- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Inter-service squabbles are both unseemly and destructive in a time of war. Those serving the nation understand the pernicious effects of such rivalries.

Since the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, a generation of officers has been inculcated with the virtues of “jointness” — the mutual reliance born of confidence in each others’ capabilities. Yet, on the home-front, an increasingly vocal chorus strives to fragment the interdependence that has been fostered for two decades. The wedge issue — promulgated by those who have evidently forgotten how service parochialisms lead to catastrophic failures — is the perceived necessity to increase the size of the land forces at the expense of the Air Force and Navy.

This relentless campaign is timed to coincide with the arrival of a new Congress and secretary of defense. It is played out against the stark backdrop of mounting casualties in Iraq, ongoing strategic reviews, clamor for “surging” ground forces to secure Baghdad and public disaffection with a war. The timing of the campaign is understandable; its rationale and implications are not.

Every fighter pilot learns that attacking a target at high speed and low altitude is fraught with the risk of “target fixation.” This single-minded focus on getting the optimal shot — often accompanied by loss of situational awareness and inattention to the surroundings — has proven deadly since the dawn of aviation. The single-minded focus on the ground fight in Iraq is beset by all the risks of target fixation — at the strategic level. It leads to such ill-conceived notions as strangling the Air Force’s modernization programs to pay for the expansion of the Army and Marines. Missing from this argument is any concern for the military’s overall health, or the insidious consequences of rekindling service rivalries. Missing also is any consideration of the dire straits the Air Force is in as a consequence of 16 years of continuous combat with zero recapitalization of its battle-worn equipment.

The notion of mortgaging the nation’s future is both flawed and irresponsible. Even assuming that additional brigades could be recruited and trained quickly, how would that expanded force get to the fight? How would it be provisioned, allowed to maneuver and defended from above? The last time an American soldier was shot at by enemy aircraft was 1953. The ability to look up in the sky and know there’s nothing to fear is priceless. Yet, air superiority — the precondition of effective operations on land and at sea, as well as in the air — it is not an entitlement; it is a battle that must be fought and won, often at high cost. Those who argue for robbing Peter to pay Paul would, quite literally, risk the lives of soldiers and airmen as well as Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen — all of whom depend on the Air Force’s global reach, global power and global vigilance.

But the perils of fixation don’t end there. With an aging fleet of aircraft and vessels — and our military “neither losing nor winning in Iraq” — what happens to America’s global posture? How long before others attempt to exploit what they cannot but perceive as America’s nadir? The rest of the world has not taken a time out to accommodate our focus on Iraq. An arch of instability literally spans the globe from Latin America, through East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Russia, China, Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

In the wake of Desert Storm, the United States was hailed as the sole arbiter of the new Pax Americana. While many grumbled at what appeared as unconstrained U.S. pre-eminence, few dared to challenge it — until that September morning when enemies appropriated our airliners and used them as their airpower to kill 3,000 non-combatants on America’s soil. That very day, the Air Force spread its wings over America’s cities in an unprecedented operation, aptly named Noble Eagle. America’s wingmen continue to provide that Combat Air Patrol to this day, serving as the nation’s global eyes and ears — as well as its ultimate nuclear backstop — all while flying and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, America depends on air power to an unprecedented extent. The Air Force underwrites the national strategy of reassuring allies, while deterring, dissuading and decisively defeating enemies. Its recapitalization is an urgent security need — not a discretionary luxury.

Our men and women in uniform trust each other with their lives. They count on each member of the joint team to deliver the full range of service-unique effects. Only one of our armed services can provide global surveillance, global command and control and the requisite range, precision and payload to strike any target, anywhere, anytime, at the speed of sound or the speed of light. Our warriors understand that. Our elected officials must, as well.

Shortchanging any one service to prop up another will cost lives and treasure, undermine the trust binding the military together and foist on future generations the consequences of strategic myopia.

Lani Kass is a professor of military strategy at the National War College, currently on sabbatical as special assistant to the chief of staff, USAF. These views are her own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Defense Department, Air Force or National Defense University.

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