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The Air Force Way of WarThe Air Force Way of War

U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam

Brian Laslie

Narrated by Robert J. Eckrich

Approximately 8.5 hours


Downloadable edition:

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Book published by University Press of Kentucky

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 Laslie is deputy command historian at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).


“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. An 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

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

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