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Griffith, MacArthur's Airman (XXI)

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Tyson's Take on Kenny

MacArthur’s Airman provides several useful discussion points when talking about strategy in SAASS comps. The following are a few points to ponder:

--Kenny achieved combat effectiveness in spite of severe resource scarcity in the Pacific.

--Innovation from skip bombing to reconfiguring airplanes provided the critical link between means and ends when resources were scarce.

--Relationships and trust often form the foundation for freedom of action to execute strategy on the staff. When an airman presents the air power plan to other service commanders, those commanders must be able to trust his judgment. Furthermore, Kenny showed an effective way of balancing relationships with MacArthur and Arnold that at times appeared antithetical to one another.

--Kenny served as the first ‘CFACC’ and demonstrated the value of the concept of centralized control in air power.

--Kenny emphasized the requirement for air superiority on every operation and educated other service commanders in ways that encouraged them to draw the same conclusions. However, Kenny fell short of achieving full integration with the Navy because he could not rid himself of his distaste for that service.

--Kenny showed the importance of properly structured and staffed organizations as well as how proper structure and staff leads to organizational health.

George C. Kenney championed the innovative and flexible use of aircraft, developing many concepts now typical of modern warfare. Kenney pioneered control of the air, airlifting men and supplies, suppressing enemy air defenses, operating from sparse bases, and other activities common to the theater air commander today. He paved the way for the joint force that would be commonplace after Goldwater-Nichols. Issues that preoccupied Kenney—the value of intelligence, organizing theater air resources, coordinating land, sea, and air operations, and others—remain as vital today for joint warfighting as they did during his career.

Griffith points out that Kenney not only had combat experience (including two kills in WW), but also taught tactics and doctrine, researched aircraft development and acquisition, and served as an operations staff officer. That gave him intimate knowledge of aircraft operations as well as aviation design and engineering. Indicative of Kenney's expertise is the fact that the Chief of the Air Corps, Major General Henry (“Hap”) Arnold, sent him to France with Lieutenant Colonel Carl Spaatz as a special observer in April 1940. Kenney sent a report back to Washington that was focused not on doctrine, but on requirements for armored seats for pilots, leak-proof fuel tanks, and better high-altitude equipment, the nuts and bolts of combat operations.

Most of the book deals with Kenney's wartime role under General Douglas MacArthur, and here the author displays considerable insight into the nature of Kenney's contributions. Much of his experience was gained while serving as MacArthur's air commander in the Southwest Pacific from 1942 until the end of the war. He operated in a theater with extensive distances between island air bases and scant resources in men and materiel. To even establish bases, he had to coordinate land, sea, and air operations to seize territory from the Japanese, then plan extensive engineering projects to carve operating bases out of the jungle. Airpower doctrine developed in the interwar period had little to offer on such matters so Kenney improvised both air operations and aircraft. His flexibility made island-hopping campaigns possible, operations that characterized MacArthur's push through New Guinea and the South Pacific to the Philippines. Although they often disagreed, MacArthur said of his senior airman: “Nothing that Spaatz or any other air officer has accomplished in the war compares to what Kenney has contributed and none in my opinion is his equal in ability.”

Kenney emphasized control of the air in every operation. First, since he had to work with aircraft units scattered many miles apart with poor communications between bases—a far different situation than that faced by 8th Air Force bases in England—Kenney formed what he called air task forces. This brought together elements of flying units from several bases for a specific campaign. These units then operated from a single base to facilitate coordination and planning.

Second, Kenney dealt with the problem of scarce resources by fostering innovation and motivating his entire command to follow this example. He kept aircraft in service by scavenging parts from downed planes and modifying plans to meet particular theater needs. Most importantly, he gave extra attention and decorated ground officers and airmen who devised new procedures or modified available equipment to meet other requirements.

Finally, Griffith cites Kenney's ability to adapt command organization to fit circumstances. Army doctrine called for establishing an air support command in which aircraft and targeting would be under the control of ground commanders, not air commanders. Kenney opposed such a command because of limited resources in his theater, instead issuing orders that kept these responsibilities in his command. MacArthur supported the concept. These arrangements mirrored developments in the North African theater where General Dwight Eisenhower recommended a similar realignment. Anyone interested in current debates over the joint force air component commander, priority given to close air support, and joint targeting should study these earlier struggles over airpower.

It is worth noting that Griffith does not shrink from considering Kenney's shortcomings. Like many of his contemporaries, Kenney thought the Japanese racially inferior and less capable of becoming first class aviators, which led to inaccurate estimates of the enemy. Griffith also notes that Kenney disliked the Navy and was reluctant to cooperate in joint operations or share assets. But Kenney's difficulties also extended to members of his own service. His drive to secure B-29s ran contrary to Arnold's plans, and his continued insistence on obtaining them aggravated relations with Arnold and others at a time when the Army Air Force sought to present a united front on B-29 use.

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