Back to Contents

3. Offensive Operations

A commander must undertake offensive air operations if the battle is to be carried to the enemy, and if political objectives exist beyond hoping the enemy will stop his offensive. It is easiest to envision and discuss offensive operations in their pure state, that is, when every thought can be devoted to the offense without concern for defense.

Case II meets these criteria and is the commander's dream. His bases are nearly immune from enemy attack, but he can attack all parts of his enemy's structure. The Anglo-American air offensive against Germany from 1943 until the German surrender in 1945 provides the classic example. The Allied bases in England were practically safe from attack, as the Germans had nothing that could reach them without prohibitive losses.47 The same situation applied to Allied bases in France after the Normandy invasion.

Case II provides the opportunity for decisive action -- action so decisive that the war can theoretically be won from the air.

War Can be Won From the Air

The most likely reason that one side will have safe bases, while those of the opponent are vulnerable, is a lack of proper equipment in the opponent's inventory. One side may not have aircraft that can reach the other's bases. The enemy may have aircraft with ample range, but may lack the training or equipment required for such attacks. He can find himself in this position either because he never had the proper training or equipment to begin with, or because of losses of forward bases or of aircraft during the course of the war. The latter suggests a point which must be kept in mind: The operational situation can change during the war itself. What was a correct approach on day one may be wrong six days, six weeks, or six months later.

In Cases III and IV, courses of action are limited, because the enemy can only be met up to and over the battle lines. In Case II, however, the commander may drive directly against the enemy's centers of gravity; thus, the selection of a proper center of gravity against which to direct one's efforts is crucial. The selection process will in part depend on relative strengths. If the commander has overwhelming superiority in numbers, he perhaps can afford to target virtually every part of the enemy air system, knowing that he will get the job done eventually. With enough numerical superiority, this approach is bound to work (although it may cost far more than necessary and may take an inordinate amount of time).

As the offensive commander's degree of superiority moves to equality, and finally to inferiority, the necessity for an accurate assessment of the enemy's center of gravity becomes more crucial. Indeed, if the offense is inferior in numbers, only one course of action may lead to victory. If the commander makes the wrong choice he may not have another opportunity to win air superiority. The classic case of making the right decision and the right plan was the Israeli attack on the Arab air forces in 1967. The classic example of choosing the wrong center of gravity was the German attack on Britain in 1940. We will look at both in more detail.

The enemy's air center of gravity may lie in equipment (numbers of planes or missiles); in logistics (the quantity and resilience of supply support); geography (location and number of operational and support facilities); in personnel (numbers and quality of pilots); or in command and control (importance and vulnerability).

"Equipment Chain" Must be Evaluated

Each point in this equipment chain must be further evaluated in terms of its position. In other words, reaching every part of this chain, from manufacture to employment, may not be possible. Refineries may be outside the operational theater, but pipelines and storage tanks within it. A careful analysis of enemy doctrine may highlight significant strengths and weaknesses that can either be exploited or avoided. Let us further consider each of the possible centers of gravity.

The layman tends to associate air superiority with destruction of enemy aircraft. Although valid, it is not the only approach. A potentially vulnerable sequence of events (the aircraft chain) must take place before an aircraft fires a missile or drops a bomb. Raw materiel must be assembled, formed, and moved by some method to a manufacturing plant. At the plant, power from some source enables workers to put together the aircraft itself or some subsystem of it. The aircraft, with all its subsystems, then must be moved to an operational field, where it must be protected from enemy attack while it is being prepared for its mission. Finally, it takes to the air. Theoretically, it is possible to eliminate an air force by successful attacks on any point in this chain.

A short look at this aircraft chain will be instructive -- keeping in mind that other similarly interdependent systems, such as fuel or pilot training, also can be attacked.

The most difficult and costly place to attack the aircraft chain is in the air. In the aggregate, one friendly plane can destroy one enemy plane. One pilot in one airplane may well shoot down more than one enemy aircraft in a single mission, but that is rare. The majority of fighter pilots will never down an enemy, although, as technology improves, the chances of one pilot with one aircraft accounting for more than one enemy per mission may increase -- assuming that countermeasures don't improve commensurately.48

Going back down the chain from the air leads to aircraft on the ground. Under ideal circumstances, the results of airfield attack can be impressive. As examples,

The Germans destroyed more than 4,000 Russian aircraft on the ground between 22 and 30 June 1941.49 The Germans had less than 1,400 bombers and fighters on the entire Russian front during this period.50
The Israelis had similar results from their attacks on Arab air in 1967: With 196 operational combat aircraft, they destroyed almost 400 Arab aircraft on the ground in two days.51
The historical experience has been that it is cheaper by far to destroy aircraft on the ground than in the air. Whether circumstances will permit such success, however, is a function of surprise, the state of enemy defenses, and the physical protection given aircraft on the field. Note that the most famous instances of such successes have occurred when one side achieved tactical surprise over the other. In some cases, air superiority may possibly be attained by methodically eliminating enemy air bases, although experience in the major wars of this century indicates that airfields must be attacked persistently and heavily if they are to be destroyed.

Light, one-time attacks probably will not eliminate an airfield, but may, for a limited period, keep its aircraft on the ground.

The next step back in the aircraft chain, the movement of aircraft from the factory to operational fields, normally does not present much of an opportunity. Ferry routes generally are on internal lines not subject to attack. Worth noting, however, is the fact that ferry losses for reasons other than enemy action can be quite high. The Japanese, for example, lost a shocking number of aircraft ferrying from Japan to forward bases.52

The next significant step back in the chain is the factory. The production of aircraft may depend on a great many factories that produce engines, ball bearings, airframes, munitions, and fire control systems. Sometimes of even greater importance are the people and facilities that support the factories. Power and transportation are particularly critical: Interviews and studies after World War II indicated that power and transportation were the weakest points in German and Japanese war production.53

The last step back is to the raw materiel that goes into aircraft building. The sites of raw materiel production themselves are not normally good targets. Transportation nets to the plants, however, can be very vulnerable, as the case of Japan in World War II.

Obvious Choice Often Worst One

The fact that choosing a point at which to attack the aircraft chain is far from easy should be clear by now. The important thing to keep in mind is that many ways are available for attaining an objective, and that the most obvious one -- in this case, attack on aircraft in the air -- is quite likely to be the worst choice. Circumstances will vary with each conflict, but the thing to look for is the place where an investment in attack will yield the greatest return. In some cases, a "panacea"54 target actually may exist. Where these can be found, they should be attacked and reattacked with persistence.

One more point needs to be made about the aircraft chain. If enemy production sources are outside the operational theater, as they were for the United States in the Vietnam War, and for the Israelis in their wars against the Arabs, then the problem of preventing additional aircraft or missiles from entering the enemy's inventory becomes either easier or more difficult.

In the Vietnam case, keeping the North Vietnamese from acquiring new equipment theoretically was quite easy, as almost everything came by sea transport, which had to terminate in a very limited number of ports. Once the United States decided to close the ports, and put enormous pressure on the enemy with the Linebacker II attacks, the North Vietnamese quickly ran out of missiles.55

In the case of the Israelis, blocking entry of aircraft and missiles into the Arab countries was not feasible, consequently, aircraft and missiles had to be addressed closer to the front -- where the cost can be quite high as the Israelis discovered in the 1973 war.

Enemy logistics may well constitute the real center of gravity. Aircraft can't fly if they don't have fuel, and they can't accomplish anything if they don't have weapons. Ground-based air defense systems are useless if they have no missiles to fire, and neither ground nor air systems last very long without spare parts. Where is success likely in this area?

If the whole logistics chain is open to attack, the most promising link almost certainly will be petroleum. The whole petroleum cycle, from the initial collection points through the refineries to the end user, is exceptionally vulnerable.

In World War II, the Allies did not concentrate on the petroleum chain in Germany until May 1944. Three months later, Germany's ability to produce aviation fuel had fallen by 98 percent; by December, the German military was in such dire straits from a lack of fuel that it had to depend on the seizure of Allied fuel dumps in order to give the Ardennes offensive any chance of succeeding.56
Of course, the Allies attacked every element of German petroleum processing, with special emphasis on refineries and synthetic fuel plants. If it is not possible to concentrate on the refineries, the vulnerability of the petroleum chain decreases -- but it still remains a potentially key target simply because a modern military machine cannot function without fuel.

Fortunately for the attacker, even the movement of refined products in any quantity is difficult. Petroleum products must go by railroad, by road in large tanker trucks, by sea, or by pipeline. All these modes of transport can be struck with great success from the air. Such attacks are most effective, however, when the overall fuel situation is fairly tight. In other words, a particular airfield is not going to suffer from attacks on petroleum production or transportation until its own reserves are low. Thus, user reserves should be knocked out where practical. If not practical, patience is needed, for user reserves normally have enough to last for what may seem like a long time, even after the source is completely destroyed.

Patience, Persistence are the Keys

Other parts of the logistics base might be attacked, and should be, if careful analysis of vulnerabilities, stockpiles, and substitutes indicates that an attack is worth the cost. For example, a sustained attack on plants producing spare parts or munitions may produce satisfactory results over an extended period of time. If time is important, however, choosing a relatively rugged and probably dispersed part of the logistics base may be an error. Again, regardless of the way in which logistics are attacked, a delay almost certainly will be noted between successful attacks and observable deterioration in the enemy's air efforts. Patience and persistence are key.

The German air attack on Poland in 1939 was the first significant use of air power at the start of a war. The Luftwaffe staff had correctly identified the need to attain air superiority in the theater,57 and assumed that it could be accomplished largely by hitting enemy aircraft on the ground and by attacks against physical facilities of the airfields.
The first part of the assumption proved true, but examination of Polish fields after the Polish surrender produced some unexpected results. Attacks against hangars and runways had little effect and were not worth the effort. Coincidentally, however, German attacks on airfields (and railroads) had so completely destroyed communications that, as German historian Cajus Bekker writes, "there was virtually no effective military command from the start."58

In the Polish case, the Germans succeeded in spite of some misplaced effort. In their subsequent attacks on Britain, they were not so lucky.

The German air campaign against Britain in 1940 has become a classic of how to do things wrong.

The Germans set out in the summer of 1940 to win air superiority over Britain. During the course of their two-month campaign, they continually changed their objectives, never identified a real center of gravity, and demonstrated a remarkable lack of patience and persistence. Of particular note was the short-lived thrust against Royal Air Force (RAF) bases. Starting in the second week of August, the Luftwaffe made RAF bases one of their primary objectives. Part of their effort was wasted, because it was directed against forward operating bases used only for quick refueling and rearming. These bases were relatively easy to repair. Another part of their base attack program, however, was directed against main bases, and it lasted until 6 September 1940.
In retrospect, the airfield attack program clearly was weakening the RAF. The Germans, however, abandoned airfield attack on 7 September 1940 and substituted direct attacks on London, which they thought would force the RAF into the air, to be defeated by Luftwaffe fighters. One of the reasons why the airfield attack program was canceled was because its progress could not be charted -- unlike the movement of armies on the ground, where progress is easily depicted. Another reason was an assumption that destroying aircraft in the air was relatively easy and inexpensive.59

As we have seen, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Finally, and perhaps more compelling than the cold military logic -- however erroneous -- was an emotional desire to retaliate against the British for their nuisance raid on Berlin. We will cover this error in more detail in subsequent sections.

The inability to measure progress in the same way it is measured for land operations demonstrated a German bias toward thinking in only two dimensions that is common even today. This bias is a heritage of thousands of years of ground wars. On the other hand, the assumption that the place to destroy an opposing air force is in the air demonstrated a typical fighter pilot bias. These biases exist in everyone's mind: The successful commander will be the one who can think with his brain, not with his heart.

The preceding discussion shows the usefulness of airfield attack, but also shows that it requires great patience and persistence. One cannot expect to hit an airfield once and forget about it for the rest of the war. Here is where geography can play an important role in deciding the utility of airfield attack. If enemy fields are isolated and cannot easily provide mutual support, an operation to concentrate against one at a time suggests itself. On the other hand, if the fields are mutually supporting -- the enemy can easily concentrate forces against an attack -- then an airfield attack program may either be exceedingly difficult, inordinately expensive, or not practical. Normally, of course, airfields will be arrayed in some pattern between perfect mutual support and perfect isolation. In this case, if airfield attack is deemed necessary, planners ought to look for a flank or other weak spot that will permit attack in detail.

Flight Crews are Precious Resource

Equipment, whether aircraft or missiles, is of no value unless skilled personnel are available to use it. The people who operate missile systems or who repair aircraft are highly skilled and cannot be replaced easily. Flight crews are especially precious in war, for their production is so dependent on long and arduous training programs and on such a relatively small pool of eligibles that unexpectedly high losses can lead quickly to reduced capability in the air -- even when no shortage of airframes exists.

This shortage of air crews is precisely what happened in Germany in 1944 and 1945.

German aircraft production hit record highs in 1944, as a result of a desperate and belated recognition that Germany could not survive Allied command of the skies. Unfortunately for Germany, this remarkable production of aircraft was to no avail, as the pilot training program was overwhelmed in 1944, as was the aviation fuel industry.60
Two basic approaches to reducing enemy pilot pools suggest themselves.

Without question, pilots are key to the ability of an air force to operate in the air. However, in order to get at them, something else may have to be done -- such as shooting down enemy aircraft or destroying a key part of the logistics base that supports training. These things affect the air battle more directly, or at least more measurably, than reduction of enemy pilot strength. Therefore, except in cases where the enemy has a very circumscribed pool of pilots, while possessing comparatively large numbers of aircraft, pilot strength probably should not be identified as a center of gravity that can be addressed directly. On the other hand, it is important and useful to keep in mind that more direct attacks may have the secondary effect of reducing pilot strength. These attacks may considerably speed the process of winning air superiority. To the extent that the quantity and quality of the enemy pilot force can be identified, opportunities may exist to accelerate pilot attrition.

Command is the sine qua non of military operations. Without command, a military organization is nothing but a rabble, a chicken with its head cut off. Commands exist at all levels, of course, starting with the company or flight level and ranging up through the wing or division level to the ultimate theater or even national command. Destruction or isolation of any level of command may have a serious -- and perhaps fatal -- impact on the unit or units subordinate to it. Clearly, command, with its necessarily associated communications and intelligence gathering functions, is an obvious center of gravity, and has been from the earliest times: As the death of the king on the field of battle meant defeat for his forces, so the effective isolation of the command structure in modern war has led to the rapid defeat of dependent forces.

One of the problems facing the commander today, which did not face him even a century ago, is the problem of locating the command structure. In simpler times, the commanding general or monarch was readily identifiable to both friend and foe. His death or capture were immediately obvious to both. The results of his death or capture were likewise immediate. Today, a single commander may well be the key to victory or defeat, if he is especially brilliant or stupid. Both cases, however, are on the margin; in normal circumstances, the modern staff is capable of keeping operations going along a fairly broad path. Therefore, it is not so much the commander who is the center of gravity, but the staff system which serves him.

Unfortunately, staffs normally work out of protected facilities that are well behind the front. They are difficult to destroy or capture. Additionally, within reasonable parameters, individuals on the staff can be replaced by other officers serving elsewhere. Since physical destruction of the staff is difficult and not necessarily long-lasting, other approaches to vitiating command must be considered.

To function effectively, the commander and his staff must receive reliable information on what is happening on both sides of the front, and they must have some way to pass direction to subordinate -- and superior -- formations. In between receiving and sending, the command element must make decisions. Consequently, command can be attacked in the following three spheres: the information sphere; the decision sphere; and the communications sphere. If any one of these can be sufficiently disturbed, the effectiveness of operations will begin to decrease dramatically. How much it will decrease will be a function of the situation and the pressure being exerted by the enemy.

If the enemy is attacking or defending in a slow, conventional, methodical manner, or if one's own forces are behaving similarly, the urgency of receiving information, making decisions, and transmitting directions is considerably reduced. In fact, absent stress, lower echelons of command need little guidance from higher echelons and probably could continue to function for some time without any guidance. In these circumstances, attacks on the command structure are not likely to produce immediately dramatic results, although something significant may happen over time if a high level of command is knocked out. Conversely, if the enemy is attacking or defending imaginatively with a high tempo of operations, or if one's own forces are doing so, the need for information, decision, and communications goes up exponentially. Now, even a slight disturbance in the command process can be dangerous or even catastrophic.

Command is True Center of Gravity

Command is a true center of gravity and worth attack in any circumstance in which it can be reached. It is vital to remember, however, that results may not be evident for some time unless the enemy is under severe pressure. The destruction of a command element may not immediately be evident on the battlefield, simply because inertia, if nothing else, will allow subordinate units to continue some operations. Patience and persistence again are imperative.

As an illustration, the Germans in the Battle of Britain decided that radar sites were key targets.

The Germans launched coordinated attacks on British radar stations early in August and succeeded in destroying one. The British, however, sent false signals from the location of the destroyed radar station to make the Germans think their efforts had been for naught. The Germans responded precisely as the British hoped and dropped attacks on radars on express orders from Field Marshal Goering, the political and military chief of the Luftwaffe.
The Germans, due to their impatience and lack of persistence, and British deception, stopped attacks against the very thing that allowed the British to mount an effective defense.61

The three elements of command -- information gathering, decision, and communication -- can be attacked individually or together as part of the effort to win air superiority. Each of these elements can be attacked directly or indirectly: the best course will depend on the situation. The decision element is clearly the key, for without it the other two are worthless. Unfortunately, the decision element is the most difficult to reach directly. Normally, the other two elements will offer the best possibilities. Some examples will illustrate problems and opportunities.

The German attack on British radars in the Battle of Britain was an attempt to take out British information gathering. As noted, the attempt failed because of the British deception operation -- which in itself was an attack on German command.

By feeding bad information back to the Germans, the British induced the Germans to make a bad decision. Later in the war, the British and Americans attacked German radars indirectly by dropping chaff to mask the direction and extent of bombing raids over Germany. Every major conflict since World War II has seen the use of chaff as a means of depriving the enemy of information.
Attacks on the decision element of command are limited only by the imagination. They can range from direct strikes at enemy command posts to complex operations to mislead the enemy and induce him to do something inappropriate. The former are self-explanatory. The latter benefit from illustration.

In the Battle of Britain, the Germans began by more or less concentrating against various parts of the British fighter force. They were making progress when the British made a bomber attack on Berlin. The attack was militarily insignificant, but it was a prime factor in inducing Hitler to direct attacks against London. The shift to London took much of the pressure off the British air force and allowed it to concentrate, all of its efforts against the Luftwaffe. British bases no longer needed fighter protection, and the Royal Air Force was able to concentrate its fighters against the now predictable Luftwaffe.62

In this instance, no evidence suggested that the British attacked Berlin so that the Germans would attack London. However, it certainly suggests the possibility of doing something to the enemy that will induce him to react illogically.

Another similar case is the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942.* The raid itself was militarily inconsequential, but it led the Japanese to the unwarranted conclusion that their home defenses and their defensive perimeter needed to be expanded and strengthened.63 As a result, the planned invasion of Midway quickly gained great support, the army opened a campaign in east China to capture the airfields where the Doolittle bombers had intended to land, and a total of four fighter groups badly needed elsewhere were held in Japan for home defense until the end of 1943.

All three of these actions had subsequent repercussions -- although none so great and dramatic as the defeat at Midway, which was a turning point in the Pacific war.64 The Japanese reaction to 16 bombers is another indication of how irrational decisionmaking can be, and how vulnerable it is to manipulation.

To date, no really good examples exist of successful theater attacks on just the communications part of the command system. However, some examples are available from both ground and air war at the tactical level that have wider application. Following the heavy air attacks in conjunction with the Normandy invasion, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the German commander in the west, relayed that "high losses in wireless equipment by fighter bomber attack . . . were noticeable in making reporting difficult."65

A more modern example, which combines all three elements of command, is the Israeli operation in Lebanon in 1982.

In the late spring of 1982, Israel decided to eliminate the surface-to-air missile system the Syrians had installed in the Bekaa Valley. They used a variety of innovative ideas and equipment, including army artillery to take out close-in radars, drones with television cameras to give the commander a real time view of the battle, and F-15 fighters in an airborne control role. The sequence of the operation was roughly as follows: The Israelis fed bad information to the Syrians by launching remotely piloted drones that produced radar returns similar to fighters. The Syrians shot SA-6 missiles at nothing and exposed themselves to various types of fire. Next, the Israelis reduced Syrian information gathering capability significantly by hitting Syrian radars, to open the way for attacks on individual missile sites.
After the missiles failed, the Syrians launched waves of fighters to intercept the Israelis, but the Israelis jammed the data and voice communications on which the Syrian pilots were dependent.66
As a result, the Syrian fighters were reduced to uncontrolled singles trying to operate against superior numbers of well-controlled enemy aircraft.67
The loss of information-gathering systems and communications led the Syrian command to throw more fighters fruitlessly into the fray. In the week-long operation, the Syrians lost 85 fighter aircraft and 29 surface-to-air missile batteries.68
The Israelis lost nothing to Syrian air and, depending on sources, two to three aircraft to ground fire.
The Israeli success was phenomenal. It was the result of effective attack on all elements of Syrian command. Whether that success can be duplicated on a much broader front is a matter of speculation; however, a broader operation even 20 percent as effective would still be spectacular. The opportunity is there and when, as in the case currently under discussion, one's own bases are relatively secure from attack, possibilities are so enormous that the utmost attention should be given to a concerted attack on the enemy's command system.

Ethnocentricity Should be Avoided

In deciding where to put the emphasis of the air superiority campaign, making a careful analysis of enemy doctrine is important. In the process, avoiding ethnocentricity is especially important; one must not assume that what one's own Service considers logical and necessary is what the enemy will consider logical and necessary. In a certain sense, war through the ages has been a battle of doctrines. The really decisive successes have come to those who adopted a new doctrinal concept to which their enemies were unable to respond: the refused center at Cannae baffled the doctrine of line clashes; the long bow at Crecy69 beat the doctrine of the heavy cavalry charge; the tank, to some extent in World War I and markedly in World War II, defeated the doctrine of linear warfare; and the doctrine of air bombardment brought crushing defeat to the countries whose doctrine depended on armies and fleets for protection or conquest.

Examples abound from World War II to the present of air doctrine, for good or ill, playing a major role in the outcome of battles and wars. The classic case is that of the Germans, who although judged apparent masters of air doctrine after the great successes in Poland, had such fundamental failings that they were virtually precluded from winning the wars on which they had embarked.

Development of air doctrine began in Germany in the 1930s. The Luftwaffe like other major air services, was intrigued by aerial bombardment ideas espoused by Giulio Douhet,70 in his epic book Command of the Air (1921; English translation, 1942). Hardware development was moving apace, with a four-engine bomber on the drawing boards that was to have sufficient range to penetrate beyond the Urals.

In 1936, however, the man who provided the broad strategic vision for the Luftwaffe, its Chief of Staff, General Walther Wever, died in a plane crash. The officers who followed him did not have his broad vision and administrative ability. In addition, the head of the office of Air Armament after the Spanish Civil War believed that all bombers had to dive in order to have satisfactory accuracy. Compounding the issue were technical problems in bomber engine development.71

These factors meant that Germany had a short-range, tactical air force when she went to war against two countries, Britain and then Russia, which could only be reached with long-range aircraft.

Lack of a long-range air force meant that Germany had to meet and defeat her enemies at the front -- the same way that armies had opposed each other for centuries. Such a course also has worked for centuries, but against enemies similarly constrained or against enemies with forces not too numerically superior. In World War II, these conditions did not prevail for Germany.

On her western front, the British and Americans had long-range air forces that could attack every facet of German life, from the factory to the front. All of Germany was under bombardment by 1944, whereas British and American rear areas were practically immune to Luftwaffe bombing. On the eastern front, Germany faced the Russians, who had moved their industry behind the Urals and greatly out-produced Germany in military equipment.
The Germans could not reach Russian factories, so were compelled to take on Russian equipment at the front where numerical superiority eventually proved overwhelming. In essence, Germany entered a war with doctrine and equipment that were inadequate to the task.

Contrast Germany's mismatch of strategy, doctrine, and equipment with American experience against Japan.

Hansell Urges Strategic Bombing in Pacific

American air theoreticians had been much taken by Douhet's theories on defeating an enemy by direct air attack on his homeland. These theoreticians had put together proposals for the "strategic" bombing attacks on Germany and one of them, General Haywood Hansell, pushed for the same thing in the Pacific. He argued that the seat of Japanese strength was in the home islands; if airpower could so punish those islands by direct attack, then the armies on the perimeter would be little more than useless appendages. To carry out such a plan, however, he had to have bases within about 1,600 miles of Japan, in order to bring the islands within range of the B-29 bombers that would start arriving in 1944. He therefore urged that the previously planned central Pacific thrust be devoted to winning suitable bases in the Marianas. To him, operations in the southwest Pacific were peripheral. After lengthy discussions in Washington, he finally convinced the Air Staff, and then the Joint Chiefs, to approve a campaign with a primary mission of seizing bases in the Marianas from which US forces could conduct intensive air bombardment and establish a sea and air blockade against Japan and from which to invade Japan proper if this should prove necessary.72

The Joint Chiefs were willing to hedge their bets.

Hansell himself had the opportunity to command the first of the B-29 units based in the Marianas -- although he was forbidden to fly missions against Japan and was replaced by General Curtis LeMay, who directed the fire bombing raids.

These operations started in late 1944 and became intense with the fire bomb raids on Tokyo in March 1945. In late spring the Japanese government started its first tentative efforts to negotiate an end to the war. Shortly thereafter, Japan started looking for ways to surrender contingent only on protection of the Emperor.73
Japan surrendered unconditionally immediately after the two atom bombs fell on its cities. This is not the place to debate whether the atom bombs were needed. What is clear is that the Japanese had lost air superiority over the home islands. Previous losses of trained personnel and obsolescent aircraft made it nearly impossible to resist the marauding American bombers. At the time of the surrender, the Japanese had 2 million men and 9,000 aircraft in the home islands alone. Nevertheless, as the Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, "It seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion."74

Unlike the Germans, the Americans had developed doctrine, aircraft, and training appropriate to the problem. They won.

Japan itself was the political center of gravity. If it could be sufficiently threatened, the war would end. The key point here is that any war is almost certain to have a similar center of gravity. If it can be reached directly without reducing the defenses en route, doing so should be considered.

How to affect that center of gravity is the next question. As the Strategic Bombing Survey suggested, no government can long function when the enemy operates freely above it -- that is, when the enemy has air superiority. The same suggestion may well pertain to levels short of national government. The mere possibility, however, means that the air superiority campaign must be given great thought -- as an end in itself, or as a means to an end.

Israelis Capitalize on Weaknesses in Syrian Doctrine

Almost 40 years after Germany and Japan fell in defeat, the Israelis brilliantly capitalized on weaknesses in Syrian doctrine. The Syrian air doctrine was closely modeled on the Soviet doctrine and called for very close control of fighter aircraft by ground stations. This doctrine puts a premium on the ability to gather information and to communicate. This doctrine, in turn, suggests a possible vulnerability. Indeed, if one had only a copy of Syrian doctrine, and no record whatsoever of any Syrian combat experience, one could logically conclude that the command and control system ought to be a particularly lucrative target -- as indeed it was in the 1982 battles previously discussed.75

As suggested in the beginning of this discussion, the case in which one's own fields and rear areas are safe from attack, while those of the enemy are not, is the best possible situation. Its existence, however, does not ensure victory or make victory come cheaply. Careful consideration of enemy centers of gravity, assisted by analysis of enemy doctrine, is the first step to success. The second step is concentration of effort. Especially in the situation where one seems to have numerical superiority, there is a tendency to try to do everything. In all likelihood, the net result will be that nothing is done as efficiently as it should be.

A very important point to keep in mind is that Case II is different from the other cases. It is significantly different from the case where the enemy's rear areas are not reachable. If a Case II war is fought as though it were a Case IV war (where enemy rear areas cannot be attacked for either military or political reasons), the time to bring the war to a successful conclusion will be extended at best. In other words, if the opportunity to strike the enemy's bases and support systems is available and not taken, the price for this neglect will be high. As logic and historical experience very clearly indicate, the most expensive way to destroy enemy air is to engage it over the front in a head-on battle. One bomb dropped by one aircraft on one factory or power plant may directly or indirectly destroy great numbers of enemy aircraft, whereas one aircraft at the front is unlikely to destroy even one of the enemy. The same principle holds true for interdiction, as will be shown in chapter 6.

Political leaders may be loath to attack enemy rear areas at times. Conceivably, cogent political or strategic reasons may call for avoiding attacks on rear areas. It is imperative, however, that the operational commander make clear to the political authorities that they are directing a militarily illogical course, and that the cost and duration of the war almost certainly will be far higher and longer than it otherwise might be.

From the commander's ideal case, we will turn next to the most dangerous of all cases -- the case where the air commander is forced to accept the pure defense.