Flexibility is the key to airpower

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Pundits have recently claimed that, "the airpower moment has passed." I disagree. Instead, I agree with those who claim that, "flexibility is the key to airpower." Airpower was, in itself, a Revolution in Military Affairs. Thus, early airpower pioneers benefited from the fact that ground and naval forces had yet to adapt to this new weapon in the battlespace. However, subsequent RMAs, coupled with developments in doctrine and tactics, allowed land and naval forces to narrow the gap between the capabilities of airpower and their own abilities to mitigate the same. In fact, the cycle of airpower-centric RMAs, subsequent changes in doctrine and the evolution of tactics followed by similar developments in land and naval forces have repeated themselves several times throughout the past century; today is no different. As ground and naval forces benefit from modern technology, Airmen must seek to shatter existing paradigms and embrace the airpower tenet of flexibility. Doing so will preserve airpower's relevance in the battlespace and, once again, accent what Airmen bring to the fight.

The initial application of airpower in combat was as a facilitator for land forces. Airmen flew reconnaissance missions and dropped hand-held bombs over the sides of their aircraft to make way for advancing armies. While airpower may still be used as a facilitator for land and naval forces, it is no longer limited to that application. Instead, Airmen have consistently embraced RMAs and adopted doctrine and tactics that have dramatically increased the relevance of airpower in battle. In less than a century's time, airpower has evolved in quantum leaps from dirigibles and biplanes to stealth aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite constellations. In addition, airpower doctrine and tactics have evolved from high altitude bombing in World War II to the "Shock and Awe" campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The modern applications of airpower are many. It can be used to prevent wars or win them decisively if necessary. Furthermore, airpower can reach across the globe and engage an adversary in a fraction of the time that it would take land forces to do the same. These facts serve to disprove those that argue that the era of airpower is over.

The Cold War steeped two superpowers in the doctrine and tactics of conventional warfare and the threat of nuclear Mutually-Assured Destruction. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union changed everything. Conventional warfare and MAD have given way to asymmetrical threats to include terrorism, urban warfare, and guerrilla tactics. In addition, states are no longer the only players on the world stage. Consequently, Airmen must seek to effectively leverage airpower against paramilitaries, ideologues and coalitions of convenience. Thus, Airmen must, once more, adapt their craft to the challenges of the day. Airmen have risen to the challenge before, and I do not doubt that they will successfully rise to the challenge once more.

While experts and analysts may argue that the curtain has closed on the era of airpower, it simply is not true. Nonetheless, Airmen must examine the factors at play in today's complex world and adapt accordingly. Specifically, Airmen must embrace RMAs and adapt airpower doctrine and tactics to meet new threats. Moreover, advocates of airpower must eradicate paradigms that stand between the status quo and necessary changes in how airpower is leveraged in the battlespace. The history of airpower is rife with change. Yet, as in the past, I am confident that Airmen will, once again, embrace change and preserve airpower's relevance in the battlespace.