Abolish the Air Force?

Robert Farley lays out a pretty good case for abolishing the Air Force and splitting its assets and missions between the Army and the Navy.

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.

What say you?

H/T: Information Dissemination

24 thoughts on “Abolish the Air Force?”

  1. I have never been entirely convinced that there ever was a need for a separate USAF. The US Army should certainly be given the A-10, so people with an appreciation of the Army’s needs would be flying them. This is really the legacy of Hap Arnold, Curtis LeMay, and the Bomber Barons.

  2. At the level of the operators, such as the A-10 drivers (and the other guys tasked with CAS) there’s no real problem. The crews are dedicated to doing the best job possible. So shifting the A-10 to the Army wouldn’t really do much.

    Where you usually run into problems is at the theater and higher level, especially in terms of how airpower is employed. Things like airspace control, priority of fires, and such, the AF and the Army have very different paradigms.

  3. Post 9/11, what have we learned? On 9/11/2001, I saw pilots who saw the attack and were trying to reheat a previously hot base from the cold war era. The base was not frozen, but because of this very same type of foolish thinking, it was chilled down. After they were authorized, they were doing overflights over both New York City and Washington DC. In fact, this same base houses the US Coast Guard, who has the responsibility of Security for the Military District of Washington.

    What is the old saying, Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics? I am trying to figure out how you would do it? Is the Navy going to increase the number of its carrier groups substantially, double digits? I still can’t figure how you’re going to do this. Unless you’re just going to do an ugly reduction in force. I believe you’re honorable enough to an equivalent reduction in expectations.

    Brad, this has nothing to do with you. I had to ask questions, I couldn’t sleep, now I can sleep.

  4. Obviously we wouldn’t just give away all the assets and people.

    We’d “reflag” most stuff. Figure TACAIR to the Army, the ICBMs and manned bomber fleet to the Navy. As to the transport fleet, I’d probably give that mission to the Navy, buy maybe split the C-130s to the Army, the big boys to the Navy. Most space missions would go Navy.

  5. One of the lessons learned from World War II was the nation which maintained a consolidated approach to airspace superiority had a distinct advantage strategically.

    That said, as Scott alludes to, the SAC oriented AF leadership through the ’50s and ’60s focused the branch far too much on one facet of their mission. I forget the year, but there was a time when the Army planned to purchase Harriers (well before the USMC was interested BTW) and other light jets for the CAS and BAI missions. The AF nixed it at the time taking it to Congress. The fear was if the Army got a Harrier with a nuke on board, it might diminish AF control of the bomb.

    Guess what I’m saying is there are some areas which the AF could spin off to the other services without diminishing the quality of service (and perhaps improving). CAS and probably theater airlift are examples. For years I’ve argued that the AF should give the A-10s to the Army, and the Army aught to hand the Patriot to the AF.

  6. Hand the A-10s to the Army and Patriots/THAAD go to the AF. Allow the AF to focus on Air Superiority. Scrap the JSF in favor of a VTOL that doesn’t suck balls.

  7. The purpose of the air forces in originally was to develop competent air fight capabilities that would not be stymied by the institutions which originally had the fragmented air assets (e.g. RAF). However, when we created an independent air service, we had gotten to the point where no one was going to say that air power was a flash in the pan or that it was something which could be done on the cheap.

    The problem, from my perspective, is that the USAF still believes that it can win a war on its own. The one thing that has been demonstrated continually is that no one one branch can. The USAF buys equipment, at least from where I sit, that fits the USAF preconceptions of what an air force should buy rather than what needs of the military as a whole are. (This is not limited to the USAF). However, the USAF is always a support service to the other services.

    Abolish the USAF. Its time is past.

  8. Those who urge the abolishment of the AF are short-sighted indeed and forgetful of the conditions that caused its formation in the first place. The old AAF way of doing things in WWII exposed the total inefficiency of having the Army control what is–and always will be–scarce assets. Assigning a set number of assets to Division/Corps commanders for CAS and airlift meant that such assets would be jealously husbanded. Army commanders were loath to “loan” their dedicated assets to other commands/AOs where the need was temp greater due to the pace of operations for fear they would never get them back. Such jurisdictional squabbles quickly became intolerable and the Casablanca airpower conference took this authority away from gnd commanders and created a USAF in all but name way prior to 1947. Such reasoning was also behind the “single-manager” system developed out of “Operation Niagira” in Vietnam which the AF take OPCON to much of USMC I-Corps assets

    “”Scalability” is also an issue. Unless one posits that we will only fight Corps-sized conflicts at one place on the globe at a time I fail to see how ANY concept of organization controlled by a by-definition proachical-minded Army who thinks in terms of hundreds of yards rather than thousands of miles could be organizationally rationalized for efficiency, effectiveness and maximum flexibility spanning the globe.

  9. I should ad that your “ROE” post only provides conformation of my pov. The Army’s own organizational strictures/SOPs denied, in part, supporting arty fire/airpower on procedural grounds alone. And while I agree you that troop “safety” is not the primary objective XBrad–especially in COIN Ops–it would have been a helluva lot quicker and easier to get on the Fox Mike to a USAF FAC overhead and let the FAC be his advocate back to USAF HQ–who, because they WEREN”T wearing the same uniform, would be less likely to tarry while they took time to zero-in first bn, than brigade-level Army arty fires before calling for CAS.

  10. As I look at this discussion, I have never advocated that the Air Force could do everything. Every branch has its acquisition issues, including the Army, Air Force and all sister branches of the Navy. Now to fold in new missions without getting our individual and collective houses in order, is a recipe for disaster. You’re starting down a path where our Military is no longer an expeditionary force. We need all of the branches, just without the bugs.

  11. I am always willing to listen to Virgil. He has given me something to ponder. I like his avatar too.

  12. Toad The Wet Sprocket, in it’s original Monty Python album appearance,was definetly a DADT band.

  13. Counterinsurgency/counterterrorism is today’s mission, but counter-SCO is tomorrow’s mission.

    Without a real Air Force dedicated to real air superiority, SCO will walk all over the US in Asia. And then everywhere.

  14. If you consider the current paradigm to be the way it should be, Virgil makes good points. However, it still neglects the fact that the Army has been engaged in in a constant hassle with the AF over CAS beginning with Korea. Frankly, the Army has a solid case against leaving TACAir with the AF. The Separate TACs in WW2 worked quite well with the ground troops, and while it had problems, they were nothing like the problems from Korea onward.

    The argument about our ground troops never being hit enemy air really doesn’t answer the criticism since that really isn’t a function of TACAir, but of air superiority forces, one of the things the AF REALLY wants to do. I say let ’em.

    What I would like to see is a Strategic AF that has control of what used to SAC, and ADC. Leave them what they need from Material Command and Mobility Command (what used to MAC) and leave to their world. ADC would go to where the wars are to keep the enemy air away from the troops while the Army and Navy get on with the rest of it. Otherwise a Strategic AF would stay home and provide the nuke umbrella we need, and the air defense umbrella at home.

    The Bomber Generals were the main pushers for an independent AF. The ground forces had little understanding of their needs and repeatedly shorted them, so it was understandable they would want independence. There is no reason to change that. TACAir needs to go to the Army, though.

    Virgil, we’d let you join a reconstituted AAF. We’d even bring back Pinks and Greens for you.

  15. I went back and read the round table discussion linked at the article that Brad linked. I think giving the Navy the strategic assets would be a mistake. The distraction from their primary mission of sea control would be much too large.

    One of the round table makes the point of a large number of Apaches being damaged in one firefight with the Iraqi Republican Guard. They make a good point, but it’s more a leadership problem combined with the changes the Army has made to pilot accession than anything else. Most of the Army’s commissioned Aviators used to be from Armor or Infantry, with Armor predominating. They used to have an understanding of ground combat they don’t have now. The Army needs to go to a basic course similar to what the Marines put their new officers through.

    Transferring the strategic assets to the Army would be a mistake for the same reason giving them to the Navy would be. It would be a distraction from their basic mission of dominating the battlefield.

    A strategic AF makes sense. The tactical Air Forces should be owned and controlled directly by the service that requires them. In that respect, the Army will become much more like the USMC with fully indoctrinated pilots to support them. That’s one thing the USMC undoubtedly has right.

  16. Running SSBN deterrence patrols for the last 50 years has been a real distraction from sea control as well.

    Seriously, sea control hasn’t popped up on the Navy’s radar in 20 years. They’ve had a bias towards power projection since WWII and in the last 20 years, it has been all but overwhelming.

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