Joining the dots…

Obviously air power has a most important role to play in combating an irregular force.
The purpose of this seminar is to ask you how you would consider employing air power in
such capacity. Not an easy question!

How would you consider employing Air Power in combating an irregular Force?

I would use air power to sense, move and engage..

I was really disappointed in this week’s seminar, especially since it’s closely related to the topic of my current research trip where I have been spending a lot of time with people who deal with the irregular environment every day and have done for years.

I’d also consider asking some questions that better explore the issues and challenges that air power faces in the irregular environment, and not limit it solely to irregular warfare i.e. explore the USMC concept of irregular threats or even better the UK one of irregular activity, against which air power is employed on a close to daily basis. I’d also find some readings that explore these issues and that are not simply regurgitated products from the school.  There are ample writings available in the international IW community that would led to some good robust discussion (unfortunately only in a virtual forum) to peel back these issues and apply them to a national or regional context…

That might seem a bit harsh but it’s not because the time I can spare at the moment is around midnight…this seminar comes across as a last-minute bolt-on without much thought or preparation…a deviation from the path of true and pure i.e. real air power i.e. MCO. It should probably be one of the more important topics of the course that might lead into a module on ‘What Future For Air Power?’….some ideas for what could have been…

Two air forces: MCO and COIN? or a single air force for MCO and let partners handle COIN/IW…? Should we just toss COIN/IW into the SO box?

The advent of unmanned and now autonomous UAS.

How might we handle the proliferation of miniature (and smaller) UAS which are the greater threat to manned aircraft?

What are the challenges of ISR and strike in an IW coalition?

Are the days of MCO over?

Is there a place for air power in war amongst the people?

What happens when the ‘other guy’ gets UAS?

Will cyberwar replace or supplement traditional air power roles and functions? Should cyber even be an air role?

Is the current IW focus on PGM an ‘a’ war or ‘the’ war lesson?

What effects might events like wikileaks have on air power? Or do they have an effect at all – maybe we just tend to over-classify anyway…?

What effects might current outsourcing/contracting philosophies have upon air power in an IW environment?

As ISR collection capabilities expand exponentially, what changes might we need to make to ensure that air forces can optimise the terabytes of information now available – will we need a larger analysis ‘tail’ to support a shrinking number of teeth?

Do the OBL raid, Op BARRAS, and ISAF cross-border drone strikes lead towards an era where more smaller (possibly unilateral) cross-border incursions more more common as a tool of National power?


This seminar considers the international laws and conventions that should limit the application of air power. Humanity, proportionality, and military necessity remain the underlying tenets of the application of air power. Should international law ever be overlooked in order to achieve a military victory? Some think so, do you? This seminar is a vital and most important segment of the course. 


Does international law favour the offensive air campaign?

Most absolutely…offensive ≠ indiscriminate or disproportionate.

In 1928 the Chief of the Air Staff RAF wrote in his paper The War Object of an Air Force’What is illegitimate, as being contrary to the dictates of humanity, is the indiscriminate bombing of a city for the sole purpose of terrorising the civilian population’. Would you regard this as evidence that the higher command of the RAF was fully aware of jus in bello?

Possibly…looking at the history of papers and articles written by air forces leaders, it is clear that there is a difference between what may be written in a paper, perhaps to foster or provoke debate and what actual policy and doctrine might be. Without context and supporting evidence, this constitutes little more than opinion.

In February 1942 the Chief of the Air Staff, RAF, Sir Charles Portal wrote to the C-in-C Bomber Command …’I suppose it is clear that the aiming points are to be the built up areas, not, for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories….This must be made quite clear if it is not already understood’. Would such a directive constitute a war crime today?

Again, this is a brief statement with no supporting context and thus rather meaningless. Is it a case of national survival? It states ‘built-up areas’, not centres of population…are such ‘built-up areas’ inhabited or just convenient and/or practical centres of mass for applying force? Today, without an operational context and much more information, the legality of this approach cannot be considered; certainly it does not call for direct attacks against the population and could in fact easily be employed as part of the much-vaunted Warden ‘doctrine’.

Do you think the provisions of Protocol 1 unduly hamper the proper use of air power?

No. That would entirely depend upon what effects are desired/required in support of national objectives, and what means might be available to create those effects.

Was the principle of Proportionality contravened with the destruction of the Republican Guard by air power while retreating from Kuwait at the end of the First Gulf War?

No, not really…firstly the Republican Guard was not destroyed and many of those killed in those attacks were just poor sods in the wrong place at the wrong time. If any ‘law’ was contravened it was more likely that of discrimination. But, then again, that unbridled use of air power may have discouraged a few of the other kids on the block from misbehaving so, in the global scheme of things, may have achieved a larger purpose in which it probably fell within accepted rules…which is just a bit unfortunate if you’d decided to take the new Merc for a spin up to Basra that week…

Can Protocol 1 be reconciled with Sherman’s view that war is cruelty and cannot be refined?

Easily…Sherman never said that it only applied to civilians or non-combatants; and it also takes into account that only a small proportion of combatants actually pay much more than lip service to accepted rules of war…

I found these questions very superficial and simplistic in regard to the weight of the actual issues which are neither superficial nor simple…and this didn’t really feel that compelled to develop the themes any further…the bottom lines remains the weighting added to national interest in determining the conduct of any campaign and while it may be easy to leap onto the moral high ground, it is quite another matter to conduct an effective campaign from that location. It may even be that an over-emphasis on one aspect proportionality, for example, simply shifts the moral breach to another area, perhaps the well-being of one’s own forces and nation…?

A legend in its own mind

This week the air campaign in Kosovo is examined. The gradualist/risk strategy was employed despite its apparent discrediting in the Vietnam War. This led to a conflict between the commanders. General Short wished for the implementation of a punishment theory. It remains true that ground forces were not committed. However, was it the air campaign alone that achieved the favourable outcome or is there other factors? Was this a true convergence of ‘effects’ generated by the fortuitous or planned combination of offensive military action and the actions of a range of non-military players?

The gradualist (graduated escalation?) strategy was discredited in Vietnam? The elements of strategy and tactics that were discredited in Vietnam (and other conflicts where the same has occurred) were those that were separated from the professionals in those fields and dictated largely by powerful but inexperienced (in warfare) politicians.

Ground forces were not committed in Kosovo? So which famous armoured brigade crawled over narrow mountain roads into Kosovo? (Clue: its emblem is a rodent) Who raced the Russians for Pristina airport? Who’s still there now? While the air campaign may have helped set the scene for a relatively successful positive outcome to the Kosovo campaign, let’s not forget that the other instruments of the DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic) model were also decisively engaged in regional, domestic and international fora; and that these elements also deserve recognition for the roles they played in the campaign.

Russian vehicles mount a road block at Pristina Airport. A British armoured fighting vehicle and Landrover provide assistance

It might actually be argued that Serbian land forces would have been more decisively engaged had a land campaign been conducted in the traditional manner. The ability of the air component to engage Serbian land forces proved to be far more difficult than in the super-optimal environment of Kuwait and southern Iraq, and there is considerable evidence that a large number of targets engaged were ‘spoofs’. As events in the Falaise Gap (1944), Quang Tri province (1972) and the road to Basra (1991) showed, land forces in contact and on the move are significantly easier to engage with aerial fires.


Given that the first Gulf War concluded with a notion of air power being capable of winning wars, how has the employment of air power since then challenged that assumption?

This notion existed in a very few minds and if there is one single reason for air power’s lack of traction as an equal component of military power, it is the constant assumption of achievements that do not exist. Air power did not win the Kosovo campaign, Gulf War 1,or the Battle of Britain any more than my three-legged floppy-eared Spaniel. Not only do the domains operate together as part of the joint environment, there is no solely military solution to conflicts and these military options are employed as part of a whole of government inter-agency and broader comprehensive approach.

The notion that dominated military thinking after DESERT STORM was that of the revolution in military affairs, the dreaded RMA, but not one in air power. DESERT STORM was the first conflict where information had been employed as a decisive tool. As it turned out as the 90s unfolded, much of the hype from that conflict was simply just that, hype; but at the time it had swayed the minds of the world to justify both the conflict and the methods by which it was conducted. While the application of air power may have influenced the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, that movement did not actually start until after the commencement of the ground war. This action offered an unacceptable threat to Iraqi land forces and forced the withdrawal, or maybe rout would be more accurate. While air power advocates may crow over the road to Basra, it is arguable whether that level of destruction was actually necessary or that it contributed anything meaningful to the conclusion of the conflict. For whatever reasons, air power was also unable to deter Iraqi repression of Shia in southern Iraq.

So how have events since March 1991 challenged the assumption that air power won the 1991 Gulf War? Quite simply there has not been a single campaign or conflict that could claim to have been ‘won’ by air power. To flip that around, every conflict since March 1991 has required ‘boots on the ground’ (or ‘boats in the water’ in the case of counter-piracy campaigns) to force a conclusion:

Somalia. 1992-95 and current. Air used for ISR and mobility; a strong air bridge into Mogadishu during the former campaign. All decisive actions fought on the ground with air in support.

Bosnia. Resolved by the deployment of a powerful US force prepared and empowered to play the warlords at their own game, meeting force with force. Primarily a land mission during the decisive post-Dayton phase with air in support.

Rwanda. Air could have played a decisive supporting role here in 1994 by enabling the mass airlift of troops to reinforce the small UN force and reduce if not halt the genocide.

Kosovo. See above: possibly a contributor to the scene setting before the deployment of land forces, however there are arguments that the air campaign was largely counter-productive and actually strengthened Serbian resolve.

Bougainville. The 1997 deployment of peacekeepers (withdrawn in mission success in 2003) was supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement.

Solomon Islands. 2000, 2003, 2006-current. Land force deployment supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; air transport also employed during various NEO during these periods.

East Timor. Major ground force deployment (division level) supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; kinetic air support also stood to during the lodgement phase in 1999.

RNZAF Iroquois helicopters fly Australian troops in Dili, Timor-Leste.

South Ossetia. Major, albeit one-sided land force on force confrontation between Russia and Georgia, with air in support (primarily on the Russian side after Day1) for ISR, strike, mobility and CAS.

Chechnya. Primarily a land conflict between conventional Russian forces and irregular Chechan forces; significant air resources employed by Russia to no discernible positive value.

Iraq. The primary effect of the no-fly zone campaign and its associated sporadic strikes into Iraq 1991-2002 was to keep the wounds between Iraq and the US open and festering. While the ‘shock and awe’ aspect of the opening of OIF was feted, the reality is that a decisive land campaign was always identified as the decider in this campaign, both the Plan A campaign to May 2003, and the insurgency to mid-2010. While ‘shock and awe’ can trace its roots through the Powell Doctrine of the 90s back to the ‘triumph’ of Gulf 1, the primary driver behind it was SECDEF Rumsfeld’s belief that greater reliance on technology would reduce defence costs by eliminating large numbers of expensive personnel.

Afghanistan. Neither the British (between the wars) nor the Russians (1979-89) were able to quell local tribesmen by air. OEF was always predicated on a strong land campaign supported by air. The air bridge into Kabul in the earliest days of the campaign was a key enabler for early successes however air has remained in a supporting role to the land campaign. The mission to take down OBL was a land mission supported by air i.e. no UAV-delivered PGM through the window.

Sierra Leone. Primarily a land-based peacekeeping operation. The British JPR mission in 2002(?) was a land force mission supported by air for mobility and CAS however use of kinetics was hindered by misperceptions of proportionality with the rules of engagement.

Israel v Hizbollah. A classic example of how not to do it. Not only would any other aspect of the DIME model been better employed to counter HIzbollah rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, but the use of air power as Israel’s tool of choice not only illustrated how behind the times Israeli military thinking was but also had the opposite effect to that desired, regionally and in the court of world opinion.

Libya. The ultimate (so far) example of how not to employ air power. Not only has this meddling extended a minor internal conflict into one likely to drag on for years, but it has seriously damaged the credibility of air power as a decisive force and its advocates. Already some NATO nations are trickling land forces (under the guise of training and liaison) into Libya to attempt to recover the situation. This is what happens when you start to believe your own press.

It is to our benefit that the one strategic scenario where the use of the air and space would have had a direct and decisive effect on the outcome of a conflict is the one that has never come to pass…

(Un)reality Check

The Gulf conflict is considered with regard to Warden’s five ring model and the concept of the self-contained air campaign. The criticisms of Warden’s theory of parallel warfare will be analysed as will its relevance to a smaller air force such as the RAAF.

The 1990 Gulf War was a little more, from an air power perspective, than Warden’s largely discredited theories. It saw the first real demonstration of the US’ global air power reach with B-52 missions launched from CONUS; it demonstrated the rift between USAF and USN where the only common ATO format was printed paper; it validated the role of CAS aircraft like the A-10A, to the immense disgust of the fast jet fraternity; it proved the value of SEAD as a key enabler and tactical alternative to low-level strike e.g. the RAF Tornado airfield attacks on Day One; it saw the advent of stealth and practical information technologies; and it saw the birth of the myth of surgical warfare….


1. Warden & the self contained air campaign – is it now possible for air power alone to force a favourable conclusion to any conflict?

Only as an exception to proven rules. The number of times where air power alone had a strategically decisive effect on the outcome of a conflict could be counted on the fingers of one hand:

The Doolittle Raid which provoked strategic stupidity (Midway) on the part of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Battle of Coral Sea which ended the Japanese advance south.

The two USAAF atomic bomb missions against Japan.

The Berlin Airlift was the first major Cold War confrontation and proved Western resolve to stand up to Uncle Joe.

The Linebacker II campaign which lead directly to the settlement under which US forces withdrew from South Vietnam.

2. Warden sees wars as essentially discourses between policy makers on each side. Is the implication that all actors are rational and will achieve rational results, a valid one?

There is not much evidence to support any proposal that any aspect of human behaviour is governed by rationality. Discourse between policy makers is diplomacy, not war.

3. The mind of the enemy and the will of his leaders are targets of far more importance than the bodies of his troops. Does Warden differ from Clausewitz with this assertion?

No. Warden’s ‘theory’ is nothing more than the popular interpretation of Clausewitz’s Trinity (government, people, military; or, for the COE, leadership, people and action arm) with icing on it but not adding much of anything new. Warden’s take on this has been described as “…if you hit enough things with a hammer, eventually there will be a reaction…” i.e. Warden’s application of force in Gulf War 1 was not a precise surgical application of force and there is yet to be any connection shown between the ‘Warden’ campaign and the eventual eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. On the other hand, the systematic obliteration of those forces and those in southern Iraq was definitely a key factor in the Iraqi withdrawal.

Ultimately, an history bears this out time and again, it is the will of the leader(s) than is the ultimate target and determinator.

4. Did a special set of political circumstances allow the Gulf air war to be so seemingly successful?

Not really. Gulf War 1 was the first real information war when a large part of the conflict was ‘fought’ on the television screens of the world. A disproportionate amount of coverage depicted the socalled surgical strikes; considerably less was devoted to the proportionally more attritive air campaign conducted against Iraqi land forces in and around Kuwait.

If so, would it be wise to draw universal conclusions from it?

No but unfortunately, many did, adopting as doctrine (or maybe dogma?) that a clean surgical war was now possible. After the air power false triumphs in Bosnia and Kosovo, this culminated in the ‘shock and awe’ campaign that opened Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in March 2003. Eight years down the track, this misperception still exists although with reduced popularity and it is currently being disproved again in Libya. It may be that Ghaddafi reads and applies more air power doctrine than NATO…

5.  Do Warden’s theories as employed in the Gulf War only have application in state-on-state conflict?

If ‘If you hit something often enough, it should break’ is the theory, then, no, it can be applied more broadly; whether it will be any more effective than it was in 1991 though is debatable. It would more doctrinally sound and have a greater chance of success to stick with targeting Clausewitz’s attributed trinity: leadership, people, action arm.

So you want to run an air campaign…?

The aim of this week’s seminar is to evaluate, ‘what is an air campaign?’ There is an argument that there is no such thing. The term is a modern one: it was a strategic air offensive against Germany, not an offensive air campaign. But our aim is to try and discern what actually is involved in mounting an air campaign. Clearly it is a lot more than highly trained young people operating very expensive pieces of equipment.

The task for this week is different to the other seminars as it is not a set of questions.


You are sitting in your office and your superior drops in. You are informed that a non-military group is visiting your workplace to gain a better understanding of the military. Your boss recalls nominating you for the Advanced Air Power Course and tasks you to contribute by providing a brief on air power.

Your boss directs you to prepare a paper on what you believe to be the elements of an air campaign, the planning factors involved and why you think that these considerations are important. Your boss does not want a detailed written brief. A short, dot point brief will suffice.

More correctly, perhaps, the air component of the joint campaign…? There is less planning for an air campaign per se than there are air-specific aspect of planning for the campaign – but these sit a fair way down the planning food chain…thus the key elements of an air campaign are largely those for a campaign…so what might those elements be…?

My boss says I’m not allowed to play with bullets but here goes…

·         Why are we here? What does the Government want from our involvement? There is often a big difference between that which is publicly stated and the effects actually desired.

·         How are we going to do that? This leads to developing various courses of action to achieve the desired effects.

·         What will define our point of exit, i.e.  measures of success or otherwise? To quote Princess Leia from the original Star Wars “When you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?

·         Are we leaders or led?Are we sending a self-sufficient force or discrete capabilities to support others?

·         What/who will we use to do it? This is a natural product of developing the ‘how’ above.

·          Who will we be working with and what issues arise from that, and more so in ad hoc coalitions? Is there a lead nation? Do we subscribe to their (or compatible) doctrine? Who arbitrates the differences?

·         How will we meet our sustainment leads? Always a good topic to consider prior to departure and to burst any assumption bubbles?

·         When do we have to be there?

·         Are we ready for this? Or do we need a build-up period to achieve an operational level of capability for this campaign?

The answers to these questions provide the framework which is fleshed out and developed by the layers of detail questions that follow…leading to a campaign plan Within the campaign plan will be specific lines of operation dedicated to achieving specific effects and this is where specifc environmental (air, land, sea, SF, etc) roles and tasks are developed. The detailed planning of specific air tasks lies under the heading of ‘Conducting Air Operations”….

How not to run an air war…

The effectiveness of Japanese naval and land air power came as a surprise to the western powers. In 1941 Japanese aircraft operating in theatre were far superior to those of Britain and the United States. Racism underwrote the devaluation of Japanese technical and military ability. Japanese culture itself by 1944 rejected the idea of serious air attacks on the Japanese homeland. One result was the killing of 100,000 civilians by one conventional air attack alone carried out on Tokyo in March 1945. This seminar attempts to analyse the rise and fall of the Imperial Japanese Air Force.

There was no such thing as an Imperial Japanese Air Force leading up or during WW2. The Navy and Army both had their own totally separate (in R&D, production and operations) air arms that were organised and employed solely as supporting arms to their parent services. This duality is one of a number of key factors that constrained Japanese air power during WW2 from its potential as an element of military power.


To what extent did Japanese air power contribute to their successes?

As above Japanese air power was structured entirely as a supporting arm for its parent service and thus was employed largely at the tactical level. Even the attack on Pearl Harbor was only a supporting operation in support of the Co-prosperity Sphere land grab in late 1941 and early 1942. Had the Pearl Harbor attack not proceeded or had it been unsuccessful, the Japanese were still totally confident (with good reason) in their ability to defeat the US Navy during any Plan Orange engagement.

Even despite the IJN’s investment in naval aviation, the big gun battleship was still the primary striking decisive arm of Japanese naval power. Thus, while the losses at Midway were painful, they were not perceived as a strategic capability loss. This was reinforced by the ability of the Japanese to cover most of their (temporary) empire with land-based air power. The naval aviation could have been employed much more effectively than it was and not frittered away on excursions like that against Commonwealth forces in the Indian Ocean, and the knee-jerk Midway operation. The only time that Japanese naval aviation might have had a truly strategic effect would have been if, having sunk the Lexington, it had stayed in the game and provided top cover to the invasion of New Guinea at Port Moresby.

Over the land environment, the air arm of the Japanese Army was very much like the Luftwaffe in 1939: a well-honed tactical support tool optimised for tactical support to Army operations. Although the Army had experimented with long-range bombers in the 30s, most notably the Ki-20 version of the revolutionary Junkers G.38 flying wing, it did not follow through in this area. Its late war attempts to revitalise long range bombing through the likes of ‘Renzan’ and ‘Shinzan’ were not as advanced as contemporary Western design and were ‘too little, too late’ at a time when the dire need was for superlative day and night fighters.

The ultimate outcome of Japan’s inability to adequately harness air power in WW2 and the period leading up to it was to benefit the Allies in two ways. Firstly, there was the obvious lack of an effective air arm to counter; secondly, Japan’s continued investment in air power diverted resources from other arms and technologies that may have posed a greater risk to Allied operations, in particular, powerful long-range submarines.

In what ways was Japanese technology superior to western technology in 1941 – 1942 and why was it so seriously underestimated?

The primary enabler for Japanese superiority, or perceptions of such superiority as the period of superiority ended at sea in June 1942, and on land in August the same year, are not so much the hardware as the personnel employing it. As I covered off in Seminar 1, a crucial aspect of air power is the people on which it relies. The Japanese in the build-up to and conduct of the land grab are a good example of forces that trained, trained and trained again, and similarly rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed again. The net result was that, at the time of Pearl Harbor and the six months immediately following, Japanese soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were a match for any in the world. The same could be same for their commanders, most definitely at the tactical and operational level but debatably not at the level of strategic command and design.

Apart from bio-warfare which was not employed in WW2 and thus is a moot topic, I do not believe that Japan had technological edge over its competitors, including Germany, at any point before or during WW2. Its ships had no or rudimentary radar but compensated for this with crews much more competent, initially, in night engagements; the Long Lance torpedo was definitely a better weapon than its American contemporaries but this is probably more an indictment of poor American design and quality control; and the legendary Zero fighter, along with other designs, achieved its performance through sacrifices in armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and armament.

During its brief period of operations, the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers of legend, adapted conventional western turning air combat doctrine into a slash and run approach that was highly effective. This tactics were passed onto and employed successfully by US pilots in the Pacific who largely sought to avoid engaging the more nimble but less robust Japanese fighters’ strength opting instead to attack their weaknesses. As the war progressed, Japan’s pool of highly trained and experienced airmen and sailors was whittled away to the point that nimble performance was no longer enough to prevent almost total Allied control of Pacific sea and skies. In the final analysis, Japan fought a ‘come as you are’ war, with an inadequate base for either expansion or sustainment. From an air power perspective, Japan had no Spitfire, Ju-88, Mosquito or B-17 that was capable of on-going development throughout the war.

The West’s failure to fully grasp the level of capability achieved by Japan by 1940, especially in the air is no different than similar ‘failures’ in Europe. However some care must be taken not to believe too fully the popular myth that the West totally under-rated Japan’s capabilities across the board. Certainly, Japan’s Navy was seen as a very credible threat by its potential adversaries. The capability of naval aviation, at the time of Pearl Harbor, had not been proven with successes like Taranto being over-shadowed by losses and ineffectiveness in the Norway and Mediterranean campaigns. Similarly, assessments of the Japanese threat on land were based on contemporary doctrine for conflict in the jungle, for which there had been no real conflict from which to learn. It’s easy to make charges of complacency and incompetence through the lens of hindsight….and let’s also not forget that any superiority, real or perceived, that Japan may have had was fully expended no more than nine months after Pearl Harbor AND that the allies had agreed to make the defeat of Germany their main effort – had they not, it is quite likely that Japan would have been defeated much earlier, most likely through sheer starvation than inaugural use of nuclear weapons.

American firepower did defeat the Kamikaze. Would a modern terrorist employing air power really be immune from attack?

As brutal as the kamikaze attacks were, they were a last desperate act of a defeated warrior caste and never a sustainable tactic. As dramatic as the footage of naval close-in defensive fire is, many kamikaze never got even remotely close to the fleet, especially after the Japanese TTPs were identified and were interdicted by air power not fire power. In addition to reinforced CAPs, allied attacks on Japanese homeland airfields continued as did heavy bomber attacks on Japanese industry and infrastructure. The kamikaze achieved initial success through the element of surprise as did other ‘shock effect’ attacks like the Zeppelin raids on London, Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid and 911. All of these achieved initial or ‘one-off’ success that was unlikely to be repeated or sustained.

With specific regard to terrorist air attack, this is not the forum in which to discuss or even speculate on specific counters to such avenues of attack. That notwithstanding, any international traveller is only too well aware of the international security measures now in effect and which are constantly evolving; and even the media carries regular examples of how well positive air control has been implemented by most, if not all, western nations. All this is to discourage terrorist attack from the air.

Throughout the history of conflict there have been developments in tactics or equipment that have had a surprise effect – some have been unsustainable one-offs, others have changed the nature of conflict in their time. Ten years after 911, with no repeat attacks, one might hypothesise that 911-style attacks fall into the former category. Have said that, who is to know new and unexpected tactic might not be employed with devastating success tomorrow – such is the nature of this profession.

What important conclusions can be drawn from the early successes and later failures of Japanese air power?

Such successes that were, were fairly tactical in nature and not decisive in the conduct of the war. They were all supporting acts to wider naval and land operations. It is true that the successes of Pearl Harbor and the sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales were repeated but it doesn’t count when this is your enemy doing it back to you. Some conclusions from the Pacific air war that future air aggressors might wish to consider:

  • Pick your enemies carefully.
  • Be prepared for the long war.
  • Have an industrial and R&D base to sustain the long war.
  • Apply the principle of unity of effort and do run not just separate but competing air arms.
  • Vaccinate against ‘Victory’ disease and don’t over-extend.
  • Secure your lines of communication.
  • Aircraft survivability systems are a good thing.

To paraphrase c/s Charlie from that great aviation training resource Top Gun, Japan’s use of air power in WW2 is a great example of how not to do it.

Desperately seeking strategic effects

Operation TIDAL WAVE (c) Nicholas Trudgian

How has the concept of precision attacks against key economic targets changed since WWII?

It has only been since the latter part of the Vietnam War that an actual precision attack capability has truly existed, although one might argue that the brief ascendancy of the dive bomber in Germany, Japan and the US provided a degree of precision against point targets. Even so, the key issue is not so much the method of attack but the target and the actual outcome and effect desired by striking it. If anything this was the true weakness in so-called strategic air campaigns: an over-focus on the targets and considerably less upon the desired outcomes. It is doubly a weakness in that it indicates a dogmatic approach to applying the thoughts of the accepted military theorists.

Why were civilians regarded as a legitimate target for the strategic bomber offensive?

Why not? The notion of ‘total war’ has been well-accepted across history from the Romans into the ‘peacekeeping’ campaigns of the colonial nations between the wars. But once again, the key element that is being overlooked is the OUTCOME. Targeting ‘the people’ on its own offers nothing to a campaign unless there is a clearly defined outcome that has some chance of success/achievability from that targeting. If a logical case can be made that targeting ‘the people’ will achieve a strategic effect, then probably they should be targeted. Certainly the targeting of ‘the people’ in Japan directly affected Hirohito’s decision to terminate hostilities; it is less certain that the targeting of ‘the people’ in Germany and Britain achieved much at all other than strengthening their resolve. Perhaps, in considering the Roman approach to ‘the people’, the critical factor in targeting is to employ sufficient shock effect and brutality to get the message through? Certainly this worked well for the Soviet Empire, Saddam’s Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Did the area attacks (punishment strategy) make a significant contribution to allied victory?

If the desired outcome was ‘punishment’ then probably not as there is no strategic effect to be gained from ‘punishment’. But if the actual outcome was that they diverted capacity and manpower from the land and maritime campaigns, which they did, then they most definitely made a significant contribution to not only the allid victory in WW2 but in later conflicts where strategic bombing effects were sought.

Or were the ‘precision attacks’ of the 8th Air Force more effective?

There was a difference? Any distinction between the night and day campaigns became largely not after the concerted city-busting attacks began.

Do targets now determine what is strategic or not?

No. Targets are simply the means to an end. If that end is poorly divined, then no matter how well the targets are struck, the long term effects may be minimal or activate the law of unintended consequences.

Should Douhet, Mitchell, and Trenchard now be forgotten?

First up, Mitchell and Trenchard are in a totally different class than Douhet, who rides alongside the likes of Mahan, Clausewitz and Napoleon. As covered in a previous seminar, Mitchell was more a tactical thinker and Trenchard a hopeful one who was influenced more by his passion for the emerging importance of air power as a military tool than any particularly deep thought. The names of the classic military thinkers come up again and again simply because their work is enduring and attempting to discount them purely because their works do not apply literally to modern times is rather short-sighted to say the least. And once written-off who might them replace them? Warden…?

There is risk in considerable the works of the classic thinking through too narrow a straw and failing to determine the underlying themes and insights in there works; or to consider their work against the literal context of today. Anyone who has been involved in a flight safety or air accident investigation will know the importance of considering events from the perspective of and context in which they occurred. Similarly, to be able to really consider these thinkers’ relevance one must really have read their works in some detail and there is also danger in taking them out of their broader context and attaching too much or too little importance to them.

The answer to the question is, of course, no…

Defense of the air?

At the end of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe remained intact as an effective fighting force and so did Fighter Command. By April 1945, the Luftwaffe had virtually be destroyed. Does this result suggest a ‘best practice’ method of conducting a defensive counter-air campaign?

An interesting approach, attempting to compare a fairly localised battle (the Battle of Britain was only really the opening of the Seelowe campaign) that last only a few months and a campaign that lasted three years and which ranged across Western Europe.

That both, one or neither force survived the Battle of Britain is largely irrelevant – the key issue is whether they achieved their objectives or not. The the answer to that is probably that neither actually did. The Luftwaffe was charged to clear the RAF from the skies over southern England and the Channel to enable the invasion of Great Britain to commence. The RAF’s mission was to prevent this occurring, and while neither the attainment of control of the air by the Luftwaffe nor the invasion of Great Britain occurred, it is a big ask for the RAF or indeed the Allies to take credit for this (except under the victors’ right to write history as they see it. The key determinator of the outcome of the Battle of Britain was Germany’s decision to switcvh its targeting from the RAF’s forward airfields, where it was without question winning the battle, to a strategically-(mis?)focussed attack on major industrial targets. This provided the RAF a vital respite to regroup and recover and then focus on defeating the Luftwaffe whiule not being under attack itself. It is more true to say that the Battle of Britain was lost by Germany than it was won by the RAF.

It is also not particularly correct to say that the Luftwaffe was virtually destroyed without applying a broader context to the statement. The Luftwaffe continued to fly operationally right up to the last day of the war and hundreds if not thousands of operational aircraft were captured at the war’s end. Not only did German aircraft production increase as the war progressed, it also continued to introduce new technological capabilities into 1945, for the example, operational jet aircraft far in advance of anything that the Allies had on the drawing board. The death knell for the Luftwaffe was not a lack of aircraft or pilots to fly them, but simply places to fly them from (as Allied armies advanced from the West, East and South) and, in the end, fuel to put in them.

We have to be very careful in our use of terminology in this kind of question. There is a major difference between a defensive counter-air campaign, a defensive air campaign and the air component of a defensive campaign. I would contend that defensive counter-air is what we planned on doing in Western Europe should 8 Guards Army ever been so rash as to step across the border casting covetous eyes at the Channel ports, that is, striking deep across the curtain to dislocate and disrupt Warsaw Pact aviation capabilities; a defensive air campaign is what the RAF conducted over southern England in the summer of 1940, and which the Luftwaffe conducted over Western Europe from the end of the Battle of Britain until D-Day; and the air component of a larger defensive campaign is what the Luftwaffe was doing on the Eastern Front from 1943 (probably since the Battle of Kursk) and over Western Europe after D-Day.

Referring back to Seminar Three though, it might seem that the ‘best practice’ that arises from both the Battle of Britain and the air defence of Germany is doctrinal. I remember noting when I read Command of the Air that it must have been a key informing document for the rebirth of the Luftwaffe. But as I read, I started to get the impression that perhaps the creators of the Luftwaffe had only read as far as Part One and not fully grasped the full scope of Douhet’s thoughts. Thinking further on the subject, it was apparent that nor had they grasped the Principle of War relating to the setting and maintenance of the aim; nor that Mahan had attached considerable importance to the need to ensure that any national intent to control any environment must be fully backed up by the capability to apply that control.

The best practice to be taken away is that, if you have an objective, stick to it. Germany failed to do so during the Battle of Britain; and the Allies did in pursuing Germany’s unconditional surrender in May 1945.

Might it remain true that a successful defence for the control of the air between 1939 – 1945 depend on:

a. Early detection.

b. Interpretation of enemy intent.

c. Successful interception.

d. Destruction or deterrence?

Douhet struck the nail fair on the head when he identified the difficulties facing a nation attempting to defend against a like (in terms of capabilities) adversary. Of the four factors listed above, only two are really relevant: successful interception and deterrence. Both the RAF in the Battle of Britain and the Luftwaffe (all arms) had both early detection and relatively interpretation of enemy intent (tactically to strategically) but this clearly did not provide a suitably large advantage over their adversaries. Both failed to successfully intercept attacking forces – success interception being defined as adequate to turn back or neutralise e.g. force them to jettison their payloads, the attacking force.

When a high probability of successful interception is attained or is perceived to have been attained, a state of deterrence may have been achieved. This state existed over most of England from 1941 onwards; in the Mediterranean from the end of 1942; and over the Pacific as the US advanced north from the Solomon Islands. Where desperation or perhaps learning difficulties deny acceptance of a state of deterrence, we have situations like those of the air bridge that attempted to supply the Afrika Korps in Tunisia in 1943; and many of the Japanese (non-kamikaze) air attacks in the latter part of the war.

And has modern technology rendered this quartet of questions obsolete?

As already alluded to above, the advance of time and technology has not altered the response to the question above. Ultimately, while early detection AND accurate interpretation of enemy intent are important enablers, the critical objective is successful interception. Robin Olds’ Bolo tactic against North Vietnamese air defences relied on early detection of US aircraft but equally depended on an inaccurate North Vietnamese interpretation of his intentions to enable successful interception of North Vietnamese defending aircraft. In the Falklands War, it still remains unclear to what extent the British received early warning from the mainland of impending Argentinian attacks. Regardless, the key to maintaining the fleet in San Carlos Bay and other key areas, and ultimately the success of the campaign to retake the islands, was successful interception. Deterrence also played a part in defence of the task force as the sinking of the General Belgrano early in the campaign effectively deterred Argentinean use of its aircraft carrier in the defence of the Malvinas.

The state of deterrence described under the previous over the Gulf can also be seen in DESERT STORM; and over Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 and 2001 respectively. It may also be why there were no offensive North Vietnamese air operations 1965-73: while the NVAF proved to be a capable defender over its own territory, it was under no illusions as to the outcome had it attempted offensive action against US bases in Thailand, South Vietnam or sailing off the coast. This state of deterrence is one reason why there have been no air incursions into Iraq or Afghanistan and why all incursions have been by land and, for the most part, below the general detection threshold of coalition forces.

The so-called Principles of War include the concept of the offensive. In short, this means to act rather than react, to dictate the time and place, purpose, scope and intensity, pace of operations. It implies the initiative must be seized, retained and fully exploited. From the British and German experience of moulding a defensive counter-air campaign, would such a principle apply equally well to the Defensive!?

Excuse me? “So-called” Principles of War? This questions would indicate that the Principles aren’t that well understand at all…

To understand the concept of the offensive, more so from an air perspective, one only needs to read the early parts of Command of the Air where Douhet lays out the dilemma of the defender. A defensive campaign does not win a war: at best it gains some breathing space. Wellington still had to thump Napoleon at Waterloo, ten years after the defensive victory of Trafalgar; the Allies still had to defeat Germany after the Battle of Britain, otherwise there was little to prevent Germany regrouping and having another crack, especially had it postponed BARBAROSSA; and the Task Force still had to kick the Argies off the Falklands after gaining control of the air over the theatre.

Is an examination of the Battle of Britain and the German defence of the Reich irrelevant to the study of the modern air power applications?

Absolutely but only so long as they are considering within the context within which they occurred: neither can be usefully considered in isolation. What ‘won’ the Battle of Britain was not the RAF but Germany’s decision to not apply the Principle of Selection and Maintenance of the Aim to its air campaign against Britain in 1940. Similarly, Germany’s defeat was a given once America entered the war: regardless of the skill and capability of the Luftwaffe, Germany, like Japan, could simply not compete with America’s industrial and economic horsepower: a lesson the Soviet Union would also learn in 1989.

Why does the Battle of Britain appear to occupy such an important position in the history of air power?

There is much about the Battle of Britain that supports a good myth ranging from Churchill’s words at the time (we will fight them on the beaches,blood sweat and tearsso much to so few, etc); the Arthurian connection to the Merlin; the perception of the under-dog standing up to the local bully; of a few against the many a la Thermopylae, Agincourt, Rorke’s Drift, etc. It was also the first time that the defence of a nation relied so heavily upon an air force and not more traditional land and naval forces but as stated above, it was not the first time that an air force changed the course of a campaign: the Doolittle Raid, Malta or Crete would be better candidates for this distinction. Like Midway and Coral Sea, the Battle of Britain does mark the limit of the Axis advance, noted by Churchill in his ‘end of the beginning’ speech on 10 November 1942.

NJG 1 by Michael Turner



Thinking “air power”…

A5CA6 Frank Sturges c.1980s - Handley Page 'Heracles' over Croydon Airpirt, Watercolour, Sutton Museum Collection

Is contemporary air power doctrine still influenced by the classical air power theorists?First up we should probably drop ‘air power’ in favour of ‘military’: it is just too simplistic to persist in describing warfare in terms of one environment or another, especially air power which owes as much to Clausewitz and Mahan as it does Douhet. Whether this is because air power operates over sea and land, or simply as the most recently developed ‘environment’ it builds upon those who have gone before is up for discussion. The list of classical military theorists i.e. those whose theories have endured is not exhaustive and nor it is restricted solely to the Big Three of Clausewitz, Mahan and Douhet however the concepts and truisms developed by these three are certainly among the most enduring and popularly accepted. 

Noting how the nature of warfare has changed since 1989 (DESERT STORM being almost an aberration), the use of ‘contemporary’ is interesting especially since we would assume and would like that ‘environmental’ capstone doctrine remain relatively stable. We now operate in an era of the ‘non-contiguous operating environment’ and ‘war amongst the people’, environments so different than the backdrops of conventional conflict against which they were developed. In this environment, rather than perhaps being outdated or irrelevant, the works of the classic military theorists remain as applicable as they ever were on the battlefields of Europe, the oceans of the Pacific and the air over Europe, Vietnam or Libya.

It is not really correct to refer to them as theories or their works as theories: theories, by definition, are unproven works. Once proven, theories become laws, rules or principles: noting the unpredictable nature of war, the works of Clausewitz, Mahan and Douhet, among others, are best considered principles, principles to be applied with judgement. I do not believe that the works of Warden, Mitchell, Trenchard et al have yet been validated to the same extent and thus they remain as theories. As such, any influence they may have on contemporary doctrine should be considered carefully.

Clausewitz argues ‘…war is not a mere act of policy, but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means…war is not an act of senseless passion’. Do you think Douhet takes into account the ‘end state’ which Clausewitz implies is the object of war?

Absolutely.Douhet’s work is scientific, almost clinical, in its detachment and lack of emotion (as distinguished from the passion he clearly has for the subject). The ultimate objective of Douhet’s war is national victory which might expect to a natural and logical endstate for war as a politcasl entity as described by Clausewitz.

What do you think is the difference between theory and doctrine, if any?

Theory is something that remains unproven…”…a tentative insight…a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena…” Doctrine, on the other hand, is defined as “…fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions in support of objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgement in application…” Doctrine, in essence, is the considered best practice for a given force in a given situation: it is far more than mere theory. here, we have taken the definition of doctrine further as “…that which is taught, validated against a context, delivered in individual training, developed under supervision on the job and in collective training, and applied with judgement…

If you had been a British defence planner in the 1920s, how far would you have been guided by the theories of Douhet and Mitchell?

Not much at all. As I covered in Seminar 2, WW1 did little to demonstrate the potential of air power as a decisive (as opposed to a supporting) arm, unlike other new technologies like the tank and the submarine. Mitchell had demonstrated the sinking of a warship under very controlled and static conditions that bore little resemblance to a ship underway (and returning fire); Douhet would have been interesting reading in the 1920s but, really, his work was not validated until the end of WW2. The general theme of the 1920s was of the War to end all Wars, with the League of Nations (not discredited until the 30s) to limit the development of arms races like those that had contributed to the beginning of WW1. The big fear of the time would have been chemical attack at the strategic level however even then, an early MAD policy seems to have been accepted by the ‘chemical’ powers. After WW1, Britain’s focus had returned to maintaining the Empire and it was here that air power appeared most applicable and useful: an application of air power in COIN…

Clausewitz argued war is a trilogy of ‘reason, passion and chance’. Do you think Warden would agree?

Probably not but then that is why Clausewitz endures after 180 years and Warden is already becoming a footnote in history: his theory only appears to have worked (debatedly) in DESERT STORM and was less than effective in Kosovo, and Iraq – it must be noted that all three of those campaigns were only resolved conclusively through occupation by ground forces.

There has been over the last couple of weeks there has been a discussion at Small Wars Journal on the validity of Warden’s work. I’ve avoided as best I can any observation of that discussion to avoid colouring my own consideration of these questions but the one comment I did read seems to sum up Warden’s theory. It pointed out the lack of science in the DESERT STORM air campaign in the shotgun approach to targeting, essentially hitting everything til something might snap – which it didn’t.

Just as in COIN, it is fundamentally false to assume let alone rely on the hope that a population, sufficiently provoked, will rise up and topple its leadership in response to targeting by an adversary. The number of times across history that this has actually occurred is limited at best. Due to the greater influence of public opinion in the western world, perhaps this may be a strategy that we are more susceptible to today than our adversaries may be.

Warden’s belief in ‘friction-free’ warfare is another manifestation of the ‘victory disease’ that seized parts of the US military after the collapse of the Iron Curtain and new ‘surgically clean’ victories like Panama and DESERT STORM and that culminated( in all senses of the word) in its misplaced confidence in the ‘shock and awe’ of OIF in March 2003. I have yet to find any account of OEF or OIF that does anything to indicate that Clausewitzian friction is anything but alive and well in the contemporary operating environment.

Afterthought: WRT Libya…I’m not sure what all the fuss is about…the Libyans seemed to be doing all right on their own using air power to suppress a land-based internal insurgency…

WRT John’s comment about about ‘strike being strike’…true but in WW1, there was no concept of strike as it know it from WW2 or today…it was more a case of ‘lob in the general direction and see what happens’…just because WW1 was the first major conflict in which aircraft were used, it does not necessarily follow that this was the birth of air power as we know it any more than the meeting between Monitor and Virginia in Hampton Roads could be considered the birth of modern naval warfare, or the use of the tank in WW1 could be considered the birth of modern manouevre warfare. I would suggest that a lot more water needed to go under the bridge before any of these could be considered actual capabilities than could be employed effectively in combat…

The early days

It’s been almost a hundred years and it’s unlikely that we will ever really know just what effect WW1 really did have on the development of air power. For me, it was really a bit of a sideshow in a larger conflict and the real developments occurred in the 20s and 30s.

With reference to the second reading, I’ve read Mahan a number of times (how sad is that?) and don’t agree with the  way the author has tried to use it as a yardstick to measure air power in WW1 – I’d be hard pressed to draw the same conclusions. The big takeaway (to use a current buzzword) from The Influence of Seapower Upon History is that is a nation should only get into the sea power game if it can actually control the seas. Examples of that have would be the United Kingdom to the mid-20th Century and the United States from the same point on; those who tried but didn’t make the grade? France, Spain, Germany (twice), and Japan. The same applies to air power…

What might defence planners have learnt from the use of air power in the First World War?

There is a lot that might have been learned from any major activity but that’s largely a speculator question because we will never know what might have happened. The best articulator of the air lessons of WW1 was Douhet and his 1923 writings give a very good idea of what defence planners might have been learned. In the end, the one lesson that defence planners did take from WW1 and generally apply across the board was that “…this air power all seems a bit up in the air – let’s toss it back in its box and seen what happens in a few years…” And that is exactly what they did, especially in the UK where the RAF of 1939 bore a remarkable resemblance in terms of doctrine and capability to that of 1919: twin-engined bombers with small payloads and only defenced by single small calibre machine guns and (excluding the Hurricane and  Spitfire that were spurred by Germany’s rearmament in the 30s) biplane fighters with no radios and only two small calibre machine guns…

Could valid generalisations have been made for the future use of air power from the experience of the 1914 – 1918 war?

Not really, for the simple reason that air power did not really have any great effect in WW1: there was no air Cambrai, let alone a Taranto, Dams Raid or Pearl Harbor to learn from. Had air power not been employed in WW1, it is likely that WW2 would have started with the same level of air capability that it actually did: the major driver for the development of air technologies between the wars was not the military (by choice or treaty) but the commercial arena especially in the UK (Shorts), Germany (Junkers and Dornier) and the US (Boeing, Bell and Curtiss) and with the development and exploration of long-range travel routes  It would probably be more correct to say that modern air power owes more to the Dornier X and the HP.42 that it does to anything that struggled into the air in WW1.

Was the assertion made by some that air power would soon become the principal mode of warfare justified by experience?

Not then and not now…the number of instances where air power has had a decisive strategic effect on the outcome of a conflict is so low as to be insignificant statistically or in any other form of comparison. 93 years on, air power has still not taken up the mantle of ‘principal mode of warfare’ and is unlikely to anytime soon.

Would you agree that there have been no significant developments in the employment of air power since 1918?

Not ever. A statement like that can only be made with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and some incredible leaps of logical faith. Air Power (such as it was) til the mid-30s bears no resemblance to the applied tactical, operational and strategic forces developed and applied during WW2 and since to the current day. Flying around shooting guns and dropping ad hoc bombs ≠ air power: there are far more components of air power that mere flying as I alluded to in my response to last week’s questions. WW1’s biggest contribution to air power was probably the misperception that populations can be controlled from the air alone as was attempted across the Empire in the 1920s – although, COL Gaddafi may prove me wrong on this one next week…