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Re: An Irregular Challenge

11:52 AM, Feb 18, 2008 • By STUART KOEHL
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John Noonan makes some very interesting and important points in his recent piece, "An Irregular Challenge." The Air Force does need to evaluate its role in low intensity conflict and must make the necessary investments to support that mission. John is also right in stating that the Air Force has yet to do that in a meaningful way:

"This is the accepted doctrine in Air Force circles. If you want to fight small, you've got to go big. Bulk up the force so that it can dominate peer/near-peer, and *poof* through the magic of air supremacy, we'll automatically be postured to effectively prosecute irregular wars. The problem, however, is that F-22 Raptors are not optimal IW platforms. Nor are Joint Strike Fighters, or B-1 bombers, or even older F-15s and F-16s"

And:

"I think what freaks Air Force types out about small wars talk (and equipping the force with short range slow-movers) is that they fear they'll go back to the days of subservience to the Army (shoot here, fly here). Zoomies are a proud bunch, and they take a certain satisfaction in the fact that they're our first line of defense against heavy hitters like Russia and China."

The problem for the Air Force, however, is that beyond some very secondary support function, it doesn't have much of a legitimate role in low intensity conflict (LIC). Airpower is about firepower. Firepower is almost irrelevant to low intensity conflict. Go to the AFA Daily Update, and look at the little box at the bottom, where it gives the daily number of sorties in Iraq by type. The vast majority are transport or tanker, with ISR and CAS/Armed Recon way back in the pack (and overall, the sortie rate is insignificant). When it comes to wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, the main role of the Air Force is trucking company, moving men and materiel from place to place. It can help, to a limited extent, by providing persistent surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, but systems like J-STARS, the U-2, or tactical reconnaissance aircraft can't really contribute much when the targets blend so well into the background.