Sunday, July 11, 2004

Why all the aircraft?

I've always wondered why the different service branches all have their own aircraft. Here's why:
It all goes back to the end of World War II, when the Air Force became an independent service of the armed forces. (Before and during the war, air forces were a branch of the Army.) In its first few years of independence, the Air Force became involved in tumultuous budget battles with the other services. Finally, in April 1948, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal called a meeting with the service chiefs in Key West, Fla., where they divvied up "roles and missions." The emerging document was called the Key West Agreement. An informal understanding that grew out of the accord was that the Air Force (and, to an extent, the Navy) would have a monopoly on fixed-wing combat planes.

The Key West Agreement specified that one mission of the Air Force would be close air support for Army troops on the battlefield. However, it soon became clear that the Air Force generals—enamored of the A-bomb and then the H-bomb—had no interest in this task. To their minds, the next war would be a nuclear war. Armies would play no serious role, so why divert airplanes to giving them cover?

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