AW1 Tim would like it

Posted by lex, on October 25, 2007

The appropriately monikered David Axe wonders whether we still need an air force:

Fed up with unnecessary gold-plated fighter jet programs, the service’s impatience with counter-insurgency and its anti-China rhetoric, back in August I proposed the disbanding of the U.S. Air Force. The air service’s missions could be folded into the Army, Navy and Marine Corps without any loss in national power — and we’d benefit from cuts to Pentagon overhead.

Over at The American Prospect, Robert Farley seems to agree:

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.

I have as much fun as the next guy tugging on the junior service’s ascot, but I can’t help wondering whether our armchair punditry is making the classic error of preparing to fight the last battle here. I strongly suspect our collective appetite for counter-insurgency and nation building has been whetted for a generation, while our requirement to maintain a nation breaking capacity will remain very much undiminished in the interim.

Pace the “boots on the ground” set, there is a strategic element to waging a campaign that is not ground force centric, and we’d never have swatted aside Saddam’s legions so easily had not the long haul bomber force and USAF tactical wings persistently applied high volume, precise fires to command and control nodes. Those BUFFs and Bones made pretty darned good CAS assets too, I have to admit, even as shorter ranged fighters returned to air fields ashore and carrier decks at sea or refueled from land based (read: USAF) tankers to stay in the fight. Navy could do most of that, but our overland reach is somewhat limited – at least for manned aircraft – and because we’re a smaller air force it would take us a great deal longer to get the same amount of work done. In the long run, replacing current USAF capacity with carrier-based air power would probably be more expensive than retaining the bus drivers, even before we counted all of that slack capacity waiting around between wars.

There is a strange kind of symbiosis in effect between the manly men in Navy blue and those other blue-suiters who can’t quite seem to settle on a uniform: The USAF can bring to bear enormous volumes of fires relatively quickly, but to do so persistently they require a friendly host in theater. The Navy on the other hand offers nearly instantaneous options to the National Command Authority, but on a much lower scale – at least initially.

But here’s the trick: Using the maneuver space of the sea we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission and because we are routinely deployed to the world’s trouble spots, we’re always just around the corner. In fact, as far as bad actors and good friends are concerned, Navy carrier air power must always be included in the calculus. That serves to dissuade threats from emerging while buttressing allies – allies who, in turn, stand ready to provide landing rights to USAF fighter and refueling wings should deterrence fail.

Besides, if we abolish the Air Force, where are naval officers going to be able to afford quality golf? And who’s going to give us their used pick up trucks when they’re done with them?

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Military

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