AirPower and the Future Warfare

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There is a famous byword of field Marshal Bernard Montgomery that “If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and we lose it quickly.” But if we retell the same proverb with a diametrically opposite approach that is “if we win the war in the air, we win the war and win it quickly.” Douhet is a strong advocate of this approach and claims that “to have a command of the air is to have a victory.” It will be a very bold statement to make because there are various ground dynamics that still can change the outcome of war, but airpower has the potential to destroy enemy’s center of gravity at a full tilt compared to ground forces.

Airpower has the potential to neutralize enemy air force by achieving air supremacy and helps ground and sea forces (friendly) to proceed in ground and sea operations unhindered. Role of air power does not end here rather it exceeds in protecting its own ground forces and vital centers from enemy’s aerial attacks. It can be safely assumed that no country has lost a war if it successfully maintained air superiority. Picking an example of Germany from World War II, the ‘September campaign’ when Germany’s blitzkrieg approach of extensive bombing on air capacity of enemy, munition depot, communications lines(railroads) and infrastructure crippled Poland and it was followed by robust land invasion. Airpower paved the way for land forces otherwise the outcome might have been much different from what we know today. Some countries historically lost the control of the air and despite power they faced serious threats. Kapil Kak in his “A Century of Air Power: Lessons and Pointers” writes “when control of the air was lost to enemy air forces by Russia in July 1941, by the U.S. over Pearl Harbour, by Britain in Southeast Asia, by Rommel in North Africa and again in North Western Europe, armies and navies met with disaster.”

Ground operations become difficult to carry out if enemy controls the air. It is therefore believed that a strong military must have a strong air force. It is generally misunderstood that air power is a defensive force whereas it better serves in offensive realm too. Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger writes “American troops have not had to fight without air superiority since 1942; the last American ground soldier killed by air attack was in 1953;and our army has never had to fire a surface-to-air missile at an enemy aircraft-they have never been allowed to get that close.” Whatever American Airforce achieved in Afghanistan through air operations was not carried forward by ground forces. Taliban’s safe havens were destroyed through air bombardment. Navy operates in seas even naval operations also need an air cover for their success. That is why Aircraft carriers also need an air superiority.

Meilinger puts forth that for many years army leaderships of several nations were not agreed with the indispensability of air power, but certain incidents of war changed their perspectives about it. “Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the British capital ships Prince of Walesand Re- pulseby Japanese land-based aircraft in 1941 soon made it clear that ships required air cover to operate effectively. Aircraft carriers provided the mobile air bases for the planes that would help to ensure air superiority over the fleet, while at the same time increasing the ability to project power ashore.”There is generally a misunderstood notion that airpower is a strategic force and is used only in war whereas it performed the greatest humanitarian airlift in history i.e. ‘Berlin Airlift’ also known as Operation Vittles.

With the employment of airpower, the precision technology has dramatically increased usage of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) has been successful in destroying underground bunkers of the terrorists in Afghanistan. Robert Pape scratches out that “This is a remarkable improvement compared to World War II, when only about 18 percent of U.S. bombs fell within 1000 feet of their targets, and only 20 percent of British bombs dropped at night fell within 5 miles of theirs.” Ground power has been considered a hammer till the 1980 but after 1980 airpower was considered as anvil, a hammer works much better with the anvil. The role of airpower is not limited to a single type of war. It is expected to remain capable of conducting successful operations in both high- and low-intensity conflicts

After the air campaign ended in Afghanistan, the Pentagon reported that approximately 75 percent of all munitions employed during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ (OEF) hit the intended target and achieved the desired results compared to 45% success rates in Desert Storm and Allied Force. Airpower carries the war into enemy territory and establishes control of the air. Surface forces are also aided by airpower in their freedom of action. The U.S. intervention in Libya used air power to overthrow Qaddafi regime, that was a mistake former U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that. U.S. airpower successfully countered Qaddafi’s forces by minimalizing their effect and swayed military advantage to rebel’s side. Later on, pro-Gaddafi forces were unable to withstand rebel groups which actually had a backing of U.S airpower. The role airpower can play to shape the battlespace and shift the balance is undeniable. It can be safely said that any nation without an effective airpower is at the mercy of enemy

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About Dr.Musarat Amin 1 Article
Dr.Musarat Amin is Associate Professor at Pakistan Air Force(PAF) Air War College Institute Karachi. She can be reached at [email protected] Disclaimer: The author’s affiliation with The PAF AWCI is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply AWCI’s concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions, or viewpoints expressed by the author.

2 Comments

  1. Very useful n thought provoking article with supporting references from the historical stream. Undoubtedly,the airpower plays very vital role in winning the battles n abetting the ground as well as naval forces during varying operations of war. During peace time the airpower provides commendable support to meet the threats of natural calamities n in aid of civil power. The learned author Dr.Musarat Amin has brought out very candid n logical conclusions to prove the usefulness of airpower during peace n war scenarios.

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