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The Air Force Way of War

The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    The Air Force Way of War
    Book Description:

    On December 18, 1972, more than one hundred U.S. B-52 bombers flew over North Vietnam to initiate Operation Linebacker II. During the next eleven days, sixteen of these planes were shot down and another four suffered heavy damage. These losses soon proved so devastating that Strategic Air Command was ordered to halt the bombing. The U.S. Air Force's poor performance in this and other operations during Vietnam was partly due to the fact that they had trained their pilots according to methods devised during World War II and the Korean War, when strategic bombers attacking targets were expected to take heavy losses. Warfare had changed by the 1960s, but the USAF had not adapted. Between 1972 and 1991, however, the Air Force dramatically changed its doctrines and began to overhaul the way it trained pilots through the introduction of a groundbreaking new training program called "Red Flag."

    InThe Air Force Way of War, Brian D. Laslie examines the revolution in pilot instruction that Red Flag brought about after Vietnam. The program's new instruction methods were dubbed "realistic" because they prepared pilots for real-life situations better than the simple cockpit simulations of the past, and students gained proficiency on primary and secondary missions instead of superficially training for numerous possible scenarios. In addition to discussing the program's methods, Laslie analyzes the way its graduates actually functioned in combat during the 1980s and '90s in places such as Grenada, Panama, Libya, and Iraq. Military historians have traditionally emphasized the primacy of technological developments during this period and have overlooked the vital importance of advances in training, but Laslie's unprecedented study of Red Flag addresses this oversight through its examination of the seminal program.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6086-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 USAF Pilot Training and the Air War in Vietnam
    (pp. 1-32)

    Historian and former air force officer Mark Clodfelter wrote in his workThe Limits of Air Power, “Air Power was ineffective throughout the end of the Johnson era of the Vietnam War because both civilian and military leaders possessed preconceived ideas that affected its application.” Clodfelter’s comment should be extended to apply through the end of the American experience in Vietnam. The use of air power throughout the Vietnam conflict was ineffective. Poor organization, weak command and control, and lack of unity of command all contributed to aircraft losses in Vietnam, but these were not as significant as improper training...

  5. 2 Training Tactical Fighter Pilots for War
    (pp. 33-54)

    After Vietnam, a revolution in training fundamentally altered the way the air force conceived of and executed warfare. It altered future conflicts as much as technologically advanced aircraft and munitions did. Having advanced fighter aircraft is, obviously, important to succeeding in combat, but the pilot inside the machine must be trained to employ his weapon system in the most effective way. After Vietnam the U.S. Air Force, especially inside Tactical Air Command, changed the way it prepared the aircraft’s “brain,” its pilot, for combat. Air-to-air combat was once called “the most glamorized and least understood aspect of aerial warfare,” according...

  6. 3 Operational Exercises
    (pp. 55-82)

    The creation of the training exercise Red Flag in 1975 and subsequent exercises were the most important steps in achieving the later battlefield success of the 1990s. The air force fixed its technological shortfalls after Vietnam, and while technology may be a decisive factor in conflict, having advanced weapon systems is not the same as employing them. Furthermore, employing weapon systems in training is also different from doing so in combat. By the middle of the 1970s, the pieces were in place for the air force to make serious strides in the way it conceived of and executed air warfare....

  7. 4 Setting the Stage: Impact of New Aircraft on Training
    (pp. 83-98)

    As the training revolution began, the air force was procuring new aircraft and systems with special new technologies. The new technologies forced the training exercises to become even more realistic and increase the threat levels to keep pace with advancements in the aircraft. As soon as new aircraft were declared “operationally capable,” they were deployed to Nellis for inclusion in training events. This served a twofold purpose. First, it exposed other pilots to the capabilities of new aircraft. Second, and more important, it put new aircraft into realistic training scenarios, which helped determine what tactics made most sense with them....

  8. 5 Short of War: Air Power in the 1980s
    (pp. 99-112)

    Although much has been written about air operations in Vietnam and Desert Storm, relatively little attention has been paid to air operations during the 1980s. What effect did changes in training in the 1970s have on the conduct of the “small wars” of the 1980s? Colonel Robert Venkus, the commander of the F-111 squadron that led the attack against Libya in 1986, predicted that this venture, known as Operation El Dorado Canyon, would be viewed only as a “footnote in American history.” Yet he also called it a “benchmark by which other military capabilities can be measured.” It certainly was...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 6 Preparing for a Storm: Operation Desert Shield
    (pp. 113-130)

    Red Flag was created to prepare combat pilots for a war like Desert Storm. Referring to the importance and contributions of aviators during World War I, historian Malcolm Smith declared: “One would search in vain to discover instances in which they dramatically affected the course of battle or campaign.” Eighty-three years later, authors tripped over each other trying to locate the most hyperbolic phrase to describe all that air power had accomplished in a few weeks. Too often the rhetoric focused on the machines rather than the men who flew them. The air force was not only better equipped with...

  11. 7 Desert Storm: Execution
    (pp. 131-154)

    The planning for Operation Desert Storm relied heavily, although not exclusively, on tactical air power. To say that tactical air power worked alone would be wrong. Hundreds of other aircraft enabled the tactical assets to perform their missions. The operations of each mission type—including aerial refuelers, search and rescue assets, airborne warning and control systems (the E-3 AWACS), and joint surveillance target attack radar systems (the E-2 JSTARS)—could fill a book of its own, not to mention the contribution of army helicopters and tactical naval assets, which added heavily to the overall air campaign as well. However, Desert...

  12. 8 Reorganization after the Storm
    (pp. 155-162)

    In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, a new era of air power dominance was heralded, ushering in what technology historian Thomas P. Hughes called the “technological sublime.” Military members, especially those within the air force, and members of the general public took pleasure in the sights and sounds of demonstrated air superiority over a much weaker and supposedly technologically inferior nation. The technological sublime led in turn to an enthusiasm for technology in which proponents of the air war cited it as a new way of warfare. For many in the air force, it was the ultimate vindication of...

  13. 9 Deliberate and Allied Force
    (pp. 163-180)

    The value and efficacy of Red Flag and other training exercises continued to be demonstrated after Desert Storm. Red Flag continued to evolve, and its missions changed. Lieutenant Colonel Brian McLean covered several of the changes made to the Red Flag exercises after Desert Storm in his bookJoint Training for Night Warfare(1992). During the 1990s, emphasis was placed on night-flying operations and on increasing the number of aircraft participating to more accurately reflect combat operations in which dozens, if not hundreds, of aircraft would be deployed at the same time. Red Flag personnel also moved to have each...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-184)

    Since the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War, it has been training, not technology, that has separated American pilots from their enemies during aerial combat. There were several changes in training after the Vietnam War ended that aided in the creation of new exercises. First, the creation of the DOC statement allowed squadrons to train to a primary and secondary mission. Second, the building-block approach to aerial warfare training improved a combat pilot’s ability to close with and kill the enemy. Pilots learned step-by-step tactics to kill the enemy both at a distance and in a close-in dogfight....

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 185-186)
  16. Appendix: Air Force “Flag” Exercises, 1975–Present
    (pp. 187-190)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 191-210)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-220)
  19. Index
    (pp. 221-238)