The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force
Publication Year: 2014
The United States needs airpower, but does it need an air force? In Grounded, Robert M. Farley persuasively argues that America should end the independence of the United States Air Force (USAF) and divide its assets and missions between the United States Army and the United States Navy.
In the wake of World War I, advocates of the Air Force argued that an organizationally independent air force would render other military branches obsolete. These boosters promised clean, easy wars: airpower would destroy cities beyond the reach of the armies and would sink navies before they could reach the coast. However, as Farley demonstrates, independent air forces failed to deliver on these promises in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, and the War on Terror. They have also had perverse effects on foreign and security policy, as politicians have been tempted by the vision of devastating airpower to initiate otherwise ill-considered conflicts. The existence of the USAF also produces turf wars with the Navy and the Army, leading to redundant expenditures, nonsensical restrictions on equipment use, and bad tactical decisions.
Farley does not challenge the idea that aircraft represent a critical component of America's defenses; nor does he dispute that -- especially now, with the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles -- airpower is necessary to modern warfare. Rather, he demonstrates that the efficient and wise use of airpower does not require the USAF as presently constituted. An intriguing scholarly polemic, Grounded employs a wide variety of primary and secondary source materials to build its case that the United States should now correct its 1947 mistake of having created an independent air force.
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Title Page, Copyright Page
In April 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made clear his plans to cut production of the F-22 Raptor to 187 planes. The Raptor, a stealthy fifth-generation fighter with extraordinary speed and maneuverability, had made no contribution to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, despite a...
1. American Airpowerand the Military Services
Bureaucracy may be boring, but it matters for policy. The modern state has grown into a vast collection of bureaucratic institutions, each tasked with certain critical jobs.1 Inside and outside the state, individuals, interest groups, and bureaucratic organizations strive against one another for...
2. Air Force Independence and Air Force Culture
The U.S. Air Force was born in a cauldron of organizational infighting. As detailed in later chapters, the RAF and USAF fought bitter battles for independence against their parent services. This chapter studies the organizational culture that emerged from that long struggle, especially in...
3. Airpower, Morality, and Lawfare
Any critique of airpower and independent air forces must take seriously the argument that airpower constitutes an inhumane, and possibly illegal, approach to fighting war. Surely, the introduction of moral issues to questions of war fighting and international politics is fraught with difficulty...
4. The Struggle for the RAF and the Roots of American Airpower
The stories of the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force are inextricable from one another. This and the next chapter weave these stories together, highlighting how in each service the quest for independence drove theorization of strategic bombing, and how strategic bombing theory provided...
5. From Army Air Service to Air Force
The U.S. Air Force did not win its freedom until 1947, after fighting the two major conventional wars of the twentieth century. The theoretical debates over airpower during the first half of the twentieth century played out in the United States against the backdrop of an institutional struggle...
6. American Airpower in the Era of Limited War
For defensible reasons, the early USAF focused on what it believed was the greatest threat, nuclear war. Unfortunately, the USAF found itself, in Korea and Vietnam, engaged in limited conflicts that it had not prepared for. The experience of operating under these limitations proved transformational...
7. Global Reach, Global Power in the Post–Cold War Era
Since 1947, the U.S. Air Force has been a part of the American military establishment, heavily involved in war fighting, procurement, and the development of strategy and doctrine. Today, the USAF has an important seat at the table for all decisions regarding the use of force and commands...
8. Drone Warfare
Over the past five years, the Predator drone has become the face of American airpower. Drones, operated by all of the services and by the CIA, have played a steadily larger role in American military aviation over the last decade. Best known for their use in the decapitation campaign against al- Qaeda...
9. The Way Forward
This book has made the case that organizational dynamics have repeatedly caused friction between the U.S. Air Force and its sibling services, and that this pattern will likely continue for as long as the air force retains its independence. Consequently, the book argues for folding the air force...
By its own admission, the U.S. Air Force is in crisis. Its ability to manage the nuclear weapons placed in its care remains in deep question.1 Its two newest fighter aircraft, the F-22 and F-35, have wildly exceeded cost projections and have suffered technical problems that have resulted...
I would like to thank Matthew Yglesias for persuading me, way back in 2007, to write the initial “Abolish the Air Force” article for the American Prospect. I’d also like to thank Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect for giving the idea a platform, and Noah Shachtman, Michael Goldfarb,...
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