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Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force

Robert M. Farley
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 264
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    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4496-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    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 price tag of around $150 million.¹

    Advocates argue that the Raptor, designed for high-intensity conflict against peer competitors, will have its day. However, over the past sixty years a disturbing number of expensive united States Air Force (USAF) aircraft have never seen combat. The USAF bought 384 B-36 Peacemaker bombers in the 1940s and...

  4. 1 American Airpower and the Military Services
    (pp. 9-26)

    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 influence and resources. In the united States, Congress, the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the various organs of the intelligence community, and each of the military services contribute to national security policy. The arrangement of these organizations matters for how the policymaking process plays out.

    While the fundamental purpose of foreign policy and military organizations...

  5. 2 Air Force Independence and Air Force Culture
    (pp. 27-44)

    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 the USAF. This culture helped create and sustain the three Clausewitzian misperceptions of airpower theory, misperceptions that persist and continue to distort American national security policy. This chapter begins with a brief discussion of organizational culture, followed by analysis of how airpower theory helps produce three critical misinterpretations (decisive effect, tyranny of technology, and piercing the...

  6. 3 Airpower, Morality, and Lawfare
    (pp. 45-64)

    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. To begin with, moral perspectives (not to mention international law) vary across time and place. even to the extent that moral considerations matter, there is some question as to how those considerations (especially those focused on the suffering of enemy populations) should weigh in calculations of national interest and military doctrine. However, the destruction of cities (and...

  7. 4 The Struggle for the RAF and the Roots of American Airpower
    (pp. 65-84)

    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 the foundation for independence. Space does not allow a full detailed history of either the British or the American airpower experience. excellent works already exist on the air services of both nations, and this book does not seek to compete with the best work that historians have to offer. The institutional histories of the...

  8. 5 From Army Air Service to Air Force
    (pp. 85-102)

    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 within the U.S. Army and between the army and the navy. In part because of this long history of bureaucratic struggle, the current arrangement of U.S. military aviation remains complicated. The USAF represents only one of four different aircraft fleets in the U.S. military arsenal (the number increases if we include Coast...

  9. 6 American Airpower in the Era of Limited War
    (pp. 103-122)

    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 for the airpower institutions of the united States and helped clarify the borders between services. The treatments of these campaigns is of necessity cursory in some respect, as the intent is more to demonstrate the repetitive nature of problems associated with independent airpower than to supply an authoritative account of the campaigns in question.


  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 Global Reach, Global Power in the Post–Cold War Era
    (pp. 123-140)

    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 a sizable portion of the overall defense budget. The USAF continues to control the bulk of U.S. nuclear assets and flies combat missions daily in Afghanistan. The USAF remains an integral cog in the U.S. defense complex.

    However, the demands on military forces have changed in ways that threaten to undermine the...

  12. 8 Drone Warfare
    (pp. 141-160)

    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 in Pakistan, drones have quietly performed most of the missions normally associated with airpower during the War on Terror. Evolutionary in process and revolutionary in implication, the development of drone warfare threatens to upend the traditional categorization of airpower missions and potentially even the concept of military identity itself....

  13. 9 The Way Forward
    (pp. 161-180)

    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 back into its constituent services. However, abolishing the air force is not the only alternative for reforming the U.S. armed forces. This chapter briefly examines the institutional arrangement of airpower in two other countries, presents some alternative policy options, sets forth a plan for abolishing the air force, and studies the process...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-190)

    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 in several months of grounding.² Other procurement programs have also suffered setbacks. A next-generation bomber project may (literally) never get off the ground.³ It is true that the USAF crisis is part of a general crisis for the U.S. military establishment, as two longterm irregular wars, a financial collapse, and technological change...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 191-192)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 193-226)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 227-230)
  18. Index
    (pp. 231-244)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-250)