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America: An airpower nation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Schutte
  • 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron
After more than a decade of seemingly interminable conflict, the American people have grown weary from long wars abroad and increasingly preoccupied with a sluggish economy at home. Recent polling by the Pew Research Center reveals nearly 60 percent of voters favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Yet, in the coming years, the ability to defend America's vital interests and project influence with military force will remain a strategic imperative. After straying perilously far from air-centric force projection models used with great success in the 1990s, policy makers and combatant commanders should re-embrace airpower as their military option of first choice.

We must remember that America is an airpower nation. Due to our geostrategic good fortune, robust high-technology industries, and on-going infatuation with air travel, air-mindedness is an indelible part of our culture. America's most technically sophisticated military service is a reflection of this culture. The Air Force depends upon the strength of its people and the power of their minds. Since first achieving manned flight on the dunes of Kittyhawk over a century ago, America's Airmen have harnessed and guided their nation's industrial and scientific might into novel ways of projecting power amidst continuous technological advancements. First in the air, then in space, and now in cyberspace, America's Airmen have proven indispensable pioneers. This spirit of innovation and rapid adaptability to change permeates the Air Force's ethos; it will serve America well in an era of accelerating change. So too will the Air Force's unique capabilities.

Our Air Force's ability to rapidly and globally project power, at the time and place of our choosing, defines our unique contribution to the joint fight. Whether it is the ability to hold at risk what an adversary values, or the capacity to project soft power by swiftly providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, America's Air Force provides a menu of often strategically decisive options with global range to combatant commanders and policy makers. The cost effectiveness of these options is demonstrably clear and empirically measureable. Air-centric operations in the first Gulf War, initial stages of Afghanistan, and Libya proved significantly less costly than ground-centric operations over the past decade of war.

This is not to denigrate other services' contributions to our national defense or the individual heroism and sacrifices of their members. It is simply to acknowledge that our nation can no longer afford to adopt military strategies that commit so much of our blood and treasure for so long. Using ground forces to project military power creates a critical vulnerability by placing large numbers of our nation's most precious asset--its youth--in harm's way. Our successful military intervention in Libya in 2011 provides an important model for achieving limited policy objectives with air-centric operations.

As we rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific while maintaining presence in the Middle East to protect our national interests, distance and increasingly robust threat environments demand the Air Force's unique capabilities. In short, the importance of air, space, and cyberspace will only increase in coming years--spreading future defense cuts evenly across the services would be foolhardy. While technologically exquisite weapons platforms are expensive, they ultimately provide strategic options that cost far less in blood and treasure when America decides to go to war.

America's preeminence as an airpower nation underwrites its position and role within the international order. This preeminence, however, is not foreordained. Two things must ultimately occur to sustain it: the American people must decide whether their nation will make the investments necessary to retain this asymmetric advantage; and policy makers must embrace the way we employ airpower in the cost effective pursuit of national security objectives. Until that time, I will continue to be an unapologetic advocate for the Air Force's unique roles and capabilities. Our nation deserves nothing less.