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A C-17 Globemaster III at Baghram Air Base gets loaded for a Joint Precision Airdrop Delivery System of 40 bundles of humanitarian supplies to a drop zone in Afghanistan, on Jan., 14, 2008.

AP Photo

Paper - International Security Program, Belfer Center

Enhancing Full-Spectrum Flexibility: Striking the Balance to Maximize Force Effectiveness in Conventional and Counterinsurgency Operations

| April 2009

With the United States currently engaged in difficult and taxing counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, renewed emphasis has been focused upon the country's capabilities and priorities vis-à-vis this type of warfare.  Within the military, the Air Force has been especially and increasingly criticized for being too enamored with a Cold-War era conventionally minded force structure and for not shifting aggressively to meet the threats of COIN-style conflicts that many predict will be pervasive throughout the Global War on Terror.

This paper addresses the conceptual capabilities and limitations of air power in COIN in order to illuminate how the Air Force can leverage the distinct asymmetric advantage that air power presents across the spectrum of conflict.  This asymmetry is founded upon a clear U.S. superiority in air power capabilities combined with the unique flexibility inherent in air power.  An understanding of air power's efficacy in COIN, measured against conventional requirements and capabilities, will inform decisions on appropriate force structure and employment.