Learning Large Lessons: The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era [NOOK Book]


The relative roles of U.S. ground and air power have shifted since the end of the Cold War. At the level of major operations and campaigns, the Air Force has proved capable of and committed to performing deep strike operations, which the Army long had believed the Air Force could not reliably accomplish. If air power can largely supplant Army systems in deep operations, the implications for both joint doctrine and service capabilities would be significant. To assess the shift of these roles, the author of this ...
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Learning Large Lessons: The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era

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The relative roles of U.S. ground and air power have shifted since the end of the Cold War. At the level of major operations and campaigns, the Air Force has proved capable of and committed to performing deep strike operations, which the Army long had believed the Air Force could not reliably accomplish. If air power can largely supplant Army systems in deep operations, the implications for both joint doctrine and service capabilities would be significant. To assess the shift of these roles, the author of this report analyzed postÂ-Cold War conflicts in Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), and Iraq (2003). Because joint doctrine frequently reflects a consensus view rather than a truly integrated joint perspective, the author recommends that joint doctrine-and the processes by which it is derived and promulgated-be overhauled. The author also recommends reform for the services beyond major operations and campaigns to ensure that the United States attains its strategic objectives. This revised edition includes updates and an index.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833042415
  • Publisher: RAND Corporation
  • Publication date: 3/30/2007
  • Series: Rand Corporation Monograph Series
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 264
  • File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Learning Large Lessons

The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era
By David E. Johnson

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2006 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it, and wipe it clean of life-but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud. -T. R. Fehrenbach

The airplane is the only weapon which can engage with equal facility, land, sea, and other air forces for the destruction of the enemy's will to fight. -Major General Frank A. Andrews, 1938

[T]he air-armor team is a most powerful combination in the breakthrough and exploitation.... The use of this coordinated force, in combat, should be habitual. -Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group

This report poses the hypothesis that post-Cold War operations have witnessed a shift in the roles of ground and air power in warfighting. Note that "warfighting" is not "conflict resolution," a point that will be addressed at the end of this report. Rather, it refers to conventional major combat operations. The two services largely responsible for promulgating the relevant doctrines, creating effective organizations, and procuring equipment for the changing conflict environment in the domains of land and air-the U.S. Armyand the U.S. Air Force-do not appear to be fully incorporating the lessons learned from post-Cold War operations. Indeed, the Army and the Air Force seem to have viewed the conflicts of the post-Cold War period through prisms that often favor their specific institutional imperatives.

Study Scope and Methodology

Study Scope: The Range of Military Operations and Focused Learning

This report focuses on how the Army and Air Force have viewed five "war" cases during the post-Cold War era and what lessons they have drawn from them. Before moving into the case analysis, the study briefly examines the historical relationship between the Army and the Air Force before the end of the Cold War.

The case assessments focus on Army and Air Force lessons learned from conflicts in the post-Cold War period, despite the fact that all of the cases under examination occurred subsequent to the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which prompted the introduction of joint doctrine. In reality, joint warfighting doctrine is largely an amalgamation of service doctrines, subject to interpretation in the event of execution by the regional combatant commander. Consequently, prevailing views about ground and air power are largely informed by the services, enabled by service capabilities, and influenced in application by the views of combatant commanders and their subordinates. Finally, this report offers concluding thoughts about the changing roles of ground and air power relative to each other and what lessons are not being learned in the larger realm of conflict resolution.

War cases have been isolated as the area of analysis because warfighting is the activity that largely influences the behavior of the services. This warfighting focus dominates, despite the fact that joint doctrine notes the requirement for the U.S. armed forces to be prepared to "meet various challenges, protect national interests, and achieve strategic goals in a variety of ways, depending on the nature of the strategic environment." This strategic environment translates into a "range of military operations," delineated in Joint Publication (JP) 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, and depicted in Table 1.1.

Army and Air Force doctrines, although they address the full range of military operations (also termed the "spectrum of conflict"), clearly focus on the "war" category, as they have done throughout the post-World War I era. The Army's current Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, is quite explicit in this regard:

Army forces are the decisive component of land warfare in joint and multinational operations. The Army organizes, trains, and equips its forces to fight and win the nation's wars and achieve directed national objectives. Fighting and winning the nation's wars is the foundation of Army service-the Army's non-negotiable contract with the American people and its enduring obligation to the nation.

FM 3-0 retains the tenet, first introduced in the U.S. Army's 1923 Field Service Regulations (which will be discussed later), that an army prepared for war can handle any other military operation as a lesser-included case, stating: "The Army's warfighting focus produces a full spectrum force that meets the needs of joint force commanders (JFCs) in war, conflict, and peace." Furthermore, a warfighting focus is central even to training for full-spectrum operations: "Battle-focused training on combat tasks prepares soldiers, units, and leaders to deploy, fight, and win."

Air Force doctrine also focuses on warfighting. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, specifies that "[t]he role of the Air Force is to organize, train, and equip aviation forces 'primarily for prompt and sustained offensive and defensive air operations.'"

Although the period since the end of the Cold War has witnessed significant conflict, the "war" dimension of the range of military operations is where the Army and the Air Force have generally focused their institutional efforts, which are reflected in their doctrines, organizations, and equipment. The stakes are high in this area in terms of budget share and service prestige. Consequently, the war dimension is also the focus of the "lesson learning" within military institutions and the locus of interservice tension. Table 1.2 shows the most notable conflicts the United States has been engaged in since the end of the Cold War.

In the table, the conflicts with an "X" in the right-hand column denote large-scale combat operations for the Army, the Air Force, or both. These conflicts have "lessons" that have been interpreted quite differently by the Army and the Air Force, resulting in disagreements between the two services. The other operations-Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda-were limited and created little Army-Air Force friction about how they should best be addressed. These "less-than-war" conflicts have also largely been treated as "lesser-included cases" by both services and have largely provided tactics, techniques, and procedures to inform existing doctrines or provide negative lessons, as in the case of Somalia.

Study Methodology

The next chapter briefly examines the historical Army-Air Force relationship. The following four chapters of this report assess five wars: Iraq (1991) and Bosnia (1995) in Chapter Three, Kosovo (1999) in Chapter Four, Afghanistan (2001) in Chapter Five, and Iraq (2003) in Chapter Six. The analysis is limited to identifying the responses of the ground-centric community and the air-centric community to what happened in these wars, the lessons learned, and, where appropriate, a more integrated assessment of the wars. For the ground-centric and air-centric views, the approach used was to characterize what people near the extremes of each service were saying about these cases, so long as those people were within the bounds of what the institution regarded as mainstream. For the assessment of what actually happened, we used academic and public sources not rooted in a specific ground or air perspective. The analysis focused on providing answers to the following questions:

What are the causes of interservice tension at the war end of the range of military operations?

Are Army and Air Force lessons learned being shaped by service influences that are inhibiting true learning and improvements in joint warfighting capabilities?

Are single-service doctrinal paradigms sufficient to capture these lessons, or do they call for a fundamental rethinking and shift of the roles of air and ground power in warfighting? What would be the implications of such a shift in the realms of joint doctrine, service roles and missions, service programs, and service cultures?

The concluding chapter offers recommendations about approaches to resolving Army-Air Force warfighting tensions and thoughts about the need for broader joint and service doctrine for conflict resolution.

Chapter Two

The Relationship Between American Ground Power and Air Power Before the End of the Cold War

Historically, tension has existed between the Army and the Air Force over the relative roles of ground and air power. The origins of this tension date to the period between the two World Wars, when the Air Force was a branch of the Army. Throughout the interwar period, U.S. Army airmen fought to establish air power as a decisive instrument and to gain their independence from what they considered a conservative Army hierarchy that was incapable of realizing the potential of air power as anything other than long-range artillery relegated to supporting the ground effort. The views of the airmen were not without basis.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Army leaders were focused on incorporating the lessons of World War I into Army doctrine and organization. They viewed ground combat as the decisive arena of warfare and believed that the "mission of the infantry is the general mission of the entire force." And the mission of the Army was clear: "The ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy's armed forces by battle. Decisive defeat in battle breaks the enemy's will to war and forces him to sue for peace." Furthermore, the regulations also stressed that "[d]ecisive results are obtained only by the offensive." In the minds of the ground Army leadership, given these fundamental doctrinal tenets, "the other arms and services existed only to aid the infantry."

The post-World War I period also witnessed the transformation of the U.S. Army from a frontier constabulary to a modern army. In the aftermath of the Great War, the Army embraced a key principle that would guide its fundamental institutional decisions to this day: An Army designed for the worst case can handle all other types of operations as lesser-included cases. The Army codified this tenet in its Field Service Regulations, which stated that the Army would focus on preparing to fight "an opponent organized for war on modern principles and equipped with all the means of modern war," because "An army capable of waging successful war under these conditions will prove adequate to any less grave emergency with which it may be confronted."

The Army air component's doctrine evolved along radically different lines than that of the ground forces. During the interwar period, the Army Air Corps developed a theory of strategic bombing that focused not on enemy armies but on an opposing nation's ability to wage war. Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell, one of the architects of U.S. strategic bombing doctrine, later summed up this view when he noted that "modern nations cannot wage war if their industries are destroyed." Therefore, "air warfare is ... a method of destroying the enemy's ability to wage war. It is primarily a means of striking a major blow toward winning a war, rather than a direct auxiliary to surface warfare."

In 1941, a group of air officers presented a plan to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that captured the essence of American air power doctrine. The officers' plan, Air War Plans Division, Plan 1 (AWPD-1), postulated that American air power could have a decisive influence on the outcome of the war against Germany by destroying its industrial war-making capacity, restricting Axis air operations, and creating the conditions for and supporting a ground invasion of Germany. The confidence of the air officers was reflected in a bold assertion in AWPD-1: "[I]f the air offensive is successful, a land offensive may not be necessary." Nevertheless, the officers noted that the promise of American air power could only be realized if it were "given priority over all other national production requirements."

When the United States entered World War II, General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, reorganized the Army into three components: Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces, and Army Service Forces. This new arrangement implicitly recognized the autonomy, if not the independence, of the Air Force. Indeed, in 1943, the Army published FM 100-2, Command and Employment of Air Power, which explicitly recognized the new relationship between Army ground and air forces: "LAND POWER AND AIR POWER ARE CO-EQUAL AND INTERDEPENDENT FORCES; NEITHER IS AN AUXILIARY OF THE OTHER." Moreover, the new manual defined command relationships that are clearly recognizable in current joint doctrine:


What developed during and after World War II were two institutions with fundamentally different views of warfare. The Army was convinced that conventional ground forces were the critical war-winning factor; the Air Force believed that air power was the key to victory. In World War II, and during subsequent major conflicts, each service largely fought independently. This is not to say that the Army and the Air Force have not effectively integrated their capabilities in the past. Nevertheless, the most effective "systems" of cooperation were generally developed in the field-not by the institutions responsible for training, organizing, or equipping forces-because the need was so great. Perhaps the most compelling example of this development of closely integrated air-ground capabilities can be found in the experience of General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group in Europe during World War II. A photograph of several of the ground and air commanders responsible for this integration appears on the cover of this study. Their example is instructive:

A postwar review of operations in the European theater asserted that the Army's failure to develop air-ground doctrine meant that means of cooperation had to be invented extemporaneously in the field. In the combat theaters, ground and air commanders were forced to create ad hoc procedures for tactical air power because their superiors provided no centralized direction.... The final after-action report of General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group emphasized that "the air-armor team is a most powerful combination in the breakthrough and exploitation.... The use of this coordinated force, in combat, should be habitual." Thus, although air support of ground operations played an important role in the Allied drive into Germany and procedures were continually improved, the initiative came from below. In the combat zones, where Americans were dying, intraservice agendas were discarded and field expedients were devised to overcome institutional agendas.

At the risk of oversimplification, it might be said that the Army fought tactical battles to the range of its organic artillery. The Air Force focused on strategic and interdiction efforts while providing tactical close air support (CAS) to ground forces. This bi-service approach to warfare is perhaps best illustrated in the performance of the Army and the Air Force in the Korean and Vietnam wars, during which the Army focused on closing with and destroying enemy forces, while the Air Force concentrated on strategic targets in the homeland of the enemy and sought to interdict forces and logistics beyond the influence of the Army.


Excerpted from Learning Large Lessons by David E. Johnson Copyright © 2006 by RAND Corporation . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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