Robert M. Far­ley

An as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s Pat­ter­son School of Diplo­macy and In­ter­na­tional Com­merce, Far­ley is the au­thor of Grounded: The Case for Abol­ish­ing the United States Air Force (Univer­sity Press of Ken­tucky, 2014).

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Air&space Interview -

Do you think there was ever a time when we needed an in­de­pen­dent air force?

No. I think it was a mis­take to give the Army Air Force its in­de­pen­dence in 1947, just as it was a mis­take to make the Royal Air Force in­de­pen­dent in 1918. The ex­pe­ri­ence of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II demon­strated that Amer­i­can air­power could win decisive vic­to­ries as a part of pre-ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions.

What do you think the Air Force has got­ten right?

The Air Force has got­ten a lot right. Es­pe­cially in the pe­riod be­tween 1972 and 1991, when it iden­ti­fied many of the in­ter­nal prob­lems that had caused dif­fi­cul­ties in Viet­nam, and en­gaged in the slow, hard process of re­form that was nec­es­sary to cre­ate an or­ga­ni­za­tion that could act as a part­ner for the Army and the Navy. This in­cluded train­ing re­form, pro­cure­ment re­form, and doc­tri­nal re­form.

Why do you think we should take the rad­i­cal step of abol­ish­ing the Air Force?

Air­power is more im­por­tant than ever, but it’s also more in­te­grated than ever with other forms of mil­i­tary power. B-1BS pro­vide small teams of U.S. sol­diers and Marines with what amounts to close air sup­port. It’s a de­gree of in­te­gra­tion that would be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine in 1947. Our in­sti­tu­tions can—un­der pres­sure of war—adapt to this new need for force in­te­gra­tion, but they don’t adapt easily. The re­source ad­van­tage that the United States has en­joyed over its ri­vals since the end of the cold war is wan­ing. It’s easy to over­state the threat, but it’s imag­in­able within our life­time that Chi­nese mil­i­tary spend­ing will ex­ceed Amer­i­can. This means we won’t al­ways have the lux­ury of an un­wieldy struc­ture for man­ag­ing our mil­i­tary.

How long would it take to in­te­grate the ex­ist­ing Air Force into the Navy and Army?

Years, but less than a decade. The Air Force was larger in 1947 than it is to­day, and faced a more se­ri­ous set of pro­cure­ment de­ci­sions, yet the mil­i­tary and civil­ian es­tab­lish­ment pulled off ma­jor re­forms in a fairly short pe­riod of time. Right now the Rus­sians are re­con­fig­ur­ing their air­power in­sti­tu­tions—in the wrong di­rec­tion, I think—and it hasn’t proven all that dis­rup­tive thus far.

What has been the re­ac­tion to your book?

The book has met a lot of re­sis­tance, but in gen­eral the re­sis­tance has been re­spect­ful and pro­duc­tive. The peo­ple push­ing back against the ar­gu­ment have been will­ing to re­visit and make clear some core as­sump­tions about why we need an air force, and that’s been a use­ful in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise. I’ve re­ceived a few pri­vate emails from con­nected peo­ple who find the ar­gu­ment com­pelling, but no one is wav­ing the book on the floor of the Se­nate. My hope is that the book will find its way into the hands of think-tankers, low-level staffers, and stu­dents, who could even­tu­ally have an im­pact on pol­icy.

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