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Strategic attack.

ONE CONCEPT, MORE than any other, serves as the raison d'etre for an independent Air Force--strategic attack. Theoretically, although the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and special operations forces are all capable of some degree of strategic attack, the Air Force and the Airman's perspective bring the concept into sharp focus. In fact, not until the summer of 2004 was US Strategic Command tasked to draft a joint publication on strategic attack--presumably because of previous impasses.

Both the birth of the air arm and modern thinking regarding strategic attack stem from the cataclysm of World War I, characterized by the ability of surface forces to kill their enemies by the hundreds of thousands and an equal inability to produce a decision on the battlefield. World War I aviators saw future warfare dominated by aircraft that could carry the fight directly to the enemy's centers of gravity yet avoid the stalemate of the trenches--strategic rather than tactical attack.

During the interwar years, theorists such as Giulio Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, and William "Billy" Mitchell, as well as institutions such as the Air Corps Tactical School, presented competing theories of strategic attack, many of them later put to the test in the crucible of World War II but often with disappointing results. Despite the validity of the conceptual foundations, the US military generally lacked resources to conduct such attacks from the air. Only the atomic strikes against Japan in the last days of the war approached strategic attacks on the scale envisioned by the early airpower advocates. Understandably, postwar strategic thinking became almost exclusively a nuclear planning process.

In the late 1980s, technological and theoretical developments gave strategic attack a renewed conventional dimension. The advent of reliable precision-guided munitions and stealthy air platforms, combined with Col John Warden's idea of parallel strategic attack, meant that US aircraft could engage enemy centers of gravity throughout the depth and breadth of a theater with nonnuclear munitions. The cascading effects and catastrophic system failures brought on by such attacks enable joint forces to accomplish their tasks at a higher tempo of operations against a disrupted enemy. This rebirth of strategic attack invalidated the old way of designating heavy bombers as strategic platforms and fighters as tactical platforms. Because the term strategic now applies to the nature of the target and because many aircraft now conduct essentially strategic strikes, every bomb can become a strategic weapon, and nearly every platform can function as a strategic delivery system.

Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-1.2, Strategic Attack, 30 September 2003, defines its subject as "offensive action conducted by command authorities aimed at generating effects that most directly achieve our national security objectives by affecting an adversary's leadership, conflict-sustaining resources, and/or strategy" (p. 1). Although the Air Force is admirably suited to deliver such attacks, no one claims that the air arm can "do it alone" or that the other services have no role in accomplishing national objectives. Quite the contrary, the new emphasis on interdependent operations--a stronger affiliation than joint--probably means that the Air Force will have to commit more resources to the direct support of surface forces rather than undertake traditional strategic strike operations.
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Title Annotation:Doctrine NOTAM
Author:Kamps, Charles Tustin
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Words:527
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