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In this world, miltary technology has developed roughly along the same lanes as our own. However, while the main faction, the United Commonwealth, has access to modern aircraft as advanced as ours on Earth, they have kept that air power within the structure of the Army, as the Army Air service, and treat it like any other combat arm,like the artillery or infantry.

Now, my question is , would this arrangement have any disadvantages when compared to the real life organisation of having an independent Air Force

Other Contexts

  • Nuclear deterrent is a concept here, but is mostly handled by the incention of large missiles at roughly the same time as the nukes themselves
  • The UC already has a considerable lead in airpower over anyone else in the setting, but it is split unevenly among many fronts and planets
  • The UC is mainly geared towards near-peer threats, as opposed to asymmetrical warfare
  • There exists a parallel Naval Air Service
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    $\begingroup$ That depends ENTIRELY on in-world variables and politics, so any answer would be purely a discussion of only possible impacts. How do they handle budgeting? Is there a navy air arm, or are naval aviators army personnel? There might be a slight emphasis towards support craft vs air superiority/strategic craft, but that's completely speculative. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 17 at 2:18
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    $\begingroup$ The United States Air Force began as the United States Army Air Corps. It was separated into its own service in 1947 after 38 years of service only after the creation of the Department of the Air Force and swearing in the first Secretary of the Air Force. The reasons for separation are painfully obvious in hindsight, but those reasons are exactly what you're looking for in terms of an answer. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ Too many chefs in the kitchen. "Many of the program's financial and technical complications result from the Marine version of the JSF, capable of vertical take-offs and landings." – Joint Strike Fighter program (F-35). Compare that to the debatably best fighter in the world (which is still under an export ban), "The United States Air Force is the only operator of the F-22." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Sep 17 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact And the US Army still has plenty of its own planes. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ It would help if you could clarify further what aspects of air power are kept with the army. For example, a lot of modern militaries still classify airborne infantry and short range airlift units as part of their armies, even though they are technically ‘air power’. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 at 15:44
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Actually yes - many.

The configuration and interaction between forces are as important as the force itself - mainly due to the varied overall 'missions' each has.

Most forces today have separation due to 'mission' rather than function. In general, most missions are a variation or combination of the following:

  • 'Defence' - a force trained and equipped to respond to direct attacks on a nations territory
  • 'Expeditionary' - a force intended to project or protect interests far from the nations territory
  • 'Intelligence' - a force to supply intelligence and reconnaissance to decision makers
  • 'National' - a force intended to apply policy locally, within a nation, either to citizens or not,

amongst many other smaller roles.

So, you could have an Army that is Expeditionary, or one that is only Defence.

As an example, in WWII, the US Army was mainly Expeditionary, however in the years since it has changed to a Defence force, with bases mainly located locally, to respond to threats directly on the mainland. The US Navy is now the Expeditionary force used to project interests to locations far from home, hence they need the US Marines (being ground forces attached to the Navy) for expeditionary 'army' functions far afield.

Similarly, the Navy has its own Fleet Air Arm, for the purposes of being Expeditionary and perform missions. So that's why you see F14s on Aircraft Carriers with 'NAVY', and not Air force, written on them, and why you can actually have 'NAVY' Air bases on land. The US Air Force is actually a Defence and Reconnaissance force, with nuclear and ballistic missile control purely Defence, and airbases for USAF mainly on the mainland. This protects attack directly against the US.

So your setup would have disadvantages if there is no defensive 'Air Force':

  • Your intelligence, expeditionary, national and defence missions would need to be allocated to separate units, or if to combined force you need to 'split' on-demand your force into separate missions - not an efficient or responsive arrangement For instance, in your case, if your Army is expeditionary how can it protect against a sudden incoming air attack within your home nation?
  • Communication between roles is harder between forces than within a force. Your Army can use planes readily if it's out in the field, but what if your overall leaders need reconnaissance to advise on a separate threat? It needs to separately request this assistance. What if your Navy needs some air support? This may not be forthcoming by your Army commanders.
  • Training is more difficult. For instance your nuclear deterrent is now under your expeditionary army - how do you recruit, train and setup command protocols for such disparate functions?
  • Procurement is very complex. As an example, your Army may want planes to suite a Close Air Support role, but what about a bomber for strategic defence, or a satellite to detect ballistic missiles? How do you reconcile budgets and procurement of equipment with such different missions?
  • Your commanders may now have conflicting obligations. It is generally accepted a 'single-minded' purpose is better than trying to accomplish many disparate things. For instance, if a commander of an expeditionary Army is now suddenly also dealing with defensive Air Force functions, it is distracting and he now needs to allocate resources as a part of his role, something that should be dealt with at a higher level.

It is said one of the main reasons why in WWII Kriegsmarine was at a severe disadvantage in the sea against allies was the absence of a Fleet Air Arm. Its planes were a separate force, requiring coordination and command separately and always requested by the Kriegsmarine to the Luftwaffe 'cap-in-hand' (often refused), and as such its primary expeditionary force in the sea was without air support, relegating the Kriegsmarine to attacks on shipping only. This was opposed to the Allies, which had dedicated expeditionary combined forces, allowing coordinated aircraft and navy functions.

The basic message is, you should organise your armed forces not in terms of jurisdiction (air, water or land), but in terms of mission.

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    $\begingroup$ No branch of the US military fits neatly into any of those categories. The US military has a command structure based on theatre (usually geographic). USCENTCOM, by your definition, is definitely an "expeditionary" force but it includes elements of all four branches. At the highest levels, military structure is pure politics (including institutional politics). Also, F15s do not operate from aircraft carriers. $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Sep 17 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @legio1 - oops sorry was a typo -meant to say F14 not f15 - have fixed thanks. Yeah - acknowledge about the intricacies and you're correct regarding specifics - but was really just referring to things in a general sense only. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Sep 17 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ Isnt that a pure organizational problem? If you use seperate army groups with different specializations this is still possible right? Look at the US navy. It operates coastal patrolboats, nuclear submarines and aircraft, each with a different function but all the same navy. All you have to do is make sure that each commander knows its roles and that the politicians know what they are commisioning it for. Even they understand that an aircraft could belong to the navy despite it being an aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 17 at 15:20
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At a certain level, it becomes an accounting fiction.

Naval, ground and air units are reporting to the same supreme command. That could be an elected individual, a small elected group, an unelected group or individual, but they cannot fight their wars separately. So the question if you have an Air Force as a distinct service, reporting to a Secretary of the Air Force, or an Air Force as a distinct service, reporting to an overall Secretary of Defense, or an Army Air Force as a component of the Army, reporting to a Secretary of the Army, is just a bureaucratic detail at the highest levels of government. Especially if all secretaries serve at the whim of the President who actively sets policy.

At some point, you need a joint defense establishment and not just a joint operational command. Where that point is can be adjusted up or down, there is no perfect answer.

But culture matters.

Having a separate air force, with distinct service schools and career tracks, ensures that you won't get a ground-pounder in command of your air wing. You won't have valuable pilots diverted to push papers in army staffs. It means that close air support and tactical reconnaissance won't overshadow strategic bombing and reconnaissance (arguably a failing of the Nazi war machine in WWII). But it also means that the flyboys can ignore the need for boots on the ground, and the needs of those boots on the ground. "Not a pound for air to ground" might make the air force happy, but does it win wars?

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    $\begingroup$ Following your command comment, I've always found it interesting that in the US Navy: "The Commanding Officer of an aircraft carrier must satisfy two requirements: He must be an unrestricted line officer (which enables him to command at sea) and he must be a naval aviator [emphasis mine] $\endgroup$
    – Alan
    Sep 17 at 11:59
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In addition to flox's excellent answers, there is a disadvantage to an army air force that arises from the sociology of institutions.

Institutions can often develop biases within the range of solutions they will seek to practical problems. These biases grow out of the institutional reward system for managers within the system. A classic military example would be an army where the road to advancement for officers had traditionally passed through the cavalry arm - such an army would be biased towards the use of cavalry to achieve operational goals, because the officers involved in making decisions would do so at least partially in ways that would favor their own advancement. This could also lead to the other arms of the service being neglected, starved of resources, etc.

One easily discerned example of this would be the way in which modern armies treated logistics changed as the prestige of staff officers increased. Although the importance of logistics to overall success has literally always been known, the logistics service historically was treated shabbily relative to the combat arms, because the combat arms had much more prestige and only officers who distinguished themselves in the combat arms were able to advance. As armies began to add more staff officers, and as distinction as a staff officer became a route to advancement and to overall command, resources re-oriented to the logistics arm more and more - because the coordination of logistics was one way in which staff officers could distinguish themselves.

When air forces are a subordinate part of land forces, the role of air assets will tend to be seen primarily, or even only, as a complement to those land forces. Land commanders will inherently be biased to favor air assets that make it easier to achieve existing land missions, and will naturally show less favor to air assets that can achieve strategic goals all on their own. When allocating scarce resources, land commanders will also naturally be biased in favor of land assets. In situations where air assets could achieve tactical success on their own, land commanders might not allow that to happen, because land assets have to take part in an operation if their officers are to gain any prestige from it. Etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Command structure tend to favour the branch they rose through / have most experience with, sometimes to the detriment of operational effectiveness // a nicely identified issue :) // you don't seem to have a favoured solution to the issue though? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 17 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ The key here is assuming that the army is exclusively viewed as land-force. You are describing a cultural problem of advancement within the army and also the solution: allow equal advancement opportunities in each section of the army. After all the logistical arm has always been there and has changed to become more financed and better managed due to such changes. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 17 at 20:02
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Even in today's US military, each branch has their own set of pilots.

Army:

All branches of the United States Military have an aviation program.

Army pilots assist with both offensive and defensive operations.

They perform air assault in addition to transporting both cargo and personnel.

The majority of aircraft in the Army are helicopters, but there are a limited number of fixed-wing and unmanned aircraft pilots as well.

https://www.operationmilitarykids.org/army-helicopter-pilot-requirements/

National Guard:

Joining the warrant officer aviation program as a helicopter pilot means you’ll be controlling some of the most advanced aircraft in the sky. National Guard aviators are among the best in the world.

https://www.nationalguard.com/helicopter-pilot

Marines:

All branches of the military service have aviation units. The Marine Corps has a variety of air assets it uses to help their fellow Marines on the ground.

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/becoming-a-marine-corps-pilot-3354348

Coast Guard:

The Coast Guard aviation community consists of approximately 800 pilots and an enlisted workforce of approximately 2,500. Together, these pilots and aircrews fly 5 types of aircraft in the Coast Guard’s inventory, representing 200 airframes dispersed among 24 Air Stations.

https://www.gocoastguard.com/active-duty-careers/officer-opportunities/programs/direct-commission-aviator-dca

Navy:

As a Navy Fighter Pilot, the sky is your domain. You’ll be part of an elite group of aviators who fly and fight in the world’s most lethal jets—all from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

https://www.navy.com/flynavy

They all work defense and offense roles, but the primary goal of the Branch isn't air based. Each Branch has their specialty and focus mostly on it, with aircraft supporting those specialties.

With an air force, the Branch can focus on the specific requirements and training necessary for regular flying missions as a priority, rather than a support role. Yes, the Air Force supports other Branches, but they have their own missions separate from them, too.

Breaking out a Branch into it's own Air Force means it gets it's own budgets, Chain of Command (set of leaders), training requirements, bases, and a whole lot of other things that can be tailored to pilots and flying missions that could be overlooked (accidentally or purposefully) by another Branch.

Also, the military is about redundancy to make sure that critical part of the system can't fail, or if they do fail don't completely block the ability to get a mission completed. Each Branch does a little (or a lot) of what the other Branches do, but that's not their specialty. And if a critical resource gets taken out, there's plenty of other resources to step in and nearly seamlessly take over for a minimum of chaos to get systems back running correctly again. If you only have one system or Branch, you have a single point of failure that can cause complete havoc. There are times when a SPOF is a good thing, but not in the military.

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Having read some of the answers the answer I come up with: it completely depends on the military organizational structure&culture and the political environment they have.

A specialized branch in the army will focus on its own tasks and goals. That is why the navy can employ aircraft suited to its needs even though its the navy. However if you place the airforce as part of the (land) army you do not have to suffer disadvantages, as long as the officers in charge are able to make their own goals and requisitions. Just like the army already has seperate leadership for certain sub-branches within the army.

A great example is the logistical core. The mantra of "good leaders study tactics, great leaders study logistics" has been known for a long time but the change in American army culture to truly value the work done by their officers is fairly recent. This opened up an easier time acquiring their budget and setting their own goals. Your airforce would need to follow a similar recipy.

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