Another maddening quote today, this time from Strategy Page, which usually seems to be a little more collectively level-headed.  This quote is actually from an article that dates from 16 June 2006, but I just came across it today.  They write,

Because the army is seen as getting the most done in the war on terror, the navy and air force are not getting as much money as they used to. The ships and aircraft don’t have anyone to fight, although the Pentagon is trying to portray China as a future foe that would require lots of expensive ships and aircraft to take care of.  {U.S. Sailors and Airmen Depend on China, 2006}

Part of the reason the Army is "seen" to be getting more done is because people keep making ridiculous arguments such as this one: "ships and aircraft don’t have anyone to fight."  Let’s stop and think for a moment about recent history, as well as some likely future scenarios, instead of repeating hackneyed arguments.

  • Without strategic airpower (Air Force bombers), Naval airpower (fighters flown from aircraft carriers), and strategic airlift (long-range Air Force transports), the U.S. would not have been able to strike back against al-Qa’ida and the Taliban.  Afghanistan is a landlocked country.  We began with no nearby port access, and few friendly airstrips from which to operate.  Air and sea power allowed us to project power, to respond to a devastating attack on our country.  What message would we have sent the world if we would have listened to those who have argued against the procurement and use strategic bombers and aircraft carriers for years?  It would have been a message of impotence as we would have been unable to respond in our own defense.
  • No one for aircraft to fight?  Tell that to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!  Granted, this article was written before F-16s took out Zarqawi with laser-guided bombs.  But, there have been similar arguments made since one of the biggest U.S. victories in Iraq.  How does it make any sense (if one is actually thinking before speaking) to say, in the same breath, "Aircraft just killed the top enemy commander.  Aircraft are of no use in this war"?  It doesn’t.  The recent history of our fight against terrorists indicates not that aircraft and ships are not useful, but rather that they have been crucial to projecting power to parts of the globe in which we would otherwise not have been able to operate.
  • What will happen if diplomacy does not work in the ongoing confrontation with Iran?  A large-scale ground invasion of Iran will most likely not be possible, nor desirable.  So, does that mean that we have no military options?  That we are the world’s strongest nation yet impotent to respond to blatant threats and violations of international law?  No.  Air Force strategic bombers, Navy aircraft from carriers, and cruise missiles from Navy ships and submarines give us the capability to strike back when ground forces are either inappropriate or incapable.

Does this mean that aircraft and ships are the perfect, ideal weapons?  That we should rely on them above all else?  Of course not.  There is no such thing as a perfect or ideal weapon.  But that includes the infantry as well.  Just as there is an airpower cult and a seapower cult within the U.S. defense establishment, there is also a boots-on-the-ground cult that sees ground forces as the only true military option.  Like airplanes and ships, there are things that ground forces alone just cannot do, like go 8,000 miles to Afghanistan without support from the air and the sea.

We need to take more seriously calls for jointness, but we also need to remember that certain branches and certain weapons systems really do provide unique capabilities.  The alternatives are not a form of jointness where all differences disappear, nor service parochialism where each branch and its cheerleaders thinks it can win wars alone.  Rather, we need to understand the unique capabilities that each service and weapons system brings to the table and think creatively about how they can be used jointly to achieve our goals.  Part of doing that means laying to rest, once and for all, arguments like the one above.

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