Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Airpower, Jointness, and Transformation

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Airpower, Jointness, and Transformation

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:In the second century of manned flight, airpower may well be the transforming piece of the jointness puzzle-the instrument through which ground and naval forces could be integrated. An Air War College seminar, class of 2003, studied, debated, and developed personal convictions about this argument. Grounded in the history of the evolution of airpower theory, this seminar developed a new definition for a "transformational system" to focus on the future of war fighting and force structure.

THE AIRPOWER DEBATE is currently at the century mark, and during those 100 years the landscape has shifted considerably. At the outset, air forces were grown from within the Army and Navy. Near the midpoint, airpower advocates argued for-at a minimum-a separate-but-equal status. In the New Millennium, airpower may well be the last piece in the jointness puzzle-the piece that transforms the disassembled parts into a work of fine art. Members of an Air War College (AWC) seminar in the class of 2003 studied, debated, and developed personal convictions about these arguments during their in-residence year of study.1 Their interesting conclusions were captured and integrated into this article, which begins with a short, but necessary, review of the historical and theoretical foundations from which their discussions in the college's Warfighting course can be best appreciated.

An examination of airpower as an element of national strategy does well to begin with a review of the maritime, continental, and airpower theories of Alfred T. Mahan, a US Navy captain; Sir Halford J. Mackinder, a British scholar; and Giulio Douhet, an Italian general. All three argued that geography, technology, and other local circumstances come together in unique and dramatic ways to give nations comparative advantage on the international scene. However, each of their theories leads to different conclusions with respect to the importance of ground, sea, and air forces. These theories are briefly reviewed to provide the reader a strategic framework similar to that of our seminar participants.2

Mahan, writing in the late 1800s, was the first of the three strategists to share his theories and stressed the importance of naval power-particularly its mobility and ability to control commerce over the high seas and through strategically located "choke points." Through sea power, a nation at that time could guarantee its own economic and physical security and dictate the security of others. According to Mahan, a nation that wanted to be a Great Power also needed to be a great sea power. The US Navy-and President Teddy Roosevelt-embraced this thesis. Sea-power enthusiasts still use Mahan as their starting point when discussing and debating the relevance of naval forces in modern times.

As usual, theory begets theory. Not long after Mahan's original thesis gained popularity, Mackinder first critiqued Mahan and then provided an alternative framework. He observed that Mahan's theories had focused on England at a time when sea power was the dominant means of commerce-well before roads and railroads had matured on the Continent. According to Mackinder, Mahan's ideas were only temporally correct. If a nation sought to become a Great Power, Mackinder argued that it also needed to be a great land power, capable of using its army to defend its interests and extend its influence.3 The armies on the Continent and around the world found his arguments attractive and still use those concepts to forge their arguments on force structure and grand strategy.

Later, after the advent of the airplane, Douhet argued that the technology of powered flight had changed the intellectual and strategic landscape-forever altering the context on which the theories of Mahan and Mackinder had been developed. Airpower, he said, diminished the importance of geography as an element of national power. Douhet was later joined by William "Billy" Mitchell, Alexander P. …

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