Uber-reader Peter sent us some more questions, these from Air Power Australia. Some of the context is F-22 v. JSF. Click through for more detail. Here they are:
- What is the state of the USAF's operational, technological, and strategic planning machinery? (A response to a question put in relation to the RAAF in Reflections on 2006).
- What has become of centralized control (BY THE SENIOR AIRMAN), decentralised execution?
- What is the Air Force's strategic future, and what are its competencies?
- Does the Air Force have anything meaningful to say about US military power in the 21st Century other than 'we support others'? Perhaps at the core of this, is the Air Force a service or is it a collection of people wearing the same uniform?
And we're off. We open with Joris' answer:
At any stage during the past 100 years, people have wondered about what airpower can and cannot, as well as should and should not, do. The Air Force as an independent service has been (and I guess still is) a thorn in the side of many ill-informed observers (in both army and navy). Many still are uncomfortable with the huge sums of money that are spent to acquire, operate and support the air force's high-tech machines.
And not just in the U.S.: today, an opinion piece by Retired British Army Brigadier and military historian Allan Mallinson in the Daily Telegraph suggested that "The RAF, though the service most able to integrate with American forces, must nevertheless fly more troop-lift helicopters and ground-support aircraft." Why he uses the word "nevertheless" I don't understand.
He goes on to ominously warn that "There have been discredited doctrines of airpower in the past and, if the RAF is to remain a separate service, it must not be allowed to pursue any new ones."
My "quick and dirty" take is this. 21st Century armed forces cannot do without airpower and they cannot do without a dedicated, professional Air Force.
Why can't they do without airpower? Because it is the single most important enabler for all military (and other) operations you can think of. No airpower; no operation. Airpower provides the strategic, operational and tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to help us figure out what the heck is going on in the first place. It carries land forces across strategic distances to any theater of operations and then moves them around using intra-theater airlift and support helicopters. Airpower keeps the skies clear of hostile aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and cruise missiles. It allows us to employ the airspace to do whatever we want, whenever we want, on our terms. It provides air support to troops-in-contact. It can deliver strategic blows to the enemy leadership. And it sustains the whole joint campaign by relentlessly bringing in the supplies every component in the joint force command requires on a day-to-day basis. Finally, if things draw to a close, it can quickly bring the whole force back home again.
Why can't our armed forces do without a dedicated Air Force? Because operating in the third dimension requires inherently unique skills and expertise. The U.S. Air Force as well as the Air Forces of many developed nations in the world have mastered these skills over a century of flying (at huge cost, certainly).
I am a great believer in the system used by the Israel Defence Force, which entails that everything that flies (except artillery shells and mortar bombs) is part of and operated by the Air Force -- except for "pure" naval aviation such as ship-based anti-submarine helos. I think even ground-based air and missile defense systems such as Patriot or Thaad should be part of the Air Force, too. Of course the Air Force should be fully integrated in a joint command structure, and take its directions for how to conduct the air campaign from the Joint Force Commander.
In terms of whether there should be more F-22s rather than F-35s in the future fighter mix, I am convinced that (through-life) affordability and numbers are as important as superior performance and stealth. It's great to dream about adding a few hundred Raptors but this is just not realistic. In any case, the F-35 will be highly capable in terms of stealth, precision and operating as a node in the overall information network. Its (promised) affordability means it can be acquired and operated in larger numbers, also by allied nations enabling them to operate as part of coherent airpower coalitions.
--Joris Janssen Lok