By Charles L. Donnelly, Jr.
[General Charles L. Donnelly, Jr. (USAF-Ret.) was Commander in Chief of US Air Forces in Europe from November 1984 to May 1987.]
This book is the start of something very important--it integrates historical experience into a clear, visionary set of conclusions and guidelines for using air forces to achieve strategic goals in a war. This book is exceptional, because it is the first book that thoroughly covers the area between the selection of national objectives and tactical execution at the wing and squadron operations levels.
A book of this type has been needed for a long time.
Centuries of land warfare passed before writers like Sun Tzu succeeded in capturing for readers the essence of success in war. We are fortunate, only decades after airplanes first were used in combat, to have a coherent synthesis of historical experience that is both consistent with history and prescriptively useful for future employment of air power.
Colonel Warden does not write about tactics or specific weapons, nor does he rely on a specific war. But he does tell us how to use air power most effectively. It is a book about art--operational art--as it should be practiced by an air component commander, and it ties directly to the enduring principles of war.
The principles of war, so eloquently discussed by Carl von Clausewitz in his famed book, On War, are the same for both army and air forces. Why, then, does an air force need a special analysis? What will be reaffirmed after reading The Air Campaign is that the speed and range of air forces pose special problems and offer special advantages that center around the principles of mass and concentration and their corollary, economy of force. Colonel Warden's book provides insightful discussion of such crucial topics as the commander's choice of an offensive or defensive orientation, the requirement for air superiority, the influence of ground-based defenses, and the intriguing new idea of air reserves.
The Air Campaignmakes it clear that the air commander frequently will have a choice between offense and defense. An air force on the defensive faces greater risk to itself and the total war effort than an air force on the offensive. A special feature throughout this offense versus defense discussion is an enumeration of the best choices in all the warfighting situations in which air commanders could find themselves--inferior forces, superior forces, guerrilla war, theater war, and even the danger of a massive enemy breakthrough on the ground. Also answered is the question of whether air force fighter defenses are better when spread to defend large areas or when concentrated, leaving some areas less well defended.
Whatever the choices for offense or defense, the air campaign cannot succeed until air superiority is achieved.
We consistently tout air superiority as our number one priority. While this thought seems logical to airmen who live and breathe air power, it sometimes is difficult to convince others of this fundamental doctrine. This book offers a convincing argument on the need for air superiority. It also provides a balanced analysis of air power's other roles in supporting the joint force commander--including taking the sting out of opposing air defenses, ground or air.
Enemy ground-based air defenses are targets that will be defeated at times and places of our choosing. Any ground-based air defense system has vulnerabilities that reduce its strength. For example, it is never equally strong throughout its length and breadth, it has flanks, it is immobile compared with air power, and it is normally oriented toward a specific threat. These vulnerabilities can be exploited in a well-planned air campaign. And because the vulnerabilities are not technological, but inherent in the concept, a ground-based system never will be able to stand alone against the unpredictable shock and violence of concentrated air attacks.
One way to increase the concentration of air attacks against any set of targets is to retain some air power to meet the unexpected--whether providential or disastrous. Errors are made on both sides in war, and reserves of air power permit exploitation of enemy errors, or they can be directed into the breach against an enemy attempt to exploit our mistakes. This concept of an air reserve rounds out this thoughtful book of operational-level art, providing the reader with a final technique to plan air campaigns against a wide range of enemy capabilities.
After finishing this book, the reader will realize that planning an air campaign is an art, because the fundamental decisions that will win or lose an air campaign depend on the logical thinking of the human computer. Detailed operations research techniques and probabilities are necessary inputs to our planning process. But Colonel Warden will lead you back, recharging your belief in fundamental logical tools that can be applied at first by skilled airmen, with sophisticated math taking a proper role of backup and verification.
It is possible for an air force to have absolutely superior forces--numerically and qualitatively--and lose not only the air war but the entire war. I strongly recommend The Air Campaign, because it provides the air commander the intellectual wherewithal needed not only to avoid losing, but to win.