Skip to comments.Should Uncle Sam have one air force instead of four?
Posted on 04/28/2005 3:23:19 PM PDT by SwinneySwitch
WASHINGTON Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, had the task of covering that huge country with just 18,000 troops.
It was possible to do so, he observed, because "airpower from all the services ... have given ground forces ... the ability to operate in smaller units and respond quicker, with more accurate weaponry, than at any other point in history."
Over the last 15 years, many have come to regard airpower as the key to victory, in war zones ranging from the gulf to the Balkans, from Afghanistan to Iraq. Fighter forces, in particular, have proved to be effective, destroying defended targets, supporting fast-moving land forces and dominating the sky.
Yet serious questions keep cropping up. Is the size of the tactical fighter fleet about right or is it "excessive"? The USAF fighter force has fallen from 37 to 20 wings. Navy and Marine Corps aviation arms have shrunk, too.
Top Pentagon leaders claim the armed services invest too much in fighters. They see air dominance as one area in which the U.S. has "excessive overmatch." The new National Defense Strategy, released March 1, suggests cutting some of the overmatch so as to better fund new capabilities and expand ground forces.
According to "Inside the Navy," a newsletter, Deputy Defense Secretary-designate Gordon England recently told reporters he sees great potential in "integrating" Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army aviation. England left no doubt about the basic objective: "If you can gain efficiencies in tactical forces," he said, "what else can you do with the money?"
Any such move now could pit the Air Force, the Navy/Marine team, and, to a degree, the Army against each other, conceivably igniting a dustup over roles.
The last such tussle came in the mid-1990s. It was sparked by Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who lamented, among other things, that America's was "the only military in the world with four air forces." A blue-ribbon Commission on Roles and Missions, or CORM, spent more than a year pondering the subject.
The commission found the supposed "problem" proved to be largely illusory. CORM in 1995 reported, "Inefficiencies attributed to the so-called 'four air forces' were mostly in the infrastructure, not on the battlefield."
Second, CORM concluded that a little redundancy isn't a bad thing. A recent case in point: the pivotal role played by naval air in the first weeks of war in Afghanistan a remote, landlocked nation far outside the Navy's usual mission focus.
Third, overlap fosters interservice competition, often resulting in better systems or concepts of operations, whether they concern close air support, long-range strike or something else.
The Air Force doesn't now nor has it ever claimed a right to monopolize military aviation.
Even so, there are sound reasons to make the Air Force the "keeper" of the tactical aviation art. The air arms of the other services are limited; their primary purpose is to perform missions tied directly to their basic land power, sea power or amphibious roles.
Yet, Pentagon officials should be cautious before tampering too much with the current size and structure of the services' tactical air forces.
They would do well to heed the admonition of Gen. Gregory Martin, who has commanded U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the Air Force Materiel Command and who recently warned:
"Nothing works without air and space dominance. Nothing. We don't want to assume that we will always have it. We want to always understand what it takes to get it, and we want to make sure we are building the systems that will give it to us."
I have no doubt that reducing to 1 would cripple the effectiveness of the Marines.
We are not a Hyperpower because we have 'four' air-forces, or because the US has the world's largetst economy, the largest defense budget, countless nuclear weapons and the largest Navy, Army and AirForce and Marine Corps.
You know you are hyperpower when you have a Navy, which has an Army, which has an AirForce. Thank God for redundancy...
Does anyone understand the difference in the Missions is these Services.
Old hats want to differentiate between Annapolis, West Point and the AF Academy but a "warrior" is a "warrior"! Combine them all and mucho money would be saved.
Battle commanders (land or sea) need their own air assets. They do not need to have their air requests put on a list in the central air power office letting some air power weenie decide if that commander's request is a higher priority than what air power had planned for that day.
Using that logic, why have an army and a marines....they're both just land forces? Ans: because the sea commander sometimes needs to occupy land, and he needs to do it on his own schedule, not that of the chief of staff of the army.
The units would be permanently attached, but not the pilots. They should be able to change out at will. Being carrier qualified would be just another qualification, kind of like being airborne qualified for an infantryman. God forbid, though, that'd force the USAF and Navy to come up with the same airplane to do the job (like the F-4 was) and we'd never do that.
Ground forces could *really* benefit from consolidation. Consolidate doctrine, military education, procurement, supply chains, all that stuff. The long term savings could be tremendous, and the tactical and operational efficiency of our soldiers could be much, much higher.
Help me out here, but has a Navy admiral has ever ordered a Marine operation to hold land (maybe a port seizure that I'm forgetting about somewhere?) without it being essentially a joint operation? The island hopping campaign of WWII comes to mind as a possibility, but they were still conceived and planned as joint operations.
Competition is a good thing in government, too. Although the separate services fight turf wars, they also try different things. Sometimes one stumbles on something that is of benefit but was ignored by the other services.
One big thing almost never works very well no matter what the bean counters say.
Wrong. In the late '40s the USAF tried to do just that shortly after their inception.
Each service has unique needs and missions. If the Army uses some boats to patrol the Tigris or Euphrates in Iraq, why get the Navy involved? Naval aviation has developed uniquely as well. Want to kill retention? Just ask Air Force types to give up cushy shore bases for sea duty.
This would be repeating the mistake of the British when they consolidated all air forces under the RAF after WW1. It ended up with the Navy getting the short end of the stick. Would the new combined AF be as attentive to carrier operations and ground support? Or would they go off baying down the high tech trail while ignoring sea air control and support of the ground pounders? Would they dedicate pilots and funding to helicopters, or make the assumption that their supersonic fighters and stealth bombers will be ok?
Each service having their own air sections makes more sense to me. They can then specialize in their respective areas. The Marine flyboys make a fetish of close ground support and are considered the best in the world at it. The Army has made a science of helicopter operations and the Navy cannot be matched for getting air power anywhere there's enough water to float a carrier.
The nazis and soviets also had monolithic air forces that while were good, were not as good or as flexible as the 4 individual American air services. Look how poorly the nazis did naval support and how poorly the soviets did at trying to develop a carrier force. Both had some naval aircraft, but in virtually every case they were planes designed to operate from land bases and not as good as the American navy's planes.
Not these tradition fights again!!!
Me too, close air support is a tricky business. The more intense the comraderie the better.
How incredibly stupid. The answer _is_ in infrastructure, including coordination _between_ the services where overlaps occur. Not in throwing out with the bathwater as full consolidation would be.
Agreed! During the Korean War, the Fifth Air Force insisted upon and received jurisdiction over the 1st Marine Air Wing, which essentially eliminated the type of close-air support that only Marine pilots attempt, diving below tree-top level to deliver munitions just over the heads of the infantry.
Most calls for air support by the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War, when filtered through Fifth Air Force, either never arrived or arrived, too, late. It became a near-perpetual boondoggle and irrefutably cost the Corps heavily with regard to casualties.
"Want to kill retention? Just ask Air Force types to give up cushy shore bases for sea duty."
I wonder what their problem is.