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Exchanging Hats to Fix the Military Part 1: Air Superiority AFGSC
Air Superiority AFGSC: Modernizing the Air Force
In the aftermath of WWI, the question of Air Power’s role in the military as an institution arose. Two competing theories arose: The first treated air power as another branch of the Army and Navy, while the second treated Air power as a separate form of war that would be super-dominant. America’s Military has tried both forms, using the former during WWII and the latter post-1947. In recent decades, many critics of an independent Air Force have called for its abolition and a return to the first model, most notably Robert Farley’s 2014 book “Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force”. However, total abolition of the Air Force may not be necessary to modernize the institutional role of airpower in the military. A solution to reconcile these opposing theories might be accomplished with a simple exchange of hats.
The main argument brought up by supporters of an independent Air Force is the need for Air Supremacy. This could be accomplished by downsizing the Air Force to the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), which itself is the resurrected Strategic Air Command (SAC) of the Cold War. The SAC was originally formed with air reconnaissance and aerial-delivered nuclear bombs, in addition to the logistical apparatus that enables America to project power across the globe. Today’s AFGSC continues this tradition.
The changes would assign the mission of Air Supremacy to the AFGSC and remove the nuclear element. The other components (strategic logistics & reconnaissance) would remain intact, and the institution would remain under the control of USSTRATCOM. The AFGSC would also acquire high-altitude anti-aircraft artillery (and accompanying RADAR) of its own, in order to seamlessly blend organic air- and ground-based systems to shoot down enemy airplanes and ICBMs.[i] This may entail merging AFGSC and components of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).[ii] All bombers and ground attack aircraft would be reassigned to the other branches of the military. The Air Supremacy Force left behind would thus be lean and mean, benefitting from a single overriding purpose.
The Fate of America’s Nukes
America currently possesses the Nuclear Triad, two of whose components are assigned to the Air Force/AFGSC: ICBMs and those deployed from aircraft. The ICBMs, located primarily in the Northwest, have some of the worst disciplinary and readiness records in the entire military. Their work is stale and idle, which causes problems for morale and effectiveness. On top of these internal problems, the silos can’t shoot-and-scoot to avoid incoming missiles. They were viable in the beginning of the nuclear age, but have since outlived their original purpose. They can be shuttered,[iii] and their personnel reassigned to more active roles, with dignity.
The air-delivered nuclear weapons are another matter. Some, like Farley, argue that long-range missiles have made nuclear bombers irrelevant, while others believe that they grant extra mobility and flexibility in their deployment. With the missile silos closed down, any nuclear bombers kept would be the responsibility of the Army and Navy. If either of these branches desire nuclear bombers, they will want ones which can serve a dual-purpose role. A good example of this is the B-52, which has a commendable record of conventional carpet bombing, despite never launching a single nuclear attack. So far as the Army and Navy are concerned, however, nuclear strikes will always come second after conventional bombing. Aircraft-launched nules would also most likely play a secondary role to the third leg of the nuclear triad.
The third leg of the nuclear triad, ballistic submarines, ought to become America’s primary nuclear arm. These, like the B-52, are dual-purpose and can shoot and scoot. Furthermore, they are stealthier and harder to hit than the subsonic B-52. Relying on these will simultaneously provide an incentive to maintain a properly sized submarine fleet in peacetime. The Navy, rather than USSTRATCOM, is better-suited for handling America’s nukes for a variety of reasons, some military and some political in nature. Military reasons include the geostrategic nature of the Navy, its long history of using nuclear fuel in capital ships, and its advantages in mobility. Political reasons include the Navy’s pride of place in the armed forces, its alignment with America’s maritime nature, and the political divide between offensive and defensive nuclear warfare. These will be discussed in greater detail in Part 3.
The Unchanged Air Guard
Despite the extensive reorganizing and reassigning within the Air Force/AFGSC, the Air Guard ought to remain unchanged. Since the Air Guard is a reserve service, it has a few options not necessarily available to the active-duty forces. Consolidating all reservist pilots onto a few posts, regardless of their specialization or branch, will cut down on administrative costs and eliminate redundancy/duplication of effort. Furthermore, pilots from multiple branches (but all hailing from the same state) would interact with one another daily. Fraternization will accustom these men and women to working together in joint operations, and allow a free flow of new ideas. These new ideas could readily be tested, and rapidly disseminated due to the intimate, centralized nature of the system. Reservists on land, air, and sea should be more than just a manpower backup supply; they ought to be incubators for innovation and utilized constantly as experimental battalions.
Air Power is integral to the American way of war, and every side of the argument has pertinent strengths. By downsizing, but not abolishing outright, the Air Force a hybrid system can be formed with the strengths of centralization and the flexibility of multiple single-purpose institutions working in parallel. The air supremacy mission fits well in USSTRATCOM’s mission parameters, while air-to-ground attack aircraft do not; thus, a separation relieves both internal and external tension. By orienting the military’s institutions towards missions rather than equipment, streamlining within each organization becomes easier and joint operations become more straightforward.
In part 2, I will discuss the Army, and the Navy in Part 3.