Thus, even as he pushes the Air Force to its operational limits, Obama’s defense cuts have led to infighting among the force’s components and to the standoff with Congress. Even more importantly, the president’s own defense plans will make the Air Force the lead service on many military missions in the future.
Reflecting both the public mood and Congressional aversion, the White House has made clear that it will not undertake large-scale land deployments. Yet America’s military commitments are not shrinking, and new demands for American action will emerge unexpectedly, as Libya proved.
The weapon of choice to shape the international arena, in a cost-effective way that saves American lives, will likely be the Air Force. Intervening in Syria will require controlling the skies, and Syria’s Russian-supplied air defenses are among the world’s most advanced. Any campaign to stop Iran’s nuclear program will be conducted from the air, and only the Air Force has the heavy bombs necessary to reach underground laboratories and weapons plants.
Credibility throughout Asia is dependent on our ability to transit vast distances almost instantly, and any attack on North Korea would begin with a combined air campaign from the land and sea.
Yet if Congress gets its way, the balanced, total Air Force that would carry out these missions may never get off the ground. That will leave a future president without the most appropriate weapon at his disposal. It may mean the end of America’s ability to operate effectively in many places around the globe at little risk. There is a strong case to make for increasing the Air Force’s budget to meet future demands. At the very least, Congress needs to let the Air Force and Pentagon carry out their original plans for ensuring America retains the power to control any battlefield.
Michael Auslin is a scholar in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Correction: 2:49 p.m.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the House Armed Services Committee hearings would be this week. They were held last week.