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True Airpower Can’t Co-exist With ‘Jointness’

In a perfect world that exists only in my imagination, U.S. leaders in Washington would recognize that air power is the decisive force in war. The Air Force would take its place as the dominant military service branch. Readiness to prevail in a “peer” war against a modern nation-state would take precedence over small conflicts and counter-insurgency. Leaders in other service branches would happily agree that the Air Force needs the largest slice of the budget pie because wars are always won in the air, never on the ground.

Today, the United States faces a formidable military threat from Russia, which has hundreds of intercontinental missiles ready to launch against the American homeland. We may never fight a war with Russia or China, or even near-peers like Iran and North Korea, but all of them have the potential to destroy the United States. No terrorist group, not even al-Qaeda, has ever had the remotest chance of doing that.

Because of the nuclear and conventional war dangers posed by well-armed, modern nation states, we risk our own survival if we do not give priority to long-range, land-based air power. In a time of fiscal crisis, that may mean canceling certain military programs that have lots of love from Congress and the Pentagon but won’t help us fight in the air.

Above all, it means we have to toss out our deep-rooted addiction to jointness.

Yes, that’s what I’m saying: ditch the emphasis on jointness. The military service branches are not equal and never have been. We are leaving our nation open to attack by failing to properly and fully equip ourselves with long-range, land-based air power.


Big Bombers

Last September, Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh told a conference that a new bomber is a “must have” capability. That’s a slight change in tone from Welsh’s predecessor Gen. Norton Schwartzwho often found himself pleading to be a participant in what he called the “joint fight.” Delivering precisely the wrong message, Schwartz last July spoke about “how the Air Force is a crucial part of the joint team committed to winning today’s fight.” No way of thinking about the Air Force could have been more misguided. Far from being a junior partner in a misguided and thoroughly discredited adventure in Afghanistan, the Air Force should be taking the lead with the mission assigned to the armed forces by the Constitution — the “common defense” of this nation. It’s time to end Afghanistan and anything resembling it, time to begin preparing for a real war.

B-52D Stratofortress

A U.S. Air Force B-52D Stratofortress in flight. In the 1950s the U.S. Air Force had almost 2,000 bombers prepared to go to war with the Soviet Union. U.S. Air Force photo

Welsh is on the right flight path but he doesn’t travel far enough. What I want is way above his pay grade and requires a whole new way of thinking by industry, lobbyists, lawmakers, Pentagon brass and the White House.

Welsh doesn’t — until practical change is made in Washington, he can’t — argue that the Air Force should take precedence over the other service branches. He isn’t even placing a new bomber at the top of his priorities list. It’s third, behind the KC-46 air refueling tanker and F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Welsh isn’t seeking a new bomber soon enough or in large enough numbers. To put it another way, he isn’t thinking big enough. I want nothing less than a large, unstoppable bomber force. And, oh, I’d like to have a fighter than can defeat the Sukhoi Su-27, please.

As Americans, we need to decide that our fundamental approach to defense is wrong, that putting boots on the ground in some distant backwater is wrong, and that air power and bombers are right. It is not the business of the armed forces to build schools, eradicate poppies, or support women’s rights in Afghanistan. It’s not the job of an American in uniform to care whether a woman in Afghanistan wears a burqa. The Constitution is unambiguous. Job One is the common defense of these United States.

The big obstacle is the idea, entrenched in industry, on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in the Pentagon that all military service branches are somehow equal, that each enjoys equal importance, and that all should join together harmoniously in a collaborative. It was a good idea — mostly forged in the aftermath of our failed mission to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980 — that started out with good intentions but went too far. To put it very simply, inter-service rivalry is not always bad and jointness is not always good.

To prevail in a “peer” conflict in the future, the nation must shed the color purple — so-called because blending the colors of military uniforms is a symbol of jointness. It’s time to return to our policy of the 1950s Air Force blue dominated all else.


Air Power Advocates

Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell argued in the post-World War I era for an independent air force and for long-range air power. Mitchell warned repeatedly that strategic bombardment would become a threat to the United States and make air power the nation’s first line of defense.

If he were around today, Mitchell might well warn of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat: According to Russian government figures, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces — an independent military service branch — have 332 ICBMs that carry a total of 1,092 nuclear warheads. These totals do not include Russian and U.S. bombers or submarine-launched missiles. Only a strong Air Force can respond to this threat, which can do more damage in an hour than any terrorist group can inflict over a decade. According to the Congressional Research Service, U. S. Global Strike Command (a component of the Air Force) has 450 ICBMs, each deployed with between one and three warheads; all are to be reduced to only one warhead over the next few years. But today’s American bombers, ICBMs and warheads are geriatric and need to be replaced.

Mitchell demonstrated in tests in the Chesapeake Bay in February 1921 that bombs dropped from aircraft could sink a surface warship, famously sending the ex-German battleship Ostfriesland to the bottom. In further tests in 1921 and 1923, Mitchell’s bombers sank several battleships. Mitchell vigorously opposed the battleship as the Navy’s primary warship, pointing out that he could purchase a thousand bombers for the cost of one battleship, but Mitchell was not entirely anti-Navy: he was in favor of the concepts that evolved into the aircraft carrier and the carrier air wing.


           Serious Seversky

Just as Welsh doesn’t, Mitchell didn’t want enough to satisfy me.

But Alexander Seversky did.

In Victory Through Air Power, published in 1942, Seversky, a Russian immigrant and one-time advisor Mitchell set forth a plan for air power that was valid then and is valid today.

Some remember Seversky for creating an aircraft company. His board ousted him as president in a 1939 dispute and then eased the task of changing signs and stationery by picking a new corporate name with the same number of letters as the old. Seversky Aircraft became Republic and gave us the P-47 Thunderbolt, F-105 Thunderchief and other famous fighters.

My reading of Seversky, who died in 1974, tells me he would favor a focus on strategic warfare rather than counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism and would oppose any blind acceptance of jointness that prevents the Air Force from its rightful place of dominance among service branches.

Seversky argued against static fortresses, large armies and outsized warships. He believed that aircraft carriers are vulnerable targets and that wars can be won only with long-range, land-based air power.   After Victory was published, he argued that our costly, island-hopping campaign in the Pacific would have been unnecessary if we hadn’t needed bases in the Marianas Islands from which to bomb Japan. A true long-range bomber, Seversky argued, could have operated from Alaska and defeated Japan — as we did, anyway — from the air.

B-52 Stratofortress

A B-52 Stratofortress flies a routine mission over the Pacific Ocean. The B-52 is deployed from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and is part of a continuing operation of maintaining a bomber presence in the region. The author believes it is time for the U.S. Air Force to reassert bomber superiority. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

My guess is that Seversky would have opposed the now-discredited emphasis on counter-insurgency that was so much in fashion when Robert Gates was Defense Secretary from 2006 to 2011. Seversky warned about countries that have powerful air forces, as Russia and China now do.

Soon after the Air Force became an independent service branch on September 18, 1947, inter-service rivalry soared to its height. U.S. leaders recognized, correctly, that long-range, land-based air power was the only weapon that would deter Soviet ambitions. In December 1949, Defense Secretary Louis A. Johnson famously said, “There’s no reason for having a Navy and Marine Corps.” That year, in the “revolt of the admirals,” Navy leaders challenged the Truman administration, failed to get a new aircraft carrier they wanted, and saw the Strategic Air Command (SAC) begin a massive expansion. For a period during the 1950s, SAC had almost 2,000 long-range bombers poised for only one mission, an atomic war with the Soviet Union. On December 31, 1959, SAC had ten heavy bomb wings and 27 medium bomb wings, consisting of no less than 1,854 bombers (488 B-52 Stratofortresses, 1,366 B-47 Stratojets. No one made any pretense that the bomber was anything other than the primary weapon of war.

In the December Air Force magazine, Phillip S. Meilinger quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower responding to the Army chief of staff, who was pushing for more funds for his service. “The only thing we fear is an atomic attack delivered by air on our cities,” said Ike.

Wrote Meilinger: “Building up the Army was senseless, he said. The Soviet Union did not fear a large U.S. Army. It feared SAC bombers.” Ike, who was more of a “hands on” commander-in-chief than he is usually given credit for, made no pretense that the service branches were equal. He favored the Air Force because no number of ships, tanks and infantrymen could do the job performed by the heavy bomber.

It’s often overlooked that today we face threats similar to those of the 1950s. Yes, we also face other threats, including chemical, biological and cyber attack. What all have in common is this: They can be deterred or defeated by air power but not by large naval forces and not by boots on the ground. Anyone planning to attack us using any weapon needs to be given advance notice that we will retaliate with bombers that can strike any spot on the planet.

I hope Welsh gets his new bomber. In fact, I hope he gets more of them than he is asking for.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-113566">

    “According to Russian government figures, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces — an independent military service branch — have 332 ICBMs that carry a total of 1,092 nuclear warheads. These totals do not include Russian and U.S. bombers or submarine-launched missiles.” Unless I’m missing something of course the 332 ICBMs and 1,092 warheads don’t “include…U.S. bomber” — they are totals for Russia, not the US unless I’m missing something.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-113572">
    Thomas Campbell

    Yeah, heavy bombing sure did work in Viet Nam, didn’t it. DoD should have let the Army SF guys win that war from its beginning, as they were doing well until LBJ and Robert McNamara went nuts.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-113574">


    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-114149">

    This gentleman cites numerous examples for the use of air power, unfortunately all of his evidence and examples are rooted in doctrine that is 60-90 years old. Despite the efforts of Mitchell during the interwar period of WWI and WWII it was still recognized that air power alone cannot win wars. You have to ask yourself is the Center of Gravity (defined by Clausewitz) physical or intangible. Can you force a dictator to capitulate based upon the fears of a population? I would argue no. In the end it will always require a joint effort between ground combat elements and shaping by air. The author states that the former Defense Secretary fought counterinsurgency between 2006-2011, as if to imply he pushed for this type of war. I would point out to the author the “Shock and Awe” campaign that opened the war was supposed to strike fear in the Iraqi leadership and push them to capitulate before the war started. This was an example of using air power and strategic bombardment. Ten years later we were using boots on the ground to win the will of the people in order to quell the violence. Yes we have had to eradicate poppies, teach women, and build schools. But this is the result of the Executive and Legislative Branch making the decision to commit national treasure and resources to impose our will on our enemy. Once that decision is made we have the obligation to break what we fix, as our former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the President prior to the start of the war. You cannot carpet bomb or use strategic weapons to win wars and walk away as if we have no obligation to put together what we broke. As we have seen in the Arab Spring diplomatically it is in our best interest to put an organization in place that is aligned with our National Security Strategy, otherwise we just wasted a lot of time and national treasure. I would ask the author to re-examine his beliefs on the use of air power and its ability to solely win wars. I am not averse to the use of the Air Force as a shaping arm of the DoD, but it is not the sole force that can win wars. If he feels the USAF is irrelevant in Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom then he should have asked USAF leadership to get involved sooner vice snubbing the use of UAVs as they were offered by Secretary Gates early on in his tenure. It was not until the USAF realized they lacked a mission and risked getting cut fiscally in order to prioritize budgetary needs of the USMC and USA that the USAF got involved. There is not much use for Strategic Bombing in a counterinsurgency. I am sure Douhet would be most upset by this last comment, but it is a reality.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-114244">

    Tom Campbell. You are correct. It always was a “moneymaker” of a war. We had plenty of ways to win militarily, but those two, (LBJ & McNamara), and others were making too much money. Isn’t it just dandy that humans have such a love for money that they will let young men and women be killed in something as stupid as was this Viet Nam Police Action. ??? We, as a nation, should delete the 535 members of Congress, and start with all new blood, and enforce the U.S. Constitution, it’s Amendments, and The Bill of Rights. The Clintons, the Obamas, blah blah should be in prison. Yea, I know. Opinions are just like _ _ _ _ oles.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-114390">

    The author states that wars are won in the air. Which wars? Strategic bombing didn’t beat Germany; they increased economic production while being bombed. Strategic air power wins wars when the means (bombing) actually accomplishes the goal or ends. When it doesn’t, air power doesn’t win the war.

    If the point was “SAC is required to ensure America can continue to deter opponents with nuclear weapons,” I can agree with that. But short of nuclear war, wars are won by finding a way to achieve the end. In most wars, it’s some combination of services. The end came for Germany when the Allies occupied Germany. In other wars, air or naval power proved dominant. We never know how a war will progress, and history proves a well balanced force normally wins over a less balanced force in a conventional fight.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-119758">

    Excellent article Bob. My only comment is that I would have preferred that you said openly that the politically correct idea of minimum collateral damage is absolutely idiotic and that we have to be prepared to kill as many people as necessary to win a war, in contrast to the current practice of engaging in combat for years, then walking away in defeat.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158286">

    Stop asking for an airframe.
    Ask for an effect. We replaced the B52 50 years ago with the minuteman missile.
    Strategic Airpower is found in missiles, not manned aircraft.
    All manned aircraft are inherently support to the Army and Navy and should belong to them.
    The Air Force is no longer a warfighting organization, it is a flying club.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-158303">

    A Minuteman could only replace the B-52 in the nuclear role, and then it could only do that if we decided to abandon the idea of the nuclear triad, composed of land-based missiles, nuclear-armed bombers, and ballistic missile submarines.

    Minuteman missiles didn’t bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table. Minuteman missiles didn’t put the Taliban to flight in Afghanistan. Minuteman missiles didn’t devastate the Iraqi Republican Guard as they sat in their trenches waiting for a frontal attack. B-52s have more roles today than were envisioned when they were built.

    Another point: How do you tell your Minuteman that it was all a mistake, a false alarm, and they are to return to base?

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158517">

    I am sorry, I thought the discussion was STRATEGIC Airpower. Are we going to take about an Air Force designed for guerilla conflicts now? We can do this, of course. We can talk about using B1 bombers instead of single engine turbo props to provide CAS is a permissive environment. We can talk about conventional GLCMs to target fixed structures is cities for negotiating leverage. We can talk about how 2 armored corps did more damage in 16 hours than 2 months of bombing did. Well we did bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table. But was that the limit of the “EFFECT” we wanted? S. Vietnam might aruge that bringing them to the table wasn’t quite enough.
    Recallability? What happens when your stealth bombers cross the ADIZ (or takes off, for that matter). Your enemy doesn’t know if they have been recalled.You are in a nuclear conflict with or without recall. And that is HOURS before TOT. Friendly missiles will launch hours AFTER your bombers CAN’T be recalled. The same can’t be said of the enemy’s.You can’t say unmanned bombers won’t work because you can’t guarantee comms and then justify manned bombers because they can be recalled. Either you can communicate or you can’t. Your justification exercises have become sloppy.
    I’ll leave you with HAP Arnold “when satisfactory ground to ground missiles become standard equipment, the need for both air to ground and air to air weapons will be definitely decreased. Of great importance is the long range ground to ground guided missile. This will be the strategic long range bombardment airplane of the future”
    We found uses for 750 irrelevent aircraft 60 years ago. That almost makes sense. We already bought them. But to replace manned aircraft that were designed for a very specific EFFECT, delivering nuclear weapons against the enemy’s Strategic COGs, is criminally stupid in this fiscal environment.If you want to talk about support to ground operations, lets do that. But then again, this would definately turn the thread in a purple direction.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-158525">

    Who said unmanned bombers won’t work? I didn’t. Unmanned vehicles are “recalled” every day to their air bases after carrying out their missions, whether armed or not. What I said was that a Minuteman can’t be recalled. It is on a one-way, irrevocable trip.

    Your “enemy” CAN know if your stealth bombers have been recalled, (in what is a very hypothetical situation), if you have them turn on their IFF transponders. And at what point can’t bombers be recalled? Are you saying once they have penetrated enemy airspace you can’t recall them? As unlikely as any of these scenarios may be, remember they are all moot if we are talking about a Minuteman launch. Once it leaves the silo, that’s all she wrote.

    And remember also that strategic air power need not be nuclear. Nor is a nuclear weapon always strategic. Conversely all manner of non-nuclear weapons could be considered strategic these days. Think of Stuxnet writ large taking down the entire financial underpinnings of our economy. How do you respond to such an attack, assuming you know its origin? Do you go nuclear? Do you deploy your own cyberweapon? Perhaps you use EMP weapons, deployed by manned bombers, that would take down that enemy’s electronic infrastructure as well. Now you have had a strategic exchange without nuclear weapons, but with its own brand of devastation with respect to aftereffects.

    My argument would be that you want options. You want a range of effects. You don’t want your strategic quiver to be filled solely with Minuteman missiles.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158528">
    Justin Lawlor

    Nothing like a completely transparent defense of an utterly failed defense doctrine.

    Massive Retaliation invited aggression. The history of the 1950s and 1960s, of which the author seems blissfully unaware, proves that “one size fits none defense planning” is a recipe for failure.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-158530">
    Justin Lawlor

    “My argument would be that you want options. You want a range of effects. You don’t want your strategic quiver to be filled solely with Minuteman missiles.”

    That sounds awfully…Joint, if you ask me.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158568">

    Options come at a cost. But if you are justifying next gen bomber by all the great things it can do conventionally and in support of ground operations, well, there goes the whole argument.

    how much does one spend on, as you put it, “very hypothetical situations” If you want to talk strategic airpower, lets talk strategic airpower. If you want to talk cyber attacks and economic warfare we can talk that too. why could an EMP not be delivered via cruise missile? can you recall a nuke dropped from a bomber? no. so you are talking about 500 billion dollars for a 30 minute savings that does nothing to help your strategic deterrent and to conduct niche missions. a 20 bomber fleet is smart. fortunately we already have one. like the SR-71, JSARS and any number of low fleet count niche missions. But 200 stealth bombers. That passes no common sense test and you are asking for airframes and not for effects. self-justifying doctrine is self-justifying
    stealth bombers with IFF. Not very stealthy now are they?

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-158619">

    Why not? I’m just saying there’s good reason to have a manned or unmanned bomber in the future.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158686">

    Of course options come at a cost. In a crisis, having options is priceless. Having no options may cost you your country.

    I think your definition of strategic air power is not one with which I am familiar.

    A Minuteman missile does one thing and one thing only. It is launched once, and when its warheads reenter the earth’s atmosphere, they rain nuclear fire upon an enemy. A Minuteman is the embodiment of being out of options. It has only one effect. In my opinion, a nuke is not the answer to every strategic question.

    A bomber, on the other hand, can deliver a range of effects as varied as its payload.

    A B-1, B-2, or B-52 can wage strategic warfare without using nukes. You seem to think strategic means nuclear. They are not one and the same thing. A strategic weapon is one that negates an enemy’s ability to make war. A strategic weapon could be a computer virus, or a rice fungus that wipes out an entire harvest, or a bioweapon mimicking a flu that kills 20 percent of its victims. Strategic air power need only drop ordnance that destroys an enemy’s ability to make war. That could mean an EMP weapon or weapons. It could mean bioweapons. It could mean a few bunker busters in a nuclear facility.

    The “very hypothetical situation” I wrote about was a “Fail Safe” or “Dr. Strangelove” scenario, because while that is unlikely to happen, it would be impossible with nothing more than an arsenal of ICBMs. Or SLBMs, for that matter.

    You have me at a disadvantage with respect to your mention of 30 minutes. I don’t know what you’re talking about there.

    In answer to your question as to whether I recall a bomber dropping a nuke, well, I recall two bombers that dropped two atomic bombs to end World War II.

    Finally, every B-2 Spirit has an IFF transponder. Most large aircraft do. The beauty of IFF is that your transponder doesn’t have to be switched on. American factories produce hundreds of police cars every year, yet they don’t roll out the doors with their sirens screeching and gumball lights wired to the “on” position.

    The B-2 crew can flip a switch any time that they want to and go dark. Presto. Stealthy.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-158687">


    While there is much to criticize about American Cold War strategy, I would argue that the Soviet Union didn’t need to be invited to be aggressive. Hungary, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and several more countries can testify to that. Massive retaliation had nothing to do with Russian tanks rolling into Budapest and Prague. It did, however, arguably have something to do with Russian tanks not rolling through the Fulda Gap.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-158894">

    My definition of strategic airpower is the one we created the USAF to provide. In the powerful and simple words of Douhet “An Independent Air force is an offensive force which can strike with terrific speed against enemy targets on land or sea in any direction and can force its way through any aerial opposition from the enemy. An independent air force should always operate in mass and inflict the greatest damage in the shortest possible time.”

    Or, if you prefer, Ira Eaker “What I want, what his country must have, is a strategic force of such size and composition that no enemy will ever date to launch that massive nuclear first strike. That is our highest national priority”
    30 minutes is the time from receipt of launch orders to nuclear detenation fo rthe Minuteman system.
    Options are not priceless. Options come at a very definable cost. The defense budget is not a Mastercard commercial.

    There are many strategic weapons. the DIME model. However, Strategic Airpower is a very specific subset of our strategic capabilities. And we are talking about strategic airpower, are we not? The Air Force has benefited by defining strategic airpower as, “Whatever we say it is” So everything the AF has is strategic. Its CSAR helicopters are strategic, but Army Medevac are not. Its JTACs are strategic, but Forward Observers and JFOs are not. This is a hollow and intellectually dishonest construct designed not for warfighting but for justifying service parachialism.
    Airpower is a weapon of deterrence that threatens unspeakable, unstoppable violence upon an enemy’s strategic centers of gravity. thats it.
    The EBO idea of targeting specific war fighting capabilities means one must retain the ability and will to fight that war, on the ground, otherwise it is not with standing. AKA Joint. The theory of the Independent Air Force and Strategic Airpower isn’t about attriting warfighting capability, its about deterring the will to fight it. You speak of very small specific attacks with manned bombers which I agree with. I support the current idea of about 20 bombers (though more than 25% availability would be nice). I don’t support, because there is no need, a fleet of hundreds of bombers.

    but take your stealthy IFF idea. We send 150 nuclear stealth bombers over china. do we pinky swear they ALL turned their IFF on. Once a nuclear armed bomber crosses ADIZ, we have crossed the rubicon. No nation, so provoked could be expected to not launch a retaliatory raid in such a circumstance. You would do well to review your game theory.
    I am enjoying the discussion, however. Thank you for your well thought out (though I believe flawed) responses.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-159243">

    Let’s get back to first courses.

    Your argument was originally the following, which all the ensuing comments have served to obscure:

    “Stop asking for an airframe. Ask for an effect. We replaced the B52 50 years ago with the minuteman missile. Strategic Airpower is found in missiles, not manned aircraft. All manned aircraft are inherently support to the Army and Navy and should belong to them. The Air Force is no longer a warfighting organization, it is a flying club.”

    It became obvious in subsequent emails that you believe strategic air power equals nuclear-armed air power. On that basis, you can argue that the Minuteman replaced the B-52. In my opinion you would be wrong, because land-based missiles are just one part of the nuclear triad, which exists for very good reason, but you’re free to make the argument.

    I don’t agree with you, however, that strategic air power = nuclear. We have carried out strategic warfare without nuclear weapons. The 8th Air Force was doing that over Germany and LeMay’s B-29s were doing it over Japan, with GP bombs and incendiaries.

    The vast majority of nuclear weapons are strategic. But not all strategic weapons are nuclear. Your Minuteman cannot truly replace a B-52, which can carry out the nuclear strike mission as well as a range of long range strike tasks, because the Minuteman can perform only one strategic mission, and others exist.

    Right now, our nation continues to pull back from overseas bases. We’ve been seeing the effects of this withdrawal over the past 20 years, as we’re denied basing rights during conflicts, or overflight rights, or logistical aid. We increasingly face the tyranny of distance, and we need long range strike assets. The youngest B-52 is five decades old. The B-2 has earlier generation stealth, is a “silver bullet” asset, with only 20 in existence, and is now aging as well. A replacement to these assets has to be found because one doesn’t exist right now. A Minuteman does not replace a bomber, not in today’s world. In the 1950s, you could have made that argument. I don’t think you can now.

    Strategic air power isn’t just about deterrence. It has to be about what happens after deterrence fails, as well. Which takes us back to the accepted definition that strategic warfare is that which takes away an enemy’s ability to wage war.

    If you want to take out a nuclear facility before actual weapons are produced, and you don’t want to risk a nuclear war, bunker busters dropped from bombers are prime candidates for what would be employed on this hypothetical strike. You have just taken away a hostile nation’s ability to wage nuclear war. That, I would argue, is a strategic mission. That’s strategic air power.

    Strategic, non-nuclear warfare. Nuclear missiles don’t work for that. By definition, they can’t.

    In my opinion, we need a new bomber, whether manned, unmanned, or optionally manned, for the types of strategic missions that we will be faced with in the future. Not to mention the tactical ones, since our premier tactical strike aircraft has an unrefueled combat radius of 800 miles, and it has become blindingly obvious that a couple of long-range AAMs on the market are meant specifically to take out assets like tankers.

    I am not here to get into newly created debates over other issues that are only meant to obscure the original one laid out above, such as Ira Eaker’s, Giuilo Douhet’s, or the Air Force’s definitions of what is strategic; circular logic on doctrine; or service parochialism. I’m here to discuss whether the bomber has been replaced by nuclear missiles. I say no.

    And I will emphasize again that options are priceless.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-215611">
    Kurt Plummer

    In the span of 3 years, we have gone from a 20KW, 500m Raytheon mortar killer to a 50KW 1.5km Rheinmetall rocket killer to a 100KW, 10km Northrop capability to destroy TBMs like the Frog, SCUD or SS-21. With a coherent beam of light.
    Now add to this hunting weapons.
    Which are turbine, not rocket, propelled and hence can be pushed forward a BRL standoff release point, preemptively, rather than miss-ile sprint across a 100km transit at Mach 5, only to mess up their ONE chance to hit a fleeting/stealthy target.
    TurboSAMs having the best of both fixed wing and missile based characteristics in: reengagement after a missed pass, 10 mission recoverability and cheapness of self-seeking (no engagement radar limits to signature detection threshold). All in one.
    Because they ditch the bus vehicle for an integral ability (10ft, 250lb MALI flies further than a 14ft, 985lb, Phoenix) which means that 3.2 billion for a wing of 40 Su-35 now buys you 1,500 T-SAMs and 200, 5 ton truck mounted, catapults.
    And finally Cyber.
    Which may ride an HPM/HERF lethal capability of it’s own but whose intent, ultimately, is to deny all netcentric synergies as comms which are not line of sight directionally encompassed in a 10cm laser. CEC for the services warfighters is essential. And the Chinese hack our defense industrial databases on a daily basis to gain insights into how our GTW free-air transmissions are vulnerable.
    Airpower will still be essential to -attempt- to exploit.
    Simply because the leverage you gain from rear area attacks that break up enemy force marshaling areas and deny them logistics as industry are constants of needful interdiction to allow independent friendly massing at weak points.
    But these airpower assets will have to be low and sneaky as CM/UAVs or high and hypersonic as aeroballistics.
    Because those will be the only way to target and engage by saturation with throwaway platforms a threat which shoots back with fiber optic digital diode pumped lasers that cost pennies on the dollar compared to an SA-15 or SA-20.
    Largely because I don’t believe that the tactical arena will remain presence-tenable in another 20 years, I do believe that carrier strike is still valid, for the simple reason that it’s technically easier to go 5,500nm at Mach 10 than it is to (XTV-2) attempt a FOBS type FALCON launch at Mach 25 from CONUS.
    But even then, the principle drivers will be value defined.
    Blow up a Chinese factory by slinging a MARV’ing KEM shower across half a time zone and you hostage all their remaining wealth base to a willingness to back off on say Taiwan.
    While conserving the 200-500 million dollar _theater not tactical_ (no escorts/no rollback) strike asset from even S300V level ‘terminal’ defenses.
    At the same time you can push the carrier far enough out into the Blue Void that weapons like the DF-21D can be engaged with midcourse intercept as ‘outer air battle zone’ long-period attrition by the likes of SM3IIb using missile trap CG/DDG under the likely flightpaths.
    Rather than wait for the ASBM to saturate a terminal defensive layering of THAAD/ERINT equivalent SM-3IIa.
    If you can’t find or hit the Archer, it’s still better to shoot the arrow than the shotgun warhead which busses out a hundred, homing, mini-KEMs, 200,000ft and Mach 8 over the target group.
    Here is where manned airpower will restabilize it’s advantage of a FUEL TANK vs. solid pour rocket as endurant _range overmatch_ against missiles.
    Launch from the ECS and land in Al Udeid. Launch from the SCS and land in Osan. And you have just criss-crossed the Near Peer with a certain awareness that they are touchable for any bad act they engage in.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-215697">
    Robert F. Dorr

    With regard to the previous post, we did not make this up. There really are people who talk and write like this. Many professionals in the military field would probably understand a lot of this but I doubt if anyone, anywhere, understands all of this. The writer is both knowledgeable and opinionated — both very good things — and I would love to see a version of his comments that is easier to understand.