Leadership: November 15, 2003

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Despite the fact that the U.S. Army has more aircraft than the United States Air Force, and the U.S. Navy has its own huge air force, the air force still tends to dominate planning and command of air operations. This creates friction with the army and navy aviation people, who have their own special needs and capabilities. For decades, senior military people have been preaching the need for "joint" control and use of air power. But the air force has always maintained the largest air operations centers. The air force, with some justification, always assumed that they would be the ones running any air campaign. Currently, it is the air force that pays for and runs the "Combined Air Operations Centers." (COACs) These are supposed to be "joint" operations, but the COACs are air force creations, run by the air force and in peace time belong to one of the numbered air forces. In war time, the COACs are supposed to become truly joint with the addition of army, navy and marine aviation staffs. But no one ever mistakes a COAC as anything but an air force headquarters operation. Procedures are air force procedures, tactics are air force tactics. The navy, army and marines promptly look for ways around the air force strongly suggestions that everything be done the air force way. The army has long successfully argued that its helicopters, because they are not "real aircraft", should not be controlled by COAC, and they get away with it. The navy and marines do the same with some of their carrier aircraft, especially when it comes to warplanes needed for the defense of ships. So the battle for true "joint air operations" continues, as it has for over half a century.

 


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