Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Abolish America’s Air Force? Not So Fast.

by Janine Davidson
March 26, 2014

A C-17 stands ready at Kandahar air base, Dec 2013 A C-17 Globemaster III sits ready on the tarmac of Kandahar air base, December 2013. (Pool/Courtesy Reuters).


Belated, but this is well worth reading. “Why America Needs an Independent Air Force” by CFR’s own military fellows: Col Scott Campbell, CAPT Charles Cashin, CAPT William Parker, Col Robert Spalding, and Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Charles Berger.

Apparently a new book, Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force, contends that we don’t really need an Air Force. It’s by Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. I haven’t read the book, so will not flex my ignorance about the merits of his particular argument. I will only say that our fellows do an excellent job explaining that the Air Force does a lot more than air support to the Army and Navy.  The Air Force is optimized to ensure air dominance – just as the Army and Navy are optimized for the maritime and land domains. As they observe:

By focusing on one domain, each service organizes itself to maximize effectiveness in that domain. Adding additional domain requirements would create an intrinsic conflict in organization. For example, a bomber wing is best employed to attack an enemy’s air force. Yet, it is also capable of supporting soldiers, tactically and operationally. If the Army were given bombers, they would be dispersed to support ground combat units. To do otherwise—to maintain the current emphasis on the air domain—would betray the organizational structure that has contributed to the Army’s dominance on land, and would equate to a simple name change for the Air Force. But this is not Farley’s argument. He believes the Air Force should support ground forces—period. Adopting such a change in the Air Force’s strategic orientation would dilute the value of Air Force personnel and materiel currently dominating the air.

In fact, the Air Force story needs to be told more in order for people to appreciate what it means when military planners assume “air superiority” for a given campaign.  No one really seriously considers what the ground fight would look like without our “owning the sky,” because they just haven’t had to.  But as our CFR military fellows point out, “Air domain dominance doesn’t just happen.”

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