New Birth of Airpower

June 1, 2005

“The Air Force and US National Security:

Global Reach-Global Power”

Department of the Air Force

A White Paper

Washington, D.C.

June 1990


The 1980s were a time of strategic ferment, caused by the deflation of Soviet power. Even before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, USAF was planning for a post-Cold War world. The result was a 15-page white paper, “Global Reach-Global Power,” which came out in June 1990.

The paper posited a future without the Soviet threat (and with smaller US forces). It focused on regional conflicts and put surprisingly heavy emphasis on the value of long-range conventional bombers and expeditionary fighter forces. The new Air Force vision wasn’t popular with other services, but it was the basis of an airpower renaissance. As Air Force Secretary Donald B. Rice said, “It lifted people’s sights to the broader aspects of airpower.”

Understanding the inherent attributes of the Air Force and aerospace power and how both contribute to achieving national objectives is critical. Over the last 40 years, our attention has focused most intensely on the potential requirements of a major conflict in Europe. Because of this focus, the characteristics and capabilities of the Air Force to meet the demands at other levels of security interest may be less well-understood. Air Force characteristics, capabilities, and forces contribute across the spectrum of conflict. …

The ability to concentrate force in a responsive manner over great distances—to change the military and/or political conditions necessitating the response—is a key attribute of the Air Force. The Air Force’s speed, range, and flexibility enable us to rapidly apply combat power against vital elements of an enemy’s structure. Speed limits exposure to threats and significantly reduces the time needed to accomplish a mission. Range provides the ability to operate in any direction over great distances, unimpeded by surface features such as mountains and oceans. Flexibility provides the ability to perform a variety of actions, produce a wide range of effects and influences, and to adapt to changing circumstances and environments. This ability to rapidly project power, as well as readily adapt to changing circumstances and environments, will be increasingly important in the future. …

Because of the flexibility and striking power of air forces, the tasks they perform have a profound influence on the outcome of theater operations. Airpower’s speed, range, and lethality allows rapid shifting of effects, concentrating firepower wherever the joint force commander needs it—from the close battle, across the length and breadth of theater, to its deepest reaches. As clearly demonstrated by American forces in multiple engagements over many years, and by the Israelis in more recent experience, tactical airpower can prove decisive and have strategic impact. …

While complementary forces of all the services will be essential, the Air Force offers, in most cases, the quickest, longest-range, leading-edge force available to the President. Conventional airpower offers exceptional flexibility across the spectrum of conflict as an instrument of national resolve. The Air Force can deter, deliver a tailored response, or punch hard when required—over great distances—with quick response. We can provide a presence or put ordnance on a target worldwide in a matter of hours. These power projection capabilities of the Air Force will become even more vital for protecting US national security interests in the future.

Long-range bombers armed with conventional weapons can rapidly reach any location on the globe. … In 1983’s Bright Star exercise, B-52s launching from bases in the US precisely delivered conventional ordnance to a target range in Egypt, then returned nonstop to their bases. Bombers can automatically deliver massive ordnance payloads with high precision and low risk of loss. Six B-2s, operating from the United States with the support of six tankers, could conduct an operation like the 1986 Libya raid—which utilized two carrier battle groups, an Air Force F-111 squadron, and numerous supporting assets. Only a few highly survivable aircraft would be placed at risk. The 1986 operation involved 119 aircraft and 20 ships. And long-range bombers could execute such operations without reliance on forward bases or overflight rights.

The bomber’s long range means that the United States can project power and enhance presence in a very short time—and often at lower cost relative to other options—regardless of conflict location. In the Persian Gulf area or deep in other theaters, long-range bombers can threaten or hit targets in the crucial first hours or early days of a conflict. They may be the only assets capable of doing so.

Our ready and flexible tactical air forces can also be tailored to provide a quick and appropriate response to support US national policy. On a day-to-day basis, our forward-based forces provide a presence lending stability to regions of vital interest. These modern fighter forces can respond anywhere in the world on short notice. With an emphasis on lean and deployable forces, tactical air forces can move forward with very little baggage compared with the massive, persistent firepower they deliver. … The quality of our fighter aircraft, weapons, and aircrews, as well as the staying power of these forces, will be key in filling power projection needs in the future.