Air Power and the American Way of War

Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, U.S. Air Force chief of staff

Presented at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 15, 1996

This symposium provides a great venue for us to gather and critically assess how the Air Force provides air and space power for America -- an Air Force team within the larger joint team of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. I believe this discussion is perhaps more important this year because, unless I am badly mistaken, we're entering a particularly critical period in which our national command authorities will begin to review our national military strategy leading to decisions which will shape U.S. military forces in the first decade of the 21st century.

For that reason, I will talk about the American way of war, its history and its evolution.

In his book, The American Way of War, noted historian Russell Weigley describes how the United States has pursued a wartime strategy of attrition and annihilation since the 1800s. This strategy focused on destroying enemy forces in the field as the surest way to victory. It relied on the creation of large masses of forces that would employ mass, concentration and firepower to attrit enemy forces and defeat them in generally successful, but many times costly, battles.

This approach was evident in Grant's tenacious follow-up and defeat of Lee's forces in the American Civil War; in the American expeditionary forces employment on the fields of France during World War I; in America's emphasis on an early cross-Channel invasion of northwest Europe and the island invasions in the Pacific during World War II; in our warplans for countering a Soviet invasion of West Europe during the Cold War; and even in the early proposals from Central Command in the summer of 1990 which looked at attacking the frontal strength of Iraq's army occupying Kuwait.

Thankfully, a number of developments in recent years have given hope that we are on the verge of introducing a new American way of war. I'd like to talk about the air side of this issue because I think it's important that we understand how these developments can lead to a new joint perspective on warfare.

First, our technology and our industrial defense base has vastly increased the combat effectiveness of America's arsenal to provide essential warfighting capabilities to America's theater commanders in chief. The extended range, precision and lethality of modern weapon systems are increasingly leveraged by agile battle management and C4I (command, control, communications, computer and intelligence) capabilities that enable us to analyze, act and assess before an adversary does. In the case of airpower, the convergence of technology, realistic training, astute tactics, leadership foresight and bold concepts of employment reflects a true maturation of this capability.

Second, the Goldwater-Nichols Act has bolstered the role of the theater commanders in crises and conflicts. Instead of the individual services attempting to develop the resources to win wars on their own or trying to get in on the "action," theater commanders in chief, or CINCs, are given the task to thoroughly study their theaters of operation and prepare warplans designed to defeat regional forces which threaten peace and stability in the world. They provide a full-time focus and bring a broader perspective to orchestrate the various service instruments in a coherent campaign to compel an adversary to do America's will -- at the least cost in lives and resources. No longer do we see single-service solutions employed to deal with crises that confront our nation.

At the same time, as a former CINC, I offer two cautions. The first is that by their very nature CINCs tend to focus on dealing with near-term developments in their area of operational responsibility. The second is that as a CINC it really is difficult to throw off your parent-service biases; therefore, we don't always appreciate the potential contributions of the services acting alone or in concert. The services have a responsibility under Title X to organize, train and equip. As they execute this responsibility, they need to take the longer view and anticipate what capabilities the CINCs will require in the future, then articulate and advocate these capabilities. The Air Force should always strive to stay in front in this effort because we offer so much to the nation in this respect.

Third, the turmoil of the post-Cold War environment has increased the number of crises demanding the attention of the national command authorities. Regional crises fueled by age-old rivalries often jeopardize U.S. interests. More and more, the national command authorities turn to the military because it is one of the few elements of our government which has consistently demonstrated the ability to respond and make things happen on a global basis.

Finally, elimination of the bipolar rivalry has diminished the threat of worldwide conflict. This allows the employment of force with less fear of a superpower confrontation that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.

On the other hand, America's use of military force is constrained by several internal factors.

First, we have fewer forces to employ because the nation restructured and reduced its armed forces -- essentially demobilizing in the aftermath of winning the Cold War. As I've said many times, it was the right thing to do! The issue is the extent to which further reductions will be made as the nation attempts to balance the federal budget and reassesses the national security strategy to determine our present and future security needs.

Second, the American people are reluctant to send young troops in harm's way and they shy away from commitments that might result in heavy U.S. casualties. Similarly, they insist on minimizing unintended civilian casualties and collateral damage caused by our operations. In short, Americans have come to expect military operations to be quick and decisive so our troops can return home promptly.

Another constraint is commonly termed the "CNN effect." It has sensitized the American public to virtually all these considerations. The images of the horrors of war which are transmitted real-time into our homes tend to de-glamorize the battlefield and destroy romantic notions of the glory of battle.

In the end, all these developments indicate that America has not only the opportunity, but the obligation, to transition from a concept of annihilation and attrition warfare that places thousands of young Americans at risk in brute, force-on-force conflicts -- to a concept that leverages our sophisticated military capabilities to achieve U.S. objectives by applying what I like to refer to as an "asymmetric force" strategy.

Such a strategy seeks to directly attack the enemy's strategic and tactical centers of gravity -- something that each of our CINCs defines before beginning to develop warplans for the theater of operation. Once we identify these centers of gravity, we deny the enemy the ability to resist our will by directly striking at those that are crucial to the enemy's ability to achieve its war aims. While they may vary as a function of the enemy, these centers generally include the leadership elite; command and control; internal security mechanisms; war production capability; and one, some or all branches of its armed forces -- in short, an enemy's ability to effectively wage war.

This kind of asymmetric force strategy aims to compel or coerce an adversary to do our will through careful planning and the deliberate employment of force to achieve shock and surprise -- the shock and surprise that results from confronting a state with the imminent destruction of its foundations of power by warfighting capabilities that clearly indicate the costs of continuing a conflict will outweigh any conceivable gains. In the end, asymmetric force seeks to compel an adversary to do our will at least cost to the United States in lives and resources.

I think Desert Storm was a prime example of this emerging American way of war. Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of Central Command, understood that (Saddam) Hussein's strength lay in his massive ground forces, armor and artillery that were dug in across Kuwait. Schawarzkopf chose to capitalize on the Coalition's asymmetric advantage in air power to attack Hussein's strategic and tactical centers of gravity. The Coalition conducted a concentrated 43-day air campaign that took away Hussein's eyes, attrited his forces in the field, rendered his command and control relatively ineffective, destroyed his war production capability and denied vital supplies to his troops. In the end, it sapped their will to resist.

This operation prevented a bloody slugfest on the ground while allowing Coalition forces to safely prepare for an offensive that engaged badly degraded enemy forces with the asymmetric strength of our own ground forces. The result was a 100-hour ground offensive that concluded the Gulf War -- an offensive that was very well executed by Coalition ground forces with negligible casualties.

Afterward, President Bush said, "Lesson No. 1 from the Gulf War is the value of air power." Now that may have been lesson No. 1, but there is another important lesson -- and that is warfare today, and in the future, will be joint warfare -- but joint warfare in which each service brings its particular strengths to the battlefield when required to execute the CINC's plan.

Our post-Desert Storm activities in Southwest Asia are another example of employing an asymmetric force to achieve U.S. security objectives. Through the use of air power, we have enforced United Nations sanctions against Iraq and compelled Hussein to accept the most intrusive UN inspection regime that a state has ever had to endure. For more than four years, the United States and our allies have leveraged our advantage in air power -- both carrier and land based -- in Southwest Asia to achieve political objectives without placing large numbers of young Americans in harm's way. This has truly been an air occupation of Iraq.

Operation Deliberate Force against the Bosnian Serbs last year provides another telling example of the leverage provided by employing an asymmetric force. Remember that previous efforts to employ air power to compel Bosnian Serb compliance with UN mandates did not fare very well. In my view, that was because air power was not part of the original equation when ground forces were deployed for peacekeeping and humanitarian purposes.

As a result, the warring factions were permitted to continue the operation of an integrated air defense system. Because of the lack of a coherent air-ground team, air operations were confined to denying the warring factions the opportunity to engage in effective flight operations --something we did very successfully in Operation Deny Flight. But, the ground forces that were put in there by our allies without an effective and coordinated air element became hostages. As a result, we could only conduct limited area attack operations, so the air power we applied in the air-to-ground role prior to August and September 1995 had very little political linkage. In fact, for many of us airmen, it was very reminiscent of what we had seen in Vietnam.

But by late August, the UN and NATO developed a coherent strategy for dealing with the Bosnian Serbs. This strategy sought to achieve limited political objectives through the precise application of air power -- an area where the allies enjoyed a tremendous asymmetrical advantage. There were a lot of naysayers who were unaware that this asymmetric advantage existed and could be applied in this theater of operations. It was the withdrawal and consolidation of lightly armed UN peacekeepers that gave air power the freedom of maneuver to attack the full range of targets -- targets carefully selected to reduce the Bosnian Serb military advantage. Allied air forces took down the Bosnian Serb air defenses and launched extraordinarily precise air strikes that deprived the Serbs of vital warfighting resources while minimizing collateral damage -- and virtually each strike was seen on CNN in nearly real time! While the rest may not be history, it is becoming history.

Secretary of Defense William Perry recently highlighted the contribution of air power to resolving this conflict when he said, "Deliberate Force was the absolutely crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table at Dayton (Ohio) leading to the peace agreement." I hasten to add, the deployment of a properly equipped and integrated air-ground team was the next step to move that process along -- and that's what we've seen happen throughout the past 60 days.

I just returned from a visit with our troops which allowed me to observe our operations at Taszar in Hungary, Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Aviano and Brindisi Air Bases in Italy, and the Combined Air Operations Center at Vicenza, Italy. During the past year I have also visited our forces in Southwest Asia and the Pacific. It's unfortunate that the American public doesn't have the opportunity to see the same things I have observed.

Our special operations forces are engaged everywhere I travel. They have a tremendously high operations tempo. Our air mobility assets continue to provide both intra- and inter-theater lift to sustain U.S. forces in every theater. They've already flown more than 1,800 Joint Endeavor intra-theater sorties with C-130s stationed in Europe, and active, Guard and Reserve C-130s deployed from the continential United States (CONUS). Our reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence assets -- both space-based and air breathing -- are closely monitoring compliance with the Dayton Accords in Bosnia and the UN resolutions in Iraq. We're supporting the ground operations with on-call close air support, battlespace situation awareness and other air operations closely integrated with those on the ground. We continue to provide airspace control and theater-wide command, control and communications capability around the world.

Air power continues to play a critically important role in bringing peace to the former Yugoslavia, and in maintaining peace and stability around the globe. Each of the examples I described demonstrate the potential implications of the new American way of war for our nation and its Air Force, and the fact that an asymmetric strategy significantly increases the role of air power in times of peace, crisis and war.

The Air Force was the first service to recognize that the post-Cold War era called for a new look at how military force would and could be applied. This was reflected in our strategic vision of Global Reach-Global Power that was published in 1990. We used this vision to restructure our Air Force so that we could provide the nation an economy of force capability to execute the national military strategy -- primarily through the application of asymmetric force. This was a vision that was built on the basis of the new national security strategy articulated by President Bush in the summer of 1990. In short, the end of the Cold War freed up assets previously immersed in the nuclear deterrent mission -- like bombers, tankers, post-SIOP (single integrated operational plan) reconnaissance aircraft and satellites. That has allowed the Air Force to be responsive on a conventional, day-to-day basis to the needs of the theater commanders.

Our balanced, time-phased modernization program is designed to provide high-leverage air and space systems that will bolster our ability to execute a new American way of war well into the next century. We're working closely with our partners in industry to realize this goal.

We're procuring the C-17 in the near term to address the nation's most pressing military shortfall -- strategic lift. Our investment in the C-17 has already been demonstrated in an active crisis where we've seen the ability of that aircraft to take C-5 and C-141 loads into C-130-type airfields.

In the early mid-term, we're upgrading the conventional capability of our long-range bomber force and procuring a family of autonomous precision weapons to leverage their range and payload. This summer, we'll equip the B-2 with the GATS-GAM (Global Positioning System-Aided Targeting System and Global Positioning System-Aided Munitions) which will enable it to independently target 16 aim points on one pass. As a result, Air Combat Command is having to rethink how it applies force. We are beginning to change our thinking from how many aircraft it takes to destroy one target, to how many targets we can destroy with one aircraft. This is an intellectual reach for airman, so you can imagine the reach it may be for others!

In the later mid-term, we're working on some advanced space systems. One of Gen. (Joseph W.) Ashy's (commander in chief of Air Force Space Command, U.S. Space Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command) biggest problems is that it costs too much to put things in space, and it takes too long to recycle the launch pads. So, in concert with industry, we're building the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle to provide assured, affordable access to space into the 21st century. We're also developing the Space-Based Infrared System to provide theater CINCs a missile warning capability comparable to what we've had for the continential United States, but one with the precision geo-location and rapid transmission capabilities required to support theater missile defense.

Also, as we look out in the mid-to long-term, we are planning to buy the CV-22 to upgrade and modernize our special operations forces.

In the far-term, we're developing the F-22. While you hear a lot about revolutions in military affairs these days, you don't see a lot of money being invested in truly revolutionary systems, but the F-22 is a truly revolutionary weapon system. In fact, to my knowledge, it's one of only two "revolutionary" systems that any service has in development today. Everything else I've seen is simply "evolutionary."

The Air Force is also pursuing the other revolutionary system with our work on the airborne laser as a means of addressing the theater ballistic missile issue. It promises the ability to rapidly deploy to a theater conflict with other air assets to help defend U.S. and coalition forces by intercepting ballistic missiles in their boost phase -- out to hundreds of kilometers. The secretary of the Air Force and I were recently briefed by an independent review team that foresaw no showstoppers in developing the airborne laser -- to include fielding a demonstrator by 2002. We have tried not to be captured by this concept. In fact, we have applied the severest critic rule to its development.

Our Air Force modernization program promises to provide the advanced capabilities that will give us responsive, precise and survivable capability to implement a new American way of war. Those capabilities will help minimize casualties on both sides, reduce the "CNN effect" and allow us to wage war in a way that corresponds to what appears to be the values of American society -- that is, what the American people are willing to accept on the battlefield.

Air power will also provide tremendous leverage to resolve future crises -- rapidly and at low cost. Here again, all of these developments point to a significant increase in the role of air power in achieving our nation's security objectives using asymmetric force strategies.

Besides modernization, Global Reach-Global Power stressed the need for an enhanced level of responsiveness from the Air Force team operating within this larger joint team. Once the United States decides to engage -- while naval forces are steaming to the littorals and ground forces are being transported to the affected theater -- the Air Force can be: employing air power to achieve theater situation awareness; to stop aggression in its tracks; to attack enemy strategic and tactical centers of gravity; and to seize control of the air to provide cover for later arriving forces.

Theater commanders already count on us to support them with ready air and space capabilities -- often on very short notice -- so we're refining a concept we call the Air Expeditionary Force. We demonstrated this concept in late October when we dispatched 18 F-16s to Bahrain to cover an extended gap in carrier presence. We didn't do this to pit the Air Force against carriers. We did it because we are operating in a world in which the nation has fewer military resources, so we need to develop ways to back each other up. It's an inherent capability of our forces -- we simply needed to demonstrate that we can respond inside normal deliberate-planning timelines -- and that's what we did.

We're also leveraging the capabilities of CONUS-based bombers by flying global power projection missions to enhance our long-range conventional strike capability. It's an awesome, impressive and proud sight to stand in Singapore and watch the B-2 bomber do a fly-by and an aerial demonstration because you know it is the most sophisticated, capable, leading-edge weapon system for power projection in the world, and it was built in America! We should always seek to ensure that the best, leading-edge systems are built in America because there's no room for ties or being second best in our business.

Early in my career, I was an F-15 demonstration pilot. I remember how everyone came out to see the finest fighter in the world, and it was built in America. It was our industry and the foresight of our leadership that gave us that capability. It's a legacy we've got to pass on to those who follow us in the 21st century. We've got to fight for the equipment that we know will be decisive and make a difference in the future.

We're looking at a wide range of things. We've embraced the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) equation. Gen. (Joseph W.) Ralston (commander of Air Combat Command) stood-up the first UAV squadron last year. We are in the process of bringing our first Information Warfare Squadron to operational capability. Both units will be able to rapidly deploy overseas to support joint force commanders in the near future.

To make all this a sustainable reality, it's essential that we make our acquisition system more responsive to the needs of the warfighter. We've engaged our partners in industry to help us improve our acquisition process and produce more combat capability for the dollars we invest. The secretary and I particularly appreciate industry's participation in our round table brainstorming sessions and subsequent support for our "Lightning Bolt" initiatives. Working together, we can provide a truly responsive acquisition process that fields the capabilities required to underwrite asymmetric force application in a timely and cost-effective manner.

There is still work to be done to move us toward a new American way of war. We must develop a wider appreciation for the benefits of employing asymmetric leverage rather than brute force to achieve our nation's political objectives -- particularly among government leaders and theater CINCs. We've got to engage in the debates that will be coming up as we review our national military strategy.

Quite frankly, the new American way of war will gore some institutions, but we can't let bureaucratic preservation stand in the way of progress. It's simply the right thing to do. I sincerely think the Air Force has led the way in restructuring to accommodate such a shift in the American way of war. Strategic Air Command merged with Tactical Air Command to become Air Combat Command. SAC tankers joined Military Airlift Command assets in Air Mobility Command. Air Force Logisitcs Command and Air Force Systems Command merged into Air Force Materiel Command.

Second, many Air Force members and supporters are artificially constrained in pursuing asymmetric force strategies by their own lack of knowledge regarding the total capabilities of air power and what it provides the joint force commander. Too many people -- to include professional airmen -- still conceive of air power in terms of functional stove pipes: fighters, bombers, space, intelligence and so on. We must appreciate air power for what it is -- the collection of unique capabilities that exploit and control the air and space media to gain a powerful advantage in time, mass, position and awareness in pursuit of national security interests.

In the end, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines must overcome "old think" on the subjects of why we exist, how we employ and where we operate. Instead, we must develop a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities of one another's services. But in particular, we've got to understand air power -- its strengths, its weaknesses and its potential -- if we are to fully capitalize on it to attack an adversary's strategy and to compel him to do our will.

Another obstacle to overcome is the lack of adequate models and metrics to assess the effectiveness of air power employed in support of asymmetric force strategies. Current attrition models that assess the results of force-on-force engagements based on force ratios and territory lost or gained aren't really very relevant to forces employed in accordance with asymmetric strategies. On more than one occasion I've discussed my frustration with this and I can't think of a better example than the one where I challenged the Air Staff to model the Desert Storm air campaign after the fact when we had all the information available.

So, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, I asked them to find out why the huge casualty predictions did not come true. They said they couldn't do it because they determined that the Iraqis acted so irrationally that their actions could not be modeled. So I asked them, "Why do you think they acted so irrationally?" Let me tell you, they didn't act irrationally. They acted exactly the way you would expect a force to behave after suffering 43 days of punishing air strikes.

Clearly, we have some work to do here. We need to develop new, relevant models to help assess the effectiveness of air power and other joint force capabilities in implementing the new American way of war. We've got to do this because in the upcoming strategy debate, people will try to use outdated models and concepts against the wave of the future.

The United States of America is an aerospace nation. It became an aerospace nation in the 20th century. As our nation approaches the dawn of the 21st century, we have enough indicators to tell us that air power has really changed the American way of war. The pivotal contribution that air power can make to resolving crises and winning conflicts through the use of asymmetric force strategies will only come about if airmen and their advocates know, understand and articulate what air power brings to the table -- not by denying what the other services bring to the table and not by denying what a joint force brings to the table -- but by articulating and demonstrating what air power offers -- not a promise, but a battle-proven capability.

As a result, we must sustain the Air Force's balanced, affordable and time-phased modernization program and keep it well supported. The top priorities of the United States Air Force for 1996 are taking care of our people and keeping our modernization program on track. Our modernization program will provide the requisite capabilities to underwrite a new American way of war into the next century. The American public must know that our modernization program is designed to meet the needs of the nation and its warfighters -- the theater CINCs -- not the Air Force.

All of us on the Air Force team can take great pride in the capabilities we provide America. The first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Omar Bradley sang the praises of air power. He did so in 1956, about three years after he retired, when he testified before a Senate Armed Services Committee. He said: "Air power has become predominant... both as a deterrent to war... and in the eventuality of war... as the devastating force to destroy an enemy's potential and fatally undermine his will to wage war."

That was a quote from a different era and from a different construct, but it is still a powerful statement coming from a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is up to us as an Air Force to make sure these words spoken 40 years ago continue to hold true -- and that chairmen of the future continue to see air power in the same light.

The Air Force and industry must work closely together to fully realize the reality of air power in underwriting the new American way of war. Not the promise of airpower -- that's been our problem in the past -- but the reality of airpower will support a new American way of war and prepare us for the challenges of the 21st century.