateral damage....
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    I see a great "first responder" role for the AF in COIN operations that could take up alot of slack for the USMC/USA. The availability of airlift (a form of airpower even if some don't really want to emphasize it) means that AF assets can be inserted immediately into a given area to act as a stop gap and address emergency needs.

    Imagine if you will a scenario wherein appropriate AF units are air lifted into a town in the immediate aftermath of combat operations. As green forces clear and move through this town, blue forces come in and establish law and order (something I'm writing on now), give medical care, begin to rebuild/repair infrastructure, etc. I wonder what difference this would have made in Iraq if used and planned for?

    These are the things the AF needs to think about when it talks about the felxibility of airpower. Airpower's reach can extend much farther than a plane's wingtips.
    -john bellflower

    Rule of Law in Afghanistan

    "You must, therefore know that there are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (from The Prince)

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Already Have One

    LawVol,we already have one of these it is called the 82ND Airborne Divison.
    Last edited by slapout9; 08-08-2007 at 06:55 PM. Reason: fix stuff

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Default Actually....

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    LawVol,we already have one of these it is called the 82ND Airborne Divison.
    LawVol's got a good point about using AF assets as immediate follow-on tools, kinda like the Navy uses Seabees. The 82nd's a combat asset (and in theory the national reserve strike force) so it's not likely to be used in that way unless there's no other real option (like now).

    On the other hand, the AF has assets that either aren't being used or not put to the best use they could be at this time. That, IMO, has more to do with the institutional outlook regarding assets. It's not a combat asset unless it can deliver some sort of ordnance (or spot for another asset that can deliver ordnance). This ignores the great impact airlift and airlifted assets can have in the total COIN environment. It may not have staying power, but that's not the point. It does have the ability to get needed supplies and tools to an area as soon as they're needed, and can be replaced by follow-on forces as they become available.

    Air power advocates need to stop talking about full spectrum and actually do it. Airlift and "first responder" construction, medical, and relief forces are an important part of that spectrum.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Steve, that was meant to be kind of tongue in cheek. LawVol has excellent ideas. When his article gets published you will see. On a more serious note the process he is describing is basic Airborne Warfare close to what happed in Operation Powerpack in 65 in the Dominican Republic. Establish an Airhead and then bring in Airlanded reinforcements.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Steve, that was meant to be kind of tongue in cheek. LawVol has excellent ideas. When his article gets published you will see. On a more serious note the process he is describing is basic Airborne Warfare close to what happed in Operation Powerpack in 65 in the Dominican Republic. Establish an Airhead and then bring in Airlanded reinforcements.
    I know what you were up to, slap.....

    And yeah, I know the airborne theory as well. It's just that over time the 82nd has changed focus somewhat, and I do think the AF is in a better position now (or could be in a better position) to use their non-combat assets to good advantage. That, and their position on collateral damage might change if they have to repair some of it....
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    LawVol,

    Look at the chapter from my book that is on here on Op Support Hope. The JTF was a no-BS joint effort using a USAF ALCE, AF medical, Army logistics, infantry, and C2. We also integrated SOF planning and other agencies, international organizations, French military, and NGOs.

    Biggest issues of concern were:

    Fuel consumption in the region--the French drained Africa with their contract Russian and Ukranian airlift. AMC ended up sending tankers to resupply certain fields as well as inflight refueling.

    Infrastructure: Goma has a C5/AN124 capable airfield. That said tarmac space was very limited especially for wide bodies. This space dictated what could come in and when it could land.

    Secondary issue was A/C handling. We had some MHE that the USAF initial team brought in. I had an AF Captain run a fork loader for nearly 72 hours straight until I had to order him to stand down and sleep. Also we really needed a "base in a box" concept for austere conditions. Stan worked the deal where we agreed to scrape an area clean of feces and bodies for a base camp.

    C2--French radar and controllers working fist in face with Zairian controllers joined by US air controllers. Talk to Stan on here--he worked out the deal that got them all to work together. No small feat that and not an uncommon problem. US and UN air coordinators did the same over inside Rwanda at Kigali.

    Security--not in the defense sense but in the ability to secure the airfield from 1.5 million refugees who were quite willing to chase jets on the ground to get a free lunch

    hope that helps a bit

    Tom

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    That, and their position on collateral damage might change if they have to repair some of it....
    I actually laughed out loud when I read this one.

    I also think that employing AF assets as "first responders" can be quite useful in future operations. If they could help in Iraq, they might aslo be useful in purely humanitarian situation like Darfur. The problem is that, for all the talk of thinking outside the box (or container for the pilots out there), we're not doing this. We need to look at an asset and ask, how can we use it for our mission rather than simply saying a particular asset is for x.

    Tom, thanks for the tip. I'll check it out. The base in a box concept is essentially what our BEAR base teams do. They are based out of Holloman, NM and can deploy anywhere to set up a base from scratch. From what I know, they set up shop to get things going until our civil engineering folks can get something more permanent.

    Slapout, in my world, jumping out of an airplane means someone screwed up!
    -john bellflower

    Rule of Law in Afghanistan

    "You must, therefore know that there are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (from The Prince)

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    LawVol, I agree that is why "Battlefield Airman" should go to jump school to learn how to be "Sky Soldiers."

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    Default Tom

    Thanks for the suggetsion. It was an interesting read and nice to read something demonstrating how non-lethal airpower can have a positive effect (although, unless I misread, it appears that most was not USAF airlift; what a shame).

    Too bad about the beer. It sounded like your JAG didn't want to do the work necessary to keep the good will gesture in play. There's nearly always a way to make it work, if the JAG takes the time to figure it out. I could've come up with a solution in two or three (may be four) beers.
    -john bellflower

    Rule of Law in Afghanistan

    "You must, therefore know that there are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (from The Prince)

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    I hope this is germane to this thread, but there is a need in the Congo that perhaps the Air Force could help with.

    There were many more dirt and grass airstrips than you might imagine throughout the country. Many have fallen into disrepair or become overgrown to the point they can't be used even by light airplanes like a Caravan; or if we could get a Caravan in there it was with a reduced load. At some of these places, the people knew the importance of having a good runway but they didn't know what to do or how to do it. I could only give general suggestions and couldn't stay to oversee the work in any event (it is very important to have somebody there to watch over things.)

    What if the Air Force put a blue suit version of Stan over there, somebody who knew what it took to improve a runway to the point an AN-26 could use it. He could stay around for a year or two fixing up strips. It wouldn't cost much money if only hand tools were used. There is plenty of labor available.

    The benefits would be many. The towns would be connected to the outside world which makes a titanic difference to the economy. The people would know the Americans had something to do with improving the runway which could help us in the future. The Air Force would have a man who would have learned the countryside and the people in it, not just the capital and the big airports. And, I imagine if a strip could take an AN-26, it could take a Herc.

    I saw this work once when USAAMRID set up some docs in Kole to do research. The strip wouldn't allow a Caravan to take off fully loaded, so the AAMRID logistics prep guy went to the store in Kinshasa, bought a bunch of handtools and wheelbarrows and flew them out to Kole. He recruited a work force and some supervisors locally, stayed for a few days to get things started and voila. In a few weeks they had a good strip (the docs kept an eye on things till it was done.) All this for less than $2,000 set up by a guy who couldn't speak French.

    This wouldn't be Mach 2 yankin' and bankin', but it would be something the Air Force would be uniquely qualified to do that would benefit the Congolese and the Americans.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    That would certainly be a good mission for them! To date, most AF FID/COIN-type stuff I've seen deals more with advising pilots and setting up air forces. But I can see no reason why they shouldn't be interested in helping set up or repair an air-friendly infrastructure.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member LawVol's Avatar
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    Default Red Horse

    Our RED HORSE folks could do this. While they normally are into heavy contruction and build full up runways, I would think they could easily build/repair hasty runways that could serve not only the needs of the local population, but could serve as emergency runways for future operations. Here is the Global Security version of what RED HORSE does. http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...f/redhorse.htm

    I like the idea and I think it fits perfectly into what I think is the key for the "long war." There is much talk in the combat arms about prepping the battlefield, but we seem to ignore this at the strategic level. Having recently set up AFRICOM, it would seem that the powers that be realize this will be a front in that war. Since this war will likely continue along the COIN continuum and the key to COIN is the people, why not prep the battlefield with them in mind? By helping the people now you accomplish several goals: good PR for humanitarian ops, hopefully help the people realize we're not the bad guys, give training to your units, create contingency airfields, bases, or whatever, and maybe prevent some conditions that lead to terrorism. Sure it'll be expensive as the projects start to accumulate, but certainly cheaper than not doing it and sending in combat troops later.
    -john bellflower

    Rule of Law in Afghanistan

    "You must, therefore know that there are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (from The Prince)

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    LV,
    Sounds like a good idea. It could be tied to a number of transportation infrastructure improvements aimed at improving mobility and access for humanitarian operations and economic developments. Working with NGOs, IOs and member states you might even be able to form a partnership that could facilitate future projects. AN economy of force effort that builds confidence and capacity.
    Regards, Rob

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Default Yeah....

    Quote Originally Posted by LawVol View Post
    Our RED HORSE folks could do this. While they normally are into heavy contruction and build full up runways, I would think they could easily build/repair hasty runways that could serve not only the needs of the local population, but could serve as emergency runways for future operations. Here is the Global Security version of what RED HORSE does. http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...f/redhorse.htm

    I like the idea and I think it fits perfectly into what I think is the key for the "long war." There is much talk in the combat arms about prepping the battlefield, but we seem to ignore this at the strategic level. Having recently set up AFRICOM, it would seem that the powers that be realize this will be a front in that war. Since this war will likely continue along the COIN continuum and the key to COIN is the people, why not prep the battlefield with them in mind? By helping the people now you accomplish several goals: good PR for humanitarian ops, hopefully help the people realize we're not the bad guys, give training to your units, create contingency airfields, bases, or whatever, and maybe prevent some conditions that lead to terrorism. Sure it'll be expensive as the projects start to accumulate, but certainly cheaper than not doing it and sending in combat troops later.
    I knew Red Horse had that kind of capability. Using them for that sort of role would be good for all the reasons you point out AND it would create an environment that would be conducive to stability and internal airlift mobility. So much of the AF doctrine in this area seems to be directed toward making "mini-me" air forces that this might be too far "outside the box" for some. A shame, because it gives the AF a strong reason and capability to be involved in the non-kinetic side of COIN. In fairness, some of this may already be happening on a small scale, but it needs to move toward the center of AF COIN theory (IMO) and not reside in the dark corners.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Default This is most probably a stupid question.

    I know I am skipping back a few coments and I must admit I haven't finished all of the material being discussed. I understand the imprtance and utility of airpower in COIN operations, but is the Air Force best suited to this? Should in fact the Army be allowed to obtain certain fixed wing capabilites exclusive to close air support and certain transport capabilities? I know this is probably going to piss off a lot of Air Force guys, but I am still a little perplexed about the choices in the structure and duties of the services. I understand the need for the Air Force in that it ensures that a service will dedicate sufficient funding to air power and research, but should this be limited to air supremacy, transport and larger ordinance bombing, particularily nuclear?

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Adam,

    I'd say you have a good case for the Air Force to play a supporting role, but not be the lead agent for COIN air requirements. The counter to that, however, is that COIN air support has been ably provided by air forces in the past, so there are precedents. It may simply be a matter of getting the supporting/supported elements on the same sheet of music.

    BTW, nice pic of the SAS Willy Jeep.

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