Monday, August 23, 2004

My beef with the Air Force

In my last screed I began expressing my disdain for the United States Air Force and the influence it holds on military strategy, policy and direction. I am sure that my opinions will offend some, especially those that collect paychecks from the Air force or wore a blue uniform at some point in the past. I am not positive that this will be the case however. In the last week I have had interesting conversations with some current Air Force personnel and a couple civilian contractors that were formerly in the Air Force. Each of these individuals agrees in principle with my general assessment of the weaknesses in the Air Force.

Also I would like to point out that it is unfair to take my views of the deficiencies in the Air Force as the reason and cause of all the maladies that face the military in general. The fact is that all the services have succumbed to one degree or another to the weakening forces of political machinations and correctness. My point is that the Air Force has resisted least, embarked on its own path of wrong actions separate from political pressure and embraced whole-heartedly all that is wrong with current military thought. The fact that the other services are forced by law to not only tolerate but work with the Air Force is not at all helpful if the real fighting services ever might hope to reestablish a system of discipline and quality required in times of dire need.

At the core of the problem with the Air Force is a flawed theory. The idea that air power alone can win or even significantly influence the outcome of warfare has been proven over and over to be false.

In the 1920’s forward thinking flyers fought for this concept. The need for an ability to conduct air operations in support of tactical operations was obviously required. It was not a concept that air power thinkers pondered often. During WWII the tactics and techniques needed to conduct combined arms operations were lacking and nonexistent in the US. We had spent our resources and efforts thinking about a massive bomber force that could pound potential enemies into submission.

During the war we were forced to develop the ability to support ground operations with tactical air support on the “fly”. Doubtless countless American lives were lost as a result of the arrogance of air power thinkers. Even in the face of the necessity of tactical support the leadership of the Air Corps insisted on the need and relevance of a roust bomber command.

What was the result of the massive strategic bombing efforts over Germany and Japan? Militarily they were negligible. The fact is that German industry actually benefited from the bombing campaign. Older, less efficient German factories were destroyed and the Germans proceeded to build more efficient production facilities underground. German production increased during each year of the war despite massive day and night bombing campaigns.

The cost in human lives that resulted from this folly is not at all negligible. First there is the opportunity cost of resources spent. How many American lives might have been spared and how much sooner the war might have been ended if these resources were instead allocated to tactical air-land battles will never be known. There is also the cost of the crews of bomber command. Proportionally bomber command took a higher percentage of casualties than did front-line infantry units. Finally there is the moral issue of the bombs that were dropped on German civilian populations. WWII was a good and just war; the actions of the Air Corps as they fire bombed civilians was immoral and contrary to all formerly established rules of just war. That drunken murderous bastard Sherman would have been happy to call himself a commander of a bomber wing in WWII.

History would view air power in its’ proper light were the atomic bomb not developed. This of course nullified any real discussion of the fallacy of strategic air power as a primary weapon of war. We never really discussed why were wasted so many resources on the strategic bomber wings. Instead we created an independent Air Force, gave them the bomb and rested our hopes for national security on men that were willing to drop horrendous weapons of mass destruction on civilians. This very trait disqualifies such a person from the ranks of great military men of history. Military traditions of the true officer class in the west have always held civilian populations and cities as illegitimate targets. We abandoned all of that when we empowered men that would be murderers with rank, position and power to influence military thought.

Thus at the very core of its’ existence and creation the Air Force was lead and formed by men that held views and moral viewpoints contrary to the rules that have for centuries (with rare and notable exceptions) restricted and controlled military leaders. The influence that this corrupt thought process has exerted on the military establishment as a whole has not been insignificant. The fact that Congress in its’ finite wisdom decided in the 1980’s to force the other services to accept and incorporate the Air Force to a greater degree only served to cement the corrupting influence.

Beyond the corrupt beginnings the Air Force there are numerous other peculiarities specific to those blue weenies. As a rule they accept and embrace business school principles as principles that are directly applicable to military thought. This is of course not at all true. I am always humored when I see some business type with Sun Tzu on his desk. The applicability of management principles to leadership is likewise as absurd on a practical level. To be certain some of the ideas are useful and all good leaders need management skills. The problem with the Air Force is that they make managers of all the folks that ought to be leaders. They have developed a culture of managers instead of leaders.

I am constantly amused and then angered as I encounter Air Force folks here on their arduous three month tours. They show up with their stupid ideas, take up space, stir the proverbial pot and then get on a plane and go home.

I suppose that I could go on and on but time is limited. Suffice it to say that if the US intends to retain the empire it has embarked on creating then the armies of the empire need serious realignment for the asynchronous conflicts to come.

I read in the London Daily Telegraph a quote form a young man that represents the “barbarians at the gate of Pax Americana”

Struggling to lift a Kalashnikov, a 12-year-old with the Mahdi army militia said he could do anything in battle except fly a helicopter.
"Last night I fired a rocket-propelled grenade against a tank," he said. "The Americans are weak. They fight for money and status and squeal like pigs when they die. We will kill the unbelievers because faith is the most powerful weapon."
No matter what you may think of the principles behind this young man’s belief you cannot deny that his beliefs engender a passion unfound in our system. The bravery that I have seen here are things we simply cannot replicate large scale. Men die, fighters can be killed but real principles will not go away. The business model, moral-deficient way of waging war for no other reason than you were told to is not the sort of thing that endures and wins.

If the military of a nation is supposed to reflect the society from which it is drawn then I suppose the corruption and weakness that is the Air Force is a just and good representation of America. If the borders of the empire do not hold in the coming years then historians will have ample fodder to dissect the cracks in the armor. The march of time has a very unique way of correcting flaws that mere men are too weak to see. The Air Force, the ideals and values it sprang from and the weakness of manly virtue it represents are but one of the numerous viruses that the empires suffers.

I am merely an observer of the slow death of a giant.

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid

1 comment:

  1. You miss the big picture here. While it is true that strategic air power had a negligble direct effect on German industry during the war, the U.S. and British campaign effectively tied up hundreds of thousands of men in building new factories and repairing others who would otherwise have been used on the battlefield. In cases where slave labor was used, who knows how many lives were saved when these men were employed in rebuilding German industrial capacity. Brutal conditions to be sure, but it beats the gas chambers. You should also remember that in the last days the ability to wreck the marshalling yards for the railroads had the dual effect of preventing key munitions from reaching the front and engaging a huge amount of manpower in repair of the railroads that, again, would have been destined for the front. The issue of strategic bombing is far more complex that the oversimpified explanation that it destroys military and civilian morale and reduces industrial capacity.