AWC History

The Air War College turned fifty years old in 1997. At that time, Dr. James “Doc” Mowbray, wrote the below essay to commemorate that milestone in our history. Doc served as a Professor of Aerospace Doctrine and Strategy at the AWC from April 1986 to September 2015. He dedicated his life to professional military education. He had a passion for military history and shared his deep knowledge of Air Force History and Doctrine to thousands. His expertise on USAF history reached across the nation, and through his influence on AWC International Fellows, around the world. Doc was widely known at the subject matter expert for Airpower history and doctrine and Air Force leadership and heritage. He lived the value of service before self by serving as judge for the Secretary of Defense, as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, essay competitions. Additionally, he took on leadership roles in the AWC Alumni Association, as an RCS Trip Director, and spent part of each summer teaching the IOS preparation course. Doc earned his PhD in History from Duke University, his Master’s from Wayne State University. He taught at Auburn University at Montgomery, Troy University, Northrup Services, and Weber College.

Doc always welcomed new faculty and students with joy and enthusiasm. There was never a time when he couldn’t spare a few minutes to talk to students or colleagues. Under his guidance, our Alumni Association prospered. His absence is still felt at the Air War College. Thank you for this history, Doc.


“We Make Progress Unhindered by Custom”—the motto of the Air Corps

Tactical School on its crest from its beginning in the 1920s.

When the Air Corps Tactical School closed in 1940 for the duration of the Second World War, no one knew when or if it would reopen.  The U.S. Army was progressively reorganized between the spring of 1941 and the spring of 1942.  The Air Corps continued to be the aviation branch of the Army, but it became a part of the new U. S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941.  The AAF represented one third of the U.S. Army, the other parts being the U. S. Army Ground Forces and the U. S. Army Service Forces.  Air Force Combat Command (AFCC) and the Air Corps were the AAF’s two parts.  The Commanding General, AFCC controlled the fighting forces, the four numbered air forces, and the Office, Chief of the Air Corps controlled all of the support organizations, such as Materiel Command, Ferrying Command, and the training organizations.  On 9 October 1942, the wartime equivalent of the Air Corps Tactical School, the AAF School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT), was organized at Orlando Army Air Field, Orlando, Florida, under the Flying Training Centers.

AAFSAT controlled eleven major and many minor flying fields all over central Florida, from Cross City to below Tampa Bay and almost to Cape Canaveral.  It remains the most unique air training and education organization ever created, and during the course of the war was by far the largest such organization in the world.  Essentially it prepared all of the units destined to go overseas to the theaters of military operations, by equipping them with the latest tactics, techniques, procedures, doctrine, and experiences coming back from operational units overseas.  It did this both in the classroom and in the air.

This wartime organization served as the model post-war for the new Air University, which was established 12 March 1946 by redesignation of the Army Air Forces School at Maxwell Field.  This became a major Army Air Forces training and educational command, with a revamped ACTS at the pinnacle of its structure, in the form of the Air War College, which opened its doors at Maxwell Field in 1946 for the 1946-47 class.  At Craig Field, in Selma, Air University established the Air Command and Staff School; at Tyndall Field, Florida, the Air Tactical School was established, and large areas around Eglin Field were retained to provide the type of large scale air training complex which central Florida had been during the war for AAFSAT.

A picture containing outdoor, man, person, skyDescription automatically generatedAt the end of World War II the Joint Chiefs decided that only one war college would be required, and the Army War College at Fort McNair, Washington, DC, was selected as the site of the new National War College.  Naval War College was to open only as an intermediate school.  The Air War College, which was seen as merely another Army branch school, was to be unaffected by this decision.  The Army Industrial College, also at Fort McNair, became the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and National Defense University was off to the races.  Within months the services reversed this decision as it became clear that one small war college could never produce the numbers of graduates required for the size of the post-war armed forces.  This was further complicated by the passage of the National Security Act of 26 July 1947, which created the separate United States Air Force.  Thus, Air War College emerged as the Air Force senior service school on the same level as the other service and national senior schools.  Air Force officers would soon attend all of these schools, and the other services would send their officers to Air War College, which partially explains the multi-service nature of the student body at Air War College.

When Air War College first opened its doors in 1946 it was for a one year long course of instruction to end in 1947.  The first Commandant was Major General Orvil A. Anderson, of 8th Air Force fame, and an expert on strategic bombardment operations.  The building it occupied was the old Air Corps Tactical School, which also housed Air University HQ.  The curriculum was designed “to promote sound concepts of the broad aspects of air power in order to assure the most effective development and employment of the air arm,” as well as “to prepare senior officers for command and staff assignments.”  While there were fifteen separate blocks of instruction, ranging from one week to four weeks in length, the focus was clearly on war fighting.  This would remain the focus for a long period of time.  The materials included the study of strategy, tactics, logistics, technology, intelligence, and command and management, all from an Army Air Forces, later Air Force, perspective.

The first class contained seventy-one students, two from the Royal Air Force and one from the Canadian Air Force (CAF).  Of the first class, thirty-two would eventually achieve flag rank, and two, David Burchinal and Joe Kelly, would reach four stars before retirement.  There are now auditoriums in AWC named for both of them.  Alan Deere, one of the RAF officers, and well known for his Battle of Britain exploits as a fighter pilot, would retire as an air commodore, as did Charles G. Ruttan, one of the other RAF officers, the two becoming the first “IO” graduates to reach flag rank.  Two graduates are identified as Army officers, but this was to differentiate them from Air Corps officers, in what was essentially the aviation branch school.

 The Air Force intended the schools at AU to both educate their students, and to contribute to the operational Air Force.  Each of the schools’ faculty and student body were assigned the task of writing brand new doctrine for the brand new Air Force.  Air War College was to write “basic doctrine,” while the other schools wrote operational and tactical doctrine.  AWC assigned student task forces to work various aspects of the doctrine writing, and members of the class of 1947-8 were the first to be heavily involved in this work.  A small number of students were kept on for a period of time as advanced students to work the doctrine issues, and this seems to have persisted for some years.  This second class began writing what was destined to become AFM 1-2  Air Force Basic Doctrine,  finally published in March 1953, the first post-war USAF doctrine.  Col Richard A. Grussendorf, later a two-star and the commander of 10th Air Force after the Korean War, was one of the key team members.  The same month that AFM 1-2 appeared, four operational level doctrine manual drafts were sent forward to the Air Staff for approval, and in due course most of them would see the light of day, between the spring of 1953 and the summer of 1954.

The 1947-8 class contained 97 students, of whom 53 achieved flag rank before retiring.  Gabriel Disosway, Kenneth B. Dobson, and Hunter Harris all became USAF four-star generals.  Thomas Moorman retired as a three-star and was followed in the USAF by his son, recently retired from the service as a four-star.  It is worthy of note that this second class, graduating from what was now effectively a “service” senior school, rather than a branch school of the Army, included both Army and Navy members.  James H. Flatley retired as a vice-admiral, and James W. McCauley as a rear-admiral, while one Army officer, John P. Willey, became a brigadier general, and two Army officers, David P. Gibbs and Edwin A. Walker attained the grade of major-general.  Walker would later be notorious for his John Birch Society activities and enforced early retirement from the Army.

The 1948-49 class rose to 123 students, of whom 48 achieved flag rank.  It is, perhaps, significant that this class also included naval officers who attained relatively high rank, two reaching the rank of vice-admiral, R. J. Stroh and P. P. Blackburn, and two rear admiral, D. F. Smith  and R. A. Keating.  The only four-star out of the class was Howell M. Estes, Jr., father of  the present general officer of the same name.  There were five RAF officers that year, and three of them reached flag rank before their retirement.  There were also four Army officers who achieved general officer status before leaving the service.

The class of 1949-50, with 137 members, was the largest to date.  It was notable for several reasons, in addition to its size. This was the first year in which a civilian academic advisor was present on the staff, in the person of Dr. C. F. Hager.  In March 1949 Hager joined a faculty and staff of 25 officers, 7 enlisted men, and 18 civilian employees.  The Extension Course program was first authorized 16 September 1949 and organized in October.  The resident class of 1950 included the first African American to become a graduate of the Air War College, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the original Tuskeegee Airmen,  and later a lieutenant general.  William W. Momyer, another fighter leader from World War II, was in this class, and, before his retirement, he was to earn four stars, leading 7th Air Force in Vietnam, and then Tactical Air Command (TAC).  Col Karl Polifka, for whom the Squadron Officers School auditorium is named,  was also in the class, perhaps the Air Force’s premier “reconnaissance expert” and advocate during and after the war.  This class produced 49 flag rank officers, including the first two Marines to enter the school, both of whom went on to become major generals, John P. Condon, and Charles J. Quilter.

The class of 1950-1 was delayed until January 1951 because of the outbreak of the Korean War. Although only five and one half months long, the class studied the same material covered in the year long course. To accomplish this, the time in seminar, the critical reading load, and the “study of bibliography” were reduced.  It was a significant year also because the first Commandant, General Anderson, made a speech on the subject of nuclear attack on the enemies of the US, the rough thrust of which was that we should “nuke ‘em til they glow!”  President Harry S. Truman, who was not interested in ending the Korean War by such a means, and who had worked hard to convey to the world that we had no intention of doing this, was, to put it mildly, “put out,” which is precisely what he did with Anderson.  The new Commandant was Major General John DeForest Baker, the Deputy Commanding General of  Air University, with AWC as a second duty, pending the selection of a new permanent Commandant.  In the summer of 1951, Major General Roscoe C. Wilson became the Air War College Commandant, and with him came a return of stability to the institution and its course of study.  That same summer AWC moved into buildings 802 and 803, which in recent years have housed the Academic Instructor School.

The USAF proposed to reduce AWC to five and one half months permanently, however, that did not happen and the 1951-2 school year, and the ensuing 1952-3 class were ten months long, a pattern which would persist for many years.  This class included the first civilian, W. E. Little.  After a one week Orientation, Phase I spent ten weeks studying “International Relations,” Phase II was twenty weeks on “Air Warfare,” and Phase III was ten weeks on “Global Strategy.”  A thesis was required, and the use of advanced students to work the doctrine issues seems to have been maintained.  Into the middle 1980’s the curriculum would be organized in “phases,” as opposed to courses of instruction.  During 1952-3 plans for a new building, on the present Academic Circle, were laid.

Over the ensuing years the curriculum remained relatively stable.  Then, in 1956-7 there were substantial changes to the curriculum and by 1957-8 the three phases were styled “International Relations,” “Current Strategy,” and “The Continuing Conflict.”  This arrangement would persist until 1960-1.  In 1953 the graduating numbers reached 159 and for a decade remained fairly constant, ranging from a low of 157 in 1957 to a high of 165 in 1961.  The number of general officers produced by each class ranged from a high of 46 in 1953 to a low of 12 in 1956, that is, until 1962, when the number fell to a total of 7.  It should be noted that the Extension Course produced its first three graduates in 1956 which, at the time, required five years of course work and a fifty page “dissertation.”  Senator Barry Goldwater graduated from the Associate Program (Extension Course) in 1959.

The class of 1954 was the first ever to graduate a Medal of Honor winner, Col Robert E. Galer, USMC, who received his medal for actions on Guadalcanal, August-September, 1942.  In August 1962 Air War College took possession of Building 1401, still being remodeled, and has remained there ever since.  Incidentally, in a short time Bldg. 1401 was named Anderson Hall, in honor of Maj Gen Orvil Anderson, the first AWC Commandant.  By this time doctrine writing had been transferred elsewhere and would not return to the Air War College until the early nineties.  The classes of 1960, 1963, and 1964 each graduated a Medal of Honor winner, the first two of whom already had won their award before coming to school.  They were Col William R. Lawley, Jr., USAF, for actions in a B-17 over Europe in 1944, and Captain Thomas L. Hudner, Jr., USN, for aerial action in Korea in 1950.  Lt Col Joe M. Jackson, USAF, graduated in 1964, whereupon he went to Vietnam, winning the award in 1968.

In 1965-66 the curriculum underwent a substantial change, being divided into five areas and 18 phases running for 40 weeks.  After a week of Orientation, Area I, “Bases of Power and Conflict” ran for seven weeks, and was followed by Area II, “US National Security Policy,” for six weeks.  The third segment, Area III, “Military Decision Making,” covered only three weeks, while its follow-on, Area IV, “Military Capabilities,” ran for 12 weeks.  Area V, “Military Strategy—Current and Future,” for 11 weeks, was the culmination of the year.  Lt Col William A. Jones, III, USAF, graduated from AWC in the class of 1966, and later (1970) received the Medal of Honor posthumously for aerial action in Vietnam on 1 September 1968.  Jones auditorium, the main lecture facility in Anderson Hall, is dedicated to him.

From 1967 to 1969 the curriculum changed as with the swing of a pendulum, and the creep of leadership and management into the curriculum gradually gnawed away at the war fighting studies.  In 1969-70 Areas I, III, and IV were “Political-Military Power,”  “Military Capabilities and Employment,” and “Military Strategy and the Influence of Air Power,” respectively, but Area II was “Defense Management and DOD Decision Making.”  The school year 1967-8 saw the first introduction of the Electives Program, and this element was increased thereafter.  That year also marked the return of African-Americans to the ranks of Air War College graduates with Lt Col A. F. Turner, US Army, completing the course.A group of people sitting in front of a buildingDescription automatically generated

In 1964 the class size at the Air War College jumped from the largest ever class the previous year, 176, to 258 students.  The new building made such an expansion feasible.  For four years, until the arrival of the class of 1968, the numbers ran around 266, give or take a couple in a given year.  From 1968 to 1970 the classes were 130+, and only in 1971 did enrollment begin to approach 200, as the Vietnam War wound down.  In 1969 LtCol P.X. Kelley, USMC, graduated, and was destined to be the first chief of any service graduated from the Air War College.  He would become 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  The year 1970 saw the first woman graduate of AWC, Lt Col L. P. Willingham, USAF.  The class of 1972 included Lt Col Merlyn H. Dethlefson, USAF, who had earned the Medal of Honor on 10 March 1967, while a Captain in Vietnam.  Lt Col Michael Dugan, later Chief of Staff of the Air Force from 1989 to 1990, was the second service Chief to graduate from Air War College, in 1973.   By 1974 the largest class in history graduated, with a total of 301 officers and civilians completing the program.  Among these was the first African-American Air Force graduate since Benjamin O. Davis in 1950, twenty years before, Lt Col  J. H. Brocks, USAF.  That was also the first year in which an International Officer from other than an English speaking country, Lt Col  E. Fischer, Luftwaffe, graduated from AWC.

When Congress finally decided, in the wake of the Vietnam War, that it needed to take a hard look at the senior schools’ curriculum, the Clements Commission found that far too much of the Air War College Curriculum in particular was devoted to leadership, management, behavioral studies and other non-war fighting matters.  Specifically, the recommendation was, among others things, to reintroduce the study of military history, and to use it at some length.  Although it took a few years to get this cranked up and in place, the Clements Commission Report remained the mainstay of Congressional guidance until the Skelton Report of the 1980s, which found it necessary to revisit the same issue, and once again remind the Air Force that one cannot understand the future if one has no understanding of the past.

In the late 1970s and into the middle 1980s, the curriculum was relatively stable.  The number of graduates varied somewhat from 197 in 1980 to more than 250 in 1983.  The production of flag officers ranged from a low of 2 out of the 1969 class to a maximum of 26 from the class of 1971.  The class of 1981 produced the penultimate Medal of Honor graduate when Colonel James E. Livingston, USMC, another Vietnam era winner crossed the stage.  He would go on to retire from the Marine Corps as a major general.

A picture containing text, photoDescription automatically generatedClasses from the 1980s are now beginning to produce numbers of general officers.  For example, 1986 has generated one American four star, and two-three star officers so far.  That class also graduated the most recent of the Air War College’s Medal of Honor winners, in the person of  Col James P. Fleming, USAF, who received his award for aerial action in Vietnam on 26 Nov 68.  He went on to finish his career educating young officers at Squadron Officers School, the successor to the immediate post-war Air Tactical School, originally at Tyndall.   More recent classes are also fairing well, but the closer we come to the present the less certain one can be about how many flags will ultimately originate in a given class.

In the middle 1980s the curriculum had settled down to three departments generating three main courses of instruction in the school.  “Military Strategy Analysis,”  “National Security Studies,” and a small “Command and Leadership” department offered from one to several courses in the core of study.  Generally, a major research writing project was expected from each student, and war gaming in the form of class-wide exercises had become common place.  Electives first started in the 1967-8 school year continued in the curriculum.  In the mid-eighties Lt Gen Thomas Richards arrived with a mandate to reform Air University in general and Air War College in particular.  His reforms, among others, abolished the Educational Development Center, and extended to creation of a core of civilian Ph. D. instructors for the War College. 

Major General Harold Todd, who was Commandant in the 1985 to 1989 period, instituted one of  the most important curriculum reforms the school has ever undergone, by developing the overseas travel seminars. The first of these, organized “on the fly” by Col Jerry Lopez, went overseas in 1989.  The Regional Studies Program would later be more fully developed, formalized, larger, and intellectually deeper, as a result of the growth from this initial base.  Without it, Air War College, in the opinion of its graduates, who have learned so much from this program of study, would be just another one of the service war colleges.  The Non-Resident, or Associate Program as it was then called, reached a peak in enrollment in the years around 1985, being in the neighborhood of 10,000 at any one time.  In 1989 it became a two year long program, as opposed to the more traditional one year program.  This only lasted until 1991, when it returned to the one year format.  During that short period non-resident students read everything the resident students read.  Enrollment dropped to 1,175. Through these efforts, the intellectual qualities of the Air War College were greatly improved.  Yet the 1990s saw the organization of these resources in a manner which allowed AWC to rise above the other senior schools.

In 1989 the untimely death of Lt Gen Ralph Havens brought a new AU Commander, Lt Gen Charles Boyd.  He came, not unlike Lt Gen Thomas Richards in 1985, to work on serious reforms, and Boyd, motivated by the Skelton Report on Professional Military Education (PME), aimed principally at reform of the Air War College by bringing in his own carefully selected Commandant.  Arriving in January 1990, before the school year ended, he installed in April 1990 a new Commandant, Maj Gen Charles G. Link, who was intent upon restoring the study of air warfare to the curriculum.  He instituted a series of reform measures, including a significant change in the character of the military faculty by insisting that they be chiefly operators with real command experience.  He oversaw the introduction of testing and grading, a part of the Skelton Reforms, and he required every academic department to address air power wherever appropriate in its segment of the core curriculum, while fostering the inclusion of more air power courses in the elective program.  Up and down the line the Air War College moved closer to the requirements of the Air Force, and the precepts upon which AWC had originally been founded, that is, “ . . . to promote sound concepts of the broad aspects of air power in order to assure the most effective development and employment of the air arm.”

 In addition, General Link personally undertook major and significant work on the final writing of the brand new AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, dated March 1992.  This was the first time in forty years that the Air War College had fulfilled one of its original missions, which was to contribute to the operational Air Force, expressly in the writing of USAF doctrine.

Although General Link moved to command of 3rd Air Force in England only fourteen months after he arrived at AWC, he had a most pronounced impact upon the school and its curriculum.  This air power oriented program was inherited by Maj Gen Peter D. Robinson, who worked to fine tune and improve what he had inherited.  He moved the Air War College intellectually, for the first time, to the forefront of the senior service school procession.  Civilian department heads were created, along with a civilian Dean, and over time the academic quality continued to improve.  The International Studies Program, including the fully developed regional studies efforts, centered on travel to the region being considered by a particular study group, reached its greatest effectiveness.  In this same period, the Air War College became the first senior service school to achieve the distinction of joint accreditation by J-5.  This made the school a Joint Education, Phase I, Professional Military Education institution, as required by law.

During the 1990s, the Air War College has emphasized critical thinking for its senior officer students.  For example, AWC dominated the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategy Essay Competition for three straight years, under the Robinson influence and that of his successor, Maj Gen D. Bruce Smith, 1994, 1995, and 1996, taking every place but one in the first of those years, winning outright in ’95, and sharing the victory with NDU in ’96.  In 1997 AWC had three women students’ papers in the competition, one of which was the only AWC paper selected as a Distinguished Essay that year, among a total of ten nation-wide. 

Clearly, the 1990s have seen the Air War College intellectually at the top of the senior service school pyramid. The fine quality of the faculty, civilian and military, has been demonstrated by the improved quality of teaching, contributions to overseas schools in other nations, guest lectures all around the world, as well as the quality of many of the publications, books, and articles, some of which are helping the Air Force to shape its future.  In this regard, some mention must be made of the several year long studies undertaken between 1994 and 1996, such as Space Cast 2020, the strategic aerospace warfare study, Aerospace Power for the 21st Century:  A Theory to Fly By, dated 4 October 1996, developed by an international group for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Air Force 2025, the biggest of all of the studies ever done by the Air War College and its sister school, Air Command and Staff College.

In the first fifty years the Non-Resident Program, from which so many of our alumnae come, has graduated 33,000 officers and civilians, and produced more general officers from the ranks of those graduates than has the Resident School from its ranks, with about 11,000 graduates.  The Air War College Non-Resident Program is by far the largest in existence in the Western World, and often takes in officers from other friendly Air Forces who cannot otherwise attend this school.

The numbers of general officers being created from the Air War College classes of the late eighties and the early nineties seems destined to increase, and many of the school’s graduates are on the road to future greatness.  The improving quality of the Air War College, its staff, faculty, and student body, and its growing importance to the Air Force and the country, will continue as the nation moves into space and, consistent with the Chief’s vision, we become a space and air force, and then a space force.

And it all started in a barn in a field with the Wright Brothers in 1910.

Dr. Mowbray's essay was printed in the Air War College Alumni Directory, published by Harris Connect, Chesapeake, VA (2007).

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