Saturday, July 23, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 2

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
(scroll down for links to Parts 1,3-6 and 'Sidebars)
Learning Large Lessons’ has the most cogent and concise summary (p. 12) of the state of Air-Ground operations in WWII and throughout most of the Cold War that I have ever read:
In World War II, and during subsequent major conflicts, each service largely fought independently. This is not to say that the Army and the Air Force have not effectively integrated their capabilities in the past. Nevertheless, the most effective “systems” of cooperation were generally developed in the field—not by the institutions responsible for training, organizing, or equipping forces—because the need was so great. Perhaps the most compelling example of this development of closely integrated air-ground capabilities can be found in the experience of General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group in Europe during World War II.
 The above is followed by a citation from Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945, by David E. Johnson (1998):
A postwar review of operations in the European theater asserted that the Army’s failure to develop air-ground doctrine meant that means of cooperation had to be invented extemporaneously in the field. In the combat theaters, ground and air commanders were forced to create ad hoc procedures for tactical air power because their superiors provided no centralized direction. . . . The final after-action report of General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group emphasized that “the air-armor team is a most powerful combination in the breakthrough and exploitation. . . . The use of this coordinated force, in combat, should be habitual.” Thus, although air support of ground operations played an important role in the Allied drive into Germany and procedures were continually improved, the initiative came from below. In the combat zones, where Americans were dying, intra-service agendas were discarded and field expedients were devised to overcome institutional agendas. 
It wasn’t ‘Air’ ignoring ‘Ground’ at the higher command levels -- the “ignoring” part cut both ways.   I submit that since the early Vietnam era through to today, our Air and Ground forces have been far more integrated, and increasingly so, than in WWII. I also submit that in the post Goldwater-Nichols Act world, the (joint) doctrine driving the integration now actually does ‘come from above’. The principles, techniques, and tactics of our Air Force ‘air’ (and space) and Army ‘ground’ forces are now developed and practiced ‘jointly’ in peace and then applied and adjusted ‘jointly’ in war far more often than any time in history.
Pre A-10 CAS: “Secondary Missions” NOT “Afterthoughts”
The Air Force philosophy for ‘matching aircraft to mission’ leading up to Vietnam was that aircraft designed for the most demanding mission requirements and hostile environments could also be employed to satisfy what was perceived as less demanding missions and less hostile environments. This wasn’t an original ‘Air Force’ idea, but a legacy of Army philosophical thought from WWII and before. Learning Large Lessons points out no fewer than three times that the existence of an Army having forces (of all kinds) prepared for the most demanding missions was presumed to also be capable in turn of dealing with lesser contingencies. This tenet has roots that go back to the Army’s 1923 Field Service Regulations and has survived through to the modern era at least up to the Army’s 1986 FM 100-5 ‘Operations’ Manual and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff’s 2001 JP 3-0, ‘Doctrine for Joint Operations’ (superseded in 2006). Preparing for the most demanding missions on the assumption that a force could then deal with lesser ones therefore is a tenet completely consistent with long-standing ARMY philosophy, firmly rooted in ARMY doctrine, and which the Air Force inherited. That the Air Force worked under the belief that it could satisfy the Close Air Support (CAS) mission using: 1) aircraft designed with capabilities developed for other air-to-ground (strike) missions, 2) by multi-role aircraft, or by 3) aircraft modified for air-to-ground missions that had been originally designed for air-to-air roles can hardly be criticized as ‘Air Force’ short-sightedness.

These doctrinal beliefs were built upon experience so were not mere assumptions. The relevant 'lessons learned' in WWII and Korea were that Strategic Bombing and Interdiction were far more ‘decisive’ than providing CAS. The relative decisiveness of Strategic Bombing and Interdiction was ‘true’ for several reasons, not the least of which was that Strategic Bombing and Interdiction missions had the highest probability of hurting the enemy and the lowest probability for killing our own people. This should be unsurprising, given the weapon delivery accuracies of the day, as well as the primitive state of the art of air-ground coordination and communications. It can also be said, that Strategic Bombing and Deep Air Interdiction missions posed the greatest challenges for aircraft design (range, speed, defensive armament, payload) and posed the greatest risk to the aircrews. However, from an “execution” point of view, CAS was/is the more complex mission: it presents the mission planners with the worst possible consequences of failure combined with the highest demand for precision.

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
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

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