Dennis M. Drew

This essay explores the impact of America's war in Southeast Asia on US Air Force basic doctrine. One would assume that such a long, controversial and unsuccessful struggle would leave a lasting imprint on the Air Force's theory of airpower as represented in its doctrine. (1) This has not been the case.

Few would dispute the controversial nature of the war in Vietnam. Over time it tore at the whole fabric of American society and was particularly wrenching within the US military. Among airmen, tempers flared over the conduct of the air war, particularly the restrictions placed on bombing targets in North Vietnam which many airmen perceived to be vitally important to the war effort. Nor could American airmen countenance bombing pauses used for diplomatic purposes.

Controversy continues to this day over the nature of the war. Was it a conventional war disguised only by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese guerrilla tactics? Or, was it a classic insurgency (albeit with much outside assistance), an example of protracted revolutionary war? In truth, the answer to both of these questions is probably "yes" depending upon the time frame one considers.

What the war was not is far more certain. It was neither the nuclear holocaust nor the modern, mechanized, conventional war for which the US Air Force prepared during most of the 1950s and early 1960s. Rather, it was what Rice has called a "war of the third kind" using the classic strategies of the weak against the strong, of those out of power against those in power.(2) For much of the war the defining military characteristic was the adversary's use of employment schemes (principally guerrilla tactics) designed to negate the superior fire power of South Vietnamese government forces and those of their principal ally the United States.

Nor was the war a victorious effort. For whatever the reasons -- and there is enough blame for everyone to share -- years of enormous military effort could not bring America's adversaries to their knees. Whatever else one might argue about the outcome of the war, the salient fact is that Saigon is now called Ho Chi Minh City.

Nor was the American struggle in Southeast Asia a one shot affair, an aberration that could be easily ignored. Rather, other wars of the third kind preceded the American effort in Vietnam. The Malayan Emergency, the Hukbong or HUK insurgency in the Philippines, and the French struggle against the Viet Minh all preceded the American effort in Southeast Asia. Following the Vietnam conflict, the United States also found itself involved (to one degree or another) in other wars of the third kind in Angola, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, and Afghanistan.

The thesis of this essay is that with one notable exception, the Vietnam war had virtually no direct and lasting impact on US Air Force basic doctrine. The evidence that follows clearly demonstrates that American airmen officially turned their back on the Vietnam War when it came to expressing their theory of air power. It is as if the years of agonizing struggle and pain in Vietnam had never taken place. Although official doctrine ignored Vietnam, unofficially some American airmen have done considerable research on wars of the third kind and have published many important studies. In spite of their efforts, Air Force basic doctrine remains virtually unaffected.

None of this is to say that the US Air Force was unaffected by Vietnam or that wars of the third kind did not make some indirect contributions to Air Force basic doctrine. On the contrary, the bitter experience in Southeast Asia shook the Air Force to its core.

To demonstrate these points, this essay will examine both the official (doctrinal) and unofficial response by American airmen to wars of the third kind from the end of World War II until 1992. The study ends in 1992 with the publication of the current Air Force basic doctrine, an event in which the current author played a personal role and an event that further illustrates the distaste of many senior Air Force officers for wars of the third kind.

In the context of this study, Rice's appellation "wars of the third kind" is a particularly useful description for the struggle in Vietnam as well as for somewhat similar struggles that both preceded and followed the US involvement in Southeast Asia. It allows the study to concentrate on the impact of Vietnam on Air Force doctrine while avoiding the controversies over the exact nature of that forlorn war Further, the rubric is broad enough to encompass insurgency, protracted revolutionary war, guerrilla war (more correctly, guerrilla tactics), foreign internal defense, unconventional war, as well as the original (and terribly mis-named) concept of low-intensity conflict. All of these terms will be used somewhat interchangeably throughout the study as part of the general rubric "wars of the third kind."

The Rise of Wars of the Third Kind

It was not long after World War II that the western democracies faced the very different challenge of protracted revolutionary warfare. Many of the difficulties arose in Southeast Asia when the collapse of Japanese forces created a power vacuum prior to the return of the colonial powers.

In the Philippines, the Communist led People's Anti-Japanese Army quickly changed its name to the People's Liberation Army and changed its mission to establishing a "Peoples Democratic Republic by overthrowing American imperialism."(3) The Hukbong or HUK insurgency was on.

By 1950, the insurgents had 15,000 men under arms, another 80,000 active supporters, and a support base estimated to number at least one half million. At one point during that crucial year, insurgents threatened Manila itself with a force of 10,000. The government did not get the insurgency under control until 1954, and only after a shift in strategy that made civilian pacification programs (land reform and other social welfare reforms) an equal partner with military action. (4)

In Malaya, the story was similar. After the Japanese surrender, the Communist dominated Malayan People's Anti Japanese Army disbanded but reappeared in a new guise bent on throwing out the British. The situation in Malaya, however, was significantly different from the problems faced by the government of the Philippines and by the French in Indo-China. In the Malayan case, the insurgent movement was limited almost exclusively to the Chinese population which was ethnically and culturally distinct from the native Malays.(5)

The combined military-civilian campaign waged against the Malayan insurgents was a strategic masterpiece and, in retrospect, the insurgents were never close to winning. However, it was a protracted affair sputtering on through 1958 (the so-called "Year of Mass Surrender") and not formally declared finished until July 1960.

Meanwhile, the French were facing very similar problems in Vietnam. The Viet Minh, who had fought the Japanese occupation forces, resisted the return of the French and finally took to the hills to wage a bloody protracted revolutionary war. The French were eventually unable to cope with the Viet Minh, and after a major defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French gave up the attempt. In the wake of the French disaster was a divided Vietnam, the northern half controlled by the victorious Viet Minh, the southern half a rump state created from those areas in which Viet Minh influence had been less pervasive. The Viet Minh would soon turn their attention to uniting all of Vietnam.

The Unofficial Response

With a significant portion of Asia embroiled in Communist backed protracted revolutionary wars during the late 1940s and much of the 1950s, one would have expected a significant intellectual response from US airmen. However, the interests of the United States military were largely focused on other areas and on other interests. US airmen focused on organizational independence from the US Army and on the missions that best justified independence, i.e., strategic bombing and to a lesser extent deep interdiction. Further, airmen were particularly enamored with nuclear weapons which promised to bring the strategic bombing concepts to fruition.

The US soon became involved in the Korean conflict which, although fought with frustrating limitations, was a conventional war. But even Korea was a sideshow for the US military. The "real" threat was in Europe where the Soviets faced NATO with powerful forces and a threatening attitude.

Nor was there much room for thinking about protracted revolutionary warfare in the years following the Korean conflict. Europe remained the focal point. Military budget cutting by the Eisenhower administration played directly into the hands of those who believed that "atomic airpower" could deter all forms of warfare, and if deterrence failed, could quickly defeat any enemy.(6) Nuclear strategists, nuclear deterrence theorists, and the Strategic Air Command dominated US thinking and military forces. In all of this, the obvious assumption was that if prepared for global war one was also prepared for wars of lesser magnitude. But as was being demonstrated in the Philippines, Malaya, and Indo-China, the problem was not wars of a lesser kind, but wars of a fundamentally different kind.

The struggles in Southeast Asia did spark some interest in the professional military literature, although far less than the major themes of "lessons" from World War II and Korea , the Soviet confrontation in Europe, and nuclear subjects.

French General G. J. M. Chassin, Air Officer Commanding, Far East, published an important article in an English language journal in late 1952 that dealt exclusively with the ongoing use of French airpower in Indo-China. Although he failed to address the fundamental differences between conventional and insurgent warfare, he did offer his insights (prophetically for US airmen a decade hence) on appropriate command structures, close support and interdiction missions, and the extreme difficulty of finding guerrilla targets.

          In the tactical field the chief
          characteristic of the war in Indochina
          is the invisibility of the enemy. . . .
          Here there are no columns on the march .
          . . no convoys of vehicles. . . . Once
          outside the controlled zone, there is
          not a soul to be seen in the fields.
          When an aircraft flies over a village,
          the latter empties itself completely,
          even the domestic animals taking cover.
          It needs an unusual degree of skill and
          experience to detect the presence of
          Vietminh troops in the mountains and
          forests, where they live under perfect

During the entire decade of the 1950s, the professional journal of the US Air Force published only two significant articles concerning airpower and the ongoing insurgencies in Southeast Asia. One concerned the HUK rebellion in the Philippines,(8) the other addressed the broader concerns of tactical airpower in limited war but included a scathing indictment of the French use of airpower in Indo-China.(9) The Philippine article addressed broader civil-military issues at the level of overall strategy but also discussed tactical lessons learned from hard experience. The article attacking the French airpower effort in Indo-China concentrated on command and control issues and failed to give even passing mention to the very different kind of war the French faced.

Perhaps the most important document published during the 1950s was a three volume analysis of the French effort compiled by the French high command.(10) These three remarkable volumes contained captured Viet Minh documents describing how their tactics could obviate superior enemy airpower,(11) and the difficulty of interdicting an enemy who required few supplies and relied on a very primitive and easily repairable logistic transportation system.(12) Finally, the French directly called into question the applicability of the central tenets of American airpower theory, which they referred to in these volumes as "the extremist thesis of Douhetism."(13)

The continuing problems in Southeast Asia during the latter part of the decade and the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960 spurred more interest in insurgencies in the professional literature.(14) This was particularly true at Air University where a number of student research papers directly addressed issues related to airpower and the wars in Southeast Asia.

One of the earliest of these research efforts showed the influence of the Air Force fascination with nuclear weapons when the author called for their use to seal off the borders of Laos and Vietnam. The author went on to address the problem of finding enemy guerrilla forces by suggesting the use of "napalm blankets" to burn off the jungle cover and the application of chemical defoliants to kill vegetation too wet to burn.(15) Although extreme in the recommendation of nuclear weapons the recommendation for defoliation was prescient given the RANCH HAND defoliation program which began in January 1962.(16 )

During 1962 and 1963, Air University students produced a number of insightful research papers concerning US involvement in Southeast Asia. In general, they all addressed counter-guerrilla uses of airpower, but in fact most put the problem in the broader context of counter insurgency. There seemed to be a general appreciation of the civil-military duality in protracted revolutionary warfare and an awareness by that the traditional focus of airpower was inappropriate.(17) One of the studies called into question all firepower missions and maintained that the supporting roles of airpower (airlift, psychological operations, etc.) would likely be most important.(18)

Others, however, remained sanguine about the use of aerial firepower against insurgents even in the difficult jungle terrain of Southeast Asia.

          To moan the lack of strategic targets or
          the ability to see tactical targets and
          therefore conclude that air power is
          limited is to overlook the inherent
          flexibility of the air vehicle.  There
          is no such thing as limitations or
          impossible conditions, only incorrect
          tactics or poor employment.(19)

Air Force airmen published very little on the subject in their professional journal between 1960 and 1964. In 1962 a member of the History Department faculty at the Air Force Academy published an article about the use of airpower against the HUKs,(20) and in late 1963, the Air University Review carried a short article about using airpower to escort ground convoy movements in Vietnam.(21) Beyond this meager showing, the Air Force airmen seemed supremely uninterested in the subject.

The Official Response

In spite of the insurgencies raging throughout Southeast Asia from the end of World War II through the decade of the 1950s, in spite of deepening involvement after the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency and in spite of a growing body of literature on the subject, the official response of the Air Force was both slow and distinctly muted.

Air Force basic doctrine first appeared in 1953 and was changed in 1954, 1955 and 1959. In each case it was as if the struggles in Southeast Asia did not exist and, for the most part, as if the Korean war had not happened.(22) Terms and concepts such as low intensity conflict, protracted revolutionary warfare and guerrilla tactics were not even mentioned. Not until the 1955 edition was the broader concept of limited war mentioned.

At lower levels of Air Force doctrine, the story was much the same. For example the Theater Air Operations doctrine manual published in 1953 did mention "special operations," but only in terms of inserting agents behind enemy lines, supplying partisans, and delivering propaganda. When the document was reissued in 1954, the situation remained the same.(23)

Although the "official" Air Force seemed almost mesmerized by "atomic airpower" throughout the 1950s, there was some recognition that the kinds of struggles seen throughout Southeast Asia might require different military responses. For example, as early as March 1954, the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff sent a message to Air University, the Tactical Air Command, and Far East Air Forces questioning whether or not the Air Force could adequately respond to the challenge presented by Ho Chi Minh, and implying that the Air Force did not appear to have the ability to fight anything but a major war.(24)

The first concrete actions taken by the Air Force in response to the threat of wars of the third kind were the establishment of the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Eglin Air force Base, Florida in April 1961, followed by its absorption into the newer and larger Special Air Warfare Center at the same location in April 1962. Both actions came only after direct prodding by the Kennedy administration which viewed the threat of insurgent warfare as very real.

The 4400th CCTS, nicknamed "Jungle Jim," was to train foreign airmen and at the same time develop appropriate counter-insurgency tactics and techniques. In late 1961, Jungle Jim elements deployed to Vietnam in operation "Farmgate." The Special Air Warfare Center had essentially the same mission as Jungle Jim but was considerably larger and better organized to develop specialized tactics techniques and procedures.(25)

At the same time (April 1962) the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis E. LeMay, took official notice of the budding insurgency/guerrilla warfare problem in an Air Force Information Policy Letter for Commanders. LeMay discussed not only the ability of airpower to quickly concentrate firepower, but also other advantages that airpower could bring to such struggles.

          Air forces also are essential in the
          fast transport and resupply of
          counterinsurgent forces, as well as in
          providing reconnaissance, leaflet
          delivery and defense against insurgent
          air activities.  To the central
          government of the nation under insurgent
          attack, airpower provides quick access
          to all parts of the country so it can
          maintain civic morale and stability
          through personal contact.
          I would like to see you familiarize
          yourself with the literature on this
          form of warfare. . . . And also remember
          these two facts:  (1) general war poses
          the primary military threat to the
          security of the Free World and (2) it is
          under the umbrella of strategic
          superiority that the United States has
          freedom of maneuver in the lesser forms
          of conflict.(26)

Two things are striking about this policy letter. First, the broad approach taken to the value of airpower in other than firepower roles is notable from an airman who is most closely associated with strategic bombing doctrine, nuclear weapons, and the Strategic Air Command. Second, is the continuing reference to strategic superiority and freedom of maneuver in "lesser" wars rather than "different" wars. Even at this late date, with personnel already deployed to Vietnam in the "Farmgate" program, the Air Force still regarded insurgent warfare as a lesser rather than fundamentally different form of warfare.

On 21 September 1962, Brigadier General Gilbert L. Pritchard, Commandant of the new Special Air Warfare Center spoke at a limited war and counterinsurgency symposium that was part of the Air Force Association national convention. Later published by the Air Force, Pritchard's speech provided an accurate primer on the classic concepts of insurgent warfare and called for the close coordination and cooperation of airpower with other forms of military power and with non-military government agencies in a comprehensive and integrated campaign_including civic actions and "nation-building."(27) The personnel at the Special Air Warfare Center were doing their homework.

Just as clearly, interest by US airmen in insurgency and counter insurgency was growing. The establishment of the Special Air Warfare Center, the publication of information policy letters, the symposium held by the Air Force Association, and the ever deepening involvement of the US in the struggle for Vietnam culminated in a new Air Force basic doctrine Manual in August of 1964.

The 1964 manual was a remarkable document given that previous basic doctrine manuals had failed to even broach the subject of insurgency. In one short chapter, the new manual provided a very accurate description of insurgent warfare and the objectives of counter insurgency. In terms of airpower, both firepower and non-firepower missions were described as well as the some of the difficulties in interdicting guerrilla lines of supply.(28)

Although the Air Force now recognized insurgency and counter insurgency in its basic doctrine, the scant two pages devoted to the subject indicated that the emphasis in its doctrine (and by inference its thinking and theory) remained where it had been since the advent of nuclear weapons and the creation of the independent Air Force.

The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath
1965 - 1980

The war in Vietnam was a watershed event which tore at the social fabric of the nation and bred distrust of the government. It was no less traumatic for the US Air Force. Even though some US airmen had given serious thought to the unique problems of protracted revolutionary warfare, it quickly became clear that American airmen were still firmly wedded to the theory of strategic attack on an enemy's vital centers to produce victory.

When planning for full-scale intervention by US airpower began, it focused on North Vietnam rather than the struggle in the South. The original Air Force plan called for a classic strategic bombing campaign against the so-called "94 Target List" that was designed, among other things, to destroy "North Vietnam's capacity to continue as an industrially viable state."(29) But such was not to be, at least not to the degree that US airmen envisioned an aerial "blitzkrieg" against North Vietnam. Fears of escalation , Chinese intervention and even nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union convinced the political leadership that a "slow squeeze" was more appropriate than aerial blitzkrieg.(30)

And so the "Rolling Thunder" bombing campaign was born which would last from early 1965 until the Fall of 1968. During that time, all of the original "94 targets" would be attacked in a campaign controlled directly from the White House and conducted more to send signals of strength and resolve to the North Vietnamese than to destroy North Vietnam as "an industrially viable state." Airmen chafed under the tight political controls, restrictions, and lengthy bombing pauses designed to entice the enemy to the negotiating table.

Airmen argued that with all of the political restrictions and bombing pauses that the bombing of the North was not a test of traditional airpower theory. Critics argued that a traditional strategic bombing campaign was not appropriate. In their view, the major assumptions behind strategic bombing theory were not present. The struggle was not a war to overthrow and destroy the North Vietnamese and North Vietnam was not a modern industrialized state.(31)

Ironically, the strategic bombing advocates believed they were vindicated during the two LINEBACKER air campaigns waged in 1972. In the first campaign, both strategic and tactical uses of airpower played a significant perhaps even decisive role in defeating the North Vietnamese "Easter Offensive." In December of that year, then President Nixon turned the airmen loose to bomb previously restricted targets_including targets in Hanoi and Haiphong_in LINEBACKER II. Shortly after this concentrated 11 day bombing campaign, the North Vietnamese agreed to a cease fire and the return of US prisoners of war. To many airmen, this was a clear sign that had the airmen been turned loose earlier, the struggle in Vietnam could have been quickly and successfully completed.

The Unofficial Response

One of the earliest responses by an American airman to US combat in Vietnam was the publication of an important book by Major John Pustay, a member of the US Air Force Academy faculty. Pustay devoted an entire chapter to air operations in such conflicts, drawing heavily on the experiences of the British in Malaya, the French failure in Vietnam, and reports from US advisors in Vietnam. Pustay paid particular attention to the non-firepower missions. As to firepower missions, Pustay explained why aircraft should be able to fly low, slow, and would be well served to have a second crew member to spot fleeting guerrilla targets in difficult terrain.(32)

At about the same time that Pustay published his book, the Aerospace Studies Institute at Air University completed a study of the French use of airpower against guerrilla forces in Algeria between 1954 and 1964. Although far from exhaustive and relying on mostly secondary sources, the study did provide at least on prophetic insight when the authors noted, "If the cause of an insurgency is not, or cannot be, erased, then the best military effort will probably be defeated in the long run."(33)

In retrospect, it is amazing that a survey of the American military literature reveals an almost total absence of articles and books that dealt directly with the use of airpower in counterinsurgencies between the spring of 1965 and the spring of 1967. Nor did the situation improve significantly for the remainder of the decade.

However, in April of 1967, USAF Major General Rollen H. Anthis wrote an article for Air Force Magazine which displayed both considerable insight and considerable weaknesses of military thought. Anthis, the former commander of 2nd Air Division (later redesignated 7th Air Force) in South Vietnam from 1961-64, defended the use of airpower in Vietnam against its critics. Anthis cited the ability of airpower to find the enemy, to transport troops and supplies to vital points, to provide firepower to outposts under siege, to maintain government lines of communication and supply, and to harass enemy guerrilla forces. Throughout the article, he failed to mention the importance of the non-military side of insurgent operations and the importance of integrating military and non-military counterinsurgent operations.(34)

A 1967 Air War College student research paper provided a much more balanced view of airpower in counterinsurgent operations. Colonel Robert L. Hardie's study emphasized the dual nature of insurgent warfare and the requirement to integrate military and non-military counterinsurgent operations. Drawing on the writings of insurgent war theorists and the experience of the British in Malaya and the French in Algeria, Hardie provided considerable evidence that the proper use of airpower would depend upon the phase of insurgent operations.(35) Hardie's paper is significant for it is the first example of a serious attempt to link insurgency theory and experience directly to air operations. It was, however, the only such example found in the US professional literature until the decade of the 1980s.

As to the remainder of the 1960s, two other items in the professional periodic literature are worth noting. The first was an article written by a civilian historian working at Strategic Air Command Headquarters touting the effectiveness of the B-52 bomber in countering guerrilla forces.(36) The second was an article from Great Britain which provided the first indication that aircraft on the ground were particularly lucrative targets for guerrilla operations and that this vulnerability would be a difficult problem to solve.(37)

Although the literature on airpower and protracted revolutionary warfare was sparse in the professional journals and although there was little in the way of serious research on the subject published by Air University, civilian publishing houses provided a number of books during the 1960s which should have made it clear to airmen that the kind of warfare waged in Vietnam was very different from the nuclear or conventional war paradigms reflected in US Air Force doctrine. Unfortunately, these books dealt with airpower only tangentially.(38)

If the response in the professional military journals by American airmen had been sparse in the mid- and late-1960s, it was almost non-existent during the 1970s. The seriously mixed feelings about the denouement of the US combat involvement in Vietnam, the unfortunate final outcome of the struggle in 1975, the desire to put the entire experience to rest, the perceived need to refocus on the Soviet threat, and a variety of other factors combined to limit debate and research about airpower in wars of the third kind.(39)

There was no shortage of book length literature in the commercial press during the 1970s.(40) These offerings included the first memoirs of the senior military leaders involved in the Vietnamese struggle.(41) Unfortunately, they shed little real light on the use of airpower in counter-insurgency or protracted revolutionary warfare. This was particularly disappointing in the cases of Lansdale and Momyer. General Lansdale served as an advisor in both the Philippines and Vietnam. However, his book says little about the use of airpower in such conflicts.

General Momyer, who commanded 7th Air Force in Vietnam until 1968, produced an excellent operational history of the air war in Vietnam, but stayed away from indepth analysis of the peculiarities of airpower in such struggles. In his final chapter, however, he did to draw some "lessons" about command and control (the continuing validity of centralized control of airpower under a single theater air component commander), counter air operations ("The contest for air superiority is the most important contest of all . . . ."), interdiction ("we must focus . . . upon the most vital supply targets: factories, power plants, refineries, marshaling yards, and the transportation lines that carry bulk goods."), and close air support (the tactical air control system must be very responsive).(42) All of these "lessons" were, in fact, reaffirmations of traditional views and could have been lifted from the history of a conventional war.

The Official Response

The first doctrinal response appeared in March of 1967 with the publication of an Air Force manual exclusivelydevoted to "special air warfare."(43) AFM 2-5 was a remarkably perceptive document. It defined Special Air Warfare as a rubric for the air aspects of psychological operations, counterinsurgency, and unconventional warfare (defined as efforts to "strengthen or create resistance to enemy authority among the people within enemy territory."(44)

The manual clearly indicated that military and non-military counterinsurgency actions must be totally intertwined and mutually supporting, and called for the establishment of a "country team" (including representatives of the diplomatic mission, other civilian aid and information agencies in-country, the military assistance advisory group, the unified military command, and the military component commands) to establish and direct a unified strategy.(45)

The manual went on to indicate that the military portion of the strategy must vary by the phases of the insurgency (an obvious but unstated reference to classic protracted revolutionary war theory) and that within these phases, special air warfare actions would range from nation building efforts to open combat.(46) During combat, the manual stressed the difficulty of target identification_separating friend from foe. This was a crucial point because "Military actions by friendly units which kill or injure innocent civilians can lose the loyalty of an otherwise friendly village."(47) This again refers to classic insurgent theory and the fact that both sides in an insurgency have the same "center of gravity" (the people) and the objective of both sides is to capture the support of the population.

Unfortunately, the publication of AFM 2-5 in 1967 did not establish a trend. By September of 1971, when a new edition of Air Force basic doctrine appeared, the so-called "Vietnamization" of the war in Southeast Asia was well under way, most US combat forces had been withdrawn, and the war itself was beginning to take on the character of a conventional conflict. Interest was shifting back to the pressing problems of confronting potential communist aggression in the more familiar climes of Europe and Korea.

The new basic doctrinal manual now devoted its final chapter not to the use of airpower in counterinsurgency, but to the broader subject of Air Force Special Operations. This new rubric -- which was intended to replace "special air warfare" used in the 1967 version of AFM 2-5 -- introduced yet another new term, "foreign internal defense," by which the manual writers meant "counter insurgency."(48)

In the scant page and one half chapter devoted to special operations, foreign internal defense rated only one paragraph. It did, however, reinforce the notion introduced in 1967 that air operations must be closely coordinated with civil actions as well as surface force operations in a coordinated military-civilian campaign to eliminate the causes of popular disaffection and build a sense of national unity.

In the context of this study, the 1971 edition of basic doctrine is a very notable document. It contained the first mention of "decentralized execution," the only notion directly attributable to the war in Vietnam still extant in Air force basic doctrine. Decentralized execution was (and remains) a corollary to one of the oldest notions in US airpower doctrine, centralized control.

Centralized control - the idea that air forces should be centrally controlled by an airman - first appeared in the 1943 edition of Army Field Manual 100-20, the so-called Magna Charta of American airpower. It appeared as a lesson learned from the initial mishandling of US airpower in the North African desert after the TORCH landings in late 1942. It has remained a central tenet - perhaps the central tenet - of US airpower doctrine to this writing.

Decentralized execution - the notion of forcing to the lowest practicable command level the actual planning and execution of airpower operations in order to achieve maximum flexibility and responsiveness - came in response to problems in the Rolling Thunder bombing offensive against North Vietnam between 1965 and 1968. Targets for that campaign were picked by the so-called Tuesday Lunch Group in the White House. Further, the lunch group often also dictated timing for the air strikes as well the tactics. Included in the Lunch Group were the President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Press Secretary and other political advisors. No military person was present at these meetings until late 1967, and even then the military representative was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle G. Wheeler - an Army officer.(49)

To airmen the tactical meddling of the Lunch Group was centralized control run amok. The bombing campaign became disjointed with local commanders left without any sort of flexibility to deal with rapidly changing situations. The doctrinal upshot - decentralized execution - appeared in the 1971 version of Air Force basic doctrine, the first edition published since the beginning of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

During the remainder of this period, doctrinal interest in protracted revolutionary conflicts declined, at least in terms of basic doctrine. The basic doctrine manual was republished in January 1975 with only two generalized subparagraphs (one pertaining to special operations the other to sub-theater and localized conflicts) retained.(50) Wars of the third kind received the same sort of very brief and very generalized treatment in the 1979 edition.(51)

Intellectual Fervor and Official Disdain
1980 - 1994

The period beginning in 1980 and extending to the present writing has been a study in contrasts. On the one hand, the trauma of the Vietnam experience was far enough in the past that more balanced and objective analyses of the war began to appear from the pens of both civilian and military analysts. Interest in limited warfare, low intensity conflicts, and protracted revolutionary warfare was further spurred by ongoing events. The Mujahideen's protracted guerrilla struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was of great interest. Closer to home, insurgent movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the continuing guerrilla struggles in Guatemala and Peru created great interest. Other protracted struggles in the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa helped prompt the outpouring of research literature in the civilian and military press. Wars of the third kind and, more specifically, protracted revolutionary warfare were the "hot" topics during much of this period. Many believed wars of the third kind to be the way of the future.(52)

On the other hand, the official response of the Air Force can best be characterized as confused and disdainful. At one level, the Air Force made significant progress toward an airpower theory that included wars of the third kind. At another level, the Air Force ignored and contradicted that same theory.

The Unofficial Response

The literature concerning wars of the third kind was extensive when compared to previous periods. Importantly, the analysts reached consensus about (1) the general nature of such conflicts, (2) the general outline of counter strategies, (3) the airpower technology required, and (3) the appropriate role for airpower.

Eller, Paschall, Hammes, Olson, Cable and the current author all came to the conclusion that what was most commonly referred to as "low intensity conflict" really meant protracted revolutionary warfare insurgency), or at least within the low intensity field, insurgency should be the central concern of policy makers and the military.(53) This conclusion was in line with the notions of Sam C. Sarkesian who wrote that the

          . . . primary distinction . . . rests
          more with the character of the conflict
          than with its levels of intensity or the
          specific number of forces involved . . .
          . the substantive dimensions of such
          conflicts evolve primarily from
          revolutionary and counterrevolutionary
          strategy and causes . . . . these
          include unconventional operations,
          protractedness, and high political-
          psychological content directly linked to
          the political-social milieu of the
          indigenous area . . . . Limited
          conventional wars and acts of terrorism
          are outside the boundaries of low-
          intensity conflicts.  Revolution and
          counterrevolution are the major

Prescriptively, these authors also demonstrated large areas of consensus. First, virtually all agreed that increasing the legitimacy of the government under siege was the key to successful counter-insurgency. To do this, the government must secure the population from rebel threats and address the sources of insurgent dissatisfaction.(55) To reach these goals, the government must cut across traditional lines of authority and responsibility to produce a mutually reinforcing inter-agency effort. Further, there was near total agreement that the military portion of the struggle must minimize lethality in order to minimize collateral damage. The objective of military operations should be not so much to kill insurgents as it is to coerce them and destroy their political will.

Both Hammond and Cable made it clear that counter insurgency is not some sort of socio-political experiment. Hammond declared that we must see it for what it is - war, albeit very different from traditional notions of warfare.(56) Cable reminded his readers of

          . . .  the simple fact that once armed
          insurgency has commenced, it becomes the
          functional equivalent of a total war of
          national survival in which only one of
          the two contenders for power will be
          extant at war's end.(57)

For airmen, there was considerable interest in and consensus about the airpower technology required in such conflicts.(58) There was nearly universal agreement that very sophisticated aircraft with attributes suitable for employment in high speed conventional warfare are often inappropriate and ineffective in operations against enemy forces using guerrilla tactics, particularly in complex surface environments such as jungles. Klingaman summed up the problem by saying:

          Visual, aerial reconnaissance and
          surveillance of the guerrilla operating
          area is most effective when conducted at
          low altitude (below 1500 feet) and at
          low speed (under 125 knots).  The
          effectiveness of visual surveillance
          deteriorates rapidly above these limits.
          Very few jet pilots actually saw a human
          target during the war in Southeast

There was nearly universal agreement in the literature about the utility of the helicopter for many important roles, including the armed helicopter. However, several of the authors expressed concern about slow, low- flying aircraft (whether fixed or rotary wing) in light of the development of effective shoulder-fired surface to air missiles. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan was particularly enlightening as these missiles changed the entire character of the air war against the Mujahideen rebels. As Karp noted, "The Stinger has quickly become the most celebrated rebel weapon of the West. Soviet Mi-24 Hind gunships, once the scourge of the battlefield, have now become the quarry."(60)

For airmen, the right technology was only part of the problem. The best use of that equipment in a comprehensive strategy was the problem that had not previously received extensive attention. During this period, much of the literature attempted, at least in part, to examine the theoretical side of airpower employment in counter insurgent operations.(61) Dean, for example, noted that "low-intensity conflict needs to be considered in terms of assistance, integration of forces, and intervention."(62) Dean's focus -writing in the mid-1980s - was on using special operations forces rather than the whole of the Air Force.

Olson took a broader view extending well beyond special operations forces. He notes, for example, that traditional tactical airpower doctrine is inappropriate for counter insurgency warfare.

          Tactical air doctrine and the attending
          force structure are designed for
          conventional wars against conventional
          enemies.  In most low-intensity conflict
          situations, control of the air is
          established by default, while isolation
          of the battlefield, where there are few
          and fleeting fixed battles, is a non

Olson went on to claim that air power is most useful in supporting roles such as reconnaissance, troop transport, resupply, and showing presence.(64) Green agreed that these non-combat roles are central to the airpower contribution, but maintained that close air support and possibly close interdiction can be crucial if enemy guerrilla forces either attack isolated friendly forces or can be fixed and forced to stand and fight.(65)

The current author, drawing on the extensive literature of the RAF role in the Malayan Emergency, agreed that the supporting roles of airpower are important, but so important that it is difficult to call them supporting. The utility of the traditional role of delivering firepower was controversial in Malaya and has remained so. However, technological advances in delivering aerial firepower may make it much more useful than the RAF found it to be. The key to the effective use of airpower in a counter insurgent role, however, is the total integration of the airpower role in the overall military campaign, and the total integration of the military campaign in the overall politico-military struggle. In many ways, the military portion of the struggle is the least important element of the effort.(66)

There was also one severe disappointment during this period for airmen concerned with wars of the third kind. Colonel John M. Warden III's 1988 book The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat was hailed as the most significant theoretical work on airpower since the days of Billy Mitchell. Unfortunately, Warden addressed only conventional warfare and failed to even acknowledge the fundamental differences between conventional warfare and wars of the third kind.(67) Warden's subsequent writings have also ignored the subject. This is particularly unfortunate because Warden' s influence has become so pronounced within the Air Force. As one of the architects of the air campaign against Iraq in the Gulf War and subsequently as the commandant of the Air Command and Staff College, his stature as an authority on airpower theory has grown significantly and his influence over an entire generation of Air Force officers is enormous.

The Official Response

In 1984 the Air Force introduced a new basic doctrine manual. References to any form of low intensity conflict had all but disappeared save for two generalized paragraphs on special operations. But this "slow start" was quickly overwhelmed by much more positive actions that held the promise of developing a theory of airpower applicable to wars of the third kind.

In 1985, the Air War College's annual Airpower Symposium focused on wars of the third kind. Also in the mid-1980s, the Air Force established a Center for Low Intensity Conflict (which quickly became an Army-Air Force venture), and took part in a Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project sponsored by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Each of these developments represented growing official interest in the subject although the latter two developments produced nothing useful in terms of airpower theory.(68)

A major step forward was the publication in December 1990 of an Army-Air Force pamphlet devoted to low intensity conflict.(69) The pamphlet introduced the Internal Defense and Development (IDAD) strategy as the basis for all actions (military and civilian) within the low intensity conflict arena, and brought together most of the concepts generally agreed upon in the professional literature over the previous 30 years. It was written, however, at a level of abstraction precluding specifics about the use of airpower. For example, in Appendix E, "A guide to Counterinsurgency Operations," there is only one sentence about airpower.(70)

The IDAD strategy, which blends interdependent civil-military functions, was the most comprehensive plan yet seen in official literature for preventing or defeating insurgencies. Its four functions - balanced development, mobilization of resources, population security, and neutralization of the insurgents - provided the framework for a comprehensive doctrinal statement about airpower in counterinsurgency operations which appeared two years later.

On 3 November 1992, the US Air Force published its operational level doctrine for Foreign Internal Defense (by now the accepted terminology for counter insurgency) within the IDAD strategy framework.(71) In chapter three of the manual appeared two paragraphs which represented the culmination of more than thirty years of field experience, unofficial professional literature as well as official publications, symposia, and the like.

The first of these two paragraphs discussed priority operations for airpower during the development and mobilization functions of the IDAD strategy.

         The aerospace role in development and
          mobilization focuses on administration
          and nation building.  Where ground lines
          of communication cannot be established
          and maintained because of terrain or
          enemy presence, aerial logistic and
          communication networks carrying
          information, supplies, and services to
          civilian elements establish a critical
          link between the government and the

The second paragraph addressed priority of operations for airpower during the security and neutralization functions.

          Aerospace power contributes most
          effectively . . . when it functions as
          an integrated, joint component of the
          overall internal defense effort.  It is
          least effective when employed
          unilaterally as a substitute for ground
          maneuver or long-range artillery.  In
          many instances, air support can be
          exploited to its greatest advantage by
          emphasizing surveillance and logistic
          mobility over firepower.  Insurgents
          generally possess no air capabilities .
          . . . have no heartland, no fixed
          industrial facilities, and few
          interdictable LOC. . . . Their irregular
          forces are deployed in small units that
          . . . . usually present poor targets for
          air attack.  In such cases, air support
          for security and neutralization should
          be used primarily to inform, deploy,
          sustain, and reinforce surface elements
          of the internal security force.(73)

These paragraphs were more than a statement of operational doctrine. They were airpower theory stated in the best traditions of the early airpower theorists. But like the kind of warfare with which they deal, these paragraphs turned conventional airpower theory on its ear.

Thus by 1992 airmen had made considerable progress in modifying traditional airpower theory to the special case of wars of the third kind. However, while this progress was made during the 1980s and early 1990s, a very different chain of events which would stifle and confuse the progress was also underway.

The perceived importance of protracted revolutionary warfare was far from universal. There were a significant number of military officers - many of them very senior - who believed for one reason or another that special attention to such "unconventional" strategies was ill-advised and perhaps counter productive For example, the current author was told in the mid-1980s by a very senior Air Force general officer that we should not be distracted by "those kind of wars" since we can always just "muddle through." Rather, we should concentrate on those kinds of wars "that can eat our bacon."

Eventually, the belief by some senior officers that protracted revolutionary warfare was either nothing unusual, unimportant, or counterproductive from the standpoint of airpower eliminated discussion of the subject from the highest level of Air Force doctrine - the 1992 version of AF Manual 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force. The theory so painstakingly developed was left to languish at lower levels, namely in an obscure operational doctrine manual, the aforementioned AFM 2-11.(74) In fact, at one point the 1992 Basic Doctrine directly contradicts the theory promulgated in AFM 2-11. While AFM 2-11 notes insurgents "have no heartland, no fixed industrial facilities, and few interdictable LOC,"(75) the Basic Doctrine declares, "Any enemy with the capacity to be a threat is likely to have strategic vulnerabilities susceptible to air attack...."(76)

Vietnam's Indirect Influences on Air Force Doctrine

From all of the foregoing, one might mistakenly conclude that the war in Vietnam had almost no lasting influence on the Air Force or its basic doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, Vietnam was only one of many influences that combined to change not only Air Force doctrine but also the structure of the Air Force itself over the years. Fundamental changes in Air Force basic doctrine which went well beyond those dealing directly with wars of the third kind illustrate the point.

Prior to the US combat involvement in Vietnam, Air Force basic doctrine focused on nuclear deterrence and nuclear warfighting. Airmen believed so-called "atomic airpower" fulfilled the long-cherished strategic bombing prophesies of the airpower pioneers. The use of atomic airpower also promised war on the cheap -- it was technology intensive rather than manpower intensive. This concept fit well with the drive to reduce defense spending following the Korean War. The result was that not only were airmen mesmerized by nuclear weapons and long range airpower, so was the civilian leadership.

Perhaps more significantly, many believed that "atomic airpower" could deter, or if deterrence failed, quickly bring victory in any kind of war. In October 1956, for example, Air Force secretary Donald Quarles said

          It seems logical if we have the strength
          required for global war we could handle
          any threat of lesser magnitude . . .
          From now on, potential aggressors must
          reckon with the air-atomic power which
          can be brought to bear immediately in
          w hatever strength, and against whatever
          targets, may be necessary to make such
          an attack completely unprofitable to the

In 1957, when Secretary of Defense Charles "Engine Charlie" Wilson went to the Congress to defend the defense budget, he noted

          There is very little money in the budget
          we are proposing to you now for the
          procurement of so-called conventional
          weapons . . . [because] we are depending
          on atomic weapons for the defense of the
          nation.  Our basic defense policy is
          based on the use of such atomic weapons
          as would be militarily feasible and
          usable in a smaller war, if such a war
          is forced upon us.(78)

The very different kind of war we had faced in Korea appeared to the "true believers" in atomic airpower to be only an aberration. True believers would answer the common cry "No more Koreas" with nuclear finality.

With such a mind set, it is no wonder that on the eve of US combat involvement in Vietnam, the 1964 Air Force basic doctrine manual devoted nearly 50% of its scant 19 pages to nuclear deterrence and nuclear warfare.(79) However, by 1971, the next edition of basic doctrine, the number of pages devoted directly to nuclear deterrence and nuclear warfare had declined to about 30% of the 18 page manual.(80) More remarkably, by the 1984 edition of Air Force basic doctrine, direct reference to nuclear operations had disappear altogether.

One can logically assume that the war in Vietnam had something to do with the shift of emphasis in Air Force doctrine. On the one hand, the Vietnam War indicated that the Korean war was not an aberration and that the future might well hold more limited wars fought with conventional weapons under very restrictive rules of engagement. On the other hand, other factors entered into the equation that might also have had a significant influence on this fundamental shift in Air Force doctrine.

The first of these influences was the improving relationship with the Soviet Union, our assumed principal foe in any major nuclear confrontation. It is worth noting that following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 when both the Soviet Union and the United States looked over the precipice and peered into the nuclear abyss, neither side made threatening moves in any area that was clearly important to the other side. Both sides began to think seriously about bringing down the level of nuclear danger which eventually resulted in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty signed in May of 1972, the SALT II treaty signed in June of 1979, and the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) negotiations which began in 1982.

Meanwhile, US nuclear policy drifted away from the "massive retaliation" concept of the Eisenhower years, first to "assured destruction," then through the development of limited nuclear options -- the so-called "Schlesinger Doctrine" of 1974 -- and to a "countervailing strategy" in 1980.(81)

All of these factors, which had little to do with Vietnam, combined over the years to decrease the attention given to "things nuclear" in Air Force basic doctrine to the point already indicated in the 1984 version. During this same period, however, there was another shift in emphasis that probably had much to do with Vietnam and probably played a major role in decreasing emphasis on nuclear matters in Air Force doctrine. That shift in emphasis was a radical sea change (to borrow a naval term) in Air Force leadership.

Prior to 1973, the senior leadership of the Air Force, specifically the Air Force Chief of Staff, had come almost exclusively from the strategic bombardment community. The only exceptions to this rule were Hoyt Vandenberg and Thomas White, who although they had broader backgrounds, maintained close contact with the so-called "bomber barons." The others, Spaatz, Twining, LeMay, McConnell and Ryan were all primarily associated with strategic bombardment.

In 1973, General George Brown became the Chief of Staff and broke the traditional mold. He had no background at all in strategic bombardment. His successor, General David Jones had very little experience except flying bombers as a very young officer during the Korean War more than two decades earlier. Jones was succeeded by General Lew Allen who had flown bombers as a lieutenant, but was primarily associated with research and development.

Every Air Force Chief of Staff since Lew Allen --Gabriel, Welch, Dugan, McPeak and Fogleman -- has had a tactical background and been a fighter pilot. None have had any significant association with strategic bombardment save General Larry Welch who served for nine months as the Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command immediately before becoming the Air Force Chief of Staff.(82)

Why this sudden leadership "sea change?" There is no definitive answer to the question. One suspects that the war in Vietnam had influence in two ways. First, it confirmed that the Korean struggle had not been an aberration, and that the United States would be far more likely to engage in "conventional" war rather that in strategic nuclear showdowns. Second, although the big bombers of the Strategic Air Command played a major role in the Vietnam War, they did so from 30,000 feet. It was tactical airpower and fighter-bomber pilots who flew "on the deck" in close combat with the enemy. One must also suspect that all of those factors which made nuclear warfare less likely and the Soviet nuclear threat less believable over time also played an important role in who was selected to lead the Air Force. As the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, even the venerated Strategic Air Command, once the heart and soul of the Air Force, became an anachronism that was eventually disbanded.

Did the "sea change" in Air Force leadership affect Air Force doctrine, turning it away from its emphasis on strategic bombardment and toward conventional warfare. Again, there is no definitive answer, but one must at least suspect a positive correlation. The lockstep change of Air Force senior leadership and Air Force doctrine suggests much more than mere coincidence.


US airmen have long been known for their fascination with technology and the mental toughness required press home a bombing attack against fierce resistance or out duel an enemy fighter. US airmen have never been known for their academic inquisitiveness, their devotion to the study of the art of war or to their contributions to the theory of airpower. American airmen have been "doers" rather than introspective "thinkers."

Nowhere was that more evident than in the US Air Force approach to the problem of wars of the third kind. Wedded to the concept of "atomic airpower" (and its power to justify an independent Air Force) during the 1950s and early 1960s, American airmen virtually ignored the insurgent warfare problem until they were thrust into the Vietnam war.

After the American withdrawal from Vietnam, bitter memories, confusion about the impact of strategic bombing on the war's end, disagreement over the very nature of the conflict, and the continuing Soviet threat made it all too easy for US airmen to push the unsettled protracted warfare enigma into the background. It was much more comfortable to retreat to the familiar problems of strategic nuclear warfare and conventional warfare in Europe.

But the problem would not go away --Afghanistan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and other problem areas forced the subject to the surface in the 1980s, and some airmen began to seriously investigate the problem. They succeeded in producing a concise, well-reasoned modification of traditional airpower theory based on the consensus developed over nearly 40 years of experience, research and publication.

Unfortunately, the doctrine they developed has not had the impact it deserves. It remains buried in an obscure operational level doctrinal manual that few know exists and even fewer have ever read. Basic Air Force doctrine -- the capstone of Air Force airpower theory -- remains virtually unaffected and contradictory. Worse, the theory so painstakingly developed which airmen may need to deal with the post-Cold War world remains unknown.


1. Doctrine has many functions, but it can adequately be defined as a ". . . framework for understanding how to apply military power. It is what history has taught us works in war, as well as what does not." US Air Force basic doctrine is officially described as ". . . what we have learned about aerospace power and its application since the dawn of powered flight" and a ". . . broad conceptual basis for our understanding of war, human nature, and aerospace power." Finally, it is officially described as ". . . the starting point for solving contemporary problems." US Air Force, AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, March 1992) vol. 1: v, vii. Although doctrine may not fulfill all of the requirements of a formal academic definition of theory, it fulfills most of the same functions and in that sense forms a "poor man's" theory of airpower.

2. Edward E. Rice, Wars of the Third Kind: Conflict in Underdeveloped Countries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988)

3. Memorandum from the Communist Party of the Philippines Secretariat to the Central Committee quoted in Lieutenant Colonel Tomas C. Tirona (PAF), "The Philippine Anti- Communist Campaign." Air University Quarterly Review, Summer, 1954, 42-55.

4. Ibid. 46-52.

5. Daniel S Challis, "Counterinsurgency Success in Malaya." Military Review, February 1987, 57.

6. In 1957, Secretary of Defense Wilson testified before Congress that the "capability to deter large wars also serves to deter small wars." Robert F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinkin in the United States Air Force, 1907-1984 (Maxwell AFB, Ala: Air University Press, 1989) vol. 2: 454

7. G. J. M. Chassin, "Lessons of the War in Indochina," Interavia, Volume VII, No. 12 (1952) 670-675.

8. Tirona, "Philippine."

9. William M. Reid, "Tactical Air in Limited War," Air University Quarterly Review ( Spring 1956) 40 - 48.

10. The first volume, written by the Instruction Bureau of Commander-in-Chief Indo-China, was entitled Notes on Combat in Indo-China, and dated 1954. The second volume, written by The Supreme Command, Far East, was entitled Lessons from the Indo-China War Vol. II, and dated in 1955. The third volume, apparently also written by The Supreme Command, Far East, was entitled Lessons from the Indo-China Vol. III. This third volume is undated but one assumes is publication date was 1955 or 1956. It is unclear when the English translations of these documents became available to the US military. The Defense Documentation Center copies were not received until 3 January 1967. If copies were not requested and/or received prior to 1967, it represents a major failure of the US military to tap into the knowledge and experience of a major NATO ally.

11. Bureau, Notes on Combat, 34. This Viet Minh document accurately described what later became known as "clinging to the enemy's belt" by which was meant being so close to the enemy that both airpower and distant heavy artillery fires become unusable.

12. Supreme Command, Lessons, vol. II: 297-298, and Lessons, vol. III: 32-37.

13. Supreme Command, Lessons, vol. III: 38.

14. Kennedy's inaugural address which promised to "fight any fight, bear any burden . . ." etc. was viewed by many as a sign that the United States would become much more heavily involved in wars such as those ongoing in Southeast Asia.

15. Richard E. Stanley, "A Concept of Anti-Guerrilla Operations in Indo-China" (Unpublished research paper, Air Command and Staff College, April 1961) 44-54.

16. Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford university Press, 1978) 257. However, Lewy also notes that the British had made use of defoliants in Malaya and that the US began testing defoliants as early as 1958.

17. See the following unpublished research papers: William R. Becker, "Air Power in the Fight Against Guerrillas" (Air Command and Staff College, 7 May 1962); John L. Phipps, "Basic Problems in Counter-Guerrilla Air Operations" (Air Command and Staff College, 7 May 1962); William C. Lockett, Jr., "COIN in the Air: A Study of the Role of Airpower in Counterinsurgency" (Air Command and Staff College, 22 April 1963); and Rupert L. Selman, " What Operational Concepts Should Govern the Use of Tactical Air Forces in Guerrilla War?" (Air War College, April 1963).

18. Lockett, "Coin" 54, states "Normally, there are no strategic targets, no opposition to air superiority, and very few tactical targets. Therefore, air operations are primarily involved with indirect support of ground forces."

19. Becker, "Air Power" 91.

20. William J. Thorpe. "HUK Hunting in the Philippines 1946-1953." The Airpower Historian (April, 1962) 95-100.

21. James F. Sunderman. "Air Escort -- A COIN Technique." Air University Review (November - December 1963) 68-73.

22. US Air Force, AFM 1-2, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine (Washington, D. C.: Department of the Air Force, 1953, 1954, April 1955 and December 1959) The next issue of the basic doctrine manual (numbered AFM 1-1) did not appear until the Fall of 1964.

23. US Air Force, AFM 1-3, Theater Air Operations (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Air Force, September 1953 and April 1954) The next edition of this manual (numbered AFM 2-1) did not appear until June 1965.

24. HQ USAF, Chief of Staff message DTG 302128Z, March 1954, as quoted in David J. Dean, The Air Force Role in Low- Intensity Conflict (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1986) 87.

25. Dean, The Air Force Role, 87-94; Futrell, Ideas., vol. 2: 257-258.

26. Curtis E LeMay. "Airpower in Guerrilla Warfare." Air Force Information Policy Letter for Commanders, Vol. XVI, No. 80 (Washington DC: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, 15 April 1962)

27. Gilbert L. Pritchard, "Communism and Counterinsurgency: Air Force Role in Combined Support Action." Air Force Information Policy Letter Supplement for Commanders No. 113. (Washington DC: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, 3 November 1962)

28. US Air Force, AFM 1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 14 August 1964) See in particular Chapter 6, "Employment of Aerospace Forces in Counterinsurgency," 6-1 through 6-2.

29. United States Department of State, United States- Vietnam Relations 1945-1967 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1971) This is the official multi-volume, so called "Pentagon Papers," that has also been published in two other unofficial forms. See in particular McGeorge Bundy, "A Policy of Sustained Reprisal," Annex A (7 February 1965) vol. 4, C. 3:35. Also refer to the narrative found in vol. 4, C. 3:4.

30. Department of State, United States-Viet Nam, vol. 4, C. 3:4, and 3:35-38; William Bundy, "Draft Position Paper on Southeast Asia" (29 November 1964), as found in Gerald Gold, Allan M. Siegal, and Samuel Abt, (eds.) The Pentagon Papers, New York Times Edition (New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1971) 373-378; John T. McNaughton, "Annex -- Plan for Action for South Vietnam" (24 March 1965), as found in Gold, Siegal and Abt, The Pentagon Papers, 434; Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976) 264-265.

31. Raphael Littauer and Norman Uphoff (eds.), The Air War in Indochina (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972) 37.

32. John S. Pustay, Counterinsurgency Warfare (New York: The Free Press, 1965) 116-135. Pustay went on in his career to retire as a lieutenant general.

33. Concepts Division, Aerospace Studies Institute, "Guerrilla Warfare and Airpower in Algeria, 1954-1960" (Maxwell AFB, Alabama:, Air University, March 1965) 88.

34. Rollen H. Anthis. "Airpower: The Paradox in Vietnam. Air Force Magazine (April, 1967) 34-38. Anthis maintained that airpower was recognized by field commanders as "dominant in combat" (34). He also stated that it was US airpower and nuclear superiority forced the communists to resort to insurgency and guerrilla tactics in their quest for world domination. This, of course, begs the question of why the same tactics were used against the British in Malaya and the French in Vietnam, neither of whom had overwhelming airpower let alone nuclear superiority.

35. Robert L. Hardie, "Airpower in Counterinsurgency Warfare" (Unpublished Report Number 3373, Air War College, April 1967)

36. Robert M. Kipp, "Counterinsurgency From 30,000 Feet." Air University Review (January-February 1968) 10-18.

37. P. Brighton, "The War in South Vietnam." Royal Air Forces Quarterly (Winter 1968) 289-293. The truth of this observation is revealed by the fact that sapper attacks on US air bases in South Vietnam destroyed 96 aircraft (about 1 1/3 fighter wing equivalents) nearly 33% more that those destroyed in air-to-air combat and nearly as many as destroyed by the vaunted North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile systems. Nor does the figure of 96 destroyed include aircraft damaged and other destruction accomplished by sapper attacks which adversely affected air operations. Source: Office of Aerospace History, Bolling Air Force Base as quoted in Walter Kross, Military Reform: the High-Tech Debate in Tactical Air Forces (Washington DC: National Defense University Press, 1985) 98.

38. Among the well-read books concentrating on the military struggle that should have caught the serious attention of American airmen were: Bernard B. Fall's four books Street Without Joy (Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1961), The Two Viet-Nams, A Political and Military Analysis (New York: Frederick A Praeger, Publishers, 1963), Viet-Nam Witness 1953-66 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966), and Hell in a Very Small Place, The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967); Jules Roy's The Battle of Dienbienphu (New York: Harper & Roy Publishers, 1965); Ho Chi Minh's On Revolution (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1967); Vo Nguyen Giap's The People's War, People's Army (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1962); Douglas Pike's War, Peace, and the Viet Cong (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1969); Sir Robert Thompson's No Exit from Vietnam (New York: David McKay, 1969).

39. During the 1970s there was an attempt at Air University to produce monographs about important subjects/events in the Vietnam conflict. The result was the Southeast Asia Monograph Series published through the Government Printing Office between 1976 and 1979. It appears this was not a well organized and supported effort because of the nine monographs produced, some appear to have been "sponsored" by either the Air War College or the Air Command and Staff College. Some appear to have been student projects while others were written by general officers. The final two monographs were produced under the auspices of the Airpower Research Institute. Additionally, the subject matter varies widely, ranging from in-depth analyses of individual air operations to broad views of entire air campaigns. The final monograph in the series is a "puff piece" about Air Force heroes of the war in Southeast Asia. The lack of monograph titles (only nine covering nearly a decade of US involvement in Vietnam), the lack of consistent sponsorship, and the occasionally slipshod editing and publishing of the series may be a further indication of the lack of serious interest in the Vietnam War following the US withdrawal. In a sense, US airmen may have been suffering from collective intellectual "battle fatigue."

40. Among the most important of these were: three different editions of the so-called "Pentagon Papers" all published in 1971 by Beacon Press, Bantam Books (via the New York Times), and the US Government Printing Office; Don Oberdorfer's TET! (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971); Sir Robert Thompson's Peace is Not at Hand (New York, David McKay Company, 1974); Robert Asprey's two volume War in the Shadows (New York: Doubleday, 1975); W. Scott Thompson and Donaldson D Frizzell's The Lessons of Vietnam (New York: Crane, Russak & Co., 1977); Guenter Lewy's America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); and Peter Braestrup's Big Story (Westview Press,. 1977)

41. Included among these were: Edward Geary Lansdale's In The Midst Of Wars (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1972); William C. Westmoreland's A Soldier Reports ( New York: Doubleday, 1976); U. S. Grant Sharp's Strategy for Defeat ( San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1978); and William W. Momyer's Airpower In Three Wars (Washington D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1978).

42. Momyer, Airpower, 337-338.

43. US Air Force, AFM 2-5, Tactical Air Operations Special Air Warfare. (Washington D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 10 March 1967)

44. Ibid. 18.

45. Ibid. 13.

46. Ibid. 14.

47. Ibid. 16

48. US Air Force. AFM 1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine (Washington D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 28 September 1971) 6-1.

49. There are many authoritative published accounts of the centralized targeting process used in Rolling Thunder. See, for example: David C. Humphrey, "Tuesday Lunch at the Johnson White House: A Preliminary Assessment," Diplomatic History, Winter 1984; Admiral U. S. G. Sharp, Strategy For Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect, San Rafael, California: Presidio Press, 1978; Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam, New York: The Free Press, 1989; and John Morrocco, Thunder From Above, Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1984.

50. US Air Force. AFM 1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine (Washington D. C.: US Government Printing Office, 15 January 1975) 3-4, 3-6.

51. US Air Force. AFM 1-1, Functions and Basic Doctrine of the United States Air Force (Washington D. C.: US Government Printing Office, 14 February 1979) 1-9, 1-10.

52. For example, see Richard E. Simpkin, Race to the Swift (London: Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1985) Chapter 18; Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: The Free Press, 1991) particularly his short chapter entitled "Postscript: The Shape of Things to Come."

53. Deryck J. Eller, "Doctrine for Low Intensity Conflict," (Unpublished paper presented to the Ninth Air University Airpower Symposium, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, AL, March 1985); Rod Paschall, "Low-Intensity Conflict Doctrine - Who Needs It? Parameters, Vol. XV, No. 3, (1985) 33-45. Thomas X. Hammes, "Insurgency - The Forgotten Threat," Marine Corps Gazette (March 1988) 40-44. William Olson "The Concept of Small Wars," Small Wars and Insurgencies (April 1990) 39-46 (Although he did not directly so state, Olson agreed by implication); Larry Cable, "Reinventing the Round Wheel - Insurgency, Counter- Insurgency, and Peacekeeping Post Cold War," Small Wars and Insurgencies (April 1990) 39-46; Dennis M. Drew, "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency - American Military Dilemmas and Doctrinal Proposals," CADRE Paper No. 88-1, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB, AL, March 1988.

54. Sam C. Sarkesian, "Low-Intensity Conflict - Concepts, Principles, and Policy Guidelines," in David J. Dean (ed.) Low-Intensity Conflict and Modern Technology (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1986) 12.

55. Drew, "Insurgency" 35-36, refers to the co-option of the insurgent cause, while Cable "Reinventing" 235, refers to pre-emptive reforms.

56. Grant T. Hammond, "Low Intensity Conflict: War by Another Name, " Small Wars and Insurgencies (December 1993) 231.

57. Cable, "Reinventing" 252.

58. See, for example (listed in order of publication): Mark Lambert "Counter-Revolutionary Air Power" Interavia (May 1981) 475-477; Jerome W. Klingaman "Low-Intensity Conflict and Modern Technology: Light Aircraft Technology for Small Wars," in Dean (ed.) Low-Intensity; David A Reinholz "A Way to Improve Our Marginal Counterinsurgency Airlift Capability" Armed Forces Journal International (July 1987) 40-46; Victor J. Croizat "Helicopter Warfare in Algeria" in Marine Corps Gazette (August 1987) 23-25; Aaron Karp, "Blowpipes and Stingers in Afghanistan - One Year Later," Armed Forces Journal International (September 1987) 36-40; Anthony A Cardoza "Soviet Aviation in Afghanistan," US Naval Institute Proceedings (February 1987) 85-88; Raymond Knox "High Speed Jets in a Low Speed War - The Utility of Tactical Airpower in Low-Intensity Conflict," (Unpublished research paper, School of Advanced Military Studies, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 20 April 1989); Vance C. Bateman "Tactical Air Power in Low Intensity Conflict," Airpower Journal, (Spring 1991) 72-81; and George C. Morris "The Other Side of the COIN - Low Technology Aircraft and Little Wars," Airpower Journal (Spring 1991) 56-70.

59. Klingaman, "Light Aircraft," 9.

60. Karp, "Blowpipes," 40.

61. See, for example (listed in order of publication): John D. Green "Reflections on Counter Guerrilla Tactical Air Operations" (Unpublished paper delivered at the Air War College Airpower Symposium, March 1985); William J. Olson "Airpower in Low Intensity Conflict in the Middle East," (A paper delivered to the Air War College Airpower Symposium, March 1985), subsequently published by Air University Review (March-April 1986) 2-21; David J. Dean The Air Force Role in Low Intensity Conflict (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, October 1986); and Dennis M. Drew "Air Power in Peripheral Conflict," in Alan Stephens (ed.) The War in The Air 1914-1994, (RAAF Base Fairbairn, Australia: Air Power Studies Centre, 1994) 235-270.

62. Dean, The Air Force Role, 110.

63. Olson, "Air Power in Low-Intensity," (AU Review version), p. 17.

64. Ibid. 18.

65. Green, "Reflections on Counter-Guerrilla," 7-11.

66. Drew, "Airpower in Peripheral," 241-248, 263-264.

67. John A. Warden III. The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat. (Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D. C.: National Defense University Press, 1988). An examination of the index of this book finds no listing for: low intensity conflict, insurgency, counter insurgency, protracted revolutionary warfare, partisan warfare, and only one reference to guerrilla warfare -- in connection with the futility of aerial interdiction against self-sufficient forces.

68. The Army-Air Force Center for Low Intensity Conflict produced 51 major studies between 1987 and the present writing. Only three pertained directly to airpower: "Logistic Support for Low Intensity Conflict - An Air Force Perspective;" " Planning Considerations for the Combat Employment of Air Power in Peacetime Contingency Operations ;" and "A Security Assistance Example - The US Air Force and the African Coastal Security Program."(Langley AFB, Virginia: Center for Low Intensity Conflict, 1988, 1988, and 1989 respectively). The Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project was dominated by non-airmen (only 13% of the participants were from the Air Force). Its final report addressed only three airpower issues -- all concerning specialized aircraft.

68 Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project Final Report (Fort Monroe, Virginia: Joint Low- Intensity Conflict Project United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1 August 1986).

69. US Army and US Air Force, FM 100-2, AFP 3-20, Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict (Washington DC: Departments of the Army and Air Force, 5 December 1990)

70. Ibid. E-4.

71. US Air Force, AFM 2-11 Foreign Internal Defense Operations (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 3 November 1992).

72. Ibid. 9, para 3-3a.

73. Ibid. 9-10, para. 3-3b.

74. The current author was the team leader and one of the principal authors of the AF Basic Doctrine manual published in March 1992. Early drafts of the manual contained extensive information about the peculiar nature of protracted revolutionary warfare and extensive comment about the employment of airpower in such conflicts. All of this was essentially eliminated at the general officer level after lengthy arguments between the current author and the general officers concerned. What remains are vague references rather than the explicit theory

75. AFM 2-11, 9-10, para. 3-3b.

76. US Air Force, AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, March 1992), vol. 1: 12, para. 3-5a(5). This particular assertion was inserted at the general officer level over the objections of the current author. It is noteworthy that Volume 2 of the manual which contains the evidence for every doctrinal statement made in Volume 1, contains no evidence of any kind to support this particular assertion.

77. As quoted in Robert F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force 1907-1967 (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1971) 227. The careful reader should not confuse this edition of Futrell's work with the two volume 1989 edition.

78. Ibid. 232.

79. AFM 1-1, 14 August 1964. This edition of Air Force basic doctrine was signed by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay, the architect of the Strategic Air Command, and a prominent senior commander in the strategic bombing campaigns against both Germany and Japan during the Second World War.

80. AFM 1-1, 28 September 1971.

81. For an excellent short synopsis of these events written from the perspective if the post-Cold War environment, see Richard A Paulsen The Role of US Nuclear Weapons in the Post-Cold War Era (Maxwell AFB, Ala: Air University Press, 1994) 9-20.

82. Information on the backgrounds of the Chiefs was gleaned from official Air Force biographical sheets on each individual. A complete file of these biographical sheets can be found in the reference section of the Air University Library.

Copyright for this paper is held by the author(s) unless stated otherwise. Paper should not be reproduced or posted without permission of author(s).

Back to Agenda Page

Back to List of Available Symposium Papers