Get rid of the U.S. Air Force? Not so fast

August 13, 2013

In a new article on War is Boring over at Medium, Robert Farley argues that the United States can and should do away with an independent Air Force by folding it back into the Army and Navy.

There are some very practical reasons why an independent Air Force is a good thing.  First, not all airpower is used in support of operations over land or water.  Strategic air and space power, whether with manned aircraft or missiles, most notably our strategic nuclear forces, can be employed in support of ground and naval operations, but need not be.  Furthermore, strategic air and missile forces are projected from the continental United States, not from an overseas theater of operations.  To assign the strategic airpower function to either the Army or the Navy would make no sense.  Second, we need a central repository for doctrine to manage the air battle in a theater of operations.  To assign that responsibility to aviation assets of the Army or Navy would create an unbalanced situation where the interests and concerns of one service outweighed the other.

There is the Soviet/Russian model, where Frontal Aviation is under the control of the Army, and the Strategic Rocket Troops do their nuclear thing.  This may have worked for a power that is quintessentially continental, where the Army does, and must, dominate all other services.  But we’re both a continental and a maritime power, where neither Army nor Navy, nor aviation wherever placed, is the most important.  Unlike Britain, where the Royal Navy was, and is, considered the “Senior Service,” we don’t have a senior service.

We all know the Air Force isn’t going to go away.  But it’s important that we know why we do have an Air Force, and why there is an enduring need for one.


Robert L. Goldich retired from a 33-year career in the Congressional Research Service in 2005. He was the senior CRS military manpower analyst when he left. Bob is currently writing a book on conscription in history, from the first human civilizations to the present.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Asha Kin