The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Advocate and Air Power Doctrine

The transformation case study of the US Army Air Corps in the interwar years focused largely on the personality of BG William “Billy” Mitchell.  He has since then been considered one of the “fathers” of the modern US Air Force.  Was he really a positive  force for the transformation of the Air Force?  Could his efforts have been more effective if he had worked inside the structure of the military as did his superior, Major General Mason Patrick, the Chief of the Air Service?

Air power doctrine as advocated by Italian theorist Giulio Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, and Billy Mitchell predicted essentially that decisive strategic effects could be achieved from air.  In other words, air power was capable of winning wars without the assistance of the other services.  This theory has been echoed by modern US Air Force leaders such as Air Force Chiefs of Staffs Michael J. Dugan and Merrill A. McPeak.  These ideas have been detailed in such popular discussions of air strategy as The Air Campaign and Shock and Awe.  Can air power win wars decisively and at low cost in some cases?  If it can not, what capability justifies a separate Air Force?  If it can, does that argue against jointness as central component of US military doctrine?


December 5, 2014 - Posted by | H200, military history | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. True organizational transformation often requires courageous and risk-accepting leaders willing to place the long-term needs of the organization before their own. Just like many of the figures highlighted in President Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” BG Mitchell deemed his risky actions necessary to spark change – a change in thinking as well as a change in the allocation of resources, responsibility, and human capital.

    The much needed transformation would not have been so profound or effective if Mitchell tried to work from within the system. While one could argue over MG Patrick’s efficacy as Chief of the Air Service, the larger issue is that he was constrained by the political factors and pervasive military culture. Mitchell would have been hamstrung by the same entrenched bureaucratic hurdles. Resigning afforded him the freedom to campaign and educate decision makers while working through his “disciples” who remained central figures within the Air Service throughout World War II.

    On a completely unrelated note, attached is an interesting article written by the next SecDef highlighting the Pentagon’s inability to respond quickly to technological challenges on the battlefield.


    Comment by Michael Harrison | December 9, 2014

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