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The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam

by Brian D. Laslie

Availablecloth$50.00s 978-0-8131-6059-7
Availableepub$50.00s 978-0-8131-6085-6
Availableweb pdf$50.00s 978-0-8131-6086-3
260 pages  Pubdate: 06/23/2015  6 x 9  16 b&w photos, 1 table

Listen: Brian Laslie joins the Midrats podacst to talk about Red Flag and the Development of U.S. Air Force Fighter Pilots | Listen online here

On December 18, 1972, more than one hundred U.S. B-52 bombers flew over North Vietnam to initiate Operation Linebacker II. During the next eleven days, sixteen of these planes were shot down and another four suffered heavy damage. These losses soon proved so devastating that Strategic Air Command was ordered to halt the bombing. The U.S. Air Force’s poor performance in this and other operations during Vietnam was partly due to the fact that they had trained their pilots according to methods devised during World War II and the Korean War, when strategic bombers attacking targets were expected to take heavy losses. Warfare had changed by the 1960s, but the USAF had not adapted. Between 1972 and 1991, however, the Air Force dramatically changed its doctrines and began to overhaul the way it trained pilots through the introduction of a groundbreaking new training program called “Red Flag.”

In The Air Force Way of War, Brian D. Laslie examines the revolution in pilot instruction that Red Flag brought about after Vietnam. The program’s new instruction methods were dubbed “realistic” because they prepared pilots for real-life situations better than the simple cockpit simulations of the past, and students gained proficiency on primary and secondary missions instead of superficially training for numerous possible scenarios. In addition to discussing the program’s methods, Laslie analyzes the way its graduates actually functioned in combat during the 1980s and ’90s in places such as Grenada, Panama, Libya, and Iraq. Military historians have traditionally emphasized the primacy of technological developments during this period and have overlooked the vital importance of advances in training, but Laslie’s unprecedented study of Red Flag addresses this oversight through its examination of the seminal program.

Brian D. Laslie is deputy command historian at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) as well as an Adjunct Professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

A very useful and interesting study of the story of how the USAF revamped its training after the Vietnam War and created a program that brought a high level of success in several conflicts. The book should have a wide appeal among those interested in airpower, military affairs, and security policy. -- James S. Corum, author of Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists

In The Air Force Way of War, Brian Laslie has offered us an exhaustively researched look into America's laboratory of airpower. Laslie chronicles how the Air Force worked its way from the catastrophe of Vietnam through the triumph of the Gulf War, and beyond. -- Robert M. Farley, author of Grounded

Laslie creates an important work that fills a void in the popular historical narrative [. . .] [A]n essential read for anyone who has ever experienced (or wanted to experience) the thrill of being a part of the world’s largest aerial exercise of 100+ aircraft battling over the Nevada desert, known as Red Flag.
Laslie’s book is a refreshing look at the people and operational practices whose import far exceeds technological advances. [Laslie] skillfully illuminates the human depth and endeavors of a service that [. . .] works diligently and intelligently to integrate new technology with the humans who operate it. -- The Strategy Bridge

Laslie convincingly shows that inadequate training was the primary cause of combat losses in Vietnam. He points out that studies revealed that over the first ten “actual combat missions” over North Vietnam took the greatest toll on pilots. Consequently, the Air Force revised pilot training to make it as realistic as the first ten actual combat missions.
[...] Laslie best captures the mood of the time in his account of planning for Desert Shield. Personality clashes created scenes of drama equal to the most intense you can find on a good TV miniseries. -- VVA Veteran

Laslie tackles a period of Air Force history that has been skillfully examined by several air power experts. Yet the author is able to explore new ground, and truly provide the reader with a signifcant analysis of the importance of these revolutionary training events, in particular the Red Flag exercise.
The Air Force Way of War should be considered required reading for air power historians and analysts, combat veterans and active duty Air Force operators. Laslie’s enthralling text makes it clear why Red Flag is still thriving as it approaches its 40th birthday. -- The Bridge

[. . .] Most significantly, the book finally consolidates parts of a story told in a variety of sources into an easily accessible, readable, and digestible volume that will well serve both airpower historians and future practitioners for years to come. -- H-War, H-Net Reviews

More than a history for aircrew, this selection examines how innovative thinkers of the time, including then Major John Jumper, Moody Suter, and John Warden, advanced ideas and concepts despite the obstacles arrayed against them. -- Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List 2016

Historian Brian Laslie has thoroughly analyzed recent air operations and produced a thought-provoking treatise on the importance of a post-Vietnam training renaissance
leading to US success after Vietnam. -- Military Review

It is well written and documented and is readily accessible to both airpower historians and to those with an interest in the development of airpower doctrine. It is no surprise that the book was selected for the Air Force Chief of Staff’s 2015 professional reading list.

The Air Force Way of War is a generally solid, well-written book, especially in its
coverage of the Air Force’s post-Vietnam transformation through the Gulf War. -- US Military History Review