Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You're in the Army Now

For the Marines and Marine enthusiasts who were unhappy with my plan for shrinking the Corps and transferring it to the Army, I am targeting the Air Force this time. The Army Air Corps was broken off from the Army in 1947 as part of the Defense Reorganization Act.  The rationale at the time was that strategic bomber forces were too big and important for the air forces to be part of the ground forces.

Perhaps in 1947 the strategic forces argument made sense as nuclear bombs delivered by large bombers was considered the wave of the future after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seemed that the most optimistic dreams of the air power advocates had come to pass in the rubble of Japanese cities.

Fast forward sixty years and the United States finds itself embroiled in land wars of an irregular or asymmetric character. Air power does play a pivotal role - ask any Army or Marine grunt.  However, the air power is nothing like what the air power advocates envisioned. Two things have intervened: technology and the enemy. Advances in munitions, targeting, air planes, missiles, stealth technology and UAVs have transformed strategic air power from a cloud of heavy bombers to a handful of B-2s and cruise missiles.

Strategic air power has been eclipsed by the GWOT because al-Qaeda, the Taliban etc. have few targets to strike and no air force to defend themselves with. Tactical air power as implemented by attack helicopters, A-10s, and Predator UAVs has been a boon for ground forces, devastating for the enemy and problematic for the Air Force. Just as the Navy would rather have air craft carriers and destroyers instead of littoral combat ships, the air force would rather have B-2s and F-22s. The most effective single air plane of the GWOT has probably been the A-10, which the Air Force has been trying to retire.

An Army Air Corps would be streamlined and more efficient, but more important it would be able to more effectively concentrate on the ground support, logistics and reconnaissance missions. Perhaps the blow could be softened by maintaing the Space Command as a separate Pentagon office that could concentrate on missiles, satellites and cyber war.  In any event, the military and the nation would be better served by a more integrated and combined services - the Army and the Navy.

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