Small Wars Journal


Airpower Research Institute press release on Shortchanging the Joint Fight by Major General Charles Dunlap.

The counterinsurgency manual used by U.S. Soldiers and Marines undervalues the role airpower plays in fighting insurgencies, according to a monograph recently published by Air University officials.

That guidance, designated Field Manual 3-24 by the Army and Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 by the Marine Corps, has been widely celebrated since its publication in December 2006 for filling a gap in American military doctrine.

However, its relegation of airpower to a five-page appendix does not fully recognize the important part air, space and cyberspace operations can play in neutralizing insurgencies, according to Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., the Air Force's deputy judge advocate general.

In his monograph "Shortchanging the Joint Fight?", General Dunlap lauds the manual, co-authored by the Army and Marine Corps, for skillfully addressing many important counterinsurgency issues but fears it may be adopted as the de facto U.S. joint solution for combating insurgencies.

"By failing to reconcile the full potential of today's airpower capabilities and by focusing almost exclusively on the surface dimension, FM 3-24...falls short of offering U.S. decision makers a pragmatic, overall solution for the challenge of counterinsurgency," General Dunlap writes.

Efforts are underway to write a joint counterinsurgency doctrine in which all services will have input, and General Dunlap hopes the U.S. Air Force's "airminded perspective" is captured in the final product...


Ken White

Sat, 01/19/2008 - 1:11pm

I think we agree more than we disagree and the major difference is more a factor of our ages and experiences than it is semantic or major divergence of opinion.

However, first, re: the good General's essay, I acknowledge he has several valid points and I do not disagree with the essential thrust; i.e. the Army tends to be hidebound and not think strategically, the USAF does do a little better at that...

That connotes agreement with his main point, that the AF can bring something to the table <b>and that there is more to life -- and COIN -- than 3-24</b>.

Still, I disagree with his strategic view and believe the paper essentially is a bureaucratic and budget war plea that is somewhat snide and condescending in tone and compresses ten pages into 125.

You said: <i>"If it is then we have already predetermined what our response will be; many boots on the ground practicing to the letter FM 3-24. This again is the point that MG Dunlap is making and one that we in the American army should consider carefully and thoughtfully. The implications of our current dogmatism are huge for where we end up in future operations and how we re-build the American army after Iraq.</i>

I agree with that. Over several exchanges, the issue between you and I, I think, boils down to precisely that; dogmatism.

One aside. I have here and elsewhere long complained that the Army has initiative as a tenet yet seems to go out of its way to stifle that trait and the result has been a risk averse climate which does not bode well. While I believe the Army should do everything it can to encourage initiative, I have really not been overly worried because, as Iraq is generally proving, the kids will make it work in spite of calcified upper echelons.

I tend to believe based on service from the forties to the seventies and working as a DAC from then until 1995 that the people in the Army are capable of avoiding a dogmatic approach and doing what makes sense regardless of what 'the book' says. While I do note that a tendency toward risk aversion -- in all its forms -- was appearing in the last ten years or so of my working life, for most of those decades dogmatic approaches were not a problem and utter written foolishness (which has always been around and is unlikely to disappear) was ignored far more than it was followed.

You, with later service, are apparently afraid that today is not the case. Given the fact that you're far more current than am I, I have to give your view greater credit and acknowledge my natural optimism and lack of currency may have clouded my judgment. If you are correct and the current trend is to follow written foolishness to the letter, I suggest that is a significant indictment of the institution and the people who run it...

Which raises two questions:

-- Are the kids not proving that they can overcome strictures and bad guidance from above?

-- If the Army has become more dogmatic in the last 20 years or so, how do we undo that very dangerous trend?

Gian P Gentile

Sat, 01/19/2008 - 10:29am

Except the reality in the Army is otherwise, for the most part we do operate from within this constrictive box. We do view things--to the point of dogmatism--from a ground philosophy perspective and this was the point that MG Dunlap was making.

Here is an example of what I am saying. In the current issue of Military Review there is an excellent article written by a Combat Brigade commander, Colonel Michael A Coss, about his experience conducting Counterinsurgency operations recently in Afghanistan. The article, "Operation Mountain Lion: CJTF 76 in Afghanistan, Spring 2006," is an important article from a senior commanders perspective about his units conduct of Coin in that country. But the article betrays the deep-seated dogmatism on counterinsurgency that has invested the American Army. Consider this statement early on in the piece by Colonel Coss:

"... .Such projects help to persuade the population--the center of gravity in ANY insurgency--that stability and prosperity advanced by the government exceed anything the insurgents have to offer." [Caps are mine]

Note the middle, set off clause referencing the "population" that it is "the center of gravity in any insurgency." Why must this always be the case? From a theoretical and historical standpoint it certainly does not have to be. Moreover, from a creative, operational standpoint when trying to discover what a center of gravity might be it doesnt--and should not--always be the people. If it is then we have already predetermined what our response will be; many boots on the ground practicing to the letter FM 3-24. This again is the point that MG Dunlap is making and one that we in the American army should consider carefully and thoughtfully. The implications of our current dogmatism are huge for where we end up in future operations and how we re-build the American army after Iraq.

Ken White

Fri, 01/18/2008 - 8:33pm

Heh. Again, I must quote Halsey:

"Regulations were meant to be intelligently disregarded."

While I agree to an extent on the ground based box, I also believe we've been introduced to a 125 page air based box...

I have no desire for either. Those who wish to abide in boxes are welcome to do so, I'd rather not. I think most people would agree with me. :D

Gian P Gentile

Fri, 01/18/2008 - 8:12pm


but he does get at most pointedly the underlying assumptions of the Coin Manual and how those assumptions have been turned to principles and then to immutable laws that can not be challenged. Why for example, as Dunlap himself questions, must the people always be the so-called center of gravity in Coin? Clausewitz teaches that a center of gravity is something to be discovered. The authors of the Coin manual have done the discovering for us; we seem to be blindly obeying. It is not to say that in a given situation where Coin method is employed the people might be the center of gravity requiring a large contingent of boots on the ground; but it does not always have to be that way. There can be other approaches but the doctrinaire approach now that we take toward Coin precludes us from seeing the alternatives. Readers of this blog should move past their attitudes toward airmen and airpower and pay attention to the important perspective that Dunlap provides about what is a truly ground oriented and ground philosophy based counterinsurgency doctrine. Dunlap lays bare those philosophies and orientation.

The irony that one derives after reading Dunlap is that disciples of FM 3-24 see themselves as the "out of the box" thinkers when Dunlap places them very neatly in a ground-based box, unwilling to look beyond.


Ken White

Fri, 01/18/2008 - 2:26pm

Sad. That is a particularly condescending and narrowly focused paper. Good use of words though; "damning with faint praise" comes to mind. Must be a lawyer...

The pity is his valid points (few) get buried under the sour grapes (many). Methink he doeth protest too much.

I particularly liked this:

<i>"With respect to Iraq, this means a "unified democratic Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror."84 Thus for Airmen, the manuals statement that "long term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the governments rule" is not quite right. If the
government that emerges in Iraq is one that is intolerantly majoritarian,divided into sectarian fiefdoms, supportive of terrorism, or otherwise
hostile to US interests, the COIN effort will have failed."</i>

A dream world. Puts a whole new meaning on 'pie in the sky...'