American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953



American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953The Korean War Was The First Armed Engagement For The Newly Formed US Air Force, But Far From The Type Of Conflict It Expected Or Wanted To Fight As The First Air War Of The Nuclear Age, It Posed A Major Challenge To The Service To Define And Successfully Carry Out Its Mission By Stretching The Constraints Of Limited War While Avoiding The Excesses Of Total War Conrad Crane Analyzes Both The Successes And Failures Of The Air Force In Korea, Offering A Balanced Treatment Of How The Air War In Korea Actually Unfolded He Examines The Air Force S Contention That It Could Play A Decisive Role In A Non Nuclear Regional War But Shows That The Fledgling Service Was Held To Unrealistically High Expectations Based On Airpower S Performance In World War II, Despite Being Constrained By The Limited Nature Of The Korean ConflictCrane Exposes The Tensions And Rivalries Between Services, Showing That Emphasis On Strategic Bombing Came At The Expense Of Air Support For Ground Troops, And He Tells How Interactions Between Army And Air Force Generals Shaped The Air Force S Mission And Strategy He Also Addresses Misunderstandings About Plans To Use Nuclear, Biological, And Chemical Weapons In The War And Includes New Information From Pilot Correspondence About The Informal Policy Of Hot Pursuit Over The Yalu That Existed At The End Of The War The Book Considers Not Only The Actual Air Effort In Korea But Also Its Ramifications The Air Force Doubled In Size During The War And Used That Growth To Secure Its Position In The Defense Establishment, But It Wagered Its Future On Its Ability To Deliver Nuclear Weapons In A High Intensity Conflict A Position That Left It Unprepared To Fight The Next Limited War In VietnamAs America Observes The Fiftieth Anniversary Of Its Initial Engagement In Korea, Crane S Book Is An Important Reminder Of The Lessons Learned There And As Airpower Continues To Be A Cornerstone Of American Defense, This Examination Of Its Uses In Korea Provides New Insights About The Air Force S Capabilities And Limitations

Conrad C Crane is chief historical services, US Army Heritage and Education Center, US Army War College.

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  • Hardcover
  • 262 pages
  • American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953
  • Conrad C. Crane
  • English
  • 19 December 2019
  • 0700609911

10 thoughts on “American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953

  1. Vheissu says:

    This is a scholarly work not intended for general readers It will interest military historians, obviously those interested in air combat in the Korean War, but it will also interest students of bureaucratic politics For those interested in the evolution of U.S strategic warfare and nuclear weapons, it is indispensable.The record of U.S Air Force operations in Korea is mixed At first, political leaders and some military leaders, mostly Army and especially Douglas MacArthur, had inflated expe This is a scholarly work not intended for general readers It will interest military historians, obviously those interested in air combat in the Korean War, but it will also interest students of bureaucratic politics For those interested in the evolution of U.S strategic warfare and nuclear weapons, it is indispensable.The record of U.S Air Force operations in Korea is mixed At first, political leaders and some military leaders, mostly Army and especially Douglas MacArthur, had inflated expectations of Air Force power Air Force leaders, principally Curtis LeMay and Otto Weyland, were muchcautious Once the Air Force failed to live up to exaggerated expectations, those same enthusiasts rebuked the Air Force both publicly and privately for shirking its duty, while the Air Force was compelled to explain to politicians and the public that its efforts were mostly successful, and toward the end of the war, possibly decisive.Korea was not LeMay s idea of war The Air Force s primary mission was aimed at general strategic war with the Soviets and their allies, and not really deterrence, and certainly not close ground support or interdiction Its force structure, training, and planning were narrowly focused on the annihilation of the USSR, Communist China, and their satellite states Consequently, the Air Force had no real assets for a war like Korea, especially given the political restrictions on tactical much less strategic bombardment Communist air bases in Manchuria were off limits, as were at least originally hydroelectric dams in North Korea That left the Air Force with few worthwhile strategic targets what few urban centers there were in Korea were quickly annihilated, leaving no real targets to bomb Pyongyang suffered 75 percent destruction Moreover, there were few useable air fields within striking distance of targets in the North, and the Air Force was still relying on prop driven bombers from World War II B 26, B 29.Politicians and military leaders considered atomic bombing and chemical and biological weapons from the outset of the war Truman was understandably reticent but Eisenhower gave the matter frequent attention LeMay was not opposed to using nukes in Korea, but only after strategic targets in China were destroyed first Since the only Strategic Air Command plan for the use of nuclear weapons involved a total commitment against China, the USSR, and satellite countries, LeMay s conditions meant World War III, something understood in Washington but apparently not by Douglas MacArthur For LeMay, the use of nuclear capable aircraft in Korea drew critically needed forces away from European and Continental U.S defenses, which he consideredimportant than a limited war in Asia.The Air Force did the best it could with inappropriate aircraft for non nuclear, tactical bombing missions and interdiction, but it could not compete with jet powered MiGs in aerial combat, which had safe harbor in Manchuria in any case The introduction of the F 86 Sabre helped turn the tides, but suitable air strips in South Korea were few Navy prop and jet aircraft assisted the Air Force in tactical bombing, interdiction, and escort missions, but the B 26 and B 29 were too slow for effective aerial defense That left close ground support to the Marines, which demonstrated tremendous effectiveness On the other hand, when the U.S Army, running low on ammunition or stranded in precarious positions, called for close ground support from the Air Force, they were generally disappointed by the response, never acknowledging that the Air Force had no real assets suitable for the job in the first place.Whatever lessons might have been learned from Korea were quickly forgotten, except perhaps by the U.S Army, which devoted resources to the development of combat helicopters that figured so prominently in Vietnam The Air Force and the Navy, by contrast, rededicated themselves to nuclear warfare, with the Air Force focusing on ballistic missiles and the Navy on nuclear submarines Neither had suitable aircraft in Southeast Asia the F 105 Thunderchief, which bore the brunt of tactical air support in Vietnam, was designed to deliver a nuclear bomb after a high speed, low altitude approach Crane writes the it was unsuitable both for air combat and for true close air support p 172.Since Vietnam, the U.S military generally and the Air Force in particular have emphasized multi role, inter service aircraft, multi service commands, and precision armament Improved planning, better tactical command and control, and smart weapons have not, however, proved decisive in Afghanistan or Iraq Today, the United States, Russia, and China are in a race to develop next generation nuclear weapons, mostly for tactical purposes The underlying assumption is that a limited nuclear war need not necessarily escalate to an unlimited nuclear war I hope this belief is correct, but I shudder to think that it may be wrong

  2. Jonathan Z. says:

    A good look at the limitations, problems, and expectations placed on the USAF immediately after WWII.

  3. Ross Mallett says:

    Excellent account Very comprehensive.

  4. Scottnshana says:

    I am fascinated by the Korean War We have an airport in my hometown named after one of its aces I like to think the Wichita East High School Aces were also named in his honor when he came home Colonel James Jabara and a beautiful war monument to those we lost in Korea perched next to the Arkansas River in Veterans Memorial Park So when my alma mater published this superb book back in 2000, I figured I should get a copy In it, Crane doesn t just list US airframes on the various bases in Far I am fascinated by the Korean War We have an airport in my hometown named after one of its aces I like to think the Wichita East High School Aces were also named in his honor when he came home Colonel James Jabara and a beautiful war monument to those we lost in Korea perched next to the Arkansas River in Veterans Memorial Park So when my alma mater published this superb book back in 2000, I figured I should get a copy In it, Crane doesn t just list US airframes on the various bases in Far East Air Forces or push out stats on bombs dropped per month he puts the reader inside the context of 1950, when Japan was in the throes of reconstruction, we now had an air delivered weapon that could kill cities, and most of the world certainly not China or Russia, though had drastically drawn its forces down in the wake of World War II Stalin was still in the Kremlin, Truman was still in the White House, and the US was taking on huge international responsibilities as the British and French empires faded From there, Crane takes the gloss off the history and does the deep dive into some problems American Airpower wrestled with over the Peninsula and inside the Pentagon The USAF bomber force, for example, lost a lot of humans and hardware over Korea, and in his Manning and Inspiring the Force chapter the author describes the effort men like Curtis LeMay had to make to get the increasingly demoralized crews into the air and over scheduled targets every day The book also goes into the conversations about taking the gloves off US WMD capabilities when things got dire there is historical evidence that the topic came up again when the French were being overrun at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 The book s real utility, though, lay in covering the legacy of airpower s employment in Korea I think, for instance, that someone should mention Dr Strangelove when discussing this topic, and was delighted to see Crane s argument that George C Scott was cast to represent LeMay, while Sterling Hayden is supposed to be his deputy General Power Crane also links the subject matter to what USAF encountered in Vietnam, with the implication that putting tactical nukes on the F 84 took Tactical Air Command s focus off limited wars and didn t set the force up for success when it deployed to places like Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhutthan a decade later indeed, he argues that the way the armistice was achieved allowed the Air Force to claim victory and avoid the deep introspection that might have reaped dividends, and saved lives, in Vietnam Fifteen years after publication, though, the book is still topical With constrained resources and myriad operational possibilities, Crane wrote, survivability of aircraft often becomes the dominant criterion for matching weapons platforms and missions, and the Air Force still prefers multirole planes that can be used for a variety of tasks Within the same paragraph, he drills down to exactly what he means The USAF would rather buy multirole F 16s than less flexible A 10s, but the Army loves the ground support capabilities of the ungainly looking Warthog and has confidence that it will not be diverted to other types of missions far from the immediate battle zones This point effectively links the interservice Close Air Support Interdiction scrapping in Korea to some of the back and forth we re seeing today over Fifth Generation aircraft in the US inventory The book says that the aforementioned Colonel Jabara deviated from his flight plan to push sixty miles inside China to down twoMiGs, and if that s a fact it really doesn t change my perspective on our hometown hero for context, our other airport is named for President Eisenhower and I m no less a fan as I read up on his career In fact, though I learned a lot from American Airpower Strategy in Korea 1950 1953 these revelations have only strengthened my belief that the conflict was revolutionary not just for being the first jet on jet conflict relevant even today and replete with lessons learned for military professionals, historians, and diplomats

  5. Raj Agrawal says:

    Difficulty fitting airpower as a concept, culture, and capability into the context of a limited war see Clodfelter Initial belief that airpower could win the war was based on preconceptions developed from strategic airpower s devastating effects during WWII, but subsequent disillusion from reality this book has a similar theme as Biddle s rhetoric vs reality during the Korean War caused American leaders to question the efficacy of airpower as a whole The same destructive power that m Difficulty fitting airpower as a concept, culture, and capability into the context of a limited war see Clodfelter Initial belief that airpower could win the war was based on preconceptions developed from strategic airpower s devastating effects during WWII, but subsequent disillusion from reality this book has a similar theme as Biddle s rhetoric vs reality during the Korean War caused American leaders to question the efficacy of airpower as a whole The same destructive power that makes airpower an effective deterrent by intimidating potential aggressors, or an effective military tool by punishing them for transgressions, can also make its use unpalatable to nations suspicious of American power or sensitive to civilian suffering 184 Ultimately, the wrong lesson was learned that strategic bombing is a panacea key airpower leader was SAC commander, Lt Gen LeMay It general, the Air Force took away that a punishment strategy see Pape using airpower was effective in Korea Evenemphatically, the Air Force came out of Korea believing that superior performance is the first and essential requirement of aircraft in modern war Lt Gen Otto Weyland, quoted on 172 big believer in tactical airpower FEAF commander starting in 1951 , for the eventual purpose of flexible nuclear payload delivery Much of this may have been related to organizational survival see Shein This book is a useful, critical look at the utility of airpower in war.An important highlight in this book is the tension of the triangular diplomacy between PRC see 46, 53 , the USSR see 44, 49 , and the US, as well as a very real fear of triggering WWIII see 58, 70 75 This triangular balance seems to become pronounced during the Korean War, and builds through the Vietnam War This is an important consideration as limited wars become the testing ground for Cold War by proxy also see Randolph as this progresses to Vietnam.One issue relating to morality in war the planned use of Biological and Chemical Weapons BW CW , deserves further research and analysis within the context of Walzer and Nardin Mapel The use of nuclear weapons, while a moral consideration of its own, had roots in WWII and the concept of Industrial Web Theory as it related to its extension to Japan This bridge had been crossed long before the Korean War Ultimately, airpower s destruction of logistics specifically, dams that supported civilian life as well as military led to the armistice 159.Quotes 184 In Korea, the United States had to face for the first time the legacy of its overwhelming air victory in World War II and the visions of decimated German and Japanese cities 184 The airpower strategy produced by a combination of political, military, and resource constraints between 1950 and 1953 deserves study by leaders today struggling with similar dilemmas about the best use of the Air 5 Force s destructive power in an uncertain world 23 24 Army Chief of Staff J Lawton Collins cautioned that it was impossible to to say how much our air can do to salvage the situation, but Secretary of State Dean Acheson argued it was important for us to do something even if the effort were not successful Common theme with regard to the use of airpower in American airpower history we have to do something, so let s throw some airpower at it and hope it works Related authors Biddle, Randolph, Slessor, Clodfelter, Pape, Jervis, WWII airpower authors , and Boyd Osinga

  6. Mike H says:

    Its difficult to understand exactly why this book was written, or what I would use it for Crane argues that airpower promises of quick and decisive victory were not achieved in Korea, and confused air war planners He elaborates that the various lessons learned namely, the importance of tactical airpower and the failure of strategic bombing in a limited war context were ignored and had to be relearned at great cost in the VIetnam War He is not wrong in these conclusions, but they do not seem Its difficult to understand exactly why this book was written, or what I would use it for Crane argues that airpower promises of quick and decisive victory were not achieved in Korea, and confused air war planners He elaborates that the various lessons learned namely, the importance of tactical airpower and the failure of strategic bombing in a limited war context were ignored and had to be relearned at great cost in the VIetnam War He is not wrong in these conclusions, but they do not seem to differ from other literature on the subject In essence, this book works well as a brief summary of Robert Futrell s lengthy study of the Air Force in the Korean War, yet does not seem to offer anything unique.Crane does explore a few isolated areas of interest The degree to which nuclear options were considered is intriguing and revealing, as is the study of the U.S s willingness to use chemical and biological weapons Perhaps most fascinating is the study of psychological problems affecting pilots, specifically fear of flying syndrome and its various causes These areas are interesting and add value to Crane s work, yet they are somewhat unfocused, and he fails to directly link these aspects to this central themes Overall the work is simply scattered and would benefit from stronger organization Crane also refrains from exploring the personalities of the various leaders he discusses The many characters he discusses blur together and seem to lack distinctive personalities that affect their decision making process This might be outside of the scope of Crane s intended research, yet some exploration of the characters would add quite a bit of depth to the work.Ultimatley, the book is certainly not bad, its a useful and brief introduction to the facts and historiographical problems of airpower in the Korean War, but provides little that hasn t been covered in previous literature

  7. Trav says:

    This is the first book that I have read that truly highlights the influence of the personality and experience of individual leaders on the development and employment of air power Conrad s focus on the influence of individuals on the Korean air war is evident from the opening pages of the book when he lays out the how the view of air power of the various CINCFEs were shaped by their WWII experience That a leader s experience shapes the employment of assets at his disposal is not a surprising re This is the first book that I have read that truly highlights the influence of the personality and experience of individual leaders on the development and employment of air power Conrad s focus on the influence of individuals on the Korean air war is evident from the opening pages of the book when he lays out the how the view of air power of the various CINCFEs were shaped by their WWII experience That a leader s experience shapes the employment of assets at his disposal is not a surprising revelation however, as Conrad makes clear, this impact ispronounced when there is an absence of sound strategy or doctrine to refine these views US air power in Korea was effective and was decisive in bringing about an armistice However, with no clear strategy guiding the air campaign from the outset, there was no real concept that was getting tested and proven over the peninsula As such the lessons were not learned, the strategy was not refined, and the focus of US air power thinking returned to the employment of nuclear weapons This would ultimately lead to the relearning of these lessons in Vietnam

  8. Barry Hunte says:

    Good if you like fighter pilot books Very biased.

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