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38 | Air & Space Power Journal Institutional Memory and the US Air Force Lt Col Daniel J. Brown, USAF Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed or implied in the Journal are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. If it is reproduced, the Air and Space Power Journal requests a courtesy line. No modern war has been won without air superiority. —Gen T. Michael Moseley, 2007 A lthough the vague term modern war leaves some question about the wars General Moseley was referring to, his 2007 white paper raises questions re- garding airpower’s impact and historical record, especially in light of the two conflicts that consumed the US military at the end of that year. 1 The question of whether or not air superiority is vital to successful military operations is nothing new; indeed, arguments concerning the utility of American airpower have raged in earnest for over 100 years. No technological milestone such as the atomic bomb, super- sonic flight, precision-guided weapons, or even stealth has settled the debate about where Airmen and airpower fit in the dialogue of national defense. After each ad- vance is tested in combat, a new round of intellectual sparring commences regarding
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Summer 2016 | 39 Institutional Memory and the US Air Force the effect of airpower. Though hugely useful in the development of military think- ing, these differing schools of thought have always returned to fundamental ques- tions, the answers to which vary widely depending on the strategic context of the day. How does airpower best contribute to the joint force? Is airpower a supporting arm, or is it supported by the other services? Can airpower alone achieve strategic effects? The answers are more than academic; they shape the Air Force’s policy de- cisions, affect joint operational planning, and give political decision makers a wide range of options to consider in their responses to crises at home and abroad. Since the answers are also interconnected, at times paradoxical, and dependent on a deep understanding of the global strategic context, it is imperative that the Air Force develop and maintain a coherent vision for how airpower can contribute to national security objectives. At odds with this consistent dialogue are a number of factors: most importantly, the service’s institutional memory of how it fights and what it fights with—the ways and means of war fighting. Critical to maintaining its competitive edge over the rest of the world, the service’s institutional memory is nevertheless heavily influenced by what this article proposes as two central factors: (1) the preferred “American Way of War” and (2) the enormous influence of Opera- tion Desert Storm on how the Air Force views its role as part of the joint force. Al-
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  • Spring '18
  • World War II, United States Air Force, Carl von Clausewitz, Royal Air Force, On War

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