1. TITLE AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INFO: American Airpower Strategy in Korea: 1950-1953. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

2. AUTHOR: Conrad C. Crane                         3. AUTHOR’S BACKGROUND: Director of the US Army Military       

                                                                                  History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, PA.

4. SCOPE: Covers airpower as applied during the Korean War by the Air Force. Focuses specifically on AF strategic bombing assets. Excludes other missions and services since there are so many other books written on those topics.

Thesis: “The primary purpose of this book is to examine the image and reality of American airpower as it struggled to meet high expectations with limited resources and apply its destructive power in acceptable and effective ways in a limited war.” (6)

    EVIDENCE: Archival sources, personal accounts from participants


·         Analysis of the Korean War can provide valuable insights into Airpower’s capabilities and limitations

·         Too many ground commanders and political leaders expected “miracles” from airpower (6).

o    Inflated expectations of the capabilities of AP influenced key choices by decision makers (183).

·         Nuclear ability exerted a powerful implicit constraint on the scale and nature of the war

o    Nuclear option often came up in Washington when actions on the battlefield or at the peace talks took a bad turn (8)

·         Although air power could not bring about victory in Korea, it helped bring about an acceptable political outcome.


·         Context: At the end of WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel upon Japan’s surrender (Japan was the imperial power there since 1910)-Soviet Union exercised authority over the North, US over the South. Tensions between communism and democracy ultimately kept the nationwide elections from ever occurring (Olsen book, 85).

o    N. Korea launched the initial attacks against the South on June 25, 1950.

o    22 Nations led by the US formed the United Nations Command (UNC), which fought together for the next 3 years.

o    After a year, war on the ground reached a geographic stalemate. Airpower however, demonstrated its innate flexibility of maneuver.

o    *The main reason US went to war in Korea: IDEOLOGICAL, less about the defense of Korea, and more about concern for what might happen in the world. It was for the perceived need to oppose communism at every turn. (Olsen book, pg. 87)

·         FEAF: Far East Air Forces-the senior USAF entity in North Asia

o    Commanders: Gen Stratemeyer, Gen Weyland (174)

·         UNC Commander in Chief: Gen MacArthur, Gen Ridgway

o    MacArthur’s success during WWII in his island hopping campaign had helped him acquire an exaggerated notion of what “strategic” air power could do…he tried a similar approach in Korea against a different enemy w/ different vulnerabilities (Olsen book, pg. 95)

o    He ordered operations which threatened expansion of the war (bringing in the Chinese & Soviets)

o    Out of desperation, he entertained use of nuclear weapons. When Truman declined, MacArthur publicly criticized him…resulted in his removal and replacement by Ridgway.

·         Lessons learned in WWII had to be re-learned

o    Inter-service tensions…roles & missions (CAS) (8)

o    Command and control

o    Night flying operations

·         Lessons learned from Korean War

o    Air Force looked back at its first war w/ a great sense of pride & accomplishment (171)

o    Weyland: argued the AF missions were more decisive than land force missions. “Any failure to win the war was a result of political decisions and restraints placed on all commanders” (173)

o    Hard to do all of the following effectively while operating in a dynamic strategic environment where national objectives may be changing: combined air superiority, strategic attack, interdiction, airlift & CAS.

o    Airpower alone is not enough, inflated expectations led to disillusionment as war dragged on

·         Lessons that should have been learned from Korean War

o    Differences b/w general and limited war (175). Focus went back to general nuclear war.

o    Command and control of air assets in joint operations

o    “The SAC experience in Korea shows the possible drawbacks of trying to use aircraft in too many different roles” (182)

o    “Must select airpower targets that are vulnerable and important enough so that threatening their destruction will have the desired political impact on enemy decision makers “(184).

o    If the goal is to affect the enemy’s war making capacity, ideally you have the ability to strike the sources of it.


·         How do Airmen respond to the challenges of a conflict where their options are severely curtailed? (vii)

o    Even today, we sometimes face unclear threats and resource constraints which prove challenging

·         Airpower played a leading role in the Korean War:

o    Strategic strike, Control of the air, Interdiction, Close attack, Reconnaissance, Airlift

·         Airpower application:

o    AF leaders entered the conflict hoping to: 1. Quickly achieve air superiority, 2. Launch a bombing campaign against economic & military targets, 3. Such action would result in elimination of enemy’s capacity & will to fight (7)

o    Instead, MiG-15s proved extremely difficult to neutralize & unable to strike enemy sources of war-making resources.

o    US was then forced to seek alternative methods to achieve decisive results in a limited, non-nuclear war.

·         Airpower application in a limited war:

o    Limitations placed upon air power (on targets, weaponry, publicity, resources, boundaries)

o    Limitations of airpower (accuracy, lack of joint doctrine, role of wx, C2, airfields, acft capabilities, night capabilities, destructive nature, airfield availability)

o    Smart’s air pressure strategy was one of the many alternative efforts by airmen to find most efficient and effective method of employing airpower (132).

o    Search included: tactics, techniques, technology

§  Technology: Air Force and other services sought improved guidance systems and better bombs (133)…led to many improvisations and experimentation

·         Inter-service rivalry from the past remained an issue

o    Navy-AF relations had been poisoned by the “Revolt of the Admirals” (7)

o    Effective joint air ops were impacted by leadership personalities

o    “Doctrine is not as important as personalities in maximizing performance” (183)

·         Morale-psychology-personnel management:

o    “Fear of Flying”…LeMay’s response on pg. 93.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.