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ROBERT S. SPALDING III is a 2013-14 Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and, most recently, Vice Commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base.See more by this author
Robert Farley (“Ground the Air Force,” December 19, 2013) is so far wide of the mark that he brings to mind the difference between the miss-by-a-mile bombs of World War II and the precision-guided bombs of today that fly through windows. The defense establishment is certainly in need of new ideas. But getting rid of the U.S. Air Force will do nothing to make the Pentagon more efficient or effective. In fact, such a move would do grave damage to our national security.
Farley argues that Pentagon planners pushed for an independent air force because they had “misinterpreted the lessons of World War II” to conclude that strategic bombing -- massive air raids on enemy cities -- represented the future of warfare. But military leaders favored an independent air force because of what they had learned from the North African campaign: When ground commanders controlled aircraft, the results were disastrous. As Colonel F. Randall Starbuck writes in Air Power in North Africa, 1942–43: “One example, relayed by General Doolittle, was the incident where a ground commander asked him to provide a fighter to cover a Jeep that was going out to repair a broken telephone line. He refused. The plane that would have wasted its time on that mission shot down two German Me-109s.”
The problems in North Africa were so significant that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt actually revamped the chain of command at the Casablanca Conference in 1943, just as the Allies agreed to ramp up its bombing campaign against German cities. U.S. General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz became commander of all air forces in North Africa, charged with carrying out two missions that still belong to the U.S. Air Force: defeating enemy air forces and supporting ground campaigns. After the change in command structure, the German military leader Erwin Rommel noted: “Hammer-blow air attacks . . . gave an impressive picture of the strength and striking power of the Allied air force.” The Pentagon created the air force primarily to correct past failures, not, as Farley claims, based on “faulty conclusions about air power’s future.”