Air Power Does Not Win Wars; But Neither Does Land Power!

While reading an article on Air Force Uniforms over at Battlelands; the article referred me to the letters section at Air Force Magazine who had the usual tirade against the very formal uniform being worn by the Air Force Chief Staff in theBattlelands post.  Some are pretty classic, and I can see that within the Air Farce, I mean Force there are a fair share of Army despisers.  Given my contempt for the Air Force I guess it is turn about fair play that the Air Force have individuals who have contempt for the Air Force—of course I don’t see why, because without the Army there would have never been an Air Force—but that is a technical point.

There was a letter however that did get my attention; which I will quote in full:

After reading the [editorial] twice, I feel compelled to present some of my personal exceptions to the political game that has been going on for years to deplete the US Air Force to its lowest of readiness and upgrading of new aircraft.

Having been an avid aviation historian for over 65 years and also an avid historian of World War I, II, Korea, and Vietnam, I cannot believe that responsible leaders in our government seem to believe wars are won by the ground pounders. This is such an erroneous assessment. When the Air Force B-29 crew piloted by Colonel Tibbets and crew dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, it brought about an end to the war with Japan. Japanese leaders were prepared to defend their homeland at all costs if the American forces invaded Japan. The Japanese even buried some aircraft and hid tons of weapons in caves in the event of an invasion, with the intent of using such. I served in Japan at the end of World War II, and I witnessed what our atomic bombs did, which brought about an immediate surrender.

Correll’s comment: “A consenus developed among politicians in and out of the Pentagon that the Air Force’s main job was supporting boots on the ground. The QDR in 2005 declared ‘irregular warfare’ the dominant form of warfare. Funding was realigned and the Air Force and the Navy became bill payers for the ground forces.” This is where I take exception, as ground forces are not going to win any future wars! It takes the Air Force and Navy to provide sufficient airpower to destroy strategic targets of the enemy. The Air Force has played an integral part in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ground forces would not have achieved many of their objectives had it not been for the Air Force aircraft.

Panetta said the force would “no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” Correll also stated that the Air Force has already been cut so much that to bounce back will be difficult. This is not the position that our Air Force should be in today or in the future. China has increased its defense spending by 11.8 percent and Russia at least 12 percent; whereas in the United States we have decreased our defense spending by at least 10 percent. Our responsible leaders in Washington had better have another cup of coffee and give serious thought to ensure that America will be the strongest country on the planet, to ensure our safety and freedoms. Airpower is here to stay, and it must be the best in the world!

Lt. Col. Donald E. Evett,

USAF (Ret.)

Bountiful, Utah


Let’s begin with the first paragraph of Lt. Col. Evett’s letter.  I do not doubt that the USAF is at a low readiness rate; so is the Army, USMC, and the Navy.  This happens during wars where you have to make choices.  Given the nature of the wars we have been fighting and the fact that two different President’s have not asked the American people to step up to the plate and make sacrifices such as paying more taxes or buying War Bonds we were not able to give the military everything it wanted like we did in World War II.  As far as new aircraft I can only blame the USAF for buying aircraft that cost so much that they have not been committed—the F22; the F35 whose cost continues to soar; and whose refusal to upgrade over the years the one Aircraft that is capable of providing the type of support required in both Iraq and Afghanistan the A10 is well documented.  Let me say however that the support by the F15 and 16 in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been excellent.

Wowed I overwhelmed by his debt and breath of knowledge about Aviation History and War.  Air Power, whether provided by the Army or Navy and Marine Corps has been an integral part of warfare since World War I; but in no way has Air Power alone ever won a war.  It certainly played no role in winning World War I.  Strategic Bombing e.g the way we bombed Germany and Japan in World War II did not cause Germany to surrender, it was the Allied Armies who defeated Germany and Japan.  What the carpet and fire bombings of our Strategic Bombing Campaign did was only to piss off both the Germans and Japanese.  I concede that Japan surrendered after the Atomic Bomb was dropped but it also took the Emperor overthrowing the Military Cabal to end the suffering of his people.  The Japanese military was prepared to fight to the last man.  Thank God the Emperor was rational otherwise there would have been millions of dead and wounded on both sides from the invasion of Japan.  Lastly the dropping of the Atomic Bombs was made possible by the blood, sweat, and tears of the men of the Army and Marine Corps who fought in the Central and Southwest Pacific to secure the islands that allowed the B29s to drop the Atomic Bombs.

Air Power, provided by the Air Force and the Navy were critical to the success of American ground forces in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan; but alone Air Power would not have won those wars.  There is no doubt that the Air Force and Naval Aviation can attack Strategic Targets with precision munitions but the verdict of history is clear that Air Power alone will not cause an enemy to give up, but rather will stiffen the will to win.  Air Power will send a message that we are serious, but so will an Air Craft Carrier station off a nation’s coast.  It is a great show of force but when it comes right down to it; it takes all the services contributing.  Air Power can hurt an enemy, it can make an enemy suffer, but no enemy nation has ever surrendered to an Air Plane.

I actually agree that it has taken all the services to include the Air Force and Navy to achieve what we have gained in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Just don’t hand me the line of Bull Shit that has dominate the thinking of Air Power proponents since the early part of the 20th Century that Air Power alone can win wars.

I will acknowledge that over the next few years that funding for the Army and Marine Corps will decrease and that the Air Force and Navy will be the beneficiaries.  I also acknowledge that our rivals (note I do not use the word enemy) China and Russia are increasing defense spending; but, I would also note that the US spends 40% more on defense than any other nation.  What we can do is spend that money more wisely.  All the services including the Army need to look for the 80% per cent solution and quit chasing after the latest in technological bright objects that in up costing a small fortune and take way too long to get to the field.

While Lt. Col. Evett is entitled to his opinions, I do wish he would not base those opinions on facts that have been proven false more than once.

By the way I resisted the temptation to make any comments about the USAF Chief of Staff’s Dress Uniform except to say it does remind me of the uniforms Richard Nixon tried to put the uniformed Secret Service in at the White House in the 1970’s.


  1. Scott Dillard says:

    Right on , Townie. We need a modernized, up powered A10 fleet. Helicopters cannot do the same job.

    IMHO, Creating a separate Air Force was a mistake.

  2. MajW says:

    I've been trying to read the actual article but keeping laughing so hard at that uniform and going back to pictures of it I can't concentrate on the merits of air-power….

  3. Sam L. says:

    I looked up the AFM 35-10 on line and saw no illustrations of that uniform, Glad I got out before I had to buy the new white and blue dress unis back in '86.

  4. Sam L. says:

    I was a missileer.

  5. Brian V says:

    Wow…such hate for the AF. How did most of your gear to the fight? Who controls your comm while in the field? The GPS satalites, drop weapons on your enemies when you are in need of CAS? You are correct, there would not be an AF without the Army, but I' pretty sure it had it been left integrated with the Army things would be a logistical nightmare.

    As for the uniforms…yeah, I got nothing…minus of course the old 35-10 reg, that has not been around for over 15+ years so take that into account.

    • Andrew says:

      Gear: US Navy.

      Comms: self (Army).

      GPS: Yup, the AF launches and manages those. You can tell it's an AF acquisition program because there are no GPS devices to receive the new military code signal, and no ground systems in use to manage it, but bunches of the new satellites have been launched.

      CAS: didn't call any, but it would've been Army rotary or Marine air. PGMs are easier to get approved when they're shot by rockets, too, by the way.

      Air integration: The Marines have done a good job of keeping things integrated, so it's certainly not impossible. I also read an interesting briefing by an AF officer (not sure if it was the air war college, or an earlier school) about how the Army was rebuilding the Army Air Corps with rotary in Iraq because the AF essentially hadn't shown up to the fight.

      The AF is INCREDIBLY risk-averse. I read that it had been decades since an AF plane was shot down by enemy fire (could have been just air-to-air combat). Talk to any Soldier or Marine — if your service hasn't taken any combat casualties in their main mission for decades, you are so over cautious or are spending so much more than is necessary it's insane. What it speaks to is the Air Force is over-funded with respect to the other services — obviously, if the goal is to have zero casualties while in direct combat, the other services need a massive funding increase, and the AF can go wanting for a long time.

      All that said, aviation is quite nice to have. I'm mostly replying because of the original yahoo who thinks the ground forces are immaterial to victory. The mad bombers are a doctrinal disease of the AF. e.g. the UK didn't surrender during the Battle of Britain when the Germans bombed the snot out of them and also had the threat of a marine invasion.

      Whines about GPS acquisition aside, Space is something that the AF could do that's unique. The rest of it? Everyone else knows about crew rest, transportation, targeting, electronic warfare, etc. We're good on that. Positive benefit: you can wear tan colored boots again with your combat uniform instead of the blue suede shoes!

  6. 2Echo says:

    Townie76, I'm glad to see you've turned your quarterly anti-AF screed in on schedule, but I'm a little disappointed by the relatively weak target you picked. The Lt. Col. appears to have retired in 1974- hardly a good representative of opinions currently held by the USAF of today.

    For my part, in my decade-plus of active duty I have yet to hear anyone spouting such nonsense. I'm right there with you when it comes to pillorying his notions that you can conquer an enemy without someone's boots getting dusty, and I hope you're not implying that this is what a significant segment of the AF believes.

    Likewise, that damnfool uniform… well, there's no defending it.

    • Andrew says:

      I'm glad the AF anti-ground screed isn't common. My concern is that the Air Force Magazine decided it was publish-worthy. And screeds like that need to be fought against every time, or some darn fool will think that normal people think that way. Service rivalries can be helpful and fun, but the mad bomber idea is dangerous.

      I was an aide-de-camp to an AF general, so I know that most don't feel the way of the good retired LtCol. And it's worth keeping that standard.

  7. JD says:

    Ref your comment "Just don’t hand me the line of Bull Shit that has dominate the thinking of Air Power proponents since the early part of the 20th Century that Air Power alone can win wars."

    Operation ALLIED FORCE, which you left out of your historical lists of conflicts, was won with airpower alone.

    An excerpt from historian and noted author John Keegan’s editorial in the London Daily Telegraph on Operation ALLIED FORCE follows:

    "There are certain dates in the history of warfare that mark real turning points. November 20, 1917 is one, when at Cambrai the tank showed that the traditional dominance of infantry, cavalry and artillery on the battlefield had been overthrown. November 11, 1940 is another when the sinking of the Italian fleet at Taranto demonstrated that the aircraft carrier and its aircraft had abolished the age-old supremacy of the battleship. Now there is a new date to fix on the calendar: June 3, 1999, when the capitulation of President Milosevic proved that a war can be won by airpower alone…."

    "All this can be said without reservation, and should be conceded by the doubters, of whom I was one, with generosity. Already some of the critics of the war are indulging in ungracious revisionism, suggesting that we have not witnessed a strategic revolution and that Milosevic was humbled by the threat to deploy ground troops or by the processes of traditional diplomacy, in this case exercised—we should be grateful for their skills—by the Russians and the Finns. All to be said to that is that diplomacy had not worked before March 24, when the bombing started, while the deployment of a large ground force, though clearly a growing threat, would still have taken weeks to accomplish at the moment Milosevic caved in. The revisionists are wrong. This was a victory through air power."

    Not knowing your biographical background information, I will share with you I am an active duty prior enlisted Air Force officer with over 24 years active duty in the world's greatest Air Force where I earned two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart performing my Air Force duties; and oh yes, to stroke your ego, many of our greatest airpower legacies did come from the Army Air Corps, which enabled the establishment of the Air Force on 17 Sep 1947. Furthermore, you may or may not have noticed the term "Air, Land, Sea Battle" has changed to "Air, Sea Battle." Why, you may ask? As I'm sure you're aware, the future focus is the Pacific, and future conflicts will be settled there from Air and Sea based firepower; not so much of a focus on putting ground forces into the battle.

    Depending on your age you will see in your lifetime more use of single ship stealth aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft delivering precision firepower that will win wars alone. In essence we will come full circle to Giulio Douhet's prophecies.

  8. Andrew says:

    The Washington Post ( reported the UK was committed to sending 50,000 troops, and the US certainly had troops in the area. Yes, we were bombing them, and yes, there was a real threat of a ground invasion. Your own quoting put a ground force as "clearly a growing threat," which doesn't show air power as the only thing that caused Milosevic to surrender.

    The mere threat of a land invasion caused the surrender! (I'm willing to give the assist to the Air Force.) But even if air power alone won the day (or weeks, in this case), Kosovo's not close to being a near-peer competitor. Forcing a single second world country to surrender when arrayed against all of NATO plus Russia doesn't count as showing that the One True Doctrine wins out.

    The old doctrine was AirLand battle, by the way. I haven't read up on the new AirSea doctrine as yet. And you're right — the Navy is a big deal in the Pacific, which is why the USPACOM commander is always a Navy officer, and not Army or Air.