By Hui Yong and Zhai Mingfei
Foreign media reports that the US air force and army are trading barbs recently on distance strike capability development and the position of each service. The air force deems it costly, repetitive, and stupid for the army to develop distance precision fire strike capability and demands it to put priority on its air-based distance strike forces. The army, however, disagrees with that. Robert Brown, executive vice president of the Association of the United States Army, said he was disappointed at the air force for trying to pin the blame on the army and couldn’t understand how some senior air force officers could be so disconnected from reality. 究竟是何原因讓美兩大軍種“互撕”？
What makes the two US military services lock horns?
They have no direction for top-level design. The US military always attaches great importance to developing the distance strike capabilities to maintain its global military presence and hegemony. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) issued by the US Department of Defence (DOD) proposed to develop a “next-generation distance strike system” in the attempt to comprehensively upgrade the US military’s “global assault” and “fast arrival” capabilities. However, the frequent personnel changes at the top level of the Pentagon and many other factors have rendered the implementation of that proposal anything but smooth, troubled with unclear directions and priorities.
Speaking of distance strike capability in 2020, John Hyten, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, underlined the importance of diversifying the means of attacks and urged the army, navy, air force and marines to all enhance their capabilities in that aspect. His ambiguity was slammed by all services. Doug Birkey, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said the proposal may expose the military’s assault capabilities to potential risks as the options for different services vary greatly in price.
Their combat concepts are incompatible. The notably deductive combat theories of the US military can easily be interpreted and acted on by different services in completely different or even contradictory ways. In recent years, the army has strongly promoted the “multi-domain combat” theory, in which distance precision fire strike is a key part and top of the army’s six modernization priorities. As the navy and air force lose their advantage in Anti-Access/Area-Denial, the army thinks its development of distance precision fire strike capabilities can provide more possibilities for future combined all-domain combats while ensuring relative independence.
The air force agrees to the “multi-domain combat” concept but dislikes the idea of the army developing distance precision fire strike capabilities. On the one hand, the air force believes it is capable of launching all-time, all-domain fast distance assaults, which has been verified in recent battles and the army’s development of the same capabilities is simply a waste of resources. On the other hand, the air force is pessimistic about the army’s forward deployment of distance strike equipment and its ability of launching distance fire strikes independently.
Their conflicts of interests are hard to resolve. Service parochialism has been a long-standing problem in the US military. With different cultures and values, the services often contend for merits on the battleground and position in the military system. Although the US is increasing its defense budget every year, that’s still not enough to meet the services’ astronomical demand, driving them to compete intensely for a fat check. For instance, the navy once planned to commission heavy ship-borne helicopters, so it applied for an immense sum of money in the name of upgrading F-18 fighters to develop the F -18E/F Super Hornet.
While the army and air force are battling over the money-burning high-tech project of distance strike capabilities, what’s behind is their selfish purpose of maintaining the position of strength and securing as big a share of the defense budget as possible.