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ISSN 1463-6298

Volume 12 Number 3 Autumn 2009

‘The Future of British Air and Space Power:

A Personal Perspective’
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton

“Air Power and the Environment:

The Ecological Implications of Modern
Air Warfare”
Doctor Joel Hayward

‘Executive Fuller!’ - The Royal Air Force

and the Channel Dash
Group Captain Alistair Byford

Air Power and the Contemporary Army

Group Captain Chris Luck

Air/Land Integration in the 100 Days:

The Case of Third Army
Jonathan Boff

‘Building a Good Instrument’: Assessing the

likely characteristics of Future conflicts and
their implications for the air component
Wing Commander Helen Miller

Group Captain Ian Shields
Squadron Leader Dave Stubbs

Book Reviews
Wing Commander Clive Blount
Bob Gordon

Historic Book Review

Air Commodore Neville Parton

Centre for Air Power Studies


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Editorial board:
Gp Capt A Byford, D Def S (RAF), Chairman
Dr J Hayward, Dean RAFC
Mr S Cox, Head of AHB (RAF)
Mr Peter Gibson, Hd of Air Media Centre, Air Cmd
Gp Capt I Shields, Asst Hd of Air & Space, DCDC
Mr C Hobson, Hd Library Services, JSCSC
Wg Cdr M Tomany, Dep D Def S (RAF)
Dr I Gooderson, DSD, JSCSC
Dr A Conway, DSD, RAFC
Dr B Jones, DSD, JSCSC
Dr D Jordan, DSD, JSCSC

Photographs courtesy of:

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No1 AIDU, RAF Northolt
‘The Future of British Air and Space
Power: A Personal Perspective’
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton

"Air Power and the Environment:
Volume 12 Number 2 Autumn 2009 The Ecological Implications of Modern
Air Warfare
Dr Joel Hayward

‘Executive Fuller!’ - The Royal Air Force
and the Channel Dash
Gp Capt Alistair Byford

Air Power and the Contemporary Army
Gp Capt Chris Luck

Air/Land Integration in the 100 Days:
The Case of Third Army
Jonathan Boff

‘Building a Good Instrument’: Assessing
the likely characteristics of Future
conflicts and their implications for the
air component
Wg Cdr Helen Miller

Gp Capt Ian Shields
Sqn Ldr Dave Stubbs

Book Reviews
Wg Cdr Clive Blount
Bob Gordon

Historic Book Review
Air Cdre Neville Parton

Bristol Beaufort

his edition of Air Power Review component’s carbon footprint and
begins with an article by the notes that the firepower available to
Chief of the Air Staff, in which, it has the potential to devastate the
early in his tenure, he gives his infrastructure essential to sustaining
personal perspective on the strategic population centres and to create
challenges that face the Royal Air environmental disasters by damaging
Force, both now and in the future. storage and production facilities.
The article provides a précis of Whilst not proposing the banning
the current strategic environment, of certain munitions types or the
characterised by uncertainty, fiscal exclusion of environmentally
pressure and the compelling need sensitive targets, it makes a strong
to achieve success in Afghanistan. It case for the environmental impact
goes on to examine briefly the role of operations to be considered very
that air and space power plays in the carefully at the outset.
security of the United Kingdom and
Group Captain Al Byford offers
comments on the recently published
a historical perspective on the
Air Publication 3000 Edition 4, which,
employment of air power in an article
under one cover, captures in a clear
entitled ‘Executive Fuller! – The Royal
and digestible fashion the main
Air Force and the Channel Dash’, a
themes and messages of British
fascinating example of a relatively
Air and Space doctrine. The article
small action which resonated strongly
concludes by offering the Chief of the
across all the levels of warfare, from
Air Staff’s ten propositions about the
the tactical to the grand strategic. The
future of British air and space power.
article provides an analysis of the
The theme of future challenges is Royal Air Force’s participation and
taken up by Dr Joel Hayward, the considers the key points of failure. It
Dean of the Royal Air Force College, demonstrates how even seemingly
in his thought provoking article on insignificant events can involve
the ecological aspects of modern complexity of the highest order in
warfare. He argues for the inclusion terms of planning, integration and
of environmental issues at an early execution, and the way in which the
stage of planning, to sit alongside the public reaction to the event created a
more traditional considerations of political impact that shook Churchill’s
proportionality and discrimination government to its foundations. The
- and for post-war remediation to parallels with current operations are
feature in campaign plans. The easy to draw, particularly with the
article points out the size of the air capability of modern communications
technology and the voracious appetite the Army during the Hundred Days
of the twenty-four hour news culture campaign of August – November
we now inhabit. 1918 in the British Third Army sector
seems to reinforce the notion that
The complexity of operations and
understanding the delivery of air
the challenge of effective component
power is far from simple. He argues
integration is an enduring theme
and Group Captain Chris Luck that by focussing too much on the
has produced a contemporary battle of Amiens, the Royal Air Force’s
examination of the difficulties of true contribution to victory has been
delivering timely, appropriate and distorted. The article recognises
strategically relevant joint effect. that although air power was in its
He picks up on some of the themes infancy, the Royal Air Force was
explored by the Chief of the Air Staff already demonstrating the ability
in his leading article, highlighting to innovate and effectively manage
strategic uncertainty, fiscal stringency new technology and the evolving
and a shared misunderstanding of requirement to offer an integrated,
some of the key aspects of delivering all-arms effect.
a coherent strategic campaign in a Moving from the past to the future,
complex operating environment - the article by Wing Commander
particularly a collective failure to Helen Miller attempts to capture the
grasp the fundamentals of air power. nature and causes of future conflict. It
The article ponders the truism recognises that predicting the future
that air power needs to be, and is, is folly, but argues that to ignore the
fundamentally flexible, agile and able rapidity of change is equally foolish.
to respond to rapid changes, should Consequently, she seeks to establish
the political need dictate. Luck goes a context of technological innovation,
into some detail in exploring what globalization and uncertainty to
it really means to deliver air power outline the possible causes of future
to the contemporary army in order conflict. The article speculates that
to maximise the strengths of both in irregular warfare is not a passing
delivering joint effect in pursuance of phase and explains the role that air
a political aim.
power may play in this complex and
Continuing with the theme of air/ most difficult operating environment.
land integration, but this time It concludes that the air component
in an historical setting, Jonathan will continue to have pivotal relevance
Boff’s article on the cooperation and will also need to continue to
between the Royal Air Force and evolve in order to meet new and
emerging threats. War. Although his book does not
agree with conventional wisdom and
This edition of APR includes two
is likely to be unpopular in some
viewpoints, both of which are
quarters as a result, Parton assesses
thought provoking and topical.
it as being rewarding and instructive
Group Captain Ian Shields examines
in equal measure and argues that it
in detail what is meant by the
represents ‘an air power classic’.
agility of air power and indeed,
what is understood by agility Finally, it would be remiss not
itself. He contends that it is neither to include prior notice of some
fully understood nor adequately forthcoming air power events. The
articulated as a concept. He Royal Air Force Air Power Conference
concludes, however, that it remains 2010 - ‘Meeting the Challenge:
at the core of air power and efforts Optimizing the Air & Space
to better understand the nuances of contribution to national security’
this concept will pay dividends in the will take place at the Victoria Plaza
broader understanding of air power Hotel on 16 and 17 June 2010. The
in the round. Squadron Leader Dave Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power
Stubbs tackles the subject of defence Studies and King’s College London
risk in his viewpoint, suggesting Conference, entitled ‘Twenty Years in
that against a backdrop of increased Iraq: Royal Air Force Operations in
fiscal pressure and growing strategic the Gulf since 1990’ will take place at
uncertainty, defence is carrying risk in the Defence Academy, Shrivenham
a number of areas, but that that risk on the 29 and 30 September 2010.
is poorly defined and acknowledged. Articles on any air and space power-
He contends that service rivalries and related themes are now welcome for
an understandable but inappropriate the spring 2010 edition of APR, and
focus on current operations prevent potential contributors may also wish
a clear and balanced analysis of to be aware that as 2010 marks the
the greatest areas of risk, and the twentieth anniversary of the RAF’s
development of plans to resolve or deployment to Iraq, the summer
mitigate them. edition is planned to be devoted to
an analysis of the two decades of
The two book reviews in this edition continuous air operations conducted
are followed by the latest in the in and over that state. As there must
series of historic book reviews by be few serving personnel who have
Air Commodore Neville Parton, not been affected by operations in
who considers Mark Clodfelter’s Iraq, there should be no shortage of
The Limits of Air Power: The American contributions and viewpoints, which
Bombing of North Vietnam. As he should be submitted in accordance
points out, this is a something of a with the guidance set out at the RAF
departure in the series, as the author Centre for Air Power Studies (RAF
is still living and the subject matter CAPS) website,
is much written about and familiar
to many. Parton concludes that
Clodfelter fully deserves the status he
enjoys as one of the leading analysts
of the air campaign in the Vietnam
"20 Years in Iraq:
RAF Operations in the Gulf since 1990"
29-30 September 2010
Joint Services Command and Staff College
Shrivenham, United Kingdom

The Defence Studies Department of King’s College London and the Royal Air Force
Centre for Air Power Studies invites applications from air power academics and
specialists, military historians, experts on the Gulf Wars, and RAF and other veterans
of these conflicts to share new analyses of the RAF’s contribution to operations in Iraq
across the broad spectrum of conflict, including the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars, the polic-
ing of the no-fly zones between 1991 and 2003, and the counter-insurgency phase from
The conference intends to bring together scholars and practitioners, including those
with operational experience, with an interest in the RAF’s participation in the various
phases of the Iraq deployment in order to explore the following themes:
• RAF Transformation: from Cold War air force to Expeditionary air force
• The evolution of air-land integration 1990-2009
• Modern air operations and the Media
• Non-kinetic and Psychological Air Power
• Air Policing and the Utility of Air Power in Low Intensity Operations
• Casualty Tolerance and Intolerance
• Prisoners of War
• International perspectives on the RAF’s role and performance in Iraq
• The legacy of Iraq on the RAF today and the immediate future


Applicants are encouraged to submit original work on the conference themes.

Please send 300 word proposals for 20-30 minute papers, a title, and a brief CV of the
presenter via email or post to:
20 Years in Iraq Committee email:
Defence Studies Department, King’s College London
Joint Services Command and Staff College
Shrivenham, Swindon SN6 8TS
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1793 788177
Fax: +44 (0)1793 788295
Royal Air Force
Historical Society

ormed in July 1986 to study the history of air power, the RAF Historical
Society examines such topics as the Strategic Bomber Offensive of World
War II, the V Force, various air campaigns, and further aspects of modern
air power. The Society holds lectures, seminars and discussions, bringing
together those involved in RAF activities past and present, at a membership
fee of £18 a year.

Please contact:

The Membership Secretary:

Dr Jack Dunham,
Silverhill House,
Wotton under Edge,
Glos GL12 7ND.
Tel: 01453 843362.


The General Secretary:

Gp Capt K J Dearman FRAeS,
Tel: 01869 343327
Notes on Contributors
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton joined the RAF in 1976 and
undertook a number of flying appointments, including 3 tours on the Jaguar,
both in Germany and the UK, before completing the Advanced Staff Course,
after which he trained to fly the Tornado GR1A and went on to command No
13 Squadron. He commanded Royal Air Force Coltishall and the RAF’s Jaguar
Force for 2 years from September 1997 and on promotion to Air Commodore
he was appointed as Director of the Eurofighter (Typhoon) Programme in the
Ministry of Defence. Further appointments in the Ministry of Defence included
Director General Typhoon. In May 2007, he became Deputy Commander in
Chief Personnel and Air Member for Personnel, based at HQ Air Command,
RAF High Wycombe and was appointed Chief of the Air Staff on 31 July 2009.

Doctor Joel Hayward is Dean of the Royal Air Force College. He is also Head
of Air Power Studies at King's College London and a Director or the Royal Air
Force Centre for Air Power Studies. He has written extensively on air power
and related defence topics - including well-received books, chapters and
articles. His latest book is the edited collection, Air Power, Insurgency and the
"War on Terror" (2009). He teaches and lectures widely throughout Europe and
beyond. He is also the lead academic for King's new MA, Air Power in the
Modern World, the UK's only specialist degree programme in air power studies.

Group Captain Alistair Byford is the RAF’s Director of Defence Studies. A

Tornado strike, attack and reconnaissance pilot, he has flown over 4000 hours
in an operational career that began with the first Gulf War and has included
twelve operational detachments, command of No. 31 Squadron and, most
recently, No. 904 Expeditionary Air Wing in Afghanistan. He has taken post-
graduate degrees in International Relations at Cambridge as an RAF Tedder
Fellow, and in War Studies at Kings College, London. He is the author of the
current edition of AP3000 - British Air and Space Doctrine.

Group Captain Chris Luck is a contingency planner at the UK Permanent

Joint Headquarters. A Support Helicopter pilot, he has flown nearly 5000 hours
of which 4200 have been on the Puma HC1. He was the flight commander
of 33 Squadron Puma Conversion Unit from 1996-1998 and more recently
commanded 33 Squadron from September 2007 to June 2009. Operational
experience has included tours in Northern Ireland, Operation GRANBY, Bosnia
and Operation TELIC, including exchange tours with the Kuwait and United
States Air Forces. A graduate of the USAF Air Command and Staff College,
he was also privileged to graduate as the first non-American from the USAF
School of Advanced Air and Space Studies in 2007. He wrote this article at the
beginning of 2009 whilst detached to command a joint air and aviation unit in
Iraq. He is an RAF Portal Fellow studying for a PhD in Strategic Studies.

Jonathan Boff was educated at Merton College, Oxford, before spending some
twenty years working in finance in London, Tokyo and Singapore. He returned
to full time study in 2006 and holds a Masters degree in History of Warfare from
the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, where he is currently
completing a PhD on the application of combined arms tactics by, and general
combat effectiveness of, British Third Army on the Western Front during the
Hundred Days campaign of August - November 1918.

Wing Commander Helen Miller is a serving Air Traffic Controller in the

Royal Air Force. Commissioned in 1991, she has carried out several air traffic
control appointments within the UK, as well as a number of broadening
appointments: Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief Strike Command, a
Strategic Planner and Personal Staff Officer to the Chief of Staff Strategy Policy
and Plans at Headquarters Air Command. A recent graduate of the Advanced
Command and Staff Course at the Joint Services Command and Staff College,
she is currently the Staff Officer in charge of Royal Air Force Media Operations
based at Headquarters Air Command, Royal Air Force High Wycombe.

‘The Future of British

Air and Space Power:
A Personal Perspective’

by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton

We are shackled by the past and never Afghanistan, quite rightly, remains
has the future been more difficult to our main effort and the RAF’s
divine. What we must do is to quite overriding priority. This is a war that
ruthlessly discard ideas, traditions and we cannot afford to lose: for reasons
methods which have not stood the test… of own national security, because
each of the fighting services must go of the potential knock-on effect
for speed, mobility and economy, and on Pakistan and the concomitant
develop the whole time with an eye on effect on the diaspora in the UK;
the other two members of the team in because of the consequences for our
co-operation, not in competition. relationship with our most important
Marshal of the RAF the Lord ally, the USA; and, not least, because
Tedder, Lee Knowles Lecture, 1947 of the implications for the future
of NATO. More broadly, I am also
Introduction conscious of the impact of current

ord Tedder’s prescription operations on the credibility and
for a ‘united, efficient and reputation of the armed forces and
economical armed force’,1 set indeed, on the popular perception
within a context of fiscal stringency of the utility of military force as a
and strategic uncertainty, seems as lever of national power. One of the
relevant today as it was when he deeper and more troubling legacies
was speaking in 1947. In 2010, the of our recent operational experience
United Kingdom will arguably reach is that although at one level, public
a crossroads, where the defence green support for the military is very strong
paper and the security review that - witness the homecoming parades
is likely to follow a general election and the continuing media focus on
will force us to define our national Wootton Bassett - this may mask a
level of ambition and determine our lack of genuine understanding and
notion of Britain’s place in the world. there could now be an underlying
Inevitably, this will have significant belief that military action is too
implications for the size, shape and expensive - politically, financially,
structure of our armed forces. Given and in human terms - to be
this background, I feel it is important contemplated as a serious future
to provide a perspective on what this policy option. The public reaction
challenging strategic environment to the casualties, suffered during
means for British air and space power, Operation Panther’s Claw in the
and set out my vision of the role that summer illustrate the point.
the Royal Air Force should play in the But this perception, if it does exist, is
future security of the UK. misguided. In some circumstances,
military force will be the only tool of
The Strategic Environment
national power that is appropriate.
Defence is currently facing two Consequently, those of us involved
compelling strategic drivers: the in defence must engage the public
first is the impact of ongoing more proactively, to help build a
operations in Afghanistan; the second deeper understanding of the military
is the pressure on government and to explain the rationale for and
spending resulting from the global legitimacy of the use of force. We in
economic downturn. the RAF must also play our part by
continuing to adapt so that we can often more culturally acceptable than
fulfil our mission: to project relevant coalition land forces that can be easily
and superior military air and space portrayed as an alien, invading army.
power to, if necessary, fight and win to Air and space power can then be used
protect the UK’s vital interests. 2009 in a more discrete manner, providing
is the 200th anniversary of Charles the higher-end technological
Darwin’s birth; a timely reminder of capabilities, such as Intelligence,
his famous assertion that: Surveillance, Target Acquisition and
Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities
It is not the strongest of the species that
survive, nor the most intelligent, but the that are difficult for local security
most adaptable. forces to acquire and develop.

We must adapt if we are to continue The second strategic driver is, of

to provide a relevant and useful course, the economy. Defence
defence capability to policy-makers will have to compete with other
and here, the innate characteristics government departments in what
of air and space power are a real George Osborne has described as
strength. Air power’s reach, flexibility an ‘age of austerity’3 and while I
and ubiquity mean that if - and this would not wish to second-guess
is an absolutely critical prerequisite the outcome of any future spending
- if we can secure control of the air, review, most analysts predict that
we have the freedom to offer viable whole government spending will have
alternatives to the commitment of to fall in real terms by about 11% in
major land forces with the heavy cost the six years to 2016/17.4 Whatever
that this invariably entails. We should political choices are made in the
not forget, for example, that the air future about governmental priorities,
policing of no-fly zones over Iraq by it is clear that defence will need to
the USAF and RAF neutered Saadam take account of the consequences of
Hussein’s regime as a regional threat a fiscal squeeze and as a result, some
for eleven years, without the loss very difficult decisions will have to be
of a single coalition life, and at the made about our future force structure
combined cost of $1 billion a year. In and capabilities.
contrast, the USA has suffered well Consequently, I welcome the
over 4,000 service deaths since the impending defence green paper -
start of major land operations in Iraq and the likelihood of a subsequent
in 2003, and the financial cost has defence and security white paper - as
averaged $12.5 billion every month.2 an opportunity to engage in a national
Even where a significant presence is debate about the role that the UK
required on the ground as part of a sees itself playing in the world, so
joint campaign, air power is able to act that we can understand both the
as a force multiplier to dramatically contribution defence will be expected
reduce exposure. Ideally, the ‘boots to make, and learn what resources
on the ground’ required in a counter- the nation is prepared to commit
insurgency operation will eventually to fund this vision. Only then can
be provided by indigenous forces we make sensible decisions about
after suitable training, as these are capabilities and future force structure.
sensitive to local conditions and This means that, inter alia, we will
have to decide what military tasks and constitutional constraints that
are non-discretionary - for example, I will have to be overcome.
would suggest that it would never be
publicly acceptable to cede primary A Language and Lexicon of Air
responsibility for the air defence of Power for the Twenty-First Century
the UK to an ally or alliance - but Understanding and articulating the
also, what spread of other military vital contribution that air and space
capabilities are required over and power can make across the whole
above this threshold, to buy the level of the defence and security sector
of influence we determine that we is therefore important, especially at
need internationally, particularly
this particular moment in our history.
within coalitions and alliances.
But this is challenging, when the
Any white paper following the RAF has been primarily operating
general election next year is likely in support of land-based, counter-
to review security in the round, insurgency campaigns for the last
rather than concentrating on defence six years. While air power has been
alone. Consequently, we must be absolutely essential - in fact, none of
much more forward-leaning in these operations could ever have been
understanding and developing our contemplated without it - because
capability to provide what Joseph of the understandable focus on
Nye has termed ‘smart power’, operations on the ground, the critical
rather than just ‘hard power’.5 contribution of the air component
I would contend that air power is in danger of being overlooked.
has always provided much wider The lay observer may be able to
influence beyond coercion based on understand intuitively what a soldier
the delivery of kinetic effect, but we is doing, when he or she sees media
have never been particularly good at imagery of a foot patrol moving
articulating our ability to contribute through a village in Afghanistan.But
‘soft power’ capabilities, because because it is largely invisible
of our traditional emphasis on the and therefore intangible, they
harder edge of the air power domain. will almost certainly not realise or
However, we must give serious understand those soldiers’ total
consideration to the ways in which reliance on air and space power,
we can contribute to the security from the Chinook that inserted him
of the UK more broadly, especially into the zone, through the persistent
within the context of the recently ISTAR he is receiving from a
published second edition of the constellation of air and space assets,
National Security Strategy.6 I have to his assurance of on-call, heavy
already mentioned the air defence of firepower support from combat air
the UK, and this remains an essential
elements ‘over the horizon’.
task: the London Olympics in 2012
will throw this particular requirement As airmen, we have not always helped
into sharp focus. But I believe there ourselves. We are fascinated by
are many other ways in which the technology, and this makes it easy
RAF can play a more significant role for us to get caught up in the jargon
in the wider security of the nation, and acronyms that are part and
notwithstanding the cultural, legal parcel of our profession. This has
sometimes made it difficult for us to the images of Sir Galahad burning
understand each other properly, let at Bluff Cove during the Falkland
alone explain air power’s utility to Conflicts in 1982 to understand the
soldiers, sailors, politicians and other consequences of a failure to secure
decision-makers. Consequently, all of control of the air on expeditionary
our major doctrinal publications have operations. Our adversaries will
now been reviewed to provide the always contest our freedom to use the
basis for a simpler and more coherent air, even if - like the Taleban - they
conception of air and space power do not possess an air force. Instead,
centred on just four, vital roles.7 they will use small arms fire and
These make sense and are easy to rocket propelled grenades against
explain and understand; it means we slow-moving aircraft and helicopters,
will all be equipped to give air power booby traps and mortar attacks on our
a much clearer and more credible airfields, or even propaganda about
voice in the ongoing defence and civilian casualties to attempt to deny
security debate. our freedom to use air power - our
own asymmetric advantage - as we
The Four Air and Space Power Roles choose. There is a danger that it is
The fundamental roles are: Control generally perceived that the current
of the Air and Space, Air Mobility, level of Control of the Air that we
Intelligence and Situational enjoy can be assumed. This is a
Awareness and Attack. Together, mistake; Control of the Air will always
they explain how air and space be contested, and we will always
can be used ‘to project power to have to fight to maintain it, and
influence the behaviour of people or sometimes in unexpected ways and in
the course of events’.8 The key here unexpected arenas, such as within the
is to understand how the air power information domain.
roles can be used holistically to create
The second air power role is Air
influence - and invariably, as part
Mobility and Lift. This has been
of a joint campaign within an inter-
critical in recent operations in Iraq
agency, comprehensive approach to
and Afghanistan. Without strategic
crisis resolution.
air lift - enabled, of course, by Control
Control of the Air and Space remains of the Air - it would have been
the most important role of any air impossible to deploy and sustain our
force. The RAF was established as forces in theatre in the first place.
the world’s first independent air force And on a day-to-day basis, tactical
ninety-one years ago to maintain lift, provided by support helicopters
the integrity of the UK’s airspace, and Hercules transports, means that
and this remains our most important we can still move our forces around
responsibility today. Equally, freely, even when movement on the
when we deploy on expeditionary ground is difficult, either because of
operations, Control of the Air the terrain or the threat of road-side
is critical, because it guarantees or suicide bombs. Air lift is a real
freedom of manoeuvre for the entire force-multiplier, because it means
joint force, while denying it to our we can operate effectively with far
adversaries. We only need to recall smaller ground forces than would
otherwise be the case, especially as traditional mechanized and armoured
air power also provides the heavy formations, was taken on the basis
firepower that would have to be of the assurance of air support - and
generated by artillery and other land- this assumption, the cheque that air
based systems. Finally, in the context and space power is expected to be
of counter-insurgency operations, air able to cash, should be acknowledged
lift operations can be as important, and taken into account in future
in terms of influencing the overall discussions about force structure.9
course of the campaign, as more
The overwhelming advantage
‘traditional’ uses of air power. Flying
conferred by modern air power has
a regional governor to a Loya Jurga,
obviously driven the asymmetric
or moving an Afghan Army
Kandak back to its home province approaches adopted by insurgents
for leave, are good examples of in current operations. The problem
the unglamorous, but absolutely is now very different: although
essential, contributions that air we can ‘Strike’ very effectively, the
power is making towards establishing challenge is to ‘Find’ exactly where
proper governance in Afghanistan. we need to apply force, when our
enemies are elusive and fleeting,
The third air power role is and often operate in a boundless
Intelligence and Situational and borderless battlespace ‘amongst
Awareness. Military action has the people’. If commanders are to
traditionally been explained as formulate sound military plans in
four functions: Find, Fix, Strike and this environment, they need to build
Exploit. In the Cold War, ‘Find’ was their awareness through access
relatively easy, as it was difficult to to the most comprehensive, all-
conceal an entire Soviet Shock Army. source, intelligence picture possible.
The problem was to ‘Fix’ and then Consequently, the RAF has invested
‘Strike’ it, when it was protected by a heavily in the ‘Find’ function over
sophisticated, Integrated Air Defence the last decade, procuring a wide
System (IADS). So we invested spectrum of collection capabilities. At
heavily in Control of the Air and one end of the scale, we have acquired
precision strike capabilities to do just a ‘non-traditional’ ISTAR capability by
that. As a result, modern western air fitting high-resolution targeting pods
forces now have the ability to attack to combat air elements, such as the
targets very precisely, whatever the
Harrier, Tornado and Typhoon, which
weather. In recent, conventional
can be employed to produce ‘pattern
‘force-on-force’ conflicts, such as the
of life’ full motion video, data-linked
wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003,
in real time to forces on the ground.
air power has become the prime
And at the other, we have invested in
tool of military force, with the land
specialist systems, such as the Reaper
component effectively fixing the
Uninhabited Air System (UAS) and
enemy to be struck and destroyed
ASTOR wide-search stand off radar,
in detail from the air. This primacy
which are both currently being used
has been acknowledged across
to huge effect in Afghanistan.
defence; the decision to restructure
the British Army into lighter, more The challenge is to use these
uniform brigades, breaking up impressive collection capabilities
to their full potential by directing The Pre-eminence of Information
them, analysing the data gathered and the Growing Importance
and disseminating the intelligence of Space
produced as effectively as possible,
All current trend forecasts emphasize
and this is the focus of our current
the increasingly fragmented and
efforts. Our ISA capability can
disparate nature of conflicts and
only be fully exploited if we use a
crises. In the coming years, the UK
developing Networked Enabled
will need to deal with a multiplicity
Capability (NEC) to build a truly
of sub-state threats and actors,
comprehensive intelligence picture,
but may also have to confront
fusing data from all sources. For
traditional states with similar high-
example, in Afghanistan, wide area
technology capabilities to ourselves,
search assets, such as ASTOR, are
routinely used to cue fast jets with either directly or through proxies
high-resolution, but narrow field of in ‘ungoverned spaces’.10 Our
view, sensors on to points of interest adversaries in this future battlespace
for tactical exploitation; the analogy is - both state and non-state - will
searchlight to flashlight to spotlight. therefore be highly agile, and are
likely to have access to sophisticated
Attack - precise, proportionate and capabilities. In this sort of
discriminate - is the final air power environment, ‘time is a weapon’, and
role. Attack may be non-kinetic as we need to respond by leveraging air
well as kinetic, and an opponent’s will power’s potential to exploit the fourth
or understanding may be attacked as dimension so that we can operate
effectively as his physical capabilities. within our opponents’ decision
For example, on many occasions in cycle. This is critical, as opportunities
Afghanistan, the frightening and are likely to be fleeting, and we
disorientating effects of a ‘show of must be ready to take advantage of
force’ - a low and extremely noisy them as they arise. Future success
fly-past by fast jets - have been will therefore depend on effective
hugely effective in dispersing a mob decision making, based on accurate
or buying time for own forces to act, and timely information, underpinned
especially in those circumstances by the agility delivered through
when it would be inappropriate, or flexible and adaptive capabilities. In
counter-productive to use heavy
particular, space and cyber-space will
weapons, because of the danger
become increasingly important to
of civilian casualties or collateral
all military operations, and I would
damage. Attack remains one of air
contend that the RAF’s core values
power’s most important roles and
as an institution make us particularly
our demonstrable capability to hold
well-suited to lead defence in the
an adversary at continuous risk is an
exploitation of these domains.
important aspect of deterrence and
coercion; it provides a key component The provision of accurate and timely
of the UK’s ‘hard power’ capabilities, information has always been critical
which are necessary to underpin the to the effectiveness of all military
‘soft power’ tools that form part of activities, and the importance of the
a whole-government approach to information domain will only increase
crisis resolution. as societies become more networked.
The exponential growth in the and coalition members that we will
availability of information means that encounter within the comprehensive
we must understand how to deliver approach. Additionally, as we
and protect our national interests enhance our own network
- which may depend as much on capabilities, so we increase our
perceptions as on hard realities - in susceptibility to computer
the cyber domain. This means that network attack12 and computer
we must grow a cadre of people who network exploitation;13 indeed,
understand and can manage the in a world where information is
modern networked environment, and pre-eminent, it could also quickly
are comfortable with the concept of become our critical vulnerability.
treating information as a capability Set against a backdrop of a dynamic
in itself. Here, our organizational and proliferating threat,14 an
culture is a real strength: the RAF is effective computer network defence15
steeped in a history of information capability is therefore essential.
management and network operation, This means identifying and
and this is a domain that we find addressing risks as early as possible
intuitive. Fighter Command’s air in the capability development
defence system during the Battle process, while developing tactics,
of Britain was a classic example of techniques and procedures to provide
early NEC, where information from resilience where networks are
radar and observers was collected, contested or compromised.
processed, fused and disseminated
Space is similarly vital to both our
to provide battle-winning decision-
military operations and wider society.
superiority to Park and Dowding,
All nine sectors of the UK’s critical
the two primary RAF operational
national infrastructure16 depend to
commanders. This tradition of
a greater or lesser extent on space
networking, driven by the particular
and networked operations, and
requirement of air operations for
there is a growing awareness across
timely information, has continued to
government of what a ‘bad space
the present day, forming the basis, for
day’ might look like, in terms of
example, of the strategy that is being
both military effectiveness and the
developed to create the best possible
economic viability of the UK as a
intelligence picture to counter the
functioning state. Up to 90% of all
proliferation of Improvised Explosive
military capabilities depend on space,
Devices in Afghanistan.11
from surveillance to navigation and
Consequently, one of the greatest targeting and, most fundamentally,
challenges presented by NEC the accurate position and timing
for the RAF is not the concept of functions which are vital to nearly
enabling networks itself, or even the all of our activities.17 Inevitably,
interconnected application of air we will have to continue to rely on
power, as we have been operating alliances and partnerships for access
in this manner for many years, to space, leveraged through influence
but rather improving our ability to and specialist knowledge - the
fully integrate and synchronize our US’s freedom of orbit is particular
capabilities, at speed, with the other important in this respect - but
services, government departments prudence dictates that we cast the net
as widely as possible to guarantee adaptable and capable twenty-first
the access we require, and also century Royal Air Force’ - but I would
remain open to the technological like to unpick this strap-line to tease
developments that may offer the out what it really means in practice,
means for us to acquire an affordable before offering my thoughts on our
indigenous space capability - path into the future.
nanotechnologies enabling small
It is clear that we need to balance
satellites are one example. What
our force structure so that we
is certain is that despite treaty
can deliver relevant capabilities
constraints, space will become an
across all four air power roles; and
increasingly contested domain,
in the space and cyber domains
and we must develop a concept of
too. Accomplishing this will not
operations to deal with this. The
be easy, because of the variety,
US’s Operationally Responsive Space
unpredictability and uncertainty of
Initiative provides one potential
the threats we will face in the future.
model for how flexible space
This is where agility and adaptability
capabilities may be delivered in short
- in our equipment and in our people
timescales in such an environment.18
- will be vital. We must continue to
The Future of British Air and seek out innovative solutions if we
Space Power are to deliver affordable capability,
and the novel partnership
I have provided a personal
arrangements we have developed
perspective of the current strategic
with industry to sustain our aircraft
environment and its consequences,
fleets, and on projects such as the
and outlined what I consider to
future tanker and strategic aircraft
be the key issues pertaining to the
programme, indicate how substantial
four air and space roles. I have also
savings can be made - although the
indicated why space and cyber will
implementation of these structures
play an increasingly significant part
has required real commitment to
not only in UK military operations,
overcome the sometimes painful
but also in the essential infrastructure
adjustments required of our people
of national life. I suggest that
and for our processes. However,
this all demonstrates that air and
I am absolutely determined
space power is more essential to
that the traditional excellence
defence than it ever has been before,
of our flight safety regime is not
either as the prime agent of force
compromised by the adoption of any
in conventional warfare, or as the
of these initiatives; the twin pillars
key enabler in counter-insurgency
of airworthiness and flight safety lie
operations; and that it will have a
at the core of the RAF’s operational
growing part to play across the wider
effectiveness and they must be given
security sector, especially in the space
the attention they deserve, above all
and cyber domains. But how can we
other considerations.
develop our capabilities and continue
to provide superior and relevant One of the RAF’s enduring
military capability in an atmosphere institutional strengths is its readiness
of real fiscal stringency? The and capacity to embrace emerging
answer lies in our vision of ‘an agile, technologies and, in the relatively
near-term, technical solutions are However, within the bounds of near-
in prospect that may offer ways term technology, manned aircraft
for us to square the circle between retain significant advantages in
capability and cost. For example, terms of speed, payload, flexibility,
the development of simulated and discrimination and situational
synthetic training technologies will awareness over UAS and their remote
enable us to enhance the quality of operators. Additionally, the legal and
the learning experience while, as a by- ethical implications of UAS operation
product, driving down the cost - not in civilian controlled airspace, and the
least the environmental impact - of role and status of their operators, are
flying training. More fundamentally, all important concerns that are yet to
the emergence of directed energy be fully resolved. Nevertheless, as the
weapons may mark a revolutionary subject matter experts, the RAF needs
step-change in air power capabilities, to lead in addressing these issues to
potentially offering a low collateral ensure the coherence of the UK’s UAS
alternative to the employment of capability on a pan-defence basis.
more traditional and very expensive
Adaptability can help to resolve
capabilities, such as low observable or
force-balance dilemmas and genuine
stealthy platforms, as a means of, for
multi-role capabilities - particularly
example, securing control of the air by
in terms of manned and unmanned
taking down a sophisticated IADS in
Combat ISTAR - mitigate some of
conjunction with cyber-attack.
the problems. For example, over the
Consideration of a balanced force last two decades the Tornado has
is not, therefore, just a question been used in everything from full-
of numbers of platforms and the blown combat in the Gulf (twice) and
proportion of fast jets to helicopters the Balkans, through low-intensity
or transport aircraft. Instead, it is air policing over Iraq to its current
the overall balance of capabilities. role as a Combat-ISTAR counter-
The key areas we need to take a insurgency platform in Afghanistan.
judgement on include the balance Consequently, I am determined to
between manned and unmanned continue to promote and enhance
systems; capability versus mass; adaptability by focusing our thinking
directed energy weapons in on the provision of capability in
relation to low observable or cyber the round, rather than continuing
capabilities; high technology versus with the more platform-centred
low technology; and Intelligence approach of the past. This encourages
and Situational Awareness against a much more holistic conception
Attack, the traditional ‘Find-Strike’ of air power and permits us, for
debate I described earlier. In all example, to see the F35 Lightning
probability, none of these issues are as primarily an ISTAR asset, but
‘either-or’ choices. For example, UAS with hugely effective built-in Attack
will contribute significantly to our and Control of the Air capabilities.
future capability; they offer a very However, there are limits to the
attractive and cost-effective option effects that multi-role adaptability
for ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ tasks can deliver, and we must be wary
at minimal risk to their operators, of putting all of our investment
and with impressive persistence. into a small number of highly
capable platforms; this is where the excelled at in the past. We need to
‘capability versus mass’ argument institutionalise air power education,
comes into play. There is a danger, and nurture leaders who can deal
if we are not rigorous enough in with the complexity and ambiguity
our analysis or try to hedge our bets of the contemporary operating
too far, that we will field a ‘middle- environment. This demands
weight’ force structure, which is too education, not just training, and will
sophisticated to fight low technology have to be delivered on a through-
insurgencies in a cost-effective career basis, from initial air power
manner, but equally, is unable to be schooling through to scholarships and
completely effective against the high exposure to post-graduate learning
technology equipment that future opportunities. It will be difficult
state adversaries - or their sub-state to find the resources to support
proxies - are likely to deploy. this adequately, and it will also be
difficult to promote a cultural mind-
So what will the RAF of the future
set that properly values education in
look like? It is impossible - and
mainstream career terms. However,
would be inappropriate - to offer
this is a necessary change and I
detail of a mooted force structure in
am determined to make it happen;
advance of a strategic security and
initiatives such as the Review of
defence review, but the direction
Officer and Aircrew Development
of travel is clear. I am convinced
and the CAS Fellowship scheme have
that the RAF needs to capitalise on
been important steps in the right
air power’s ability to acquire and
direction, but we need to go much
process intelligence, and to strike with
further in developing the intellectual
proportion and precision. We need
capital that is essential to guarantee
to be able to both ‘Find’ and ‘Strike’, our future institutional success.
by continuing to develop a force with
Combat ISTAR at its heart - this will Conclusion
be our core future competency. If
The current strategic environment is
as a nation, we continue to aspire
extremely challenging. The impact
to contribute to expeditionary
of ongoing operations combined
operations, then there will be a
with the bleak economic climate has
continuing need to invest in favour of
arguably put defence in the eye of
air lift and mobility assets, both fixed
‘a perfect storm’. Yet I remain very
and rotary wing. And finally and
optimistic about the future of air and
inevitably, the unmanned element of
space power - and the service that
our capability will continue to grow
I am proud and privileged to lead.
in importance, notwithstanding the
The RAF’s role in current operations
caveats regarding their employment
is self-evidently vital, while in the
and the necessity for a sensible
future, we are best-placed to lead
defence in the increasingly important
In terms of people, the requirement domains of space and cyber. We must
for agility is clear, and this will remain alert to the opportunities
increasingly demand strategic and offered by potentially game-changing
operational thinking, in addition to technologies, but while we will have
the tactical proficiency that we have to exploit the new and the novel,
we must ensure that we do not fall space role. Control of the Air
in thrall to them; there will be no and Space remains the RAF’s first
silver bullets. We will continue to duty in both homeland defence and
field a balanced force, but Combat on expeditionary operations; it will
ISTAR will be established as our core continue to be contested whenever
capability and unmanned systems we engage in combat, but in
will increase as a proportion of our different and unexpected ways
battle order; this in turn means to the past, including through
we will need to determine how to information operations, cyber
support and sustain this capability, attack and, in the future, by the use
and decide whether we need to of directed energy weapons.
establish a specialisation, with its • Air and space power is about
own career structure, to operate the provision of capability, not
it. Finally, our ultimate operational the generation of platforms. Air
success as a fighting service will and space power’s role is to deliver
continue to depend - as it has done capability; in the past we have too
throughout the last ninety-one years often focused on platforms. We need
- on our agility as an air force, based to take a more adaptive approach
above all else on the quality and the to creating desired effects through
education of the high calibre men integrating and synchronising a
and women who are proud to serve, range of capabilities and activities.
and ready to meet the future military
• Time is a weapon: air and space
needs of the UK.
power offers the means to
Ten Propositions Regarding British dominate it. The contemporary
Air and Space Power battlespace is complex, congested,
and cluttered and opportunities
In the past, theorists and practitioners will be fleeting. The inherent
have advanced different notions and characteristics of air power, and
propositions regarding air power. In its ready access to the information
closing, I thought it might be useful if domain, offer the best prospect of
I summarised my thinking by offering creating decisive effect in this sort
ten of my own propositions about the of environment.
future of British air and space power:
• Combat ISTAR will lie at the
• Air and space power is all about heart of the RAF’s future
creating influence. Air and capability. A developing Combat
Space Power provides influence in ISTAR capability reduces the
support of the national interest: requirement for networking
this is achieved through a holistic and increases resilience while
range of effects, including the underpinning flexibility and
kinetic and non-kinetic. The adaptability, thus mitigating force
inherent flexibility of air power balancing issues. It will be the
means that it will be a key baseline capability and core
component in the UK’s arsenal of competency of our combat
‘smart power’ capabilities. air elements.
• Control of the Air and Space • Unmanned Air Systems are here
remains the paramount air and to stay. UAS are an integral part of
the UK’s air power capability. • Network Enabled Capability is
As the subject matter experts, the critical to unlocking air and space
RAF needs to lead in coordinating, power’s potential. As the
developing, supporting and information domain becomes
sustaining a coherent and viable increasingly important, NEC will
UK UAS capability. be critical in fusing and integrating
• Space and Cyber are joint capabilities to unlock the true
domains, but the air component potential of air and space power.
is best-placed to lead in
coordinating the defence effort in
these arenas. The RAF has the
tradition, expertise and people with
the capability to lead defence in
these two important domains.
• Technology and air and space
power are synergistically related. Chief of the Air Staff
Emerging technology will be vital
in enabling the delivery of affordable
and relevant air and space power in
the future, but we must not rely on
technology as a substitute for ideas.
• Agility and adaptability are the
key to the delivery of capable,
relevant and affordable air and
space power in a complex and
uncertain world. The successful
employment of British air and
space power in the twenty-first
century depends, above all else
on the agility of the RAF’s people;
this demands education, not just
training, and we must get serious
about investing in it and valuing it
as institution.
Notes 13
Operations to produce intelligence
1 from CIS. (GCHQ Paper - The UK
Marshal of the RAF the Lord Tedder1
Framework for Computer Network
, Air Power in War, London: Hodder
Operations dated 16 Mar 06).
and Stoughton, 1947, p. 28. 14
2 CDS Directive 06/08 - the number
Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes,
of detected deliberate attacks on
Three Trillion Dollar War, New York:
MoD networks has increased over
Allen Lane, 2008.
3 a 2 yr. period.
‘Tories Cut to the Chase as Osborne 15
Actions taken within an overall
Heralds an Age of Austerity’, The
Information Assurance framework
Times, 7 October 2009.
to deter, protect, detect, react to
Malcolm Chalmers, ‘Preparing for and recover from a CNA or CNE
the Lean Years’, RUSI Future Defence on MoD CIS.
Review Working Paper Number 1, July 16
2009, p. 1. 17
FASOC 2009, p.1-2.
Joseph Nye, 18
Ibid, C-1.
smart-power-initiative, last accessed 19
See for example, Philip Meilinger,
22 October 2009. 10 Propositions Regarding Air Power,
Security for the Next Generation, 2009, Maxwell: Air University, 1995.
available at http://www.cabinetoffice.,
last accessed 22 October 2009.
Notably AP3000 ‘British Air and
Space Power Doctrine’ Edition 4.
2009, available at http://www.
htm, and The Future Air and Space
Operational Concept Edition 2, 2009,
available at
AP3000, p. 3.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, speech
transcript, ‘The Land Environment
– Moving Towards 2018’, RUSI Future
Land Warfare Conference, 12 June 2008.
HLOC Framework, page iv, para 6.
Air Cmd “Strategy for NEC in the
Air Environment” dated Dec 08.
Software-base attacks against CIS
intended to modify, disrupt, deny,
degrade or destroy information
or functionality (D/DTIO/
PCS/03/01/08/01 dated 26 Jan 06
(Policy for CNA in support of
Military Ops.

“Air Power and the Environment:

The Ecological Implications of
Modern Air Warfare”

By Dr Joel Hayward1

Ecologists, activists, lobbyists and of course politicians are already turning

their attention to ecological aspects of modern warfare. As a consequence,
governments and their armed forces will have to pay more attention to
the serious ecological ramifications of conflict. Air forces face the greatest
challenges. During both peace and war they have far greater carbon footprints
than armies and navies. They use potentially more devastating ordnance.
Their targets traditionally include objects in or near population centres and the
aquifers, waterways, soils and food sources that sustain them. And air forces
cause far worse damage to environmentally significant production, storage
and distribution infrastructure (much of it based on petroleum, oil, lubricants
or chemicals). This article does not recommend the blanket exclusion of any
potential target sets from planning processes. Rather, it argues that, when
we utilise our existing warrior code, the Just War ethical framework, we
must now slightly expand our time-honoured moral and legal constructs of
proportionality and discrimination to include environmental issues. That is,
the article argues for the inclusion of ecological protection in military planning
and for it to be weighed expertly, along with the likely need for post-war
remediation activities, among the factors that will ultimately determine the
justifiability of military actions.
Introduction and Doctrine Centre (DCDC)

illustrates the importance now being
wenty years ago the Norwegian
placed on these matters by some
Prime Minister, Gro Harlem
British strategists.3
Brundtland, stated: “We are
living in an historic transitional Balancing strategic and operational
period in which awareness of the needs with both military and
conflict between human activities and environmental ethics is certainly not
environmental constraints is literally impossible, and responsible armed
exploding.”2 We have come a long forces are already beginning to think
way in the subsequent two decades. about how best to balance what
Environmental responsibility now superficially seem to be (but actually
lies at the forefront of our western are not) competing imperatives. Air
world perspective and is constantly forces face the greatest challenges.
growing in importance. Ecological During both peace and war they
activism, which used to be a fringe have far greater carbon footprints
movement, has now become than armies and navies. They
mainstream. In 2007 Al Gore and the use potentially more devastating
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ordnance. Their targets traditionally
Change won the Nobel Peace Prize include objects in or near population
(and an Oscar!) for their efforts to centres and the aquifers, waterways,
raise environmental awareness. soils and food sources that sustain
Greenpeace, which uses “non-violent, them. And air forces cause far
creative confrontation to expose worse damage to environmentally
global environmental problems,” significant production, storage and
alone has no fewer than 220,000 distribution infrastructure, much
members in the United Kingdom and of which is based on petroleum, oil,
2.8 million worldwide. Ecologists, lubricants or chemicals.
environmentalists, activists, lobbyists
and of course strategists are already My philosophical framework should
turning their attention to ecological be easy to understand. Although
aspects of modern warfare, including I recognise intrinsic worth in the
land mines, cluster ordnance, erosion natural environment - meaning it has
and soil damage, air pollution, a value in its own right regardless
deforestation, nuclear testing and of what humans gain from it - I
proliferation, oil spillage and fires, am primarily concerned with its
depleted uranium contamination, instrumental value. That is, I argue
the disposal of ordnance, and so from an anthropocentric vantage
forth. It seems likely that such point that we should safeguard the
concerns will also become environment and its myriad complex
increasingly mainstream. As a ecosystems because humans are
consequence, governments and their part of those ecosystems and their
armed forces will be paying more security, health and happiness
attention to the serious ecological depend entirely upon them. I see no
ramifications of conflict. Some conflict or inconsistencies between
already are. The Global Strategic Trends environmental ethics and the ethics
paper published by the Ministry of of war. Western warriors increasingly
Defence’s Development, Concepts understand that the environment is
in many ways the collective property than is necessary to guarantee the
of all humanity, including future attainment of just military goals.
generations, and that its responsible Similarly, discrimination means that
stewardship is critical regardless of military forces may only wage war on
the good and bad governments and combatants and military objects, and
regimes that might exist at any given must act purposely and painstakingly
time within man-made boundaries. to ensure that civilians suffer no
In this respect the environment is more harm than military necessity
highly akin to the “cultural property” demands. It is thus eminently
that the 1954 Hague Convention logical that, as western warriors are
for the Protection of Cultural framing their use of force in terms
Property makes illegal to damage or of minimising suffering while doing
destroy deliberately.4 The physical good, all the while protecting the
environment’s significance is actually innocent, including those on the
inestimably greater than the “property other side, they should understand
of great importance to the cultural the importance of minimising harm
heritage of every people” - including to the very environment and habitat
unique architecture, archaeological that sustain the innocent. It is equally
sites and other objects of artistic, reasonable that, as the purpose of
historical or cultural importance - that military activity is a better state of
the Convention considers inherently peace, it would be incongruous to
valuable and morally inappropriate as inflict damage upon the innocents
targets of military action. within the opposing state, and
possibly within neighbouring
Moreover, the West’s ethical
states, that lasts well beyond the
framework for understanding armed
end of conflict and complicates the
conflict, Just War, forms a sizeable
restoration of harmony.
chunk of the western warrior
code. Within this code warfare Lastly, I strongly disagree with those
is a regrettable activity directed ecologists who assert that we need to
against the culpable, undertaken take an absolutist stance against all
only when a better state of peace is military activities that result in any
the likely outcome and if the good ecological harm. Our Just War criteria
accomplished outweighs the harm are adequate as a guide for military
done. Deeply embedded within Just planners and practitioners. Both
War are concepts of proportionality proportionality and discrimination
and discrimination. In terms of involve careful calculations that
jus in bello (the criteria for fighting render some regrettable harm
wars “cleanly”), proportionality acceptable when balanced against the
means that military forces must not greater good being achieved. I accept
undertake any actions in which the this line of reasoning and argue, not
incidental harm would be excessive for absolutist prohibitions, but for
in relation to the likely military the inclusion of ecological protection
benefit. Throughout my own career in all military planning and for it to
of teaching military officers I have be weighed expertly, along with the
ordinarily summarised this concept likely need for post-war remediation
by encouraging them never to use activities, among the factors that will
more force or to cause more damage ultimately determine the justifiability
of military actions. for crops until the Dutch finally
reclaimed the land four months
This article draws on the Kosovo
later after a massive rehabilitation
Conflict as its central case analysis
program. I began thinking about the
so as to give readers something
ecological implications of modern air
recent upon which to reflect that
warfare when, as an undergraduate,
does not involve the emotionally
I studied the environmental damage
charged War on Terror. (Equally
caused by the RAF bombing of the
powerful examples of environmental
Möhne and Edersee dams in May
harm caused by air power and other
1943 and the USAF atomic bombing
forms of military force can also be
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
found during that so-called war.)
August 1945. I was surprised most
The article is not intended as the last
of all to learn the full extent of the
word on the subject of the real and
American defoliation programme
potential ecological ramifications of
during the Vietnam War, which
modern air power, but merely as a
represented a watershed in the
first word. It aims to demonstrate
relationship between warfare and the
some complexities within the closely
environment. Between 1962 and 1971
intertwined relationship between
US aircraft sprayed 3,640 km2 of South
defence and security priorities,
Vietnam’s croplands, deep vegetation
international humanitarian law,
and jungles with 55,000 metric tonnes
the West’s Just War framework
of herbicides and defoliants in order
and environmental ethics. It offers
to destroy the plant-based ecosystem
several observations and asks a set
for the purpose of disrupting
of questions in the hope that readers
agricultural food production and
will feel prompted to seek their
destroying plant cover for the Viet
own answers. It is my belief that air
Cong.5 Its effects were dreadful for
forces should engage these issues
Vietnam’s ecosystems and, most
proactively, addressing them on their
infamously, for human health.
own terms with judgement and at a
realistic tempo before public pressure My thinking about the relationship
and special interest groups might between warfare and the environment
compel defence ministries to make began to focus in March 1999, when
sweeping changes, some of them NATO air power began wrecking
possibly rushed and unhelpful. Yugoslavian (especially Serbian)
infrastructure in a well-intended but
poorly conceived attempt to coerce
Since ancient times armies have Slobodan Miloševic’s government
often consciously used the natural into protecting and granting more
environment as a weapon against freedom to the beleaguered Albanian
opponents. They have poisoned ethnic majority of Kosovo and
wells, salted fields, burned crops Metohija. I felt disappointed that,
and done other ecologically harmful even in our era of effects-based
things. In 1945, for example, German operations and precision strike
officers who feared an Allied capabilities, NATO chose to wreck
attack intentionally flooded 20,000 almost all major oil refineries,
hectares of agricultural land in the petrochemical installations and
Netherlands, leaving it unusable fertiliser works, as well as their
tankage areas. NATO thereby spilled Soviet Union.7 During the last three
harmful oil and toxic chemicals months of the Pacific War, the USAAF
into the soil, aquifers and waterways - conducted a weighty campaign
including into the Danube River, aimed at destroying Japan’s oil
the crucial economic artery of several infrastructure.8 The greatest counter-
uninvolved nations - and created oil campaigns occurred during 1943
carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic and and 1944, when the USAAF struck
perilous airborne pollution. These the Romanian oilfields and refineries
acts were widely publicised and that supplied a large portion of
highly controversial. Like many Germany’s oil and both the RAF and
concerned observers, I wondered why, the USAAF wrecked synthetic fuel
in a war fought for humanitarian plants across Germany.9
purposes, with a highly commendable,
The targeting of oil sharply divided
almost obsessive desire to ensure
senior Allied air commanders,
the totally accurate placement
but only because some of them
of ordnance so as to minimise
passionately argued against its
immediate civilian deaths, NATO
purported strategic effectiveness
nonetheless seemed reckless with
and not because anyone felt
Yugoslavia’s natural environment.
gravely worried about the natural
I began researching this particular environment.10 Occurring decades
article in July 2006 after feeling equal before scientists began expounding
disquiet when Israeli Air Force air concerns about “acid rain,”
strikes created a dreadful six-mile “sustainability,”“carbon emissions”
wide and 100-mile long oil slick along and the “greenhouse effect,” and
the Lebanese coast by striking an during a war in which neither side
oil storage depot at the Jiyeh power worried much about the suffering
plant, about nineteen miles south of of enemy populations, these great
Beirut, flooding 15,000 tonnes of oil campaigns caused levels of local
into the Mediterranean and causing environmental harm that were not
the worst-ever oil spill in that sea. A analysed in any of the major post-
further 25,000 tons burned for 27 war bombing surveys and which
days, reportedly “spewing a toxic would be unaceptable in any of
cloud into the air and causing a rain today’s limited wars.11
of toxic oil downwind.”6
I would not dream of casting stones
Targeting oil infrastructure from the at our valiant forebears. It would
air is not new. During the Second be wrong to impose the widespread
World War, for instance, both Allied ecological values of today onto
and Axis air forces considered oil previous generations. Moreover,
production, refinement, storage and we cannot attribute responsibility
transportation facilities and systems for large-scale oil pollution during
as integral to their enemies’ viability the Second World War solely to air
and survivability. Even the Luftwaffe, forces. For example, navies, equally
designed and utilised primarily for unaware of the long-term harm likely
battlefield interdiction and attack, to occur, targeted and sank not only
bombed Caucasian oilfields in 1942 fuel-laden warships, but also each
in an angry attempt to punish the other’s merchant ships, including
oil tankers. Indeed, the combined horrific flow.16 )
gross registered tonnage of the oil
Warden and other air strategists of
tankers sunk was 1,235,097 with a
total oil-carrying capacity of as much his generation did not analyse (and
as 17,171,183 barrels or 2,592,380 to be fair probably gave no thought
tonnes.12 That is the equivalent of one to) the key problem with destroying
Exxon Valdez-size spill occurring every or damaging oil infrastructure,
month of World War II. as opposed to merely disrupting
distribution. They ignored the fact
Petroleum, oil and lubricants (often that liquid hydrocarbons and the
simplified as “POL”) infrastructure chemicals utilised in refinement
remained a primary target set for are potentially extremely damaging
air power planners throughout the to ecosystems. The explosive or
Cold War and following decades, and incendiary force of ordnance either
featured prominently, for example, burns the petroleum upwards,
in the USAF’s and USN’s Rolling creating potentially deadly air
Thunder and Linebacker bombing pollution, which may cause dreadful
campaigns against North Vietnam.13 health problems in the short-term
In 1988 the most celebrated air power (but thankfully seldom causes
thinker of recent times, John Warden lingering harm after the pollution
III, maintained that the “petroleum dissipates), or spills it into the
chain ... still remains a potentially ground, with the potential for long-
key target simply because a modern lasting and calamitous contamination
military machine cannot function of soils, aquifers and waterways.
without fuel.”14 Indeed, Warden As the Commentary on the 1977
argued that, along with electricity, Additional Protocols to the Geneva
oil was a major centre of gravity (one Conventions states: “As regards the
of his five “rings”) and that carefully destruction and setting alight of
focused attacks on the oil chain refineries and petroleum storage
would denude the enemy of energy. facilities, it is hardly necessary to
Warden’s ideas influenced the Gulf stress the grave danger that may
War of 1991, during which Coalition ensue for the civilian population”.17
air forces wrecked Iraqi oil storage
and distribution installations - but not NATO’s 1999 attacks on Yugoslavian
all long-term export infrastructure refineries and petrochemical and
- as part of a campaign aimed at fertiliser installations at Pancevo,
paralysing Saddam Hussein’s state Novi Sad and elsewhere created
and forces.15 (The Iraqis created far such demonstrable environmental
more devastating environmental pollution - with the wreckage,
harm when they detonated more than spills, fires and billowing clouds
700 Kuwaiti oil wells, igniting over 600 being captured on the handycams
of them, and discharged more than of local inhabitants as well as more
six million barrels of crude oil directly expertly by journalists - that when
into the Persian Gulf. Happily for the Serbian government accused
air power advocates I must note NATO of creating an environmental
that precision air strikes by USAF catastrophe it was not a lone voice.
F-111Fs against pumping stations Even the relevant watchdog agencies
and manifolds actually stemmed that within the United Nations and other
reputable and non-partisan intrastate The moral “double-effect” principle
bodies expressed strong concerns embedded within jus in bello also
about the attacks. Neither they nor permits the targeting of dual-usage
western media could brush aside the infrastructure and makes allowance
Serbian governmental allegations for incidental civilian deaths if those
(which exaggeratedly described the deaths are unavoidable. Yet it permits
violence as “ecocide”) as merely this targeting only if it is solely
unverifiable and unwarranted anti- intended to affect the capability of
NATO propaganda.18 With many the opponent’s armed forces. If
scores of thousands of Serbians NATO’s intention was also to
evacuating towns and villages to flee demoralise the Serbian population
from clouds of toxic chemicals, with in order to generate additional
slicks in the Danube and with some pressure for the Miloševic regime
smoke plumes moving eastwards to capitulate, then the double-
over Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, effect principle no longer provides
Ukraine and the Black Sea19 , it was justification for these actions.
impossible to deny that, even if only
Unfortunately, this seems to have
in the short term, the attacks had
been the case. Even if one chooses
an adverse and widely concerning
to argue that oil refineries were
environmental impact.20
providing fuel for military operations
NATO argued emphatically that as well as for civilian consumption,
the one hundred or so industrial and were thus reasonable “dual-
facilities it bombed throughout Serbia usage” targets, it is harder to
were “dual-usage” installations and make an equally strong case for
thus legitimate targets according pharmaceutical factories, car factories
to sections of the 1977 Additional and even fertilizer plants.24 The view
Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva that NATO wanted to put pressure on
Convention. For example, NATO Miloševic by squeezing and scaring
described the Pancevo refinery and his people by wrecking things around
works, the largest petrochemical and amongst them gains support
complex in the Balkans21, as a from the US military’s own reported
“strategic target” that “provided oil admission to Human Rights Watch
and other elements to support the that NATO destroyed some targets
Yugoslav Army. By cutting off these that were not legitimately “dual-
supplies [NATO] denied crucial usage” and did so because they were
material to the Serbian forces fighting “symbolic” and “psychologically
in Kosovo.”22 Although civilian lucrative.”25 Human Rights Watch
facilities are ordinarily strictly off found that such actions were “done
limits, Article 52(2) does indeed more for psychological harassment of
permit attacks on those facilities the civilian population than for direct
“which by their very nature, location, military effect.” This conclusion
purpose or use make an effective is reinforced by an ironic source:
contribution to military action and the NATO Joint Air Component
whose total or partial destruction, Commander, Lieutenant General
capture or neutralisation, in the Michael C. Short. “If you wake up
circumstances ruling at the time, in the morning,” he told the Globe
offers a definite military advantage.” and Mail on 26 May 1999, “and you
have no power to your house and can turn the power off whenever we
no gas to your stove and the bridge need to and whenever we want to”.30
you take to work is down and will be Yet NATO’s information campaign
lying in the Danube for the next 20 included no real effort to explain why
years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, it was setting ablaze and flooding
Slobo[dan], what’s this all about?26 oil and chemicals in refineries and
How much more of this do we have storage facilities and not, instead,
to withstand?’” Perhaps with a boast, merely “switching off” those
he later said that he had wanted the installations by accurately targeting
Serbian leadership “to wake up to a their internal and external sources
city that was smoking”.27 He even of electricity. Aircraft did target and
admitted that he had warned destroy local transformers at the sites,
Serbian air force commanders: interrupting their functionality, so
“The speed and the violence and the it is less clear why NATO still chose
lethality and the destruction that is to inflict such heavy and dangerous
going to occur is beyond anything damage to the oil and chemical tanks
that you can imagine. ... If you force and plants. Further, NATO did not
me to go to war against you, Belgrade explain why, after a European Union
will never look that way again - never total oil embargo of Yugoslavia came
in your lifetime, or your children’s into effect on 30 April 199931 - “the tap
lifetime. Belgrade and your country is being turned off all across Europe,”
will be destroyed if you force me to NATO’s chief spokesman claimed
go to war.”28 on 30 April32 - it continued to burn
Even ignoring this unusual ethical and spill huge quantities of oil and
position, NATO failed to explain chemicals right up until the conflict’s
convincingly why its remarkably last days.
precise and thus potentially highly During the war NATO responded to
discriminate air force needed to accusations of grave environmental
destroy the storage tankage, thus harm in a very strange fashion. Aware
burning or spilling staggering that the world rightly felt horror at
quantities of liquid hydrocarbons the expulsion and panicked flight of
and chemicals, rather than less 850,000 Kosovars, NATO exaggerated
harmfully targeting the adjacent but the physical harm being done to their
separate refinery installations, or, far abandoned dwellings by the Serbian
better still, precisely hitting the more Army and by Serb paramilitaries. It
discrete river-port, road and rail- maintained at one point that there
related nodes in order to stop the oil
were then “200 burning villages, town
and chemicals’ loading, transportation
and cities” across Kosovo.33 After
and distribution.29 NATO did publicly
presenting exaggeration as fact, it then
explain on 3 May 1999 that it had
relativised the environmental harm
damaged Serbia’s main electricity
being committed by both NATO and
stations and thus robbed the Serbian
the ethnic cleansers:
population of seventy percent of its
electricity. Spokesman Jamie Shea [we] see a lot of smoke, the smoke is
even publicly stated that Milosevic coming from all of these burning
would thus know that NATO “has villages in Kosovo and if you’re talking
its fingers on the light switch ... we about environmental damage, I think the
“scorched earth” policy applied to no exception can be made for
Kosovo, the destruction of livestock, the “military necessity”.35
destruction of rivers and roads and
Convincing critics that the level of
communication routes, the destruction
wreckage remained proportionate
of the agriculture, the slaughtering of a
was always going to be far more
large percentage of the cattle and the
difficult for NATO than justifying the
livestock, is going to be much more
inclusion of the installations in its
significant in the long term and
target sets. People believe what they
incidentally require a lot more money to
see. And in 1999 they saw colossal
fix than the repair of some oil refineries.34
destruction. I use the word “colossal”
This tu quoque defence (“you can’t here with no desire for hyperbole. It
criticise us for our wrongdoing may surprise some readers to learn
because you’re doing it too!”) was that in total, NATO burned far more
disingenuous at best and dishonest oil and dangerous chemicals into
at worst. Some Serbian regular the air or spilled far more into the
army units and paramilitary Serbian soils, aquifers and waterways
groups did atrocious, murderous in its 1999 air war than the 10.8
things in Kosovo, but they did not million gallons (257,000 barrels or
apply a “scorched earth” policy to 38,800 tonnes) of crude oil that the
the province, let alone cause or Exxon Valdez had spilled following its
threaten a long-term environmental highly controversial grounding off the
catastrophe involving the destruction Alaskan coast in 1989.36
of permanent natural features and
At Pancevo alone, NATO air
resources. And the complaints
attacks caused the release of 80,000
levelled against NATO related to
tonnes of oil and oil products ,
the imperilment of human life and
most of which burned wildly from
widespread and potential enduring
ruptured tanks, poisoning the air
damage to fragile ecosystems, not to
only twelve miles from Belgrade’s
the cost of repairing oil refineries.
1.5-million inhabitants with deadly
NATO’s inadequate explanations and substances including sulphur dioxide,
attempts at justifications did little to nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide,
assuage concerns all over the world polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
about jus in bello proportionality and and lead. The Pancevo raids also
thus the operation’s justice. Even spilled over 2,000 tonnes of toxic
worse, NATO’s actions and media ops dichloroethane (EDC) into soils and
failings resulted in accusations - and groundwater, burned around 250
even formal charges presented at tonnes of vinyl chloride monomer
the International Court of Justice - of (VCM, which would have produced
wilful and criminal contravention of toxic dioxins and hydrochloric acid),
Articles 35(3) and 55(1) of Additional flooded around 250 tonnes of liquid
Protocol I’s explicit prohibition, ammonia and eight tonnes of metallic
regardless of the military objective, of mercury, some of which entered
“widespread, long-term and severe a canal leading straight into the
damage to the natural environment”. Danube. Desperately weighing the
Unlike other provisions of the same lesser and greater of two evils, the
Protocol, once this threshold is met, site managers themselves released
the liquid ammonia, knowing that extremely successful.43 Moreover, it
a direct hit on stored ammonia had alienated many influential observers,
the potential to kill large numbers including former Soviet President
of people.39 Another 73,000 tonnes Mikhail Gorbachev and others
of crude oil and oil products burned who had agreed with NATO’s aims
or seeped into the groundwater of ending ethnic violence, and
in the northern city of Novi Sad.40 caused highly unhelpful domestic
Elsewhere throughout Serbia (and controversy in NATO nations.44
Kosovo itself), heavy metals, sulfur
Serbia employed a clever media
dioxide, ammonia, and other caustics
strategy to draw the world’s attention
escaped from burning industrial
to the level of its environmental
facilities into the air, soil, ground
suffering, aware that, with no
waters and rivers, causing large-scale
objective scientific teams being
evacuations and leaving many experts
in-country and able to verify or
convinced that the impact of the toxic
challenge its claims during the
releases would reach - as they did -
conflict, NATO would have few
far beyond Yugoslavia’s borders.41
options for countering its information
I am not for a moment suggesting (or misinformation) strategy.45 This
that the long-term ecological is something important for military
consequences of the destruction at planners nowadays to ponder. If
Pancevo and other sites exceeded their campaigns or missions cause
those of the infamous Exxon Valdez even what appears to be large-scale
spillage. The latter occurred in a ecological damage, their political
highly fragile ecosystem in an area leaders will find it difficult to mount
along the Alaskan coast so remote a credible defence against charges of
that clean-up proved tragically slow, catastrophic harm. Garnering and
difficult and incomplete. Little of the maintaining popular support for
spilled oil could be burned, which, wars of choice that involve no direct
even though producing airborne threats to sovereignty or key interests
toxins, would have reduced the is not easy even within apparently
destruction of flora and fauna reasonable contexts, but in this era
caused by the concentrated surface of widespread public concern for
“slick”. This evaporated and the environment, politicians will
decomposed far more slowly in the find it easier to maintain support for
low temperatures than it would have their actions if they do not seem to
under similar circumstances in more be doing harm while claiming to be
temperate climates.42 doing good.
One cannot deny, on the other hand, In response to continued reports of
that the environmental contamination widespread environmental harm,
at and around NATO’s Serbian the Regional Environmental Centre
industrial targets was, at least in the for Central and Eastern Europe,
short-term, so obviously severe that assisted by a variety of specialist
it greatly reduced NATO’s ability to contracted experts, undertook the
gain positive press from the fact that, very first objective study.46 It reported
in terms of minimising civilian deaths that, while thankfully there was “no
caused directly by bombing, it was evidence of a large-scale ecological
catastrophe, … the environment further damage to human health and
in the whole territory of Yugoslavia the environment is to be avoided.”48
was affected as a result of the
The Task Force’s report was not
military conflict”. It also found
accepted by all scientists and
that pollution was “very severe in
the vicinity of targeted industrial interested bodies. Many considered
complexes … and many valuable it a “political” report supporting a
ecosystems were disturbed.”47 It pre-determined conclusion and
considered it too early to offer relying on hasty and imperfect
evidence-based opinions about the research and an inadequate
long-term effects, but warned that methodology.49 Better studies, the
the environmental damage that critics asserted, contradicted the
had occurred or might in the future Task Force’s findings. They pointed
included threats to ecosystems to a parallel short-term study by the
(especially river systems) and human World Wide Fund for Nature, which
health caused by exposure to toxic or highlighted the broader trans-
carcinogenic substances. boundary and ecosystem implications
of the discharged toxic chemicals
Likewise, at almost the same time,
and offered the less positive
the very concerned United Nations
summation that “toxic contamination
Environment Programme took the
in Yugoslavia is spreading”.50 The
unprecedented step of hastily forming
politically neutral Swiss-based
a Balkans Task Force to assess the
FOCUS team of humanitarians and
environmental consequences of
scientists that spent several months
NATO’s air campaign. This was
in 1999 assessing post-war damage
the first time that the UN had ever
throughout Serbia also offered this
integrated environmental issues
sombre assessment: “Destruction
as a central part of a post-conflict
humanitarian effort. Led by former of many potentially dangerous objects
Finnish environment minister Pekka on FRY territory caused the threat of
Haavisto, the Task Force visited the ecological catastrophe.”51 Likewise,
wrecked refineries and industrial focusing especially on Novi Sad,
complexes in the weeks immediately two Belgrade scientists identified
after the cessation of violence and “catastrophic pollution”.52 They
released its findings four months reported that, although airborne
later. It detected four major ecological pollution was “extreme but short-
“hot spots” of grave concern that lived,” the pollution of the soil
needed urgent attention (Pancevo, and surface and groundwater was
Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), but long-term. “The pollution in these
added that permanent degradation of zones,” they asserted, “especially
soils and waterways seemed unlikely. in the Danube river basin, is a
The UN team recognised that some hazard for the further degradation
of the environmental pollution of the environment, and a risk for
apparently predated the NATO the human health.”53 Similarly,
strikes while some of it resulted and perhaps most notably, the
from it. The Task Force nonetheless US-based Institute of Energy and
added that urgent attention would be Environmental Research (IEER)
needed irrespective of the cause, “if expressed serious concerns in its 2002
assessment.54 Particularly at Pancevo, of it can only be considered
chemical releases occurred “which ultimately counter-productive.
pose potentially long-term threats It weakens moral positions.
to the local population and local Ethicist Alex J. Bellamy argues
environment.”55 The IEER noted that, that humanitarian interventions
while it was impossible to be precise place additional burdens of justice
or to predict future circumstances upon political leaders and military
with certainty because of a lack of commanders than many other
available pre-war baselines, persistent expressions of warfare. He notes
toxins, carcinogens and other that planners must pay particular
pollutants entering the ecosystems attention to the selection of targets
looked likely to have long-term involving civilian objects and that, “ in
negative consequences, including for humanitarian interventions, failureto
human health. The IEER was very exhibit due care casts serious doubt
careful to apportion responsibility on the legitimacy of the operation
fairly and even criticised Serbia as a whole.”58
for its pre-war record of industrial Just as any physician is morally
pollution at some sites. It nonetheless obliged to cause no harm while
reserved its strongest criticism for seeking to remedy a patient’s malady,
NATO for its inclusion of some of or at least to minimise all possible
the petrochemical infrastructural harm created by the treatment,
targets and the excessive level of responsible government institutions
their physical destruction, reporting need to balance their security
that “persuasive evidence indicates priorities and moral considerations
that humanitarian law may have with other influential factors, which
been violated in the NATO bombing nowadays includes environmental
campaign, notably with respect to ethical considerations. It is not
the bombing of Pancevo.”56 The IEER beyond reason to foresee a near
went so far as to recommend: future in which ecologists will sit
The entire issue of bombing civilian alongside lawyers in campaign
facilities to accomplish military planning staffs and air targeting
objectives needs to become the subject cells to offer advice or direction
of a rigorous public inquiry. Such an on the potential harm likely to be
caused in specific missions. Their
inquiry should include consideration
expertise in helping air planners to
of immediate and/or environmental
minimise harm to the very people
and health damage that could be
they are trying to support should be
inflicted on the country or in
welcomed, not feared. The moral
neighboring countries sharing
shift away from old-fashioned
ecosystems with the countries at war.
concepts of collective responsibility,
Given that NATO undoubtedly in which populations are punished
intended Operation Allied Force as or permitted to suffer harm because
a positive humanitarian intervention of the actions of their governments,
- with the ending of ethnic violence as well as the strengthening of
being the primary objective - even international legal protections of
on balance such environmental civilians, greatly increases the onus
degradation and explicit criticisms upon air planners to minimise every
form of so-called collateral damage. NATO made a reasonable case in 1999
that the world community should
I disagree with some ethicists and
not tolerate Serbian maltreatment
lawyers who argue that, because
of Kosovars. It represented a grave
of the likely release of “dangerous
affront to the West’s core values. Yet
forces,” attacks on oil and
the scale of ethnic violence, while
petrochemical installations should
sufficiently distressing to merit efforts
be prohibited in the same ways that
to end it, did not constitute enough
dams, dykes and nuclear generators
of a grievance - let alone anything
are prohibited under the provisions
close to a “supreme emergency” - in
of Article 56 of Additional Protocol I.
order to warrant the scale of violence
Because meticulously planned and
of the armed intervention by NATO
very precise attacks on oil targets
that inadvertently posed serious
need not cause “severe losses among
health risks to both Serbian and
the civilian population,” as defined
Kosovar civilian populations and
by Article 56, I cannot accept the
caused much short-term and at least
position that air planners must
some long-term harm to the Balkans
never target oil or petrochemical
environment and its ecosystems.
installations. When balancing
competing priorities, particularly Even without the gravity of the
when a patient’s life is threatened, disputed issues of legality and
even the most compassionate of morality, NATO’s destruction of
physicians may judge it necessary to Yugoslavian oil infrastructure
dispense a treatment - chemotherapy, did not even accord with sound
for example - that will kill peripheral military strategising. Planners who
healthy cells even as it targets the target an enemy’s cardinal energy
source of the threat to life. Of systems must know that, with the
course, no doctor would prescribe exception of electricity which can
these terrible treatments unless be quickly interrupted, it will take a
the patient’s illness was grave. relatively long time for the desired
Likewise, continuing with this effects of a counter-oil campaign to
analogy, the implementation of any kick in. Destroying petrochemical
significant environmentally risky or installations and refineries and
destructive measures should only be storage facilities will inevitably reduce
contemplated in military contexts the enemy’s ability to operate its
involving tremendous need such as armed forces effectively, but it will not
tipping-point moments in struggles do so swiftly, much less immediately,
of national survival. Ethicist Michael especially if the armed forces are (as
Walzer argues that during such Yugoslavia’s were) adaptable, lying
“supreme emergencies,” a fear exists low and not engaged in significant
beyond the ordinary fearfulness fuel-consuming movements or
of war, caused by dangers beyond manoeuvres. Destroying enough
the ordinary dangers of war (he oil infrastructure to paralyse armed
means the imminence of defeat and forces will necessitate a massive
enslavement59 ), and that such fear and focused attack, or a lengthy and
and danger may well require extreme constant series of attacks. Even after
measures that override ethical norms seventy-eight days of increasingly
and even contravene law.60 powerful attacks, NATO had only
destroyed around forty percent original rationale of the mission,
of Serbia’s military fuel stocks.61 and makes little sense unless one
Whilst a counter-oil strategy might attributes to NATO air planners a
superficially seem eminently recognition some time in April - as I
sensible for campaigns predicted do - that their coercive strategy had
to be protracted - and my view is failed and that the campaign had
that any such campaigns should be changed from coercion to denial and
undertaken only with tremendous then to punishment.65
care, proportionality, precision and
Moreover, astute and politically smart
thought for the future - it is not an
strategists and planners might want to
especially useful modus operandi for
reflect on the likelihood that in today’s
brief coercive strikes, particularly
ecologically aware world, massive or
those with humanitarian goals.
sustained attacks on petrochemical
We should not forget that the NATO installations - especially on their
planners intended Operation Allied tank farms, which will cause sizeable
Force to be a short and sharp coercive poisonous spills and huge toxic fires -
mission along the lines of Operation will generate politically destabilising
Desert Fox in December 1998. Indeed, arguments about proportionality,
Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon’s and thus the operation’s justice.
regular spokesman, announced on Refuting any public allegations over
the eve of the first strikes on Serbia: proportionality is not something a
“we have plans for a swift and severe military wants to find itself having
air campaign.”62 Likewise, Secretary to do. It will have few objective
of State Madeleine Albright herself and easily understandable criteria
stated on 24 March 1999: “I don’t see upon which to build a defence. The
this as a long-term operation. I think Just War concept of proportionality
it is achievable within a relatively pertaining to non-combatants is
short period of time.”63 The fact complex and not helpfully defined in
that Operation Allied Force lasted international humanitarian law. The
seventy-eight days cannot disguise legal explanation of proportionality
the fact that it was intended to coerce is codified in Articles 51.5(b) and
Miloševic into changing his mind on 57.2(a)(iii) of Additional Protocol
the violence in Kosovo within two I, which states that it is prohibited
or three days. As Tom DeLay, the for the military to engage in any
United States House Majority Whip, action “which may be expected to
commented one-third of the way cause incidental loss of civilian life,
through the campaign, “the Secretary injury to civilians, damage to civilian
of State, the Secretary of Defense, objects, or a combination thereof,
and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs which would be excessive in relation
of Staff told us that this was no big to the concrete and direct military
deal, that we were going to bomb for advantage anticipated.”66 A breach
a couple of days, 48 hours, and then nowadays constitutes a war crime
stop bombing, and Miloševic would under the Statute of the International
come to the table”.64 Permanent Criminal Court.67 Unhelpful
destruction of oil refinement and ambiguity exists on how anyone can
storage facilities and other chemical objectively determine when an attack
works was thus at odds with the crosses the threshold and becomes
“excessive” (it is a comparative widespread and horrific ecological
concept, not a measurable absolute harm might fail to meet this standard
concept) and how anyone can unless critics could demonstrate that
compare and evaluate such dissimilar its effects could also be measured in
values as civilian harm and military years, if not decades.70
gain. Yet the consensus view and
Some critics of environmental
the jus in bello norm is, that when
degradation caused by air attacks
they wage war on combatants and
have attempted to reduce this time-
military objects, military forces must
scale by drawing upon the 1977
act painstakingly, deliberately and
Convention on the Prohibition of
carefully to ensure that civilians must
Military or Any Other Hostile Use
suffer no more harm than military
of the Environmental Modification
necessity demands. Suggesting that
the drafters of Additional Protocol I Techniques (ENMOD), written
also meant ensuring that the quality as a consequence of widespread
and habitability of the environment criticism of the disastrous US
is not degraded would be hyperbolic. defoliation programme in Vietnam.
The environmental movement was The ENMOD came into force in 1978
far less motivated, powerful and and was ratified by the US in 1980.71
ubiquitous in 1977 than it is now. The ENMOD bans “military or any
Yet it is not unreasonable to foresee other hostile use of environmental
that (as I believe and recommend) modification techniques having
a strengthening of both ethical and widespread, long lasting or severe effects
legal definitions will come to include as a means of destruction, damage
these concepts.68 or injury to any other State Party”
(emphasis added).72 The Conference
Tightening legislation is necessary. of the Committee on Disarmament
Opponents of any attacks that defined these terms for the
purportedly cause environmental purpose of the ENMOD treaty in
harm and who desire to see an Understanding Regarding the
prosecutions made against the Convention:
perpetrators are currently not helped
by the ambiguity of the wording in a) ‘widespread’: encompassing an
Additional Protocol I which prohibits area on the scale of several
“widespread, long-term and severe hundred square kilometers;
damage to the natural environment,” b) ‘long-lasting’: lasting for a
regardless of the military objective.69 period of months, or
The problem with this prohibition, approximately a season;
of course, is that currently it is almost
c) ‘severe’: involving serious or
impossible to measure the threshold
significant disruption or
in specific and objective terms.
harm to human life, natural
Moreover, the adjectives “widespread,
and economic resources or
long-term and severe” are joined
other assets.
by the conjunction “and,” which
means that it is a cumulative triple Interestingly, the three criteria
standard that needs to be fulfilled. mentioned in the ENMOD are
In other words, even an attack on joined by the conjunction “or,”
a petrochemical plant that caused rather than the “and” of Additional
Protocol I, meaning that it may not excessive harm to the environment is
be necessary to fulfil a cumulative always going to be highly problematic
standard. Moreover, the Committee immediately after the cessation of
on Disarmament’s explanation any hostilities, at least without new
that “long-lasting” might mean “a laws or a strengthening of existing
period of months, or approximately laws. Compounding this problem
a season,” seems to suggest a more is the fact that demonstrable, as
readily defined and reasonable opposed to merely threatened or
threshold that would make even likely, human health problems
prosecutions for environmental harm (unusual cancers, for example) or
during wartime more likely. Indeed, damage to ecosystems may take
if these criteria were applied to years to appear and, within contexts
NATO’s targeting selection process, in which little baseline public health
the worst of the aforementioned and environmental information exists,
attacks on petrochemical installations may never be easy to measure, let
in Serbia, especially the destruction alone place within an objective and
of Pancevo, might have been provable analysis of causation. The
prohibited. Aaron Schwabach, an emotions surrounding warfare, with
American law professor who has inevitable finger-pointing from both
written extensively on the NATO sides, also make this type of analysis
campaign, concluded that it seemed particularly problematic.
“likely” that the damage at Pancevo
This was precisely the problem
would meet “at least one of these
that Yugoslavia and various NGOs
requirements.”74 Unfortunately
faced when they tried to bring
for critics of NATO’s war, the
a case against NATO before the
ENMOD’s prohibitions do not
International Criminal Tribunal
automatically include all attacks
for the Former Yugoslavia. To the
leading to environmental harm, but
dismay of many international legal
only those activities undertaken in
experts and human rights groups,
order deliberately to manipulate
who accused her of accepting
the environment’s natural processes
unbalanced evidence in favour of
(by changing weather patterns or
NATO75 , Carla Del Ponte, the ICTY
widespread defoliation, for example).
Prosecutor, informed the United
Even more unhelpfully for those
Nations Security Council on 2 June
who seek to minimise environmental
2000 that she had decided not to
harm during wartime, the Committee
open a criminal investigation into
on Disarmament’s definition was
any aspects of NATO’s 1999 air
not intended as a definition of
campaign.76 She specified that
Additional Protocol I (in addition
although NATO undoubtedly made
to the ENMOD) and it is not even
mistakes, she felt “satisfied that
formally incorporated into the terms
there was no deliberate targeting of
of the ENMOD. In other words, the
civilians or unlawful military targets
definition actually serves to confuse
by NATO during the campaign”.
matters, not to clarify them.
More importantly for the purposes
Given this lack of clarity over time- of this article, whilst accepting a
scales, making a compelling legal finding that NATO had caused “some”
case that a state had committed damage to the environment, Del
Ponte rejected assertions that the extremely ecologically harmful, such
Tribunal should prosecute NATO for as white phosphorus bombs, cluster
causing excessive ecological harm. munitions and depleted uranium
The main problem was not that the (DU) rounds. All three of these
US and France had never ratified the ordnance types have undeniably
Additional Protocols of 1977 (This effective military roles when used
was of course true. The US has still only against enemy combatants. Yet
not ratified them and France only for different reasons each one causes
did in November 2001). Rather, Del such highly controversial unintended
Ponte accepted a review committee’s secondary effects that many people
finding that the “imprecise” phrasing consider any use to be reckless. Most
in Additional Protocol I meant that it environmentalists condemn them all
was extremely difficult to determine as environmentally harmful. I also
when any attacks during any wars tend not to like their usage, especially
had caused environmental harm in close proximity to civilians, but that
exceeding the Protocol’s threshold, is mainly because I recognise that the
especially as “long-term” would use of any contentious weapons will
(despite the ENMOD-related advice) create destabilising controversy and
need to be “measured in years rather add to unwanted propaganda battles.
than months.” The committee noted Moreover, I am not convinced that an
that, whilst it had “led to criticisms adequate scientific consensus exists
by ecologists,” the vagueness of to allow me to argue with certainty,
the standard meant that, “on the for example, that even the 30,000
basis of information currently in DU shells fired at 112 locations in
its possession, the environmental and around Kosovo by USAF A-10s
damage caused during the NATO caused (or will cause) serious and
bombing campaign does not meet long-term environmental harm
the Additional Protocol I and that DU-contaminated areas
threshold.”77 The issue of intent should be treated with anything
also created a problem: more than the “precautionary
approach” recommended by the
The requisite mens rea [measure UN’s environmental watchdog
of intent] on the part of a commander organisation.79 Science may in time
would be actual or constructive demonstrably undermine the UN’s
knowledge as to the grave environmental position, and I am mindful that the
effects of a military attack; a standard defoliation of Vietnam by Agent
which would be difficult to establish for Orange and other defoliants has
the purposes of prosecution and which caused severe human health and
may provide an insufficient basis to environmental harm despite early
prosecute military commanders US beliefs that no long-term harm to
inflicting environmental harm in the humans would occur.80
(mistaken) belief that such conduct
Cluster bombs are different from
was warranted by military necessity.78
white phosphorus and depleted
The current vagueness of international uranium shells in that they produce
humanitarian law is also a problem no secondary toxins that can cause
for critics of air forces that use chemical actions on life processes
ordnance that the public consider that might kill or harm humans,
animals or other living things. Yet cluster submunitions has caused 152
they have a worse and more clearly post-war civilian casualties.86
proven influence on the natural
Within the first year after the war’s
environment. Cluster bombs’ primary
end, elements within the British
harm comes when widely spread
Government were unhappy with the
and highly volatile unexploded
RAF’s heavy use of cluster munitions.
submunitions cause the death and
On 23 May 2000, a Report of the
maiming of innocent people after -
Foreign Affairs Select Committee of
sometimes long after - the cessation
the House of Commons concluded:
of hostilities. 98 percent of the 11,044
“We recommend that the UK
recorded and verified casualties of
Government consider carefully
cluster munitions in recent wars
the experience of the use of cluster
have been civilians.81 In terms of
bombs in the Kosovo campaign to
the environment, cluster munitions
determine in future conflicts whether
have a very deleterious effect.
they are weapons which pose so great
Hundreds of thousands of fearful
a risk to civilians that they fall foul of
farmers in modern warzones avoid
the 1977 Protocol and should not be
tilling submunition-contaminated
used in areas where civilians live.”87
fields, irrigating contaminated groves
Likewise, on 23 October 2000, a Report
or orchards and raising livestock
of the Defence Select Committee of
on contaminated grasslands. This
the House of Commons concluded
has a seriously negative impact on
that “our major contribution to
local economies and on ecosystems.
the bombing campaign was in the
Cluster munitions also cause health
form of unguided cluster bombs - a
and hygiene problems by creating
contribution of limited military value
malnutrition and denying safe access
and questionable legitimacy.”88 It
to water. In these ways they cause
is therefore unfortunate that the
foreseen but unintended harm
RAF used them again (although
similar to, although individually far
nowhere as prolifically as the British
more lethal than, anti-personnel
Army) in Iraq in 2003, alongside the
land mines. During NATO’s war on
USAF, which had also used them in
Serbia, USAF and RAF (and a small
Afghanistan in and after 2001. Israel’s
number of Dutch) aircraft dropped a
air force, but especially its army,
confirmed minimum of 1,254 cluster
likewise used staggering quantities of
bombs in Kosovo (531 by the RAF
cluster munitions in its 2006 campaign
which mainly targeted fielded forces
against Hezbollah insurgents and
and their weapons82 ). They scattered
terrorists, leaving one million
no fewer than 234,123 submunitions.83
unexploded submunitions across
With a failure rate calculated at 7.8
southern Lebanon.89 The unintended
percent, this means that NATO left
death and maiming rates of civilians
18,261 unexploded submunitions in
in all three campaigns have been
or on the ground in Kosovo, none
high and regretted and have seemed
of them having self-destruct fuses.
to undo some of the good that the
Thankfully, nearly all have now been
various air forces and armies were
located and cleared84 , although
trying hard to achieve.
2,500 remain in Serbia proper85 and
Kosovo’s litter of USAF and RAF A widespread western consensus
has quickly emerged that cluster Secretary General of the United
munitions violate the jus in bello Nations. Four states have now done
principles of proportionality and so. The United States has neither
discrimination so grievously that signed nor ratified the Convention,
they must be classed as weapons although in March 2009 President
mala in se, which means “bad in Obama took a highly commendable
themselves,” irrespective of any legal first step by permanently banning the
prohibitions. The logic framing this US sale of all cluster munitions except
consensus is consistent with both those (which is a tiny amount) that
international humanitarian law and leave behind less than one percent of
Just War principles. It argues that, their submunitions as duds.90 The
because military forces nowadays United Kingdom has gone even
can reasonably determine from further. It responded to the emerging
objective analyses of recent conflicts mala in se consensus on cluster
that almost all cluster bomb victims munitions responsibly and decisively
will be civilians who will suffer death, by banning them in three stages; first
maiming and environmental harm for on 20 March 2007 by withdrawing all
many years after their initial use for of the RAF’s 3,650 RBL755 “dumb”
military purposes, their harm cannot cluster bombs and their 536,550
reasonably be balanced against any submunitions as well as the British
good achieved. Army’s 43,200 multiple-launch
M26 rockets and their 27,820,800
Modern wars have included many
submunitions; second in May 2008
things mala in se, such as rape,
by withdrawing the remaining
torture, ethnic cleansing, chemical
Army cluster munitions which had
and biological weapons. Cluster
(inadequate) self-destruct fuses;
munitions are the most recent
and third in December 2008 by
addition to this category. In February
signing the Convention outlawing
2007, forty-six national representatives
all cluster ordnance.91
met in Oslo to endorse a call by
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Even if we accept a jus in bello
Gahr Støre to conclude a new legally argument that, in any particular
binding instrument that will prohibit conflict a belligerent may foresee
the production, stockpiling, transfer but not intentionally cause some
and use of cluster munitions and to environmental harm, we should also
provide adequate resources to assist accept the jus post bellum argument
survivors and clear contaminated that, after the end of hostilities and
areas. Subsequent International Oslo the restoration of what we hope
Process meetings occurred in Peru will be a better state of peace, the
(May 2007), Austria (December 2007), restoration of the quality of life of
New Zealand (February 2008), and the effected innocents should occur
Ireland (May 2008). 107 countries as fully as swiftly as possible. As
adopted the treaty text in Dublin and the UN explains, this is not only a
opened a signature process in Oslo moral obligation, it is practical part
on 3 December 2008. The Convention of peacemaking and it nowadays
will enter into force six months after extends to the human habitat and
thirty states have submitted their even beyond. “Environmental
Instruments of Ratification to the conditions - from the air that people
breathe and the water they drink, to additional activities, the UNEP
the ecosystems that support forestry, commenced a major environmental
farming and fishing - have a crucial clean-up project at conflict-caused
influence on the success of efforts contamination sites in Serbia
to rebuild shattered communities (including Kosovo). Over the next
and livelihoods. Only by ensuring four years the UNEP mitigation and
environmental security can the wider remediation project helped to
goals of post-conflict reconstruction secure fresh drinking water,
and human development be remediated contaminated soil and
sustained.”92 In the case of the groundwater, removed and treated
Kosovo Conflict the infrastructural scores of tonnes of extremely
damage was substantial and the hazardous chemicals and waste,
environment harm severe in places. rehabilitated wastewater treatment
Swift remediation was crucial. capacities, installed environmental
The United Nations Environment monitoring stations and strengthened
Programme (UNEP) took the national and local environmental
unprecedented step of assuming management capacities.
responsibility for post-war Donor countries had pledged a
remediation, concluding that “it was total of twenty million dollars,
evident that, not only had people but several reneged altogether or
been through untold pain and reduced their contributions. The
suffering, but that the environment UNEP had to make do with twelve
had suffered as well.”93 It therefore million dollars and could not do
immediately undertook to create a everything it had wanted.94 Its efforts
strategy to unite concerned nations nonetheless made a highly positive
in a programme to clean up the worst difference. After four years of intense
pollution and contamination in order industrial site, soil, and groundwater
to minimise long-term risks to Serbs, remediation work at the worst sites,
Kosovars and others. Its own 1999 the UNEP announced in May 2004
Task Force, which had identified that, while the clean-up programmes
the four heavily polluted “hot spots” had only addressed the most
around Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi urgent issues, they had made such
Sad and Bor, served as the basis of its substantial progress with them that
feasibility study to define the exact the ecological “hot spots” no longer
scientific and financial requirements
warranted that label and that the
for urgent clean-up projects at
programmes could be turned over to
those and maybe other locations. In
the Serbian government.95 There was,
March 2000, clean-up measures for
and still is, much work left to Serbia
the four worst hot spots featured
to do before anyone can reasonably
prominently as priority projects at
conclude that all environmental
the funding conference organized
damage has been entirely negated.
under the auspices of the Stability
Pact for South-Eastern Europe. By It has now been ten years since NATO
the late summer of 2000, following air power destroyed Serbian refineries
positive initial responses from many and petrochemical installations and
governments, and pledges from five since the UNEP ended its partial
several European countries to support environmental clean-up campaign.
Yet Serbia is still deeply troubled discrimination embedded within
by NATO’s ostensible disregard of our Just War code already are - or
ecological responsibility. Unusually would be if more widely understood
higher cancer rates, for instance, - an eminently reasonable basis for
are still attributed to the effects of constraining the injudicious use
NATO’s bombing campaign and of force against objects that have
even to its use of depleted uranium.96 the potential for environmental
Establishing the verity of such claims harm. Western warriors already
is beyond my professional expertise, conceptualise their use of violence
and might not even be possible for in terms of minimising suffering
an oncologist or a public health while doing good, all the while
expert, because of a lack of both protecting the innocent, including the
baseline evidence and objective opponent’s. It is a short and easy step
thorough studies and because of of logic that they should understand
Serbia’s continuing poor record of the importance of minimising harm
industrial pollution.97 to the habitat of the innocent. It is
equally logical that, as the purpose
Conclusions of armed violence should always be
This study has demonstrated that a better state of peace, warriors will
modern air power has unequalled want to avoid inflicting damage upon
capacity for destructiveness within the innocents within the opposing
the human habitat and interrelated state, and possibly within the wider
ecosystems of an opponent’s state. region, that might last well beyond
Traditional target sets still include the end of conflict and therefore
a lot of industrial plants and complicate the restoration of lasting
infrastructure that contain highly peace. One of the lessons we should
toxic and carcinogenic chemicals learn from the Kosovo Conflict
which can, if discharged through - indeed, from Afghanistan, Iraq
attacks, cause severe damage to the and Lebanon as well - is that most
natural environment and its flora and military commanders and planners
fauna, not to mention human health. are not adequately familiar with the
Any such environmental harm key environmental sciences and are
nowadays has far greater potential therefore not best placed to foresee
for causing destabilising controversy all unwanted consequence as they plan
within the environmentally aware operations and missions in order to
public than ever hitherto. Existing achieve wanted effects. The inclusion
international humanitarian law of ecologists alongside lawyers in
is not yet adequate to discourage campaign planning staffs and air
protagonists during the heat of war targeting cells to offer advice or
from attacking some things that direction on the potential harm likely
perhaps should only be targeted to be caused in specific missions
under unique circumstances, with will at least partially strengthen the
extraordinary care and after weighing way that environmental factors can
potential wider implications. Existing be “brought in from the cold”. Their
conventions should be strengthened expertise in helping planners to
or new laws created. Yet the jus in bello minimise harm to the very people
concepts of proportionality and they are trying to support should be
welcomed, not considered intrusive. Production," The Journal of Military
History, Vol. 64, No. 3 (July 2000), pp.
Notes 769-794.
Dr Joel Hayward is Dean of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey
Royal Air Force College. He is also (Pacific War), "Crude Oil Production
Head of Air Power Studies at King’s and Refining" (Washington, DC:
College London and a Director or the Government Printing Office, 1946).
Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power For Germany’s reliance on oil, and
Studies. He has written extensively the wartime consequence of this
on air power and teaches and lectures dependence, see my own article,
widely throughout Europe. “Hitler’s Quest for Oil: The Impact
Quoted in Philippe Antoine, of Economic Considerations on
“International Humanitarian Law and Military Strategy 1941-42,” The Journal
the Protection of the Environment in of Strategic Studies, Vol. 18, No. 4
Time of Armed Conflict,” International (December 1995), pp. 94-135. See
Review of the Red Cross, No. 291 also Maurice Pearton, Oil and the
(November-December 1992), p. 517. Romanian State 1895-1948 (Oxford
http://www.dcdc-strategictrends. University Press, 1971) and Jay A. Stout, Fortress Ploesti: The Campaign
Hague Convention for the Protection to Destroy Hitler’s Oil Supply (Drexel
of Cultural Property in the Event Hill: Casemate, 2003).
of Armed Conflict, 14 May 1954, John Buckley, Air Power in the
Article 1(a). Age of Total War (London: UCL
Jennifer Leaning, “War and the Press, 1999), p. 163. W. A. Jacobs,
Environment,” in Michael McCally, “The British Strategic Air Offensive
ed., Life Support: The Environment and against Germany in World War II,”
Human Health (Boston: MIT Press, in R. Cargill Hall, ed., Case Studies in
2002), p. 278. Strategic Bombardment (US Air Force
Richard Steiner, “After the Bombs, History and Museums Program, 1998),
Environmental Calamity,” Seattle pp. 147, 150, 167.
Post-Intelligencer, 10 September Jay E. Austin and Carl E. Bruch,
2006. See also Lebanon Post-Conflict The Environmental Consequences of
Environmental Assessment (United War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific
Nations Environment Programme, Perspectives (Cambridge University
January 2007), especially pp. 42-46. Press, 2000), p. 120.
Anthee Carassava, “U.N. Pledges M. M. Stephens, Vulnerability of Total
$64 Million for Cleanup of Oil Spill Petroleum Systems (US Department
off Lebanon,” New York Times, 18 of the Interior, Office of Oil and Gas,
August 2006. Richard Black, 1973), pp. 42-44.
“Environmental 'crisis' in Lebanon,” Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air
BBC News, 31 July 2006. Mati Milstein, Power: The American Bombing of North
“Lebanon Oil Spill Makes Animals Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1989).
Casualties of War,” National Geographic Ronald Bruce Frankum, Like Rolling
News, 31 July 2006. Thunder: The Air War in Vietnam,
See my own article, "Too Little, Too 1964-1975 (Lanham: Rowman &
Late: An Analysis of Hitler's Failure Littlefield, 2005).
in August 1942 to Damage Soviet Oil John A. Warden III, The Air
Campaign: Planning for Combat (1988. Environmental Problems of East
ToExcel edition, 2000), p. 39. Central Europe (London: Routledge,
Richard G. Davis, On Target: 2002), p. 403.
Organizing and Executing the Strategic William Booth, “NATO Bombs
Air Campaign against Iraq (US Air Left Toxic Slough,” Washington Post,
Force History and Museums Program, 21 July 1999.
2002). Thomas A. Keaney, “Surveying Chris Hedges, “Serbian Town
Gulf War Airpower,” Joint Force Bombed by NATO Fears Effects of
Quarterly, Autumn 1993, pp. 25-36. Toxic Chemicals,” New York Times, 14
Richard Hallion, Storm over Iraq: Air July 1999.
Power and the Gulf War (Washington: Gregory Reichberg and Heinrik
Smithsonian, 1992), p. 231. Syse, “Protecting the Natural
Yves Sandoz et al., eds., Environment in Wartime: Ethical
Commentary on the Additional Considerations from the Just War
Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Tradition,” Journal of Peace Research,
Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Geneva: Vol. 37, No. 4 (2000), p. 463. Carl
International Committee of the Red Ceulemans, “The NATO Intervention
Cross, 1987), p. 669. in the Kosovo Crisis: March-June
This colourful phrase even made 1999” in Bruno Coppieters and Nick
it into mainstream publications. Fotion, eds., Moral Constraints on
See, for example, Vojin Joksimovich, War: Principles and Cases (Lanham:
“Militarism and Ecology: NATO Lexington, 2002), pp. 205-228. But also
Ecocide in Serbia,” Mediterranean see Jeanne M. Meyer, “Tearing Down
Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4. (2000), pp. the Façade: A Critical Look at the
140-160. Current Law on Targeting the Will of
Z. Vukmirovic, L. Lazic, I. Tosic and the Enemy and Air Force Doctrine,”
M. Unkasevic, “Regional Air Pollution Air Force Law Review, Spring 2001, pp.
Originating from Oil-Refinery Fires 172-173, 176-177, 181.
under War Conditions,” in Sven-Erik Gopal and Deller, Precision Bombing,
Gryning and Francis A. Schiermeier, Widespread Harm, op. cit., p. 76.
eds., Air Pollution Modeling and Its Meyer, “Tearing Down the Façade,”
Application XIV (New York: Springer, p. 100. Le Monde diplomatique, 8
2001), p. 741. February 2000, found at: http://www.
Sriram Gopal and Nicole Deller,
Precision Bombing, Widespread Harm: kosovo/hrw022000-en.
Two Case Studies of the Bombings of Short also said: "If you wake up
Industrial Facilities at Pancevo and in the morning and you have no
Kragujevac during Operation Allied power to your house and no gas to
Force, Yugoslavia 1999 (Institute for your stove and the bridge you take
Energy and Environmental Research, to work is down and will be lying in
2002), p. 25. The Kosovo Conflict: the Danube for the next 20 years ... at
Consequences for the Environment and some point, you make the transition
Human Settlements (United Nations from applauding Serb machismo ... to
Environment Programme and thinking what your country is going
United Nations Centre for Human to look like if this continues." Daily
Settlements (Habitat), 1999), p. 32. F. Telegraph, 25 May 1999.
W. Carter and David Turnock, eds., John A. Tirpak, “Washington Watch:
Short’s View of the Air Campaign,”
Air Force, Vol. 82, No. 9 (September The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences for
1999), p. 43. the Environment and Human Settlements,
PBS interview found at: http://www. pp. 31, 34.
38 Assessment of the Environmental
kosovo/interviews/short.html. Impact of Military Activities during
Austin and Bruch, Environmental the Yugoslavia Conflict: Preliminary
Consequences of War, p. 652. Findings (Szentendre: Regional
NATO Briefing, 3 May 1999, quoted Environmental Centre for Central
in my article, “NATO’s War in the and Eastern Europe, 1999), esp. §
Balkans: A Preliminary Analysis,” 4.1.1 and 4.1.2. Nevena Popovska and
New Zealand Army Journal, No. 21 Jasmina Sopova, “The Pollution of the
(July 1999), p. 11. Shea’s speech can be Balkans”, UNESCO Courier, May 2000.
found at: Carter and Turnock, Environmental
press/p990503b.htm. Problems of East Central Europe, p.
David Cortright and George A. 403. Austin and Bruch, Environmental
López, eds., Smart Sanctions: Targeting Consequences, p. 649.
Economic Statecraft (Lanham: Rowman Gopal and Deller, Precision Bombing,
& Littlefield, Widespread Harm, op. cit., pp. 32, 33.
2002), p. 95. The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences for
Press Conference by Dr Jamie Shea the Environment and Human
and Brigadier General Giuseppe Settlements, p. 34.
Marani, NATO HQ, 30 April 1999. This Ibid., p. 47.
press conference can be found at: Ibid. and Claude V. Z. Morgan, “Collateral Damage of the
p990430a.htm. Environmental Kind,” Mother Jones, 6
Press Conference by Dr Jamie Shea September 2000.
and Brigadier General Giuseppe An excellent early study of
Marani, NATO HQ, 18 April 1999. This pollution caused by warfare in arctic
press conference can be found at: regions can be found in Warfare in a Fragile World: Military Impact on
warpeace/kosovo/nato/april99/04 the Human Environment (Stockholm
_18_99.html. International Peace Research Institute
Press Conference by Dr Jamie Shea / London: Taylor and Francis, 1980),
and Brigadier General Giuseppe pp. 114-125, 151.
Marani, NATO HQ, 30 April 1999. This According to the Final Report to the
press conference can be found at: Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign
p990430a.htm. Against the Federal Republic of
Austin and Bruch, Environmental Yugoslavia, NATO’s campaign killed
Consequences of War, p. 651. Operational 495 civilians and wounded a further
Law Handbook (US Army: Juge 820 (§ V (53)).
Advocate General School, 2000), For an example of Gorbachev’s
pp. 17-18. concerns, see his article, “Poison in the
Figures published on the website Air: The Environmental Cost of the
of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Kosovo Conflict must be Exposed,”
Council: http://www.evostc.state. Guardian, 18 June 1999. A trawl of
the internet will produce hundreds Danube Carpathian Programme, 1999,
of archived mainstream media available at:
reports of the ecological damage crisis/background.html.
caused by NATO’s campaign. A FOCUS Assessment Mission 2 to
useful sample are gathered on the the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia:
website of the Serbian-American Ecology, 18 July to 13 August 1999. Bern:
Alliance of New England and can be FOCUS: Greece-Russia-Switzerland-
read at: Austria Humanitarian Relief Operation
recentcrisesn.html. Planning and Coordination Unit, 1999.
45 52
Andrew J. Bacevich and Eliot A. Vesna Martinovic-Vitanovic and
Cohen, eds., War Over Kosovo: Politics V Kalafatic, “Consequences of War
and Strategy in a Global Age (New Destruction of Oil Refinery-Novi
York: Columbia University Press, Sad (Yugoslavia) on the Danube and
2001), p. 15. its Biota,” Journal of Environmental
Assessment of the Environmental Protection and Ecology, Vol. 3, No. 2
Impact of Military Activities during (2002), pp. 370-376.
the Yugoslavia Conflict: Preliminary Ibid.
Findings, op. cit. Gopal and Deller, Precision Bombing,
Ibid., Executive Summary (no p. Widespread Harm, op. cit.
no.). Ibid., p. 85.
48 56
The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences Ibid., p. 86.
for the Environment and Human Ibid., p. 13.
Settlements, pp. 9, 11. Alex J. Bellamy, Just Wars: From
See Claude Morgan, “Collateral Cicero to Iraq (Cambridge: Polity,
Damage of the Environmental 2006), p. 213.
Kind”. In her 2000 paper, “Ecological See Brian Orend, “Is there a
and Health Consequences of the Supreme Emergency Exemption?”
NATO Bombings of Pancevo and in Mark Evans, ed., Just War Theory:
other Petrochemical and Chemical A Reappraisal (Edinburgh University
Industrial Complexes,” now Press, 2005), pp. 134-153.
available on various internet sites, Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust
the late Dr Janet M. Eaton, a Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical
Canadian biologist and activist, Illustrations (1977. Basic Books ed.
typified these critics: The Task 2000), pp. 251-262.
Force, “although composed of many Bacevich and Cohen, War Over
expert scientists from around the Kosovo, p. 24.
world, was very limited in duration, See my own, “NATO’s War in the
lacked breadth and scope, failed to Balkans,” op. cit., p. 2.
have within its mandate assessment Ibid.
of the impact on human health and Ibid., p. 3. See also Ivo H. Daalder
lacked the cooperation of NATO and Michael E. O’Hanlan, Winning
authorities to either locate or assess Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo
the impact of depleted uranium (Washington DC: The Brookings
weapons in spite of widespread Institution, 2000), pp. 91-93, 209. Dag
concern and warnings about the Henriksen, NATO’s Gamble: Combining
ecological and health implications.” Diplomacy and Airpower in the Kosovo
World Wide Fund for Nature's Crisis 1998-1999 (Annapolis: Naval
Institute Press, 2007), pp. 5, 199. a Workable Approach to Protecting
Observing the conflict as it the Environment through the Law
unfolded, I noticed a dramatic change of War,” Military Law Review, No. 136
of operational intensity and tempo (1992), pp. 137-160.
in the fourth week of April 1999, ENMOD, Article I. The treaty can be
coinciding with the NATO Summit in read at:
Washington. See my article, “NATO’s texts/BH700.txt.
War in the Balkans,” cited above, p. 10. Quoted in Gopal and Deller,
Eminent British defence commentator Precision Bombing, Widespread
John Keegan saw the same shift, Harm, p. 75.
noting that NATO began to “visit a Aaron Schwabach, "Environmental
true blitz on the Serb homeland.” John Damage Resulting from the NATO
Keegan, “Please Mr Blair, Never Take Military Action against Yugoslavia,"
Such a Risk Again,” Daily Telegraph, 6 Columbia Journal of Environmental Law,
June 1999. Vol. 25, (2000), p. 129.
66 75
Protocol Additional to the Geneva For example, see Paolo Benvenuti,
Conventions of 12 August 1949, and “The ICTY Prosecutor and the Review
relating to the Protection of Victims of the NATO Bombing Campaign
of International Armed Conflicts against the Federal Republic of
(Protocol I), Article 51 (5)(b) and Yugoslavia,” European Journal of
Article 57 (2)(b). International Law, Vol. 12, No. 3 (2001),
Statute of the International pp. 503-529. Natalino Ronzitti, “Is the
Criminal Court (Rome Statute), 17 non liquet of the Final Report by the
July 1998, Article 8(2)(b)(iv). The Committee Established to Review the
Statute modifies “excessive” with NATO Bombing Campaign Against
the adjective “clearly” and “military the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
advantage” with “overall,” thereby acceptable?,” International Review of the
emphasizing both the need for clarity Red Cross, No. 840 (2000), pp. 1017-
and the importance of avoiding 1028. For Amnesty International’s
assessments of individual attacks in response see:
total isolation. armedcon/story_id/000135.htm.
68 76
David Rodin, “The Ethics of Final Report to the Prosecutor by the
Asymmetric War” in Richard Sorabji Committee Established to Review the
and David Rodin, eds., The Ethics NATO Bombing Campaign Against the
of War: Shared Problems in Different Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Traditions (Aldershot: Ashgate, Ibid. § 4 (A)(17)).
2006), p. 162. Ibid. § 4 (A)(23)).
69 79
Austin and Bruch, Environmental Depleted Uranium in Kosovo: Post-
Consequences of War, p. 651. Conflict Environmental Assessment
Final Report to the Prosecutor by the (Geneva: United Nations
Committee Established to Review the Environment Programme, 2001)
NATO Bombing Campaign Against the and Depleted Uranium in Serbia and
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (§ I (15)). Montenegro: Post-Conflict Environmental
Austin and Bruch, Environmental Assessment in the Federal Republic of
Consequences of War, p. 652. Yugoslavia (Geneva: United Nations
See Michael D. Dieterich, Jr., “‘Law Environment Programme, 2002).
of War’ and Ecology: A Proposal for Cf. “Defoliating Viet Nam,” Time, 23
February 1968, which can be read at: Munitions, p. 35.
90 “Obama takes US Closer to Cluster
article/0,9171,837961,00.html. Bomb Ban,” Guardian, 13 March 2009.
81 91
Fatal Footprint: The Global Human Robert Hewson, “Cluster Weapons
Impact of Cluster Munitions (Brussels: Ban leaves Gap in UK Inventory,”
Handicap International, 2006), p. 41. Jane’s Defense Weekly, 10 April 2007.
82 Richard Norton-Taylor, Peter Walker
Secretary of State for Defence Geoff
Hoon, House of Commons Hansard and agencies, “Cluster Bomb Treaty:
Written Answers for 19 January Signing of Ban on Production Begins,”
2000. Minister of State for the Armed Guardian, 3 December 2008.
Forces Adam Ingram, House of From Conflict to Sustainable
Commons Hansard Written Answers Development: Assessment and Clean-
for 16 November 2001. Cluster up in Serbia and Montenegro (Geneva:
Munitions in Kosovo: Analysis of Use, United Nations Environment
Contamination and Casualties (London: Programme, 2004), p. 7.
Land Mine Action, 2007), pp. 9, 10. Ibid., p. 6.
Richard Norton-Taylor, “US Deploys Sasa Markovic, “Serbia: Airing
Controversial Weapon,” Guardian, 12 Grievances, Transitions, 28
October 2001. September 2004.
Ibid., p. 9. See the very close NATO UNEP Press Release, 7 May 2004,
figures quoted by the International available at:
Committee of the Red Cross in Documents.Multilingual/Default.
Cluster Bombs and Landmines in Kosovo: asp?DocumentID=397&ArticleID=
Explosive Remnants of War (Geneva: 4479&l=en.
CRC, 200), p. 6. Cf. Vesna Peric Zimonjic,
Cluster Munitions in Kosovo: “BALKANS: Fallout of Bombing
Analysis of Use, Contamination and 'Continues to Kill',” IPS, 18 March
Casualties, p. 43. 2009, which can be read at:
“2,500 NATO Cluster Bombs Still
Out There,” B29 News, 11 March asp?idnews=46176.
2009. Helen Fawkes, “Scars of NATO Cf.
Bombing still Pain Serbs,” BBC News,
24 March 2009.
Cluster Munitions in Kosovo:
Analysis of Use, Contamination and
Casualties, p. 46.
House of Commons, Foreign Affairs
Select Committee, Fourth Report, 23
May 2000, at para. 151.
House of Commons, Defence Select
Committee, Fourteenth Report, 23
October 2000, at para. 305.
Secretary of State for International
Development Hillary Benn, House of
Commons Hansard Written Answers
for 18 December 2006. Fatal Footprint:
The Global Human Impact of Cluster

‘Executive Fuller!’ - The Royal Air

Force and the Channel Dash

By Gp Capt Alistair Byford

In February 1942, the Wehrmacht executed a well-planned and highly effective

joint air-sea operation to transfer a powerful battle squadron from Brest to
Wilhelmshaven in what become known as the ‘Channel Dash’. Although this
was a relatively minor action, it resonated strongly across the levels of warfare:
for the Germans, it was a tactical success, but ultimately a strategic failure,
while for the British, it was a minor tactical embarrassment that was inflated
by the context of other events into a direct threat to the survival of Churchill’s
government at the grand strategic level. This paper provides an analysis of
the RAF’s participation in the Channel Dash and identifies the key points of
failure: these include structure, in terms of the poor organisation of the system
of command, and agency, particularly in the characters of the most important
personalities involved. Other important themes emerge: at a time of intense
focus on air-land integration, the Channel Dash illustrates that empathy and
understanding is also required to make air-maritime operations work, while
the need to balance operational security against the requirement for absolute
clarity of communication in high-tempo military actions is also prominent.

‘Their pilots fought bravely, tenaciously damaging to the reputation of both

and untiringly, but they were sent into the government and the armed forces.
action with insufficient planning, without Despite clear intelligence that a major
a clear concept of attack, without a centre operation was imminent, the German
of gravity and without systematic tactics’. ships remained undetected for
Adolf Galland2 fourteen hours after leaving harbour
and were subsequently able to brush
Introduction off a series of gallant, but ineffectual,
British attacks with dismissive ease.

n February 1942, the German The Times characterized this as the
Wehrmacht mounted an audacious greatest national humiliation since the
air-sea operation to transfer Dutch burned the fleet at Chatham in
a powerful Kriegsmarine battle- 1667;4 certainly, it was the first time a
squadron through the English hostile naval force of any significance
Channel from Brest, on France’s had entered the Channel since the
Atlantic coast, to the apparent safety Spanish Armada. However, like
of Wilhelmshaven in Germany. many Wehrmacht operations, Cerberus
The break-out of the battlecruisers was a tactical success but a strategic
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and failure, as the battlecruisers were a far
the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was greater threat to the Atlantic supply-
given the codename Cerberus by the lines at Brest than at Wilhelmshaven,
Germans;3 to the British, it became where the concentration of all of
known as the ‘Channel Dash’, a public the Kriegsmarine’s capital units at
relations disaster that was hugely one location also made the task
of containment and eventual vessels posed to the Atlantic convoys.
destruction far easier for the Royal They were joined on 1 June 1941 by
Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN). Prinz Eugen, which had escaped to
Nevertheless, Britain’s failure to act Brest after her consort, the battleship
decisively in waters that it considered Bismarck, was sunk on 27 May. A
its own was a huge embarrassment; comprehensive range of active and
in conjunction with the fall of passive anti-aircraft measures were
Singapore just two days later, the implemented at the port to protect
Channel Dash arguably marked the the ships from bombing, including
nadir of Britain’s military fortunes in sophisticated camouflage and
the Second War, calling into question concealment techniques, an intense
the competence of Churchill’s concentration of anti-aircraft guns
administration and providing a and a highly effective smoke-screen
striking example of how tactical system.5 Nevertheless, the RAF
actions may have strategic, and even mounted repeated raids over the next
grand-strategic implications. nine months, dropping 3,413 tons
of bombs and inflicting significant
The Channel Dash has considerable
damage on all three ships, albeit at
contemporary relevance. First, it is a
the cost of 127 aircraft. Prinz Eugen
timely reminder during a period of
received a direct hit which killed sixty
intense focus on air-land integration
of her crew, while the Scharnhorst and
that air-sea cooperation also cannot
be taken for granted; it demonstrates Gneisenau were put out of commission
that ad hoc coordination is rarely for four months and six months
successful and effective results will respectively, the latter as a result of
only be achieved through empathy an extremely gallant torpedo attack
and understanding developed executed by a Coastal Command
over time. It also raises important Beaufort, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant
issues of command and control, the Kenneth Campbell, being awarded a
effective coordination of operations posthumous Victoria Cross.
within a joint framework and, The constant raids persuaded the
particularly, the balance between German high command that it would
operational security and the clarity only be a matter of time before the
of communication required to enable RAF was able to sink the vessels,
mission command and effective especially as Hermann Goering,
decentralized execution in fast- the head of the Luftwaffe, refused to
moving, high-tempo operations. sanction any increase in fighter cover.
Although he cited the Luftwaffe’s
Strategic Direction - Hitler’s Decision
commitments on the newly opened
On 23 March 1941, the Scharnhorst Eastern Front in mitigation, he was
and Gneisenau docked at Brest at probably motivated by his fierce inter-
the conclusion of Operation Berlin, a service rivalry with Gross-Admiral
three-month cruise during which the Raeder, the Kriegsmarine commander.
two battlecruisers had sailed 17,800 Meanwhile, Hitler was fixated on the
miles and sunk or captured twenty- illusory threat of a British invasion
two merchantmen, illustrating in stark of Norway, so the danger posed by
terms the threat that these powerful the RAF’s bombing raids only added
to his growing conviction that the
battlecruisers must be brought back
to Germany as soon as they were
seaworthy, so that they could be
defended more easily and would
be available for redeployment into
Scandinavian waters if necessary.
Consequently, Hitler ordered the
ships to evacuate Brest at a conference
at his Rastenberg Headquarters on
12 January, comparing the battle
squadron to ‘a patient with cancer
who is doomed unless he submits to
an operation’.6 Operational Planning - the
British Approach
Once Hitler had made this decision,
two courses of action were available. British contingency planning to
The Kriegsmarine preferred to route prevent a break-out began as
the squadron out into the Atlantic soon as the ships’ arrival at Brest
to take the Denmark Strait passage, was confirmed by photographic
well to the north of Great Britain,but reconnaissance on 28 March
there was also the option to use the 1941. It was quickly apparent
short - but apparently much more that responsibility for enforcing a
dangerous - direct route through the blockade would fall mainly to the
English Channel. Hitler chose the RAF, because of the RN’s pressing
bold alternative with little hesitation. commitments elsewhere. Capital ship
Although this was partly because cover had to be maintained at Scapa
he was concerned that the Brest Flow, in case of a raid by German
squadron might not be capable of heavy units (primarily the battleship
an extended Atlantic passage after Bismarck) into the Atlantic via the
being bottled-up in harbour for a North Sea; and battleship escorts
protracted period of time, his decision were also needed to protect the ‘WS’
was largely based on intuition. convoys sailing to the Middle East
Drawing on previous experience, with reinforcements for the 8th Army,
Hitler believed that if the British high as these were vulnerable to the Brest
command was taken by surprise, it squadron as they routed through
would lack the agility to act decisively the Bay of Biscay. The sinking of the
in response to a rapidly changing Bismarck did not materially affect the
situation;7 he felt that if he seized the operational calculus, because her
initiative he could operate within his sister-ship, the Tirpitz, was about to
opponent’s decision cycle, and be commissioned at Wilhelmshaven,
events were to prove that he was so the RN was still faced with
absolutely right.8 Naval Command geographically separate threats from
West, under Admiral Alfred capital ships to both the north and
Saalwächter, was directed to plan the west. This meant that it had to split its
operation; execution would fall to heavy units to cover both eventualities
Vice-Admiral Otto Ciliax, flying his and only light surface forces – the
flag on Scharnhorst. destroyers and Motor Torpedo Boats
(MTBs) commanded by the Flag the order ‘Executive Fuller’.11
Officer Dover, Vice-Admiral Sir
The production of a properly
Bertram Ramsey – would be available
integrated air plan proved to be
to contest a German force in the
problematic, however, because
Channel. As Ramsey’s command was
no RAF officer was given overall
likely to be totally overmatched by the
German squadron and its attendant responsibility for the operation
flotillas of escorting destroyers and the three commands involved
and E-boats,10 a coordinated joint – Bomber, Fighter and Coastal –
operation maximising the use of air ‘were virtually autonomous within
power represented the only realistic their own spheres’,12 a legacy of
means of destroying or crippling any the decision that had been made
of the German ships. in 1936 to structure the RAF into
single-role commands. This had
The recent loss of ‘Force Z’ (the proved to be a useful means of
battleship Prince of Wales and organizing pre-war expansion
battlecruiser Repulse) to Japanese air and enabled Fighter Command to
attack off the coast of Malaya had provide an effective air defence of
reinforced the Admiralty’s opinion Great Britain (notably in the Battle
that it could not risk battleships in the of Britain) and Bomber Command to
Channel in the teeth of German air conduct its own strategic offensive
power; conversely, it also heightened - but these campaigns were both a
expectations about what the RAF linked series of isolated, single-role
might achieve against German capital operations. There were continual
units, although the circumstances difficulties whenever the commands
were very different. Whereas the were required to act together in any
Japanese had employed a specialist joint endeavour requiring a broad
wing (the ‘Genzan’ air group) trained spectrum of air power capabilities.In
and equipped in anti-shipping contrast to the RAF system of mono-
techniques to attack ships with weak functional commands, the Luftwaffe
anti-aircraft defences in conditions was divided into multi-role Luftflotte
of total air superiority and excellent or air fleets, which meant that
weather, the RAF would have to
properly integrating a coordinated air
attack with whatever aircraft and
effort was far less challenging:
crews could be made available, in
the Luftwaffe’s contribution to
poor winter weather, against modern
Operation Cerberus, for example,
ships that were much better armed
was provided by Generalfeldmarshal
and would be heavily defended by a
Hugo Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3, which
thick screen of highly capable fighter
included all of the necessary air
aircraft. However, the transparent
assets as integral elements of its own
weakness of Ramsey’s naval forces
order of battle, including bombers,
meant that air power was still the
single and twin-engined fighters,
most potentially lethal form of attack
and reconnaissance, ‘sea-service’ and
available, so the Air Staff took the
electronic warfare aircraft.
planning lead for the operation to
stop the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. British air planning was also hindered
This was given the codename Fuller: by excessive secrecy. Only a very few
activation would be implemented by senior officers in each command were
allowed to know what Fuller meant SE’ and ‘Habo’. Hudson aircraft
and this had a profound affect on the equipped with Air-to-Surface Vessel
RAF’s speed of response when the (ASV) radar were nominated for this
operation was activated, as these men task. As these would be vulnerableto
could not always be located quickly German fighters when operating close
enough to issue the appropriate to enemy territory in daylight, Fighter
orders and brief what was required. Command was allocated the visual
The result was that many of the maritime reconnaissance mission
aircrew involved had no knowledge in what were known as ‘Jim Crow’
of their mission, even after being patrols, but these were not expected
ordered into the air.13 With only to be significant, as it was thought
sketchy information available, British that the Germans were unlikely to
air operations were characterized by risk a passage of the Channel in
misunderstandings and a piecemeal daylight. This preconception was
application of the air effort, as the true reinforced by an otherwise highly
significance of events was unclear to prescient intelligence appreciation
most of the participants. submitted by the Admiralty on 3
February, which accurately predicted
It was expected that the main onus
that a German operation was
for stopping the German ships would
imminent and that the selected route
fall to Coastal Command, as Bomber
would be up the Channel – but in the
Command was neither trained nor
hours of darkness.
equipped to attack moving targets
at sea. Coastal Command possessed In the event of a break-out, Bomber
three squadrons of relatively modern Command had been directed by the
and capable Beaufort torpedo- Air Ministry to attack the ships ‘to
bombers specialized exactly for this the maximum practical effect’. As a
task;14 it was anticipated that these result of the Admiralty’s intelligence
would execute a concentrated attack appreciation, 300 bombers were
to saturate the defences, protected by allocated to Operation Fuller on 4
a heavy fighter escort. In the event, February, to be held at two hours’
a failure to coordinate the movement notice. This represented the core
of the squadrons, poor weather (there of Bomber Command’s available
was widespread snowfall in February frontline force, meaning that
1942) and a logistics catastrophe - one major raids on Germany had to be
squadron arrived without some of its suspended. Bomber Command was
torpedoes - meant that the planned, in a very difficult position during
three-squadron attack degenerated this period, as it was still struggling
into ‘a series of uncoordinated raids to establish itself as a viable force
by aircraft in ones and twos, spread capable of inflicting real damage
over three hours in steadily worsening on the enemy heartland. Losses
weather conditions’.15 Coastal had been very heavy in return for
Command’s other role was to provide indifferent results and the Air Officer
a dusk to dawn reconnaissance Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-
screen to provide early warning of in-C), Sir Richard Peirse, had been
any German movements, centred on replaced after ordering a particularly
three patrol lines in the central and disastrous raid in very poor weather
western Channel: ‘Stopper’, ‘Line on the night of 7/8 November 1941.16
The acting AOC-in-C, Air Vice- even an hour earlier, some may well
Marshal ‘Jack’ Baldwin, was therefore have found the Scharnhorst when
eager to underscore the command’s she was stationary and vulnerable
worth while acting as its caretaker, following a mine-strike at 14.31 hours.
pending the arrival in post of the
Fighter Command’s main
new chief, Air Marshal Sir Arthur
contribution to Fuller would be
‘Bomber’ Harris. Baldwin felt that
the responsibility of No.11 Group,
this was much more likely to be
led by Air-Vice Marshal Trafford
achieved by continuing with raids on
Leigh-Mallory. Its role, apart from
area targets in Germany rather than
providing the ‘Jim Crow’ patrols,
through a putative attack on a heavily was to provide fighter cover for all
defended naval battle-squadron other air and naval operations.17
manoeuvring at speed, where the A direct telephone link was
chances of achieving any sort of established between No. 11 Group’s
success were slim. At his instigation, headquarters at Uxbridge and the
the Air Ministry approached the naval command at Dover Castle to
Admiralty on 8 February to suggest facilitate cooperation, but events were
that the bomber force allocated to prove that inter-service and even
to Fuller should be released. The inter-command integration was poor,
Admiralty’s response was robust: it although this was more a function of
was convinced that a German break- organization and culture rather than
out was imminent and reaffirmed the mechanics of the communications
its opinion that the destruction set-up. Fighter Command was also
of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau faced with a qualitative challenge:
would be far more significant, in the ‘F’ model of the Luftwaffe’s
terms of the overall course of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was at least
war, than a few extra bombing raids comparable with its best fighter, the
on Germany. This assessment was Spitfire Mark V, while the Focke Wulf
passed back to Bomber Command Fw 190 was superior in all respects.
by the Air Ministry, but Baldwin Both German types had a clear
decided unilaterally to withdraw 200 advantage over the Hurricanes and
aircraft from the Fuller commitment twin-engined Whirlwinds that were
and put the remaining 100 bombers also fielded by Fighter Command.
(of No.5 Group) back to normal (four
hours) stand-by. Moreover, he did not
inform the Air Ministry, the RN, or the
other RAF commands of this decision.
The result was that although Bomber
Command would eventually mount a
significant effort against the German
ships, the first aircraft could not be
made ready until three hours after
the Executive Fuller order was received
towards noon, so the attacks had to
be prosecuted after the weather had
deteriorated and dusk was falling.
Had the bombers been able to attack
The Effectiveness of German route. This was a maximum effort for
Joint Planning the Luftwaffe; twelve aircraft from
the Fighter Training School at Paris
The plan for Operation Cerberus
were even included in the total of
demonstrated that the Wehrmacht
250 day and thirty night fighters put
was still capable of operational
at Galland’s disposal. He planned
excellence, despite the shortcomings
to provide constant cover over the
in Germany’s strategic direction of
fleet by cycling squadrons through
the war effort. The most important
the task. A standing air patrol
decision was to leave Brest in
would employ a minimum of sixteen
darkness and risk running the
fighters at any one time, increasing
Channel in daylight, the planners
to up to thirty-two fighters during
calculating – quite correctly – that the periods of squadron relief, which
achieving surprise in the departure amounted to ten minutes in every half
phase was more important than the hour. Additionally, on-call reserve
risks involved later, on the basis that squadrons were available at four
the Luftwaffe would be able to beat bases along the route, in case the
off any subsequent daylight air and scale of British air attack threatened
surface attacks. Essentially, the plan to overwhelm the defences. After
was to seize the initiative at the outset dusk, standing cover would be limited
and set a tempo that the British could to two night fighters at any one time,
not match. to ensure deconfliction and effective
This put much of the responsibility radar control.
for success onto the shoulders of Galland provided crystal-clear
the designated air commander, direction to his pilots, who would
Oberst Adolf Galland, the flamboyant all be expected to fly at least four
fighter ace and youthful General der sorties on the day of the operation.
Jagdflieger. He admitted to Hitler that Success would not be measured by
he would need ‘complete surprise and numbers of enemy aircraft shot down,
a little luck into the bargain’ to see the but solely in terms of the level of
operation through, but he was also protection provided for the warships.
determined to make his own luck.19 Consequently, RAF aircraft leaving
Despite the high-level antipathy and the target area were to be avoided, but
in-fighting between the two Service attacking aircraft were to be engaged
chiefs, Goering and Raeder, Galland at all costs – if necessary, through
was determined to foster the closest ramming.21 Galland delegated one of
possible level of understanding his senior subordinates, Oberst Hans
with his naval counterparts at the Ibel, to sail with the squadron as the
operational level and in the event, Jafü, or on-scene fighter controller,
‘coordination worked without and the Luftwaffe’s own short-wave
friction’.20 His air plan was radio equipment was installed on all
codenamed Donnerkeil (‘Thunderbolt’) of the ships to guarantee seamless
and was executed from headquarters air-sea communication. In contrast
at Caen and Le Touquet in France to the ambiguous British command
and Schipol in the Netherlands, with structure, Galland was empowered
control being transferred from one by the authority of a ‘Führer Order’
to the other as the ships passed en to take control of all air assets
participating in Donnerkeil, including sections, so that no pattern or swept
the bomber force, which was route was readily apparent. Finally, as
retained at readiness throughout the the Germans were fully aware that the
operation to counter any prospective British ran French intelligence agents
movement south by British naval in Brest, an elaborate deception
units. Finally, to ensure that the operation was mounted to indicate
complex choreography required that the squadron would break-out
would work in practice, 450 sorties west for a destination in the South
were flown between 22 January and Atlantic; rumours were spread around
10 February in an elaborate mission town to that effect, tropical helmets
rehearsal exercise known - somewhat were ostentatiously brought on board
optimistically - as ‘The Beginning and French dockers were tasked to
of Spring’.22 load oil barrels clearly marked ‘for use
in the tropics only’.24
Other elements of the German plan
displayed the same meticulous Tactical Actions - The Break-out
attention to detail. British coastal
radar would have to be jammed Following a two-hour delay imposed
if tactical surprise was to be by another RAF raid, Operation
retained, but a sudden increase in Cerberus commenced when the
jamming would, in itself, alert the German fleet slipped its moorings
British. Consequently, General at 21.15 hours on the night of 11
Martini, the Luftwaffe’s Director of February. Galland had acknowledged
Communications, carefully raised the role of luck in military operations
the level of jamming over a two- regardless of the thoroughness of
week period, subtlety increasing planning, and the Germans squadron
the duration and intensity to immediately experienced a huge and
desensitize the British operators over unpredictable slice of good fortune
time. This was highly effective: the when a mixture of bad management
heavy jamming from the Luftwaffe’s and unreliable equipment allowed
coastal stations, supplemented it to pass through all three Coastal
by two specialist Heinkel He 111 Command patrol lines without being
electronic warfare aircraft, was detected. ‘Stopper’ was unmanned
for three hours when its Hudson had
successful in masking the movement
to return to its base at RAF St. Eval
of the German ships on the day of
in Cornwall after being damaged
operation, while British watch officers
by a German night-fighter. A spare
who expressed suspicion at the higher
aircraft was available, but its ASV
than usual level of electronic noise
was unserviceable – later found to
were branded as ‘scaremongers’.23
be a result of a blown fuse - and the
No detail was too small to be second replacement Hudson failed
overlooked: additional light flak guns to start, this time because of a damp
manned by Luftwaffe gunners were sparking plug. The crew eventually
placed on the decks of the ships in managed to find a serviceable aircraft
extemporized mountings to increase and arrived on station at 22.38
the volume of anti-aircraft fire, and hours, but by this time the German
a mine-sweeping schedule was squadron had already passed the
arranged at night and conducted in patrol line. The Hudson at ‘Line SE’
also had a problem with its ASV. The first real indication of something
After ninety minutes, the crew broke unusual was when RAF radar-
radio silence to report the fault and operators noticed the high level of
was ordered to back to base, but no German air activity over the Channel,
replacement cover was provided. even though the effective German
Finally, the station commander at RAF electronic noise-jamming was still
Thorney Island, near Portsmouth, masking the ‘blips’ generated by the
ordered the Hudson covering ‘Habo’ ships themselves. Additional Spitfires
to recover early, as he was concerned were dispatched to supplement
that mist on the airfield might turn to the standing ‘Jim Crow’ patrol and
fog and make landing difficult. The these finally spotted the German
Hudson duly left its station at 06.15 squadron at 10.42 hours. However,
hours, just as the German squadron due to the secrecy pervading Fuller,
was approaching the point where it the pilots were under strict orders
would have come within the 30-mile not to break radio silence, although
range of the aircraft’s ASV. the fighter leader was Group
Captain Victor Beamish, who in his
previous appointment as Senior Air
Staff Officer at No. 11 Group had
signed off the Fuller directive, which
included a proviso that permitted
radio-telephony (‘R-T’) to be used
‘in an emergency’.25 Nonetheless,
a sighting report was not raised
until after the Spitfires had landed
and, as Fighter Command had not
been expected to be the first agency
to locate the German fleet, further
valuable time was lost while it
was determined who needed to be
notified. Eventually, ‘Executive Fuller’
was declared after the report reached
the Admiralty at 11.25 hours, some
fourteen hours after the ships had
What was as damaging as Coastal
left harbour.
Command’s inability to detect the
warships was its subsequent failure The initial British response was a series
to inform Flag Officer Dover - and the of piecemeal and uncoordinated
other RAF commands - of the extent attacks mounted by whatever force
to which its patrol coverage had been elements came to readiness first. The
compromised. Consequently, all of long-range guns of the Army’s coastal
the commanders assumed that the artillery were immediately available
German squadron was still in harbour and the South Foreland battery was
and the forces allocated to Fuller were equipped with the new, ‘K-type’ radar,
stood down to normal readiness. At which was able to burn through the
this stage, the German squadron had jamming and track the German fleet
already been at sea for over ten hours as it passed Cap Gris Nez. However,
and had steamed some 300 miles. the maximum visibility was only five
miles, so although radar-predicted whenever and wherever he be found’,
full salvo firing began at 12.19 hours, and Ramsey reluctantly ordered the
the fall of shot could not be verified attack to go ahead.26
visually, markedly reducing accuracy.
Although No.11 Group had promised
By now, the German ships had
three squadrons of Spitfires as
worked up to 30 knots and quickly
a fighter escort and another two
moved out of range, suffering no
squadrons in a flak-suppression role,
damage from the thirty-three rounds
poor communication between Flag
fired. Next, five MTBs of the Dover
Officer Dover and Headquarters
and Ramsgate flotillas attacked, but
No.11 Group meant that only the
it was obvious that they would be
ten Spitfires of No. 72 Squadron,
unable to break through the strong
commanded by Squadron Leader
screen of destroyers and E-boats
Brian Kingcombe, arrived at the
protecting the three big ships
rendezvous overhead Manston.
without additional support, and they
Like most other RAF units, No.72
were reduced to launching hopeful
Squadron had not been briefed about
torpedo shots at extreme range:
the mission and Kingcombe had no
unsurprisingly, all of these missed.
inkling of the scale of opposition
In a rare act of British initiative, Wing that would be encountered. As the
Commander Constable-Roberts, Flag German ships were already passing
Officer Dover’s air liaison officer, had abeam Ramsgate, the Swordfish
ordered the six obsolete Swordfish could not afford to wait for the
biplane torpedo bombers of the rest of the escort and had to press
Fleet Air Arm’s No. 825 Naval Air on, but they were intercepted by
Squadron, based at RAF Manston German fighters with twelve miles
in Kent, to be armed and brought to still to run. Although Kingcombe’s
immediate readiness after hearing Spitfires quickly engaged the Bf
the first reports of unusual activity 109s and Fw 190s, the six Swordfish
from the coastal radar stations. These were all hacked out of the sky by
old aircraft were not expected to either the fighters or the barrage of
survive a daylight raid on the German anti-aircraft fire, as they attacked at
squadron; they were only ever low level and a speed of just eighty
intended to be used to drop flares knots. No damage was inflicted on
in support of a night MTB attack, on the warships, and only five of the
the assumption that the Germans eighteen aircrew involved survived
would run the Channel in darkness. to be rescued by the withdrawing
Nevertheless, because the other forces MTBs. The mission lasted less than
earmarked for Fuller had been stood twenty minutes from the time of
down at dawn, there were no other take-off until the last Swordfish
options available for an immediate crashed into the sea. Ramsay wrote:
response. Ramsey was fully aware ‘In my opinion, the gallant sortie of
of the vulnerability of the Swordfish these six aircraft constitutes one of
and, after some soul-searching, made the finest exhibitions of self-sacrifice
an agonized telephone call to the and devotion to duty the war had
First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, to ever witnessed’. Even the austere
request his advice. Pound replied Ciliax was moved to acknowledge
that ‘the navy would attack the enemy ‘the mothball attack of a handful
of ancient planes, piloted by men of the way that the fog and friction
whose bravery surpasses any other of war affected both sides in the
action by either side that day’.27 The grey winter light and poor weather,
commanding officer, Lieutenant two RAF Wellingtons bombed
Commander Eugene Esmonde, was and near-missed another of the
awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. destroyers, Walpole, but were driven
Ironically, he had visited Buckingham off by the Messerschmitt Bf 109s of
Palace the day before the Channel Jagdgeschwader 2 before they could do
Dash to receive the Distinguished serious damage. Walpole prudently
Service Order for the leading role he withheld her fire as the German
had played in crippling the Bismarck fighters then provided a close (and
eight months previously. disconcerting) escort for the British
ship, in the mistaken assumption
that it was a Kriegsmarine Zerstorer,
until they reached the limit of their
endurance and peeled off to return to
France.28 Meanwhile, the German
destroyer Hermann Schoemann
was firing frantically at a Luftwaffe
Dornier Do 217, which repeatedly
bombed her and then raked her
with machine-gun fire.29 Captain
Wright of Mackay reported that ‘the
mixture of aircraft in our vicinity
was extraordinary… some aircraft
thought we were friendly; some of
our own thought we were hostile.
The final throw of the dice for British
We, on our part, opened fire on
naval forces was represented by six
aircraft later recognised as friendly’.
elderly destroyers of the Harwich
He added, with characteristic
flotilla, led by Captain Mark Pizey
understatement: ‘The aircraft on both
in HMS Campbell. This force had
sides must have found the situation
been stood down in the morning
rather confusing’.30
and was consequently off station
practising gunnery in the North Sea The three Beaufort squadrons
when it received the ‘Executive Fuller’ of Coastal Command had been
transmission. Pizey realised that he expected to pose the greatest threat
was unlikely to be able to intercept to the German squadron. No. 217
the German squadron in time, but Squadron was first into the fight, but
he managed to get into a position to could only muster four serviceable
deliver a torpedo attack by steaming aircraft to fly to Manston to meet its
south at full speed across two un- fighter escort. Their leader, Squadron
swept minefields: unfortunately, all Leader Carson, had not been briefed
of the salvoes missed, while counter- before departing Thorney Island and
fire from Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen did not know what his target was,
severely damaged Worcester, although or even what the codeword Fuller
the destroyer eventually limped meant. Headquarters No. 16 Group,
back to port. In a good illustration Coastal Command, intended to pass
the details to him in morse over they had to divert to Coltishall, a
wireless-telephony (‘W/T’) when the fighter station. In theory, a specialist
Beauforts reached Manston, but was Mobile Torpedo Unit was available
not aware that No.217’s Beauforts had to transport their weapons from
been converted to R/T. After circling North Coates to Coltishall, but what
the airfield for some time in puzzled was subsequently christened the
silence, Carson landed and made his ‘Immobile Unit’ took so long to bring
way to Manston’s operations room to to readiness and deploy that this plan
ask the station commander if he knew had to be abandoned, and only the
what his mission was. After getting original nine aircraft could be used.32
airborne again, he failed to make These rendezvoused at Manston with
radio contact with the other three eleven Hudsons of No. 407 Squadron,
Beauforts, which were still patiently Royal Canadian Air Force, and twenty
waiting in the overhead; nevertheless, Spitfires to act as fighter escort, but
they followed as he set course towards neither of the bomber formations
the battle squadron’s last reported had been briefed about Fuller and a
position. The four aircraft finally farcical situation developed, as each
found the German ships at 15.40 squadron attempted to follow the
hours and began their attacks, joined other in the hope that they would be
eventually by three more Beauforts led to a suitable target. Eventually,
that had been made ready at Thorney the Beaufort’s leader, Squadron
Island in the interim. These had also Leader Cliff, lost patience and set
been kept in ignorance about Fuller course for the Channel to see what he
and been forced to land at Manston could find.
to be briefed. By now, the visibility
Five Hudsons continued to hold
was extremely poor and no hits were
at Manston until they ran short of
scored: one aircraft was shot down
fuel and returned to RAF Bircham
by the fighter screen. Most of the
Newton in Norfolk, but the other six
other Beauforts were badly shot-up
followed Cliff. However, they soon
by the German ships’ defences, but all
lost contact with the Beauforts in
managed to make it back to Manston,
heavy rain, but picked up some blips
including Pilot Office Etheridge,
on their ASVs and dived through
whose aircraft suffered further severe
low cloud to attack some German
damage from the Ramsgate anti-
Zerstorers and E-boats, losing two
aircraft batteries, which ‘appeared to
of their number to the heavy flak
be shooting at everything coming up
barrage.33 Meanwhile, Cliff was
the Channel’.31
taken aback to stumble across a
No. 42 Squadron’s preparations had powerful battle-fleet and its escorting
also been chaotic. Its move south fighter umbrella, steaming east at
from Leuchars had been delayed thirty knots: he later telephoned
by poor weather and only nine of No.16 Group to complain – not
its fourteen aircraft were armed. unreasonably in the circumstances -
Consequently, the other five aircraft that ‘I was expecting a coastal convoy.
were ordered to land at North Coates, Why was I not told about the bloody
a Coastal Command airfield, to be great battleships’?34 In the ensuing
loaded with torpedoes, but the heavy confusion, three crews mistook the
snowfall on the East Coast meant retreating Harwich destroyer flotilla
for elements of the German squadron it was realised that the 100 aircraft
and attacked the British ships, but already armed with SAP could not
fortunately, all missed, as did the four be de-bombed, rearmed with GP
aircraft that correctly identified and and still take-off in time to catch the
launched their torpedoes against the German squadron before nightfall.
German vessels. Accordingly, these were dispatched
with their original weapon-loads
It was a similar story for No. 86
in the hope – which was not to be
Squadron, the last Beaufort squadron
fulfilled - that they might find a break
to go into action following a staged
in the clouds.
deployment from its home base
at St. Eval. The leader waited for Two hundred and forty-two bombers
the promised fighter support until eventually took off in three waves.
dusk was beginning to fall, when he Ninety-two Wellingtons, sixty-four
decided he would have to complete Hampdens, thirty-seven Blenheims,
the mission without an escort. Two fifteen Manchesters, thirteen
of the Beauforts either flew into the Halifaxes, eleven Stirlings and ten
sea or were shot down by German Bostons were employed in what
fighters on the way to the target, was the largest daylight bombing
and none of the survivors was able operation of the war to date,35 but
to find the German squadron in the only thirty-nine of the bombers were
worsening weather. able to find the German ships in low
cloud, rain and gathering darkness:
Because of its initial lack of readiness, actual conditions were reported as
RAF Bomber Command’s response ten-tenths cloud cover at six hundred
was slow, and further delays were feet with visibility less than 1,400
caused by the requirement to re-arm yards in drizzle and rain.36 In these
the aircraft that were available. The circumstances, the heavy, four-
100 bombers retained by Baldwin at engined, Halifaxes and Stirlings were
readiness for Fuller had been loaded simply too unwieldy to manoeuvre
with 500-lb semi-armour piercing into a position to attack and only the
(SAP) bombs, the only weapons likely medium and light bombers claimed
to inflict fatal damage on heavily to have bombed the warships. The
armoured warships. However, these experience of No. 241 Squadron,
bombs had to be dropped from a based at RAF Stradishall, was typical.
minimum of 7,000 feet in order to fuze It was preparing for a night raid
properly and by noon, the cloud- on Germany when it received the
base was already less than 1000 feet. declaration ‘Executive Fuller’. Twelve
Therefore, the decision was made to of its Wellingtons took off at 14.45
load aircraft with general purpose hours, but formation keeping proved
(GP) bombs as they were brought to impossible as the cloud base dropped
readiness, as these weapons could be to less than 500 feet, and the squadron
dropped at low-level. This meant that quickly split into individual elements.
the German ships were unlikely to be Only one aircraft claimed to have seen
sunk if they were hit, but significant the German ships and the Wellington
blast damage might still be caused to flown by the squadron’s commanding
their superstructures. This decision officer, Wing Commander Macfadden,
was partially countermanded when failed to return. The Operational
Log Book (Form 540) commented Undoubtedly, the losses to bomber
laconically that ‘the squadron had a aircraft conducting piecemeal attacks
very unsuccessful day and lost the over several hours would have been
Commanding Officer’.37 far higher if the fighters had not flown
to the ‘sound of the guns’. Post-
Bomber Command lost fourteen
war analysis indicates that Fighter
other aircraft, predominantly to the
Command shot down sixteen German
Luftwaffe’s fighter umbrella, as the
aircraft for the loss of seventeen of
poor weather also hampered the anti-
its own aircraft, a commendable
aircraft gunners on the ships, who
effort given the technical superiority
found it difficult to track attacking
generally enjoyed by the German
aircraft as they emerged through
fighter force, although in line with
the mist and rain. Another bomber
Galland’s directive, the Luftwaffe’s
crashed while attempting to land priority targets were the RAF’s
back at its base. Unfortunately, but bombers rather than its fighters.
not surprisingly, only minor splinter Twenty-one Spitfire squadrons were
damage was caused by these gallant employed and these generally held
but uncoordinated attacks, although their own, losing just five aircraft
the fighting was so intense that the between them, but the four
sailors had to cool the ships’ flak Hurricane squadrons lost five
guns by pouring buckets of water aircraft and No. 137 Squadron was
over them and at least one gun-barrel particularly roughly handled, losing
burst.38 Ciliax acknowledged the four of the eight Whirlwind long-
gallantry of the Bomber Command range fighters that it committed to
crews in his post-action report: ‘From battle. These losses were a simple
about 12.45 until 6.30 p.m. massed reflection of the relative capabilities
and individual attacks from aircraft of the aircraft involved; in air
of all types. Impressions: Dogged combat, even ostensibly small
aggressive spirit, very plucky flying’.39 qualitative advantages invariably
Fighter Command flew 398 sorties have a disproportionate affect on
during the operation. Although - the outcome.
with the benefit of hindsight - the Just as it appeared that the German
poor coordination of fighter escorts ships would escape entirely
appears culpable, the context has to unscathed, they ran into a series of
be taken into account; arrangements minefields that had been laid by
were inevitably ad hoc, given the Hampdens and Manchesters of
the secrecy and lack of available Bomber Command’s No. 5 Group.
information available, and the Ninety-eight mines had been
short planning time following the dropped between 3 and 9 February in
late declaration of ‘Executive Fuller’. anticipation of a German break-out,
Commendably, most of the leaders of and a further thirteen were laid in
the fighter escorts acted on their own the path of the battle-squadron on 12
initiative if they failed to make contact February itself.40 Scharnhorst hit two
with their designated attacking mines off Flushing and was forced to
force, making their own way to the stop for repairs; in accordance with
scene of action to try and disrupt or the Cerberus directive, the rest of the
disturb the German fighter screen. ships pressed on without her, but
she was eventually able to get under machine-gun fire, suffering one killed
way again and managed to make and two wounded; another sailor on
harbour the following morning, albeit Prinz Eugen was also killed by bomb
with serious damage. Gneisenau also splinters.
struck one of the air-dropped mines
Paradoxically, the very success
at Terschelling and was forced to of the Channel Dash resulted in
stop for half an hour for repairs, but the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and
her damage was much lighter. The Prinz Eugen being neutralized as
mine-strikes caused concern and an immediate threat to Britain’s
confusion within the German force supply lines, the German Naval Staff
and Ciliax was forced to transfer his itself characterizing the outcome
flag twice, in anticipation that one as a ‘tactical victory, but a strategic
or both of the battlecruisers might defeat’.41 The ships were no longer
have to be left to their fate, much a menace to the Atlantic convoys
to the derision of the respective at Wilhelmshaven, instead being
ships’ companies – he was a highly earmarked for employment in
unpopular commander. However, Hitler’s ‘zone of destiny’ in Norway,
the German squadron was shrouded while on the night of 26/27 March - a
in the darkness of the long winter month after Cerberus - the St. Nazaire
night and remained undetected by raid was successful in blocking
the British while it was potentially off the last French port capable of
vulnerable to attack. By 09.00 hours handling the Kriegsmarine’s capital
on 13 February, all three big ships ships, effectively removing any
had berthed safely in Wilhelmshaven, lingering threat to the Atlantic.
allowing Ciliax to signal Admiral Moreover, the German ports did
Saalwächter: ‘It is my duty to inform not provide the expected safe haven
you that Operation Cerberus has been from British attack and all three
successfully completed’. ships were crippled or destroyed
in the aftermath of the Channel
The Reckoning
Dash: Scharnhorst was in dock for six
Despite the intensity of the fighting, months due to the mine-damage and
casualties on both sides – while not was then caught by the Home Fleet
insignificant - were relatively minor and sunk off the North Cape when
in the context of an existential war she did sail; Gneisenau received a
of national survival. The British direct hit during an RAF bombing
lost a total of forty-two fighters and attack on the night 26/27 February,
bombers, shooting down sixteen just a fortnight after the Channel
Luftwaffe aircraft in return: eleven of Dash, killing 116 of her crew and
the German pilots were killed. No causing so much damage that she
British ships were lost, although HMS was never returned to service, instead
Worcester was severely damaged and being filled with concrete and used
twenty-seven of her crew were killed as a static fort; and Prinz Eugen had
by enemy shell-fire. On the German her stern blown off by a British
side, in addition to the mine damage submarine three days later, taking no
to the capital ships, the torpedo further effective part in the war, but
boats T13 and Jaguar received light surviving as a hulk to be sunk in a
damage from bomb splinters and post-war nuclear test in the Pacific.
Therefore, in strictly strategic and of magnitude, with 150,000 British and
material terms, the outcome of Commonwealth troops surrendering
Operation Cerberus was highly to a much smaller Japanese force in
advantageous to Britain; but the largest capitulation in British
contemporaneous perceptions military history. In his history of
were very different. Whereas all World War 2, Churchill noted that by
Germany rejoiced and the operation comparison, the Channel Dash was
was celebrated by the propaganda ‘an episode of minor importance as
machine as an unprecedented I judged it’, but acknowledged it as
triumph, in Great Britain, the sense ‘arousing even greater wrath and
of national shame was profound, distress among the public’ and he
and this had inevitable political accepted that ‘it is certainly not
consequences. Churchill was taken strange that public confidence in the
aback by the scale of popular anger; Administration and its conduct of the
it seemed that by this stage of the war should have quavered’.45 The
war, while the British public was damage to the reputation of the armed
inured to a seemingly unbroken run forces in an alliance context was also
of defeats on land, it was not prepared significant. Churchill conducted
to accept humiliation in a domain that an elaborate correspondence with
it considered to be its birthright. An President Roosevelt to convince
editorial in The Times asserted that: him that the Channel Dash did not
‘Vice-Admiral Ciliax has succeeded represent another strategic defeat and
where the Duke of Medina Sidonia was duly grateful for the President’s
failed. Nothing more mortifying assurance that he would couch a radio
to the pride of our sea power has address to the American nation in
happened since the seventeenth emollient terms.46
century’,42 while the News Chronicle
characterized the operation as a The Post-Mortem
story of ‘individual courage and The Board of Inquiry was convened
steadfast devotion to duty’, but ‘not under Mr Justice Bucknill on 16
one that reflects much credit on those February 1942 and delivered its
primarily responsible’.43 findings in early March;47 these
The government came under were not published due to security
blistering attack in the Commons considerations, but the Deputy
from all sides of the House, where Prime Minister, Clement Atlee,
the Channel Dash was described as a made a statement to the House
‘major blunder’44 and, unusually, the on 18 March, explaining that ‘the
Admiralty and Air Staff were openly general findings do not reveal that
criticised in Parliament. Churchill there were any serious deficiencies
was forced to convene a formal in either foresight, co-operation or
commission of enquiry, but ironically, organisation between the Services
the furore about Operation Fuller was concerned and their respective
politically beneficial in the sense that Commands’.48 Unsurprisingly,
its reverberations masked the impact this was greeted with widespread
of the fall of Singapore two days scepticism and, at a secret session of
later, on 15 February 1942. This was a the House of Commons on April 23,
disaster of an entirely different order Churchill was forced to give more
details in an attempt to suppress with weak force elements being
further dissent. He acknowledged committed to battle as they became
that he had been ‘impressed by the available; the piecemeal attacks
shock which the passage of these that ensued were easily countered
two ships through the Channel gave by the powerful, concentrated and
to the loyal masses of the British well-integrated German force. It
nation’49 and won over the House by has even been argued that British
using the details of the Admiralty’s planners tacitly accepted Operation
intelligence appreciation to argue Cerberus as a fait accompli, as they
that the German operation had not acknowledged that insufficient forces
come as a surprise, asserting that the were available to prevent a break-
British forces were as well-prepared out, but also knew that this would
as they could have been, but there not represent an entirely undesirable
were simply not enough of them, strategic outcome.51 If this really
because of commitments elsewhere. was an acknowledged but unspoken
Most of the torpedo-bombers were belief held by Air Staff and Admiralty
required in the Mediterranean, the planners, then it was - at best -
majority of destroyers had to be politically naïve, and represented a
used for convoy escort duties in the complete misreading of the likely
Atlantic and the few capital ships public reaction.
available, after the requirements Although the inadequacy of the
of the Mediterranean and the Far available forces was largely a
East had been met, could not be consequence of strategic realities,
employed in the Channel because the incoherence between the RAF
of the danger of air attack.50 While and the RN, and between the RAF
Churchill’s statement won the debate commands, was far less excusable.
and his administration survived to This was partially structural, because
fight another day, he was certainly of the organisation of the system of
disingenuous in suggesting that the command, but was also a result of
actions of the limited forces that were agency, in terms of the personalities
available were as well-led and well- involved. The initial point of failure
organised as they could have been. was the lack of an overall authority
responsible for the execution of Fuller;
An Inevitable Failure?
as the Bucknill Report noted, this
Given the scarcity of the resources compromised any realistic prospect of
committed to Fuller, it is highly the achievement of unity of purpose.
unlikely that the operation could This was compounded by the lack of
ever have succeeded without a trust and communication between
mixture of extraordinary good commands. The demarcation of
fortune and the closest possible responsibilities between Coastal
inter-service and inter-command Command and the RN had been
cooperation. Unhappily, a chain an enduring source of friction and,
of bad luck, poor decision-making although a Joint Headquarters had
and incompetence delayed the been established as early in April
detection of the break-out, and this 1941, ultimately delivering a high level
ensured that the British reaction of integration, the lack of effective
was uncoordinated and reactive, cooperation during Fuller indicates
that even sensible organisations and primus inter pares was disastrous.
processes will be inadequate if the Each essentially represented the
will to make them work properly is personal fiefdom of its commander
absent, and it is very apparent that and there was a marked reluctance
the power of personality was critical. to pool their resources for a common
While Ramsey was an outstanding purpose. In the wake of Fuller - and
naval leader, he was extremely the criticisms implicit in the Bucknill
sceptical about the support that Report - Joubert proposed that
he could expect from the RAF. In Coastal Command should take the
1940 he had commanded Operation lead in maritime operations involving
Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation, units from the other commands.
where he had been disappointed with However logical the suggestion,
the RAF’s contribution. Although it was rejected out of hand by
this assessment was incorrect Leigh-Mallory, who perceived it as
and unfair,52 it meant that he was empire-building. The No. 11 Group
predisposed to doubt the RAF’s AOC-in-C – described by a senior
commitment to maritime operations subordinate as ‘a pompous, ambitious
and he was highly critical of the air fuddy-duddy’55 - had already
force in the aftermath of Fuller. He demonstrated during the Battle of
was especially bitter about the role Britain, as AOC-in-C No.12 Group,
of Leigh-Mallory and No.11 Group, that he was hardly a team player.
particularly because of the failure to Now, he insisted on perpetuating
provide the full escort promised for the inadequate, three-pronged
the Swordfish attack.53 The character approach to joint operations that
of the AOC-in-C Coastal Command, had been found so wanting during
Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Fuller. The Air Staff was not inclined
Ferte, was also unhelpful, as he was to impose a solution, and it was not
unable to maintain the generally until Joubert and Leigh-Mallory were
harmonious relationship with theRN replaced that a satisfactory inter-
that his predecessor, Air Marshal Sir command arrangement was brokered,
Frederick Bowhill, had established. enabling later operations to be
Ironically, the release of the full more successfully coordinated. The
details of the Bucknill Report in misplaced secrecy that so hindered
1946 was used as ammunition in a air operations was also entirely
further, post-war, inter-service battle symptomatic of the organisational
for control of land-based maritime preference to centralise control - at all
air assets. costs and at the highest level - that so
pervaded the highest echelons of RAF
However, the most toxic relationships
command at this stage of war.
existed not between the RAF and
the RN, but between the different Although Bomber Command had
RAF commands and commanders. been the most reluctant participant
Joubert and Leigh-Mallory were in Operation Fuller, ultimately it
both ‘career officers of the old- made the greatest contribution to
fashioned type’54 and the tripartite the favourable strategic situation
participation of elements of Bomber, that was finally achieved. It was the
Coastal and Fighter Commands incessant bombing attacks – mounted
without the nomination of one as from the date of the Scharnhorst and
Gneisenau’s arrival in March 1941 to 6
Stephen Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-
the very eve of their departure – that 45, 3 vols., (London: HMSO, 1954),
made Brest untenable for the German Vol.1., 150.
ships and precipitated the decision 7
Galland, First, 144.
to withdraw them to Wilhelmshaven, 8
Boyd characterises the decision-
thus simplifying Britain’s strategic cycle as the ‘OODA loop’, with
dilemma by corralling the entire the steps running from ‘Observe’,
German fleet at a single location; and through ‘Orient’ and ‘Decide’ to ‘Act’.
it was Bomber Command’s indirect Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot
air mining operations that inflicted who Changed the Art of War (New York:
the only significant damage on the Little Brown and Company), 25.
German ships, negating them as a 9
Photographs courtesy of the RAF
threat in the immediate aftermath of and RN websites, http.//www.raf.mod.
the operation. uk and http.//
The British acronym for ‘Enemy
In the final analysis, the ultimate
failure of Fuller is attributable to the Boats’, the German fast attack craft
British high command’s lack of agility. also and more correctly known as
As foreseen by the Germans, after the S-boats, for the German Schnellbooten.
initial shock, the British were simply AIR 14/823 Operation ‘Fuller’ 1941
unable to regain their balance and Apr. 1942 Oct. IIH/241/3/733 BC/
take the initiative. The last word may S22200/22.
be left to Ciliax, whose summary of Peter Kemp, Escape of the Scharnhorst
the operation is apt: and Gneisenau, (London: Ian Allan,
1975), 26.
The British were surprised, which led … 13
to desultory and precipitate actions by 14
Owen Thetford, Aircraft of the Royal
their forces. During a period spanning Air Force since 1918, 4th ed. (London:
one and a half hours after the first Putnam, 1968), 87.
attack, no English aircraft succeeded 15
Kemp, Escape, 26.
in reaching the Squadron due to our 16
Middlebrook, Bomber Command, 238.
excellent fighter cover.56 17
AIR 16/403 Operation ‘Fuller’ 1941
Apr.-1942 Apr AHB Reference and
Notes Fighter Command File Reference:
1 IIH/240/4/149 FC/S24043.
A painting by Robert Taylor.
2 18
Adolf Galland, The First and the Last, Photographs courtesy of http.//
3rd edn., (London: Methuen, 1973),167.
3 19
Appropriately enough, as in Greek Galland, First, 144.
mythology, Cerberus was the three- ibid, 146.
headed dog that guarded the gate to ibid, 150.
Hades. ibid, 146.
4 23
John Deane Potter, Fiasco: the break- Kemp, Escape, 35.
out of the German Battleships, (London: Terence Robertson, Channel Dash:
Heinemann, 1970), 200. The Drama of Twenty-four Hours of War
Martin Middlebrook and Chris (Quality Book Club: London, 1958), 60.
Everitt, The Bomber Command War Kemp, Escape, 60.
Diaries: An Operational Reference Book The Channel Dash Association, http.//
(London: Penguin, 1985), 235. www.channeldash.orgswordfish17.
htm1, accessed 18 Aug 09.
Potter, Fiasco, 189.
Robertson, Channel Dash, 147.
Potter, Fiasco, 116.
Robertson, Channel Dash, 147.
ibid, 141.
Robertson, Channel Dash,
Potter, 139.
ibid, 192.
Middlebrook, Bomber Command, 235.
Kemp, Escape, 71.
Potter, Fiasco, 143.
ibid, 168.
Roskill, War at Sea, 150.
Ibid, 159.
Robertson, Channel Dash, 191.
Ibid, 170.
Winston Churchill, The Second World
War, Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate (Chartwell
Edn., London: The Educational Book
Company, 1951), 63.
Churchill, Hinge of Fate, 90.
ADM 116/4528 Escape of German
battle cruisers GNEISENAU and
SCHARNHORST and heavy cruiser
PRINZ EUGEN up the Channel:
Operation ‘Fuller’ and Board of
Enquiry. 1941-1942.
Robertson, Channel Dash.
Churchill, Hinge of Fate, 90.
Ibid, 91.
Robertson, Channel Dash, 190.
Roskill, War at Sea, 67.
Robertson, Channel Dash, 188.
Potter, Fiasco, 192.
Ibid, 146.

Air Power and the

Contemporary Army

By Gp Capt Chris Luck

The search for political meaning and value in operational and tactical
excellence is enduring. Contemporary strategic uncertainty and financial
austerity elevates the need for coherent joint thought. ‘Indisputable’ single-
Service views and preferences allied to a sub-optimal grasp of the meaning
and purpose of ‘power’ and ‘strategy’ exacerbate the difficulty in delivering
timely, politically relevant, strategic effect. Today’s wars demand innovation
in the joint appreciation and application of force; agility, adaptability, rapidity
of response, precision and scaleable lethality as well as reach are fundamental
qualities at all levels. Air power is today as essential an enabler and multiplier
of land power as vice versa (as is sea power). With war unknowable in detail
in advance, the trick is to be as structurally and doctrinally right as possible
but also poised for rapid change should political need dictate. However, the
Services’ aspirations for geographical excellence are fundamental in giving
scope to political options. This article seeks to debate what it means to deliver
‘air power’ to the contemporary army in order to wage warfare to achieve
policy objectives: it examines inherent tensions; what air power is; what can be
expected of it and how it is best delivered.
We must develop new joint and service not so inhibited and are willing to
operational concepts that are consistent contribute to the joint debate.
with the enduring uncertainty and
This think-piece does not attempt
complexity of war. Rather than being
to provide a theory for air power
‘capabilities-based’, these concepts ought
and land power application. It is
to be based on real and emerging threats
aimed at analysing what air power
and connected to scenarios that direct is and how it is applied, while
military force toward the achievement of reminding the reader that all wars are
policy goals and objectives. contextual and contingent, and that
H.R. McMaster all geographically separated military
arms have relevance that is equally
Introduction contextual and contingent. It does not

ar is the final auditor of rake over the sterile ground of which
military preparedness and service is supported, supporting,
therefore relevance; theory, or has legitimate claims for
doctrine, and practice interact in a independence – that would be waging
complex fashion to either validate or yesterday’s battles, and according to
excoriate the military establishment. Colin Gray:
History points to a default to fighting It is foolish to debate whether the RN or
the last war; institutional preferences the RAF exists primarily to support the
look forward to a ‘proper’ martial test, Army, or vice versa. In common with
but contemporary wars driven by war, warfare, peace and crisis,
context tend to upset all. History also military power is a unity….The five
tells us that ‘tactical and operational geographically specialised forms of
excellence is quite meaningless save military power (land, sea, air, space,
with respect to their political and cyber), all support each other, at least
strategic contextual significance’.1 they should do so.3
Today’s wars demand innovation in
the joint application of force. Agility, This paper also aims to expose current
adaptability, rapidity of response, limitations on joint thinking, describe
precision, scaleable lethality, and air power’s effect, and establish a way
reach are all fundamental qualities. forward for air power’s relationship
Air power has evolved to meet with the contemporary army.
these requirements and act as a Aspirations for the execution of truly
powerful force multiplier. At the joint action remain plagued by single-
risk of single-service heresy, this is service parochialisms, often magnified
not about ‘supported’ or ‘supporting’ by officially endorsed myths and
arguments, but about effect. However deliberate misinterpretations.4 This
for reasons best summed up by is ‘just a fact of life and indeed of
Bernard Brodie, ‘the officer who institutional loyalty and occupational
is really objective about his own culture’5 and has had a negative
service as compared with the sister impact on collegiate effort.6 All too
services is not going to rise to high often, the fault lines lie at the senior
enough estate to make that objectivity levels of the services and government,
of much service to the nation’.2 as ‘every player in the grandly
Fortunately, today’s war fighters are complex policy-and-strategy-making
process has his own interests… But theory and practice are often
[that] paint strategically unique worlds apart. Recent acrimonious
pictures of reality for their players’.7 Department of Defense spending
In the U.S., Carl Builder captures debates highlight similar issues
this institutional preference when for the U.S.. Secretary Gates is
he states that ‘despite the logical struggling to fix a budget that
wrappings of defense planning, there supports the strategic priorities of
is considerable evidence that the the president rather than ‘simply
qualities of U.S. military forces are fattening defense contractors or
determined more by cultural and satisfying institutional choices’.12
institutional preferences for certain
Consequently, strategy is required to
kinds of military forces than by the
tie the means to the ends. Strategy is
“threat”.’8 Organisations, weapons
the ‘creative act of choosing a means,
and systems therefore tend to reflect
an end, a way to relate a means
military institutions, not context and
to an end, or any combination of
contingency, whereas at the tactical
those three. In the absence of some
level, the gritty realities of combat
choice about means, ends, or their
and its dire consequences prove to
relationship, there is no strategy’.13
be an effective lubricant for smooth
But having no strategy is not the same
enough interaction and joint effort.
as there being no strategic effect – the
This needs to be championed from
actions we do or do not take will still
the top down. Much of the malaise
have negative, positive, or neutral
can be laid squarely at the door of two
effects. To make strategy purposeful,
realities: limited finance and a poor
the strategist must take the means
appreciation of strategy.
available and attempt to construct
The defence budget is too small the bridge between ends and
to meet the complete spectrum of means. Strategy takes on historical
war-fighting and collides with the proportions if the span cannot reach,
services’ institutional preferences despite attempts to innovate; ends
at a time when ‘the severest test of or means must change, or strategy
government is whether, in times of will fail. In a sense, strategy is a
war, it can integrate a viable grand necessity borne of means poverty, and
strategy with available resources, can only function within a coherent
manpower, and the nature and overall theory of war and warfare
vulnerability of both the enemy and because concentrating on one aspect,
its own vital resources.’9 Defence whether geographical or elemental,
spending as a proportion of GDP is to risk the ‘tacticisation’ of strategy.
‘has been on a downward trend Contemporary operations are
since the mid 1950s’, leading to invariably reactive to the context and
doctrinaire and dogmatic positioning contingency that arises at any given
for reasons of institutional survival. time. Strategy is likewise contextual
This can only lead to the death of and contingent and iterative,
strategy.10 Max Hastings is not alone not dogmatic. Service doctrine,
when he declares that ‘it should be synthesised from theory and past
unacceptable to continue making experience, is the jumping off point
policy on the hoof, lurching from for developing strategy. The hope is
one budgetary crisis to another’.11 that it is good enough and adaptive
enough to stand the shock of any Montgomery was not the first or
novelty that may arise. If not, then the last to applaud the benefit of
doctrine becomes dogma, and the truly joint air-land integration, but
historical record shows it will result in a discussion on air power and the
failure as the last war is fought. contemporary Army is timely as
‘integration across Air/Land seams is
The ability to create effective strategy
a priority’.19 The reason is obvious:
is, however, damaged by the ability
blood and treasure is at stake and
of the British to invert ‘policy for
there is insufficient of both. The
strategy to deliver’ with ‘strategy to
national consensus regarding the
deliver policy.’14 Strategy should
nation’s war in Afghanistan is volatile
never become the end. Muddled
and apt to evaporate if progress is
definitional thinking is at fault, as is
not made. Every penny of a perceived
the lack of precision with definitional
miserly defence allocation has to
language. A woeful lack of a common
be spent wisely if the maximum
understanding of the noun ‘strategy’
effect is to be wrung-out to produce
(and its adjective ‘strategic’) exists,
a positive strategic performance. If
to the point that the noun ‘has
this is not done - and seen to be done
acquired a universality which has
- then accusations, such as Simon
robbed it of meaning, and left it only
Jenkins’ that ‘brass hats protect their
with banalities.’15 Government and
precious toys and politicians lack the
military literature, and attempts at
guts to bang their heads together’,
real-world application, is replete
will give sustenance to the belief of
with such ‘banalities’ and the shaping
incompetence in political and military
function that strategy could have
leadership.20 The stark reality is
bestowed to the actions in pursuit
that ‘the ends must be matched to
of policy is lost.16 To labour the
the means in the short term [as] to
point, policy is not strategy and
do otherwise is to risk frittering away
strategy cannot exist without policy
resources on very long odds when
or the means to achieve it. Likewise,
there are more critical things to
platforms, munitions or targets
achieve. Conversely, the means must
are not inherently strategic; the
be matched to the ends in the long
consequences (or effects) of their
term when there is time to think and
use, or not, are strategic. To reiterate
plan’.21 This is all to the good if the
a well-worn Clausewitzean notion,
ends or means can be adjusted. If not,
strategy, the bridging function,
innovation in the synergistic use of
aims for a ‘sufficiency of military
force is required to produce capability
success to enable achievement of
for strategy to use in the joint fight.
whatever it is that policy identifies
as the war’s political object’.17 But If we are to make progress in
wars and warfare have a nasty, jointery, then the arcane argument
protean nature. Services which of who is supporting or supported
truly ‘understand the nature of war must be discarded. The distinction
expect to have to adapt in real-time has little strategic merit if the
to circumstances that could not have characterisation of strategy is one
been forecast with precision long in of instrumentality. However, the
advance.’18 Such adaptation must environments within which conflict
include air-land jointery. takes place are different in nature,
with distinctive characteristics that or used, is aimed at the ‘possibility
‘make the application of military of imposing one’s will’, and ‘should
force in each of the environments a be intended to increase options,
specialised process’.22 If the title of not eliminate them’.25 The military
this essay is altered to ‘Land Power instruments available to achieve this
and the Contemporary Air Force,’ or are land, sea, air, space, and cyber
even ‘Contemporary Air Power and power. The order of precedence is one
Land Power’, then the true question of historical precedence rather than
crystallises: what is the appropriate a hierarchy of utility - it is the context
force structure and balance, that determines the utility, and
between geographical dimensions, therefore the strategic relevance of
to wage warfare to achieve policy any of the services. Therefore ‘service
objectives in today’s resource doctrine that is not in harmony with
constrained environment? So what government policy is likely…to fail;
can be expected of air power in the government policy made in isolation
contemporary fight? To answer the of service capabilities tends to do
question, we must first define what the same’.26 In practice, individual
air power is. service contributions ‘will not be
equal and will vary dependent on
Power is by dictionary definition the
the context of the operation’.27 Air
‘possibility of imposing one’s will
power therefore represents the ability
upon the behaviour of other persons’.
to achieve organisationally coherent
Hannah Arendt adds the equally
and politically useful effect through
persuasive thought that power ‘is
the medium of the air.28 It is not a
never the property of an individual;
service, or a platform, or a weapon.29
it belongs to a group and remains in
existence only so long as the group As discussed, to be relevant and
keeps together’.23 This is not to useful, power must be contextually
be confused with strength, which and contingently orientated.
is inherent in an object or person. However, context and contingency is
Power is about having the choice to often omitted in planning, sometimes
act favourably through organisational to the extent that an enemy may even
unity; disunity reduces choices to fail to appear in the calculus. Context
act and diminishes power.24 For can be divided into seven categories:
example, an enemy fighting ‘amongst political, social-cultural, economic,
the people’ will constrain the military technological, military-strategic,
options of a first-world nation, as geographical, and historical. Each
public opinion abhors collateral loss – category interacts to produce an
power is diminished, despite strength overall environment that is complex.
remaining. Military forces are Mix this with the enemy’s own
instruments, the means to impose our contextual soup and the demands
will, an expression of power. The sub- on strategists become obvious. The
domains of military power must seek inter-war years for Great Britain
unity in purpose and performance were a classic example of interplay
to provide political masters with of context that led to initial strategic
organisationally coherent choices – failure with the onset of war with
not to achieve parity or precedence as Germany.30 The context for current
an end. Military power, threatened warfare is more of counter-insurgency
and state-building that ‘require information edge over adversaries.
population security, security-sector This will increasingly require
reform, reconstruction and economic more persistence of observational
development, building governmental capabilities. Space and developing
capacity, and establishing the rule of high-altitude platforms will continue
law’.31 Aggravating factors, such as to provide the capability and potential
ungoverned space, increasing climate (including the technical leveraging
degradation and overpopulation add of the electromagnetic spectrum
to the complexity of possible futures. and increasing bandwidth) needed
What is certain is that the traditional to maintain the informational and
defence of the national boundary surveillance edge required. But
against quantifiable enemies is the freedom to leverage the overhead
least likely option. This context flank is not free.
requires forces that can react with
Control of the Air is essential for
little warning time. In the likely
the success of the joint battle. That
event of inadequate preparatory
this requirement has all but faded
time, forces-in-being will have to be
into the planning background
deployed with current doctrine and
is evidence of both the current
equipment. Only judicious selection
asymmetric advantaged enjoyed by
of structures and equipments
the UK (albeit enhanced by the US)
that give robust performance and
and the complacency with which it
capability adaptation in producing
is viewed. The sheer technological
the desired effects will mitigate
dependency, complexity, and limited
the challenges - but they will not
shelf life of air platforms and their
eliminate them.
capabilities means that control of the
With foreseen and unforeseen threats air can be rapidly and asymmetrically
likely to be at some range from the (i.e. not necessarily contested in
national boundary, rapid power the air alone) lost. Indeed some
projection will be an absolute theatre have gone as far as to declare that
entry standard for any vanguard ‘air power as a combat power
force. This is likely to be kinetic air, projection element is the repository
but closely followed by air lifted of technology-driven capabilities
ground troops. The challenge will be more than any other military force
in balancing the force components projection capability’.32 As such, even
between rapidity of entry, and the apparently ineffective adversaries
weight and efficacy of the deployed can rapidly constrain the advantage
capability. Air power is - and will provided by air power. Technology
remain - vital to any such rapid and the expertise to leverage such
vanguard capability. It will therefore technology cannot be replaced by
need to have inherent qualities of any sheer will to overcome the odds
persistence and endurance, as well stacked against a force. The challenge
as the ability for significant heavy lift. will be to ensure that the fragility
Situational awareness to support UK of the air advantage, bequeathed by
defence missions prior and during control of the air, is assured through
actions will continue to demand constant investment in the technology
significant information flows. The and supporting infrastructure that
aim must be to retain an asymmetric defines air power. On the plus side,
this superiority has ‘resulted in the soldier on horseback in 2001, exploits
uninhibited development of other the third dimension to produce an
air power competencies that have innovative and lethal combination
become invaluable contributions to for the joint application of force to
the success of joint campaigns’.33 produce tremendous and innovative
strategic effect. From pattern of
Air power enables ground forces to
life, to over-watch, to strike, air and
be more effective while mitigating
aviation is fundamental to today’s
the worst dangers they may face
counterinsurgency fight. As the
by allowing them to move faster,
contemporary army morphs more
lighter, to maintain awareness, and
towards the image of SF agility,
employ accurate firepower against air power’s enabling effect will
the enemy. If fully integrated, ground be entrenched to generate a truly
forces can devote fewer resources to synergistic, Siamese twin-like
specific missions while maintaining dependency. The key to harnessing
acceptable levels of risk. Air power the plethora of effects that modern air
finds, fixes, and finishes massed power can bring to the joint fight is
forces, which deprives any adversary at first an acceptance that ‘the reality
of the ability to mass. This corralling is that land, maritime and air forces
effect needs careful integration with will combine in all future operations’.
land power if the full potential to Narrowly perceived areas of
asymmetrically affect the enemy is responsibility, through geographically
to be realised. Air power also fields demarked channels, constrain
other vital non-kinetic positive perceptions and invariably reduce
effects. Intelligence, surveillance, and synergistic effect to the detriment of
reconnaissance missions are today’s military strategy.
meta-enablers. A characteristic of
today’s operations is an insatiable The classic example of synergistic
demand for intelligence, with the effect between air and land power,
above-ground perspective critical where precedence depended on the
to leveraging operational success. shaping required, was that between
Other missions such as airlifting General MacArthur, USA, and
troops; evacuating the wounded; and General Kenney, USAAF, in the Far
providing fire support for engaged East during World War Two.35 The
ground forces have tended to be conflict was studded with exceptional
taken for granted or undervalued innovation of air power use in
leveraging military combat effect.
outside aviation communities, but
In the West, Montgomery, when
now this view is rapidly changing - all
commanding the Eighth Army in
are considered vital.34 The war in
Africa in pursuit of Rommel, stated
Afghanistan clearly demonstrates the
‘that Army plus air…has to be so
effectiveness and innovative effect of
knitted that the two together form
air power in support of Special Forces
one entity’, and his chief airman
(SF); a precursor to the lighter army’s
added to the communitarian message
modus operandi.
by stating that ‘there has been as
This ‘new’ way of carrying the fight much air co-operation by the army
to the enemy at the tactical level, as army co-operation by the air, and
epitomised by the image of the SF the natural result is that we have now
passed beyond that stage into a unit is equally true; hence arguments
or team which automatically helps the that the Royal Navy won the Battle
other’.36 The message has not been of Britain, rather than the RAF, have
altogether lost, as the Future Land a germ of truth, but suffer identical
Operational Concept captures the parochialism. What is true is that
sentiment in the statement that: air power is inherently joint, as its
broadest definition is inherently
Land forces will continue to depend
synonymous with all military power.41
on the integration of air and aviation
But, ‘at all levels of conflict and in
capabilities…to deliver potent
all ways, air power is an element
operational effect. It is likely that
no military force dares ignore. For
Land forces will place an increasing
intelligence, logistics, and tactical
importance on such platforms [air
support, it is an imperative no
and aviation capabilities], particularly
modern force can do without’.42
in stability operations where threat
Simply put, air power is a vital force
levels and force dispersion necessitates
multiplier: it makes forces much more
Land forces reliance on air and
effective.43 The RAF simply must
aviation assets to provide precision
provide it in sufficient quantity and
strike capability.37
quality for today’s army, to meet the
In short, air power provides control demands of today’s fight.44
of the air; rapid mobility and
The RAF’s stated number one
lift; intelligence and situational
strategic priority is clear: to ‘support
awareness; and attack.38 Air power
current operations’.45 However
effects can reduce the weight
harsh criticisms are levied on its
of today’s army by providing
efforts, such as on legacy platforms
overwhelming scale of fires. It can
continuing to ‘embarrass and
increase an army’s mobility, agility,
humiliate’ air force commanders as
rapidity, and potential to deliver
Typhoons and Tornados fail to take
disorientating novelty against an
their place in the thin blue line,
enemy. Air power’s reach, rapidity,
due to inappropriate or inadequate
and flexibility are qualities to be
equipments for the current fight.46
harnessed and leveraged in the joint
As stated above, institutional
fight; in fact the ‘scalability in weight
preference and inertia of all the
of effort that can be used to achieve
services, limited resources, and
Effects gives air power exceptional
unclear governmental policy and
flexibility’.39 The context and the
understanding of strategy hinder
contingency should determine
change. This - coupled with the
the application mix of forces, not
rapid technological pace of change
an industrial concept limited by
invalidating equipments and
geographical channelling.
doctrine – means that the RAF is
However, air power is about decision hard pressed to maintain balance
on land: ‘all military power is land in its military-strategic policy. The
power’.40 We wage war from the reality that today’s synergistic support
air and the sea in order to produce to the army requires ISR and lift
a political effect on land. Air power as priorities, with no lessening of
is an enabler of land and sea power, investment in the reach, speed, and
but any combination and attribution scalability of air power lethal effects,
leaves resource shortfalls that strategy in today’s financial climate, but no
cannot bridge. The mantra that ‘we less necessary. Army and air force
have too many fast jets, insufficient - and not forgetting navy - senior
transport aircraft and helicopter leadership need to bridge the gulf
lift’ does not account for the need to between ends and means. Capability
guarantee the asymmetric advantage development requires the unique
accrued to the army by dominance perspective that each geographical
of the air, without which the service provides, but military effect
contemporary army would struggle to requires a joint mindset at the highest
achieve its effects at reasonable cost levels that accepts that parity of
in blood.47 A glance at a typical air budget, size, or programmes does
and aviation package in support of a not lead to maximising that military
mission in Afghanistan today would effect. Non-linear synergy (2+2=5)
show that all elements are needed. only comes from a mutual belief that
military power flows from political
The argument that the ‘overhead’ of utility, and acceptance that individual
having an independent air force is services’ relevance will necessarily
an unnecessary excess is fallacious. ebb and flow with context. But only
The airman’s perspective is essential so much can be squeezed out of a pint
if the detail of the air environment pot. Ultimately, policy that refuses to
is to be properly understood and be informed by the strategy bridging
leveraged. The Smuts’ review of function is no policy at all, and is
1917, which led to the formation of likely to fail, despite best efforts. The
the RAF, first and foremost identified education of government policy-
the need for a specialist air staff and makers is a greater challenge.
force in order to coordinate, develop,
and effectively and efficiently employ Air power is today as essential
the air instrument to deliver strategic an enabler and multiplier of land
effect - i.e., to deliver policy goals.48 power as vice versa. Doctrinaire and
Nothing has changed and air force dogmatic arguments that artificially
air power has continued to deliver divide the two confuse military effect
exponentially to the point that no required for achieving policy goals
contemporary army would choose to with environmental expertise as an
wage war without it. Today’s army end in itself. The aim should be to
air-power shopping basket includes: integrate and synchronise from the
guaranteed control of the air; rapid outset. Insufficient air power, both
kinetic and non-kinetic, exists to meet
heavy lift; battlespace mobility; 24-
demand, although the current greater
hour, unblinking ISR; and scalable,
need is for more ISR, lift and mobility,
precise, and persistent lethal fires.
and fires. There is no discounting
All of these need to be delivered at
the need to control the air, at least
global distances, at speed, and at
at a time and space of our choosing.
short notice. In addition, the army
Strategy must never become the end,
requires an embedded air perspective
but strategy cannot alone overcome
from air specialists, at all HQ levels,
unreasonable policy demands or
who understand strategy and air force
insufficient means. Today’s army
capability - this function is vital.
requires a quality and quantity of air
The broad basket approach is utopian power as never before to compensate
for the need for greater speed, range, argument for foreclosure of the RAF
lift, attack, less organic heavy fires, was based on its size in numbers of
and critical ISR dependency, to personnel, conveniently forgetting
meet the unpredictability of future that the RN is smaller.
threats. The RAF is the expert of Colin S. Gray, Understanding
choice to provide the synergistic Airpower: Bonfire of the Fallacies,
effect required, but it will need to Strategic Studies Quarterly, Winter
leverage some resources away from 2008, pp43-82, 46.
traditional, institutionally preferred, Carl H. Builder, The Masks of War:
platforms. However, air and aviation American Military Styles in Strategy and
assets will remain a limited resource Analysis, Baltimore and London: The
and therefore a rationed one. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989,
contemporary army will need to pp6-7.
better understand and integrate 9
Robin Higham and Stephen J.
air power in its holistic approach to Harris, eds., Why Air Forces Fail: The
war fighting if ‘all military power’ is Anatomy of Defeat, Lexington, KY:
indeed ‘land power.’ University Press of Kentucky, 2006, 3.
Malcolm Chalmers, “A Force for
Notes Influence? Making British Defence
Colin S. Gray, Recognising and Effective”, RUSI Journal December
Understanding Revolutionary Change 2008 Vol. 153 No. 6 pp 20-27, 26.
in Warfare: The Sovereignty of Context, Max Hastings, “Sleep Walking
Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Towards the Precipice: The Crisis in
Institute, US Army War College, British Defence Policy.” RUSI Journal
February 2006, 13. December 2008 Vol. 153 No. 6 pp 32-35,
Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, 32.
New York: Macmillan,1973, 483. The Stars and Stripes, Mideast
Colin S. Gray, “Britain’s National edition, 5 April 2009; “DOD Shuffles
Security: Compulsion and Discretion.” Funding” 2.
RUSI Journal December 2008 Vol. 153 Builder, Masks of War, 50.
No. 6 pp 12-18, 16. Hew Strachan, The Lost Meaning of
4 Strategy, Survival vol. 7 no. 3 Autumn
See Creating the Myth of Air Control
in James S. Corum and Wray R. 2005 pp 33-54, 33-34, 37.
Johnson’s Airpower in Small Wars: Strachan, Meaning of Strategy, 34.
Fighting Insurgents and terrorists, Strachan, Meaning of Strategy, 46.
University Press of Kansas, 2003, Gray, Defining Victory, 12.
62-66, and Tami Davis Biddle’s Gray, Defining Victory, 21.
Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The “Future Land Operational Concept,”
Evolution of British and American Ideas Swindon: Developments, Concepts
about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945, and Doctrine Centre, October 2008,
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Pt1-4.
Press, 2002. See Simon Jenkins’ ‘Lovely new
Gray, Fallacies, 67. aircraft carrier, sir, but we’re fighting
The recent exchanges in the papers in the desert’, The Sunday Times (of
as to the viability and purpose of London), February 24, 2008.
the RAF is evidence, although the Robin Higham and Stephen J.
logic is often flawed – one particular Harris, eds., Why Air Forces Fail: The
Anatomy of Defeat, Lexington, KY: in the Pacific; A Case Study in
University Press of Kentucky, 2006, Innovation by Thomas E. Griffith, JR
349. in Joint Force Quarterly Autumn 2000.
22 36
Sanu Kainikara, A Fresh Look at Air Guedalla, Middle East, 207-209.
Power Doctrine, Tuggeranong ACT: Air Future Land Operational Concept,
Power Development Centre, 2008, 18. pt2-11.
23 38
Hannah Arendt, On Violence, San Air Cdre Paul Colley, Soldiers are
Diego, New York, London, Harcourt from Mars and Airmen are from
Brace & Company, 1970, 22 Venus: Does Airpower do what it says
Everett Carl Dolman, Pure Strategy: on the tin?, Air Power Review, Vol. 9,
Power and Principle in the Space and No. 2, Summer 2008, 102-118, 107. For
Information Age, London & New York: air power roles see also Joint Doctrine
Frank Cass, 2005, 42. Note 2/08, 2-1.
Dolman, Pure Strategy, 9. Future Air and Space Operational
Robin Higham and Stephen J. Concept, No1 AIDU, RAF Northolt:
Harris, eds., Why Air Forces Fail: The Directorate of Air Staff, 19.
Anatomy of Defeat, Lexington, KY: Gray, Fallacies, 59.
University Press of Kentucky, 2006, Jeremy Stocker, “There is no such
348. thing as Air Power,” Air Power Review,
Kainikara, A Fresh Look, 47. Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp10-20, 16.
The official definition of air power James L. Stokesbury, A Short History
is “the ability to project power from the of Air Power, London: Hale, 1986, 290.
air in order to influence the behaviour Corum and Johnson, Airpower in
of people or the course of events” (Joint Small Wars, 435.
Doctrine Note 2/08, Integrated Air-Land ‘Today’s fight’ is defined in this
Operations in Contemporary Warfare, context as being for the next 10-
dated August 2008, The Development, 20 years. This of course leaves us
Concepts, and Doctrine Centre, hostage to strategic shock if the
Ministry of Defence, Shrivenham, context changes unexpectedly. The
2-1). better, but unaffordable, solution is
Gray, Fallacies, 55. always to have balanced and as broad
Correli Barnett, The Collapse of as possible effects capabilities.
British Power, Stroud: Alan Sutton RAF Strategy – Strategic Priorities,
Publishing Ltd, 1993, xi.
HR McMaster – Learning from cfm
Contemporary Conflicts to Prepare Thomas Harding, Defence
for Future War, p1 Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph,
Kainikara, A Fresh Look, 42. Monday, February 23, 2009, ‘Tornados’
Kainikara, A Fresh Look, 54. Afghan mission delayed by concrete
Alan J. Vick, Adam Grissom, William farce.’ P14.
Rosenau, Beth Grill, Karl P. Mueller, Hastings, Sleep Walking, 34.
Air Power in the New Counterinsurgency See Christopher J. Luck, “The Smuts
Era, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Report: Interpreting and Misinterpreting
Corporation, 2006, 111. the Promise of Airpower,” Maxwell AFB,
See The Genius of George Kenney Alabama: The School of Advanced Air
by Herman S. Wolk in Air Force and Space Studies, April 2007.
Magazine April 2002 and Airpower

Air/Land Integration in
the 100 Days: The Case
of Third Army

By Jonathan Boff

This essay examines RAF-Army co-operation during the Hundred Days

campaign of August - November 1918 in the sector of British Third Army. It
argues that, by focussing over much on the Battle of Amiens (8-11 August
1918), some historians have tended to suggest that the RAF’s contribution to
victory lay primarily as a ground attack force. This role was significant, but in
fact, as the campaign continued, a range of external constraints hindered the
ability of aircraft directly to impact ground operations. However, with military
aviation still at a highly experimental stage of development, new missions
and methods were continually evolving. The RAF managed change well and
played a wide range of roles in the campaign above and beyond direct close
battlefield support. Air-land integration had many dimensions, and German
records suggest that the importance of the RAF lay less in any one specific
mission than in the contribution it made to an apparently unstoppable British
combined arms machine.
Introduction stage of development’. The conduct

of air operations remained highly
he summer 2008 edition of this
dynamic and was characterised by
journal published an excellent
ongoing experimentation. Different
essay by Dr David Jordan
formations employed a variety of
which, having neatly summarised
the development of the Royal Air methods of close support provision.
Force (RAF) during the First World The RAF was also continually
War, focussed primarily on its direct expanding and refining its repertoire
provision of close ground support, of roles on the First World War
particularly to General Sir Henry battlefield. Thirdly, it explores
Rawlinson’s Fourth Army. Dr Jordan German perceptions of the impact of
argued that, despite some command British air operations. These suggest
and control problems, ‘the Hundred that the RAF’s contribution to victory
Days marked the point at which the can be seen less in specifics, such as
BEF was able to carry out effective the tonnage of bombs dropped in
Air/Land operations’ and that ‘the close air support, than in the larger
BEF and the RAF had developed an part the RAF played in the overall
extremely high degree of cooperation British combined arms effort. In other
that added considerably to the words, it lay in Air/Land integration
potency of the BEF as the war drew interpreted in the broadest sense.
to a close’.1 Commanded by General Sir Julian
Fourth Army is probably the best- Byng, descendant of both the ill-
known of the five British armies starred admiral and a Waterloo
which took part in the ‘advance to brigade commander, Third Army
victory’ of autumn 1918. The Battle advanced some 60 miles between
of Amiens, in particular, dominates 21 August and 11 November. It
the historiography of the Hundred launched major set-piece attacks on
Days. J.C. Slessor’s influential book 21 and 23 August, followed by days
‘Air Power and Armies’, for example, of scrappy fighting around Bapaume
has much to say about Amiens, but until the Germans retreated to the
pays little attention to the application Hindenburg Line on 3 September.
of air power thereafter.2 This article On 27 September Third Army, as
concentrates primarily on the RAF’s partof Marshal Foch’s carefully
work with Third Army, Rawlinson’s coordinated offensive all along
neighbour to the north, during the the Western Front, assaulted the
Hundred Days. It broadly reinforces Hindenburg Line. Again, several
Dr Jordan’s conclusions but also days of confused combat ensued
casts a slightly different light on before the Germans fell back to
RAF - Army cooperation during this the Beaurevoir Line southwest of
period. Specifically, it first points Cambrai. This line was breached
out that as the campaign unfolded by another deliberate assault on 8
a range of constraints increasingly October, compelling the Germans
inhibited the RAF’s ability directly to to withdraw behind the River Selle.
impact ground operations. Secondly, By now, logistics were proving
it develops Dr Jordan’s point that air troublesome and preparations for
power in 1918 remained ‘at its earliest the next push took time. The British
carried out an audacious crossing of joined. A reorganization transferred
the Selle on 20 October, followed by some squadrons into a newly formed
another large-scale planned attack Ninetieth Wing under Lieutenant
three days later, in the face of which Colonel G.W.P. Dawes. Other units
the Germans again recoiled. The last were attached from time to time as
enemy defensive position, running required, most notably including the
north-south through the western American 17 and 148 Squadrons.
edge of Le Quesnoy, was broken on 4
Three external constraints worked
November and Third Army pursued
hindered air operations in the
the Germans eastward, liberating
Hundred Days. The first was weather.
Maubeuge on 10 November. When
Early morning fog was a particular
the Armistice took effect, cavalry
problem. For example, aircraft due
had penetrated a few miles
to support Third Army’s first major
inside Belgium.
attack of the campaign, scheduled
Throughout the campaign, Third for 04.55 hours on 21 August, were
Army enjoyed the support of III unable to take off before 10.00.3 This
Brigade RAF under Brigadier- prevented planned dawn attacks
General Charles Longcroft, later first on enemy aerodromes as well as
commandant of the RAF College at delaying direct air support to ground
Cranwell. In August 1918 III Brigade troops. Number 73 Squadron had
was made up of a balloon wing and of been specially tasked with targeting
two aeroplane wings with 197 aircraft enemy anti-tank guns to help the
in all. Twelfth (Corps) Wing, under attacking armour, but by the time it
Lieutenant Colonel A.B. Burdett, was was over the battlefield, most tank
equipped with 61 R.E.8 two-seaters operations had already finished.
in three squadrons: numbers 12, 15 Over the days that followed, cloud
and 59. Number 13 Squadron joined prevented day bombing from altitude
during the Hundred Days. Each on several occasions, although close
squadron was attached to an army ground support missions could
corps for liaison and artillery spotting sometimes be flown. Number 3
work. Thirteenth (Army) Wing, led Squadron spent at least 203 hours
by Lieutenant Colonel (later Air on ground attack between 21 and 30
Marshal) P.H.L. Playfair, mustered
August, despite two days completely
136 aircraft, of which the Sopwith
lost to poor weather.4 As the autumn
Camel, Sopwith Dolphin and S.E.5a
closed in, this problem inevitably
machines of numbers 3, 56, 60 and
grew. Although only two days in
87 Squadrons were responsible for
September were complete washouts,
air superiority and close air support.
flying was impossible on ten in
Number 57 Squadron’s D.H.4s
October and every day in November
were used for bombing by day, the
except the first and fourth of the
F.E.2bs of number 102 Squadron for
month.5 The chart on the opposite
bombing by night, while number 11
page top shows how air support fell
Squadron flew reconnaissance in
as autumn advanced.6
Bristol Fighters. In the course of the
campaign, Playfair was replaced by A good example of the impact
Lieutenant Colonel A.J.L. Scott, and weather could have on operations
numbers 201 and 210 Squadrons is given by the counter-battery
24 October, and VI Corps
artillery could engage only
eleven targets in support of
the 23 October attack.10
The second major constraint
was opposition from
the German air service.
At Amiens on 8 August
about half all British
fighters available had
been allocated to ground
artillery effort. Perhaps the most attack. The violence of the German
complex of the new techniques of war fighter response, however, took the
developed between 1914 and 1918, it RAF by surprise and contributed to
incorporated a range of brand new the outright loss of 45 aircraft, with
technologies which included sound- another 52 written off. Generalleutnant
ranging, flash-spotting and, of course, Ernst von Hoeppner, commander of
the aeroplane, used both to identify the German air service, considered
hostile gun positions and to spot for 8 August his most successful day
friendly artillery engaging them. In of the war.11 The rate of wastage of
low flying British aircraft on that one
the run-up to the 21 August offensive,
day was 23 per cent.12 Clearly more
the British identified 86 German
fighter cover was required, and never
artillery emplacements in the sector
again was such a high proportion
opposite VI Corps alone; 70% of the
of air assets tasked with ground
heavy artillery effort was devoted
support. In Third Army on 21 August
to their neutralization.7 On the day
three squadrons of fighters, from an
of the attack, number 11 Squadron
available fourteen, were deployed in
called in destructive shoots on four
this role; this was reduced to just one
hostile batteries and neutralising
for the Hindenburg Line attack on
fire on seven others. Three other
27 September and for the last major
targets were engaged for effect, and
assault on 4 November. Thus, where
the positions of another 34 batteries
Amiens had seen a concentration of
reported. Another good example
some twelve fighters per mile of front
is the work of Lieutenants Griffin
on ground attack, this figure fell to
and Knox (number 15 Squadron)
four on 21 August and thereafter to a
who ranged 48 rounds onto ‘hostile
little over one.
battery XW.9’, causing three large
explosions and one fire. Balloons also The German air threat remained
helped direct fire onto two German potent until the end of the war.
batteries, and located another eleven.8 30 October, indeed, saw ‘the most
Similarly, for the 27 September intense day of air fighting which the
attack the RAF helped identify war had provided’, accounting for 67
70 counter-battery targets for VI German and 41 British machines.13
Corps.9 Inclement weather, however, Four factors underpinned this threat.
rendered counter-battery flying First, the Fokker D.VII, fitted with
almost impossible in the week ending a 185 horse power BMW engine,
remained superior to any British Third Army made final preparations
fighter.14 Secondly, experienced aces for the next day’s assault on the
like Ernst Udet were still at work: he Hindenburg Line, for example, IV
recorded his 60th kill on 23 August.15 Reservekorps warned that its aircraft
Thirdly, although morale was rapidly were finding it impossible to gain
deteriorating in the German army, any view of the British rear areas
there is no evidence of this problem as a result of particularly strong
affecting the air service.16 The fourth British defensive patrols. Three days
and most important factor, however, later, the same unit complained that
was that throughout the campaign between 30 and 50 British machines
the Germans managed to offset had blocked all attempts to head
strategic numerical inferiority with west at every altitude, destroyed two
an impressive display of operational German aeroplanes and two balloons,
flexibility, rapidly shifting fighters to and prevented any warning of that
where they were most needed. Thus, morning’s attack.19
for example, one fighter wing based
The third constraint on RAF influence
near Laon flew 150 kilometres to
lay in the area of tank cooperation.
Cambrai one morning in September,
The destruction of anti-tank guns
spent the day supporting a German
was, as Dr Jordan pointed out, a
counter-attack there, returned home
high priority, to which number
in the evening, and was in action
73 Squadron was permanently
again over Laon the next day.17
dedicated from 21 August on,
Given the vulnerability of First World while number 8 Squadron carried
War aircraft to even small-arms fire, it out liaison duties with the tanks.
would be unsurprising if RAF fighter However, where in August almost
pilots preferred air-to-air, rather than all tanks had been concentrated
air-to-ground, missions. It should to attack with one army, when the
also be remembered, however, that offensive widened in September
air superiority operations still had all five British armies wanted to
a direct and positive impact on the employ them simultaneously and
ground fighting. Obviously they they became more dispersed. The
enabled other, more offensive, RAF specialist squadrons could not be
work, including ground attack, but everywhere and neither number
they also severely restricted effective 8 nor number 73 Squadron fought
German defence. German indirect in the Third Army sector after 24
artillery relied heavily on balloons for August. Less experienced squadrons
observation, and a high priority every had to try to fill the gap. At the same
morning was to drive those balloons time as demand for tanks increased,
down. Number 3 Squadron was given their supply fell due to heavy losses.
special responsibility for this on 27 By 20 October 55% of the tanks
September, for instance.18 Further, and 44% of tank crews which had
by denying hostile aeroplanes the begun the campaign in August had
freedom to roam over British lines, become casualties.20 So, where Third
the RAF prevented reconnaissance Army had the use of 156 tanks on 21
of movements behind the British August, it commanded just eleven on
front which might give warning 4 November. As the importance of
of an attack. On 26 September, as tanks declined, so too did that of the
RAF in the tank support function. 27 September. The infantry were
to watch out for these patrols and
These three factors combined
signal their position by flare, panel,
significantly to reduce the impact of
or reflective disc.25 Aircraft had a
the RAF as the campaign wore on.
marked speed advantage over other
We can also see, however, quite how
forms of communication while an
well integrated the RAF already was
attack was underway. It might take
into the entire British combined arms
hours to extend telephone and
machine. Only when the aviation
telegraph networks to advancing
element was operating at full power
troops. Runners got lost or became
were the other arms able to do the
casualties. Even in fair weather, a
same. This becomes even clearer if we
pigeon took 55 minutes on average to
consider some of the other functions
make its way home. Wirelesses were
carried out by the RAF during the
in short supply and cumbersome,
Hundred Days.
were rarely deployed forward of
The first and most important of these brigade headquarters, and were a
was as what Martin van Creveld has new medium to which all were still
termed the ‘directed telescope’ of becoming accustomed. Poor signals
command, allowing senior generals discipline resulted in wireless
to gather intelligence direct from messages taking an average 40
the front, bypassing the established minutes to get through. News
chain of command.21 This took two brought by contact patrols, on
main forms. First, aircraft carried out the other hand, was generally
reconnaissance, both photographic only 24 minutes out of date.26 As
and real-time, to determine enemy operations became more fluid and
dispositions and movements. III communications consequently
Brigade took 12,405 photographs ever harder, the utility of these
during the campaign.22 Aircraft grew. Indeed, by 2 October, corps
warned of impending German squadrons were being ordered,
counter-attacks and called in artillery before they went searching for
shoots to break them up, as they did German artillery, to locate British
for 63rd Division at Anneux on 27 gun positions.27
September.23 Similarly, if aeroplanes
Secondly, in the course of August
spotted an enemy withdrawal, British
Third Army received a flight of
units could be directed to follow up.
Bristol Fighters, specially equipped
Third Army orders on 3 September
with wireless and tasked with long
were: ‘from aeroplane reports the
range observation. Their job was to
enemy appears to have withdrawn
spot for the heavy artillery firing
opposite the fronts of V Corps, IV
on targets, such as communication
Corps and VI Corps. Corps will
nodes, over 10,000 yards behind
pursue the enemy….’ 24 Secondly,
the line. This fire had previously, of
and no less importantly, the RAF told
necessity, been unobserved.28
commanders the location and status
of friendly forces through ‘contact A third, more experimental, role
patrols’. Number 13 Squadron, for was the air supply of infantry. In late
example, flew five of these patrols for August, corps squadrons dropped
XVII Corps at set intervals throughout between 30,000 and 60,000 rounds of
small arms ammunition each day.29 against the Hindenburg Line in
The true impact of this air supply is late September. All three adopted
hard to quantify. Infantrymen different approaches. I Brigade (First
generally carried 120 rounds per Army) allocated five squadrons to
man into action, so 60,000 would only ground support and specified targets
restock 500 men, or about a battalion. for their first patrol. Thereafter, all
On the other hand, a small amount five squadrons landed at Le Hameau
of ammunition at a critical time can aerodrome. A single specially
prove decisive, and air supply offered detailed officer (Major B.E. Smythies)
speedy delivery. For instance, two here commanded them, allotting
infantry companies, surrounded near targets and priorities on the basis
Miraumont on 24 August, managed to of information received from First
hold out until relieved after number Army’s Central Information Bureau.32
15 Squadron dropped them boxes of V Brigade (Fourth Army), as Dr Jordan
ammunition and a (equally welcome?) explained, used a similar system.33
message of encouragement from the The approach of III Brigade (Third
corps commander.30 Army) was more laissez-faire. Only
number 201 Squadron was dedicated
Experimentation continued also
to ground attack and, instead of
in relatively well-established
having specified objectives for its
functions of the RAF. One example
first patrol, it was left to find its own
was air-to-air tactics. The Germans
targets of opportunity. Number
were sending up patrols of 20-40
201 Squadron then landed at an
aircraft at irregular intervals during
advanced landing ground and
the day. The smaller, more or less
came under direct control of the
continuous, British patrols were
Thirteenth Wing commander, who
thus finding themselves either in a
allocated subsequent targets. At the
sky empty of potential targets, or in
same time, however, another three
danger of being overwhelmed. On
squadrons carrying out offensive
22 September, therefore, Brigadier-
patrols were free to attack any ground
General Longcroft ordered a change.
target which took their fancy.34 It is
Offensive patrols were thenceforth to
impossible now to quantify how far
be conducted at least two squadrons
this less coherent effort undermined
strong, generally with S.E.5s or
coordination of fires both within
Dolphins above and Camels below.
the RAF and between aircraft and
Within each squadron, different
artillery, but it does seem reasonable
flights were also to operate at
to conclude that no single doctrine
different altitudes.31 The result was
applied across all the British armies.
a Luftsperre (‘aerial barricade’) which
We should not underestimate
the Germans, as we have already
the extent to which the RAF was
seen, found so frustrating.
grappling not only with new and
The second area to see ongoing rapidly evolving technology, but also
experimentation was air-to-ground with an extremely dynamic battlefield
support. This is best seen in the close environment. Every British innovation
support effort for the offensives met a German response which forced
launched by three different armies, further change, and vice versa. In this
supported by their RAF brigades, atmosphere of continual experiment,
it is not surprising that different units, intelligence-gathering and artillery
facing different challenges, sometimes spotting. The air superiority thus
evolved different approaches. gained, however, could also be turned
to more offensive usesFirst of these
In the course of the Hundred Days III
was ground attack. Offensive patrols
Brigade RAF flew nearly 32,000 hours
which found themselves unopposed
of combat missions, fired millions of
by German aircraft were free to turn
machine-gun rounds and dropped
their attention to enemy ground
over 19,000 25-pound, and 1,700
troops. IV Reservekorps complained on
112-pound, bombs. It claimed 352
26 September that it had insufficient
German aircraft and twelve balloons
fighters to prevent British ground
destroyed.35 This impressive output
attack, and on 3 October that its
demonstrates the effort made by
infantry and artillery were being
the RAF during the campaign, as do
strafed and bombed by groups of
the high casualty rates. Number 57
upto 40 British fighter-bombers.
Squadron, for example, had over 100
This was not a new problem for the
per cent battle casualties in August,
Germans.38 As early as 21 August,
September and October, losing 24
Generalkommando 54 noted that
pilots and 30 observers.36 To judge the
‘enemy air activity was extraordinarily
success of this effort, however,
heavy, great numbers of low-flying
we need to examine it from the
aeroplanes continuously strafed our
German perspective. In the absence
defensive positions and attacked our
of hard data on casualties directly
troops and balloons with machine-
caused, let alone on the extent to
guns and bombs’.39
which enemy tactical and operational
mobility was impaired by RAF Secondly, RAF interdiction operated
interdiction, this therefore needs to be in three zones. While fighter-bombers
somewhat impressionistic. swept roads immediately behind the
front, the bombing squadrons of III
First, there is some evidence that the
Brigade concentrated on villages,
Germans found British fliers ‘even
roads and bridges slightly further
more annoying and enterprising’ than
back and bombers from IX Brigade
French airmen. Generalleutnant Curt
(Brigadier-General R.E.T. Hogg,
von Morgen moved from a sector
under the direct command of RAF
opposite the French to command
HQ) attacked railway stations deep
XIV Reservekorps facing Third Army
behind the lines. Thus, during the
in late August. He noted that, where
night of 26/27 September, III Brigade
the French bombed only by night, the
dropped one and three quarter tons
RAF strafed and bombed marching
of bombs on villages four to five miles
troops and locations also by day. The
behind the line while IX Brigade
British flew even on cloudy days! In
attacked Busigny station, twenty miles
dog-fighting also, he considered the
back. This bombing, generally carried
British ‘bolder and more skilled’ than
out from 12,000 feet or higher, was
the French.37
inevitably inaccurate: Major-General
We have already noted the defensive J.M. Salmond, commander of the RAF
success achieved by Longcroft’s new in France, admitted that ‘an error of
strong patrols in late September, and 1,000 yards is not at all excessive’ even
the problems this caused for German in daylight.40 Nonetheless, judging
by the German records, the combined general effect on morale. On the
effect of RAF interdiction was at least whole, the German army explained
a serious irritant to the Germans. its defeat in 1918 in one of two
Both Heeresgruppe Boehn and ways. One was that the German
Armeeoberkommando 2 complained army itself was never conquered,
of strong enemy attacks on their but was betrayed by a collapse of
reinforcement and supply columns home front morale whipped up by
on 29 September, for example.41 Even Bolsheviks and pacifists. This ‘stab-
units moving in the dark were not in-the-back’ myth, first popularised
immune. Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 66 by Ludendorff but later notoriously
lost men and horses, and one exploited by the Nazis, deserves little
battery of a field artillery regiment serious consideration here.47 The
all its limbers, to night attacks.42 other explanation was that the army
There is evidence that the bombing was simply overwhelmed by the
of railway stations and junctions material superiority of Germany’s
caused problems, too. As early as 9 enemies.48 That the Germans were
September, blockages on the railways outnumbered and outgunned affected
were delaying ammunition trains.43 not only their physical capacity to
More dramatically, RAF bombs on resist, but also their moral ability to
1 October set fire to an ammunition do so. As the German official history
train at Aulnoye, a particularly explained, ‘everyone recognized that
important junction through which all on one side enemy strength in men
traffic west of the Ardennes flowed.44 and matériel was growing, while on
the other our own was declining.
Important as all the direct physical As hope of victory declined, the will
effects of RAF operations seem to to fight also began to flag’.49 The
have been, however, the moral effects inability of the German air service
were perhaps even greater. First, the to disrupt the large numbers of
RAF had a direct impact on German British aeroplanes overhead not only
morale. The pace of operations exposed the defending infantry to
was such that the ever-weaker more accurate artillery fire but was
German infantry divisions had only also demoralizing in its own right.50
rare chances to rest and integrate The RAF played an important role in
replacements. The RAF, by raiding continually reinforcing the German
German rear areas, was able to sense of material inferiority, and so
maintain pressure even on units out hopelessness, which contributed to
of the line. So, for instance, 1 Garde- the collapse of resistance.
Reserve-Regiment claimed to have had
This essay has argued that, important
only three days of rest between 5
as the ground attack role was, the
August and 11 November, and that it
RAF in fact played a wide range
had been under enemy air attack even
of parts during the Hundred Days
then.45 It is not surprising that on 1
in the face of a variety of serious
November Armeeoberkommando 2
challenges. As those challenges
reported the regiment’s parent
evolved, so too did the conduct of
division ‘not mission-capable’, the
air operations. Experimentation and
lowest of four possible ratings.46
change remained key features of the
Secondly, air operations had a more RAF experience to the end of the war,
as did ever closer integration into 8
III Brigade Weekly Summaries
every part of the British combined of Work, 28 December 1917 -
arms machine. Some historians 11 November 1918, TNA AIR
have suggested that the key to 1/1518/204/58/65.
British victory was the discovery and 9
Counter Battery VI Corps Operation
application of a set combined arms Order No. 5, 25 September, 2nd
‘formula for success’.51 Nowhere Division General Staff War Diary,
is this less true than in the case of TNA WO 95/1302.
air/land integration, which had to 10
Weekly Report on Operations, week
respond to ever-changing situations ending 24 October, IV Corps General
on the ground and in the sky, all Staff War Diary, TNA WO 95/718;
while grappling with new technology. Counter Battery VI Corps Operation
Only if we see the Royal Air Force of Order No. 3, 22 October, VI Corps
1918 both in the context of this highly Commander Heavy Artillery War
dynamic environment, and as an Diary, TNA WO 95/789.
integral part of the combined arms 11
Ernst von Hoeppner, Deutschlands
effort, can we see its achievements Krieg in der Luft: Ein Rückblick auf die
in full perspective. Entwicklung und die Leistungen unserer
Heeres-Luftstreitkräfte im Weltkriege
Notes (Leipzig: K.F. Koehler, 1921), p. 174.
David Jordan, ‘The Royal Air Force H.A. Jones, The War in the Air:
and Air/Land Integration in the 100 Being the Story of the Part Played
Days’, Air Power Review Volume 11, in the Great War by the Royal Air
Number 2, pp. 12-29: pp. 27, 28. Force 1914-1918 Volume VI (Oxford:
J.C. Slessor, Air Power and Armies Clarendon Press), pp. 445-446.
(London: Oxford University Press, Ibid., p. 544.
1936). Ibid., p. 445.
3 15
The 24 hour clock has been used Armeeoberkommando 2, evening
here for consistency’s sake, although report 23 August, Heeresgruppe
the British army did not adopt it Boehn War Diary, Bundesarchiv-
until 1 October 1918. All dates here Militärarchiv, Freiburg (BA-MA) PH
are 1918, unless otherwise specified. 5 I/47.
German units are italicized. For the interesting debate about
Number 3 Squadron War Diary, The exactly how and when German army
National Archives, Kew (TNA) AIR morale crumbled, see Alexander
1/166/15/142/19. Watson, Enduring the Great War:
Ibid. Combat, Morale and Collapse in
III Brigade Weekly Summaries the German and British Armies,
of Work, 28 December 1917 - 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge
11 November 1918, TNA AIR University Press, 2008), chapter 6.
1/1518/204/58/65. Hoeppner, Deutschlands Krieg in der
Counter Battery Map, 21 August, Luft, pp. 172-173.
VI Corps General Staff War Diary, Special Operation Order No.
TNA WO 95/774; VI Corps Artillery 12, 24 September, Thirteenth
Narrative, 21 August - 11 November, Wing Operation Orders, TNA AIR
VI Corps General Staff War Diary, 1/1808/204/161/4.
TNA WO 95/775. Situation Report Ia Nr 356, 26
September, and Summary of 33
Jordan, ‘The Royal Air Force and
Intelligence on 29 September, Ic, Air/Land Integration’, pp. 24-25;
dated 30 September; entry for 29 Jones, The War in the Air, pp. 524-526.
September: all in IV. Reservekorps 34
Special Operation Order No.
Generalkommando War Diary, BA-MA 12, 24 September, Thirteenth
PH 6/II/23. Wing Operation Orders, TNA AIR
G.S. 59/4, 29 October, Report by 1/1808/204/161/4.
Major-General H.J. Elles, Liddell 35
III Brigade Weekly Summaries
Hart Centre for Military Archives, of Work 28 December 1917 –
King’s College London (LHCMA) 11 November 1918, TNA AIR
Fuller I/7/17. 1/1518/204/58/65.
Martin Van Creveld, Command in 36
Number 57 Squadron
War (Cambridge: Harvard University Miscellaneous Returns, TNA AIR
Press, 1985), p. 75. 1/1500/204/39/15.
III Brigade Weekly Summaries 37
Morgen, Curt von, Meiner Truppen
of Work, 28 December 1917 - Heldenkämpfe (Berlin: Ernst Siegfried
11 November 1918, TNA AIR Mittler und Sohn, 1920),p. 154.
1/1518/204/58/65. 38
Situation Reports Ia Nr 356, 26
Narrative of Operations, 27 September, and. Ia Nr 432, 3 October,
September - 2 October, 63rd IV. Reservekorps Generalkommando War
Division General Staff War Diary, Diary, BA-MA PH 6/II/23.
TNA WO 95/3097. 39
Generalkommando 54 War Diary, BA-
Telegram G.B. 114, 10.08 hours 3 MA PH 6 V/68.
September, Third Army Operations, 40
Memorandum on Bombing
TNA WO 158/227. Operations, June 1918, reproduced in
The Western Front – Air Operations Jones, The War in the Air, Appendices
May - November 1918, TNA AIR Volume, p. 112.
1/677/21/13/1887, p.250. Heeresgruppe Boehn War
Narrative of Operations, 21-25 Diary, BA-MA PH 5 I/47;
August, 1st Tank Brigade HQ War Armeeoberkommando 2 War Diary, BA-
Diary, TNA WO 95/99. MA PH 5 II/124.
27 42
Third Army Artillery Instructions Lademann, Ulrich, Das 3.
No. 44, G.O. 59, 2 October, Third Army Magdeburgische Infanterie-Regiment Nr.
Operations, TNA WO 158/228. 66 (Berlin: Gerhard Stalling, 1922), p.
The Western Front – Air Operations 85; Geyer, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr.
May - November 1918, TNA AIR 225 (Oldenburg: Gerhard Stalling,
1/677/21/13/1887, p. 76. 1923), p. 211.
29 43
Ibid., p. 195. Heeresgruppe Boehn War Diary, BA-
History of Number 15 Squadron, MA PH 5 I/47.
TNA AIR 1/166/15/153/1. Armeeoberkommando 2 War Diary,
Jones, The War in the Air, pp. BA-MA PH 5 II/124.
506-507. Brederlow, Tido von, Geschichte des 1.
This system had first been used Garde-Reserve-Regiments (Oldenburg:
on 26 August. The Western Front – Gerhard Stalling, 1929), p. 336.
Air Operations May - November Report Ia 6/XI, 1 November:
1918, TNA AIR 1/677/21/13/1887, pp. Untersuchungsausschuss der
252, 198. Deutschen Verfassunggebenden
Nationalversammlung und des Deutschen
Reichstages 1919-1926, ‘Die Ursachen
des Deutschen Zusammenbruchs im Jahre
1918’, Volume VI (Berlin: Deutsche
Verlagsgesellchaft für Politik und
Geschichte, 1928), p. 336.
See Wilhelm Deist, ‘The Military
Collapse of the German Empire:
The Reality Behind the Stab-in-the-
Back Myth’, War in History Volume 3,
Number 2 (April 1996), pp. 186-207.
See, for example, Morgen, Meiner
Truppen Heldenkämpfe, pp. 147-148.
German Army Military History
Research Section, Der Weltkrieg 1914
bis 1918: Die Militärische Operationen
zu Lande Band 14: Die Kriegführung
an der Westfront im Jahre 1918 (Berlin:
Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn,
1944), p. 759.
Viereck, Helmut, Das Heideregiment
Königlich Preußisches 2. Hannoversches
Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 77 im Weltkriege
1914 – 1918 (Celle: August Pohl, 1934),
p. 610; Brandis, Cordt von, Die vom
Douaumont: Das Ruppiner Regiment 24
im Weltkrieg (Berlin: Tradition Wilhelm
Kolk, 1930), p. 461.
Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson,
Command on the Western Front:
The Military Career of Sir Henry
Rawlinson 1914-18 (Oxford: Blackwell,
1992), p. 289.

‘Building a Good Instrument’:

Assessing the likely characteristics
of Future conflicts and their
implications for the air component

By Wg Cdr Helen Miller

Trying to predict the nature of future warfare is fraught with difficulty. The
recent emergence of non-traditional adversaries, an exponential change in
technologies, increasing globalisation, economic interdependence and the
economic downturn have all served to cloud the picture. This paper outlines
the possible causes and several projected models of future conflict and
discusses its probable characteristics, before exploring the utility of the air
component in the most likely future scenario - irregular conflict.
The paper concludes that, given the likely characteristics of future conflict,
the air component will remain important, seeing an evolution of the way
it is currently utilised. This will mean a requirement to fight across the
spectrum of warfare, utilising air power’s strengths and characteristics and
developing mastery of the intellectual dimension in order to facilitate cultural
understanding of potential opponents and to enhance the ability of air
component personnel to think in terms of the strategic level of conflict which
their actions at the tactical and operational levels may influence.
‘A man who wants to make a good and the rapidly evolving global
instrument must first have a precise environment militate against longer-
understanding of what the instrument term predictions. The focus will be
is to be used for; and he who intends on both the UK and US Air Forces,
to build a good instrument of war although where it is relevant, other
must first ask himself what the next nations’ uses of their air component
war will be like’ will also be discussed. The US Air
General Giulio Douhet, 1928. Force (USAF) has brigaded ‘Air’,
‘Space’ and ‘Cyberspace’ together
Introduction as stated in their mission statement,

rying to predict what will ‘…to deliver sovereign options for
constitute future warfare is the defense of the United States of
fraught with difficulties. The America and its global interests -
recent past has seen the emergence to fly and fight in Air, Space, and
of non-traditional adversaries, an Cyberspace.‘2 However, that is not
exponential change in technologies, true of all air forces, or indeed air
increasing globalisation, economic components, and so this paper only
interdependence and the inevitable considers both space and cyberspace
economic downturn all serving to when it is relevant to the discussion of
cloud the picture. Given the likely the air component generally.
characteristics of future conflict, there
will continue to be As Colin Gray observes, ‘It is more
a role for the air component, and than 100 years since Wilbur and
this role is likely to be an evolution Orville Wright achieved the first
of the way it is currently utilised, not sustained heavier-than-air flight,
least because platforms procured and those years have been liberal
today could be in service for the in providing a host of opportunities
next 30 years. That there will be for airpower to demonstrate its
conflict in the future, is almost contemporary prowess.’3 Air
certain, for, as Gray suggests, Commodore Paul Colley notes that,
humankind has yet to demonstrate ‘…the wider utility of air power in
that, ‘…(it) is in the process of curing irregular warfare is less obviously
itself of the habit of war.’1 clear.’4 Nevertheless, the air
component is a force-multiplier, and
This paper outlines the possible in the future is likely to remain so
causes, and exploring several providing the intellectual dimension
projected models of future conflict, is there to support it.
discusses the probable characteristics
of future conflict, before exploring The UK’s Defence Concepts and
the most likely utility of the air Doctrine Centre (DCDC) suggests
component in the most likely future that the greatest risk of large-scale
scenario – irregular conflict - towards conflict will come from those areas
the end. Here, relevant factors where there is a history of recurring
such as training and education for conflict, where there is demonstrable
airmen and procurement issues for economic hardship, demographic
air platforms will be covered. This and environmental stresses and
paper only looks out to the 2030 where there is enduring inequality.5
timeframe, as advances in technology Challenges such as climate
change, transnational terrorism, historical slights and tensions
pandemic diseases, inequality and between different groups in society
globalisation, particularly with may be exacerbated and become
regard to the economy, are likely sources of confrontation, as has been
to have global effect. For DCDC, seen in areas as diverse as Africa and
the areas of change over which the Balkans in recent years.
conflict may occur in the future
Second, migration, which is likely
are set out within four key themes:
to increase, ‘…in response to
population and resources; identity
environmental pressures, deprivation
and interest; governance and order;
and the perception of economic
and knowledge and information.6
opportunities offered in towns and
First, population growth, resource
competition, urbanisation and cities, as well as in wealthier regions
changing demographics are all loosely and countries’, is a likely source of
related, and may lead to tensions, tension and potential confrontation.7
either singly, or in combination. Such migration is likely to lead to
Clearly, if global population levels increased urbanisation, whereby
grow, then it is not unreasonable populations congregate in cities
to assume that resources such as for reasons of employment or
water and energy will also be at a forced migration, and this will have
premium, and competition for them particular implications for the military
will increase. The trend towards should a conflict erupt, a point
societies in the developed world explored later in this paper. Forced
having an increasingly ageing migration caused by failed or failing
population, where health care and states also has military connotations,
lifestyle have had a positive effect for not least through the mixing of
increased life-expectancy, present combatants with non-combatants and
funding challenges in those nations all that this means for the use of force.
which may impact upon defence International organised crime is
expenditure. Here, funds that could forecast to expand with emerging
be used on defence budgets may have markets, increased profitability
to be diverted to health and social and volume.8 The implications for
care as the result of pressure from the air component derive from the
voters, with possible adverse effects ability of criminals to gain ever more
on overall levels of defence spending. sophisticated means to protect their
In other areas of the world, where trade. In Colombia, for example,
societal conditions militate against drug production and trafficking
long life, and where inequalities (both is protected by the Revolutionary
real and perceived) can lead to bloody Armed Forces of Colombia, which
and brutal conflicts, there exists a operate freely within a huge
‘youth bulge’, where the majority of demilitarised zone that was set up in
the population is less than 25 years 1998 in the South of the country.9 If
of age. This bulge may cause conflict, this type of sophisticated illicit activity
given the potential lack of gainful with significant military capability
employment, and sufficient social increases, counter strategies will
infrastructure for these people to live need to be developed across all
their lives. Furthermore, perceived components. The ability for an
opponent engaging in this type of chameleon-like in order to adapt to
activity to deny the air component their circumstances reflexively.
control of the air is a real threat,
Some theorists argue that the
and one that would require the
likelihood of future major interstate
capabilities to provide traditional
wars is slim for the next 30 years
air surveillance and the suppression
or so. For Rupert Smith there is no
or destruction of the enemy’s air
doubt: ‘It is now time to recognize
defences, even if these are limited to
that a paradigm shift in war has
man-portable systems.
undoubtedly occurred…the old
One of the most militarily significant paradigm was that of interstate
factors for the future is likely to industrial war. The new one is
be the demand for new energy the paradigm of war amongst the
sources. There may be a need for a people…’11
well-funded research programme
Lind, Schmitt and Wilson contend
by governments to seek alternative
that future war will not be a trinity
fuels for their military capabilities.
between the Government, the Army
The demand for dwindling stocks of
and the People, but like in the past,
hydrocarbons is also likely to
wars will be fought between groups,
continue to cause conflict in the
not states.12 They argue that, ‘the
future, such as that caused by Iraq’s
nation state is losing its monopoly
invasion of Kuwait in 1990 for,
on war, and its hold on its citizens’
(amongst other reasons) control
loyalty, in a growing portion of the
of disputed oilfields spanning the
world…when it loses the ability
common border. Will climate change
(or perceived ability) to do that, it
also drive the air component to
will lose the loyalty of the people…
invest in technologies that move
(they) will transfer to whatever
away from hydrocarbons in favour
organizations can protect them’
of biofuels or other forms of energy?
and suggest that this is particularly
The USAF, for example is certifying its
true in parts of the world such as
fleet to use biofuels in order to reduce
the Middle-East, Asia and Africa,
its reliance on traditional supplies.10
where the nation state has rarely
It is clear that a great many factors had the same degree of loyalty from
could influence the characteristics of its population as has been seen in
future conflict, but it is unsurprising the western world.13 This presents
that there is no consensus of what many complications for armed
the most significant characteristics forces, particularly those engaged
will be. It is clear that key decision- in intervention operations, and is
makers would be imprudent to particularly challenging for the air
ignore the possibility of participation component which may be called
in conflict across the spectrum of upon to achieve a number of desired
warfare - from high to low intensity, effects through exploitation of its
from major peer competitor, in nuclear perceived utility in the domains of
or conventional war, to irregular deterrence and coercion without
warfare. For the air component, this being able to target clearly defined
range of possibilities means that its centres of political or military
constituent forces will need to be significance with the facility that it
has in previous conflicts, such as that breaks the prevailing paradigm), this
in Kosovo in 1999. could in and of itself be a catalyst for
future conflict.
The DCDC suggests that, in the 2007-
2036 timeframe: There is every sign that conflicts and
Major interstate wars will be unlikely, crises in the future, will be complex
because of the increasing economic and sometimes unpredictable, with
interdependence of states in a the methods employed by belligerents
globalized economy and the need to becoming increasingly irregular.18
confront the symptoms of a challenging The IISS also recognises that potential
range of transnational problems, opponents of the United States have:
which will enhance the requirement for …taken note of US conventional
cooperative governance and action.14 superiority and acted to dislocate
However, even since the publication it. Non-state actors… developed
of that statement in 2006, there ‘asymmetric’ approaches that allowed
have been indications that state them to side-step US military power
on state and intra-state warfare - either by rendering it functionally
can not be easily disregarded as irrelevant, or by operating in
a possibility. The recent Russian environments where the US cannot
invasion of Georgia in 2008 is a brings its conventional superiority
case in point. Russian tactics that to bear.19
combined conventional force with Frank Hoffman argues that, "Irregular
cyberwarfare to disable Georgian warfare” is inspired by the ideologies
command and control underscored that spawned Islamist terrorism and
the range of threats.15 Flexibility Osama bin Laden…’ and ‘Irregular
of attitude by all components warfare is a natural reaction
will be vital to addressing these to globalization and America’s
emergent challenges. Gray predicts overwhelming military superiority.’20
that while irregular conflict ‘may There are a number of theories that
well be the dominant mode in use a similar construct and describing
belligerency for some years to come’ future conflicts in which opponents
interstate war, with the possibility will use a multitude of approaches
of conflict between major powers, simultaneously with which to
‘will enjoy a healthy future.’16 It undermine an enemy - conventional
must be asked whether increasing
war, cyber-warfare against financial
state interdependence through the
or military targets, terrorism, the
globalized economy may not transpire
employment of biological agents and
as readily or as rapidly as predicted
given the current world economic
climate. It may be that states will To counter some of these threats,
wish to isolate themselves from the Hoffman suggests that America’s
international market in order to try military posture when deployed
and protect themselves from the should be ‘less direct and appear
downward spiral.17 If the global less intrusive’, where ‘maximum
economic downturn is viewed as a influence should be sought from a
‘strategic shock’ (an unexpected event minimum footprint’.22 This may have
that has strategic implications that implications for America’s allies in
general, and for the air component in to disrupt Coalition efforts in this
particular. In some scenarios, the air field and to remove the prospect
component’s footprint can be quite of popular support arising from
sizeable, given the need for aircraft the resulting improvements in
refuelling, flight maintenance and infrastructure and the concomitant
cargo-loading, which may militate increase in living standards.26 This
against the reduction of the size of the approach to conflict is very difficult
footprint of American and coalition for western armed forces, with a
forces. Conversely, air power’s focus on more conventional war-
inherent reach could also be used fighting operations, to counter, hence
to minimize in-Theatre basing as Hammes’ description of 4GW as,
evidenced by the USAF’s successful ‘America’s ‘Achilles Heel’.27
use of Diego Garcia to undertake air
missions in Afghanistan.23 The motivation for fighting a larger
and more powerful opponent in this
In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial fashion is highlighted by Hammes
Defense Review, the shift in terms of who observes: ‘Our opponents
future conflict has been recognised. know 4GW is the only kind of war
The report states that, ‘In the post- America has ever lost – and done
September 11 world, irregular warfare so three times: in Vietnam, Lebanon
has emerged as the dominant form and Somalia.’28 It appears that the
of warfare confronting the United enemies of the US are studying its
States.’24 The characteristics of tactics and using its past failures to
irregular future warfare have been good effect. Hammes suggests that
projected in varying ways by authors ‘the consistent defeat of major powers
such as T X Hammes, as well as by much weaker fourth-generation
Hoffman and Smith, and it is useful opponents makes it essential we
to analyse their thinking in order understand this new form of warfare
to consider how the air component and adapt accordingly.’29 This
might have to adapt to meet the suggests that a new mindset may
concomitant challenges. be required at all levels, and this
Hammes introduces the concept of thread of military education will be
‘fourth-generation war’ (4GW), as: ‘an developed below.
evolved form of insurgency…[that] Another key characteristic of 4GW is
uses all available networks – political, enemy use of the media to bombard
economic, social, and military – to the public with images of the
convince the enemy’s decision makers battlefield, in real time to raise the
that their strategic goals are either profile of their struggle.30 This aspect
unachievable or too costly for the
has been seen with particular clarity
perceived benefit.’25
in recent years, with the exploitation
In Iraq, for example, the insurgents of the media evolving from Saddam
believed that if the Coalition could Hussein’s rather crude attempts
raise the standard of living for at media manipulation during the
ordinary Iraqis, this would lead 1991 Gulf War to the much more
to its gaining popular support. effective harnessing of an array of
Consequently, insurgents attacked media technologies by insurgents in
economic or social targets in a bid both Iraq and Afghanistan in a bid to
make western societies question the they are developing the disruptive means
legitimacy of their involvement in the to blunt the impact of US power, narrow
conflicts in those countries. the United States’ military options,
and deny the US military freedom of
The final key characteristic of 4GW
movement and action.35
is that these conflicts tend to last
for decades as can be seen in the Hybrid means of conflict will
Vietnamese, Afghan/Soviet and surely be highly attractive to future
Palestinian conflicts. Hammes is opponents. Hoffman is convinced
convinced that opponents in 4GW that these means will develop rapidly,
can be beaten, though, but to achieve that opponents will build on their
success requires, ‘coherent, patient successes, and adapt to use high
action that encompasses all agencies tech means to improve their killing
of the government and the private methods. To add to the complexity,
sector.’31 Even with the effective hybrid attacks will capitalise on
integration of all these agencies, Western vulnerabilities, such as
the likely duration of this model of casualty aversion and the enduring
conflict presents serious challenges pursuit of no or low collateral
for western nations, particularly in damage. By drawing the fight into
maintaining sufficient public support urban and littoral areas, an opponent
for continued involvement. will seek to exploit these weaknesses
Developing the ideas of 4GW in the Western approach, drawing
further, Hoffman argues that, ‘future out the conflict, driving up costs and
contingencies will be more likely to sapping national will.37
present unique combinational or Hoffman predicts that future
hybrid threats that are specifically opponents will seek innovative ways
designed to target US vulnerabilities’ with which to fight - using technology
and that, ‘we can expect to face to seek advantages in unanticipated
competitors who will employ all ways, but fundamentally, an
forms of war and tactics, perhaps opponent who will ‘accept no rules
simultaneously.’32 In essence, a (on the battlefield)’.38 Other experts
hybrid threat combines conventional agree. Michael Evans notes that we
tactics with irregular ones, the may see a future where ‘…symmetric
use of terrorist acts and criminal and asymmetric wars merge and
activities, and this combination in which Microsoft coexists with
seeks to destabilise the opponent machetes and stealth technology is
and undermine the legitimacy of the met by suicide bombers.’39 Hoffman
host state.33 Hoffman argues that predicts future adversaries will
hybrid warfare complicates future
be found ‘blending high-tech
defence planning, though he does
capabilities, like anti-satellite
not believe that it replaces planning
weapons, with terrorism and cyber-
for conventional warfare.34 The US
warfare directed against financial
Secretary of State for Defence, Robert
targets.’40 Whilst this paper cannot
Gates observed:
cover the entire spectrum of cyber-
Other nations may be unwilling to warfare, it is relevant to note that it is
challenge the United States fighter to conceivable, even highly likely, that
fighter, ship to ship, tank to tank. But an adversary would seek to exploit
what Shaud refers to as our ‘reliance must therefore be reconsidered.
on cyberspace (which) has turned
The characteristics of future
a technological advantage into a
warfare will affect the way that
vulnerability…’41 It was precisely this
each component prepares itself to
vulnerability that Russia sought to
fight. Before the events of 9/11, and
exploit in its 2008 war with Georgia.42
the subsequent ‘War on Terror’ was
Smith takes a different tack. He launched, the preceding years had
argues that ‘wars amongst the people’ seen Western warfare waged from a
are literally that. He says, ‘…it is the distance - greater reliance on air and
reality in which the people in the maritime strike, rather than the use
streets and houses and fields - all the of ground forces.47 The problem with
people, anywhere - are the battlefield.’ this kind of approach, one informed
For Smith, the military must be by the idea of a ‘Revolution in Military
prepared to engage anywhere, and Affairs’, is that this was founded
civilians are the ‘objective to be on emerging technologies, and the
won’.43 For the air component serious need for pervasive surveillance and
difficulties arise when opponents information dominance, all of which
use the urban environment to shield were based on the assumption of
themselves. Air platforms, may find traditional target sets.48
it extremely difficult to maintain
In terms of shaping the armed
reference upon fleeting targets -
forces for future conflict, a balance
particularly fast jets, given their
of capabilities will be required
speed, operating height and turning
-. not only between the different
circles - even with the most capable of
components, but between the armed
sensor pods.44
forces and the other government
Smith concurs with Hammes and departments which contribute to
Hoffman that these types of conflicts nation building and stabilisation
tend to be long and drawn out, not through a form of cooperative
because of a lack of willingness from approach (formalised as the
the military to fight for a decisive Comprehensive Approach in the
(and quick victory), but because the UK). Secretary of State for Defence,
guerrilla, terrorist or insurgent, will Gates recently underlined this need
only fight at the time of his choosing.45 for balance by saying, ‘To truly achieve
Smith also argues that the fight must victory as Clausewitz defined it - to
be won by‘ capturing the will of the attain a political objective - the United
people’, by adapting and adapting States needs a military whose ability
again as a reaction to the enemy, who to kick down the door is matched by
is living amongst the people. The its ability to clean up the mess and
whole basis for success in such a even rebuild the house afterward.’49
campaign is an understanding that a
The IISS suggests that there will
military solution is not the answer - it
be a need for smaller, more agile
just sets the conditions to allow other
military teams which are, ‘deliberately
agencies to sustain the outcome.46
optimised for operations in complex,
Traditional air power paradigms that
urbanised, populated areas marked
foresee victory achieved through
by pervasive media presence and
bombing opponents into submission
globalised communications.’50 There bases) and by employing suitable
will almost certainly be a counter- tactics and countermeasures to
evolution by irregular opponents, mitigate the threats. Of the Summer
and the ability for regular forces 2006 conflict between the Israeli
to continue to adapt will remain Defence Force (IDF) and Hezbollah,
paramount. The air component will Hoffman comments that, ‘Hezbollah
therefore have to be ready to apply even managed to launch a few
effects or set decisive conditions armed UAVs that required the IDF
across the spectrum of warfare to adapt in order to detect them.55
from conventional state on state, or The implications of this are plain
high-end war right down to conflict to see. Not only does the ground
prevention and defence diplomacy. commander have to deal with the
As high-end war fighting is complexities of the hybrid threat,
comparatively well-understood within but the air commander does too.
the air component, only the area of Colley goes further and says that this
irregular conflict and the challenges conflict represented strategic failure
it presents for air will be explored in for Israel because there was failure
detail below. to deliver anticipated air power
for either strategic or operational
General T Michael Moseley, the
success, due to the inability of the
former USAF Chief of Staff, asserts
air component to find, track and
that, ‘No modern war has been won
engage fleeting targets amongst the
without air superiority. No future
wider population.56 This again serves
war will be won without air, space
to underline that there is a clear
and cyberspace superiority.’51 Colley
implication for the air component in
makes clear that air power has a
urban conflicts with respect to aerial
key role in irregular campaigns, and
targeting and surveillance.
distils its utility down to 4 key areas,
which are useful for this discussion: Moseley agrees, saying, ‘Airpower’s
Control of the Air; Rapid Mobility unprecedented lethality and
and Lift; Intelligence and Situational effectiveness deters opponents from
Awareness; and Coercion.52 For many massing on the battlefield, driving
control of the air is paramount in them to adopt distributed and
any kind of conflict, a fact long since dispersed operations.’57 Of course,
recognised by ground commanders. this actually makes things more
General Montgomery famously said, challenging for the air component
‘If we lose the war in the air, we lose and perversely leads to criticism over
the war, and we lose it very quickly.’53 the general utility of air power in
these operations. However, it is clear
The same is true in an irregular
that all components will need to find
conflict, where the lower airspace
new strategies to counter the tactics of
will often be besieged with small
new adversaries.
arms fire and man-portable air
defence weapons, leaving rotary When considering air for rapid
assets and slow fixed wing aircraft mobility and lift, the ability of the
vulnerable to attack.54 To some air component to support light and
extent this threat can be countered Special Forces with air lift (and
with force-protection (at operating battlefield evacuation) is likely
to continue to be paramount to irregular warfare,’ but he also warns,
a successful prosecution of any ‘planners and operators should
irregular campaign.58 The UK’s air not underestimate the potential for
component is successfully supporting unintended psychological effects on
land forces in Afghanistan and Iraq the population…’62 He acknowledges
in current operations in this manner, however, that the presence of air can
although many of the platforms have a psychologically lifting effect on
and trained crews are heavily over- its own ground forces.63
tasked. Any future decision maker
Turning to other areas, Gray
should invest in the types of air
identifies an obvious issue for the
capabilities that enable these light
and Special (Ground) Forces to be air component, although one that
inserted, carry out decisive missions could easily be overlooked, in that,
to secure ground, or to sustain them ‘combat aircraft…are…expected to
through precision air drops of vital remain in service - barring attrition
supplies.59 For intelligence gathering through combat and accident - for
and gaining situational awareness, thirty or forty years or even longer.’64
the air component is highly effective The same is clearly true for other
in irregular campaigns and this trend types of air-platform - helicopters,
should continue for future conflicts. air transport and UAVs. The
The ability to both identify and detect implications of this are clear - it will
individual objects or people by using not be possible to rapidly acquire new
the latest air and space technology capabilities at very short notice and
will continue to be in high demand the air component, certainly for the
with ever increasing exploitation UK, will have to fight in the air with
of technology to deliver and enable what it already possesses. Upgrades
commanders to gain the information and modernisation refits can extend
edge on any opponent.60 the life of today’s platforms still
further (the Canberra aircraft was
The air component has traditionally a prime example flying for over 50
played the coercion role well, albeit years with multiple upgrades to its
with some difficulties (such as during capabilities) and these will be key to
the Kosovo campaign in 1999)61 unlocking potential for dealing with
and the ability to provide a show emergent threats and adversaries.
of force, or to use precision attack
will continue to be relevant for any For future air component
future irregular conflicts. Of course, procurement, Gates stated that,
it will be easy for an opponent using ‘Given that resources are not
hybrid means to use these strengths unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging
against us, particularly where numbers for capability is perhaps
precision air strikes are necessarily reaching a point of diminishing
used in an urban environment. returns. A given ship or aircraft,
Images of an imprecise strike, such no matter how capable or well-
as those used against the IDF by equipped, can only be in one place
Hezbollah in the Summer of 2006 at one time.’65 The air component,
can seriously undermine an air like the others, will continue to be
campaign. Colley states that, ‘air constrained by the realities of the
weapons have undoubted utility for defence budget. Perhaps the solution,
as Gates contends, is that whilst that military doctrine needs to be
you can use high end equipment flexible and agile enough to adapt to
for low end warfare, ‘…the time changing circumstances, but he also
has come to consider whether the warns that, ‘…the nature of complex
specialized, often relatively low-tech insurgencies is that they are amoeba-
equipment well suited for stability like…dynamic…agile…insurgents,
and counterinsurgency missions is being thinking enemies, study our
also needed.’66 Others with recent doctrine.’72 On the organisational
operational experience in Afghanistan side, air components will need to
agree with this sentiment.67 Perhaps stay agile and use existing platforms
therefore, rather than concentrating in new and innovative ways whilst
solely on the equipment, the key to training alongside the other
unlocking airpower’s potential will be components to maximise chances of
by looking at the other (UK) Defence success, whatever the type of conflict.
Lines of Development.68
To conclude, predictions of the likely
First, looking at training and characteristics of future conflict are,
education, Moseley argues that at best, difficult. Whilst state on state
his airmen must be educated for conflicts cannot be ruled out, they
key joint leadership positions, in are not as likely to be the main area
skills such as potential opponent’s for conflict in the foreseeable future.
culture, language and defence The general consensus appears to
studies, in order to be, ‘…capable of be that future opponents will adopt
fully integrating and leveraging our irregular or hybrid campaigns,
distinctive (airpower) capabilities in designed to seek out vulnerabilities.
joint and coalition arenas.’69 It is not These are likely to be based on a
just the military who are turning to combination of factors that will seek
education and training. Gray says to undermine national will, by using
that, ‘Capable enemies who have techniques such as skilful information
studied the US style in warfare would campaigns, terrorism, and prolonged
be hugely motivated to reduce the conflicts, that are both costly in
American airpower advantage. Such a terms of funding and in the lives of
reduction might be achieved not only the military. For the air component,
by air defense but also by contesting this means a requirement to fight
the uses of space or cyberspace’.70 across the spectrum of warfare, whilst
The only tangible counter to this utilising airpower’s strengths and
is by educating military personnel characteristics to prosecute successful
across all components, and not just air campaigns in irregular conflicts.
at the tactical level. Air Commodore To do this, more low-end platforms
Subramaniam, Indian Air Force, may be necessary, especially those
warns that his nation’s airmen have capable of being a force-multiplier,
their training too skewed towards the such as battlefield helicopters,
tactical level, and suggests that, ‘… but the overall message for the air
in the furtherance of India’s strategic component is clear - the need to
objectives…training and thinking master the intellectual dimension -
(is needed) to fight strategically.’71 and educate the airmen to be able
Doctrine too needs to catch up. to think strategically and to develop
General Sir John Kiszely suggests cultural understanding of potential
opponents.73 The temptation for Gray, Colin. Another Bloody Century -
air components to do what they Future Warfare. London: Phoenix, 2005.
have always done in the past - see a Hammes, Thomas. The Sling and the
new threat as a catalyst to buy new Stone. On War in the 21st Century. St
equipment to solve that problem Paul: Zenith Press, 2004.
should be avoided, not least to
Hoffman, Frank. Complex Irregular
counter the rising costs of defence
War: The next Revolution in Military
technologies, and the commensurate
Affairs. Orbis, 2006.
reduction in overall platforms.
Kiszely’s advice is that armed forces Kuhn, Megan. “USAF drives
not only need to recognise that they biofuel bandwagon,” Flight
should be adaptable, but that they International, February 2009
must ‘institutionalise’ this
adaptability to be successful in post- articles/2009/02/09/322208/usaf-drives-
modern warfare.74 biofuel-bandwagon.html (accessed 16
February 2009).
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Washington: Brookings Institution Rodgers, Bill. “Colombia Drugs Part
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to Cyberwarfare.” The Economist United States of America. Air
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Gates, Robert . “A Balanced
Strategy: Reprogramming the (accessed 15 February 2009).
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(accessed 9 February, 2009). http://www.airpower.maxwell.
101 2
United States. United States Air
subramaniam.html (accessed 19 Force, Air Force Print News. (United
January 2009). States: 2005).
United Kingdom. Ministry of Defence (accessed 15 February 2009).
Acquisition Operating Framework, Colin Gray, ìThe Airpower
Defence Lines of Development. (2009). Advantage in Future Warfare: The need for strategy,î (Research Paper
strategic/guide/sg_dlod.htm (accessed 2007-2, Airpower Research Institute,
15 February 2009). 2007), 1.
United Kingdom. Royal Air Force. Paul Colley, ìSoldiers are from Mars
British Air Power Doctrine: AP3000 3rd and airmen are from Venus: does air
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Royal Air Force Air Power Review Vol 11,
United Kingdom. Developments, No 2, (Summer 2008): 103.
Concepts and Doctrine Centre. 5
DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic
The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Trends Programme, 2007-2036
Programme 2007-2036. 3rd ed. (London:Crown, 2006), 68
Shrivenham: DCDC 2007. 6
Ibid., xiii.
United Kingdom. Directorate of Air 7
Ibid., 11.
Staff Ministry of Defence. Future Air 8
Ibid., 15.
and Space Operational Concept. London: 9
Bill Rodgers, “Colombia Drugs Part
No1 AIDU, n.d. 1,” Global, (2000). http://
The International Institute for (accessed 13
Strategic Studies. “Complex Irregular February 2009).
Warfare: The Face of Contemporary Megan Kuhn, “USAF drives
Conflict.” The Military Balance 2005- biofuel bandwagon,” Flight
2006. (2005): 411-420. International, February 2009 http:// (accessed 16
United Kingdom. Royal Air Force Staff
February 2009).
College Bracknell. The Dynamics of Air 11
Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force:
Power. Eds Group Captain Andrew
The Art of War in the Modern World
Lambert and Arthur Williamson.
(London: Penguin, 2005), 3.
London: HMSO, 1996.
William Lind, Maj John F. Schmitt,
United States. Office of the Under
and Col Gary I. Wilson, “Fourth
Secretary of Defence. Quadrennial
Generation Warfare: Another
Defense Review Report, February 2006.
Look”, Marine Corps Gazette
(Washington: Department of Defence,
December 1994: 34.
2006): 36, http://www.defenselink. 13
Ibid., 35.
mil/qdr/report/Report20060203.pdf 14
DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic
(accessed 16 February 2009).
Trends Programme, 2007-2036, 68.
Van Creveld, Martin. The Culture of 15
The Economist, “Marching off
War. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. to Cyberwarfare,” The Economist
4 December 2008, http://www.
Notes (accessed 15
Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century: February 2009).
Future Warfare (London: Phoenix, Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century:
2005), 20. Future Warfare, 382.
For more information, see The Strategy: Reprogramming the
Economist, “The return of economic Pentagon for a New Age,” Foreign
nationalism”, The Economist, 7-13 Affairs January/February 2009, http://
February 2009, 11. (accessed 9
DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic February 2009).
Trends Programme, 2007-2036, 68. Frank Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st
The International Institute for Century:The Rise of Hybrid Wars, 10.
Strategic Studies, “Complex Irregular Ibid., 15.
Warfare: The Face of Contemporary Ibid., 16.
Conflict,” The Military Balance 2005- Michael Evans, “From Kadest to
2006. (2005): 411. Kandahar - military theory and the
Frank Hoffman, “Complex Irregular future of war,” Naval War College
War: The next Revolution in Military Review, Summer 2003 (Newport:
Affairs,” Foreign Policy Research 2003), 136.
Institute, Summer 2006: 397. Frank Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st
21 Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, 28.
Ibid., 398.
22 41
Ibid., 399. John Shaud, “In Service to the
23 Nation - Air Force Research Institute
See, for instance, Robin Higham,
100 Years of Air Power and Aviation Strategic Concept for 2018-2023,”
(Texas A&M University Press, 2003), Strategic Studies Quarterly, Winter
p.276; Jeffrey W Decker, ‘Return of the 2008: 35.
Bomber Barons: The Resurgence of See, for example, Stephen W Korns
Long-Range Bombardment Aviation and Joshua E Kastenberg, ‘;Georgiaís
for the Early Twenty-first Century’ in Cyber Left Hook’, Parameters, Winter
Air and Space Power Journal, Summer 2008-09, pp.60-76.
2005, pp.29-30. Rupert Smith, The Utility of
United States. Office of the Under Force: The Art of War in the Modern
Secretary of Defence, Quadrennial World, 3.
Defense Review Report, February 2006. Paul Colley, “Soldiers are from Mars
(Washington: Department of and airmen are from Venus: does air
Defence, 2006): 36, http://www. power do what it says on the tin?” (accessed 16 Royal Air Force Air Power Review Vol 11,
February 2009). No 2, 112.
25 45
Thomas Hammes, “4th generation Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force:
warfare: Our enemies play to their The Art of War in the Modern World, 290.
strengths,” Armed Forces Journal Ibid., 372-373.
November 2004: 41. The International Institute for
Ibid., 43. Strategic Studies, “Complex Irregular
Ibid., 41. Warfare: The Face of Contemporary
Ibid. Conflict,” The Military Balance 2005-
Ibid. 2006. (2005): 411.
30 48
Ibid., 42. Frank Hoffman in “Complex
Ibid., 44. Irregular War: The next Revolution
Ibid. in Military Affairs,” Foreign Policy
Ibid. Research Institute, Summer 2006: 396.
34 49
Ibid., 9. Robert Gates, “A Balanced Strategy:
Robert Gates, “A Balanced Reprogramming the Pentagon
for a New Age,” Foreign Affairs power do what it says on the tin?”
January/February 2009, http:// Royal Air Force Air Power Review Vol 11, (accessed 9 No 2,107.
February 2009). Ibid.,114.
50 64
The International Institute for Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century:
Strategic Studies, “Complex Irregular Future Warfare, 21.
Warfare: The Face of Contemporary Robert Gates, “A Balanced Strategy:
Conflict,” The Military Balance 2005- Reprogramming the Pentagon
2006. (2005): 420. for a New Age,” Foreign Affairs
General Michael Moseley, “The January/February 2009, http://www.
Nation’s Guardians - America’s 21st (accessed 9
Century Air Force”, (CSAF White February 2009).
Paper, Air War College, Maxwell Air Ibid.
Force Base, 2007), 2. Informal discussions on the key
Paul Colley, “Soldiers are from to success on current air operations
Mars and airmen are from Venus: in Afghanistan with RAF helicopter
does air power do what it says on the aircrew members of ACSC 12,
tin?” Royal Air Force Air Power Review September 2008.
Vol 11, No 2, 107. Training, personnel, information,
Multiple sources for exist for this concepts and doctrine, organisation,
quotation, for instance, Phillip S infrastructure, logistics and
Meilinger, 10 Propositions Concerning interoperability. From United
Air Power (USAF History and Kingdom. Ministry of Defence
Museums Program, 1995), p.3. Acquisition Operating Framework,
Ibid. Defence Lines of Development. (2009).
Frank Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st (accessed 15
Century:The Rise of Hybrid Wars, 39. February 2009).
56 69
Paul Colley, “Soldiers are from Mars General Michael Moseley, “The
and airmen are from Venus: does air Nation’s Guardians - America’s 21st
power do what it says on the tin?” Century Air Force”, (CSAF White
Royal Air Force Air Power Review Vol 11, Paper, 2007), 6.
No 2, 103. Colin Gray, “The Airpower
General Michael Moseley, “The Advantage in Future Warfare: The
Nationís Guardians - Americaís 21st need for strategy,” (Research Paper
Century Air Force”, 3. 2007-2, Airpower Research Institute,
Paul Colley, “Soldiers are from Mars 2007), viii.
and airmen are from Venus: does air United States. “The Strategic Role
power do what it says on the tin?” of Airpower: An Indian Perspective
Royal Air Force Air Power Review Vol 11, on how we need to think, train and
No 2, 107. fight in the coming years,” Air & Space
Ibid., 108. Power Journal, Fall 2008. http://www.
Ibid., 109. (accessed 19
See, for instance, Benjamin January 2009).
Lambeth, NATO’s Air War for Kosovo John Kiszely, “Post-Modern
(RAND: 2001). Challenges for Modern Warriors,”
Paul Colley, “Soldiers are from Mars (The Shrivenham Papers, No 5,
and airmen are from Venus: does air Defence Academy of the UK, 2007), 14.
Ibid., 18.
Ibid., 22.

Air Power and Agility

By Gp Capt Ian Shields1

An agile, adaptable and capable Air is only through technology that we

Force, that person for person, is second can fly). Professor Colin Gray wrote
to none, and that makes a decisive air in 2005 that “… we still do not have
power contribution in support of the UK a satisfactory theory of air power” 3,
Defence Mission. quoting in turn David MacIsaac:
The Royal Air Force Vision
“Air power, the generic term widely
Quoted in AP 3000, 4th Edition, p.5.
adapted to identify this phenomenon
Air power is the most difficult of (the use of aircraft in war), has
military force to measure or even to nonetheless yet to find a clearly
express in precise terms. The problem defined or unchallenged place in the
is compounded by the fact that history of military or strategic theory.
aviation tends to attract adventurous There has been no lack of theorists, but
souls, physically adept, mentally they have had only limited influence
alert and pragmatically rather than in a field where the effects of technology
philosophically inclined. and the deeds of practitioners have
from - the beginning played greater roles
Sir Winston Churchill
Quoted in AP 3000, 4th Edition, p. 13.
than ideas”4.
Go back a decade or so and we all
chanted the mantra that flexibility is

hat is air power? In a the key to air power which, indirectly,
previous article2 I have goes some way to explaining how air
argued that we have not yet power is employed, and therefore
produced a true air power strategist, hints at what air power is. This
but perhaps more fundamentally statement does not, however, go far
than that, what do we understand by enough, and it is noticeable that we
the term “air power”? As Churchill now regard flexibility as a sub-set of
says in his oft-used quote above, it agility. Indeed, in the present RAF
is the most difficult to measure or Vision we see the idea of flexibility
define precisely, while this lack of being taken one step further forward
clarity of understanding can in part with the idea that it is, and therefore
be explained by the sort of people Air Forces are, inherently agile. By
Churchill claims we, air power exploring what makes Air power, as
practitioners and proponents, are: opposed to Maritime or Land power,
more inclined to pragmatism than unique not only do we get closer to
philosophy - and, I would add, answering the philosophical question
inherently technically minded (for it of what air power is, but also - and
arguably more importantly as it is and a broader, widening educative
more practical - how we can best approach that is somewhat counter-
exploit its very uniqueness. intuitive to the military mind. How,
though, do the five strands of agility
Accepting, then, that agility as at, or
relate to air power?7
very close to, the core uniqueness of
air power, what do we understand Responsiveness. Air power is,
by agility? The new edition of AP inherently, highly responsive.
3000 identifies agility as one of the Aircraft are, compared with ships or
six fundamental strengths of air regiments, relatively easy to maintain
power5, before going on to assert that at very high readiness which offers
agility itself comprises five strands: a degree of agility not available to
responsiveness, flexibility, resilience, our Maritime or Land colleagues.
adaptability and acuity6 . This article Moreover, with their speed, aircraft
will build on the (necessarily) short can transit much quicker, delivering
reference to agility in AP 3000 by or threaten to deliver air power
exploring further the notion of agility rapidly. This high responsiveness
and how it relates to air power in of air power can make it attractive
order to contribute to the wider for politicians, especially as it
debate on the meaning of air power. also represents a limited political
To do so, it will first look briefly at the commitment, especially when
notion of agility before considering offering a reduced ground footprint.
how each of the individual aspects Furthermore, aircraft on task can
of agility identified in AP 3000 relate respond rapidly to developing
to air power. It will then discuss situations on the ground (or on the
how agility can be used as way of surface of the sea): one only has to
balancing strengths and weaknesses think of the close air support requests
before concluding. from troops in contact in Afghanistan
to recognise the responsiveness of Air
Air Power and the Five
power. However, speed itself should
Strands of Agility
always be seen in the context of a
Agility, taken as an entire concept, specific situation, not as an absolute
is a little like time: we all know what virtue. Speed does offer commanders
it is but find it difficult to define. It at all levels the ability to bring
is important to recognise that agility influence to bear quickly, be that
is primarily a state of mind and an reassuring presence, humanitarian
approach to problem solving: it is relief or attack; all at long range and
this aspect of agility on which we in time. This makes air power useful
should concentrate rather than on for initial crisis management. But,
the physical attributes of aircraft in recognising air power’s intrinsic
and other air-breathing platforms strengths we must also have the
possessing agility, necessary though confidence to accept its limitations:
such an attribute might be. But to it is never a panacea and has two
develop an attitude of mind that is significant limitations. First, when
not only itself inherently agile, but moving materiel to a crisis zone, air
can in turn produce agile solutions power has limited lift compared with
to problems, requires both training surface means. Airlift exploits speed
and reach, but trades off mass; this flexible thinking in our people for we
allows pragmatic policy options8 . The must be alive to the loss of flexibility
second limitation is impermanence, that technology and cost between
although this is being addressed to them suggest. Fortunately, it is not
a degree by unmanned aircraft, just platforms that are flexible, air-
and can be offset by air refuelling. minded people, for the very reasons
Moreover, technological advances Churchill spelt out in the quote at the
suggest that impermanence, often beginning of this article, are flexible.
regarded as the Achilles’ heel of air Mankind is at ease operating in a two-
power, may be significantly reduced dimensional world, be that the surface
within the next 20 years9 . of the land or of the sea, but adding
the third dimension of height requires
Flexibility. Flexibility allows for
a different perspective on the world,
people, units and platforms to switch
one that, combined with the speed at
roles without major re-training or
which we are accustomed to operate
re-configuration when faced by
and therefore our different perception
the unexpected or by changes in
of time, the fourth dimension,
anticipated activity. In addition, it
requires a more flexible approach.
assists in mitigating system failure
or the results of enemy action, in Resilience. Air platforms are, by
providing a measure of redundancy. their nature, fragile. They must be
Aircraft are reasonably flexible, light enough to defy gravity and
although they are invariably from the earliest days of aviation
configured towards one broad we have sought lighter and stronger
role. However, at the design stage structures. Air platform fragility,
more and more flexibility is being both of the ground and in the air,
introduced - it is worth recalling that can be partly addressed by height,
the original name for the Tornado speed, defensive aids and stealth (in
was the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. harmony, not isolation) but with unit
Moreover, the JCA is likely to be an costs rising and platform numbers
excellent ISTAR platform, because declining, attrition directly impacts
its suite of sensors will relay their resilience. Indeed, in terms of
information without the pilot even resilience here lies the conundrum:
being aware of what it is doing. we can make platforms more resilient
Meanwhile, the Reaper Unmanned by making them more survivable
Air Vehicle demonstrates where this thanks to technology, but that makes
flexibility, aided by technology, may them more expensive, and fewer
be leading with the old stovepipes of in number (witness the recent US
surveillance and attack increasingly decision on F-22 numbers10 ). That
being broken down. There is, though in turn makes the loss of any single
a down-side to advancing technology, platform more significant and, with
and that is unit cost: as platforms replacement for both the platform
become fewer and more expensive, (limited capacity to manufacture
albeit more able, flexibility becomes and long build times due to the
more difficult. The effect of mass technological challenges) and, for
will be considered further under the manned aircraft, the operator (aircrew
next heading, resilience. However, training is now measured in years),
we must generate, through training, decreases resilience. Mass, of course,
has a resilience all of its own, and the initiative, and have the ability to
time may be drawing close when we respond; a key requirement for all
need to have a debate over whether military practitioners. Air power
we should have large numbers of practitioners have, traditionally,
low-technology platforms (perhaps been good at adapting, but the
unmanned) or a very few high constraints of fighting limited wars
technology aircraft?11, 12 . However, (with their emphasis on legal/ethical
with our traditional love-affair of considerations) and the constraints of
technology it is more likely that airspace control mechanisms (the Air
we will continue the trend towards Tasking Order has, perforce, driven
more complex solutions and have air power employment) have offered
to accept ever fewer platforms - limited opportunities for the full
even Unmanned Air Systems such gamut of the flexibility of air power
as Predator are increasing rapidly to be exploited. Future trends, such
in unit cost as we demand ever as increasingly centralised control
more of them. The greatest need (particularly political) and the advent
for increased resilience, though, of the Virtual Knowledge Bases (with
is mental. In particular, we have networked data solutions offering
become accustomed to very low algorithm-derived solutions that
casualty rates and the loss of just a inadvertently constrain thinking: the
single platform, as alluded to above, solution being driven by the writer
may have strategic impact. Indeed, of the algorithm writer and tempting
we are at a historically low point for the commander to use that rather his
losses from peace-time flying training own intuition13 is likely to exacerbate
accidents and have experienced this tendency. Education is again
mercifully few losses on recent the key, and both Commanders
operations. We should be alive to this and the practitioners of air power
trend, and not only guard against any must remain alive to its inherent
assumption that we will never again adaptability and guard against
face large-scale losses, but ensure those trends that risk reducing this
that our political masters are aware fundamental strength.
of the impact that even relatively
Acuity. Acuity, the sharpness and
small losses of scarce and precious
acuteness of understanding14 , are
resources could have.
implicit in the best employment of air
Adaptability. Allied to flexibility power. However, this requires a deep
and resilience is the need to understanding of air power at
be adaptable in the face of the all levels; such understanding
unexpected. Unlike flexibility, where can only come about through
our modern platforms can be re-roled exposure to air-minded proponents,
by design, technology counts against education and deep thinking. The
adaptability: it is becoming less development of the required depth
common that we can rapidly adapt our of understanding must be gained,
sophisticated aircraft to new roles. it is not an inherent ability. Of the
Instead, the adaptability that we need five strands of agility this is the most
to generate and retain is mental: we difficult to articulate and therefore
need to have the ability to recognise reduce to a balance-sheet style
when our opponent has gained the argument: it requires investment in
a conceptual rather than a physical psychology of enemy leaders and
field, the results of which are more citizens works. Trying to understand
difficult easily to identify. And yet it an adversary is the right approach15 ,
is also the most important for only by but trying scientifically to model
developing air power practitioners, behaviour and the effects of air power
proponents and commanders with the applied against key nodes would
required insights into its agility will be folly; the effects based approach
we exploit air power’s tremendous can only be taken so far16 . Good air
potential into action. power strategies are agile, where the
best assessment is made in the time
Agility - Balancing available, where people are willing to
Strengths and Weaknesses learn and where strategy is adjusted
While agility is an inherent property based on the observed effects and
and strength of air power, we must events. The ability to sense and
recognise and accept that agile Air respond to what unfolds is crucial:
power alone will never be a panacea. this is how air power can adapt, and
The future operating environment how its strategists can learn, gain
is arguably more uncertain than deeper insights into their adversaries
ever, and we have witnessed in both and retain the initiative. It is all a
question of balance: failing to inflict
Iraq and Afghanistan the rapid
the damage called for by the initial
adaptability of our adversaries to UK
strategy, or abandoning a sound
concepts, doctrine and capability.
strategy before it has time to work,
Air power is on the one hand
are problems that an astute strategist
inherently agile; however, on the
considers. Selecting and maintaining
other we must constantly assess not
the aim will always be apposite, but as
just any campaign but the wider
allegiances shift and centres of gravity
piece to ensure that we are aware of
change, so too must end states, and
developments and can respond: this
the means adopted to achieve them.
requires agility but also will allow us
This, then, is agility, and with broad
to retain our agile advantage.
education, constant re-assessment
Air power must be able to attack and an innate knowledge of both
critical target sets to unhinge an the strengths and weaknesses of air
adversary’s will or ability to resist. power, air power practitioners and
Opportunities will exist in future to proponents can exploit this inherent
achieve physical and coercive effects agility to considerable effect.
that are out of proportion to the
modest effort required for attacks; the Conclusion
advent of novel weapon technology Air power is still, I contend, neither
will only assist in this endeavour. fully understood nor adequately
However, identifying these effects will articulated as a concept. But by
require a depth of analysis that may considering what makes Air, as
not be possible in the time available: opposed to Maritime or Land,
we will, for example, rarely fully power unique we can get closer to
appreciate how an adversary makes an understanding of its inherent
policy decisions, or how an economy, nature, and by doing so enable us
society or individual and collective to be better placed to exploit its
strengths and avoid its weaknesses. 1986), p. 624.
Air power remains a young capability AP 3000 4th Edition, p.17.
and this youthfulness allows we, its The current edition of The High Level
practitioners, to be open-minded. Operational Concept lists the same five
We are inherently technical in our strands of agility, albeit in a slightly
outlook, and this willingness both different order (responsiveness,
to embrace new ideas and exploit resilience, flexibility, acuity,
new technology are themselves adaptability). See The High Level
symptomatic of the inherent agility Operational Conceptual Commentary
of air power. We must always pp. 1-7 - 1-8.
acknowledge air power’s weaknesses 7
This is not to say that Maritime or
and limitations, particularly its Land Power are not also agile - and it
impermanence and fragility, but should be remembered that an enemy
by making full use of its strengths will also be agile, as we are witnessing
we can ensure that we deliver the today in Afghanistan. But where
maximum capability and achieve Airpower has the edge in agility
the greatest effect. Agility is at the over Maritime or Land Power is that,
core of air power, and by better due to the flexible and responsive
understanding the five strands of nature of air platforms, its employment
agility (responsiveness, flexibility, is inherently agile - at least when
resilience, adaptability and acuity) employed imaginatively.
we increase our knowledge and 8
Another issue often quoted as a
understanding of this most difficult of major drawback of air power concerns
military capabilities to define - Access, Basing and Overflight (ABO)
but the capability that simultaneously acting as a significant limitation of
offers the greatest potential. air Transport. However, the reality
has been that employment of UK air
Notes power has invariably been consistent
Group Captain Shields is with the legal and moral justification
Assistant Head Air and Space at the held by the states neighbouring
Development, Concepts and Doctrine the zone of crisis and Host Nation
Centre (DCDC). This article, which Support (HNS) has rarely proven to
has its origins in early drafts for the be a issue.
(now published) Future Air and Space See the recently published Future Air
Operating Concept 2009, are, however, and Space Operating Concept 2009 for
his own views and do not represent more detail.
either MOD or DCDEC policy. The F-22 is widely acknowledged
APR Volume 11 No 1 Spring 2008, as the most advanced fighter aircraft
pp. 1 - 5. in the world, but at a reported unit
Colin S Gray, Another Bloody Century: cost of $US143 each - or about 2/3 of
Future Warfare (London: Weidenfeld the cost of a cheap naval Frigate. A
and Nicholson, 2005), p. 319. combination of unit cost and changing
David MacIsaac, ‘Voices From requirements have limited the US buy.
The Central Blue: The Air Power See:
Theorists’, in Peter Paret, ed., Makers SB123490303268502611.html.
of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to One RAND study has predicted that
the Nuclear Age (Princeton, New Jersey, by 2054 the entire US Defence Budget
would be able to buy just one aircraft, in 2006 is testament to the dangers
such is the cost growth of technology. of taking an effects based approach
See the Future Air & Space Operating too far.
Concept 2009 (FA&SOC 2009), p. 1-4
for a longer explanation of the impact
of technology inflation on air and
space platforms.
There, is however, nothing new in
this debate: when undertaking the
then Weapons Employment Course
in the mid 1980s (at the height of the
cruise missile deployment to
Greenham Common and
I recall a British Aerospace
representative arguing that we could
replace all our Harriers, Jaguars and
Tornados in Germany with shipping
containers full of cruise missiles.
The suggestion was that these
missiles, conventionally rather than
nuclear armed, would swamp the
Warsaw Pack air defence network
and enough missiles would get
through, with no loss of scarce
aircrew lives, to achieve the same
effects that the manned aircraft
fleets could. A somewhat tongue-
in-cheek argument, as any increase
in resilience would be more than
offset by the decrease in flexibility,
not to mention a concern that the
missiles could be interpreted as being
nuclear-armed, thereby triggering
Armageddon. Nevertheless, as a
concept worthy of note.
For more detail see FA&SOC 2009,
especially paragraphs 226 - 237.
Concise Oxford Dictionary.
“Know the enemy, know yourself;
your victory will never be
Know the ground, know the weather;
your victory will be total”. Sun Tzu,
The Art of war, Chapter 10.
The Israeli offensive against
Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon

Is Defence Carrying Too Much ‘RISK’?

By Sqn Ldr Dave Stubbs

he words “We sleep soundly in 10 years when compared with the
our beds because rough men reductions in defence spending as
stand ready in the night to visit a proportion of national income,
violence on those who would do us over the same period. Over the last
harm” are often attributed to George 20 years the defence budget has
Orwell. The quotation succinctly declined significantly in relation
explains, and cleverly justifies, to gross national product, from 4%
the role of the military in society. to 2.6%1; a cut of 35% in real terms,
Nevertheless, as Service personnel yet involvement in war fighting has
we are often reminded that the increased and few commitments
military is but one element of the have been removed. This level of
government machine, competing productivity increase in the civilian
for funding against all the other world would be remarkable. In
departments of state, all of which relation to other government
have greater electoral relevance to departments today’s military is very
the population than the military, efficient. The resource debate should
particularly in times of peace. In really be about rebalancing spending
a democracy, when not under the priorities, rather than simply cutting
threat of imminent attack, Health and the military budget further.
Education spending will, so we are
Many still maintain that the
told, always trump military spending.
defence budget, as a proportion
Military spending has always been
under scrutiny so reports, like the
one produced by the Institute for
Public Policy Research (IPPR) on
30 June, which suggested that ‘£24
billion of future planned defence
spending ought to be re-thought
as part of a full Strategic Review of
Security’, are routine think pieces.
The IPPR recognised that the debate
should be focussed on how to get
the best value for money from what
we spend on security but gives
scant recognition to the increases
in spending on Health, Education of government spending, is very
and Social Protection over the last large and that by cutting it further,
resources could be effectively none of the money needed. Risk
reallocated elsewhere. The chart management can be defined as the
above shows this view to be wide of process of analyzing exposure to
the mark; salami slices of the defence risk and determining how to best
budget can not yield significant handle such exposure. Dr Alan
resources for use elsewhere. Billings3 ’ this year questioned how
Furthermore, the efficiency of other the management boards of financial
departments is questionable. If, as companies overcame their risk
the IPPR suggests the world is much management fears to take stupendous
changed from what it was 20 years and ultimately disastrous risks; he
ago, with increasing globalization asked “Could it be that the very
and power diffusion; more fragile mechanisms that businesses put in
and unstable states than strong place to identify and evaluate, and
and stable ones; neo-jihad ideology so guard against risk, did the
activity challenges and a more opposite?”. He went on to ask
profligate nuclear age then why “There is a human tendency to think
should the defence budget be under that because we can understand
such pressure? Perhaps it is because something we have brought it within
defence is seen as an easy, politically our control. There is nothing like a
acceptable, target. In an economic sophisticated set of figures and tables
environment where tax revenues in a risk register to create the illusion
are insufficient to support spending that a risk is fully understood, and
and vast sums are being borrowed to simply by being understood, less
support the banking system, health, of a risk”. When different teams
education and other government and boards are responsible for
priorities how much money should project, programme and operational
the military get to protect society, management elements of risk there
and play its part in supporting is an increased danger that the
government directed national military understanding of the risks may be
objectives? More explicitly, where missed, or simply misunderstood.
should the military be concentrating
it resources?
Whilst Defence Reviews2 have
enabled military planners to match
promised resources to tasked output,
the amount of cash allocated to
support the government’s own
defined objectives and tasks doesn’t
always materialize and funding gaps
have led all 3 Services to manage
‘risks’. Effectively this means that
some of the activity required by
government tasking can be measured,
understood and prioritized in
such a way that the activities that An example of risk management
are perceived to have the lowest being affected by funding constraints
risk get less or, in the worst case, was the decision, taken to reduce
number of Type 45 Destroyers from presumably it will now disappear
the 12 they initially expected to when our forces withdraw from Op
replace 12 Type 42’s, down to 8 vessels HERRICK. Although we know that
at ‘risk’ to secure the government communications underpin everything
articulated Defence Review our opponents do the Soothsayer
requirement for aircraft carriers. communications intelligence
programme, which could have played
Aircraft carriers require a significant
a crucial role in Op HERRICK, will
amount of defending, before their now be axed. Also, the cancellation
offensive capability can be brought of Project EAGLE, the upgrading
to bear. Later funding requirements, of the E-3D mission system, will
with a different Defence Secretary reduce its ability to interchange and
in post, have reduced the number of interoperate with its USAF equivalent
Type 45’s procured to 6. Agreeing in contingency and war fighting
to 50% of the original requirement operations. With reduced numbers of
used to protect 90% of our maritime E-3s and crews funded, its capability
trade and having fewer vessels to could simply wither away. ISTAR was
protect the aircraft carriers requires seen as one of the 6 RAF priorities
only a few years ago!
There are differences in the way
military and civilian equipment
is procured. The production and
delivery of military ‘effect’ requires
the development of relatively small
numbers of capable equipment,
suitable people and training. Perhaps
most importantly it takes time; it
is rarely a quick or instantaneous
process and as a consequence once
a capability has gone it becomes
extremely expensive to regain. Air
platforms, touted as being capable
of performing swing/multi-roles
the acceptance of considerable risk. can become very expensive indeed.
Whilst the need for aircraft carriers For instance the JSF/F35’s ability to
undertake Intelligence functions,
has come under scrutiny the demise
perform surveillance, targeting,
of other capabilities has attracted
close air support, and air defence
less attention. For the RAF the
duties concurrently, across a range
indefinite delay to Project HELIX,
of war fighting activities and
the replacement for the Nimrod R1,
locations, ranging from counter
could well lead to the loss of this vital
insurgency to medium scale warfare
strategic/tactical manned surveillance
is not yet fully proven. If, or when,
capability; the current aircraft is due
it is sufficiently proven the numbers
to be taken out of service in 2011!
required will become the focus
The Reaper UAS will only continue as of attention. Defining how many
an urgent operational requirement; aircraft are needed to provide all
of the capabilities that are required carrying risk, at various organizational
necessitates mathematical modelling, levels, against a significant portion
which should take account of of their operational activity there is a
capability enhancements anticipated; danger that some of the risks being
this process is relatively easy taken will be realised. By continuing
to undertake. to convince itself that it can manage
the multitude of risks across the given
Defence tasks, programmes and
projects the military may be setting
itself up for failure. The military
outlook is naturally positive; it has a
‘can do’ attitude and few are willing
to say that government defence
objectives cannot be satisfied for the
money available and feel duty bound
to accept the risk that some things
will not happen. However, as the
number and scale of the risks increase
the likelihood that some of them
may be realized increases. Many
of those responsible for accepting
risks in the past will have moved to
other appointments or have left the
Services; they are unlikely to be held
However, as time progresses and retrospectively accountable for the
costs rise, the carefully worked out risks they were happy to accept in
figures, defining how many aircraft their time. Indeed, it may go some
are needed, are likely to be revisited way to explain why General Sir
to incorporate a degree of ‘risk’. David Richards’ recent keynote
Pressures on government spending speech to the Royal United Services
often result in ‘Savings rounds’ which, Institute (RUSI) 4, warned that if the
with the enduring perception that Forces continued to try “to do a bit
there is fat in the military budget, of everything” then they would risk
cause the numbers game to be “failure across the board”. Defence
revisited again and again. Each time arguments centre on whether to
a layer of risk is added the ability of continue to maintain a balanced
the aircraft to perform one or more of force, with sufficient agility to flex
the roles it was originally envisaged from counter insurgency operations
to perform could be seriously to medium and large-scale war
challenged. Reducing the numbers fighting, or to intelligently focus our
of a defined operational requirement priorities on likely activity, funding
due to lack of resources diminishes them properly.
operational capability, concurrency or
The problem for the observers who
readiness at a stroke.
would like to rack and stack military
Perhaps it is time to recognise that capabilities against their perception
risk carried in isolation can be of what is likely to happen is that
managed but with all 3 Services their views are often wide of the
mark; wars and conflicts are not easily military capability, when set against
predictable. Who anticipated the articulated tasks is finally exposed.
Falklands conflict, or that our forces In this context the IPPR report may
would be spending years in Iraq and help drive a change in policy. In
Afghanistan? After the actions of the interim General Richards told
Russia against Georgia do we need RUSI “Our Armed Forces will try with
to re-focus defence to be sufficiently inadequate resources to be all things in
prepared for a conventional war in all conflicts and perhaps fail to succeed
continental Europe? Indeed, many properly in any. The risk is such that it’s
preconceptions of what, and how, too serious any longer to be accepted”.
defence needs to change often appear
to override subsequent analysis. The
IPPR recommendations implicitly
suggest a defence budget reduction
could be achieved if commitments
were reduced, specialisation
increased, integration with European
defence increased and if defence
equipment requirements were
He added that “I am not suggesting
reviewed but, ultimately, their own
for one moment that the UK should get
analysis could lead to the view that
rid of all its more traditional military
defence spending should remain
capabilities. Far from it…….. We need to
fairly constant or that more, rather
possess a deterrent-scale, traditional war
than less, resource is needed. In
fighting capability capability; one that
particular the effects of climate
reflects our stated policy of only going
change are likely to result in an
to war as part of the NATO alliance or,
increasing level of media driven,
within a smaller regional context, with
politically determined engagement
an overwhelmingly powerful USA.” The
from stable governments in disaster
IPPR thinks that the government
relief operations, around the
should conduct a review of the UK’s
world, under the UN concept of
defence requirements as part of a
‘responsibility to protect’5 , with the
wider Strategic Review of Security:
geo-political aim of securing our
wider than just defence, focusing on
nations trade.
specializing on certain capabilities
So, if it is not possible to squeeze any and reducing commitment to the full
greater efficiency from the military, spectrum of war fighting capability.
and the defence budget is insufficient If the next Chief of the General Staff
to pay for the tasks the government believes that the risks of being able
demands what should happen? to support all current military tasks,
Ultimately the government may order within the current Defence Budget
another Defence Review, to quantify are too great, either the budget
what it wants to do within the budget must grow or a significant degree
it will authorise, though this is of rationalization is needed. Until
unlikely to happen before the next a review of some sort takes place it
general election. A Defence Review would be prudent for the 3 Services
is likely to uncover is a Pandora’s to work together in identifying where
Box of risk, so big that actual the risks are too great, rather than
conducting in-fighting over a funding
pot everyone knows is too small,
based on the tasks the military are
required to undertake and what is
happening in the world right now.

Martin Innes, Sunday Times 28
Jun 09 http://www.timesonline.
Most recently the 1998 Strategic
Defence Review, and its ‘New
Chapter’ edition of 2004.
BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, 31
March 2009.
General Sir David Richards
speech, 25 June 09. http://www.rusi.
Resolution 60/1, para 139, World
Summit, 2005.

Book Review
Torpedo Leader
By Wg Cdr Patrick Gibbs DSO, DFC

Reviewed by Wg Cdr Clive Blount

orpedo Leader is a first person flying, first in the Western Desert and
account of flying the Beaufort then on to Malta. It is the desperate
in the anti-shipping torpedo battle for Malta’s survival that forms
bomber role in 1941-2. Gibbs wrote the backdrop of the bulk of the book.
this book whilst WWII was still The role of the air defence forces, not
in process and its immediacy and least the legendary Gladiators ‘Faith’
freshness - without the benefit of any Hope’ and ‘Charity’, and the story of
‘post match analysis’ - is stunning. the courageous convoy of Operation
PEDESTAL in the protection and re-
Gibbs was a regular officer who
supply of Malta, is well known. Gibbs
spent the early stages of WWII as
describes a much less familiar area of
a Flight Commander on a Coastal
operation that, nonetheless, was vital
Command Beaufort squadron. He
in supporting the campaign in North
spent most of winter of 1940/41 in
Africa and drastically reducing the re-
hospital following a flying training
supply of Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
accident, which probably saved
him from the fate of so many of his Not only technically fascinating,
colleagues, leaving the squadron with detailed discussions of tactics
in Autumn 1941 as one of very few and techniques and an exciting first
pilots to survive a tour of Torpedo hand account of many anti-shipping
Bomber operations. Attacks in those attacks, this book is intensely
early days were conducted in small personal and draws the reader in
formations, with low level searches to Gibbs’ fears, crises of confidence
of the enemy coastline carried out and determination to hit hard at the
in an attempt to locate shipping for enemy. The leadership dilemmas of
attack. To hit a moving ship with a commanding a squadron in a high
torpedo is no easy task, particularly intensity battle are described and one
as the Beaufort was not fitted with can follow Gibbs personal torment in
any form of weapon sight; so these vivid detail. Gibbs is searingly honest
attacks were largely ineffective about his fears and motivations; this
despite the high losses sustained by adds a human dimension and grabs
the Beaufort crews. It was this futility the reader’s empathy like few similar
that urged Gibbs to develop tactics memoirs. We are also introduced to
and techniques to conduct squadron, the many supporting roles required
and multi-squadron attacks later in to enable the Beaufort’s success. The
his career. After a period as a staff initial lack of intelligence on enemy
officer in the Cairo HQ, Gibbs then shipping, and the poor use of that
talked his way back to operational intelligence which was available,
is highlighted by Gibbs, as is the and is a fitting tribute to the Torpedo
logistics support required for his Bomber crews.
campaigns. Gibbs describes his
shock realisation of the effort it took
to get sufficient Torpedoes to Malta
- usually carried in the bomb bay
of Wellingtons which themselves
suffered not inconsiderable losses -
a factor he had not considered as he
developed his mass attack tactics.
From an air operations perspective
Gibbs describes in detail the
evolution of co-ordinated attacks
by large numbers of Beauforts
and subsequently the addition of
other ac to provide fighter escort
and dive-bombing attacks to much
increase the effectiveness of the anti-
shipping effort.
Whilst an exciting book for the lay
reader, I would say that Torpedo
Leader is a fascinating and thought-
provoking read for the professional
airman. I found myself alongside
Gibbs tackling his many problems
and found the experience most
rewarding. I would say that it will
have great resonance among those
conducting today’s operations.
The anti-shipping battle in the
Mediterranean was a largely unsung
role in a largely unsung campaign,
although without these operations the
allied successes in North Africa would
have been considerably less likely.
The Torpedo Bombers’ successes were
largely anonymous - no one knew
whose Torpedo hit the target and
did the damage - and there was no
tally of kills, or of bombing missions
to measure success - few crews flew
more than six operational flights from
Malta. It was a grittily determined
effort to hit the enemy hard that drove
the crews forward. Gibbs’ book goes
along way to redress the balance of
recognition in this key campaign

Book Review
The Science of Bombing:
Operational Research in RAF Bomber Command

Reviewed by Mr Bob Gordon

olonel Randall T Wakelam not high.”
(RMC 1975) is Director of
Demonstration of the effectiveness
Research and Symposia at
of operational research requires,
Canadian Forces College in Toronto.
according to Wakelam, establishment
He is also an assistant professor
of a feedback loop linking
of Defence Studies with the Royal
performance and research, “a sort
Military College. The Science of
of a continuum which started with
Bombing, his first book, reflects this
a problem and led to the adoption
combination of academia and the
of an ORS developed solution.
military. Thoroughly researched,
Schematically, he outlines this
drawing on previously unexamined feedback loop as a five-link chain:
files, it is concise, tightly argued and
well-organized. 1. Problem defined by Commander
or key staff.
The research question at the core of 2. Problem passed to ORS.
this text is the relationship between
3. ORS develop research plan and
the Operational Research Section
conduct research.
(ORS) of Bomber Command - staffed
primarily by civilian scientists 4. ORS submit conclusions
commonly referred to as 'Boffins' - and recommendations.
and the actual performance of the 5. Commander or key staff accept
flight crews and effectiveness of the and implement solution.
bombing campaign against occupied The key aspect of this inquiry is the
Europe and Germany. identification of problems by the Air
Interestingly, Wakelam confesses Staff, their analysis by the ORS, and
to an initial bias against the value the implementation of ORS generated
of operational research. Describing recommendations and solutions by
himself as “someone who has had the Air Staff.
a career of some three decades Organizationally, The Science
in the air force including over of Bombing, commences with
three thousand flying hours, an assessment of the status of
experience in command and staff Bomber Command's operations
appointments, and over a decade in the summer of 1941, prior to the
providing education programs for establishment of the ORS. Lord
mid-level staff officers and senior Cherwell (Frederick Linemann), chief
commanders.... my opinion of the scientific advisor to the Cabinet,
worth of operational research was directed David M Butt, a civil servant
in the War Cabinet Secretariat, defence had already introduced the
to assess 650 target photos taken RAF, specifically, Fighter Command,
between June 2 and July 25, 1941 to operational research.
and compare the results with the
The ORS had an immediate impact
aircrews' after-action reports. The
on Bomber Command although
resulting report was first circulated
the results can only be described
on 18 August 1941. It asserted that
as mixed. Initially, it focused on
the bomber offensive was shockingly
improving the concentration in time
ineffective. Two-thirds of the crews
and space of the bomber stream. Its
reported having attacked the target:
efforts were greeted with success
Hitting the target being defined as
when the Shaker technique was
within a five mile radius of the aiming
introduced. The Shaker technique
point. The Butt report concluded that
under a full moon and in excellent had the initial aircraft drop flares to
weather conditions only two in five illuminate the target, succeeded by
of the crews hit the target, “but in aircraft dropping incendiaries. Then
thick haze the ratio dropped to one 'followers' dropping heavy explosives
in fifteen” of aircrews that reported bombed on the fires burning.
hitting the target. In other words, Concentration improved immediately.
in excellent conditions 26% of the However, the accuracy of the leading
attackers came within five miles of waves did not and frequently analysis
the target and in poor conditions of raids revealed that a concentration
that dropped to less than 5%. Butt of bombs had been achieved, but the
concluded that only a miniscule target had been misidentified with the
fraction of the bombs being dropped, result that raids were often densely
were hitting the target. concentrated but off target. In
essence, Bomber Command became
Many senior officers rejected the very good at missing the target.
report outright. However, Sir
Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Realization of this problem,
Staff was not one of them and on ironically revealed by further
September 11 he minuted Churchill operational research, led to increased
recommending the establishment attention to navigation and target
of an operational research section identification, and, eventually, the
at Bomber Command. By the end development of the pathfinder force
of the month there were seven (PFF). The progress of Bomber
scientists under Dr Basil G Dickins Command's improving efficacy and
in Bomber Command's ORS. the development of operational
Interestingly, Wakelam notes that research within the command was
Bomber Command, despite the not a story of uninterrupted progress
obvious problems, possessed an as the previous example plainly
organizational culture that facilitated demonstrates. It was, rather one of
solving these problems using “of trial and error in defining work
operational research. As the newest and assigning resources.” On the
branch of the military it was least whole, however, it was a story of
tradition bound. It was founded on overall improvement. The application
a scientific (aerodynamics) basis. of Gee, Oboe H2S and a host of
Finally, the application of radar to air other technical improvements was
greatly facilitated by operational in Bomber Command”. The first
research. The body of The Science half of this chapter is little more
of Bombing details this process and than a précis of the document
clearly demonstrates the existence ORS produced assessing its own
and functionality of the feedback performance. In Chapter 3, “Boffins at
loop that Wakelam set out to Bomber Command: September 1941
assess. Operational research had a 25% of the footnotes reference this
profound and positive effect on the same document. One cannot avoid
performance of Bomber Command wondering about the objectivity of
during the last four years of the war. a document produced by an agency
evaluating its own performance.
In the course of this analysis Wakelam
However, this shortcoming is
offers an interesting, revisionist
trumped by the original research
perspective on Sir Arthur Harris.
in primary sources that figures
Many historians have portrayed
highly throughout. The result is a
Harris as an automaton or worse. A
volume that provides a valuable
man equally unconcerned about the
contribution to the history of Bomber
casualties among his aircrews and the
Command and is essential reading
deaths of German civilians. Wakelam
for anyone wishing to understand the
offers a more balanced view of a man
contribution that operational research
open to technological and tactical
can make to combat effectiveness.
innovation. A man stoically accepting
Kitchener's dictum, 'We must wage
war as we must; not as we would like.'
There remains one significant
criticism of this volume. Admittedly,
Wakelam pored over records largely
neglected and offers detailed
analysis of the documents produced
by the ORS of Bomber Command.
However, on the other hand, he
demonstrates an excessive reliance
on one secondary source: A source
that, inevitably, is prone to a bias
particularly favourable to the ORS.
I refer to “Operational Research in
Bomber Command”, a document
produced by the ORS under the
signature of the Section head, Dr
Basil R Dickins.
Chapter 4, “Sorting Out Process
and Producing Results”: September
1941-February 1942” serves to
illustrate this over-reliance on a
single source. Twenty-one of the
first thirty footnotes in this chapter
are from “Operational Research

Historic Book Review

The Limits of Air Power:
The American Bombing of North Vietnam

Reviewed by Air Cdre Neville Parton

ow we reach an interesting first to enter Colorado Springs after
point in our series of historic the Vietnam War had ended, and the
book reviews, as we have first to see female entrants (in 1976).
arrived at the point where we Although he majored in history at
start to consider books written by the Academy, he was commissioned
individuals who are still living - and into the ground radar branch, and
where the publications are more spent his early career at ground
widely known. Not that this negates radar units in both the United States
in any way the value of continuing and South Korea. It was during the
with the series - but it does mean latter tour that his interest in the
that the interpretation can always be Vietnam conflict, and particularly the
challenged by the author - something USAF’s involvement, was sparked by
which has not been likely with any Clodfelter’s commanding officer, who
of the previous reviews! However, had participated in three Linebacker
the overall aim of the series remains II missions.2
the same - to provide a degree of
The study of history obviously
background regarding the author, an
continued to hold a fascination for
overview of the book itself, and then
Clodfelter, as the remainder of his
to consider the subsequent impact of
career would be spent in the
the publication.
educational sphere, including
Mark Clodfelter, better know teaching back at USAFA in the
throughout his service career (and History Department, as well as at the
subsequently) as ‘Clod’, joined the School of Advanced Airpower Studies
United States Air Force in 1973, (SAAS) Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB),
as a cadet at the USAF Academy and as the Air Force ROTC Professor
(USAFA), Colorado Springs.1 His of Aerospace Studies at the University
father, Walter A Clodfelter Jr, had of North Carolina. Indeed, his PhD
served in the United States Army Air was undertaken at the University of
Force (USAAF) towards the end of North Carolina, and it was on this
the Second World War, in the Pacific work that his 1989 book The Limits
campaign, and his stories of watching of Air Power was based. Since 1997
the B29s rolling off the runway on Clodfelter has been on the staff of the
their way to Japan clearly sparked an National War College in Washington
interest in the young Clodfelter. His D.C., where he is now a Professor of
Class at the Academy was marked Military History, and continues to
by a number of ‘firsts’: the first not to write on a broad range of defence-
have to attend chapel on Sundays, the related subjects. From a more
parochial perspective, Clodfelter research and interviews with many of
is also a member of the Academic the key decision makers, it manages
Advisory Panel for the Royal Air to be both readable and yet hugely
Force Centre for Air Power Studies comprehensive. The origins of the
(RAFCAPS), and a 2006 reprint of his American approach to the offensive
book was included in the 2008 Chief use of air power against North
of the Air Staff’s Reading List.3 And Vietnam, which led to the instigation
it is to The Limits of Air Power that we of the ROLLING THUNDER air
must now turn. campaign in February 1965, are
explored in some detail, together with
Clodfelter is an avowed the rationale that led to the campaign
Clausewitzian, and The Limits of Air being run on such a protracted basis -
Power seeks, quite simply, to address and with such a high level of political
the issue of the USAF’s air war in involvement in the detailed planning
Vietnam against the test of the of the missions. Consideration is
contribution that the campaign made then switched to the latter four years
to achievement of the nation’s overall of the conflict, detailing President
war aims. Particular attention is paid Nixon’s initial approach to the use
throughout to both the positive and of air power, before moving to the
negative aims sought through the critical period in 1972 which resulted
application of air power, because of in the LINEBACKER operations. A
Clodfelter’s belief in their importance short epilogue pulls the threads
in terms of Clausewitzian theory – in together with a commendably clear
particular Clausewitz’s observations set of conclusions.
that “a preponderantly negative
policy will … retard the decision.”4 In Considerable attention is paid to the
this usage, negative goals related to restraints that were imposed upon
objectives that could only be achieved the air commanders, particularly by
by limiting the use of air power - for President Lyndon Baines Johnson,
instance President Johnson’s desire who sought by ‘… restricting
to avoid bringing Russia or China weaponry, targets and sortie rates…
directly into the war. Positive aims on to fashion an air campaign that
the other hand related to an end-state would hurt North Vietnam without
that could only be brought about by provoking external observers.’5 The
applying air power, such as President need to examine this area was related
Nixon’s aim of forcing the North to a deep-seated belief within the
Vietnamese government in Hanoi USAF that the war could have been
to accept his ceasefire proposals by won if air power had not been subject
to those political constraints imposed
directly affecting its will to resist.
on it, perhaps encapsulated best
The book consists of seven chapters, in General Curtis Le May’s quote
which, after considering the growth that the war could have been won
of American air power theory from “In any two-week period you want
World War Two to Korea, then to mention”.6 This is based upon
examine the American air campaign an understanding that during the
in Vietnam on a chronological basis. ROLLING THUNDER period of
Meticulously researched throughout, operations, which lasted from 1965 to
and based on a mixture of archival 1968 and saw 643,000 tons of bombs
dropped, the fundamental lessons earlier. Earlier consideration, which
of air power learnt during the had become ‘received wisdom’, was
Second World War, and subsequently that it was the degree of political
in Korea, were being ignored. interference which led to the failure
However, even whilst ROLLING of ROLLING THUNDER, as it meant
THUNDER was in progress, its that air power was not applied in
effects - and prospects for success - the correct manner - overpowering
became suspect, with a civilian study and sudden. However, this ignored
concluding that “North Vietnam the very different political aims
has basically a subsistence behind the two operations: in the
agricultural economy that presents mid-1960s the American aim was to
a difficult and unrewarding target assist South Vietnam in winning the
system for air attack.”7 war against the North, which at that
stage was largely guerrilla in nature.
Further attention was paid to the At this point air power was largely
political aspects of the conflict. By ineffective, as it could not prevent the
1972 the strategic situation had meagre amount of supplies required
changed markedly, with the President, for such a campaign from reaching
Richard Nixon, having quite clearly the Vietcong forces in the South. In
indicated during the first three years 1972, the aim was to coerce the North
of his presidency that his goal was to Vietnamese into accepting a ceasefire
achieve ‘peace with honour’, which to allow the Americans to withdraw
in Nixon’s mind meant a withdrawal their forces from South Vietnam.
of American forces in such a manner Following the longer-term impact
that it did not simply abandon the of the Tet Offensive in 1968, which
South Vietnamese to their fate. resulted in a conventional campaign
However, Nixon also worked hard in the Easter Offensive of 1972,
on the political front to isolate North North Vietnamese military success
Vietnam from its political supporters now made considerable logistical
– Russia and China, and success on demands, which when combined with
this front was key to what would significant technological advances in
come later. The massive invasion of terms of precision guided munitions
South Vietnam by North Vietnamese (PGMs) meant that air power
forces in early 1972 forced Nixon to operating in the interdiction role
reconsider how he was to achieve his could now be effective.
aims, and the ultimate result was the
LINEBACKER operations. Equally as important, the isolation
of North Vietnam from Russian
The key point here, brought out and Chinese support - in a physical
most distinctly by Clodfelter, is as well as a moral sense, and to
that many of the targets struck on the point where the Communist
LINEBACKER were the same as Party newspaper in North
those that had been attacked during Vietnam described the actions of
earlier campaigns - where he differs the Communist superpowers as
from previous observers is in his ‘throwing a lifebuoy to a drowning
analysis and deductions as to why pirate’ - enabled air power to be used
the operations were successful effectively against all targets in the
in 1972 where they had not been North of the country. In other words,
the ‘negative’ limitations had been and lead to a conclusion which
removed because of a change in the subsequent history has proven to be
political climate and this, together remarkably apposite:
with the change in the nature of the
Bombing doctrine remains geared
conflict, enabled air power to live up
to a fast-paced conventional war,
to its promise.
and the conviction that such doctrine
A significant number of lessons are is appropriate for any kind of conflict
identified in the book’s epilogue, with permeates the service. Until air
the most fundamental being that commanders and civilian officials
unless there is a clear understanding alike realize that air power is unlikely
of the political end state that is to provide either “cheapness” or “victory”
required, and this is matched with an in a guerrilla war - and that success
understanding of what air power can in such a conflict may well equate
realistically achieve against that aim, to stalemate - the prospect of an
then success is unlikely. A further aerial Verdun will endure.
plainly identified point is the need to
So what justifies placing The Limits
comprehend the true nature of the
of Air Power in our series of historic
conflict in which you are engaged, and
book reviews? Perhaps the most
here the marked differences between
straightforward answer is quite
the situation in Vietnam between
simply that it is almost impossible
the ROLLING THUNDER years of
to find a publication or journal
1965 to 1968, and the LINEBACKER
article produced on the subject of
operations of 1972 are made evident.
the air war in Vietnam since 1990
Clodfelter began his manuscript by
that does not begin with Clodfelter’s
observing that:
analysis. But it was also a polarising
In the final analysis, the supreme test piece of work, which threw the
of bombing’s efficacy is its USAF’s beliefs regarding the conflict
contribution to a nation’s war aims. into sharp relief. It made clear the
Clausewitz’s definition of war as fact that the Vietnam campaign
“a continuation of political activity could not simply be regarded as a
by other means” provides the only continuum, and thereby provided a
true measure for evaluating air compelling and coherent explanation
power’s effectiveness.8 as to why the LINEBACKER
operations produced results whilst
and concluded by pointing out that in
relation to LINEBACKER II:
did not, which went beyond the
As long as Hanoi waged an conventional wisdom that simply
unrestrained conventional war, pointed to ‘political interference’ in
Linebacker threatened much more the conduct of the campaign.
than the North’s ability to win; it
Equally, an understanding of Vietnam
also threatened the North’s ability
is important in terms of the role that
to defend itself.9
it has played within the American
In between those two statements, military psyche ever since 1973. In
a continuous linking of political many ways the Gulf War of 1990-91,
ends and military means support at least from a USAF perspective,
Clodfelter’s basic contentions, provided an opportunity to lay some
particular ghosts from that conflict Power: The American Bombing of North
to rest. This was especially evident Vietnam (New York: The Free Press,
in the air campaign, where even the 1989), p. xi.
name originally chosen (Operation Ibid., p. 118.
INSTANT THUNDER) consciously Ibid., p. 206.
referenced the Vietnam War - where The Jason Summer Study of 1966
as we have seen Operation ROLLING was based on the analysis of a
THUNDER had been so unsuccessful. number of scientists who had been
briefed on the war by members
This is a book which repays careful
of the government, and had a
study, and rewards the reader on
considerable impact on members of
a number of levels. It provides an
the administration; from that point
object lesson in how to deconstruct
on Secretary of Defense McNamara
and analyse a problem area to gain a
would never again recommend
better understanding of the relevant
intensifying the air war. Ibid., p. 99.
facts, and then to synthesise those 8
Ibid., p. xi.
facts in order to produce a new 9
Ibid., p. 206.
understanding. But it also shows
tremendous moral courage; the
courage to commit to producing a
piece of work which is likely to be
extremely unpopular - in this case
with the very Service in which the
writer was serving. It is, quite simply,
an air power classic.

Clodfelter, Mark. The Limits of Air
Power: The American Bombing of
North Vietnam. New York: The Free
Press, 1989.
Hammond, Grant T. The Mind of War:
John Boyd and American Security.
Washington: Smithsonian Institute
Press, 2001.
Osinga, Frans P.B. Science, Strategy and
War : The strategic theory of John Boyd.
London: Routledge, 2007.

A short history of USAFA can be
found at
Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air



Centre for Air Power Studies

Concordia res parvae crescent

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