628/14                                                                                               THE AIR POWER MOMENT (Dec 14)

“The Transformation of American Airpower” – Ben Lambeth

Lambeth, Benjamin S. The Transformation of American Air Power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell

University Press, 2000.

'About the Author':


B.A. in political science, University of North Carolina; M.A. in government, Georgetown University; Ph.D. in political science, Harvard University


Benjamin S. Lambeth is a Senior Research Associate at the RAND Corporation. In 1989 and 1990, he directed RAND's International Security and Defense Policy Program. Before joining RAND in 1974, he served in the Office of National Estimates at the Central Intelligence Agency. Prior to that, he worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for Defense Analyses. A civil-rated pilot, he has flown or flown in more than 40 different fighter, attack, and jet trainer aircraft types with the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as with eight foreign air forces. In 1988, he received a front-seat checkout in the F/A-18 Hornet. In December 1989, he became the first U.S. citizen to fly the Soviet MiG-29 fighter. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is the author of The Transformation of American Air Power (Cornell University Press, 2000). In 2002, he was elected an Honorary Member of the Order of Daedalians, the national fraternity of U.S. military pilots.

Key Points':

(ix) According to Lambeth, his book “reviews the deficiencies of American air power that were unmasked during he failed Vietnam experience, explores the many initiatives that were subsequently undertaken to correct those shortcomings, explains the reasons for air power’s spectacular performance during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and considers the growing role of space in US and allied military operations of all types.”

a. “The aim is to cast light on a basic question: Should air and space assets continue to be viewed as support for surface forces, or can they now, at least in some circumstances, achieve strategic effects directly and thereby set the conditions for victory in joint warfare?”

            b. (1) The 1991 Persian Gulf war was a breakthrough in airpower’s strategic effectiveness

c. (2) The 1991 Persian Gulf war demonstrated that it could provide “strategic” effectiveness without nuclear weapons

d. (6) Lambeth’s study seeks to offer perspective on “the nature and meaning of the qualitative improvements that have taken place in American air power since the mid-1970s, with a view toward explaining air power’s newly acquired strengths and continued limitations in joining warpower’s newly acquired strengths and continued limitations in joint warfare.”

- Focuses on Major Wars since airpower is assumed to be pivotal only in major wars

e. (6) “The central argument of the study is that over the past two decades American air power has experienced a nonlinear growth in its ability to contribute to the outcome of joint operations at the higher end of the conflict spectrum, owing to a convergence of low observability to enemy sensors (more commonly known as “stealth”), the ability to attack fixed targets consistently with high accuracy from relatively safe standoff ranges, and the expanded battlespace awareness (sometimes called “information dominance”) that has been made possible by recent developments in command, control, communications, and computers and in information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR for short).

                        - (7) Gone are the days of brute force

- (7) Air power now focuses on achieving functional effects through targeting of key vulnerabilities and the elimination of the enemy’s capacity for organized military action.

(8) Lambeth’s study focuses on the United States:

            a. The US is the most cutting edge with regard to airpower technology

            b. Only the US holds the full-spectrum of airpower capabilities

(9) Lambeth’s definition of airpower:

a. “in its totality, air power is a complex amalgam of hardware and less tangible but equally important ingredients bearing on its effectiveness, such as employment, doctrine, concepts of operations, training, tactics, proficiency, leadership, adaptability, and practical experience.”

            b. “air power is inseparable from battlespace information and intelligence.”

            c. (10) Air power is joint and requires the cooperation of all US services

The Lessons of Vietnam:

a. (14) ROE limitations, equipment shortcomings, poor training, hindered the US’s ability to apply airpower effectively (the enemy was not a viable target either)

b. (14) Employment of PGMs, the relaxing of ROEs, increased the effectiveness in operations beyond 1972

            c.  (17) Gradualism did not work

            d. (18) Air defense systems were effective against modern aircraft

            e. (21) CAS incident in the La Drang Valley and an F-100 Napalms friendly troops

- (22) CAS coordination required rapid command and control – led to the perception that airpower was unresponsive.

f. (28) Operation Linebacker II was the first “integrated air offensive of the entire war that sought to achieve the shock effect that later was the hallmark of opening night in Desert Storm.”

g. (30) Much of the frustration of the United States experienced during the Vietnam War had to do with the “fundamental failings of leadership at the national level.”

h. (30) “the Johnson administration’s approach represented a classic instance of the fallacy of mirror-imaging.”

            i. (32) Fragmented command and control… “Exemplified disunity of command”

j. (35) Targets were often chosen based on aircraft/system limitations versus the known location of enemy assets.

            k. Technology is not infallible

            l. (52) Airpower is much less effective against low-intensity and unconventional forces (it

is best against conventional forces)

Post-Vietnam developments:

a. (54) New reforms stressed leading-edge technology and a major focus on increased combat proficiency.

            b. (56) Three major gains were made after Vietnam:

1.     aircrew proficiency (greatly enhanced training and tactics)

a.     Average flight time increased to almost twice the level of Soviet pilots

2.     equipment performance (new and better platforms and munitions)

a.     Fighters became much more fuel efficient due to aerodynamics and

1.     engine efficiency

b.     The A-10 was introduced for the sole purpose of defeating Warsaw Pact

1.     armor

c.     low observability (stealth)

d.     new platforms provided increased reliability and maintainability for improved force application

3.     concepts of operations (joint service strategies)

                                    -- (82) improved intelligence/operations interface

                                    -- (88) closer ties between the Air Force and Army (AirLand Battle)

                                    -- (96) The Israelis had success against Syria in 1982 via its advantages in

leadership, organization, tactical adroitness, and adaptability

            c. (76) The Air Force strived to increase its effectiveness and efficiency.

            d. (78) Technology increases in technology allowed multi-mission capability

            e. (79) ISR became more integrated

            f. (92) The Israeli Strike in the Bekaa Valley in 1982 illustrated the effect of technology

against advanced IADS

g. (98) The “tit for tat” mindset was still present within the military planning establishment post-Vietnam

Lessons from Desert Storm:

a. (103) The lopsidedness of Desert Storm was revolutionary (speed, extent of destructiveness, and lack of collateral damage)

b. (104) The possibility that all future operations will be planned in Desert Storm’s image and/or judged against this campaign may lead to complacency

**(109) “The net effect of Goldwater-Nichols was to strengthen the authority of the JCS chairman, as well as that of the CINCs of the joint US warfighting commands around the world, at the expense of the separate uniformed services, whose roles were reduced essentially to organizing, training, and equipping their respective forces rather than employing them in combat.”

            c. (117) CENTCOM’s plan for Desert Storm represented “an intellectual triumph over much of the cultural baggage that had distorted the air war against North Vietnam…but rather how “allied air power would acquit itself in seeing to the endgame a war that ultimately would be decided on the ground.”

            d. (118) Three factors that allowed the US to degrade Iraqi forces to 50%:

1.     The freedom made possible by SEAD aircraft that freed the middle altitudes for operations

2.     JSTARS for ground attack

3.     LGB delivery for ground attack

** (127) Lambeth argues that the gradual attrition of Iraqi ground forces undermined its fighting capacity such that it finally reached its breaking point.

e. (130) Desert Storm was the vindication of the “single manager” concept for US airpower

f. (142-148) Aspects of Clausewitz’s fog and friction existed during Desert Storm:

            - Logistics and force structure were stretched thin

            - Tactics did not always work with existing equipment

            - Weather

            - Friendly Fire

            - Imperfect Intelligence

g. (152) “To sum up, high technology was a significant but not single-handedly determining factor in the coalition’s success in Desert Storm.  Superior Training, motivation, proficiency, leadership, tactical cleverness, and boldness in execution wer no less important in producing the final outcome.”

Considerations unique to Desert Storm:

            a. (138) The US had more than adequate preparation time

            b. (139) Deserts are ideal for airpower

            c. (139) The Soviet Union did not resupply Iraq

            d. (139) An unprecedented cooperative alliance

            e. (139) US domestic support

            f. (140) The US had excellent basing

            g. (140) Saddam Hussein was strategically inept

Lessons Post-Cold War:

            a. (154) The US was less willing to procure weapons of the future

b. (155) The USAF transitioned from nuclear weapons to conventional weapons (an issue of primacy)

                        - (164) Nuclear bombers become conventional weapons capable

                        - (164) The term “strategic” no longer means nuclear only

                        - (164) “theater” warfare no longer meant the sole dominion of “tactical” or

fighter aircraft

            c. (155) Technologies provide penetration (stealth)

d. (160) Air power is largely judged by the number of targets that can be engaged by a single sortie versus the number of sorties to destroy a target

e. (164-165- 3 Pillars of Conventional wisdom….and the deficiency in American air power thinkers in terms of “strategic” to describe weapons and targets rather than actions and effects

Lessons from Bosnia/Kosovo:

            a. (175) ~70% of all weapons employed in Deliberate Force were PGMs.

b. (177) Operation Deliberate Force was a successful exercise in coercion.

c. (184) Serbia’s ground forces survived NATO’s air attacks by dispersing and concealing their tanks and other vehicles.

d. (194) Operation Allied Force was the first air campaign to use all the US’s modern heavy bombers.

e. (196) Airpower is very susceptible to denial and deception (the Serbs used concealment and dummies very effectively)

            f. (199) OAF saw the first major use of cyber warfare.

            g. (201) The Serbs demonstrated their ability to adapt and learn from the ongoing events

h. (210) Conflict between the “single-management” of airpower (helicopters and fixed wing) by the USAF continued as the Army did not relinquish their Apaches for single management

i. (214) Airpower is expensive (PGMs and cruise missiles)

j. (214) The Ops Tempo of modern operations comes at a cost

k. (214) Effective use and availability of LD/HD assets is a critical consideration

l. (214) Kosovo used resources such that it put the US’ ability to respond at risk

m. (225) The first example of airpower coercing an enemy to yield with no combat action?

n. (231-232) MAIN LESSONS:

            - Penny Packets did not work in Kosovo

            - The operation lacked clarity of purpose

            - Airpower must be applied properly

(242-243) Missions of the Space Force

(248-249) What space provides to the joint warfighter

(262) Two central but parallel air power arguments:

a. Can strategic bombing compel an enemy/achieve victory independent of the other aspects of military force?

            b. What aspects of military force provide the best cost-value?

(270) “Simply put, Guilio Douhet’s conception of air power and its potential contribution to winning wars has been rendered obsolete by technological advance.”

(286) The Army still believes airpower should support ground operations.

(289) “airmen insist that if there is any one principle that should guide the continued development of American air power, it is the principle that it can save lives and provide theater commanders with a more effective and responsible way of employing force than through head-to-head, manpower-intensive combat on the ground.”

(291) “What matters most here is that modern air and space assets can both deny freedom of action to enemy land forces and destroy or neutralize those forces faster than they can mass in pursuit of their operational goals.  In effect, Air Force strategy posits that the counteroffensive really begins the moment allied air forces begin fighting.”

(291) “In all, the Air Force touts air power as the preferred instrument for halting and reversing a major armored attack not only because of its precision engagement and standoff capability, but also because it can deploy to a threatened region much more quickly than can heavy ground maneuver forces.”

**(298) “The main argument of this book is that American air power has been transformed over the past two decades to a point were it has finally become truly strategic in its potential effects.”

(299-300) Air power is not universally applicable and relies heavily on interservice cooperation

(301-303) Airpower payoffs:

            a. Increased situational awareness

            b. Cost effectiveness

            c. The ability to maintain the initiative

            d. The ability to apply force from a distance (standoff)

(307-313) How airpower advocates should sell air power:

a. Know the arguments for and against airpower and understand what airpower can and cannot do

            b. Acknowledge that air superiority is insufficient in itself to prove its predominance

c. Airmen should embrace new technologies and discard existing concepts involving urban-industrial bombing

            d. Focus on attacking the enemy’s fielded army

            e. Stop talking about “dominant air and space power”

            f. Airmen should articulate what it means to “win” in today’s joint operations

g. The future leverage of the American air weapon will be a blend of equipment, operator proficiency, and concepts of operation.

(313) Quotes…

'Questions for Study and Discussion':

1. Is the requirement for joint operations a carryover from Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Allied Force, and OIF/OEF?

2.  Are there scenarios where joint airpower is not necessary?

3.  Is it possible to win using airpower during an asymmetric war against an enemy using guerilla tactics?

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