Advocates of traditional counterinsurgency doctrine argue that air power is not as effective as ground presence when fighting an insurgency. They are wrong because ground troops can cause just as much collateral damage to the local population.
He's right to a certain degree. Ground troops can easily harm just as many civilians as a pilot in an F-18. If you abstracted Dunlap's logic to its furthest extent, ground forces should actually be causing the preponderance of civilian casualties because there are more of them and operate closest to them. I'm even willing to accept that statement on its face value.
The only problem with Dunlap's argument is that it is missing one key element: The objective of counterinsurgency is to establish and maintain public order, not merely fight off insurgents. Just read this statement:
Consider, for instance, this astonishing statement from a ISAF spokesman: “I am assured by uniformed colleagues in NATO that there is a marginal difference to the potential for civilian casualties between using a 500lb bomb and a 2,000lb bomb."
If military people really believe that there is only a “marginal” difference between a 500 lbs. bomb and a 2,000 lbs. bomb, then the depth of misinformation is truly disturbing. Accordingly, my article will examine the technologies and processes that operate today to limit collateral damage from air-delivered munitions.
What does collateral damage matter when you accidentally bomb a wedding? Or someone's home? Does an Iraqi care whether the Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb in his neighborhood or is a quarter-ton okay?
Setting aside accidents and collateral damage, how would General Dunlap feel if bombs rained down on his hometown at random intervals? Does he think he could live a normal under such conditions?
The key to winning a counterinsurgency is understand both the military and the social dimensions of the conflict. An aircraft can attack insurgents, drop leaflets and provide humanitarian relief, but it can't establish trusting relationships with the locals, gather intelligence, or ensure basic order like ground troops can.
Unless the Air Force is willing to get out of its collective cockpit and spend some serious time working with the locals, it will never be flexible enough to play anything more than a supporting role in stability operations.