Fighting for Airpower

The former vice commander of the Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo., has penned a critique of a recent Foreign Affairs article that suggested American military power would be more effective if the US dismantled the Air Force and spread its pieces back to the other services. Col. Robert Spalding, now a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the Air Force was not created because the Defense Department misinterpreted lessons from World War II (as the original article by Robert Farley, an assistant professor of diplomacy and international commerce at the University of Kentucky, suggests). Instead, President Franklin Roosevelt revamped the confusing chain of command for air forces in 1943, consolidating command of air assets and charging them with missions the independent USAF still holds today— defeat enemy airpower and support the ground campaign—to prevent such mistakes from being repeated. From the conclusion of the Vietnam War to Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, the Air Force’s successes in supporting strategic goals is often downplayed by critics, Spalding charges. Yet, the Air Force “plays a central role in maintaining some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure and most basic military capabilities,” he added, citing USAF’s air mobility fleet, satellite communications, rapid global strike, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. “No other nation possesses such capabilities… and an independent air force is the key to maintaining it,” Spalding writes.