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Exchanging Hats to Fix the Military Part 1: Air Superiority AFGSC

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Exchanging Hats to Fix the Military Part 1: Air Superiority AFGSC

Michael Gladius

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.

End Notes

[i] i.e., THAAD and/or HIMAD

[ii] Alternatively, the AFGSC, MDA, and Space Force could remain as separate components of USSTRATCOM

[iii] Or converted into purely storage facilities

About the Author(s)

Michael Gladius is the pseudonym for a budding commentator in the fields of military history and theory. His goal is to blend the lessons of history, principles of human behavior, and practical wisdom in order to draw upon a wide array of factors for optimized solutions and problem-solving. He is currently studying in Europe.



Mon, 08/26/2019 - 12:14pm

Every time I read one of these "Michael Gladius" pieces, I'm left with the impression that the author hasn't spent much time studying or gathering practical experience in military theory, the lessons of history, principles of human behavior, and practical wisdom before laying down commentary.  This article bypasses decades of documented debate and operational history related to development of airpower doctrine and organization to credit a single book review as defining air superiority as "the main argument" for an independent air force, before going on to parcel out the rest of the force based on some fuzzy reasoning regarding nuclear forces and little else. 

Setting aside the issue of nuclear forces, whose organization and employment is more complex than "nuclear strikes will always come second after conventional bombing", I'd suggest the author spend some time learning about the history, and the underlying physical and military principles leading to the development of Field Manual 100-20 in 1943, its evolution into Air Force conventional combat doctrine, and subsequent integration into joint doctrine.  A review of the 1942-44 Southwest Pacific campaign, the internal debates on post-war organization of the newly independent Air Force, and the resulting issues with Air Force command/control in Vietnam (which raises doubts about JEB's wish to return to pre-1992 Air Force organization).  Finish that off with a look at the way the Army has organized organic aviation assets from 1918 through the current day, and the accompanying operational and financial implications of fencing "tactical" aviation and transferring it to the Army.

Air Force doctrine and organization deserves discussion, but something more informed than the cartoon published above. 

Can't wait for the reorganization of the Army and Navy....

The US nuclear deterrent is more of a dyad based upon ICBMs and SLBMs, both of which carry high-yield warheads.  By contrast, the Air Force's nuclear-armed bombs and cruise missiles carry low-to-intermediate yield warheads.


Silo-based ICBMs are still preferable to mobile rail or road-based TEL'd missiles, especially given that 450 missiles are involved.  What would be an improvement is a Minuteman III replacement that allows for fractional orbital bombardment or depressed trajectory flight, and one that can carry warheads as well as penetration aids and HGVs.  


It would be unwise to rely solely upon SSBNs to provide the US nuclear deterrent, and it is highly unlikely that US ICBM silos could be destroyed by a nuclear attack before launching their ICBMs.  

I respectfully, but bluntly, suggest that the author expand his review of "history, principles of human behavior, and practical wisdom" and do a more thorough examination of the formation of the US Air Force. Failing to understand why the interservice boundaries were drawn as they were guarantees failure to fix any of the problems which ensued. Post-WWI, opinions on airpower could be oversimplified into two categories: those who saw air as a new domain of warfare which promised victory without the slog of the trenches, and those who saw aviation as a good place to cut budgets. There was no middle ground for a US Army aviator who thought the infantry should get any say in the use of aircraft. There is still no place in the US Air Force for an aviator who thinks their primary mission should be anything that doesn't also ensure the steady funding of an independent Air Force. The logic which leads to such behavior is human nature, so it's probably not the easiest fix.

I agree with the author that the US military could benefit greatly from redrawn lines between the Air Force and Army, and some hard-drawn lines within the Air Force as well. I suggest a subdivision of the Air Force into Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Mobility Command. SAC would handle independent nationally-tasked operations: ICBMs (keep them, but that's another essay), heavy bombers,
etc. TAC units would operate all in-theater assets: fighters, AWACS, ISR, and long-range air-defense missiles. AMC does transports and tankers. Homeland defense would fall under TAC but with heavy tie-in to SAC sensors and national-level intelligence assets. There would also probably be instances where SAC bombers would service battlefield targets for TAC, but those would be kept on a clear services-requested basis, not a transfer of assets. Divested to the Army would be all ground attack-only aircraft, all SAR and special operations aviation, and responsbility for ground-based air defense units to cover mobile Army formations. Properly organized, there would be distinct organizations capable of operating independently of one another, each with clear missions and requirements to support future funding, rather than trying to pawn off costs and steal glory from other organizations as happens a lot today.