Air University Review, May-June 1984
The Next War
In my opinion it is in any case very difficult if not impossible, to picture now what form a modern war in Europe would take. We have at present a period of over thirty years of peace behind us and I believe that in our outlook we have become very unwarlike in many ways.
Colonel-General Helmuth Graf von Moltke to
Kaiser Wilhelm II, circa 1905
AS THE younger von Moltke's words illustrate, preparing for the next war is a perennial challenge for the military profession. Traditionally, the best way to ensure military preparedness has been to see that one's forces are commanded by officers with combat experience, for such experience, according to Clausewitz, is the lubricant that best overcomes the friction of war (On War, Book I, Chapter 8). But experienced commanders are not always available to a nation. With the Vietnam conflict more than a decade behind us, combat-experienced officers are today a minority in the officer corps. This circumstance forces us back to what Clausewitz considered the next best preparation for war, the use of maneuvers--"a feeble substitute for the real thing: but even they can give an army an advantage over others whose training is confined to routine, mechanical drill." Maneuvers are important in peacetime, for only they can give commanders a "feel" for handling masses of troops and units in the field. Maneuvers offer the best possibility of surfacing the many manifestations of friction that cannot be anticipated by even the most imaginative planner.
However, today's high costs and other limitations force us to restrict the number of peacetime maneuvers and resort to other methods of preparing for war, methods not available in Clausewitz's time. Within the discipline of operations research, for example, we use analytical techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of new weapons and tactics. To prepare our armed forces for the next war, we construct and use computerized war games, which allow us to practice tactical and strategic decision making even though these games cannot recreate the panic and stress of war. And undergirding all of these preparations is the old standby: the thorough, systematic study of military history (from the first recorded battle at Meggido to the most recent engagements of the Iran-Iraq War), which aims to make us wise forever rather than clever for the next time, as Michael Howard reminds us.
What emerges from this ferment of physical and intellectual activity is a concept of the next war and an idea of how to fight it. These mental images are codified, in a sense, in operational doctrine, which will guide military operations in at least the opening engagements of a future war.
One thing that tends to be missing from the Air Force portion of this ferment is an active, excited debate of the issues involved in getting ready for the next war. What do I mean by active and excited? Look back through the Marine Corps Gazette and review the arguments over maneuver warfare. Pick up a few past issues of Military Review and look at some of the articles on AirLand Battle.
Military Review'sarticles on AirLand Battle are part of the "spirited doctrinal debate" that played an important role in the process the Army used in developing its new doctrine. This process isdescribed in our lead article, where John Romjue discusses how command experience, expectations of battlefield conditions, and military history were folded into the Army's AirLand Battle doctrine.
While the process used by the Army to develop this doctrine is impressive, the process and its product have not, at least not yet, met with wholehearted approval in the Air Force. Major James Machos of TAC addresses this situation in the second article. Machos contends that the Army developed its new doctrine without adequate coordination with the Air Force. Moreover, he holds that the AirLand Battle concept invites greater control of air assets by ground commanders-an Army position in clear conflict with basic Air Force doctrine that calls for centralized control of air assets, a principle growing out of combat experience in the North African campaign of World War II (the last campaign, incidentally, in which the U.S. Army faced combat without assured air superiority).
AirLand Battle is not the only challenge to traditional Air Force thinking on centralized control of air assets. Indeed, a failure within DOD to achieve centralized control of air assets seems to be a part of a larger challenge our armed services face--that of achieving truly unified command in theater operations. In our third article, Colonel Thomas Cardwell argues that although the concept of unified command has been more or less accepted since World War II and is incorporated in Joint Chiefs of Staff Publication 2, we still have not achieved an effective implementation of this concept. Cardwell concludes that unity of command must be based on a "theater perspective of war fighting" and will involve the control of all "air combat forces" by a "single air component commander."
There is little doubt that in the next war, no less than in World War II, the Air Force must be capable of winning control of the air. We must still be ready to contribute what only a professional Air Force can give: control of the airspace over an extended battlefield on which our Army fights victoriously. To be so prepared, we must not only refine our capabilities continuously but remain always open to new ideas.
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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