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Old 11-02-2007   #1
Xenophon
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Default Abolish the Air Force

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Does the United States Air Force (USAF) fit into the post–September 11 world, a world in which the military mission of U.S. forces focuses more on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency? Not very well. Even the new counterinsurgency manual authored in part by Gen. David H. Petraeus, specifically notes that the excessive use of airpower in counterinsurgency conflict can lead to disaster.

In response, the Air Force has gone on the defensive. In September 2006, Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap Jr. published a long article in Armed Forces Journal denouncing "boots on the ground zealots," and insisting that airpower can solve the most important problems associated with counterinsurgency. The Air Force also recently published its own counterinsurgency manual elaborating on these claims. A recent op-ed by Maj. Gen. Dunlap called on the United States to "think creatively" about airpower and counterinsurgency -- and proposed striking Iranian oil facilities.

Surely, this is not the way the United States Air Force had planned to celebrate its 60th anniversary. On Sept. 18, 1947, Congress granted independence to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), the branch of the U.S. Army that had coordinated the air campaigns against Germany and Japan.

But it's time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it's less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it's a mistake that never should have been made.
Written by Robert Farley for the American Prospect
http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?..._the_air_force
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Old 11-03-2007   #2
Norfolk
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Default Man the Air Defences at Lejeune!

It's Air Force Doctrine to use all available force to destroy the enemy, so don't hold back, USMC. Ah, there's nothin' like a good ole' fight between the Grunts and the Flyboys (just how does the Navy usually manage to avoid these sorts of scraps? - oh yeah, they're already out to sea).

Good post Xenophon. Although I'm certain there will be those of the aerial persuasion who may take a rather dimmer view of this, I think that there is much merit to such an argument. Certainly the Army has been rather dissatisfied by the quality of CAS that the Air Force has provided over the last 60 years; on the other hand though, it would also have made sense for the Air Force to have had control of National and Theatre Air Defence rather than the Army.

I'm not completely persuaded that outright abolition of the Air Force is the right way to go, although short of substantial retasking and reorganization (such as the aforementioned changes above), reintegration of the Air Force back into the Army is an attractive idea. I doubt that it would be worth the effort, however.
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Old 11-03-2007   #3
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This article is a great example of how counterinsurgency thinking has become so dominant it has pushed the defense establishment and punditry to the point of absurdity. In effect current American Army operational doctrine, 3-0, is now counterinsurgency doctrine. How else can one explain the conceptual underpinnings of this piece except for the fact that we have become so obsessed with Coin and the koolaide of Surge success that we are now calling for the abolishment of the American Air Force?

And Mr Farley, do you not think the Air Force during the Cold War years had even the slightest thing to do with deterring nuclear war with the Soviet Union?

Oh well heck, while we are at it lets just call for the abolishment of the United States Marine Corps too. Oh no we can’t do that because the Marines are small wars, Coin experts like the Army. And oh yes if we abolished the Marine Corps who would rewrite the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual?

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Old 11-03-2007   #4
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Default Goes in cycles. From mid 1961 through 1965, the

entire Army was saying 'counterinsurgency' every time their left foot hit the ground. You wanted a new desk, the friendly 4 said no way. Just go back in with another requisition and say you needed it for 'counterinsurgency training' and it would appear in less than a week. That was gone by late '66 and the word virtually disappeared from the lexicon for 20 plus years.

We always over react; go too far one way, then bounce back too far the other. seems like equilibrium and balance are not Army Values.

The strategists and pundits don't help, they're always looking for the fad of the month.

This too will pass...
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Old 11-03-2007   #5
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Before anyone goes high and to the right, it's just an interesting article. I'm no pundit espousing one way or the other. Abolishing a branch of the military is way out of my pay grade.

But, the more I think about it the more it makes sense. The Marine Corps has its own air assets for CAS, the Army should as well. Marines prefer to work with Marines, and I"m sure soldiers feel the same way. Launching strategic bombing and deep air support missions from Naval platforms nearer the target than CONUS entails much less risk due to shorter flight times and could provide more responsiveness. Is it worth having a branch of service whose functions can easily be accomplished by the other branches? I don't know, I do know the American people would be in an uproar if any serious attempt was made to disband the Air Force.

One thing that just pisses me off is the Air Force's argument that they are essential to counterinsurgency. One just has to look at the Isreali/Hezbollah war of last year to see that strategic bombing is dangerous when applied to an insurgency. Hezbollah surrounded likely bombing targets with civilians, causing an uproar in the press when Israel did bomb those targets. All the expensive, fancy air assets in the world are being marginalized with minimal effort and no cost.

And counterinsurgency is no fad, if the US military had kept a focus on COIN we wouldn't have to be relearning it now.
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Old 11-03-2007   #6
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A friend of mine in the Navy with a bit of whimsy said that the Army should become subordinate to the Air Force the same way that the Marine Corps is subordinate to the Navy. He felt the Air Force was getting the better deal.
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Old 11-03-2007   #7
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One thing worth doing is to consider why something is (or is not) before passing judgment on why it should or should not be - the world changed, and we created the USAF, I'm not sure the rational for creating it as an independent service has gone away. While I've always admired the ACE and the support it provides the GCE, the Army's requirements and capabilities have led it down a different road. We've gotten pretty good at working with the AF to meet our needs across the spectrum of conflict while not having to worry about the overhead that would go with maintaining the USAF. The USAF has such a distinct role within our military that to subordinate it to another service would probably diminish its capabilities to fulfill that role. As has been pointed out, we assume air superiority, and have not had to live without it for the last few generations - but we'd sure notice it if it were gone. While we've had to be creative in some areas we've managed to make up for any shortfalls in CAS (and on average I think its there when we need it) like fire support by capabilities such as GMLRS and improvements in cannon and mortars - not to mention RW CAS from 58s and 64s. I'm not sure we'd have ever gotten to those capabilities required to project and sustain combat power in both the strategic and operational sense that we enjoy to great extent through the AF if it had remained a subordinate service.

It comes back to having to operate across the full spectrum and against a wide variety of enemies across the globe at the most inopportune times.

Best regards, Rob
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Old 11-03-2007   #8
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Quote:
A friend of mine in the Navy with a bit of whimsy said that the Army should become subordinate to the Air Force the same way that the Marine Corps is subordinate to the Navy. He felt the Air Force was getting the better deal.
Interesting culture piece there Sam - the Marines will be quick to point out there is a difference between the Navy as in the "Department of the Navy", and the Navy as in the Service - so whereas the two services fall under the same department in the DoD - as a service the Marines see the services as having parity in status - even if the Navy retains the larger budget and the sailors don't make the distinction. It may seem like a subtle nuance from the outside, but perspective matters

Best, Rob
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Old 11-03-2007   #9
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I've said this before, I'll say it again. The Air Force has been going down hill since they retired the A-1 Skyraider, which was waaaay sexier than that joint strike whatever it is!
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Last edited by Rifleman; 11-03-2007 at 03:43 AM.
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Old 11-03-2007   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
Interesting culture piece there Sam - the Marines will be quick to point out there is a difference between the Navy as in the "Department of the Navy", and the Navy as in the Service - so whereas the two services fall under the same department in the DoD - as a service the Marines see the services as having parity in status - even if the Navy retains the larger budget and the sailors don't make the distinction. It may seem like a subtle nuance from the outside, but perspective matters
As a former Marine (e4) I told the Captain (o6) that both the Navy and the Air Force were great Taxi services as long as you gave directions really slow and loud.

Oh and the Navy has good cooks.
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Old 11-03-2007   #11
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Oh and the Navy has good cooks.
- If I recall the CPO's mess was the better of the bunch - which is how as a young Marine long ago going through the SFCP (NGF spotter course) at Coronado, CA - I learned to distinguish chiefs from officers at a distance.
Best, Rob
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Old 11-03-2007   #12
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Originally Posted by Xenophon View Post
Launching strategic bombing and deep air support missions from Naval platforms nearer the target than CONUS entails much less risk due to shorter flight times and could provide more responsiveness.
I don't think it is quite that simple. The ability to land and take off from a carrier impose severe restrictions on what an airplane can do. There has never been a carrier airplane that has even come close to the range/payload capabilities of the B-2, B-1 and B-52. So deliver the same payload on the target you'd need rather more carrier based airplanes.

And you'd need a lot of carriers to haul them, because if i remember correctly, you have to plan for one ship on station, one in port and one in overhaul, or something like that. The ship would be very responsive if it were on station, but it would quite expensive to keep there.

Because of the range/payload restrictions on carrier airplanes, you'd still have to get pretty close to the shoreline to launch good strikes and that might not be so easy against an opponent who had some good cruise missles and airplanes to hang them on. If you stuck with the F/A-18, all things to all people, air group, you'd probably have to sail up the enemy's rivers to do any good.

B-2's are pretty darn useful for some missions.
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Old 11-03-2007   #13
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I have said this before. With our current technology there is nothing that cannot be hit with a guided missile! Long range,medium range or short range. Once you have this capability it doesn't make any sense to send in aircraft for so called strike missions. The delivery system does not need to penetrate enemy air space only the warhead needs to do this. Missiles are cheaper and better because you never have to have a return to base capability. One way delivery is all you need.

The Pershing II missile could hit a target the size of a tractor trailer truck since the mid 1970's within it's 1500 mile range. All this without GPS satellites. But we gave it away as part of the SALT 2 treaty. But it was an Army Missile and very strong threat to the Air Force so we had to get rid of it....very bad move on our part.
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Old 11-03-2007   #14
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Slapout:

I knew I should have said something about missiles.

The trouble with a ballistic missile is people get real nervous when they see one coming, "is it a nuke or not." Something like the Pershing is not inexpensive also. Cruise missiles are cheaper and probably not as scary but if you need to put a lot of tonnage on a target, then cruise missiles get pretty expensive too. And if they enemy is able to make some kind of tech breakthrough, cruise missiles aren't so easy to radically modify.

Consider a very heavy penetrating warhead designed to goes through meters and meters of concrete and earth to get to the target; I don't think a missile could carry it. But a B-2 could.

Last edited by carl; 11-03-2007 at 05:17 PM. Reason: I left out a critical "not".
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Old 11-03-2007   #15
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Hi Carl, I don't think so. I grew up in Orlando, Florida during the Space race so missile warhead lift capability is not much of a problem. Most people don't know that the Saturn 5 booster (we went to the moon in this) was first conceived to launch heavy military payloads. The lift capability has never been surpassed not even by the shuttle But it came from the Army Redstone Arsenal courtesy of Werner Von Braun so the Air Force had to get rid of that.
In July of 69 when the moon mission was launched windows were broken and the ground shook in Orlando because of the shear power of the Saturn Five booster and that was just the first stage booster.

Also the first American in space Alan Shepard rode an Army rocket not an Air Force one.

Cruise missiles are cool, the Army invented those to.

This is really the source of the Army and seperate Air Force debate. When the Air Force divorced the Army they took all the good technology and then passed laws to prevent the Army form ever getting it back..all so they could keep the so called high ground.
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Old 11-03-2007   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post

Also the first American in space Alan Shepard rode an Army rocket not an Air Force one.

Cruise missiles are cool, the Army invented those to.
Slap and Carl,
I knew those fly jockies were up to somethin' bad from the very start
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Old 11-03-2007   #17
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Slapout:

Granted, a Saturn 5 was a mighty machine and it could probably throw a heavy ground penetrator. But it was also mighty complicated and expensive, so much so that it might be as or more expensive than a bomber. Plus it would still be a ballistic missile and it could only do one thing; put a warhead on a point target one time.

A B-2 is just an airplane that can go a long way, carry a lot and penetrate air defenses. An imaginative person can do a lot with a weapon like that.
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Old 11-03-2007   #18
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Default Pretty soon the Air Force might need only ground crews...

And a few Internet addicts to remotely pilot their multi-gazillion dollar intercontinental strategic UAV doom doohickies. So, give it 20 or 30 years and somebody will stand up in the Senate and ask "Why are we paying for an Air Force that doesn't actually put combat pilots in the air anymore?" Then the fur will fly...

Last edited by Norfolk; 12-28-2007 at 09:40 PM.
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Old 11-03-2007   #19
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Missiles are great in their place (and we should have and use more of them), but for close air support there is nothing like a human pilot on the scene.

Missiles can have long lead times beween when the decision to fire is made and when the warhead hits the target (or misses completely). Aircraft may have longer lead times to get on scene, but when they do they can react quickly. That means an aircraft has a better shot at a moving or fleeting target than a missile.

An aircraft can make a quick return pass if the weapon misses or malfunctions.

An aircraft can stay on station for a long time - sometimes hours.

Finally, there's nothing like fighters overhead to keep away the enemy's aircraft. That's an advantage that makes the rest of the USAF's money and issues sorta worthwhile.
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Old 11-03-2007   #20
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Carl, disagree again. The Saturn 5 is very simple and the costs to develop it pale compared to Aircraft even in adjusted dollars. You can see the actual booster at the Redstone Arsenal at the Huntsville,Al. Space museum. They may still have the prototype at Kennedy Space Center (not sure) but trips to both places are well worth it.

When MIRV technology became available the Saturn 5 would have the ability to hit multiple targets in parallel. Penetration strikes are often multiple hits on the same target...one to break through and one to achieve the final effect on the target...agin missiles can do this very well.

Again their is no need for the delivery system to penetrate hostile air space...so why have a plane to do it? Only the warhead needs to get there.

Because missiles travel so fast there's know need to launch until it is the final option.....Air Planes flying around are far more provocative then missiles for this reason. also our enemies know how cheap and how much better missiles are which is why they are developing their missile technologies instead of wasting their money on black airplanes.

Bombing in any form is an Artillery Strike the plane makes it more complicated and longer to respond unless it on station as opposed to have a missile battery on call by the ground force commander who can hit what he wants to hit in minutes with missile artillery.

Having said this I think the Air Forces main missions should be constant ISR probably with satellites more than anything (not sure just a thought) and leave the bombing to us...Army. A second priority mission is Strategic Airlift get the Army to the AO.

Third and a big one the Air Force is good at coming up war games and Strategic Thinking materials... not a real jazzy job but vital to our national security.

And finally one that is also vitally important is the exploitation of Space.

PS if you ever get to Alabama we will go to Huntsville and see some Army Airpower....some good eatin places up there to.
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