Share This Article

Combat Pair: The Evolution of Air Force–Navy Integration in Strike Warfare

by Benjamin S. Lambeth, RAND Corp., Santa Monica, Calif., 2007, $22

“Jointness” is a term too often bandied about by speechmakers these days, almost always with the implication that it’s a long-established American tradition. In Combat Pair, the senior analyst at the RAND Corporation, Benjamin S. Lambeth, shows how close the United States is to achieving true integration of Air Force, Navy and Marine air power— and how difficult it has been to reach.

One of today’s most important air power commentators, Lambeth is a prolific author whose expertise extends to politics and strategy, lending his books an authority and a depth far beyond the usual fare. Even more remarkable, his short but important work is available free at the RAND Web site:

Lambeth begins with a cogent summary of three decades of progress in the development of integrated airstrike operations. Looking back from the 21st century, it’s easy to forget the archaic makeshift efforts of the Vietnam War, when enemy territory was divided into “route packs” apportioned between the respective services. Lambeth attributes their creation in part to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s strategy of war by graduated escalation. No formal system of joint command and control was ever established, presenting North Vietnam with Napoleon’s ideal disposition of enemy strength—divided forces. This failure to establish a joint command and control system ran counter to doctrine that was well established during WWII. But the decentralized management and bureaucratic conduct of the Vietnam War precluded genuine joint efforts.

Those unfortunate techniques continued into the declining years of the Cold War, but were overtaken by the entirely new situation in the Middle East, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The requirements first of Desert Shield and then Desert Storm led then–Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, the joint-force air component commander, to reject the Navy’s proposal to create route packs for the new theater. Instead, he sought to optimize America’s air assets by controlling Air Force, Marine and Navy aviation units.

Given those major changes, the shock to naval aviation was particularly great—but the U.S. Navy enthusiastically sought the necessary equipment (command and control, precision-guided munitions, but unfortunately not yet stealth) to integrate its efforts and permit changes in its doctrine, strategy and tactics. Although Lambeth is too tactful to say so, the Navy effectively won two wars in Desert Storm—one as part of the effort to defeat Iraq, and the other as a necessary requirement to change its mind-set.

Lambeth goes on to describe the continuing improvements in Air Force–Navy cooperation and integration through the ensuing years, highlighting the coordinated efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. This scholarly but immensely readable book will be well received by historians and military specialists as well as the general public. He shows why it is essential to meld emerging technology with the naturally vested interests of established services. More important, he shows how it has been done in the past, and how it might be done even better in the future.


Originally published in the November 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here