Air and Space Power COIN / IW

The Winter 2007 - 2008 editon of Air and Space Power Journal has been posted and contains several articles that address the use of air power and Air Force capabilities in a Counterinsurgency / Irregular Warfare environment. The first article, by Dr. Conrad Crane, addresses the base-line principles and imperatives for combating insurgency.


Minting COIN - by Dr. Conrad Crane.

The world became aware of the existence of a coherent body of theory about insurgency as a result of the revolutionary upheavals accompanying the deterioration of empires following World War II. Along with the propagation of ideas from Mao Tse-tung, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Carlos Marighella, and Vo Nguyen Giap came a corresponding attempt by counterinsurgents to develop their own set of practices and principles. The tenets of these mostly British and French writers were a product of many years of struggle in theaters from Algeria to Malaya to Vietnam, along with observation of many case studies. David Galula, Frank Kitson, Robert Thompson, and Roger Trinquier still have much useful information for current practitioners of counterinsurgency (COIN). Of recent note for anyone trying to learn about COIN from history is the comprehensive work of the Naval Postgraduate School's Kalev Sepp, who looks at scores of historical cases to develop his own list of best and worst practices for COIN.

Air Power and COIN / IW

New USAF Doctrine Publication - Michael Dietvorst.

As Airmen, we have a unique war­fighting perspective shaped by a century-long quest to gain and maintain the high ground. We must be able to articulate Air Force capabilities and contributions to the irregular warfare [IW] fight, with its unique attributes and requirements. Employed properly, airpower (to include air, space, and cyberspace capabilities) produces asymmetric advantages that can be effectively leveraged by joint force commanders in virtually every aspect of irregular warfare." So reads a portion of the foreword by Gen T. Michael Moseley, chief of staff, to the new Air Force doctrine publication: Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-3, Irregular Warfare, 1 August 2007.

Air-Minded Considerations for Joint Counterinsurgency Doctrine - Maj Gen Charles J. Dunlap Jr., USAF.

As thorough a job as FM 3-24 / MCWP 3-33.5 - Counterinsurgency does in reviewing previous conflicts involving nontraditional adversaries, it does not incorporate the implications of the psychological dimension of today's airpower. This is not a discussion about the much-debated effect of airpower on civilian morale but about how current precision capabilities influence the morale of combatants. It concerns the targeting of insurgents' "hearts and minds." Understanding how airpower drove the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies from power in Afghanistan, for example, is essential to designing the effective use of the air weapon in future COIN operations.

Accomplishing this feat proved a considerable challenge. Afghanis, numbered among the world's most fearsome fighters, have enjoyed that reputation for thousands of years. The Soviets sought to tame them with an enormous application of raw combat power but ultimately failed. Yet, the United States managed to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda from power in a matter of weeks. How? By inflicting helplessness as only the newest developments in airpower can.

What Do We Do Next Time? - Lt Col Rob Levinson, USAF.

According to Field Manual 3-24 / Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5, Counterinsurgency, airpower plays primarily, if not exclusively, a supporting role in counterinsurgency operations such as the ones we are currently conducting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not to say that the Air Force's contributions are not significant—only that the Army and Marine Corps do the bulk of the killing, bleeding, and dying. Such is the nature of warfare against small-scale irregular forces, particularly in urban environments. Although we maintain complete air dominance over the battlespace, that alone clearly does not guarantee victory. Rather, the success or failure of the guys wearing muddy boots on the ground will determine the outcome. In the future, however, airpower may become the force of choice—if not by design, then by default.

To Bomb or Not to Bomb? - Maj Jason M. Brown, USAF.

Since the "banana wars" of the early twentieth century, airpower has played an important role in counterinsurgency campaigns. Armed forces have used all forms of airpower—airlift; close air support; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); and so forth—in counterinsurgency campaigns to gain advantages over insurgents. Airpower in the form of air strikes occurring independently of ground operations has proven controversial in small wars. We now call such strikes "dynamic targeting."

Historically, this type of targeting has generally been counterproductive in counter­insurgencies due to real or perceived collateral damage. Yet, the US military and others have good reasons for using airpower for these operations. First, as marines in Al-Anbar Province have seen, kinetic operations are necessary to remove determined extremists in order to conduct security, social services, and economic development. Thus, in certain situations our forces—like NATO's in Afghanistan—will need the advantages airpower brings. Second, in well-publicized cases, air strikes have generated good results for government forces, such as the air campaign against Hamas leaders and the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Third, the combination of using high-fidelity ISR feeds and guided weapons has given militaries a limited ability to distinguish insurgents from the population and strike them with precision, while mitigating collateral damage.

Irregular Warfare and the US Air Force - Col Robyn Read, USAF, Retired.

Discussion published in a variety of media sufficiently establishes the history of IW as well as the successes and failures of COIN. Pertinent literature has similarly dissected the distance between the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and today. Therefore, using the 2007 Air Force Symposium on Counterinsurgency as a primary source, this article looks to the future and attempts to outline an airpower profile for combating terrorism and insurgency in the continuing long war.

Two fundamental observations drove much of the discussion at the conference. First, the USAF has operated with some success in COIN environments before but has lost the peculiar capacities associated with COIN following drawdowns or conversions after each conflict. This is an unsurprising result, given the fact that budgets for unused tools are a luxury not easily afforded in any era. But the extended lead times required to essentially relearn COIN each time it becomes necessary have significantly affected the USAF's ability to effectively contribute early in the fight. Second, we need to change the USAF's mind-set from fighting COIN to enabling a partner to fight COIN. In the absence of every other alternative, the USAF may actually become the fighter in COIN, but even at that point, the service should adopt the mind-set that it will conduct a holding action while the supported partner spins up its own capacity.

The Paradox of Irregular Airpower - Maj Benjamin R. Maitre, USAF.

The United States Air Force entered the twenty-first century as the most capable purveyor of airpower in history. Following the success of the air campaign in Operation Desert Storm, airpower seemed likely to become a dominant force in all future conflicts. Yet, recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have called that assertion into question. Today, technologically superior air assets face significant challenges in engaging dispersed and oftentimes unseen opponents. The Department of Defense has directed the creation of an "irregular warfare" capability to operate within the scope of contemporary conflict. The Air Force must determine how modern airpower can successfully engage an irregular opponent.

The Coalition Air Force Transition Team - Maj Gen (sel) Robert R. Allardice, USAF and Maj Kyle "Brad" Head, USAF.

One of the most effective means of fighting and winning the military element of a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment involves training and fielding a competent host-nation security force. Doing so has the dual effect of increasing the legitimacy of the host-nation government, while simultaneously diminishing the requirement for international/coalition forces, whose presence often only exacerbates the situation. The Coalition Air Force Transition Team (CAFTT) has the responsibility for assisting the GOI in fielding and employing an air force capable of helping it fight and win the current conflict while laying the foundation for the air force it will need to defend its national sovereignty well into the future. An incredibly complicated process in itself, building an air force in the middle of a war becomes infinitely more complex.

Other COIN / IW Considerations

Dawn of the Cognetic Age - Lt Col Bruce K. Johnson, USAF.

This article introduces the term cognetic, coined by the author from the root words cognitive (relating to thought process) and kinetic (relating to, caused by, or producing motion). Currently, the term lacks a single, accepted meaning. I intend to use it in a unique way in order to define the essence of today's fast-moving, unrestrained, nonstop global media (the Internet and transnational television) and their effect on public opinion and behavior. To be cognetic is to put thought in motion with impact. Thought takes the form of messages created by specific arrangements of images, sounds, and words. Motion signifies the global media's unrestrained and rapid movement of messages to a target audience. Impact represents the effect on public opinion and behavior caused by perceptions generated by the message. Violent public reactions in the Muslim world to the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam epitomize the term cognetic—putting thought in motion with a global impact. Unlike bombs and bullets—the effective conventional weapons of the Industrial Age—imagery, sounds, and words serve as the effective ideological weapons of the Cognetic Age.

Reply to "Defining Information Operations Forces - Lt Col Kenneth Beebe, USAF.

Anyone who has spent time with IO in the joint environment knows that every service thinks about it a little differently. For the Air Force and the Navy, IO deals with networks, especially the global information grid. For the Army, IO has to do with influence, which to that service means psychological operations (PSYOP). In a business that values words, we have chosen to use a vague and ambiguous phrase (information operations) to describe what we do. Perhaps it is time to use terminology that means something specific—and I believe that "influence operations" does a better job of identifying our objective than "information operations." The technical arts known as EW and computer network operations have their primary effects in the physical domains. PSYOP, military deception, and operations security (OPSEC)—the remaining "pillars" of IO—aim to have their primary effects in the cognitive domain. The term "influence operations" succinctly captures those three activities.

Author's Reply to Lieutenant Colonel Beebe's Comment - Maj Paul D. Williams, USAF.

I appreciate the insightful comments made by Lt Col Kenneth Beebe in the preceding article. When we wrote "Defining Information Operations Forces: What Do We Need?" (Summer 2007), my coauthors and I focused on the process of transitioning from how to build an IO force to how to build a cyber force, concentrating on network warfare as the most badly broken piece. We have since served on a team directed by Headquarters USAF to tackle the holistic cyber-force development effort, which involved treating electronic warfare (EW); space; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and command and control/battle management as having the same importance as network warfare (NW). The Air Force will use NW and EW forces as the defensive and offensive shooters it provides to combatant commanders as cyber capabilities. We agree with Colonel Beebe's view that EW needs to transform to maximize the individual and integrated effects of EW and NW that we can deliver.


Israel's Failure: Why? - Lt Col J. P. Hunerwadel, USAF, Retired.

Israel's 34-day campaign against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 had people lining up to place blame for its failure even before it ended. Indeed, Hezbollah's survival and increased influence in Lebanon does seem to indicate that Israel suffered at least a partial strategic defeat in that conflict, despite its claims to the contrary. Regardless, many think there is plenty of blame to spread around. Some believe that Israel's overreliance on airpower contributed to the apparent defeat. Commentators such as Phillip Gordon and Ralph Peters concluded, as summarized by analyst William Arkin (who does not share their views), that "airpower can never be decisive in a war, that an airman cannot command an army, and that airmen live with a pernicious desire to win wars at the exclusion of ground forces."

One of the bugbears that airpower's critics trot out to scare the faithful is the concept of the effects-based approach to operations (EBAO), which they also blame for the failure of the campaign. A number of individuals in the antiairpower crowd represent EBAO as a reductionist model of warfare and claim that its supporters believe it can yield magic answers that eliminate the fog and friction of war.

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