Abolish the Air Force?

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W.J. Astore

Back in January, James Carroll had an op-ed in the Boston Globe that called for eliminating the Air Force as a separate service.  He claimed that the Air Force’s strategic components (its nuclear ICBMs and manned bombers) were now largely irrelevant, that the Air Force’s tactical mission could be folded into the Army and Navy, and that unmanned aerial vehicles or drones would soon largely replace manned surveillance and attack planes.

By folding the Air Force into its two older rivals, the Army and Navy, Carroll suggested the Pentagon would be forced to economize, the magic coming from reorganization.  I highly doubt that.

OK.  I’m a retired Air Force officer, so I’m biased.  But there are certain things the Air Force does, certain skills the Air Force has, that won’t be easily duplicated and probably will be lost in a bureaucratic war touched off by elimination and reorganization.  Here’s a quick list:

1.  The Air Force concentrates on air and space, just like the Army concentrates on land and the Navy on sea.  These are unique elements, requiring unique services with specialized mindsets.

2.  The Air Force is not just about fighter planes and nuclear missiles.  Much of the Air Force’s mission is in the less glorious aspects of air and space control.  Missions like cargo transport, tankers for aerial refueling, aerial and satellite reconnaissance, and the like.  Do we really believe the Army and Navy will adequately focus on and fund these vital missions?

3.  The U.S. Air Force was hardly the first independent air force in the world.  Great Britain saw the need for an independent air force in 1918 when the Royal Air Force was created.  (The USAF had to wait until 1947, i.e. after World War II.)  An independent air force reflects the technological revolution inaugurated by the Wright Brothers in 1903 and the inherent reach and power of aerial vehicles.  This is especially relevant to “island” nations such as Great Britain — and the United States.

4.  Related to (2), the Air Force has a wide range of missions, to include aerial intelligence-gathering, AWACS (airborne warning and control) and vital national command planes such as Air Force One.  Again, are these missions truly suited to the Army or Navy?

5.  In the chaos that is war, there’s something to be said for military continuity and tradition and experience.  Eliminating the Air Force and folding it into the Army and Navy will generate enormous internal friction within the Pentagon, possibly destabilizing a national defense system that is already less than optimal in its stability (as well as its wisdom).

The Air Force today certainly has its problems.  It’s the most top heavy of the services, with far too many colonels and generals.  It spends way too much on under-performing aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II.  It’s always shied away from adequately funding the close air support mission, which is why the Army pursues its own fleet of attack helicopters.  Since its early days, it’s placed way too much faith in the efficacy of bombing, so much so that it’s generated its own Strangelovian caricatures, men like Curtis LeMay.

That said, the last thing we need is more internecine warfare in the Pentagon.  Eliminating the Air Force is not a recipe for cost-savings.  It’s a recipe for a bureaucratic bloodbath that will ultimately hurt rather than help America’s national defense.

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8 thoughts on “Abolish the Air Force?

  1. Maybe we should just eliminate the Pentagon altogether and rebuild a more modern and cost effective central agency to manage the Armed Forces….

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    1. The Pentagram has long-since become a deeply militarized state within a superficial “democratic” state, in practice uncontrollable and ungovernable by elected civilian officials utterly dependent upon corporate-contractor campaign bribes and kickbacks. I certainly agree with eliminating the Pentagram, but would not advise a “centralized” replacement. Rather, a return to the distributed state militias — which won our War of Independence and Civil War — would seem the best course to follow. Anything and everything that would make national mobilization for war as difficult, expensive, and time-consuming as possible.

      The Navy has its own nuclear deterrent, its own air force, and its own army, called the Marine Corps. Furthermore, the Marines even have their own air force. So abolishing both the Army and the Air Force would not harm America’s national defence one iota. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as Canada and Mexico, provide the great bulk of America’s physical national security in any event — and for practically no cost at all.

      As for outer space, it doesn’t need any military and NASA can take care of outer space as a peaceful, exploratory department working cooperatively with all other nations.

      And finally, as the Saudi Arabian attacks of 9/11/2001 demonstrated, the Pentagram couldn’t even defend the Pentagram, much less the nation. So it really ought to go. The United States has a yawning budget deficit, after all, and we all know how much the conservative mind hates budget deficits. Get rid of most military — i.e., “war” — spending and the United States might even become a manageable, solvent country again instead of the world’s biggest deadbeat gun salesman and thug.

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  2. How about setting up a Dept. of Peace, as Kucinich proposed, with a budget the size of the Pentagon’s to pursue peace with the same enthusiasm and money as we pursue warmaking?

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  3. We live in a dangerous world because we have made it dangerous* under the guise of bringing peace, democracy. and American style capitalism to the world. We don’t need the F35 or 36’s or 37’s or the guys who could be doing god’s work but instead have a stupid,and incredibly unproductive job of baby sitting a missile and have to cheat on the test to keep that stupid job and get ahead. Those guys would probably make great ambassadors in a Dept. of Peace.

    *like Iraq,Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria,Egypt,Congo,to name a few

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  4. James Carroll is in a ‘good’ position to criticize and comment on the US air force. He is a Roman Catholic priest whose father was the US Air Force General in charge of targeting during the Vietnam war. His story is inspiring. For many years he was a bit estranged from his father because of his own opposition to that ill fated venture. There is a PBS documentary on his activist life. Some times the apple falls far from the tree.

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  5. The last paragraph says it all except for something akin to “every time there is a scanal involving the US military it almost always seems to be the USAF”. Whether it’s “losing nuclear warheards” or a USAF Academy grad whose real job (it appears) is to cheerlead for the Seattle Seahawks. The reason there are too many 0-3s thru 0-6s and above is by virtue of the fact that the USAF overly relies on manned fighters to create more “staff positions”. It’s purely intentional. Getting on track with a done program would correct the problem pretty rapidly. That is why they are lobbying for more and more expensive overkill technology (manned) aircraft = more officers to promote. Rinse, lather, wash, rinse, repeat much like a shampoo project. The days when the Red Baron touched down on the tarmac are long gone. The USAF evidently never got the memo

    The Air Force today certainly has its problems. It’s the most top heavy of the services, with far too many colonels and generals. It spends way too much on under-performing aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II. It’s always shied away from adequately funding the close air support mission, which is why the Army pursues its own fleet of attack helicopters. Since its early days, it’s placed way too much faith in the efficacy of bombing, so much so that it’s generated its own Strangelovian caricatures, men like Curtis LeMay.

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