Interservice Rivalry and Airpower in the Vietnam War -Ian Horwood

About the Author:

British historian. BA in politics and modern history. MA in history from the U of Missouri-Columbia. PhD in history from the University of Leeds. Taught history and American studies at York St. John University since 1994 where he is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Contemporary History Program. He lives in New York.


This book examines the interservice rivalry/cooperation between the services in Vietnam as they relate to the use of air power. It focuses on the fighting in South Vietnam and conflicts between the US Army, Marine Corps and Air Force over the best way to employ air power here. Horwood describes the USAF’s continuous contention that a single manager should monitor/control the air assets in the theater while the Army and Marine Corps would prefer to maintain their organic assets under their control.

Horwood uses the battle at Khe Sanh to elucidate more general lessons/issues regarding the use of air power in the entire conflict. Without providing a solution to the problem, he documents the perceived implications of placing all air assets under a single manager as decreasing efficiency of air support to ground units and threatening the need for maintaining organic air assets in the army and marine corps. Based on this threat, the marines and army continue to fight against yielding control of their air assets to a single manager.

Main argument:

Interservice rivalry was a significant factor in Vietnam with untold consequences in the war and afterward.

Evidence used:

Horwood uses service doctrine documents, battle details, statements by senior military/civilian leaders and congressional acts to tell his story.


This book does a good job of capturing the lack of cooperation between the services during Vietnam. Unfortunately, the reader is left to wonder several things. 1) What were the effects of the rivalry on the “joint fight?” 2) What, if anything, could have been done to prevent the ill effects and benefit from the positive effects of service competition? 3) What were the real sources of the frustration between the services? 4) How did the management of the services by their political masters help or hurt the American effort in Vietnam based on interservice cooperation/rivalry issues?


This book goes deeper into the exploration of the interservice rivalry references made in the previous two books on Vietnam. It highlights the importance of unity of command and suggests the vital role civilian leaders must play to effectively employ military force. Further, it highlights the political nature of the acquisitions process and the way each of the services attempts to leverage technology to carve its “deserved portion” out of the DOD budget.

Overall impression:

This book attempts to assess the value of the children’s statements during their fight instead of assessing the parents’ responsibility to ensure an effective relationship.


This book is great if you are looking for statements/examples to highlight different perspectives of the different services or to show how divisive interservice relationships can be. It also includes a great account of the battle for Khe Sanh from an air power perspective.

Class Notes:

There is no "joint fight" in Vietnam. There are unified commands in name, but specified commands in reality. There is no effective adjudication authority.

The customer is not the army; the customer is the joint fight.

Biologists say form follows function. This book argues function follows form.

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