Leadership: January 9, 2005


In the United States, the air force and navy are concerned about their future roles. The ground forces are taking the lead in the war on terror, especially in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. The air force and navy basically sit on the sidelines, and try to come up with ways to make themselves more useful, involved, and covered by the media, in a high profile war. To help find a solution, the Department of Defense has five studies underway (covering Joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational training; Joint urban operations; Information operations; Stability and support operations; and Counter-transnational threats, also described as asymmetric warfare, the use of low-tech techniques against a more powerful enemy, like the United States). 

The Department of Defense sees all of this as an opportunity to push jointness more on the different services. Normally, jointness is a hard sell, as the individual services would rather spend all their money on getting themselves ready for combat, than in learning how to better work with the other services. The Department of Defense knows this is short sighted, because in wars the services do operate together, and have traditionally had a hard time of it early on, because of a lack of practice. But the air force and navy are now eager to find new ways to get involved. The current situation also brings home the ancient truth that warfare is ultimately a fight on the ground. For decades the air force and navy have been pushing scenarios portraying the air force or navy (depending on who paid for the study) doing it all themselves. These two services still hold dear these dream situations, but right now, reality is making them look bad. 

The air force has found themselves more popular with the ground troops due to the new JDAM (satellite guided, or GPS) bombs. But this has reduced the air force to the role of cargo aircraft, flying safely out of gunfire range and dropping smart bombs on the command of some grunt below. The air force is also more in demand because of the increased capability of UAVs. But traditionally, most air force intelligence gathering was to provide targets for their bombers, rather than just sticking cameras over the battlefield for the army guys down below. To add insult to injury, the army is buying its own UAVs, which now compete with the air force UAVs. Technically, this violates a half century old agreement whereby the army does not use fixed wing aircraft (just helicopters.) The army, however, will not back off on its UAV acquisition, pointing out that the old agreement only covered aircraft with pilots in them. Right now, with the army in the spotlight, the air force dare not press the issue. Later, after the current war is over, there may be a nasty spat. This is partly because the air force is developing a new generation of combat aircraft that are pilotless. 

But its also about money and power. The more money the army spends on UAVs, the less Congress is inclined to give the air force. So there is a lot of enthusiasm for finding ways the air force can make themselves more useful, in a joint kind of way. The air force and army are actually working on new communications gear, that will make it easier for aircraft and ground troops to exchange information. This implies that the two services will train together during peacetime, and be ready to go forth together in combat. The army would like the help. When things get hot on the ground, the infantry will take additional support from wherever they can get it.

The navy, being, literally, out at sea, is taking a different approach. One advantage the navy has is combined arms (ships, a large air force and their own ground troops; the marines.) The marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this doesnt do much for the navy. The marines are, in practical terms, a separate service that costs the navy money when the marines are heavily involved somewhere. But the marines are part of the navys ability to put substantial, if not always overwhelming, military force anywhere on the planet, on short notice. The navy sees this as a very useful thing for counter-terrorism. But SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has the lead in counter-terror operations, and SOCOM prefers to fly in. The navy would be a major player if there were war with China over Taiwan. But thats a war no one really wants. That, however, does not stop the navy from preparing for it. Thats the navys job. Another potential war, in North Korea, would also feature heavy navy involvement. North Korea is on a peninsula, and all of it is reachable by naval aviation. So while the air force looks for more ways to get involved in current wars, the navy prepares for the next round.


Article Archive

Leadership: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close