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Halt Phase Strategy: New Wine in Old Skins . . . with Powerpoint

Authored by Dr. Earl H. Tilford Jr..

July 23, 1998

42 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Analyzes the Halt Phase Strategy/Doctrine currently advocated by the Air Force. As a part of his analysis, the author traces the immediate origins of Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review. Dr. Tilford contends, however, that Halt's real origins are more closely identified with intrinsic Air Force strategic bombing doctrine, and are to be found in strategies associated with atomic and nuclear deterrence and warfighting. Thus, he concludes that Halt is really "new wine in old skins" being presented today more aggressively because of rapid technological advances.


The defense intellectual community is currently engaged in a heated debate over alternative future strategies. The outcome of this debate may well shape the kind of forces with which the United States will maintain its security well beyond the first quarter of the 21st century. The debate has engaged a broad spectrum of the community and, despite being sometimes advanced by the latest in "Powerpoint" slide briefing techniques, really revolves around old issues surrounding the role of air power and is fostered by the even older motivation of a scramble for limited budget resources. At the center of the debate is a concept called the "Halt Phase Strategy/Doctrine," or more simply, "Halt."

Proponents of Halt advocate using joint air power as the primary or supported force in the first few days of a conflict. This strategy would be especially critical in a second major theater of war (MTW) when American ground forces are already heavily committed to a first theater. It would also be viable as a response to the primary aggression if the aggressor attacked with mechanized forces across open terrain. Halt proponents claim that air power can stop enemy forces short of their objective in about 2 weeks. Once the enemy force has been stopped, the theater commander-in-chief (CINC) can use air power to dominate the battlefield or, if appropriate, attack critical targets in the enemy's rear or homeland, while bringing additional forces into the theater for "countering action" (formerly known as the counteroffensive). If needed at all, a counterattack by land and air forces would be a kind of mopping up operation since the issue would have been decided in the Halt Phase. Halt proponents maintain that this strategy offers a more effective and efficient way of warfighting, one that will save not only American lives but also resources. Since the Halt Strategy calls for a significant reduction in the size of the Active Component of the U.S. Army, it has caused a great deal of consternation and internal discussion within the defense community. Although Halt's primary proponents couch their rhetoric in terms of "joint airpower," this is a service parochial, Air Force initiative.

First indications that the Air Force was becoming wary of the possible outcome of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) surfaced in a March 1997 article in Armed Forces Journal entitled, "Assessing Airpower's Importance: Will the QDR Debate Falter for Lack of Proper Analytical Tools?". The author, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Steve McNamara, claimed that the capabilities of air power so dramatically witnessed in the Gulf War had not been properly recognized. According to the author, the problem is that "The current generation of mathematical models does not capture the asymmetric contributions of airpower." Specifically, TACWAR, the standard campaign model used by the Department of Defense and the Joint Staff, failed to fully demonstrate the potential contributions of air power.

Then in May, the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review was released, and the Air Force was not pleased with its recommendations. It suffered 26,900 personnel cuts as against 15,000 for the Army and 18,000 for the Navy. Worse, favored weapons programs were hit hard. The F-22 fighter program was reduced from 438 to 339 aircraft; the B-2 bomber program was capped at 21 aircraft, and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) surveillance aircraft procurement program was reduced from 19 to 13 aircraft.

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