Nobody Asked Me But...

By Commander Carl B. Forkner, U.S. Navy

Perhaps the most significant step in the emergence of a separate U.S. Air Force was the establishment of the General Headquarters Air Force in 1935, concurrent with the appearance of the heavy bomber and associated tactics and employment. With aircraft capable of supporting and conducting sustained combat and logistics operations, the air component of the U.S. Army began its transformation and in 1947 became the Department of the Air Force.

From the focus on heavy bombers in World War II to bomber and jet tactics in Korea and Vietnam to the precision ordnance and multi-mission aircraft of Desert Storm to today's reliance on strategic lift and space operations, one theme has endured: the essential nature of supporting ground forces and objectives. Even now, when air power is advocated as a primary method by which to achieve an objective—in some zealots' opinion, the only necessary element even in today's asymmetric environment—the continuing truth remains that having control on the ground, whether to enable a soldier or a diplomat to facilitate stability, is necessary for winning not only the war, but also the peace.

In the post-Desert Storm years, the Department of Defense found itself in a position that necessitated the use of modernization dollars to fund sustainment. This continued through the attacks of 9/11, but the near-decade of damage had already been done. Consequently, DOD had outdated equipment and shortfalls soon after embarking on Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite emergency budget authorizations, this situation promises to be even more problematic in upcoming years. Clearly we need to find a way to provide more funding to the "tooth" and reduce the money sunk into an overpopulated "tail."

The Air Force's administrative and support infrastructure grew with the adoption of the 1990s revolutions in military and business affairs. But the mission has remained relatively constant: the Air Force secretariat is responsible for myriad functions, including recruiting, organizing, training, equipping, and supplying the members of its service. Similarly, the secretariats of each service accomplish the same tasks. For instance, the Department of the Army, whence the Air Force arose, continues to accomplish these functions across the full range of administrative and mission responsibilities. If this was effective to support the success of our air forces before 1947, why could it not be so today?

The time has long since come to step back from paying the fiscal and personnel costs for redundant administrative processes. We must look for opportunities to recapitalize assets into the warfighting mission and core functions of the service. One such opportunity lies in eliminating the Air Force secretariat and moving these forces back under the Department of the Army, maintaining a Chief of Staff of the Air Force and requisite support, following the basics of both the Navy-Marine Corps and National Guard teams. Indeed, it is time to again transform the service. More tooth, less tail!

Commander Forkner is a faculty member in the International Security Studies and Warfighting departments at the Air War College.


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