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Document created: 1 December 2007
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2007

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Doctrine Note              

New USAF Doctrine Publication

Air Force Doctrine Document 2-3, Irregular Warfare

Michael Dietvorst

As Airmen, we have a unique war­fighting perspective shaped by a century-long quest to gain and maintain the high ground. We must be able to articulate Air Force capabilities and contributions to the irregular warfare [IW] fight, with its unique attributes and requirements. Employed properly, airpower (to include air, space, and cyberspace capabilities) produces asymmetric advantages that can be effectively leveraged by joint force commanders in virtually every aspect of irregular warfare.” So reads a portion of the foreword by Gen T. Michael Moseley, chief of staff, to the new Air Force doctrine publication: Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-3, Irregular Warfare, 1 August 2007.

The new publication notes that “the United States’ overwhelming dominance in recent conventional wars has made it highly unlikely that most adversaries will choose to fight the US in a traditional, conventional manner. Thus, for relatively weaker powers (including non-state entities) irregular warfare . . . has become an attractive, if not more necessary, option. IW presents different challenges to our military and to the Air Force. . . . It will also increase Airmen’s understanding of the different nature inherent in IW” (1).

Embracing the definition of the IW joint operating concept, AFDD 2-3 defines IW as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations,” adding that it “is not a lesser-included form of traditional warfare. Rather, IW encompasses a spectrum of warfare where the nature and characteristics are significantly different from traditional war. . . . Traditional warfare and IW are not mutually exclusive; both forms of warfare may be present in a given conflict” (1, 3). Along with ongoing counterterrorism, shaping, and deterring activities, the document includes information about counterinsurgency (COIN); support to COIN; and support to insurgency activities.

AFDD 2-3 highlights Air Force capabilities and outlines how they should be employed, addressing seven of the 17 Air Force functions (described in AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003):

• building partnership capacity: a strategy to obtain “international cooperation and commitment” (27).

• intelligence: “may constitute the primary function of . . . [airpower] in IW” (30).

• information operations: “the integrated employment of . . . influence operations . . . [with] electronic . . . and network warfare operations” (36).

• air mobility: “essential when . . . supporting US ground forces . . . and enabling [partner nation] capabilities” (40).

• agile combat support: “a unique support capability of the Air Force” (41).

• precision engagement: “includes the full spectrum of capabilities . . . to precisely achieve effects in support of the desired end state” (44).

• command and control: “not only critical to Air Force operations but . . . also critical for [building partnership capacity]” (46).

AFDD 2-3 also includes a chapter on strategy and planning as well as an appendix on the topic of understanding insurgencies.

The doctrine in this document is authoritative but not directive. Therefore, when carrying out their missions, commanders need to consider both the contents of this AFDD and the particular situation. Airmen should read the document, discuss its content, and put its guidance into practice. AFDD 2-3 describes Air Force capabilities and operations required to effectively defend and counter adversaries. Due to the political nature of IW, Airmen must be able to articulate those capabilities to civilian leadership and decision makers. Although this document focuses on Air Force doctrine, IW inherently remains a joint and interagency fight.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University

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