Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

An Air Force pilot’s lament for his academy

The academy didn’t teach me squat about contemporary warfare, this pilot complains in his blog: At no point in my career so far has the Air Force prepared me to fight and win the nation’s wars at the operational or strategic levels; instead, it has trained me over and over to fight Desert Storm. The ...

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586089_090506_ricks2b2.jpg

The academy didn't teach me squat about contemporary warfare, this pilot complains in his blog:

At no point in my career so far has the Air Force prepared me to fight and win the nation's wars at the operational or strategic levels; instead, it has trained me over and over to fight Desert Storm. The numerous PME courses I've taken are all built on the same canon: a cursory introduction to Jomini and Clausewitz, overviews of historical airpower theories, then discussions of how airpower was used and misused in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The saga culminates with John Warden and his strategic airpower theory which was successfully employed in Desert Storm. This is the holy grail of airpower. Airpower post-Desert Storm is treated only briefly."

The academy didn’t teach me squat about contemporary warfare, this pilot complains in his blog:

At no point in my career so far has the Air Force prepared me to fight and win the nation’s wars at the operational or strategic levels; instead, it has trained me over and over to fight Desert Storm. The numerous PME courses I’ve taken are all built on the same canon: a cursory introduction to Jomini and Clausewitz, overviews of historical airpower theories, then discussions of how airpower was used and misused in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The saga culminates with John Warden and his strategic airpower theory which was successfully employed in Desert Storm. This is the holy grail of airpower. Airpower post-Desert Storm is treated only briefly.”

I actually know this pilot, and he is a smart guy. My thought: the Air Force Academy has the rep of being a faith-based institution, so perhaps this isn’t surprising.

Interestingly, this pilot goes on to credit his wife and the Small Wars Journal and like outlets for providing him the education in warfare that he needed:

It’s embarrassing that a captain in the United States Air Force has to turn to the Army for an education about war, but that is exactly the situation I’ve found myself in. While the Air Force was sitting out the FM 3-24 development process, I was on Small Wars Journal every morning and working through reading lists by top Army thinkers.” 

He thinks that the Air Force Academy probably should remain open, but certainly not because it passes on the Air Force culture, which he condemns:

. . . I believe the service culture — both within USAFA and the Air Force at large — is a liability, not an asset. USAFA and the Air Force PME schools may not need to be closed, but they need to be reformed.”

Responsible opposing viewpoints? Also, is the F-16 really an impressive platform anymore?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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