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Success as a Hurdle
by Captain Daniel L. Magruder, Jr.
The Air Force's difficulty transforming to support irregular forms of warfare is the most pressing issue facing the institution today. The United States Army, Marines Corps, and special operations forces rely on the Air Force's ability to deliver desired effects on the battlefield. Current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are harbingers regarding the ascendance of low-intensity conflict (LIC). Irregular warfare (IW) is yet another classification of war and the use of asymmetric tactics are generally ascribed to it. Colin Gray, a preeminent strategist states that irregular warfare "calls for cultural, political, and military qualities that are not among the traditional strengths of Americans." For the Air Force, adapting to a bifurcated strategic environment is a challenge. To be sure, the Air Force has provided the nation with decades of unparalleled excellence in pursuit of air dominance. The point is not to quibble over whether the Air Force can perform its mission in large-scale conventional warfare, but to the degree to which the institution adapts to contemporary security threats. It is a matter of focusing resources and investing in ideas that optimize the unique characteristics of airpower while at the same time meet the traditional expectations of an air force. Three aspects composing Air Force identity influence the institution's ability to meet organizational demands: the pursuit of technology, a culture of individualism, and the theory of progressive airpower. In fact, the factors facilitating the Air Force's institutional success simultaneously limit its ability to adapt to irregular warfare.