Magazine article The American Conservative

Clearing the Air Force

Magazine article The American Conservative

Clearing the Air Force

Article excerpt

If we downsize the Defense Department to a budget of $100 billion, the United States Air Force disappears. Fear not, this will not leave the country short of either air forces or military aircraft. The former remains in abundance: the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps all have air forces of their own, plus we will retain the Air National Guard, combining it with the Air Force Reserve. We will have enough of the types of aircraft that are useful in Fourth Generation war, namely transport and reconnaissance aircraft, and a large surplus of types that are useless or counter-productive in such conflicts: fighters, attack aircraft, and heavy bombers. With the exception of the A-10, most of these will be on their way to the boneyard.

Typical Washington defense analysts recommend the opposite of what this column suggests, namely putting all military aircraft in the hands of the Air Force. This has been tried: you can ask the Kriegsmarine or Regia Marina how it worked out. The noted British naval historian N.A.M. Rodger wrote in a recent issue of Mariner's Mirror, "the neo-Mahanian or Air Force view of 'air power' as an independent method of making war did not work at sea any better than it worked on land."

The Air Force's founding myth is a lie. The service obtained its institutional independence from the Army after World War II by claiming that "air power" acting independently of ground or naval forces wins wars. Other than when we used nuclear weapons in 1945, it never has. In every war waged by every country since the first airplane dropped a bomb in 1911, the decisive turn was ultimately obtained on the ground or at sea, not through bombing the enemy's homeland. (Serbia in the 1990s was no exception; Milosevic had to cave when Russia withdrew its support.)

Air power has been highly effective when integrated with ground or naval forces. It was an important element of the German Blitzkrieg, of the U.S. Navy's victory in the Pacific, of the Allies' Normandy campaign, and of the Red Army's offensives in 1944 and 1945. Its greatest service in land warfare was not close air support of the infantry but what it sometimes called battlefield interdiction, delaying an enemy's shift of operational reserves to block a breakthrough or to counterattack. …

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