Friday, July 22, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 1

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
(scroll down for links to Parts 2-6 and 'Sidebars)

I've posted a bit of what I’m about to cover in different places as comments, including one in response to a Strategy Page piece quite a while ago, but my hope is that this series will serve nicely as a single-point source for me to refer others. There is so much mythology surrounding the Air Force, Close Air Support and the origins of the A-10, that one is constantly running into it on the web -- which I’ve found to be extremely tiresome over the years (This post should save me bags of time in the future). My overarching goal is to provide evidence, if not proof, that certain myths that have risen concerning the title subjects are indeed ‘myths’. I also realize that there is no moving some people off a well dug-in position (especially some--not all—of my brothers-in-arms on the ‘grunt’ side of the family who seem to have employed the mental equivalent of a stainless-steel nuclear-powered trenching tool). I would at least hope the information here shakes and cracks the foundations of their close-held, albeit groundless, beliefs.

The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
There are other myths out there, but I view the following as the ‘Big Two’.

Myth #1: “CAS Was More Important to the Flyboys When the Air Force Was Part of the Army”
This one usually gets trotted out as a solution to a perceived (i.e. not necessarily actual) discrete ‘problem’ or event. It usually makes the news every time Air Force-wielded Airpower doesn’t “make somebody’s day” (regardless whether or not it was busy was making MANY OTHER ‘somebodies’ day at the time). You will also hear it whenever a non-CAS acquisition program comes under scrutiny. Something like:
“Never mind more F-##s! We need more planes like the A-10 or A-1 or (fill in the blank – preferably with some ‘prop job’)!”
Or more obliquely …
“Put the AF back into the Army like in WWII and then the money will be spent on the ‘right’ aircraft!”
There is no basis of fact to suggest either of the above is true. I believe they are usually uttered by those who, to paraphrase Dr. Thomas Sowell, “see only problems with single solutions” and never think in terms of answers involving ‘tradeoffs’. In this case their single solution would be based upon a non-existent major premise, that is to say, they propose a solution that is in search of a problem.

Myth #2: “The Air Force ‘Doesn’t Like’ Close Air Support”
This one has several variants. Among the most popular are versions of “Fighter Pilots just want to zoom around in the sky”, or “The Air Force would rather shoot down other airplanes than help the troops on the ground”. Believers in this myth often point out that their ‘proof’ is in the lack of a dedicated CAS aircraft post-war design prior to the A-10, or wild claims that by the Air Force wanting to phase out and replace the A-10 at various times, with aircraft that did not have the same physical and operating characteristics that the AF didn’t really care… as if a different approach somehow represented a desire to abandon the ‘grunt’ on the ground. The wildest claim of all IMHO is that the post-1947 Air Force had to be metaphorically dragged to CAS in a ‘shotgun wedding’ of sorts: i.e. the idea that the Air Force was allegedly ‘shamed’ or ‘forced’ to provide CAS and/or buy the A-10 by an indignant and righteous Congress/Army/public (pick one or more). All of these claims are demonstrably false.

Debunking via Historical Review

Close Air Support From 1940 through the Korean War
At times in this post--and in this section in particular-- I will be relying on content and sources found in RAND’s “Learning Large Lessons: The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era”. Despite the title, it provides quite a bit of information prior to the Post-Cold War Era as perspective on what the ‘roles’ were/are evolving ‘from’.
From the front matter of the publication: “Several of the generals who developed and employed the air-ground cooperation system for the U.S. 12th Army Group during World War II in Western Europe at Fort Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany on April 6, 1945. From left to right: Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., 3d Army; Major General Otto Paul “Opie” Weyland, XIX Tactical Air Command; General Omar N. Bradley, 12th Army Group; Major General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Ninth Air Force; Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges, First Army; and Major General Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada, IX Tactical Air Command. (U.S. Army photograph), collection of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service”

I’ve referenced this publication many times on various comment threads, so forgive (but don’t try to stop) me if you’ve “already heard this one”. The PDF version is free online at RAND (LINK) but you can also order a hardcopy from RAND at the same link or from Amazon.

Note: In reviewing the front matter of this material I find that Dr Christopher Bowie, “Deputy Director, Air Force Strategic Planning, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force (AF/XPX)” was the sponsor of this publication in 2007. I may have noticed it before and it didn’t ‘click’ that I should mention it, but in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that in past years I have performed some minor analyses for Dr. Bowie, have cited his peer-reviewed journal and RAND publications in my own work, and have communicated with him on rare occasion, mostly by e-mail, on sundry ‘Airpower’ topics.

When the United States entered World War II, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall oversaw the reorganization of the Army to deal with the demands of the global conflagration. The Army in effect divided itself and reorganized into three autonomous components: Army Air Forces, Army Ground Forces, and Army Service Forces. Therefore, the idea that creation of the U.S. Air Force also created a sharp break of some bond with the U.S. Army’s ground forces is simply not true. The separation of ‘air’ and ‘ground’ started before WWII and the separation was just moved one step up on the command chain in September 1947.

The use of ‘Forces’ term in these descriptions is indicative of the separation by ‘types’ of force to be employed. During the war (WWII) the separation became more formalized. When the Army published its 1943 manual on “Command and Employment of Air Power” (FM 100-2) it included this rather stark and explicit statement on the “new relationship between Army ground and air forces”: 
“Land Power and Air Power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other.”
The 1943 manual went further and defined command relationships that have been passed down through time and are still recognizable within today’s joint doctrine. (Text in [brackets] are mine and describe the modern corollary for emphasis):
Control of available air power must be centralized and command must be through the air force commander if this inherent flexibility and ability to deliver a decisive blow are to be fully exploited. Therefore, the command of air and ground forces in a theater of operations will be vested in the superior commander charged with the actual conduct of operations in the theater [today’s Combatant Command Commander, ex: CENTCOM], who will exercise command of air forces through the air force commander [today’s Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC)] and command of ground forces through the ground force commander [today’s Ground Component Commander (GCC)].
 Therefore we see that even before there was an Air Force as a separate military department, there were separate forces and that the Army leadership had already put the key tenet of the modern Air Force in place: ‘Centralized Control’ with ‘Decentralized Execution’. This basic Airpower tenet is therefore an Army creation; NOT an Air Force one.

So how did CAS “work” in WWII? Was it better in 1941-46 and only later marginalized or ignored by the ‘new’ Air Force from 1947 on as it is claimed by some? Were things ‘better’ when it was an ‘Army Air Forces’ mission?

In a word: NO.

Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Second Series:
Part 7: Sourcing ‘AF Hates A-10’ Nonsense
Part 8: The AF "had to" buy a CAS plane?


Unknown said...

The bullshit flows like water whenever the topic of the A-10's retirement comes up.

Michael Z. Williamson said...

Hey, if the Navy cared about supporting Marines, they'd still have batttleships. ;)