Robert Farley, PhD, assistant professor, Patterson School o f Diplomacy and International Commerce has written much about the military. Abolish the Air Force is a title of one of his published scholastic writings where he presents reasons why the United States Air Force lacks usefulness to remain a separate military department.
There is significant misunderstanding of military departments as war-fighting organizations. The military departments do not fight wars. The departments provide war-fighting assets organized, trained and equipped as units to the combatant commanders. The operational (or war fighting) chain of command resides in the power and authority of the President of the United States and subsequently delegated down through the Secretary of Defense, the Combatant Commanders and then to the unit commanders assigned to them in the region they are responsible for.
The Department Chief of Staff, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff are not in the operational chain of command, in fact they have no command appointment or command authority and neither can they appoint themselves to command. When units of the Army, Navy, Air Force mobilize and deploy to conduct military operations, they mobilize and deploy as armed forces of the United States and not as a military department or service. Consequently to suggest the Air Forces missions can be folded into the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps without loss in national power and significant cost saving will result is deceptive because all units of each department (component) do fold into unity of command under the operational combat chain of command.
The combatant chain of command flows directly from the President, to Secretary of Defense to the combatant commander, to the component commanders, to the unit commanders to the commissioned, warrant, and NCO in charge of the smaller tactical elements of the unit. The Department of the Air Force is functional and lacking in authority and responsibility for conducting military operations.
The Department of the Air Force concerns itself with organizing, training, and equipping units to provide a designated capability when needed. Whether there is or isn’t a Department of the Air Force, somebody has to be doing something to ensure units are organized, trained, equipped and ready to do what they are expected to do. More importantly units still need to be commanded by persons having competence and expertise in the employment of air power. Consequently there is minimal cost savings for arguing the abolishing of a Military Department having functional responsibilities that will not go away no matter how those functional responsibilities are realigned.
This attractiveness of mixed utilization of air power absorbed completely into the Army and Navy will unlikely correct unsatisfactory performance and deficiencies of air power that are primarily result from political actions of government and not from combat command and control authority and actions. In an active combat zone or during other than war military operations the mixed joint operation utilization is there. Doing away with the Department of the Air Force would not improve efficiency and effectiveness of command and control. It would not change employment tactics but capabilities not directly supporting Army maneuver on the battlefield would certainly take lesser of an importance when budget decisions have to be made.
With current fight on the battlefield lacking interdiction, counter air, and strategic attack the merits to do away with the Air Force are very attractive. An attractiveness that will immediately disappear the moment any conflict happens with a significant regional power or several less significant aligned regional powers. There is much usefulness in having redundant subordinate headquarter command and control dispersed to control maneuver and employment of units and their smaller tactical elements. It prevents task saturation overwhelming a single headquarters with too much concurrent and consecutive crisis response and management. Having a Department of the Air Force ensures there is air power expertise involved in the command and control of air power assets at each level of the operational chain of command.
Concerns of the Air Force going out of business is directly or indirectly disclosed in comments made by many top uniformed Air Force Leaders and even the Secretary of the Air Force. U.S Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response, when asked about Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne’s recent comments that USAF is “going out of business,” included the “USAF does suffer from a very real disadvantage in the budget battle due to a perception it has little contribution to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because they are not in the fight to the degree that the Army is leaves the Air Force “disadvantaged in the competition for funds.” Regarding questions pertinent to tactical airlift the Honorable Geren stated “the Army Owns "Last Tactical Mile."
Certainly-so the debate of the Air Force’s executive agent approach and desire to manage DoD’s medium- to high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) programs certainly indicate the extent of role and mission identity conflicts. However, the simplest essence of identity confusion is disclosed by Retired US Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and former vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking at the first public presentation for the Global Air Chiefs Conference. He suggested airmen lack a voice in the national security matters because “Airmen are looked at as technicians. … In many ways we are our own worst enemy. We don’t want to leave the cockpit.” This is certainly true and while not unique to the Air Force the reduction in need for combatants having fighting combat skills and increased need to sustain a higher aptitude force structure trained in primarily mechanical, technical, and management occupations causes a distinct difference from the Army, Marines, and to some lesser extent the Navy. The other distinction is most of the fighters are rated commissioned aircrew having minimal command and lead of units into battle duties and responsibilities.
Since WWII a high degree of education and literacy in the being required to posses a baccalaureate has become more important than being of good moral character and being physically qualified for active service for all the military departments. This combined with baccalaureate becoming equated with craftsman qualification to service or operate complex equipment or in the service sector providing ability to supervise or manage complex programs and operations has diluted the role of commission in the Air Force more than any other military department.
The day-to-day duty role of the typical commissioned officer in the Air Force has become indistinguishable from the enlisted and NCO technicians/specialists. The distinguisher in most instances is not performance or command duties and responsibilities but only possession of superior rank and higher pay. If there is any reason for doing away of the Air Force as a military department it is the abundance of technicians and lack of warriors.
The justification for the Air Force however is task saturation and expertise of applying air power. Unfortunately, it will take a significant regional conflict to demonstrate rapid developing multiple crisis and rapid change requires redundant and separate Headquarters command and control to prevent task situation. An overwhelmed commander managing too many air and ground actions is bound to overlook something that needs an immediate response or lacks the expertise of knowing what assets can and cannot do. This is why airpower expertise and a separate military department are needed.