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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lind > Mitchell + Douhet

William S. Lind was right. Again.
ISIS has almost doubled the land it controls in Syria since the US-led coalition began airstrikes against the extremist group in the summer, a new map has revealed. The extremist group has continued to expand its 'caliphate', despite more than 800 airstrikes hitting targets in ISIS-controlled areas since last summer.

The map, created by the Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS), shows just how much land has fallen to ISIS - which now has a third of the country under its control. Before the summer, the militants controlled just half that.

Airpower is nothing more than a supporting arm. Sans nukes, it has never succeeded in accomplishing anything on its own. It's interesting to see that even in combination with non-US ground forces in Iraq, all it has been able to do is prevent ISIS from expanding further.

Even those with zero interest in things military should keep this in mind, because what it means is that any politician threatening air strikes is essentially promising to do nothing. Note that immigrants, who are a form of boots on the ground, are far more dangerous than air strikes.

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78 Comments:

Anonymous nah January 17, 2015 11:31 AM  

They are using airpower in a desultory non-serious fashion. Not a real test.

Blogger Laguna Beach Fogey January 17, 2015 11:45 AM  

Note that immigrants, who are a form of boots on the ground, are far more dangerous than air strikes.

Immigrants must be viewed as foreign mercenaries, invading forces, and shock-troops to be used by power elites against indigenous populations.

Anonymous Troll January 17, 2015 11:54 AM  

This map is meaningless and I think even Lind would agree with me on that point. It is being produced by a group that has every interest in hyping the ISIS threat. The land that ISIS is supposed to have conquered since 2014 is largely meaningless (mostly desert with no people in it. Its core population areas are still the same as 2014). The US is focused on the oil and the oil is in Iraq. To the extent that US has been striking ISIS in Syria it has only been to take the pressure on forces in Iraq or to make gestures to appease public opinion (if you will remember, the US did not want to to anything to help the Kurds in Syria until public pressure really ramped up.

In short even if this map is accurate it does not mean much. And I find it very strange that the areas that ISIS is supposed to have conquered since 2014 are all desert areas were it would be hard to determine if this map is true.

I am not trying to defend Air Power here. The very fact that a group as micky mouse as the ISIS is still a force in being demonstrates the incompetence and incoherence of the ISIS opponents. And that includes the US Air Force. But that is no excuse to be blindly swallowing every piece of propaganda put out by those who have every incentive to hype the threat that ISIS poses in order to convince the US to give them more money.

Anonymous Mike January 17, 2015 11:54 AM  

"Airpower is nothing more than a supporting arm. Sans nukes, it has never succeeded in accomplishing anything on its own."

Shh! Don't give them any ideas.

Blogger ashepherd January 17, 2015 11:58 AM  

I saw another map like this recently and at first it seems impressive, but looking at a Google Earth map, most of this territory looks more barren than much of Nevada making the map somewhat misleading. The items" of real interest is are the major roads, airports, cities and resources.

Anonymous MrGreenMan January 17, 2015 12:03 PM  

The other map floating around that shows the four parties showed that large parts of Damascus have been destroyed, that the weak allies we have selected are being squeezed toward what remains of Assad's little country, which is in turn squeezed against Israel.

Anonymous Omar's Running Shoes January 17, 2015 12:24 PM  

CDS is more specifically Council for Democratic and Secular Syria, headed up by Randa Kassis a CFR go-fer. Not that there's anything wrong with that, just that it ought to be mentioned since they usually have an agenda.

Just sayin'

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 12:26 PM  

but but but Vox!!!! F22s are COOL!

Blogger Markku January 17, 2015 12:26 PM  

Controlling desert per se, is admittedly not of great value. But controlling the ROADS that go through it - that's a different matter.

Anonymous VD January 17, 2015 12:32 PM  

They are using airpower in a desultory non-serious fashion. Not a real test.

Strange, that airpower has somehow never managed to pass any test in the last 60 years, from the Blitz to Syria. That "desultory" test has cost billions of dollars.

Blogger Josh January 17, 2015 12:49 PM  

Strange, that airpower has somehow never managed to pass any test in the last 60 years, from the Blitz to Syria. That "desultory" test has cost billions of dollars.

Air power is similar to Keynesian stimulus. It doesn't work only if it's not big enough. Which it never is.

Anonymous nah January 17, 2015 12:51 PM  

It has passed many tests. If it can't win wars "by itself", so what? Armies and navies can't win by themselves either. Try to pick a less straw manny stupid test for it to "fail".

Anonymous Mike M. January 17, 2015 12:54 PM  

Airpower can't win, but if properly used, it can have a decisive influence on the ground war.

And never forget that sometimes, you don't need to put your boot on people's throats to achieve your goals.

Blogger W.LindsayWheeler January 17, 2015 12:54 PM  

It can't win wars all by itself?

The Serbian Air war.

Totally conducted by air.

Serbs capitulated.

There is one.

Blogger njartist January 17, 2015 12:58 PM  

ISIS and AlQuiada are run out of 1600 Penn Ave. Do you really think Obama is going to destroy his own creations; let alone his fellow Moslems (I spelt it correctly)?

Blogger njartist January 17, 2015 1:00 PM  

Spelled...that's what I get for reading the KJV.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 1:06 PM  

'Strange, that airpower has somehow never managed to pass any test in the last 60 years, from the Blitz to Syria. That "desultory" test has cost billions of dollars."

Air Power is a force multiplier. but no matter how big the number is... if you multiply by 0... ya still get 0.

Anonymous VD January 17, 2015 1:12 PM  

It has passed many tests. If it can't win wars "by itself", so what? Armies and navies can't win by themselves either. Try to pick a less straw manny stupid test for it to "fail".

That's not a straw man, you ignoramus. Why don't you try actually reading the claims of the airpower advocates.

Airpower can't win, but if properly used, it can have a decisive influence on the ground war.

That is obvious. What does that have to do with anything written here? We're not talking about the effectiveness of combined arms, we're talking about theoretical claims that a single arm is capable of delivering decisive military results.

Anonymous Curtis January 17, 2015 1:15 PM  

But you have to understand, they really really thought if they overthrew Gaddafi and Assad, thousands of Thomas Jefferson's would rise up and declare Libya and Syria a Bretton Woods republic. So please do try to forgive their ignorance. An honest mistake. I mean, who would have thought? They'll just keep training and arming those good guys over there in the hope that liberty, freedom, and Bretton Woods finally catches on to them, rather than changing to the flavor of the day. No, really. That's the Plan. How could Bush and Obama be wrong? And NSA, CIA, FBI, DoD, DHS, ABC, and… JSOG!

Forgive them Father Bretton Woods, god of oil, gas, pipelines and FRN's. For they know not what they do!

But the show must go on.

Anonymous Anubis January 17, 2015 1:31 PM  

Airpower needs good targets. I doubt that Bath House Barry would allow good muslim targets to be hit. Its like when Clinton targeted the Chinese embassy in Serbia which gave shelter to journalists that survived the first round of media bombing, that did multiply the forces of the illegal alien drug dealing muslims. I should note that when the US targeted Libya's "worlds greatest water distribution project" it pretty much won the war for the jihadists.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 1:31 PM  

attempting to win a war with only air power is like trying to take over a nation with only ships.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 17, 2015 1:32 PM  

Air Power is a force multiplier. but no matter how big the number is... if you multiply by 0... ya still get 0.

Nate, remember, we're dealing with PoliSci and Journalism majors. Their math credits in college probably came from sleeping through old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 17, 2015 1:39 PM  

attempting to win a war with only air power is like trying to take over a nation with only ships.

Funny. I'm reading Coup d'Etat by Edward Luttwak. In the back is an appendix listing all the attempted coups from 1945 to 1978 (the book is the 1979 edition). When the army attempts a coup, sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails. But when the Air Force attempts a coup without support from the army, it's 0 for 5 and the Navy is even worse, 0 for 7 on their own.

Blogger W.LindsayWheeler January 17, 2015 1:43 PM  

You can't win an insurgency war from the air by itself.

You can a war to make a government to capitulate totally by air.

Just like in the Serbian Air War, you bomb infrastructure, government buildings, bomb bridges, return that society back into the Stone Age with total air bombardment. Totally easy. We can enforce easier our dictates upon Iran with just total air bombardment and it will work faster than economic embargoes.

Blogger Azimus January 17, 2015 1:58 PM  

Is this expansion of territory meaningful expansion? What I mean to say is, are there resources here, people, water, agriculture, anything? Or is this ISIS Territory because they happen to have the last Toyota 4 wheeler to drive down the one road that goes through these areas? It seems that they have been thwarted from taking any significant resources or cities since the air strikes began - not that I have been able to get much meaningful information since July however.

Anonymous frenchy January 17, 2015 2:11 PM  

@ W. Lindsay Wheeler,

"It can't win wars all by itself?

The Serbian Air war.

Totally conducted by air.

Serbs capitulated.

There is one. "

Wrong.

The Serbs did not capitulate because of the air strikes. They agreed to NATO's terms because of the threat of a ground invasion, coupled with Russia not being able to provide assistance, forced its hand to make the most palatable agreement on the table--let NATO into Kosovo.

IOT, no ground invasion? Nothing changes. Better to give up Kosovo, than lose much more.

And if you really study the campaign, NATO destroyed a hell of a lot of decoys rather than real equipment (from decoy tanks to microwave ovens). This is why the A-10 is important, you can confirm a kill, whereas all other aircraft is trying to confirm a kill from 15,000ft (meaning they cannot see crap and offer lots of guesses).

Anonymous The other skeptic January 17, 2015 2:31 PM  

As someone said on Kratman's area at Baen:

The Primary Dogma of the Air Force is that all wars against all opponents should be fought entirely from the air. The Secondary Dogma of the Air Force is that any task involving flying should be done by it, and only by it.

OpenID ahousewithnochild January 17, 2015 2:32 PM  

I feel like this is a challenge. Ha!

ISIS expanded so rapidly in part because they absorbed nearby Syrian Jihadi groups into theirs. Many of them were already allied, so it was natural to fold in together when popularity, courtesy entirely of the American media, went their way.

Other than Mosul and some outlying cities near Baghdad, the ISIS gains aren't all that dramatic.

Also remember the USA is not in fact using its airforce to bomb ISIS with regularity. They prefer to drop ISIS supplies, bomb Syrian state infrastructure, and abet the Peshmergas while leaving the Iraqi army out to dry.

Please don't take this as the representative example of an air war.

Anonymous Porky January 17, 2015 2:42 PM  

Did these guys never watch The Master of the World?

Dudes... Vincent Price gets his ass blown out of the sky.

Anonymous hrw500 January 17, 2015 3:06 PM  

I guess that article from Zerohedge might explain why they have more difficulties in Iraq beside the Kurds resistance.

Blogger Zimri January 17, 2015 3:07 PM  

That's just Syria. A true map of the Da'ish heartland would include their territory in Iraq. (I'd leave out Yemen and Libya because they're held by the fanclub.)

Anonymous JI January 17, 2015 3:29 PM  

"Airpower is nothing more than a supporting arm. Sans nukes, it has never succeeded in accomplishing anything on its own."

That is a very true statement. Took a military history class in college (25 years ago) and wrote a paper on the history of strategic bombing and, much to my surprise, this exact conclusion popped out. The ROTC students were highly offended by my research, but the professor, a sage old WWII infantry vet, merely nodded his head and smiled.

Anonymous clk January 17, 2015 3:52 PM  

"... it has never succeeded in accomplishing anything on its own".

I cant help thinking about dresden....

It is mostly desert .. they have pushed them out of several cities and populated areas but I wonder what, if airpower is not the naswer, what is ....? Surely not sending our kids in to die again for a people that are barely worth the cost of the bullet to kill them, let alone the gun or the soldier that fires it...

Blogger Markku January 17, 2015 4:13 PM  

they have pushed them out of several cities and populated areas

What about when they control all the desert and therefore the roads around those cities?

As for an answer, I don't think there is one apart from letting ISIS have Syria and then not being so goddamned stupid the next time.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 4:35 PM  

"It is mostly desert .. they have pushed them out of several cities and populated areas but I wonder what, if airpower is not the naswer, what is ....? "

The answer is to ignore them and let Syria handle its own problems.

Anonymous roo_ster January 17, 2015 4:48 PM  

True, the jet exhaust sniffers' claims are grandiose and most are unsupported by evidence since the advent of combat in the air. But they do have a handful of examples supporting their assertions.

Serbia's capitulation was mentioned. Discounting it because of the threat of ground invasion does not hold much water, since a ground invasion was never in the offing. An administration that does not let its bombers below 15000 feet for fear of losses is not one that will commit ground troops.

So, given:
1. 100% air supremacy.
2. The target is a tiny, land-locked country.
3. The tiny country has enough infrastructure to make bombing infrastructure painful to the _civilian_ population.
4. The tiny country has the best 1950s AAA and SAM technology has to offer.

Well, then, the air power uber alles advocates's (APUAA?) claims are totally valid.

Of course, the rather substantial number and significant nature of the givens and the target of the air campaign (civilian pain & terror) leave the objective observer wondering:
1. If such a constellation of air-power favorable circumstances will ever again arise.
2. Do the APUAAs want it known that even in this situation, they could not apply sufficient power to bear against the adversary's military to make it capitulate...but instead had to rely on targeting the civilian population for pain and terror?


Blogger JartStar January 17, 2015 5:00 PM  

If they take Syria the get on the flank of military engagements in a number of countries and it will become a massive breeding ground for more 4GW.

Blogger Markku January 17, 2015 5:06 PM  

If they take Syria, then Syria as a country is an enemy. So, you can just nuke it to oblivion.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 6:19 PM  

"If they take Syria, then Syria as a country is an enemy. So, you can just nuke it to oblivion."

they will not take syria because Putin likes his Syrian toy. He will not stand by and watch it fall without cause and/or response.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2015 6:20 PM  

air power is a conundrum. You can't win with it alone... but you also are unlikely to win without it.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 17, 2015 8:37 PM  

air power is a conundrum. You can't win with it alone... but you also are unlikely to win without it.

Air power is very good at interdicting enemy supply and troop movements. If the enemy can do that to you, you'll have trouble dealing with his ground forces - if he has ground forces...

Anonymous Harsh January 17, 2015 10:21 PM  

Armies and navies can't win by themselves either.

Armies can't win wars alone? Really? Hmm...

Blogger TheCitadel January 17, 2015 10:22 PM  

ISIS' advance in Syria can be primarily put down to the underreported fact that the regime of Bashar Al Assad is weaking, for two main reasons.

1) They are running out of soldiers, with virtually no recruitment base inside the country.

2) They are not a unified force. Assad really doesn't control anything anymore, he's a puppet figure outsourcing control of regions to various factions 'loyal' to him, including regiments of Iranian backed Hezbollah. I compare it to the warlords (Anhui Clique) of China who were eventually defeated by the Nationalists.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 17, 2015 10:24 PM  

The Secondary Dogma of the Air Force is that any task involving flying should be done by it, and only by it.

Strangely enough, the Primary Dogma of the Navy is that any military task involving ships or submarines should be done by it, and only by it.

And, indeed the Primary Dogma of the Army is that any military task involving tanks should be done by it and only by it.

And don't get me started on the argument some Navy doofus threw out there that Space Command should be taken away from the Air Force and given to the Navy because something, something, something about the similarity of space and sea.

I got lost in the argument but he was a pretty good polemicist who really loved the Navy. Oh, and once Space Command is the Navy's, then the rest of the Air Force should just be part of it too, because aircraft carriers.

Bureaucrats gonna bureaucrat, for goodness sake.

Anonymous zen0 January 17, 2015 10:46 PM  

@ TheCitadel

Assad really doesn't control anything anymore, he's a puppet figure outsourcing control of regions to various factions 'loyal' to him, including regiments of Iranian backed Hezbollah.

I cannot imagine Iran will let Assad go down. Large parts of Syria may be lost, but Iran and Russia have a stake in preserving the Alawites. At some point in the future, Turkey will back fill the territorial gains of ISIS, even if they have to kill them to do it. Then they will try to expand, maybe with an ISIS clone.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 17, 2015 10:59 PM  

It's not a similarity of space and sea, so much as a much closer similarity between ships at sea and ships in space than planes in air and ships in space. As long as what limited space travel as we have is nothing much bigger or more heavily crewed than a B-52, mox nix and the Air Force may as well. Once the machinery become as large and complex as a warship, and has a comparable crew, the Navy's expertise dwarfs anyone else's.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 17, 2015 11:14 PM  

It's not a similarity of space and sea, so much as a much closer similarity between ships at sea and ships in space than planes in air and ships in space.

Yeah, I thought he was going to go all Star Trek in the argument, but instead he went philosophical about satellites and planetary orbiting. Then he griped about how the Air Force command philosophy sucks, and The Navy Way is much, much better.

And since The Navy Way is much, much better, obviously the Air Force should just bow out now while the bowing was good.

I read it because you usually hear such arguments from Army partisans, and I was curious how a Navy partisan could get his argument all the way around absorbing the current Air Force into The Navy Way.

Because, of course, that was the entire point.

Anonymous zen0 January 17, 2015 11:31 PM  

@ Tom Kratman

Once the machinery become as large and complex as a warship, and has a comparable crew, the Navy's expertise dwarfs anyone else's.

Well of course, they have to. Especially with all the morons on board and all. But without carriers with aircraft, they are small potatoes in the scheme of things. Plus, they only have to deal with 2 dimensions, whereas Air jockeys deal with three.

I have piloted a large boat, and I have piloted a less than large aircraft. Aircraft takes more skill. No question. So many more parameters.

Blogger Joshua Sinistar January 17, 2015 11:42 PM  

You're assuming that Saddam Hussein Osama is trying to destroy ISIS, but he's not. President Assad is the last secular leader in Islam now that Mubarak has been overthrown. Colonel Qaddafi for all his terrorist activities in the past was also mostly secular. ISIS and Iran are Sharia Theocrats. So are the Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood. See a pattern? The Democrats have kissed the ass of Theocracy. It may not be Christian, but it will never be secular. Do they believe that Theocrats in Islam is compatible with Atheist Satanic Globalism? I don't think so...

Blogger Zimri January 18, 2015 1:20 AM  

"President Assad is the last secular leader in Islam now that Mubarak has been overthrown"

If you're counting Mubarak, then al-Sisi is a secular leader too.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion January 18, 2015 3:37 AM  

@zeno

I think the navy deals in three dimensions with submarines, aircraft, conventional missiles, cruise missiles, ICBM's and satellites.

Blogger Kirk Parker January 18, 2015 4:46 AM  

"Armies can't win wars alone? Really? Hmm..."

NOT if the opponent also has a credible air force.

Anonymous nah January 18, 2015 7:53 AM  

Armies can't win wars alone? Really? Hmm...

No. They can't.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 10:21 AM  

Funny, I could have sworn submarines dealt with three dimensions, and that surface combatants had to look both up, and down, and then around, too.

Not really the point, anyway. Dealing with dimensions strikes me as fairly trivial when compared with dealing with the most complex machines people make, or have ever made, or dealing with the even greater complexity of large organizations in tight quarters, or dealing with things like long trips, with all the log that entails, versus short jaunts followed by return to base. By way of one example, how many men, and how many of them are EM, does a USAF fighter squadron commander, O5, actually command? 50 or 60, maybe. How many men will a USN 05, commanding a DD have? An Arleigh Burke carries about 300. And the DDG commander has responsibility or a kind, 24/7, that the USAF LTC does not. How many UCMJ actions and NJPs will the air force O5 deal with by the time he takes over a squadron? How many will the Naval Cdr when he steps up as captain of a DDG? Frankly, the entire mindset of a pilot strikes me as wrong for this, while the entire mindset of a proper naval officer will tend to be right.

Of course, personnel span is not the whole of the thing; I was commanding almost 400 men as a mid-grade O3, sometimes more than that, with attachments. So should the Army or Marines have the spaceships? No, of course not, because we're not commanding them in the same kind of tight environment as the Naval services (I include USCG here). They're really the only ones who deal with that degree of complex machine, in naturally dangerous environments, cut off from a base to which they return daily, hence having that kind of logistic strain, and with that kind of scope of command. Everyone else is deficient in some or all of those aspects.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 10:21 AM  

Kirk, the Vietnamese would be most surprised by that news.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 10:30 AM  

"Because, of course, that was the entire point."

Might have been. On the other hand, if I am right and the factors of complexity of machine, cut off from daily log, long times away from base, and man-management are dispositive, and war moves to space, possibly to other star systems, it's not entirely clear what the Air Force will even have for them to do.

If you read ESRs pieces in RTRH, you might begin to wonder what the air force will have to do, combat-wise, even if we never get into space in a serious way or if, it becomes a matter of transports, combat drones, and ICBMs, if it will really be an air force in the way we tend to think of it.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 10:33 AM  

By the way, minor snerk-wise, for anyone following the A Desert Called Peace series, they may be wondering why Carrera had his navy get itself interned. There are two reasons, but the greater reason is that he needs them later on, to crew spaceships.

Blogger Kirk Parker January 18, 2015 3:45 PM  

Tom,

When Saigon fell the South Vietnamese did not have a credible air force.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 4:08 PM  

When. But before that, we did have a credible, indeed THE credible air force, and the VC and NVA did not. And they stymied us, air force or no, and went on to win anyway.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 18, 2015 5:02 PM  

I went back and found the original article(s) that I was half-assedly referring to earlier, if anyone is still interested and would like to make his own determination of the author's specific arguments.

Mr. Kratman, the last article, Let’s Kick the Air Force Out of Space, is the one that addresses how space and sea are similar.

America Does Not Need The Air Force

(a rebuttal)
Actually America Does Need The Air Force

Since When Does the Air Force Have a Monopoly on Air Power?

Let’s Kick the Air Force Out of Space

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 18, 2015 6:17 PM  

@ Tom Kratman

You have thought much about the material specifics. I, on the other hand, don't have an intelligent contribution for such a detailed discussion.

However, I recently read the following comment that I've been pondering. You may find it and the referenced source material to be of some value. I've not read THE MASKS OF WAR, but the thesis reminds me of ALBION'S SEED by David Hackett Fisher, which I have read.

As far as my own personal experience goes, I do agree with the description of the Air Force. The Navy is also accurately labeled. Clearly, you would have a better handle on the description of the Army, and I would be curious to hear your opinion. It seems plausible to me.

"Back in the 1980s, Carl Builder of the Rand Corporation did a study on the differences between the mindsets of the various military services. The book was called The Masks of War.

His thesis was that the three services (Navy, USAF, Army) each prayed at different “altars”. For the Navy, that altar was “tradition”. The USAF altar was “technology”; the Army’s, a more amorphous concept of “service to nation”. (In later writings, Builder indicated the USMC’s omission was accidental and that he would have called the USMC’s altar the concept of “honor”.) His thesis was that a service’s altar served as an internal guideline for how that service responded institutionally, and could be used to predict their behavior in times of interservice competition.

This IMO explains quite well the USAF’s willingness to junk the A-10 and CAS missions (not high-tech enough to be interesting); their embrace of satellites and, previously, missile technology; their death-grip-like retention of colossally-expensive systems of marginal utility, like the B2, F22, and F35; and their current “balls-to-the-wall” movement towards cyber. If it’s cutting edge tech, for the USAF it’s a “must have”. Anything that isn’t high-tech enough doesn’t seem to interest the USAF as an institution, even if it something of great military utility (like RPAs and the CAS mission).

I have not found any work from the past 40 years that better explains the differences in service mindsets and behaviors than Builder’s book. It’s nearly 30 years old now, but IMO should still be required reading for anyone going to a joint command/agency/duty assignment."

Blogger Kirk Parker January 18, 2015 7:37 PM  

Tom,

Perhaps we're just taking past each other, I don't know.

You are absolutely correct, the US did have THE credible air force, and prior to our withdrawal its use was very helpful--even though deployed in a limited fashion (remember all the restrictions on bombing in the north?) US air power was part of the reason the VC were a spent force after Tet.

But after our withdrawal? After Congress declined to come through with our promised support? The Ho Chi Minh trail was upgraded to a virtual highway; all those tanks used in the final assault on RVN would have been highway-of-death sitting ducks with proper air assets.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 7:41 PM  

All of that's true, Kirk, but it doesn't refute or mitigate that we fought someone without a serious air force, and they won. Take the whole war as a unity, they still won.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 7:43 PM  

I don't think that really works. In the first place, taking all those altars as positive, each service gives service at each. But in the second place, and far more negatively, each service is really just a bureaucratic and political organization whose chief value and objective is to gain bureaucratic and budgetary advantage, while advancing the careers of the politicians in uniform who have long ere now come to dominate each of them.

I read the "Let's Kick the Air Force Out of Space" article. Mostly ignorant bullshit, as I'm sure you agree. It's not clear to me that either author has the tiniest frigging clue about the real whys of the thing.

Blogger Kirk Parker January 18, 2015 8:15 PM  

OK, so we are disagreeing, not just talking past each other.

My point is (or is trying to be): it worked well enough when we half-heartedly (for mostly political reasons) used it, and didn't work when we (for mostly political reasons) withdrew.

YMOV.

Blogger Kirk Parker January 18, 2015 8:20 PM  

Mind you, I totally agree with the ending part of your first paragraph immediately above. It's difficult enough even in almost-existential warfare to get the individual politicians-in-uniform to put the best interests of the nation first, much less in a limited-warfare/demonstration-conflict like Viet Nam.

(Are you familiar with Trent Telenko's occasional series on WWII issues at Chicago Boys? He's uncovered some fascinating stuff that touches on these issues.)

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Blogger Tom Kratman January 18, 2015 10:29 PM  

I'm familiar with Trent but haven't seen those.

Yeah...we inflicted certain restrictions on the Air Force with regards to the bombing of N Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. But, ya know, there wasn't all that much restriction on tactical employment, and the VC and NVA still took all we could dish out, and were still willing to come back for more. Ultimately, in the field, will and guts faced technology and guts...will won.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 18, 2015 10:51 PM  

Frankly, the entire mindset of a pilot strikes me as wrong for this, while the entire mindset of a proper naval officer will tend to be right.

you might begin to wonder what the air force will have to do, combat-wise, even if we never get into space in a serious way or if, it becomes a matter of transports, combat drones, and ICBMs, if it will really be an air force in the way we tend to think of it.


I think you would be surprised at the mindset of a C-17 or C-5 squadron commander. There are plenty of young enlisted airmen getting up to all sorts of things. What happens TDY, stays TDY. Supposedly.

Truthfully, the Air Force right now is not as fighter pilot friendly as it used to be. Most new pilot assignments are coming out of the T-1 training program. I mean like, 3 to 1. And the Millennial generation seem to like it that way. T-38 fighter dudes are starting to propagandize student pilots in the T-6 phase because so many of the top students in every class are turning their noses up at fighters and choosing heavies.

Everyone sees the writing on the wall.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 12:38 AM  

I wouldn't necessarily be all that surprised, having once overheard a C-130 crew ragging on C-141 crews as "REMFs," because the C-130 crews stayed in crappier hotels. Notwithstanding, it's still the wrong mindset. Even if you're thinking of a C-130 crew specializing in air dropping to transport Heinleinian Mobile Infantry, the pilots won't have the same mindset as the skipper of an Amphib. I'm not entirely sure that the typical flying officer even understands command in the same way the other services do, because he doesn't exercise it in the same way. Tactical leadership? Yeah, sure. Skilled technique? No doubt. Command? Not so much, not early enough, and don't see what the other services understand by command early enough to get a grasp of it. And command is more important. I don't know that the Air Force even understands that, in a commander, command trumps technique.

And while I could probably explain the nuances of Army or Marine command, it would probably take the skipper of a warship, or even a log ship, to explain exactly how it works in the Navy. I'm sure it's close, of course, but I am also sure it's not quite the same.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 12:41 AM  

Addendum. Should, in fact, the Air Force keep the space mission, and command surface navy, warship sized space vessels of war, then whatever uniform they wear their approach to command is still going to have to cease being Air Force and become Navy. It will, of course, be harder for them, since there's little or nothing institutional in the Air Force to match or support that. And, should that happen, other than it being a bureaucratic victory for the Air Force, what's the good of it?

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 19, 2015 11:49 AM  

The scope of my knowledge is less than sufficient to argue well with you.

However, I believe the hotshot flyboy image that most people (not necessarily you) carry about pilots, is also insufficient. Flyboys make for shiny recruiting posters, but their reality is far from the typical pilot's.

Crewed aircraft need commanders, not hotshot flyboys. If a pilot cannot command his crew to accomplish his mission, he gets the boot. Velocity and gravity are harsh mistresses. The tempo of a typical airlift mission, especially during war, is also something to be considered.

Crew Resource Management is a hot topic in the Air Force. However, perhaps that is what you are referring to as tactical leadership.

It is true that there is no scaling up. A boat is to a ship, like a crewed aircraft is to, um nothing.

I would suggest that perhaps a seed of the sort of command you are talking about remains in the airlift side of the Air Force. Who knows what kind of flower can or will bloom from it. If there is a bloom, it will indeed be a result of an insurgent war within the Pentagon.

I sometimes think that half the unspoken reason for the creation of the Air Force was the frustration pilots felt about being passed over for promotion, and the lack of command officer billets, because they didn't sport the Army in-group star on their bellies.

Even in the Navy, pilots are sailor-pilots. They get half the amount of career flying hours AF pilots do because half of their assignments are ship duty with no flying. If they didn't do that, there would be no promotion pipeline for them. But, perhaps you consider this situation to be a feature, not a bug in your contemplation of military starships.

I think it a hard thing to make sure a man with the qualities it takes to be a pilot be forever prohibited from command because of the amount of training and time it takes to develop the technical skills. Such a waste of human potential. Perhaps I am too much a girl in this, and my husband the pilot would agree with you.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 3:38 PM  

Not exactly. In terms of scope, what a pilot commands is something between a half a fire team and an understrength squad...or no one at all. Half of it is innate, yes, but the other hald is learned. When you spend most of your military lifetime learning the wrong things, because the scale is all wrong, it can overcome - probably will overcome - the half that's innate. Are there still going to be some? It's possible, but a) identifying them is unlikely, and b) they're still not as likely to be as good as the ones who had the innate half, and learned the right things.

Look at what he does and doesn't do, in detail, and see if it's still the same to you.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 19, 2015 6:14 PM  

Your scale and scope argument is good. I understand how tricky scale can be, so it does make sense. I will almost certainly think more on it -- at random times and places, I'm sure. Thank you for taking the time to explain.

Normally I'd tell you that I'll look into your books, but the truth is, I've already looked at some of your books. The problem -- ahem -- is that I'm pretty squeamish, and your subject matter is intense and probably too close for comfort. My husband and brother, however . . . hmmm. In any case, I thank you once again for your kind explanations, and I wish you ever more and successful writing projects.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 7:31 PM  

Trying to think of what my help explain it. The only book title that comes to mind, and it's not perfect for the job, is van Creveld's Command in War. But CiW is, more than any other thesis, about where a commander should position himself, in the rear, at the front, or somewhere between the two, and doesn't really come to any definite conclusions beyond, Be flexible; there are no rules.

We've got some squids here, I think. Anybody have a suggestion for BoaW for a book on naval command at the ship level? Price of Admiralty doesnt seem to me to cut it.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 7:33 PM  

Oh, and don't sweat the books. No, they're not for the squeamish. Or you can try the Countdown series, which are also intense in places, but they're not so unremittingly grim and are occasionally quite funny.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 19, 2015 7:36 PM  

"NOT if the opponent also has a credible air force."

Finally hit me, Kirk, what was really wrong with this statement. Append to the end of it, "and the terrain and vegetation do not strengthen the concealment and maneuverability of ground forces, or seriously diminish airpower." I think it comes close to truth with that added.

Anonymous Bird on a Wing January 20, 2015 11:07 AM  

Actually, even if I never go any further into the whys and wherefores of command, your explanations have already answered a long-standing question of mine. I've asked it directly of Navy pilots, and gotten a blank stare and half-shrug, combined with a mealy-mouthed, "Cause that's the way we do it."

The question being: Why does the Navy spend billions of dollars training pilots up to the standards, and then piss that hard-earned skill and job experience down the drain by regularly sending them out to sea in non-flying jobs?

I'm really, truly grateful for the answer to this question. It's been bugging me for a long time now.

I will go look at the Countdown series, thank you.

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