Naval Historical Center home pageImage of an anchorColloquium on Contemporary History Project
Flag banner

Dr. Dean C. Allard
Director of Naval History

I welcome you to our Colloquium on Contemporary History, the fourth in this series of semi-annual conferences focusing on the history of the American armed forces in the post-World War II era. The purpose of these gatherings is to promote a broader understanding of the key issues and events of the period by those of us in the Washington area who are involved in recording the modern contributions of the U.S. armed forces or have an interest in the subject. I might add that we welcome your suggestions for pertinent topics of discussion at future colloquia. Past conferences have dealt with strategy and military operations in the early Cold War years, the Dominican Republic intervention of 1965, and the Korean War, but every bit as pertinent would be such themes as military-industrial relations, the armed forces and society, weapons development, and arms control.

We hope that you find today's discussion informative and that it stimulates further interest in the defense establishment's recent, eventful past.

Dr. Edward J. Marolda
Head, Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center

For the last week, an allied air armada, perhaps the most powerful ever assembled, has visited modern war on Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We have chased the Iraqi air force from the sky, neutralized Hussein's chemical, biological, and budding nuclear capability, forced the Republican Guard reserves to keep their heads down, and begun the isolation from support of his immobilized army in the environs of Kuwait City. This has been accomplished by the bombers, fighters, attack aircraft, electronic warfare planes, and helicopter gunships of each of the four American armed forces and seven allied nations. The United Nations air campaign has not been an example of absolutely flawless planning and unblemished execution. Certainly history teaches us not to expect such things. In this instance, the fog of war has turned out to be just that -- fog. But I think we can safely say that the Desert Storm air campaign has seen major gains for allied arms.

Masterful command and control by our leaders can be credited, in large part, for the initial success of the operation. But of relevance to this morning's discussion, we can almost see floating around the heads of our political and military leaders a ghostly figure intoning, "no more Vietnams." Their adherence to this advice is clearly reflected in the nature of Desert Storm's direction and execution. For instance, while President Bush established clear political objectives at the outset, he has given the coalition's military commander, General Schwarzkopf, great latitude in taking those military actions the general deemed appropriate to defeat the enemy's armed forces, a far cry from Lyndon Johnson's approach; further, force has been employed quickly and massively against the foe; there have been no bombing halts in hopes of stimulating the enemy to negotiate. In short, to use the president's words, the military would not be compelled to fight this war with "one hand tied behind their back." Moreover, Air Force General Homer, Schwarzkopf's air deputy, following a single targeting plan -- "a single sheet of music" -- has had the ability to coordinate the actions of most, if not all combat aircraft in the Central Command operational theater. That includes the air assets of the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army, as well as those of our coalition partners. Finally, unlike in Southeast Asia, the Commander in Chief, Central Command is the sole operational commander of Desert Storm.

Hence, our conference today on the "Command and Control of Air Power in the Vietnam War" could not have been more timely. As our speakers will detail, there were significant problems with our employment of air power in the Southeast Asian conflict. The confusion of political and military objectives, excessive fine-tuning of operations from Washington, a cumbersome theater command set-up, and different service doctrines and operational concepts marred execution of the Rolling Thunder and Linebacker campaigns.

At the same time, we should not lose sight of what worked in Vietnam. Operating from shore bases and aircraft carriers, the air forces of the United States ruled the air over Indochina, delayed and cut short the enemy's ground offensives, and saved the lives of thousands of "grunts" with effective close air support.

With the backdrop of such dramatic current events, I'm hopeful that our discussion today can add some insight to our evaluation of air power's role in Southeast Asia.

11 July 2003