Friday, November 02, 2007
More on the Relevance of the U.S. Air Force [W. Thomas Smith Jr.]
Yesterday, responding to a post by Jonah at "The Corner," I discussed the relevancy and absolute necessity of the U.S. Air Force in the modern world: a relevancy the American Prospect has called into question.
I've since received several e-mail messages on the topic, but the most insightful thus far has been from an active-duty Air Force 2nd lieutenant, who agreed to let me post his comments (but only if I qualified them as his opinion, and not that of the Air Force, DoD, etc.). Here's what he says:
You’re absolutely right on target on a number of points about the relevance of the Air Force in today’s world. We’ve become victims of our own success in many ways, and victims of our own complacency in others. Much of what we do is now so commonplace that it is invisible to our sister services and the public.
Take, for instance, some of the high-tech tools that our Soldiers and Marines use on the ground day-in and day-out: GPS, satellite communications, and the ability to call in precision airstrikes are perhaps the best examples.
The use of these tools has become so routine that few stop to wonder about where these once magical capabilities come from.
The satellites for GPS, communications and surveillance are put into orbit, maintained and controlled by the Air Force. The targeting data, asset coordination and of course delivery of precision munitions (even from Navy aircraft), is controlled by Air Force personnel in one form or another.
It’s rare, however, for these people and functions to ever be seen in the media these days; the troops on the ground garner most of that attention and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean that Airmen are completely out of the picture. Just because our fighters aren’t called upon to engage in massive dogfights in OEF and OIF doesn’t mean that we as a service have become irrelevant.
What the Air Force has become is complacent with respect to communicating its importance and abilities to Congress, our sister services and the public.
In the late 1990’s, the Air Force saw the need for the Air and Space Basic Course to educate new officers about our doctrine and how to “show-off” our capabilities to America. After nearly a decade, it doesn’t seem like we’re any closer to being able to do that than when we started.
Almost all of our leaders recognize this shortcoming, but despite numerous efforts to address it, it doesn’t look like we’re making progress.
The real danger here is that without understanding the role of the Air Force in today’s world, people start to float some very dangerous ideas, such as abolishing the Air Force, returning us to the Army, or splitting our mission between the other services.
Modern warfare is an exceptionally complex and dangerous enterprise; the genius of having four (or five) separate services is that it allows each to concentrate on specific roles and responsibilities.
Airmen are specifically trained to understand and embrace the near-boundless potential and ability of Airpower: Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are not. Even those who are part of their service’s aviation arm focus primarily on how Airpower can support the rest of the force.
Being a separate service allows the Air Force to explore and develop the other capabilities of Airpower: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space, strategic attack, airlift and air refueling, and cyber warfare, among others. This has resulted in a net gain for the Armed Forces as a whole, as improvements in one sphere often have synergistic effects in another.
And you’re right about the more conventional threats out there: a rapidly arming China and an increasingly autocratic Russia, among others. I’m sure that most Americans would rather be prepared to fight these countries and not have to than to not be prepared and forced to.
2nd Lt. Eddie Gaston
United States Air Force
Dyess Air Force Base, Texas
Apparently, the Air Force is also teaching its young officers to write with clarity, authority, and conviction.
Editor’s note: Please see this note.
11/02 11:52 AMShare