John A. Olsen, ed.
Overview: Edited by a serving Norwegian Air Force officer, Airpower Applied aims to provide practical operational lessons for Airmen. It draws on 29 historical case studies interspersed throughout a larger comparative narrative of US, Israeli, and NATO airpower history. Ultimately, the work is grounded in the editor’s Clausewitzian thinking that any use of military force must be considered first from the end results—determined by a nation’s political objectives—that one seeks to achieve. Or, as the editor writes with perhaps a tinge of frustration after Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, “even the robust and capable air weapon can never be more effective than the strategy and policy it is intended to support” (1).
Several interesting themes emerge in the work’s foreword, written by Lt Gen David A. Deptula (ret), which should be kept in mind throughout the entire volume. In light of recent developments regarding the presidential directive to create a Space Force, it is interesting to consider Deptula’s suggestion regarding a “theory of the indivisibility of aerospace power” (ix). Throughout the work, one should consider key developments in space power and airpower and whether they confirm or challenge Deptula’s suggestion. Also, compare the arguments made for an independent Air Force in the US and how they compare and contrast to arguments regarding a Space Force.
Another major theme is the revolutionary nature of airpower that the work’s contributors largely accept. For example, Deptula insists that airpower ended the necessary reliance on “attrition- and annihilation-based models” of warfare, with airpower enabling nations to “attain their most important goals while minimizing the need for combat operations” (ix). Do the work’s many historical case studies largely support or challenge that claim? Or, from another angle, how revolutionary has airpower been when viewed over a span of 100+ years? What historical examples strike you as particularly instructive?
Also of important note is the recognition of the great improvement of jointness between the US military services; yet the author cautions that “current practitioners may have become too complacent regarding its potential to determine the outcome of warfare” (xi). As such, the work seeks to ensure that Airmen place the last decade and a half of counterinsurgency within longer historical trends, which might challenge the conclusions of Chapter Four.
- Chapter 1, “America as a Military Aerospace Nation: From Pearl Harbor to Desert Storm,” traces the development of US airpower
from its tenuous beginnings to its seemingly decisive victory in Operation Desert Storm. The sweeping nature of this chapter leaves numerous
questions for consideration: Why do professionals often miss key lessons to be learned from observing military conflicts? What lessons might
Airmen be overlooking today?
- In considering the significance of the Berlin Airlift, how well have Airmen balanced the pursuit of kinetic airpower with non-kinetic
airpower? Also consider this event in light of the author’s contention later in the chapter that “information war is as potentially
dislocating as kinetic or cyber war” (98). Is warfare changing significantly or do the continuities outweigh technological and other changes?
- What frustrations did Airmen face in the Korean War and the Vietnam War because it was a limited war, in contrast to World War II,
which tended more toward total war? To what extend did these limitations further the wars’ political ends and to what extend did
they unnecessarily hamstring Airmen?
- This chapter further subdivides the Vietnam War into a number of air wars, including Rolling Thunder, which the author considers
the “nation’s most unsatisfying and controversial” one (52). In which Vietnam “war” did Airmen use airpower
most effectively and why?
- Beginning on page 66, the author chronicles the “lessons learned” of that generation’s military officers, including
the need to return to war’s principles. As one Army officer recalled, it “made us question the way things were done”
(p. 68). To what extent should Airmen act similarly in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom?
- Chapter 2, “American and NATO Airpower Applied: From Deny Flight to Inherent Resolve,” brings the historical survey of US airpower almost up to the present day, looking at eight different operations conducted by NATO and the US since Operation Desert Storm. What explains the great disparity in the results of these operations given the overwhelming airpower advantage held by NATO and the US?
- Chapter 3, “Modeling Airpower: The Arab-Israeli Wars of the Twentieth Century,” compares the development of the Israeli Air Force with Arab Air Forces while paying close attention to the strategic level of war. Unlike many of its Arab neighbors, Israel quickly developed an effective Air Force. What factors account for its success? What followed upon the heels of Israel’s decisive military victory in the Six-Day War (1967)? What faulty assumptions did Israel make in victory’s aftermath? What strategy did Egypt subsequently adopt? In what might be considered unexpected ways, how did each side seek to obtain air superiority in the Arab-Israeli Wars?
- Recently the US national strategy has returned to a focus on peer competition; by contrast, chapter 4, “The Israeli Air Force and Asymmetric Conflicts, 1982-2014,” shows how Israel believes warfare has changed, with traditional conflict and even ground forces becoming increasingly irrelevant. Is one nation more correct, or are there other factors that explain this divergence in perspective? Similarly, what kinds of indirect strategies have Israel’s adversaries adopted and how has Israel’s strategy shifted away from seeking a decisive war? In the process, how has the IAF transformed from a “bombing contractor” for the Army to an “operational architect” (288)? How can airpower help to “affect the enemy’s perceptions and priorities” rather than seeking to defeat the enemy (335)
- In chapter 5, “The Airpower Profession,” Col John A. Warden III (ret.) insists that traditional discussions of military professionalism have restricted relevance for Airmen. On what characteristics of airpower does he focus to make that case? What responsibilities Airmen have in advising policymakers?
- Final thoughts for consideration: the editor insists that “there is no single right way to use airpower in all circumstances; every use of force is situational” (3). In light of the importance of considering lessons learned with respect to the specific context of these historical case studies, what might the Israeli Air Force learn from the U.S. Air Force and vice a versa? What lessons, due to key differences in context, have far less usefulness? Which country has dealt with nonstate actors more successfully?