More F-22 Backstory: Shortchanging the COIN Fight?
Building on yesterday’s announcement that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) didn’t have the votes to strip funding for the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet from the defense authorization bill, here’s an Air Force captain providing some really useful context — namely, the Air Force’s problems with adjusting to a threat environment where manned air combat isn’t a realistic scenario. Writing at Small Wars Journal, Capt. Daniel Magruder, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, notes that the rise of irregular warfare — in which relatively low-tech insurgents don’t contest the United States in the air — is partially a response to the Air Force’s overwhelming success at establishing the United States as the world’s dominant air power. He finds the Air Force’s culture of individualism and tech-worship largely incapable of adjusting to the less comfortable implications of dominance, like how the service’s relevance to low-intensity conflict like the counterinsurgencies being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq will be measured by how it contributes to what, at the end of the day, is a fight led by ground forces:
The Army views airpower as another avenue to pursue fires and collection of data on the enemy in support of ground combat forces—largely at the tactical and operational levels of war. On the contrary, Air Force airpower enthusiasts see a more strategic use. Throughout the development of airpower theory, doctrine, and its application, the promise was made possible by faith in airpower’s ability. Since World War I, air forces have chafed at the thought their planes be used to support ground and seas forces. …
The Air Force is beholden to the missions it supports. Currently, the most pressing national security dilemmas are long-term counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force must realize that [irregular warfare] will continue to be a strategic imperative and ignoring the fact can place the institution in peril.
Magruder’s substantive recommendations are expressed gingerly, as you might expect from someone in the Air Force who’s questioning the relevance of his service’s most cherished principles and whose bosses are largely fighter pilots. He thinks it’s a good idea to ask how the Air Force can expand the air capacity of allied nations, and notes how the rest of the services are champing at the bit for the Air Force to invest in more unmanned aerial vehicles that have direct applications to the wars the United States is presently fighting. When it comes to the F-22 itself, Magruder notes that the amount the Senate put back into the defense authorization to fund the F-22, against Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ wishes, is equivalent to the next fiscal year’s military aid to Pakistan. “[I]t is obvious the money is strategically better spent combating terrorists, insurgents, lawlessness and pursuing our interests in that country (cross-roads radical Islam and nuclear weapons),” he writes.
Colin Clark at DOD Buzz hears that the debate on the F-22 funding will resume by Tuesday. Maybe Levin will email Magruder’s piece around.