An Assessment of Air Force Advising Concepts in Small Wars, “Paper Falcons”

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Riley Murray is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force currently pursuing his master’s degree in the Georgetown Security Studies Program.  He can be found on Twitter @rileycmurray.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of Air Force Advising Concepts in Small Wars, “Paper Falcons”

Date Originally Written:  May 29, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 9, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active duty Air Force Officer. The Article is written from the Point of View of the United States Air Force in Air Advising and Security Cooperation operations.

Summary:  Andrew Krepinevich’s “Army Concept” provides a useful model for understanding the mindset military organizations take towards advising operations, which subsequently shapes outcomes, including the U.S. Air Force’s advising efforts in small wars. Efforts to advise the South Vietnamese Air Force and Afghan Air Force demonstrate that U.S. Air Force advising concepts have been poorly suited towards irregular conflicts, creating counterproductive effects.

Text:  Andrew Krepinevich coined the term “Army Concept” in his 1986 study of the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army uses the Army Concept framework to hypothesize how wars will be fought, and to shape its operational planning and training[1]. During the Vietnam War, the Army Concept focused on large-scale conventional warfare against the Soviets in Central Europe with emphasis on firepower and technology[2]. Krepinevich criticizes the Army for using this conventionally oriented concept to advise the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during its campaign against an irregular foe: The National Liberation Front (Viet Cong)[3]. This counterproductive (ineffective) assistance program resulted from a failure to understand the threat faced by the ARVN, a poorly conceived plan to address the insurgency, and advisors that had spent their careers preparing for conventional warfare[4]. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has made similar mistakes when advising its partner forces.

Any conceptual approach to advising begins by assessing the environment and threats partner forces face. This analysis is the basis for decisions regarding prioritization and risk that result in concepts of what air elements should be able to do[5]. This strategic view is then translated into operational and tactical tasks. However, planning and execution are heavily impacted by variety of factions involved in advising missions, each with unique concepts and different decision-making processes, leading to mixed outcomes. In an ideal world, planning any advising mission would be a cyclical process of tightly coordinated activities that continually reconsiders assumptions and adjusts policy accordingly. However, even under clear planning guidance, this policy-tailoring process can be undermined by the interests of subordinate organizations.

In Vietnam, the U.S. military attempted to meet the Kennedy administration’s directive to prepare for “wars of national liberation.” The USAF responded to this challenge by establishing the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron with the mission to develop and train foreign air forces on counter-guerrilla tactics[6]. Outside of this unit though, the USAF made no major changes in organizational guidelines or doctrine. Although the counterinsurgency mission was accepted, USAF doctrine did not highlight the role of local air forces or advising[7]. The USAF developed “what amounted to an absolute model of airpower in warfare,” based on the principles of classical airpower theory (primarily the primacy of offensive, strategic, and independent air operations)[8]. This single-minded view drove the USAF’s organization and mentality, but largely neglected the lessons learned from irregular conflicts since World War II and assumed that alternate concepts were unnecessary. The USAF failed to understand airpower’s role in effective irregular warfare strategy and to foresee the potential negative effects airpower could have when fighting a guerrilla force. This made the USAF ill-equipped to develop a reliable partner force in Vietnam.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized an advising mission in 1961 to assist the South Vietnamese military in countering the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese supporters. The USAF was tasked with training the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF), but its actions and ideas were often counterproductive to the VNAF[9]. The USAF entered Vietnam planning to develop tactics for fighting guerrillas but was unprepared and unwilling to effectively assess and address strategic and operational issues. USAF advisors helped the VNAF develop a centralized air control system in alignment with USAF doctrine, which increased efficiency, but also dramatically hindered air-ground coordination and resulted in operations that had little strategic value in counterinsurgency[10]. When the USAF and VNAF did develop useful tactics, many of these innovations were simply relearning the lessons of previous conflicts (such as the Marine Corps’ small wars in the Caribbean)[11]. U.S. assistance dramatically increased the VNAF’s size, but contemporary USAF emphasis on jet aircraft led to a force that was incredibly difficult to maintain without U.S. assistance. Rapid growth was coupled with USAF advisors frequently flying the missions themselves and neglecting the tactical development of the VNAF[12]. After a decade of advising efforts, the end result was a VNAF that could not independently perform many key processes and was poorly oriented towards the threat faced by South Vietnam.

Many of these conceptual failures continue to plague the USAF’s mission to advise the Afghan Air Force (AAF). As the Afghan Taliban resurgence threatened security in Afghanistan in 2007, the original USAF advisory mission of establishing an AAF presidential airlift capability was expanded and the AAF became a “helicopter/transport/light-attack-based fleet” oriented towards counterinsurgency[13]. Developing these capabilities has been difficult, particularly without consensus on the roles and missions the AAF should be able to conduct. USAF advisors have labored to develop a centralized control system, but this doctrinal solution continues to conflict with the structure of the Afghan military and its entrenched habits[14]. There is also a split between the conventional AAF and the Special Mission Wing and their respective advisors which focuses on direct support for Afghan special operations forces, resulting in two parallel concepts that remain poorly integrated at both the tactical and strategic levels[15]. The mission statement of the 428th Air Expeditionary Wing in 2014 emphasized the importance of developing “a professional, capable, and sustainable [Afghan] Air Force[16].” However, without a clear concept driving what these terms mean and how they should be pursued, air advising operations cannot be successful. In 2018, a DoD Inspector General report highlighted that Train Advise Assist Command-Air (TAAC-Air) lacked a defined end state for AAF development and failed to explain how the AAF would integrate with U.S. forces in Afghanistan[17]. Without an end state or effective strategic plan, the USAF cannot integrate and leverage its full range of advising capabilities.

While Vietnam highlighted the dangers of applying the wrong concept to air operations in counterinsurgency, Afghanistan demonstrates that the lack of a unified concept that similarly undercuts advising operations. Concepts are difficult to quantify, but they have had an unmistakable impact on advising operations. Success requires both a holistic view of the strategic value of air operations in irregular warfare and the capability to assess individual cases and tailor advising approaches. With a clear strategic concept, advising, planning and operations can be synchronized, ensuring that the United States effectively leverages its capabilities to assist partners and allies.


Endnotes:

[1] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. p. 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. pp. 258-260.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. pp. 11-14.

[6] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 238-239.

[7] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 242-243, 246-247.

[8] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 267-270.

[9] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 241-244.

[10] Sheehan, N. (2013). A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York, NY: Vintage Books, a division of Random House. pp. 112-115.

[11] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. p. 261.

[12] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 271-273.

[13] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 51-52.

[14] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 156.

[15] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 55.

[16] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 186.

[17] United States, Department of Defense, Inspector General. (2018). Progress of U.S. and Coalition Efforts to Train, Advise, and Assist the Afghan Air Force (pp. 1-76). Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Defense.

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Capacity / Capability Enhancement Riley Murray Small Wars Journal Writing Contest Training United States

Options to Evolve U.S. Law Enforcement and Public Safety Training

The Viking Cop has served in a law enforcement capacity with multiple organizations within the U.S. Executive Branch.  He can be found on Twitter @TheVikingCop.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of any government entities.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The evolution of Law Enforcement and Public Safety (LE/PS) Training within the U.S.

Date Originally Written:  April 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 24, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a graduate of both University and Federal LE/PS training.  Author has two years of sworn and unsworn law enforcement experience.  Author believes a reform of LE/PS training led by institutes of higher learning such as colleges and universities is necessary to meet evolving LE/PS challenges.

Background:  Over the past twenty years the U.S. has seen a major shift in public opinion and media coverage of LE/PS operations.  As a result of this shift, there have been ad hoc changes in LE/PS training on various topics to address a lack of specialized training.  But because LE/PS basic training and advanced training is conducted and designed at a local level, the added training can vary from city to city and state to state.  A look at the basic training of LE/PS is important in the context of how LE/PS organizations are preparing to respond to contemporary changes in U.S. culture and the massive scale of resources and time it takes to train a LE/PS Officer[1].

Current LE/PS basic training varies from state to state with varying hours, types of training, and style of training conducted[2].  This mix of training hours, types, and styles produces a varying level of LE/PS Officer upon graduation.  A LE/PS Officer in one state could lack hundreds of hours of training compared to their peer the next state over when beginning their initial field training.

Significance:  The Bureau of Justice Statistics observed in 2008 that there were sixty-one thousand new LE/PS Officers hired in the United States[3].  Due to the nature of attrition, retirement, and LE/PS budgets, this hiring is only expected to increase over the coming years as a younger generation replaces the “Widening Hole in the Bucket” that is staffing levels in departments nationwide[4].

Option #1:  Establish a system of National Law Enforcement Colleges within university systems throughout the U.S. that not only train and certify LE/PS Officers but that do this as part of a wider degree-granting program.  Option #1 is similar to in-depth and standardized training of LE/PS personnel that countries such as Germany and Sweden have developed.

Risk:  With a rising average number of LE/PS recruits in the U.S. each year, sixty-one thousand hired in 2008[4], a series of colleges would have to have enough capacity to handle one hundred to two hundred thousand trainees across the country at varying years of study if a multiple year degree program is established.  Option #1 could also be viewed as a “Federalization” of LE/PS since the undertaking would inevitably involve the Federal Government for funding and certification.  It has also been noted, albeit with limited research, that university-educated LE/PS Officers experience higher levels of frustration and lower levels of overall job satisfaction[5].

Gain:  Option #1 would increase the minimum education of LE/PS Officers allowing them to be educated in various social science fields that the university systems already employ subject matter experts in.  Option #1 could also offset certain costs of training LE/PS Officers as the program could be run as a self-pay system as any other university program or limited scholarship program such as the U.S. Military Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Option #2:  Developing and implementing a national standard for basic law enforcement training to be met by currently existing training academies.

Risk:  This would increase the cost of LE/PS training to states that have below minimum standards.  If an extended length of training is chosen it would cause a bottleneck in training new LE/PS Officers that agencies are in need of immediately to boost low staffing numbers.  A national set of minimum standards could lead to simply a change in what is taught during basic training instead of an actual increase in training provided as academies may be inclined to abandon non-mandated training to shorten program time.

Gain:  Concerns with the lack of certain types of training, such as social services and crisis intervention, would be resolved as mandatory training hours could be set for these topics.  LE/PS Officers operating on an inter-agency level (City to County or across State Lines) would have been trained initially to the same set of standards and would be able to better cooperate.

Other Comments:  While the lack of certain academic topics in LE/PS training does exist as a current problem, it must also be understood that in a human-services profession such as LE/PS, that informal training through actual field experience is still the most significant way that adults learn in challenging situations[6].  No amount of academic or basic training will replace the need for actual field experience by the trainee to become competent as a LE/PS Officer.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Stanislas, P. (2014). Introduction: police education and training in context. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 1-20). London: Routledge.

[2]  Reaves, B. (2016). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2013Bjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5684

[3]  Reaves, B. (2012). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical TablesBjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4514

[4]  Wilson, J., Dalton, E., Scheer, C., & Grammich, C. (2017). Police Recruitment and Retention for the New Millennium (1st ed.). Santa Monica: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG959.pdf

[5]  Stanislas, P. (2014). The challenges and dilemmas facing university-based police education in Britain. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 57-71). London: Routledge.

[6]  Giovengo, R. (2016). Training law enforcement officers (1st ed.). CRC Press.

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