The Ironies of Airpower
Generals seldom have the things they need or need the things they have. After WW1, which was basically a fighter pilots war, three great airpower enthusiasts, Guilio Douhet, Billy Mitchell, and Hugh Trenchard claimed the bomber would revolutionize war. The bomber had played a minor role during the conflict, save as a terror weapon against civilians. The new airpower prophets sought to utilize the bomber on a grand scale against enemy cities as a way to win future battles. Little thought was given to close air support, bomber escort, or air superiority. The bomber became a symbol of independence for the airmen, a sort of battleship of the air, in the quest for a separate service.
Despite the grandiose visions of the prophets, none of the great powers possessed a full fledged strategic bomber force at the start of WW2. The exception was Germany who understood the proper role of airpower, and used it in conjunction with their army to conquer Europe. It was only when the Luftwaffe tried to subjugate Britain with airpower alone that it ran into trouble. The English refused to be terrorized even as their cities crumbled around then. Still the British and Americans felt they could teach the Germans something about bombing cities and set out to win the war with airpower alone. Like the stalwart Brits, the Germans refused to bow under pressure and had to be forced to quit, by the Anglo/American and Russian armies, ably assisted by close air support.
Amazingly, after the war, the Air Force claimed victory, and armed with the atom bomb, now said they could end war forever. SAC was created and the fighter pilots were told they weren't needed, save to guard the bomber bases. Once again reality intervened in Korea, and SACs new massive B-36 Peacemakers couldn't stop the Northern invasion. Korea was again a fighter pilots war, and the generals were elated when it concluded so they could build new jet bombers, again to keep the peace. There were plenty of fighters around in the 50's and 60's, but they became faster and heavier, so they too could carrier nukes to bomb Russia. Later in Vietnam, SAC met its match and the heavy fighters were fought to a standstill. It was the first war America lost.
After Vietnam, for the first time the fighter pilots controlled the Air Force. Air superiority was given first priority, along with close air support in a doctrine dubbed "Air-Land Battle". There were still plenty of bombers around, though, just in case. Along with this came new and marvelous weapons such as cruise missiles and precision guided bombs, which gave the airmen the long sought after "one bomb-one hit". The dreams of the prophets now seemed realized.
Armed with the new weapons, the Air Force paved the way for a 100hr victory in Kuwait in 1991, followed by a total victory for airpower in Kosovo, where no troops were needed, except afterwards for peacekeeping. In Afghanistan and later Iraq, giant B-52s performed close air support with precision bombs after traveling thousands of miles. With the bomber finally living up to the promises of Douhet, Mitchell, and Trenchard, the Air Force is now doing a strange thing. Using desperate tactics, they are clinging to a Cold War era fighter, the F/A-22 Raptor (The A meaning attack, added later as an after thought) designed for air superiority against a foe that no longer exits, even offering to cut the number of other tactical aircraft (the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) to pay for it. They also steadfastly refuse to order any more bombers, even after being cajoled by Congress. Strange the workings of generals minds.
Posted by charlestonbookguy
at 2:07 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 10 January 2005 1:16 PM EST