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Doctrinal Lessons

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Doctrine, guidance on how to fight most effectively, is vital to success in war. Iraq possessed a large, modern air force, but the lack of doctrine nullified their combat power. The Coalition's air doctrine, on the other hand, enhanced the US forces effectiveness. Nevertheless, several major doctrinal lessons have emerged.

Because airpower has unique characteristics of speed, range and power that together provide an unmatched flexibility, it should be considered indivisible. Over the decades airpower has tended to split into strategic and tactical camps. This division is artificial. It is not the nomenclature of the aircraft that matter, but the objectives sought and targets struck. The air commander must use the assets most appropriate to achieve his objectives, whether they be bombers, fighters or cruise missiles launched from a ship.

The second fundamental principle of air doctrine was the importance of air superiority. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an army to survive once it has lost control of the sky above it. Air superiority is not generally an end in itself but an enabler that allows other land, sea and air missions to operate effectively. Air superiority gained in the first days of Desert Storm, against one of the most heavily defended areas in the world, allowed Coalition forces to maneuver, deploy, resupply, stockpile and fight where and when they wanted and granted the aircraft a safety and freedom that permitted operations at high and medium altitudes with virtual impunity. By the end of the war the Coalition was actually flying combat training missions over enemy territory. We may thus witness a new phenomenon: the battle for air superiority may determine the outcome of a war.

Another important doctrinal lesson was the importance of the unified command of air assets. Airmen have long argued that in order to maximize airpower's flexibility it must be centrally controlled. This concept has been resisted, and there was no overall air commander in either Korea or Vietnam. The problem of fragmented command structure made it difficult for airpower to concentrate efforts and was corrected only in 1986. Then joint doctrine established the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), an airman from any service who would control all the air assets of a joint force and focus them to meet the theater commander's objectives. Desert Storm was the first war to employ a JFACC, and this unity of efforts ensured smooth coordination and an efficient use of Coalition air assets and allowed the conduct of strategic, operational and tactical level air campaigns simultaneously.


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