Published Airpower Journal - Fall 1993
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.



Maj P. Mason Carpenter, USAF
Maj George T. McClain, USAF

IN MARCH 1991, the US military and coalition forces ended the most successful war in recent history. For 42 days, air power proved deadly and effective. Air Marshal Giulio Douhet's ideas of air power application came true, and for the first time in warfare, air power was equal with the land and sea elements. Three circumstances allowed this revolution in warfare--opportunity, capability, and foresight.

The opportunity occurred when the national command authorities (NCA) pressured for military action six weeks before the ground forces were fully prepared for offensive operations.1 Gen Norman Schwarzkopf possessed a ready air element and had the foresight to employ it while his ground forces were preparing for battle. The capability was made possible by the US military industrial complex and the military-technical revolution.2 For the first time in history, air power had the tools to effectively attack large numbers of significant targets in a relatively short period of time. However, the key to successful air power employment in Operation Desert Storm was foresight--the air campaign plan. This plan, Instant Thunder, was the product of a group of thinkers that included Brig Gen Buster Glosson, Col John Warden, the "Black Hole" Group, (a group of air campaign planners at Headquarters CENTAF in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and Checkmate (a group of air strategy planners at Headquarters USAF). They proved the value of operational air power planning and employment.

The real origins of Instant Thunder came from the experience of a group of air power advocates who, when opportunity came, stepped forward and, with recent air power technological advancements in mind, produced a superior operational air campaign. Although this worked for Operation Desert Storm, there were difficulties and planning was not as smooth as it might have been. Perhaps a formal education system is needed for air power planners to replace the old ad hoc/on-the-job process of developing campaign planners.

The Air Force needs to educate officers who can advise commanders and develop effective air campaigns for the operational level of warfare. A formal method, similar to the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) of the 1930s, could be created to produce officers who can act as effective air power advisors to war-fighting commanders in chief. If we were to design a course for this purpose, what attributes would it have? This article offers a basic set of goals or ideas that must be at the heart of any new air power education program, compares these ideas to past efforts such as the Air Corps Tactical School and a recently completed Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) Air Campaign Course,3 and discusses the 1993-94 ACSC curriculum in light of these requirements.

The Ideal Course

While academic pursuits by themselves will not develop air power visionaries, education is the solid foundation upon which we must base the visionary's expertise. To properly build this academic foundation, a course for air power planners must develop officers who have (1) a broad understanding of air power concepts, (2) a creative, open mind not given to intractability, (3) an ability to look at problems from the top down, and (4) an organized methodology of thoughtful introspection.

Next, on the practical level, these officers must be provided the opportunity to develop an in-depth knowledge of military/aviation history. A thorough examination of the military/aviation past will provide a historical perspective that will allow the individual to gain empathy with the thoughts and feelings of the key thinkers, theorists, and strategists of the past. This understanding will stimulate ideas.

Future air power strategists must be able to deal with the planning and execution of large joint operations. While nothing can replace real-world experience, a properly designed curriculum can provide students the opportunity to gain some valuable vicarious experience. Good tools for this purpose are technical case studies and theoretical problem analyses interspersed with problems/threats that deal with actual world events and possible US courses of action.

Air power planners must have an almost instinctual level of knowledge on the role of the US Air Force. They must also be able to understand jointness in the truest sense of the word. The planner/advisor must also understand the roles the other services perform, their capabilities, and their limitations. Finally, the air power planner must be able to effectively meld the different elements of US military might in truly effective, multiservice, multinational operations.

The Air Corps Tactical School

The first US attempt at developing air power strategists/planners was the Air Corps Tactical School of the 1930s. ACTS was strategic in scope. A small group of visionary instructors--Harold George, Haywood Hansell, Kenneth Walker, Donald Wilson, Laurence Kuter, Muir Fairchild, and others--sought to formalize the application of military might to the air.4 They saw air power as more than a support weapon for the land and sea forces; it had its own technology, doctrine, and medium to operate in. According to Douhet, William ("Billy") Mitchell, and Hugh M. Trenchard, it was strategic in nature. Some on the ACTS faculty sought to make air power an exact science with studies, tests, and data analyzed at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, where its cadre was based.5 Theories of attack, force size, and weapons to use were developed based on belief in the invincibility of high-altitude, long-range, precision daylight bombing. The appearance of the B-17 and the Norden bombsight in the early 1930s gave substance to their theories.6

The Air Corps Tactical School tackled the relevant philosophical issues as well--the nature of war, the object of war, the characteristics of modern military forces and their relationship to national objectives, and the nature of military employment. The ACTS faculty believed the real objective and fundamental purpose of war was to overcome the will of the enemy. They believed air power could break the enemy's will by attacking its industrial grid, thereby avoiding an exhaustive war of attrition. The visionaries of the Air Corps Tactical School summed up the potential of air strategy in three basic tenets:

a. Modern states are dependent upon an interwoven industrial base to produce war and their standard of living.

b. Precision bombing with suitable weapons is practical and possible.

c. Strategic Air Forces could use speed, initiative, deception, altitude, defensive formations and gunfire to penetrate defenses and bomb interior targets with minimal losses.7

The "Bomber Mafia" of the Air Corps Tactical School faculty believed that the objectives of war were political, strategic, and tactical. Strikes against the political objectives were generally considered unacceptable because bombing population-type targets was considered "immoral." Attacking the enemy air force (tactical) to gain control of the air was dismissed because the group believed enemy air forces could not successfully defend their nation against high-altitude bombers. They therefore considered strategic target categories. These target categories were as follows:

a. Armed forces

b. War production industry

c. State infrastructure

d. Cities and worker dwellings8

From the Air Corps Tactical School, George, Hansell, Walker, Wilson, Kuter, and Fairchild brought a new perspective that pushed past traditional aviation roles by emphasizing the need for a bigger, better, and independent air service. Their direction laid the foundation for the Air War Plans Division-Plan 1 (AWPD-1) in the summer of 1941 and for the great air armadas of World War II. Although not their intent, they ignored some advantages of joint warfare and in their zeal created a dogma of the air.9

How does ACTS measure up against our theoretical ideal air campaign course? There appear to be several shortfalls: (1) the issues of jointness and joint operations with the other services, (2) the depth and breadth of campaign planning, and (3) the sensitivity to flexibility versus standardization in solving problems.10

The issue of jointness is a significant area of difference. ACTS focused on strategic air power exclusively. The unofficial objective of ACTS was to establish Air Corps roles and missions, to include supplanting the Navy in the role of coastal defense and dominating the Navy and Army in the role of hemispheric defense of the United States. ACTS had a grudging respect for jointness but did not have its heart set on pursuing it.11 The ideal air campaign course would possess an enthusiasm for jointness and emphasize the synergy possible among all the services. The course policy would be one of inclusion, not exclusion.

The scope or depth and breadth of the study of the air campaign is another substantial area of difference between ACTS and the ideal air campaign course. ACTS focused exclusively on a narrow band of campaigning (strategy), while the ideal course would be three-dimensional in its emphasis. This emphasis should start with grand strategy, progress through strategy and campaign operations, and then finish with tactical operations. ACTS focused on strategy and assumed technical capabilities as a given. These assumed capabilities included the ability to deliver weapons and to destroy targets, but ACTS did not analyze these areas well enough to identify potential shortfalls in realizing desired strategic effects. The ideal air campaign course would evaluate the availability of suitable systems, weapons effects, navigational ability, and accuracy of delivery before analyzing the strategic effect. Therefore, the ideal air campaign course is a marriage of the mechanics and the ideas of air campaigning, unlike ACTS, which considered only the ideas for study. The ACTS emphasis on strategy also affected the final area of difference--the sensitivity of air campaigning to flexibility versus standardization.12

ACTS was rigid in its doctrine. The result was that ACTS confused centers of gravity (COG) with targeting. They believed a COG was synonymous with a target, and the way to victory was to work through the target set. This assumption was central to the bombing plans of World War II, AWPD-1, AWPD-42, and the Combined Bomber Offensive. The ideal air campaign course would recognize the awaiting pitfalls of rigidity and standardization. It would emphasize the critical importance of strategic intelligence and recognize the part creativity has to play in identifying what is or is not a suitable target. Such an approach would force a reexamination and comparison of results with desired effects during an air campaign. A center of gravity may not necessarily be a legitimate target because striking it may not yield the desired effect.

The Air Campaign Course

Recently, the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, embarked on a path to recapture the enthusiasm and concept-building atmosphere embodied in the Air Corps Tactical School prior to World War II while avoiding its failings. The pilot project for this new endeavor was called the "Air Campaign Course." Like its predecessor, the Air Corps Tactical School, the Air Campaign Course was strategic in scope; it studied all aspects of air and space power employment that might be applied in support of the theater commander's campaign. Its creator was Col John A. Warden III, the ACSC commandant. Implementing Colonel Warden's ideas were several ACSC academic instructors who, along with over 100 motivated volunteers from the 1993 ACSC class, attempted to make history in the tradition of the Air Corps Tactical School.13 This initiative appears successful and with potential benefit to the military. Aerospace capability and power projection are going to play an increasingly dominant role in safeguarding our vital interests. Our nation will need the best educated and most forward-thinking air planners we can provide.

The primary objective of this course was to educate and develop officers who will represent air power as advisors to a war-fighting commander in chief and who one day will lead, maintain, and continue to provide our nation with the most effective air force on the globe. To accomplish this end, the Air Campaign Course sought to educate future air campaign planners and promote freethinking and vision in the field of air and space power employment. Another objective of the Air Campaign Course was to serve as the forerunner of the 1993-94 ACSC curriculum. Additionally, the ACSC faculty critically evaluated the Air Campaign Course and was especially receptive to student feedback. Course instructor and student insights are effecting the development of the 1993-94 ACSC course structure and educational methods.

A rigorous regimen of reading and lectures was essential to accomplishing the primary course objective. The air campaigners tackled a challenging academic load of nightly reading, advanced content lectures, and daily discussions. The course had four phases--the air campaign process, contextual issues, operational art, and a series of practical case studies. Students also completed research projects that ranged from the development of an operational level computer war game to the study of chaos theory. The readings included classic studies by Douhet, Mitchell, and Thucydides, and contemporary works by Schwarzkopf, Mark Clodfelter, and Richard Hallion. Guest lecturers not only offered their views but also created a forum in which to challenge the old axioms of military thought. Past military conflicts were used as case studies to analyze strategy, doctrine, leadership, technology, politico-military relationships, air power and joint concepts, and their impact on modern warfare. Through these case studies, students learned and developed new thought processes by analyzing problems, asking probing questions, and generating solutions.

Like the Air Corps Tactical School, the Air Campaign Course was an intense effort to develop strategic and operational air power thinking. In their bid for an independent air force, the leaders of the Air Corps Tactical School, in the spirit of Douhet and Mitchell, advocated strategic bombing as the "end-all" of military conflict. The Air Campaign Course emphasized air and space power but recognized that air and space power is not an end in itself. Depending on the nature of the conflict, air power may be the decisive military element or provide a supporting role to land or sea forces. It also might support a psychological or economic strategy. Today, cohesive, joint service operations are important to successful conflict resolution. Under certain circumstances, however, air and space power of all services can be decisive in itself, and we must be able to employ joint aerospace forces in a manner that will bring the enemy to our terms quickly, with few casualties and with minimal collateral damage. Additionally, in other circumstances, air and space power planners must orchestrate air campaigns to best support surface operations. Air campaign planning knowledge is the new course's foundation, but developing vision is its cornerstone.

To develop vision, Air Force officers need to understand the capabilities and the limitations of air and space power in military operations. Only with this knowledge can the military professional gain the expertise and wisdom necessary to properly employ aerospace forces and correctly advise political and military leaders of the need for investment in aerospace power to support national policy. Air campaign planners must also be able to assist the political leadership in the development of clearly defined and attainable military objectives that support national policy through the proper identification of the vulnerable and accessible enemy centers of gravity.

The Air Campaign Course encouraged the development of a new breed of aerospace visionaries and thinkers. The military professional must be a "free thinker" who can conceive new ideas to improve air power applications. The Air Campaign Course pursued this goal through the study of the military-technical revolution and its relationship to the realities of ethnic/religious nationalism, the secular nation-state, and conflicting ideologies. The professional officer must also be on guard against the tendency to allow doctrine to stagnate in the light of broadly defined threats and changing world realities so that the air campaigner, in the final analysis, will be able to correctly identify appropriate centers of gravity and strike the targets that affect them with the proper mix of force and intensity.

"The first and most important point I emphasized to our Air Campaign class was to avoid `dogma' at all costs," states Lt Col Larry Weaver, the course director. "I did not want a `school' answer to a given problem. We designed the course to go beyond comprehension of traditional doctrine. Our goal was to inspire creative ideas for aerospace employment." To help accomplish this, the Air Campaign Course workload was raised well above that of past ACSC classes. More responsibility was placed on the students to read, study, and discuss essential aerospace thought, doctrine, and writings. In addition to developing free thinking, the Air Campaign Course emphasized the importance of understanding the political dimension of air and space power.

Realizing that the Air Campaign Course was to serve as the centerpiece for the new ACSC curriculum, the faculty and students were attuned to learning important lessons during the 1992-93 session. Most difficulties experienced in the Air Campaign Course were related to the course's rapid development. Administrative difficulties included textbook acquisition, problems with scheduling speakers, the limited number of qualified instructors, and delays in organizing course materials. Regarding these problems, instructors responded to student needs.

Student feedback for nonadministrative course improvement was concentrated in four areas: (1) lack of instruction in Air Force basics concerning air power employment (tactical level knowledge), (2) lack of scheduled seminar discussion periods, (3) too little time spent incorporating other branches of the military into the teaching of aerospace power employment (jointness), and (4) poor representation of different disciplines within seminars. The first three criticisms were a direct product of placing a tremendous amount of study material and lectures into a two-month period. The fourth problem was the result of this being an elective course and the type of individuals who volunteered to take it.14 Special attention was placed on these structural problems, which are planned to be resolved as the campaign course is incorporated into the overall 10-month ACSC curriculum for 1993-94.

The 1993-94
ACSC Curriculum

Based on the experience gained through presenting the Air Campaign Course, Colonel Warden and the ACSC staff have developed a curriculum to begin in the summer of 1993 that will teach officers to deal with conceptual and practical issues involved in mastering the art of air warfare. This new curriculum focuses on 10 areas:

Professional Skills

War, Conflict, and Military Missions

Military Theory

Strategic Structure

Operational Structure

Campaign Concepts

Air Campaign

Campaign Termination

Campaign 2000+

Terminal Exercise

Like an inverted pyramid, this new curriculum will begin with large conceptual issues of politico-military operations and ends in practical case studies. In these case studies, students will apply their knowledge and practice application of air power to carefully selected case studies at the operational level.

A significant effort is being made for officers to study original military and aviation literary readings. More than 90 books will be issued to each student.

Central to this new curriculum is the understanding that campaigning in general, and air campaigning in particular, is not the sole province of the flyer. A successful campaign requires full participation from virtually every field in the USAF, from public affairs to the logistician.

The new curriculum has been conceived as a whole. Care has been taken to integrate the instructional blocks. As the curriculum progresses, the students should experience an intellectual flow of ideas and at any point be able to relate their current studies to any other concept previously covered in the course. The past division of the curriculum into discrete segments of study with arbitrary boundaries will be removed in favor of a yearlong continuum. Instructors will assist the students by performing multiple functions throughout the course in accordance with their expertise.15

There are advantages to this new curriculum. With a single focal point, all instructors can work through issues of academic preparation and execution. The corporate nature of this new relationship will replace the former compartmentalization of tasks within divisions and improve faculty communication. This new perspective on education at the Air Command and Staff College is, of course, still in its infancy. As of this writing, lesson plans are being reviewed and course organization refined. Nevertheless, the college staff approaches its task with the confidence that, by implementing this new vision with all judicious speed, there will be an improvement in the study of aerospace power. By learning from shortfalls in the Air Corps Tactical School and the initial Air Campaign Course, planners will make a concerted effort to keep the new ACSC curriculum from being trapped in narrowly focused thought. The new curriculum will review a broad spectrum of military conflict, studying in depth the role air and space power will play in unilateral and joint/combined/coalition warfare.


The Soviet threat may have diminished, but it has been replaced by other threats that may appear smaller but in reality are no less lethal. Today the world is involved in more armed conflicts than any other period in modern history. The disappearance of the single, well-defined threat of the former Soviet Union complicates the problem. There are those in political leadership positions who clamor for a much-reduced emphasis on military forces. Many perceive a safer world environment. In reality it is not clear that the world is a safer place. The breakup of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact, ethnic/religious nationalism--which transcends traditional Westphalian boundaries--and a growing number of third world powers with weapons of mass destruction have resulted in a very unstable international community. While many argue that today's threats to our nation are minimal and not well defined, others argue differently. Today's threats are still significant, and although broader in scope, are well defined. What is harder to define is how to effectively counter these evolving new world problems. But, we must be prepared.

One of many problems facing today's and tomorrow's military professional is the effective interaction between themselves and political leaders. Military professionals cannot afford to be thought of as "technotwits" driven by the desire for better toys. They must be able to convince political leaders of the necessary force levels, training, and hardware required to support national interests with air power. Today's officers must be able to understand political leaders' intent at all levels in order to help develop cogent objectives. To do so, political and military leaders must also establish criteria for terminating each conflict or contingency we enter--and avoid. Educating our future air campaign planners to deal with all aspects of aerospace employment is critical to future success. Next year's ACSC core curriculum will emphasize this aspect of aerospace power planning and execution.

The new ACSC curriculum will extend air power thought past the Air Corps Tactical School, dealing with a broader spectrum of military conflict in which air and space power can either be the key power-projection tool; play a supporting role; and execute independent, parallel, and supporting operations simultaneously. The new curriculum will teach professional officers of all services to think both inside and outside of the traditional Douhet/Mitchell air power employment concepts.

A nation that wins a conflict is often set up to lose the next one. If it is satisfied with the status quo of its forces and doctrine, it is apt to fight future wars in a predictable manner. Conversely, losing nations often become innovative, rebuilding and rethinking warfare to ensure victory in the next conflict. To avoid the trap of living in the past, the US Air Force needs officers who not only can create successful air campaigns but who are also visionaries who can look past the most recent conflict and into the next one.

The ACSC staff has set ambitious goals for the 1993-94 curriculum. We endorse these goals and their efforts to educate free-thinking professionals. ACSC is seeking to institutionalize excellence in the officer corps so as to create a living, constantly renewing group that is sensitive to the lessons of history but not impeded by the dogma of past victories. It is imperative that we continue to advance the study of military aerospace applications and modern force projection.

Does this new curriculum meet the goals of our theoretical "ideal course"? This new course has been designed to instill in the air planner (1) a broad understanding of air power concepts, (2) a creative, open mind not given to intractability, (3) an ability to look at problems from the top down, and (4) an organized methodology of thoughtful introspection. On the practical level, these officers will be provided the opportunity to develop an in-depth knowledge of military/aviation history and empathy with the thoughts and feelings of the key thinkers, theorists, and strategists of the past. Ideas will be stimulated by this understanding. Case studies, some real world, will help to develop air campaign planners who can advise and orchestrate operational-level air operations. Finally, efforts are being made to instruct officers on effectively melding the different elements of US military might in truly effective, joint operations. So, in design and plan, the new ACSC curriculum meets the standards of the "ideal course." We await its implementation.

The United States won its last conflict, but we must keep looking ahead and not attempt to fight our next conflict as if it were a pure replica of Operation Desert Storm. Enhancing the United States military's execution of operational campaigns through successful air and space operations in future conflict should be the ultimate goal of any air power education program. The new ACSC curriculum is a step in the right direction.


1. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn't Take A Hero (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 393.

2. Andrew F. Krepenvich, Jr., "Military-Technical Revolution: A Preliminary Assessment." Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1992 (unclassified version); and Maj Gaylord Liby, briefing, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Ala., subject: The Military-Technical Revolution, 5 January 1993.

3. In the fall of 1992 at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, the Air Command and Staff College effected such a concept with the creation of the Air Campaign Course. This course was of limited scale (100 volunteers) and was the forerunner to the 1993-94 ACSC core curriculum.

4. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., The Air Plan That DefeatedHitler (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975), 12-24.

5. Ibid., 6.

6. Ibid., 24.

7. Ibid., 40.

8. Ibid., 47-48.

9. Ibid., 1-57.

10. Maj Peter R. Faber, School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Maxwell AFB, Ala., interview with author, 1993.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Instructors Lt Col Albert Mitchum, Lt Col Larry Weaver, Dr Earl Tilford, and Dr Richard Muller designed the Air Campaign Course. The initial instructor cadre includes Lt Col Tom Falconer and the following majors: John Pardo, Sy Caudill, Rick Cosby, Gaylord Liby, Gary Burg, Doug Goebel, and Larry Key.

14. The Air Campaign Course was made up of approximately 60 percent aircrew members, and many key disciplines were underrepresented on the seminar level.

15. Lt Col Albert U. Mitchum, Jr., and Dr Lewis B. Ware, "The New ACSC Curriculum" (unpublished paper, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., 1993).


Maj P. Mason Carpenter (BS, USAFA; MPA, Troy State University) is a student at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He is a senior pilot with over 2,000 flying hours, 150 hours combat time. He has served as F-111 instructor pilot, 0-2A forward air controller operations officer, assistant operations officer, and flight commander. Major Carpenter is a 1993 graduate of ACSC.

Maj George T. McClain, Air National Guard (BS, USAFA; MBA, Golden Gate University), is a faculty member at Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), Maxwell AFB, Alabama. A command pilot with 3,000 flying hours, he has flown the F-4E, March AFB, California; the F-4G, George AFB, California; the OV-10A, Osan AB, Republic of Korea; the F-4D, Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea, and Nellis AFB, Nevada; and the F-4C, Luke AFB, Arizonia. Major McClain is a 1993 graduate of ACSC.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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