Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fair Air Assessment

MAJ Angelina Maguinness on the considerations for the use--and misuse--of air power in a COIN environment. It's a pretty fair assessment, countering some voices that think that our COIN endeavors should be more "air centric."
A couple of points, though:
-I'm not sure that her use of British employment of the RAF for imperial policing is a great example. I would think that the technical advances in air capability would be like comparing the rifled muskets of the Civil War to the M4s that we carry today; the difference in performance, reliability, and capability is so great that using mistakes made in employment of the rifled musket would be insufficient in a critique of the employment of the M4. Not an air guy, though, so I could be wrong.
-When MAJ Maguinness demures from those who state that "air power can be a replacement in COIN for large ground forces," I'd go one step further and say that the requirement in COIN is for small ground forces, and that in some respects, large ground forces prove to be just as distant as air forces. She's right on target saying that the most critical target set is the indigenous population, but large ground forces often stir up the ire of that population; they're too intrusive.
-I think that most of the "Air Centric" COINistas would back off after an intellectually honest mission analysis. The real requirement for COIN is for small-ticket platforms that won't elicit tumescence from fighter jocks or ISR junkies. Small (and cheap, which means that no one wants to buy them) STOL aircraft to resupply and support small groups of warriors in the far-flung reaches of the Area of Operations are the real requirement. I don't need--or want--an $80 million platform designed for COIN, because then I'll never get to use it. Stack up procurement of the requisite numbers of Sherpa's or Twin Otters against the F-22 and the F-22 wins every time. I just can't wait for someone in the Pentagon to start pitching the Raptor as a COIN requirement.
-I violently, adamantly agree with the MAJ on the importance of intelligence, and that "Today, intelligence is operations." However, the example that she provides--the hit on Zarqawi--is the exception that proves the rule. We still have a long, long way to go before I would consider us trained and effective in the conduct of intelligence-operations fusion desired in COIN.

1 comment:

  1. Air-centric COIN? We need to learn from the Israeli mistakes of "bombing first (often on very limited intelligence data) and then asking questions later." There is no better terrorist recruitment than mistaken airstrikes - or even by the so-called "collateral damage" acceptable if the principal target is taken out. Some may hope that air power is the "magic bullet" way to do COIN and avoid U.S. military casualties but, as you have said the basic requirement for COIN is small ground forces.