By air, land and sea
Lani Kass, The Washington Times, 9/1/2007
Inter-service squabbles are both
unseemly and destructive in a time of war. Those serving the nation
understand the pernicious effects of such rivalries.
Since the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, a
generation of officers has been inculcated with the virtues of "jointness"
-- the mutual reliance born of confidence in each others' capabilities.
Yet, on the home-front, an increasingly vocal chorus strives to fragment
the interdependence that has been fostered for two decades. The wedge
issue -- promulgated by those who have evidently forgotten how service
parochialisms lead to catastrophic failures -- is the perceived necessity
to increase the size of the land forces at the expense of the Air Force
This relentless campaign is timed to coincide with the arrival of a
new Congress and secretary of defense. It is played out against the stark
backdrop of mounting casualties in Iraq, ongoing strategic reviews, clamor
for "surging" ground forces to secure Baghdad and public disaffection with
a war. The timing of the campaign is understandable; its rationale and
implications are not.
Every fighter pilot learns that attacking a target at high speed and
low altitude is fraught with the risk of "target fixation." This
single-minded focus on getting the optimal shot -- often accompanied by
loss of situational awareness and inattention to the surroundings -- has
proven deadly since the dawn of aviation. The single-minded focus on the
ground fight in Iraq is beset by all the risks of target fixation -- at
the strategic level. It leads to such ill-conceived notions as strangling
the Air Force's modernization programs to pay for the expansion of the
Army and Marines. Missing from this argument is any concern for the
military's overall health, or the insidious consequences of rekindling
service rivalries. Missing also is any consideration of the dire straits
the Air Force is in as a consequence of 16 years of continuous combat with
zero recapitalization of its battle-worn equipment.
The notion of mortgaging the nation's future is both flawed and
irresponsible. Even assuming that additional brigades could be recruited
and trained quickly, how would that expanded force get to the fight? How
would it be provisioned, allowed to maneuver and defended from above? The
last time an American soldier was shot at by enemy aircraft was 1953. The
ability to look up in the sky and know there's nothing to fear is
priceless. Yet, air superiority -- the precondition of effective
operations on land and at sea, as well as in the air -- it is not an
entitlement; it is a battle that must be fought and won, often at high
cost. Those who argue for robbing Peter to pay Paul would, quite
literally, risk the lives of soldiers and airmen as well as Marines,
sailors and Coast Guardsmen -- all of whom depend on the Air Force's
global reach, global power and global vigilance.
But the perils of fixation don't end there. With an aging fleet of
aircraft and vessels -- and our military "neither losing nor winning in
Iraq" -- what happens to America's global posture? How long before others
attempt to exploit what they cannot but perceive as America's nadir? The
rest of the world has not taken a time out to accommodate our focus on
Iraq. An arch of instability literally spans the globe from Latin America,
through East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Russia, China, Africa and the
rest of the Middle East.
In the wake of Desert Storm, the United States was hailed as the sole
arbiter of the new Pax Americana. While many grumbled at what appeared as
unconstrained U.S. pre-eminence, few dared to challenge it -- until that
September morning when enemies appropriated our airliners and used them as
their airpower to kill 3,000 non-combatants on America's soil. That very
day, the Air Force spread its wings over America's cities in an
unprecedented operation, aptly named Noble Eagle. America's wingmen
continue to provide that Combat Air Patrol to this day, serving as the
nation's global eyes and ears -- as well as its ultimate nuclear backstop
-- all while flying and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, America depends on air power to an unprecedented extent. The
Air Force underwrites the national strategy of reassuring allies, while
deterring, dissuading and decisively defeating enemies. Its
recapitalization is an urgent security need -- not a discretionary luxury.
Our men and women in uniform trust each other with their lives. They
count on each member of the joint team to deliver the full range of
service-unique effects. Only one of our armed services can provide global
surveillance, global command and control and the requisite range,
precision and payload to strike any target, anywhere, anytime, at the
speed of sound or the speed of light. Our warriors understand that. Our
elected officials must, as well.
Shortchanging any one service to prop up another will cost lives and
treasure, undermine the trust binding the military together and foist on
future generations the consequences of strategic myopia.
Lani Kass is a professor of military strategy
at the National War College, currently on sabbatical as special assistant
to the chief of staff, USAF. These views are her own and do not
necessarily reflect the official positions of the Defense Department, Air
Force or National Defense University.