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Don't overlook airpower in joint counterinsurgency doctrine

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sam Highley
  • Airpower Research Institute
The counterinsurgency manual used by U.S. Soldiers and Marines undervalues the role airpower plays in fighting insurgencies, stated a monograph recently published by Air University officials.

That guidance, designated Field Manual 3-24 by the Army and Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 by the Marine Corps, has been widely celebrated since its publication in December 2006 for filling a gap in American military doctrine.

However, its relegation of airpower to a five-page appendix does not fully recognize the important part air, space and cyberspace operations can play in neutralizing insurgencies, said Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., the Air Force deputy judge advocate general.

In his monograph "Shortchanging the Joint Fight?", General Dunlap lauds the manual, coauthored by the Army and Marine Corps, for skillfully addressing many important counterinsurgency issues but fears it may be adopted as the de facto U.S. joint solution for combating insurgencies.

"By failing to reconcile the full potential of today's airpower capabilities and by focusing almost exclusively on the surface dimension, FM 3-24 falls short of offering U.S. decision makers a pragmatic, overall solution for the challenge of counterinsurgency," General Dunlap writes.

Efforts are underway to write a joint counterinsurgency doctrine in which all services will have input. General Dunlap hopes the Air Force's "airminded perspective" is captured in the final product, he said.

"This development presents the ideal opportunity to meld the strengths of the whole joint team into a unified doctrinal concept," the general said.

The provocative nature of the monograph was no accident, General Dunlap said.

"That was my intention," he said. "I want to stimulate thought and discussion throughout the Department of Defense as we work through these important issues and tap into different service perspectives."

The general pointed to recent media reports, indicating the number of coalition airstrikes in Iraq in 2007 increased five-fold over 2006 numbers, as evidence that airpower has an important role in fighting insurgencies.

"FM 3-24 leads you to believe that airstrikes are unsuited to counterinsurgency because they may cause collateral damage," General Dunlap said. "However, airpower technologies -- in the form of precision targeting and smaller munitions -- are allowing commanders to target insurgents even when they hide in urban settings among civilians."

Airpower cannot defeat the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, but it does offer a big advantage to American forces fighting for freedom and stability in those regions, he said.

"The United States has the best military in the world, and it's important that we leverage all the great capabilities from across our armed forces in the battles we face today," General Dunlap said. "Our security and that of our friends depend on it."

"Shortchanging the Joint Fight?" is the latest product of Air University's effort to push out timely ideas on airpower and national security. People can download the product at