Saturday, March 18, 2006

Air Force Rejoining the Army

The military seems to be in the process of rejoining the Air Force and Army for all practical purposes. The Air Force has created TACP (Tactical Air Control Party) Strykers and the Army is happy to have them. They will train and fight together:

TACPs are going to Iraq, where they will serve their designed purpose, to make a new air force/army concept work. This involves formally linking air force fighter squadrons with army combat brigades. The air force and army units would regularly train together in peace time. This means that the commanders and staffs from the two services would frequently meet to plan these exercises. That would give everyone an opportunity to bring each other up to date on new equipment, weapons and ideas in each service. The first units will consist of several F-16 squadrons and a Stryker brigade. One reason for using the Stryker brigade is that these units have the latest communications and computer gear, which is designed to easily communicate with similarly equipped warplanes overhead. The new combinations will be called a Joint Mission Capability Package (Joint MCAP). If this experiment works, reserve and active duty warplane squadrons would be linked, via a Joint MCAP arrangement, with army brigades, with the idea that, if the army unit had to ship out to a combat zone overseas, its MCAP air force squadrons would go with it.

The Army has always been envious of the Marines who had their own air force dedicated to supporting the troops on the ground. The Air Force always had more important jobs to do. But now the Air Force is providing ground support so successfully that even Army artillery is looking like an inferior option to Army forces when it comes to timely and accurate fire support. I applaud the Air Force for this change in emphasis.

And to add to the change, but not quite like a Marine Expeditionary Force that has a ground division and an air wing under one headquarters, the Air Force will earmark squadrons to particular brigades.

Will the military go the extra step of subordinating the squadrons affiliated with the brigades to the parent Army Unit of Employment headquarters?

And will the next step be to mix Army attackand scout helicopters, artillery units, and armed and recon UAVs with Air Force planes and UAVs into single fire support units?

Will this in time suck the ground support mission from the Air Force to the Army as Army and Air Force capabilities overlap and work together?

This all makes sense to me. The Air Force provides ground support because it is the only game in town. Strategic missiles are not high priority. Deep interdiction is no longer a priority since there are no second and third echelons of enemy forces arrayed behind the first wave of attackers as in the Cold War NATO front. And in air superiority, only China can threaten our dominance with both numbers and quality--and that only one day if ever.

If so, my advice to the Air Force remains: Aim High:

I think the Air Force needs to go up to space and let the ground guys take over the aerial missions needed to directly support the troops.

Air superiority (including counter-air missions against enemy airfields), space control (both offensive and defensive), ICBMs, air transport, and electronic warfare should be the Air Force missions. Missions that are directly in support of ground forces should be controlled by those services with either helicopters or UAVs.

Science fiction calls space assets "ships" but there is no reason we must have a space navy in the future. Aim high, Air Force. Space Force has a nice ring, too.

The Air Force should refocus its missions. Let me add that I think "space control" should include missile defense against ICBMs. And my list isn't exhaustive by any means. I just tossed them off as I wrote. We might even consider having an Air Force special forces regiment designed to use ground forces against enemy nuclear weapons. They would understand nuclear weapons use and maintenance so they can quickly identify nuclear assets when inserted in either teams or as an entire regiment to take out an enemy nuclear missile base or facility.

The process of rejoining the Air Force with the Army is beginning. The Air Force can either fight for a shrinking market share and essentially go out of business as it loses missions and Congress wonders why we retain a separate rump service to operate a military airline with some fighter aircraft and a small ICBM force; or look to the future, aim high, and offer a new and unique product that nobody else can offer--United States Space Force.