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Warfare: Land Power (Pro) vs. Air Power (Con)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 12/17/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,208 times Debate No: 67190
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My position for this debate is that Land Power is more decisive in war than Air Power. My opponent will argue the opposite. Since we are both making positive claims, burden of proof is shared. Nuclear weapons will not be considered in this debate.


"Land Power" - military forces and weapons that are deployed on the ground. Examples include: Infantry, armor, scouts, direct action special forces (SAS, Green Berets, etc...).

"Air Power" - military forces and weapons that are deployed in the air. Examples include: Bombers, fighters, air-to-surface missiles, close air support/close combat aviation, UAV's, etc...

"Decisive" - as defined in U.S. Army ADP 3-0: "Decisive operations lead directly to
the accomplishment of a commander"s purpose." In this debate, we will assume the commander's purpose is to win a war. The opposite of a decisive operation is a Shaping Operation which is defined as - "Shaping operations create and preserve conditions for the success of the decisive operation." So, I am essentially arguing that land power is decisive while air power is shaping, and Con is arguing the opposite.
(**Note - I am NOT saying air power is unimportant or ineffective, simply that it is not decisive. Same goes for Con in relation to land power)

Naval forces will not be considered. This includes naval based missiles. The only exceptions are planes that embark from aircraft carriers (air power), and Marines (land power).

Air inserted infantry (paratroopers, etc...) will be considered land power, because in this case the aerial platform simply serves as a mode of transportation, not a weapon.

Sources are welcome. I will not consider quotes as "appeals to authority," however, the following limits apply:
- Quotes should merely supplement arguments already put fourth in our own words. They should not be used alone as independent arguments. They should be used to present facts, figures, and data.
- A Quote WILL be seen as an appeal to authority if it is used in a way that suggests "this guy is really smart, and he agrees with me, so I win."
- The intent is that the argument remains between Jingle_Bombs and myself and does not devolve into a contest of who can find the best quotes.

If my opponent agrees with these conditions, please accept.

Round 1: Acceptance only (no argument)
Round 2: Opening arguments (no rebuttals)
Round 3: Rebuttals
Round 4: Response/summary


Thanks sengejuri, for the Challenge!

My only query with the above before we begin is that I'd like it if you could provide a definition for Sustaining Operations along with a yes or no answer as to whether or not Sustaining Operations are also included as an acceptable alternative to Decisive Operations. However, even with a "no," I am prepared to argue Airpower as a Decisive Operation and Ground Power as more or less a shaping factor within the current definitions provided by PRO and the DoD Operational Framework.

Got to say, I've been eagerly looking forward to this! To those generals and historians out there who say Airpower can't be decisive; I say to you now - that you have obviously never encountered carpet bombing!

Debate Round No. 1


Definition of Sustaining Operation (also found in ADP 3-0): "Sustaining operations enable the decisive operation or shaping operation by generating and maintaining combat power." A sustaining operation cannot be decisive, but it is an acceptable alternative.

Under the agreed definitions, my position is that most of the time, land power plays a larger role in directly winning wars. Air power more often acts as a shaping operation that creates favorable conditions for ground forces to exploit. My opening argument will consist of historical examples.

== Historical Examples ==

There is no doubt that air power can cause heavy casualties and great destruction. However, that's not the same as being decisive. There is not a single major war since the invention of the airplane where the use of air power directly led to victory (Hiroshima and Nagasaki excluded).

WWI - aircraft in WWI mostly filled a reconnaissance or harassment role. Far from being decisive.

WWII - This was the first war where air power was tested as a tool to win war. This was done, by the Axis and Allies alike, according to interwar theorists such as Giulio Dahout, who wrote in 1921, "to have command of the air is to have victory." [1]. Throughout WWII, Dahout's theories were put to the test in three major campaigns: The London Blitz, American/British strategic bombing, and the Eastern Front. In all three campaigns, air power failed to produce victory.

The London Blitz - In 1940, Nazi Germany began a systematic bombing campaign against England with the intent of destroying British industry and morale to force England into peace talks. Unfortunately, the opposite effect occurred. British morale and resolve greatly increased, and any chance of bringing Churchill to the negotiating table was destroyed. In the end, the Blitz obviously did not achieve victory over England.

American/British strategic bombing - Allied bombers constantly attacked German industrial and population centers during the war. While this certainly caused great destruction and loss of life, it can in no way be seen as decisively leading to victory. If the combined American/British air campaign against Germany was so effective, it would have been impossible for Germany to continue fighting on three major fronts for 4-5 years. This was because allied bombing was not as effective as is often thought. In one estimate, the Allied Air Command calculated that it took 8 bombing missions to cut 1 German rail line.... but then admitted that it only took the Germans 5 hours to repair that rail line. [2] Germany would have been forced to surrender rather quickly after losing air superiority if the bombing was truly decisive. Despite continuous industrial bombing for 5 years, the German army only surrendered after the Red Army captured Berlin. This is significant evidence that the air campaign was a Shaping Operation - it hindered enemy supply and industry centers in order to create favorable conditions that the Armies on the ground could decisively exploit.

Eastern Front - Like in the English Blitz, air power failed to achieve German victory on the Eastern front. During the Battle of Stalingrad and the Siege of Leningrad, brutal German aerial bombing became so intense that both cities were essentially reduced to rubble. Yet the cities did not surrender. On the contrary, Soviet ground forces, without any significant bomber support, were able to counterattack and ultimately win both of these major battles. If air power is decisive, then such events should be inexplicable.

Korean War - If air power is decisive, then its effects should have been obvious and swift during the Korean War, since the the UN forces enjoyed almost complete air superiority to bomb at will, and the Chinese and Koreans had almost no ability to bomb. The destruction of North Korea was so complete as a result of strategic bombing that UN forces eventually stopped bombing the North Korean capital of Pyongyang because there were literally no more buildings left standing to target [3]. And yet the North Koreans continued to fight. Despite free and frequent UN bombing, the Korean and Chinese forces demonstrated an uncanny ability to sustain military operations so stubbornly that it forced the war to end in stalemate rather than victory.

Vietnam War - A similar situation to Korea - one side (USA) had an almost limitless freedom to bomb the enemy, while the other side (North Vietnam) had almost no air force to speak of. The Vietnam War saw the same WWII formula of trying to bomb the enemy into submission. Significant bombing campaigns such as Rolling Thunder, Linebacker, and Linebacker II caused great damage and inflicted many enemy casualties..... and yet, the NVA continued fighting. Similar to the Blitz against London, the American strategic bombing produced the opposite of the desired effect - it was used for propaganda purposes to further strengthen to North Vietnamese resolve to fight, and further dissolved American political support for the war. Obviously, North Vietnam won the war without using a single bombing campaign, which casts significant doubt on the decisiveness of air power.

Gulf War (1991) - The Gulf War is often toted as a total massacre of Saddaam's forces by American air power, but it's simply not true. In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, the US Air Force triumphantly declared it had destroyed over 100 Iraqi SCUD launchers using the high-tech LANTIM optics of the F-15E. However, when the Air Force conducted its official investigation to evaluate the effectiveness of its air campaign, it discovered that exactly zero SCUD launchers had been destroyed. This was because, according to reports, "The postwar analysis indicated that a number of the targets the pilots had hit were actually decoys, constructed by the Iraqis from old trucks and spare missile parts." [4] It should also be noted that, as is typical of a Shaping Operation, the air campaign in Desert Storm was principally used to target Iraqi air force, command, and communication centers.... in order to "set the conditions" for a successful and decisive ground attack. [5]

Iraq/Afghanistan - Not much to talk about here. All the bombs in Tora Bora, and all the "Shock and Awe" over Baghdad did nothing to quell the Al Qadea and Taliban insurgencies. If anything, the air supremacy enjoyed by NATO in these wars actually damaged efforts at decisive victory by inflicting indiscriminate civilian casualties.

In conclusion, air power helps, but it is rarely if ever decisive. Air power alone cannot bring a determined enemy to his knees - only overwhelming and equally determined ground forces can achieve that result.



Good Round, Pro!

I know you said no rebuttals this first round (and I'll keep to that!), but I can't help but make an ever so witty remark about those Iraqi SCUD kills that went unconfirmed... those SAS and Delta guys on the ground must have been some pretty poor target finders!

Concepts where Airpower is Decisive

For my opening round, I've decided to skip the laundry list of historical events and start things off by pointing directly to air doctrine examples and theories of where Air Power has proved to be decisive in battle. Military Doctrine is often defined in military colleges and think tank circles as: "what we believe to be the best way to conduct military affairs." (

Strategic Bombing

One of the earliest and most decisive applications of air power is in the role of strategic bombing. First proposed by Italian air theorist Giulio Douhet during World War I, strategic bombing theory stated that airforces should be used offensively; and given Air Power's unique range, speed, armament, and freedom of mobility over terrain when compared to ground forces, airplanes should one day be able to bomb entire cities and industrial complexes into extinction and win wars completely either through morale or industrial attrition. Hence, the popular post world war saying, "the bomber will always get through!"

During World War II, the effectiveness of Strategic Bombing was put to the ultimate test where it achieved mixed to decisive results against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (the latter campaign being the most successful but most often overlooked). Though still in its technological infancy, Air Power (through strategic bombing) over Germany was able to achieve the destruction of the German Lufftwaffe and German oil supplies [1] [2]. The destruction of Germany's oil industry, in particular, as any good WWII historian will tell you, was a decisive factor for the outcome of World War II. Though I soon anticipate "a shaping rebuttal" from Pro, I expect the Battle of the Bludge for instance, might have been very different had it not have been for allied bombing that completely ruined Hitler's ability to refuel his Panzers. And if the goal of strategic bombing was all along "to win wars decisively through industrial attrition," then the destruction of Germany's oil output certainly fulfills this objective.

1) Allied Bombing vs. German Oil Production

Over the Pacific, strategic bombing was also used to deny Japan access to oil as well as to decisively destroy Japanese naval forces (more on that last point later). However, with the advent of newer technology, including the high flying B-29, better bomb sites, and firebombing, strategic bombing was able to help decisively bomb Japan into submission. Though I must also give credit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki where credit is due, the combine effects of conventional B-29 bombing on Japan was still a drop in 54% of Japanese war manufacturing form 1944-45, along with the destruction of its rail & road networks and agricultural food centers needed to sustain the war effort [1]. It was later concluded by a post war DoD survey that strategic bombing had in fact contributed to the erosion of Japanese morale and that conitued bombing on Japanese infrastructure (even without nukes) would have still "had a direct impact on the Japanese people and on their determination to continue the war."[1] Control of the air was also found to have been "essential to the success of every major military operation." in the Pacific theatre [1].


Air-Land Battle and the Fall of Decisive Ground Power.

Though I did not have the time nessary to adaquently prepare this point or explain my thoughts on Air-Land Battle, beginning in 1970s was when the US Army first began to realize that it could no longer operate or complete its ground role on its own, stating plainly, that when matched against another large high-tech opponent (aka the USSR), "both the Army and Air Force deliver firepower against the enemy. Both can kill a tank. Both can collect intelligence, conduct reconnaissance, provide air defense, move troops and supplies, and jam radios and radar. But neither the Army nor the Air Force can fulfill any one of those functions completely or by itself. Thus, the Army cannot win the land battle without the Air Force." ( The end result of the Army's new found realization was the creation of the Air-Land Battle Doctrine.

John Warden and the 5 Rings Concept (1988).

Though decisive, yet still unrefined in many ways since the early days of World War II, John Warden of the USAF (1943-present) and his 5 rings concept for strategic bombing have since transformed Air Power's technological advantages away from Air-Land Battle and ascended them into full-dimension operations; achieving for the very first time in the history of war a tactical step by step blueprint for winning wars directly through air power alone. Where as in wars prior it might have been said that the Army and Air Force played joint decisive roles, and that strategic bombing was sometimes ineffective for it lacked the precision nessary to produce strategic results, Warden's 5 rings concept changes all that and dismisses the need for decisive ground operations in conjunction with Air Power all together. By using strategic bombing to specifically target a nation's five centers of gravity (five rings), which include; the destruction of an enemy's Leadership, Organic Essentials, Infrastructure, Population, and Field Forces [1], Warden had effectively introduced a way of achieving total paralysis over a country. The result of Warden's air theories of course, has been the successful and overwhelming application of Air Power in every major conventional military operation since Desert Storm, including Operation Allied Force (1999), the very first armed conflict of its kind won by the United States without the need of any ground combat.

1) 5 Rings :

Air-Sea Battle (2014-) and Naval Ops.

A brief paragraph must also be mentioned for Air Power's naval capabilities along with the rise of the modern Air-Sea Battle. Though Pro has excluded Naval Forces from Ground or Air Power, he has not excluded Naval Campaigns. Control of the seas of course, is a vital and fundamental part to winning contemporary wars. In World War II, for instance, the Army Air Force along with Naval aviators, were more directly responsible for sinking the Japanese merchant fleet and its naval vessels than US destroyers or battleships. Carrier planes, along with land based aircraft, have -since Billy Mitchell's famed sinking of the Ostfriesland- been the most crucial battlefield weapons for control of the global commons. For obvious capability reasons, I believe Pro will be very hard press to find specific examples of where Ground Power was more influential in Naval theatres of war than Air Power. The "lack of inherent naval capability" is also one of the principle reasons why ground power is largely being left out as the DoD now makes its 21st century pivot to Asia, the threat of a Pacific War with China, and Air-Sea Battle.

For these above reasons and more, we can believe Air Power is more critical than Ground Power.
Debate Round No. 2


Thanks for the opening argument. On to rebuttals!

1. Strategic Bombing: Con emphasizes how much destruction Allied bombers caused during WWII. I completely agree that Hitler's oil and Japan's industry were hit hard by Allied strategic bombing. I freely admitted in Round 2 that air power can cause heavy casualties and great destruction. But the question here is - was that decisive? Did industrial bombing DIRECTLY lead to ultimate victory, or did it simply shape favorable conditions for ground forces to exploit? I believe the latter is true for the following reasons:

First and foremost, a quick examination of Con's source yields an interesting discovery. According to Con's own figures (see Table 7), German oil production actually INCREASED throughout the war from 1,465,000 metric tons in 1940 to 1,963,000 metric tons in 1944. So much for the "destruction of Germany's oil industry"......

But in any case, why were the Allies targeting German oil and Japanese manufacturing in the first place? Because Panzers need fuel and island garrisons need supplies. In short, the bombing was aimed at stifling enemy GROUND FORCES, allowing them to be more easily overwhelmed and destroyed by friendly ground forces. This is the very definition of a Shaping Operation, and it's a strong indication that ground forces remained the primary focus.

If the bombing of oil/industry was decisive by itself, then we must ask if victory would have been won by these efforts alone? If the Allies had kept their armies at home and instead simply sent waves of bombers against Hitler's oil, would he have said "I quit" and given France and Poland back? We know the answer to that question, because in spite of the years and years of industrial bombing, the German Army did not surrender until Allied ground forces had captured every last bit of Nazi territory, including Berlin itself. Dealing with an industrial bombing campaign would have been mere pinpricks to Hitler without also having to face the Soviet, American, and British armies. Conversely, we know from the North Koreans, North Vietnamese, and Taliban that victory can be achieved (albeit at a much higher price) without significant air power. As such, I maintain that air power is helpful, but ground power is still decisive.

Finally, it's curious that Japanese manufacturing did not significantly drop until 1944-45, because Japan had been at war since 1937. Did nothing decisive occur between 1937-1943? The only reason the bombing increased between 1944-45 is because Allied ground forces attacked and captured the islands of Saipan and Tinian, which allowed the construction of airfields that were in range of the Japanese home islands. The ground forces had to capture and occupy this terrain before the bombing was possible.

2. AirLand Battle: I applaud Con's inclusion of AirLand Battle, as it was an important evolution in military doctrine. However, Con does not give a completely accurate summary of what it actually was. AirLand Battle was devised as a solution to the problem of vastly superior numbers of Soviet Bloc ground forces in Europe and Asia. At the height of the Cold War, the USSR possessed 157 armor/infantry divisions. [1] The USA had less than 16 divisions. [2] The self-proclaimed goal of AirLand Battle was to allow the US to "Fight Outnumbered and Win." [3] It was precisely because ground forces are so decisive that AirLand Battle was invented - the US needed a strategy that would allow 16 divisions to defeat 157 divisions.

And..... Ironically, that strategy was NOT to rely more on air power. AirLand Battle centered around the creation of "The Big 5" technological advancements. The Big 5 were: The M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the M1 Abrams tank, the Patriot missile, the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, and the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The first three are ground based systems, and the last two are airframes, but the blackhawk is only a transport aircraft and the AH-64 is only a ground support/reconnaisance aircraft. So, interestingly, AirLand Battle actually introduced more land-based systems (Bradley, Abrams, Patrior) than air systems, which is very suggestive of where the decisive focus was.

5 Rings Concept: This is similar to the Industrial Web Theory that was exercised in Vietnam - the thought that attacking certain nodes, or "rings" of an enemy's war effort can cause collapse. I have two very simple rebuttals to this thought. First, it's just a theory. There's no empirical evidence to indicate it is correct. Second, its general application has failed to produce victory in at least 3 wars. The strategic bombing over Vietnam, which at various times targeted each of the 5 rings, obviously failed to defeat the North Vietnamese. Air strikes in Iraq, most notably the airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, did not cause the Iraqi insurgency to die down. Years worth of drone strikes in Afghanistan/Pakistan targeting Taliban leadership have not quelled that insurgency either. In fact, interestingly, it was the surge of GROUND TROOPS in each conflict that is credited with the fragile victories enjoyed by the US.

Finally, Con says that Warden's theory has led to overwhelming Air Power victory in every war since Desert Storm, most notably Operation Allied Force. Interestingly, there is much doubt about the air force's effectiveness in Operation Allied Force. For example, the Air Force reported that it had destroyed 110 tanks, 210 armored vehicles, and 449 artillery pieces during the operation. However, later reports concluded that only 26 tanks, 12 armored vehicles, and 8 artillery pieces were actually hit. [4] Furthermore, a post-conflict analysis conducted by the US Army War College concluded, "Air power neither decimated nor defeated the Yugoslav army in the field. In fact, the air strikes did very little to damage Serb forces in Kosovo." [5] It was actually the eventual threat of a NATO ground invasion that caused Slobodan Milosevic to yeild.

In conclusion, there's no real evidence that air power has decisively caused victory in ANY war. Conversely, there are numerous examples of armies winning victory (or, at least, avoiding defeat) with either inferior or no air power at all. These examples include the Red Army on the eastern front, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet-Afghan War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).

If air power was decisive over land forces, it would follow that the side with the best air force should always win. Yet this does not happen. To the contrary, recent history has shown that the side with the best air force often loses. Conversely, the side with the most overwhelming and most dedicated ground forces usually acheives victory.

[5] Ibid.


Okay, bringing out the arclight bombers for this one.

WWII & Strategic Bombing

In Round 1, I argued that Airpower played a decisive role in ending World War II along with Land power, but with Airpower being vastly more decisive. There is no way one should simply dismiss the merits of Strategic Bombing on a war that we know was factually decided primarily through industrial attrition and the destruction of the Axis's physical means to wage a war (aka total war). To say that industry, production, economic strangulation, lend-lease, and the mass mobilization of wartime resources (like those in the US economy) that were churning out hundreds of thousands of new tanks, fighters, bombers, and sea-faring ships at rates of "one every four hours or less" was not among the most historically important factors towards winning World War II - is one of the most intellectually bankrupt positions I myself would ever hope to defend (IMHO).

So when Pro writes "how do we know that industrial bombing leads directly to ultimate victory?" it is therefore imperative that we remember and look hard at the total war concepts that were used to decisively end WWII - and not just those strategies belonging to limited wars. The word "total" in a total war sense -as I've hopefully eluded to- refers more directly to the extent of warfare's participation and a country's mobilization, and not just the extent of warfare's destruction (1). This is because in a Total War (according to academic definition) its nature implies the complete mobilization of a society, its citizens, and its industries to provide the military means to wage war (2). This is hugely significant because in total war scenarios like World War I and World War II, the official political-military objective rulebook gets thrown out the window extremely fast in favor of "all in" poker rules as society itself (along with civilian populations and infrastructure) becomes a military participant and a legit military objective. In other words, you are now basically attempting to physically kill the enemy and all the means he has that could possibly go into resisting your will - again, the objective here is not to simply beat the enemy on the battlefield by scoring a few points against his football team (the military), but actually f**** kill him! We're going to win this game and we're going to kill the players and coaches too! And I cannot stress that last point enough. When the Allies decided to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as fire-bomb Dresden and rape Berlin, it was in fact to win by obliterating the enemy. And so I therefore bring Pro back to Gilohut's original theory of Stragtgic Bombing, which claimed that airpower would one day be able to bomb entire cities and industrial complexes into the dust and win wars completely either through morale or industrial attrition.

How do we know that bombing leads directly to ultimate victory? = morale and industrial attrition.

1)Layman's Terms: Total War
2)Academia: Total War

Air Power vs. German Oil Industry

I maintain that Air Power vs German Oil was where allied bombing was shown to be most effective in the complete total war sense. Though Pro mentions that Germany had managed to marginally increase total energy production from 1941 up until the beginning of 1944 (as my R1 source indicates, he fails to mention that most of the allied bombing campaign over Germany was still dedicated to the destruction of the German Luftwaffe - which had remained the dominant focus of the Allied Air Force until the decisive land invasion of DDay (also 1944). This conclusion is also shared by a post war DoD survey of allied bombing which indicated that the first targeted bombing of German synthetic oil plants "did not occur" effectively until May 1944, but by July 1944, every major German oil producing plant "had been hit." (1) The survey also indicated that within one month of bombing, 316,000 tons of German synthetic fuel produced per month by factory had fallen to 107,000 tons, and then a meager 17,000 tons by September 1944 on through the end of the war (1). But by May 1944 onwards, consumption of German oil had effectively "exceeded production," and German tank divisions on both fronts were decisively "immobilized for lack of gasoline," which did subquently lead to victory at such key battles like the one featured at the Battle of the Bludge.


Air Campaign vs Japan

And I do not understand at all why Pro writes that "did nothing decisive (from airpower) occur between 1937-1943?," when a DoD survey I already cited in R1 mentioned that control of the air was also found to have been "essential to the success of every major pacific operation." (1) Does Pro not remember what happened at Pearl Harbor when Air Power obsoleted the Battleship? How bout Midway when Airforces decisively destroyed the Japanese Carriers without even coming within radar contact of another American ship. Surely Pro remembers what happened at Layette Gulf and Coral Sea because of airplanes. I must therefore ask Pro, where was the ground invasion of Japan then? Excluding even the nuclear factor, my whole point of being is that in the final analysis of WWII, air power was just as decisive (if not more so because of naval and industrial total war factors) as ground power, and both could also be said to have played shaping roles.

1 DoD survey:

Quick rebuttals - will not revisit these in R3.

The London Blitz (Battle of Britain) - This is rather curious example from Pro. He correctly states that the German Luftwaffe had failed to destroy British industry and morale, but clearly never mentions the fact that the Battle of Britain was primarily won by the Royal Air Force.

Korea War - AP couldn't cross the Chinese border to attack NK airbases. Soviet supplied MIGs were better than US counter parts.

Vietnam War - I maintain the opinion that the massive strategic bombing campaigns of Linebacker I and II directly led to the US-Vietnamese negotiations that formally ended the Vietnam War. And that CAS at Khe Sanh, Ia Drang, and ArcLight were more effective than land power.

Gulf War - This was the first war to effectively feature Warden's Five Rings concept in what was called Operation Instant Thunder (USAF learned their lesson from Rolling Thunder) - and it was pretty devastating. Look no further than Highway 88, the complete destruction of Iraqi C2 infrastructure, power plants, water-treatment facilities (huge deal), oil refineries, transportation grid, airports, and the fleeing of Iraqi Air Force to Iran to know what the combine results of Air Power was in that war. In contrast, the ground campaign lasted only 100 hours and only engaged Iraq ground forces. The fact that a ground operation was even included at all was because old school Amy commanders (like Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell) had insisted on it.

Allied Force - Five Rings Concept for Strategic Bombing used again, destruction of Serbian centers of gravity complete - No ground troops used at all. The threat of ground invasion stands as a hypothetical *what if* and we'll never no for sure how accurate that was.

Afghanistan 2002 - Massive Air Power was used in conjunction with special forces and Northern Alliance members providing laser designated targets for coalition aircraft (shaping operation on land's part), No large deployments of US ground troops were used in the initial overthrow of the Taliban.

Iraq War - "Shock and Awe" was used against the Iraqi Armed Forces and not Al-Qeada in Iraq (as Pro had mistakenly mentioned) where it achieved near indentical results to the First Gulf War. In my view, ground forces were more of a sustaining operation than anything else.

Debate Round No. 3


Thanks for a good round Con. I will finish with a response to Con's rebuttals and a brief conclusion.

== Response ==

Con's rebuttal to my doubt of Industrial Bombing's effectiveness was to say that Total War seeks to destroy everything. This is a slightly confusing response, because, once again, I do not dispute that bombing can cause great destruction.

Con claims that it's factually indisputable that WWII was "decided primarily through industrial attrition...." However, I see no citations or hard facts proving the truth of that claim. The facts show that, yes, the Allies bombed lots of stuff, but there is no hard or proven link to that being the DIRECT cause of Axis defeat. Contrary to Con's accusation, I 100% agree that industry, production, lend-lease, and mass mobilization of wartime resources were very important factors toward winning the war. But "important" is not the same as "decisive." Doctrinally, there can only be one decisive factor, and I maintain that factor was the overwhelming ground forces of the Soviet, American, and British armies. The Germans did not surrender after Dresden was firebombed or after the (alleged) destruction of their oil. They surrendered after Allied ground forces captured Berlin.

A 2010 study by the Rand Corporation supports this conclusion: "Strategic bombing campaigns failed to produce the sort of rapid, decisive results originally envisioned by many of their proponents. Populations subjected to terror bombing did not rise up against their governments, demanding capitulation in order to stop the carnage as Douhet had predicted. The British and German war economies proved to be resilient under attack . . . ultimately economic collapse did come in both Germany and Japan, through the COMBINED effects of bombing, blockade, losses on the battlefield, and Axis economic mismanagement." [1] (emphasis mine)

I once again argue that there are very few (if any) wars since the invention of the airplane where industrial attrition through bombing was the direct cause of victory. History has shown (North Korea, North Vietnam, Taliban, Al Qadea, ISIS...) that a determined enemy cannot merely be bombed into submission. Morale and industrial attrition simply does not work unless it is back with overwhelming ground force. (Again, nuclear weapons excluded...)

Pro's rebuttal to the oil industry argument is quite interesting. Since I showed that total German oil production actually increased throughout the war, Pro has shifted the discussion to synthetic oil only. But even the Allied bomber's effect on synthetic oil can only be seen as a Shaping Operation at best. Consider the following from Pro's own source:
It took a total of 6,552 bomber sorties dropping 18,328 tons of bombs over the course of an entire year just to cripple ONE German synthetic oil plant, while in the process losing 1,280 airmen and 119 planes. And even then, the plant was never totally destroyed. After the first bombing run, the plant was repaired and back in production after 10 days. After the next attack, it was repaired in 6 days. And after the next attack, repaired and operating in 2 days. And on, and on.... until the end of the war. In fact, the plant was still operating at 75% capacity a month after the D-Day invasion, despite the bombing attacks. This cannot be what a "decisive blow" looks like.

We must also consider what was already happening by the summer of 1944 when the Allied bombing increased. Germany had already lost North Africa and was retreating rapidly through Italy. The German Army had been steadily retreating through Eastern Europe since early 1943, and after June 1944 they were also retreating rapidly from Western Europe. So, even before the Allies began targeting synthetic oil, the tide of the war had already decisively turned thanks to the ground forces. The Germans (and Japanese) had been in steady retreat since 1942 - the bombing merely sped it up (Shaping Operation), it certainly did not cause it directly.

Air Campaign vs. Japan - Con misunderstands my question of "did nothing decisive occur between 1937-1943?" I was referring to decisive ground campaigns, not airpower. As noted above, Japan was already retreating on virtually all fronts before the bombing started in 1944. I was also alluding to the fact that the majority of the Japanese Army spent the war fighting in China and Burma, which was certainly a decisive land campaign. Con claimed earlier that Air Power sunk more Japanese naval/merchant vessels than US navy ships, but they forgot to factor in submarines. The majority of Japanese naval vessles were destroyed by Allied surface ships and submarines [2].

My point with the London Blitz was that attempts to bomb civilian populations into submission do not work. In fact, they often have the opposite effect.

Korean War - Con accuses me of making "what if" projections for the Allied Force example, but they do the same thing here by implying Korea would have turned out differently if air power had bombed Chinese territory. In any case, Korea serves as a great example of how "total aerial destruction" still isn't enough to win - by 1953, the air force was having trouble finding any enemy buildings that were still standing. As Robert Pape confirms in his book "Bombing to Win," "The B-29s quickly ran out of targets and were stood down on 27 October, having achieved no perceptible effect on the course of the war." [3]. And yet, despite such total destruction, the North Koreans kept fighting. This once again proves that industrial and morale attrition from the air is not decisive enough by itself to win.

Vietnam - massive strategic bombing may have led (indirectly) to US-Vietnamese negotiations.... but not victory. I would kindly remind my opponent that the U.S. lost Vietnam, retreated from the conflict under the thin veil of "peace with honor," and ultimately saw South Vietnam conquered soon thereafter..... and all in spite of North Vietnam's almost total lack of air power. How does this prove air power is decisive?

Gulf War - I agree that the USAF totally devastated Iraqi C2 infrastructure, power plants, water facilities, and airports.... and I also agree that's the exact definition of a Shaping Operation: Targeting support infrastructure in the enemy's rear to make his army easier to defeat on the ground. It was the ground invasion, short as it was, that directly caused the Iraqi army to abandon Kuwait, not the air campaign. There is absolutely no evidence that the ground invasion occurred simply because Schwarzkopf was "old school" and wanted to thump his chest.

Afghanistan - sure, the Taliban retreated early on, largely due to aerial bombing (as well as the 1000's of Northern Alliance fighters, Green Berets, and Army Rangers on the ground). But that retreat was only to re-arm and re-group. The Taliban are back in force, and all the bombs in NATO's arsenal have still not been able to defeat them.

Iraq - same thing. Initial victory achieved by Shock and Awe is not the same as ultimate victory, which remains elusive. Once again, we're discussing winning wars in general, not isolated tactical victories.

== Conclusion ==

Air power helps, but there are virtually no examples in history where it directly achieved victory in war. Conversely, there are multiple examples of ground forces achieving victory without the use of a strong air force. As such, air power can be no more than a Shaping Operation.

Thanks to Con for a great debate, well done. As always, I look forward to debating you again any time.



I unfortunately got bogged again for time, but below is what I got. Thanks Pro to a good debate!.


All the while Pro and I have debated the modern day merits of Air Power vs Ground Power, where I personally believe that Air Power overtime has since surpassed Ground Power both in technological-strategic capablities and wartime importance. But before we consider who has proven more decisive, I urge Pro to consider the following key concepts.

Air Supriority Paradox - Shaping Operation or Decisive Factor?

A debate rages on as to whether or not control of the skies leads directly to a battlefield win. I can point to countless examples as to where it does, from Patton praying for good flying weather before the Battle of the Buldge, to the RAF in the Battle of Britian, to the awesome effects of Shock and Awe, and B-52s over the skies of Hanoi in Linebacker I and II. Pro can likely make the debate too - as in WWII Germany and Japan- that the role of air supremacy was for shaping conditions in prepartion for the final land invasion. However, given Operation Allied Force, a war won without any ground forces at all, was the "shaping operation" in this case decisive? Can a shaping operation, as defined by Pro as "the creation and preservation of conditions for the success of the decisive operation," (threat of ground force) also be decisive if it also "lead directly to the accomplishment of a commander's purpose." Something to think about.

Air-Land Battle

I freely admit, I'am not a strong expert on Air-Land Battle Doctrine. However, I do believe I know enough about the history of Air Land Battle to remake the claim (as I did in Round 1) that the doctrine over the years has provided the intellecual basis for all modern joint air to ground operations that have since come after. From what I have understood, it that is the offical position of the paper that "neither Air or Land are decisive on its own," so I don't believe Pro's assertion that the strategy did not call on the reliance of more air power (I believe its called Air AND Land Battle for that reason). And as Pro has pointed out, the docrine was orginally written as "a solution to the problem of vastly superior numbers of Soviet Bloc ground forces in Europe and Asia." And from what I recollect, the role of air power was to attack Soviet Reserves before they had a chance to brought to the front lines and overwhelm NATO ground forces. If this is true, then the role of Air Power in Air-Land was a decisive op, where the doctrine formally recgonizes the role of Air Power.

Air Power in Naval Operations

Pro has still yet to refute the decsive role of Air Power in Air-Sea Battle and Naval Operations. With the role of Land forces extremely limited at sea (and therefore half the war effort), Pro has therefore attempted to make the argument that Navy ships in WWII were more decisive than Air, but the offical DoD study on airpower in the Pacific points out that Air Power against Japanese merchant shipping was nearly identical to submarines, yet airpower proving more helpful in destyoing battlecruisers and warships.

Strategic Bombing and Warden's Five Centers of Gravity

Warden's theories, regardless if Pro's opinions, still stand as testament to the idea that airpower can win a war all on its own. However, even if Pro is able to ignore Instant Thunder and Allied Force by concluding that diabling a country through centers of gravity is in fact just a therory, I'm wondering if Pro can provide me with a modern day theory or offical doctrine that says Land Power can win on its own. If Pro or a voter is able to produce this, then I will concede the entire debate. If not, then I have at least proven Air Power to be a bit more capable then Land Power.

Land vs. Air in Total War

In my discussion of Stragtic Bombing and WWII, I've proven Air Power to vital in wars that must involve the total destuction of an enemy's industrial output and will in order to win. Pro has not provided an example of Land Power being equally capable with Air Power in accomplishing the requirements needed to decively win this type of war. By large land forces can only engae other land forces, where as strategic bombing has the advantage of engaing a country's industrial output and population centers directly.
Debate Round No. 4
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Posted by Jingle_Bombs 2 years ago
I'd like to thank Pro again for a good debate. Looking forward to renewing the Army-Air Force rivalry again in the future.
Posted by sengejuri 2 years ago
In the synthetic oil paragraph, I accidentally wrote "Pro" several times when I meant to write "Con.". My mistake
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