Published Airpower Journal - Winter 1992
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.


Lt Col Robert N. Boudreau, USAF

IN THE early days of World War II, Alexander P. de Seversky, a prophet of air power, wrote that a flawed intellectual vision had limited the growth of air power to such an extent that only a land- or sea-centered strategy was possible to win the war. He believed a different vision would have led to the development of long-range bombers to strike Japan from Alaska, rather than to the historic, island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. In essence, he argued for air power with global reach. A different intellectual vision would have prepared the nation for war management based on air power.1

I argue that our vision of aerospace power in Air Force doctrine presented in the new Air Force Manual (AFM) 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, is likewise flawed because it addresses aerospace power far too narrowly. The critical shortfall is its failure to explore adequately the flexibility inherent in aerospace power to achieve national security objectives short of war. Both volumes of the new AFM 1-1 address military activities "below the level of war."2 However, neither addresses directly the concept that military power, especially aerospace power, may be used to influence situations before counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, raids, or unconventional warfare become necessary.3 Our goal should be to achieve our objectives before the situation deteriorates to the point where we must kill an enemy. Aerospace power can be used to support the economic, informational, and political--not just the purely military--instruments of national power. Our doctrine should reflect that breadth.4 My central example is the shortfall in doctrine concerning airlift because I am an airlifter. However, the same arguments could easily be made for other elements of American aerospace power, especially special operations, that offer tremendous operational flexibility to achieve objectives short of a resort to armed conflict.

Let's begin by looking at the language of the new AFM 1-1. It very ably addresses the nature of aerospace power, stating that "aerospace power grows out of the ability to use a platform operating in or passing through the aerospace medium for military purposes."5 This sentence casts a net large enough to encompass all military aviation today and space operations for today and tomorrow. Another statement summarizes the key difference separating air from land and sea warfare: "Elevation above the earth's surface provides relative advantages. . . . Aerospace power's speed, range, flexibility, and versatility are its outstanding attributes."6 These statements are crucial because they are all-encompassing. All aerospace power and its potential uses fall within their realm.

AFM 1-1 then becomes more specific, dividing aerospace platforms into roles and missions. This is the crux of the issue, the area where our new doctrine is too narrow in focus. Four basic roles are distinguished: aerospace control, force application, force enhancement, and force support.7 Each of these roles is subsequently discussed in terms of its integration into a theater campaign in an armed conflict. The four roles are a meltdown of the six basic tasks outlined in our first attempt at coherent doctrine published in July 1943 as well as tasks/roles in subsequent doctrine manuals, including the 1984 edition of AFM 1-1.8 Given our new doctrine's almost-exclusive focus on combat at the campaign level, airlift, special operations, surveillance and reconnaissance, and electronic combat fall naturally under force enhancement. Of course, it is true that airlift provides the necessary mobility for time-critical maintenance, munition, and personnel support during an air campaign in an actual conflict.

In addition to supporting aerospace operations during combat, both volumes of the new AFM 1-1 lay out a role for airlift in the fast deployment and sustainment of surface forces--global reach. Airlift is characterized in our doctrine as both strategic and tactical (or theater). Both types are defined in terms of combat force support and include strategic deployment of force from the United States to distant theaters as well as the deployment of tactical airlift assets to support those forces in theater.9 Currently, the C-141, C-5, KC-10, and aircraft of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet perform strategic lift; and C-130s deploy to theaters as part of theater air forces. The C-17 will combine the roles to a degree, being capable of carrying large payloads directly to forward areas for end use.10 This airlift force structure dovetails with the new doctrine. When the United States military undertakes a military campaign against a hostile enemy, the airlift force is designed to support (enhance) the deployed combat forces. AFM 1-1 addresses well the role of airlift in actual armed conflict at the campaign level, but only that role.

Aerospace power, however, has a far broader application as an element of national power than combat operations. Airlift demonstrates this conclusively. Beginning with the Berlin airlift in 1948, airlift provided an option other than direct combat for the execution of national policy. In Berlin, airlift was effectively used to control the escalation of the crisis. A strong foe was bent to our will without applying combat power, but not without applying air power. Roger Launius, historian for the Air Mobility Command, wrote that the Berlin airlift was the "first large scale demonstration of the use of airlift in executing national policy."11

Although using airlift as an option for executing policy is not addressed in the doctrine, such activities are common. Operation Provide Comfort, mounted from Turkey to feed Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq following Desert Storm, is a recent example of aerospace power--airlift and special operations forces--executing policy rather than enhancing combat operations. Another example of the nonlethal, constructive use of aerospace power to achieve national objectives occurred during the 1986 El Salvador earthquake relief effort. El Salvador suffered tremendous political and economic upheaval through the eighties, and the earthquake threatened the fragile new democracy. The United States, using military airlift at the request of the State Department, was able to provide assistance immediately--medical supplies and teams, food, and building materials. Using Salvadoran government agencies as well as American in-theater assets, the central government was able to distribute aid to thousands, saving many lives and gaining political credibility.12

Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, the world has entered a new era. In this era, military power in the form of aerospace power has a far broader role than combat. Influence on the actions and policies of foreign nations, hard to measure but even more critical to have in the face of weapons technology proliferation, is a national policy objective the American military can help achieve.13 The concept that most clearly embraces this new broad role is "peacetime engagement."14 President George Bush, in the National Security Strategy of the United States, August 1991, stated that the foundation for peacetime engagement is provided in our fundamental interest to seek "a stable, secure world, where political and economic freedom, human rights and democratic institutions flourish."15

The definition of peacetime engagement is similar to the traditional application of military power as part of a national strategy that combines and coordinates elements of national power--economic, diplomatic, informational, and military--to achieve our national interests in a region or country. The ultimate goal of using military forces and other elements of national power in peacetime engagements is to facilitate the continued growth of democracy and free-market economies. The concept is applicable in many areas, including the emerging states of the former Soviet Union, which only recently were freed from dictatorships and discredited ideologies. An excellent example of an airlift supporting the tenets of peacetime engagement is Operation Provide Hope, which was flown by C-5 aircrews to key areas in the former Soviet Union.16 The airlift provided food to areas where starvation and consequent political unrest were likely. Such unrest in the collapsing empire is in no one's interest. Aerospace power provides the quickest, most visible, and most flexible form of such engagement.

Airlift provides the glue that sustains peacetime engagement, but it is only one of the elements of aerospace power involved. Special operations can serve informational and political elements of national power. The targeting precision and intelligence provided from space operations are essential to special operations and airlift. The use of aerospace power in the form of airlift, special operations, and space is far less provocative than an air strike or employment of combat surface forces. Our doctrine should explicitly outline this breadth of application. Aerospace power should not be cast simply in terms of a military campaign against an armed foe in a regional conflict.

Several additions to the current AFM 1-1 should be considered to achieve the necessary breadth of thinking. First, enlarge the discussion of military activities below the level of actual combat. Specifically, link military power and its ability to support other elements of national power. Aerospace forces--tasked at the national level and employed through the chain of command--may be used to support achievement of political, informational, and economic goals in a region or country. State clearly not only that military forces can achieve national objectives by providing options other than the application of force but also that commanders and airmen at all levels should understand this to be a major goal of aerospace power.

Second, enhance the chapter discussing operational art. Place stress on the role the air component commander can play in a particular theater to bring aerospace power to bear so that regional goals are achieved short of violent conflict. Nation building, humanitarian efforts, and other host-nation support missions would be part of the overall aerospace effort to secure our objectives. The idea is to use aerospace forces constructively. The goal is to help create conditions where the United States can wield such influence that our objectives are attained and conflict is avoided. Such an approach, included in our formal doctrine and thereby in the charter of the air component commander, would integrate aerospace power into the effort to coordinate national power "so that our programs reinforce one another and contribute to an overarching security agenda."17 However, note that such actions are not entirely benevolent. A spin-off of such prehostility activities would be that the theater-specific experience gained would make us much better prepared to apply combat power if it becomes necessary.

Third, expand the discussion of airlift, special operations, and space surveillance and reconnaissance in volume 2. For example, the current essay on airlift casts it solely in terms of its most recent accomplishments in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm--the first major regional conflict faced by the nation since Vietnam. The Berlin airlift, although mentioned once in the essay "Military Activities Short of War," is not mentioned in the airlift discussions in either volume 1 or volume 2 of the new AFM 1-1. Strategic airlift is divided into two types--combat insertion and unopposed deployment and redeployment, the discriminator being that one requires defense-suppression support, the other does not.18 Many times airlift is used to achieve policy ends without the use of force and only rarely is it called upon to support a theater campaign against an armed enemy. The other roles need to be highlighted in the airlift essay. Naturally the insertion, deployment, and redeployment of combat forces remains the critical task for airlift forces. However, such actions, though necessary, may signal the breakdown or failure of our overall policy of preventing conflict. I will leave for those more qualified to suggest improvements to the discussions in our doctrine on special operations, space, and surveillance and reconnaissance.

United States military forces are employed virtually every day in noncombat activities that support the other nonmilitary elements of our national power in pursuit of national objectives.19 Why, if we believe so much in doctrine, is what we routinely do in practice so poorly incorporated in our doctrine? AFM 1-1 must establish the relationship between aerospace power and other elements of national power. Establishing such a relationship would provide a sound foundation for introducing the key idea that airlift, spacelift, special operations, and surveillance and reconnaissance offer much more than mere force multipliers or enhancement tools. They can function in direct pursuit of US economic, informational, political, and strategic objectives.

Some may argue this proposal will result in a loss of focus and that watering down our doctrine with discussions of noncombat activities could lead to a focus on training and activities that lessen our capability in wartime. I reject this argument. In the case of airlift, the wartime and peacetime missions are very similar. As long as our aircraft are designed to meet the needs of the surface and air combat forces they support in conflict, inclusion of peacetime engagement-type options in our basic doctrine will not detract from the central wartime mission. Operations in the target countries will actually improve our performance if a conflict or contingency arises.

In the years ahead, much less of our combat power will be permanently forward deployed. The visible flagship of our national power will often be our aerospace forces, especially our airlift forces. Our intellectual vision of how to use our aerospace forces requires a broad and flexible view of aerospace power in war if necessary and in shaping peace. Aerospace power should play as vital a role in the open hand of our post-cold war policy as it does in providing a mailed fist. Until such breadth exists in our doctrine, there will continue to be a shortfall in our thinking and our doctrine.


1. Alexander P. de Seversky, Victory through Air Power (New York: Simon and Schuster Press, 1942), 335.

2. AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, vol. 1, March 1992, 3.

3. AFM 1-1, vol. 2, 56.

4. S. J. Deitchman, Beyond the Thaw: A New National Security (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), 94-96.

5. AFM 1-1, vol. 1, 5.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., 7.

8. Field Manual (FM) 100-20, Command and Employment of Air Power, 21 July 1943, 6. The six tasks listed were: (1) destroy hostile air forces; (2) deny the establishment and destroy existing hostile bases from which an enemy can conduct operations on land, sea, or in the air; (3) operate against hostile land and sea forces; (4) wage offensive air warfare against the sources of strength, military and economic, of the enemies of the United States and its allies; (5) operate as a part of the task forces in the conduct of military operations; and (6) operate in conjunction with or in lieu of naval forces.

AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, 16 March 1984, 3-2. This edition listed nine basic missions: strategic aerospace offensive, strategic aerospace defense, counter air, air interdiction, close air support, special operations, airlift, aerospace surveillance and reconnaissance, and aerospace maritime operations.

9. AFM 1-1, vol. 2, 1992, 186-9.

10. Lt Col Charles E. Miller, Airlift Doctrine (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 1987), 423.

11. Roger D. Launius, "The Berlin Airlift, 1948-49," Air Power History 36, no. 1, (Spring 1989): 8.

12. History, Military Airlift Command, 1986-1987, vol. 1, 343-44. (Secret) Information extracted is unclassified.

13. Office of the Assistance Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, "Peacetime Engagement," working paper, Washington, D.C., 5 November 1991.

14. Ibid., 1.

15. George Bush, National Security Strategy of the United States: 1990-1991 (Washington, D.C.: The White House, August 1991), 4.

16. David Hoffman, "West Begins Aid Airlift to Ex-Soviets: U.S. Planes Ferry Food, Medicine, Take Some Flak from Critics," Washington Post, 11 February 1992, Sec. A.

17. "Peacetime Engagement," 11.

18. AFM 1-1, vol. 2, 1992, 188.

19. William Matthews, "U.S. Military `Nation Building' in Honduras," Air Force Times 52, no. 43, (1 June 1992): 25.


Lt Col Robert N. Boudreau (BS, University of Massachusetts-Amherst; MA, Naval Postgraduate School and East Carolina University) serves as military adviser to the chief, Arms Control Verification Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Washington, D.C. A command pilot with more than 4,300 hours, he has also served at OSD as an assistant to the secretary’s representative to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva, Switzerland. Other assignments include the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron, Clark AB, Philippines, and the 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron, Pope AFB, North Carolina. He was operations officer and later commander of the 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron, Rhein-Main AB, Germany, commanding the squadron through its deployment to Al Ain AB, United Arab Emirates, for Operations Desert Shield/Storm and to Incirlik AB, Turkey, for Operation Provide Comfort. Colonel Boudreau is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.


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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