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Air power has become the prime military tool for any political leadership to respond and apply for resolution of politico-military contests. Primary strengths. without actually going through a wider war. (b) Speed. Air forces are also usually the only means for speedy deployment of the much needed surface forces to the desired areas. As a result. It is the most powerful means to show national resolve. At all levels of war. At the tactical level.1. speed and reach are the (a) Height. enabling it to engage the enemy in depth. . enabling mission achievement with the least application of force. air power reaches the farthest in lesser time. the speed of aircraft reduces the time they are exposed to hostile fire and thus can help to increase their survivability in battle. 3. The ability of aircraft to operate at different heights gives them not only speed and reach. Nations that invest in purposeful development of their air power are thus the most ready to deter enemy's intent to aggress effectively. which can be either strengths or limitations depending on the nature of the existing conditions. height. In comparison with the other forces. it allows military power to be projected more rapidly. The inherent advantage of speed ensures that air elements are the first to reach an area of interest/conflict. missions to be completed in shorter times and a greater number of tasks to be undertaken within a given period. (c) Conditional characteristics. These characteristics fall essentially into three categories:(a) Positive characteristics or strengths. air vehicles are much faster and have greater reach than naval ships or land vehicles. these can be further divided into:(i) (ii) (b) Primary Strengths Secondary Strengths Negative characteristics or limitations. as well as enjoy considerable liberty of action to pursue their own interests with initiative. 2. A strong air power equips the politico-military leadership with the least-risk option of achieving its objectives. but also the ability to observe and dominate activities on the surface and below the sea. Air power possesses specific characteristics which are quite distinct from those of land power and sea power. At the higher levels of war. primary strengths of air power:Thus. Air power has the unique ability to exploit the third dimension above the surface of the Sea/Earth. The primacy of air power amongst other forms of military capability stands out owing to its unique characteristics of speed and destructive power delivered in a three-dimensional reach. without unnecessary collateral destruction. speed facilitates surprise.
The primary air power characteristics of height. This has resulted from revolutionary developments in technology. in a situation demanding application of force. Lethality by an air force is achieved through precision. Speed enables the airpower to concentrate firepower in support of other forces and supplement the effects with rapid employment. speed and reach act together synergistically to produce additional strengths. . air power possesses unrivalled reach. Speed and reach makes air power uniquely responsiveness. besides being a classic example of economy of effort. round the clock and round the globe. The speed of response with which air power can act. where virtually the direction and mass of an offensive can be changed through a radio call. is of a loaded B-52 bomber. is unique to the air forces. Aircraft can reach out to project military power over greater distances in any direction. Secondary Strengths 4. The reach of airpower has reduced the relative security of enemy’s deeper centres of gravity. In today’s military affairs all efforts are made to achieve the larger and maximum results from minimal application of force. Speed gives airpower the inherent advantage of quick change of roles and points of its application in a military campaign. (b) Lethality. Enhanced lethality. given as follows:(a) Responsiveness.(c) Reach. attributes unmatched by either of the other Services. illustrating this important attribute. which incorporates reach. is a very special attribute of air forces. Such a capacity for firepower enables assured penetration of routine defences. its ability to reach an area of interest quickly and exert the desired influence optimally. and can inflict punitive destruction on an adversary. (ii) Reach. Thus. Unaffected by the physical barriers of topography (ground friction) air power can reach great distances at high speeds to engage assigned targets and project force. This range can be further increased manifold by employing force multipliers in the shape of air-to-air refuellers. and made these CsG vulnerable to the threat of engagement by the adversary's air power. Seventy per cent of the world is covered by water. is also a force multiplier since it permits a force to do more with less. good weapon carrying potential and precision attack capability.e. thirty per cent by land and one hundred per cent by air. The ability to reach-out and be responsive anywhere. unhindered by surface features such as mountain barriers or water expanses. penetration and firepower. A good example. The potency of air power's effectiveness can be judged through its lethality. (i) Speed. The most advantageous characteristic of air power for any national leadership lies in its responsiveness i.
The ability to deliver desired payloads with precision. a critical force multiplier.(i) Precision. or a critical asset. Deep penetration can therefore be combined with the factor of manoeuvre to add to the overall combat power of land and sea forces. Similarly. Additionally. Today a single bomb or missile can achieve the same effect that needed scores of aircraft and tons of bombs to achieve in World War II. combat attrition is also lower because fewer aircraft are exposed to the high threat environment. in depth. concentration of defensive forces also needs concerted firepower to thwart an enemy's offensive. Air power is now a part of manoeuvre in all tiers of warfare (tactical. therefore. differentiates airborne firepower from other means. Firepower with the manoeuvre is the principal belief of all significant offensive application of force. now no more does it mean a larger assembly of forces or firepower. (ii) Penetration. (iii) Firepower. and can monitor the entire surface of the globe virtually unhindered. sometimes of strategic importance. with the resultant value of the shock it generates for the loss of a centre of gravity. can provide critical momentum to offensive forces. operational and strategic). Minimal application of air power thus can provide disproportionate advantages. Precision attack capability requires lesser application of force for a given mission. or in parallel operations for the benefit of the overall war effort. Air power helps unite this punch through synergistic application of its integral firepower in support of surface forces in any of the above situations. Precision has changed the meaning of “mass” in combat. thus sparing effort for other usage. Neutralization of a crucial objective/CG. the main attributes of air power like speed and reach. The effort so spared now enables an operational commander to employ his forces on a wider front. but the effectiveness of the weapons released. . enabling mission achievement in a highly cost-effective manner. replaces the need for mass and obviates the traditional dependence on numbers for achieving the desired objective. Firepower. Air power is unique in its ability to absorb and apply the latest innovations in technology. aided by precise application. give air power the ability to penetrate deep into enemy territory and deliver the weapons decisively. without coming in physical contact with the target. Additionally. Air power components have the ability to circumvent obstacles and penetrate deep into enemy territory. Precision is. through minimal application of airborne firepower. Spacebased surveillance systems are relatively safe. combined with accurate information.
Air power has the ability of producing synergistic effects. Additionally. took on many interdiction missions during Operation Desert Storm. a commander may be required to exercise judgment in flexibility by modifying plans to meet the changing circumstances. discipline. Modern multi-role aircraft and systems can be reconfigured quickly for other roles. simultaneous attacks on carefully chosen CsG. while one wing of F-111s. which ensures that redeployments can take place both rapidly and economically. a force that is equally skilled for employment against a conventional or an unconventional target. Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems. (d) Synergy. such as responsiveness. In future. optimised as long range deep interdiction aircraft. which jointly would provide the operational commander with a coordinated manoeuvreand-effect equation that can generate its own tempo and momentum leaving the adversary paralysed for response. it requires sustainability and a degree of mobility. destruction of a large number of targets is not necessary. During the 1971 war. whereas aircraft configured for multi-missions can carry out more than one specialist task during a single sortie. Combination of the remaining attributes of air power. good training. such as satellites and UAVs. take advantage of fleeting opportunities. organization.(c) Flexibility. command and control techniques and modern Intelligence. aircraft can be employed to undertake multiple missions during operations. as enabled by air power. PAF must initiate measures. The A-10. Suitable application of a coordinated force can produce effects that far exceed those contributed separately by different forces. Instead. a correctly coordinated application of various elements of air and surface forces could bring to bear disproportionate pressure on the enemy. destroyed hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles with precision weapons. Although the aim might not alter. In modern warfare. Pakistan’s security imperatives require that all our decision makers posses an undistorted understanding of the characteristics of air power. Air assets can be diverted at any time in flight from one target to another. Owing to their inherent flexibility. first to acquire space-based assets. This is essentially required for future wars. Similarly. usually considered a close support aircraft. and then to integrate these with air and surface elements to complement the full range of future capabilities. or shift the main effort for operations. will be enabled through integration by technology. At the joint forces level. operational or strategic). Such parallel engagements are possible through a synergistic combination of high technology precision weapon systems. staff work and quick decision making. Air vehicles are flexible and versatile weapon systems that can carry both tactical and strategic weapons. C-130s undertook airfield attacks against India and slow flying T6-G trainers flew night interdiction missions against the Indian army. Flexibility demands trust. air power is unique in a way that the same platform and weapon load can be brought to bear against a target of choice (tactical. can achieve the objectives through cost-effective application. lethality and flexibility. and sometimes even for an altogether different mission. . forcing it to give up.
Air vehicles are highly stressed machines and therefore tend to be more fragile than surface vehicles. re-crew or service an aircraft while in flight. As General Nathan B Forrest of US rightly pointed out. these air power vulnerabilities can be reduced by a range of protective measures which includes:(a) Offsetting characteristics e. 8. Therefore airpower is an impermanent form of military force.g. . speed. that the secret of war lies in “getting there fastest with the mostest”.g.can counter or pose any/simultaneous threats across a far wider geographical area than is possible with surface systems. limited than those that can be carried by ships or by land vehicles. when and where required. precision and lethality. operations have to be repeated. air power . infrared signature and engine noise etc. Though Air-to-Air refuelling can greatly extend the range of aircraft. damage to any key component can have catastrophic effects. This applies equally to combat and combat support roles e. electric. Fragility. air bases are permanent fixtures. electronic counter measures. (e) Redundant aircraft systems such as flight controls. impermanence and information dependence:6. (c) Aircraft self-defence systems e. route planning. Although fragile. (d) Tactics e. Resultantly. The payloads that can be carried by aircraft are far more Limited Payload.g. LIMITATIONS OF AIR POWER 5.(e) Ubiquity. Impermanence. (f) Concentration. reach. high tempo.due to its height. reach and flexibility allow air power to concentrate military force in time and space. Air base defences. altitude and manoeuvrability. along-with its strengths. All other things being equal. no means yet have been devised to re-arm. chaff and flares. however. Air power. This weakness can be compensated significantly by air power's other strengths like responsiveness. cabling etc. Aircraft cannot stay airborne indefinitely. aircraft and their crews are soft targets.g. hydraulics. they can’t be moved and thus they are vulnerable to air and ground attack. speed and reach . Similarly. air transport. the effect it creates tends to be short lived and to sustain those effects. also has some inherent limitations. (b) Low observable technologies such as stealth to reduce aircraft radar cross-section. Speed. deception and surprise. Air power is fragile. limited payloads. namely fragility. Within a given level of resources. (f) 7. speed. air power has that capability.
Air power is expensive to acquire. Information Dependence. surveillance. detailed planning and coordination which entirely depend upon up-to-date and integrated information. and rapid response to detected or reported incidents on the surface and in the air. cost as such must be balanced against cost-effectiveness. High tech equipment inevitably costs more than simple equipment.g. operate and maintain. Air power is critically dependent on latest information. ground support equipment. 11. 10. Air power by itself is unable to hold ground.9. Similarly. Air power is a potent weapon but it relies on purposeful direction. In every case. simulators. training costs are closely related to the complexity of the aircraft that the aircrews are required to fly. aircraft carriers. aircrew. The cost for a small or medium sized air force set up to maintain a semi-permanent presence can be prohibitive. Cost. aircrew training can also be very expensive. which can be permanent in its effects. specialist personnel. Similarly. The growing use of satellites. Less capable aircraft can be purchased at the same price as of a main battle tank. Air power's use of the third dimension enables it to exploit information to provide the knowledge required for the conduct of successful operations by air. Identification of targets.those which can act in either a positive or a negative sense depending on the nature of the existing conditions include cost. spares and air bases. but most fixed wing aircraft depend . 15. their locations and pinpoint delivery of precision guided munitions and other payloads all depends upon accurate target information. Military aircraft tend to be at the cutting edge of technology and can therefore be costly. Helicopters and some fixedwings aircraft can take-off and land vertically. All forms of modern military power depend on base support. For certain tasks. but for others a far less costly solution may suffice. a highly capable aircraft is essential. This characteristic applies equally to weapon systems.be they fixed or mobile e. reconnaissance. advanced strike aircraft armed with standoff precision weapons. than to the level of air power capability desired. But these costs are less related to air power by itself as a form of military force. land and sea forces. is called air occupation and has been practiced successfully in particular circumstances for six decades. A modern highly-capable fighter-bomber aircraft will typically cost in the region of US $40m to US $70m. Base Dependence. Armies in the field need depots to support them and navies need harbour facilities. This presence. 12. and airborne early warning and control systems will continue to enhance the importance and value of air occupation. CONDITIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 13. dependency on bases and sensitivity to technology:14. However. air power can establish presence through air patrols. The conditional characteristics of air power . air power is often seen to be more obviously dependant on its bases -. uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs). However.
air bases are extremely difficult to secure. and technological advances inevitably affect air power development. well developed in terms of pavements. say. however.fundamentally on air bases which are large in area. water supply. and airfield approach aids. The nature of the balance will always depend on the overall direction and rate of technological development. They are vulnerable to attack. Experience has shown that even relatively small technological innovations can have a major impact on airpower effectiveness. . 16. The offensive capabilities of air power could be subdued by. then the converse applies. and well stocked and continually re-supplied. power. well supported by command and control systems. Air power tends to be more sensitive to technological changes than sea power or land power. Air power is a product of technology. Because of these features. if the bases are difficult to find. Personnel and equipment are probably more at risk at permanently sited air base. But equally. thus base-dependency is a source of potential weakness and the biggest limitation of the air power. they could be enhanced enormously by developments in “low observables” technology (that is “Stealth”). like aircraft carriers. advances in surface-to-air defence technology. Sensitivity to Technology.
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