Can the Air Force Contribute to Counterinsurgency?

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

At the Small Wars Journal Blog there is an article and comment thread concerning air power and counterinsurgency.  My readers (who are not also readers of the SWJ) should drop by and study the article and responses.  The article by Frank Hoffman argues that the air force has been ham-handed in its formulation of doctrine and its application of force in counterinsurgencies.  Major General Dunlap responded in the comments section, and as part of this lengthy comment he made an astute observation that led me to post a followup comment, reproduced in its entirely below.

Thank you for the post, and thanks also to Major General Dunlap for his thoughtful rejoinder.  May a pedestrian make an observation?

Beyond the main subject of the post, General Dunlap introduced an ancillary subject, which serves as the raison d’etre for the attention on air power in counterinsurgency.  Dunlap observed that:

My view is, however, that such a dedication of blood and treasure for that length of time is wildly unrealistic. I don’t think that the American people will sign up for that for Iraq. Although Frank and others invested in the notion of COIN as the future of warfare for the American armed forces may understandably disagree me (it is something about which reasonable people may disagree) my sense it that we won’t see U.S. troops deployed for any COIN effort anywhere near the current size of that for Iraq (let alone the 500,000 troops FM 3-24 demands), for a generation or more.

True, if denied that level of commitment, the ground forces could repeat the mantra of all defeated armies: “if only we got the resources we could have won.” (There is an interesting article in the October 2006 issue of the Journal of Military History that speaks to the civil-military implications of COIN).

In any event, I believe that the people will not support that level of treasure and – more importantly – blood for anywhere near that length of time. Accordingly, I don’t think that FM 3-24 offers offer decisionmakers a realistic solution.

This is a remarkably well-crafted objection to FM 3-24.  I, too, happen to believe that FM 3-24 makes significant contributions, but suffers from a significant flaw.  In a previous post here at the SWJ Blog, I commented that one problem with FM 3-24 was the:

Failure to address how protracted engagements affect troop morale and public sentiment at home (not, by the way, a failure of the Small Wars Manual as I have written about in “Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual”). I do not believe that the nation will ever again give us ten years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. To the extent that FM 3-24 assumes this, our proverbial heads are “in the sand.”

I followed up on these thoughts later, where I pointed out that the Marine Corps Commandant is worried about the same issue.

“The difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect that’s troubling,? Conway said …

But he said insurgencies typically take nine to 10 years to defeat.

“I think there is less of an appetite in our country than we, the military, might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. That’s the basic disconnect that I was talking about,? he said.

It seems that the FM 3-24 should have been approached as a paradigm or model.  Before the model can be constructed, the boundary conditions must be known.  What does this model accomplish? why does it exist? what are its resources? what are the constraints on it? and what are the boundaries beyond which it need not or cannot go (beyond which the model is no longer valid).

The model in FM 3-24 is constructed for the classical counterinsurgency of ten to twelve years in duration.  It may work in certain circumstances in which we have a shorter duration with which to work, but it may not and is not designed to.  Shorter COIN campaigns are outside the boundary conditions for the model.

But beyond anything that a military strategist can add, it only takes an astute observer of American politics to figure out that public sentiment and cultural milieu will never again give us ten to twelve years to conduct COIN.  It is simply a figment of our collective imaginations to believe that any amount of people reading FM 3-24 will have their minds changed into either allowing it or putting their political career on the line by publicly advocating it.  Without public commitment, FM 3-24 is merely theory.

While not exactly the subject of Hoffman’s post, this subject was raised by Dunlap’s response, and it is a salient and powerful point, one that I have made before.  This is why Dunlap’s project is so interesting and important.  I believe that respectful exchange is the order of the day, and this exchange here has the marks of a meaningful contribution.  I wish General Dunlap well in his project, and if the wise use of air power can be done differently and reduce the duration of counterinsurgencies, then it was an important endeavor.


You are currently reading "Can the Air Force Contribute to Counterinsurgency?", entry #513 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Air Force,Small Wars and was published May 24th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (14)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (41)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (45)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (17)
Books (2)
Border War (7)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (26)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (114)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (162)
Federal Firearms Laws (15)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (265)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (229)
Guns (620)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (36)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (18)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (72)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (48)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (24)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (10)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (205)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (17)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (1)
Police (128)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (143)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (77)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (142)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (23)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (10)
SWAT Raids (51)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (87)
Thanksgiving (5)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (3)
Uncategorized (39)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (12)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.