It is good to see the latest edition of Royal Air Force Air Power Review available online with its usual mix of contemporary and historically focussed articles. Here is the table of contents and abstracts:
Air Commodore Stuart Evans, ‘Combat-ISTAR; A New Philosophy on the Battle for Information in the Future Operating Environment’
The article examines how our ability to maintain the significant contribution that air and space power make to the delivery of intelligence is under threat from the challenges inherent in the future operating environment and the likely fiscal constraints under which the Services must develop and operate joint combat capabilities. Meeting such challenges will require innovative thinking and new concepts that focus on the necessary future force structures, equipment and personnel that can deliver greater synchronicity in the delivery of intelligence and combat effect. Taking a platform agnostic approach, the article considers a range of options of how the development of Combat ISTAR may contribute to the part that air and space power play in supporting the joint force.
Dr Sebastian Ritchie, ‘Learning the Hard Way: A Comparative Perspective on Airborne Operations in the Second World War‘
This article compares and contrasts the principal Allied and German airborne operations mounted in the European theatre in the Second World War, in an attempt to identify common factors in their success or failure. Pitched primarily at the operational level, it considers their general features and outcomes, and the lessons that each bequeathed. It suggests that their results were primarily determined by five factors: these were lead time, command and control, relief for the airborne troops, intelligence, and the airlift. However, although, at the time, the key lessons were soon identified, it proved very difficult to exploit them effectively. The broader success of Germany’s assault on France and the Low Countries in 1940 caused the most important airborne lessons to be neglected during the planning for the assault on Crete in 1941. Similarly, a mix of short-term operational imperatives and the more general Allied victories in Sicily and Normandy led to the neglect of vital airborne lessons from both campaigns before the launch of Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Ultimately, the Allies emerged from the war with robust airborne doctrine firmly rooted in wartime experience, but five years and a succession of major operations were required before they could arrive at this happy conclusion.
Group Captain Alistair Byford, ‘Fair Stood the Wind for France? The Royal Air Force’s experience in 1940 as a case study of the relationship between policy, strategy and doctrine’
The Royal Air Force’s experience in 1940 illustrates a number of enduring lessons about strategy, and its relationship to policy and doctrine. First, strategy matters: it was the RAF’s strategy to configure itself for independent action that largely explains why it was comprehensively defeated in France, yet within a matter of weeks was victorious in the Battle of Britain. Second, the construction of strategy is easily misinterpreted. In the historiography, air strategy is erroneously regarded as a product of doctrine; but in reality, policy was the more important imperative. Consequently, the RAF’s strategy is best understood as an entirely rational attempt to translate the interwar policy of ‘limited liability’ into military practice. Finally, strategy is a process, not an event. The Air Staff’s failure to recognise this principle, and to continually adapt its strategy to reflect the changing policy context, is indicative of a culture that rejected critical reflexivity and did not promote intellectual agility. These institutional shortcomings are pervasive and, arguably, still resonate today as impediments to effective strategy-making.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Roe, ‘“Good God, Sir, Are You Hurt?”: The Realities and Perils of Operating over India’s Troublesome North-West Frontier’
Flying over India’s troublesome North-West Frontier (now modern-day Pakistan) was a hazardous undertaking, filled with ubiquitous dangers and hardships. Despite the maze of knife-edge hills, the oppressive furnace-like heat and the ice-cold winds, the constant strain and regular loss of life, this was an experience not to be missed and one to be proud of. This article homes in on the everyday realities and threats faced by aircrews posted to ‘The Grim’ – the name given to the untamed frontier by the army.
Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, ‘The Indian Air Force in Wars’
This article is a review of the part played by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in, and the background to, conflicts across the sub-continent (mainly post-independence). It is written from an Indian viewpoint. The early history of the IAF started with its formation in 1932 and continued through to its contribution to the Second World War supporting Slim’s 14th Army. On Indian independence the Air Force was restructured and supported land operations in the aftermath. Lack of an accurate intelligence picture preceding the Sino-Indian War 1962 led to significant logistics problems for the Indian Army and subsequently to a large proportion of IAF effort being directed to air transport at the cost of the deployment of combat air power. The War for Kashmir 1965 saw the use of Mystere and Vampire aircraft in anti-armour and – infantry sorties, with air superiority being sought by dominating the skies rather than attacking airfields. India and Pakistan again went to war in 1971 with India initially operating to limited objectives set prior to the opening of hostilities. The IAF flew more combat sorties compared to their opponents but both air forces lost similar numbers of aircraft. In 1999, in Kashmir, the IAF provided high-altitude helicopter and tactical airlift logistics and communication support, with Canberra, Mig and Mirage providing recce and close air support. The IAF is modernising with 40% of its combat force being 4th generation aircraft and has set its sights on becoming a strategic force.
Squadron Leader Mark Tobin, ‘Operation IRAQI FREEDOM Air Campaign: A Tactical Military Success, or a Strategic Information Failure?’
Operation Iraqi Freedom began on 19 March 2003. Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 air campaign was very different both in its execution and its implications for air power thought. This article first examines the OIF air campaign, looking at how its historical lineage and the military and political factors of the day shaped its development and execution. It then moves on to consider the effectiveness of the air campaign, in terms of both its military outcome for Coalition and Iraqi forces and importantly in today’s media-savvy environment, in terms of whether or not the Coalition successfully translated military and technological superiority to information superiority amongst the public. The article concludes that the complexities of modern air campaigns are such that tactical military success can easily turn to strategic information failure if air power’s capabilities are not clearly understood and matched to specific operational requirements. Furthermore, the contemporary operating environment is now too complex to characterise air campaigns as being a success or failure, raising questions as to whether previous absolute theories on the utility of air power are still relevant to complex nonlinear campaigns in the twenty-first century.
Dr Richard Goette, ‘The British Joint Area Combined Headquarters Scheme and the Command and Control of Maritime Air Power’
The defeat of the German U-boat attack on Allied shipping during the Second World War required the close co-operation of the RN and RAF Coastal Command. However, constant debate over the command and control of maritime air resources overshadowed the operational relationship between the two British services and touched on some of the fundamentals of air power. The RN wanted to ensure that the RAF gave its trade protection role proper attention, and thus endeavoured to secure greater control over Coastal Command’s operations. The RAF held true to the fundamental concept of the “indivisibility of air power,” and was weary of losing command over its maritime air power forces. The key to the success of the joint trade defence task was operational effectiveness. Therefore, the RN and RAF developed a series of Area Combined Headquarters along Britain’s coast in order to work together effectively in a joint construct and the RN was eventually granted operational control over Coastal Command. Though debates continued at higher levels, efficient command and control arrangements at the operational level meant that sailors and airmen in the joint headquarters were eventually able to work out their differences and foster a positive and effective working relationship to ensure the proper prosecution of the trade defence mission.