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The Air Campaign In Retrospect

Our purpose in this book has been to think through the problems confronting an air commander or staff officer in preparation for planning or executing an air campaign. A successful campaign clearly was contingent on a good plan, and construction of a good plan required a good understanding of the forthcoming action. The place to start was at the beginning.

Central to our thesis is the idea that air superiority is crucial, that a campaign will be lost if the enemy has it, that in many circumstances it alone can win a war, and that its possession is needed before other actions on the ground or in the air can be undertaken. Given that thesis, outlining the various situations that might occur at the start of a campaign is necessary.

Two Ends of the Scale

The situation facing a commander could at worst be one in which his bases were under air attack from the enemy while he had no capability to respond in kind. In this case, he would have no choice but to fight defensively, the worst way to fight an air war.

At the other end of the scale, the enemy's bases became subject to attack while those of our commander were safe. In between were the situations in which both sides had vulnerable rear areas or both were unable to reach the rear, so were constrained to fight over the front. Finally, in an anomalous case was the situation where combat air was not being used by either side.

Classification for its own sake may be academically interesting, but it is not militarily useful unless it leads to better operations. In the case of the air war, it does. In the course of examining various cases, we saw that the ground relationship between defense and offense is reversed for aircraft. That reversal means that the air commander forced on the defense has a much tougher time than one might imagine, if his frame of reference were the ground. It also suggests that a commander should rarely accept the defense, if he has an offensive option. We also saw that several possible centers of gravity could be attacked to win air superiority, but that not all were available in every case.

Numbers are Important

Our examinations led us to the conclusion that numbers are important. In fact, they are so important that a primary goal of the operational commander ought to be to make sure that his forces outnumber the enemy every time they meet. The concept of fighting superior and winning followed -- but with the caution that numbers did not mean theater numbers. Rather, the numbers that concerned us were the numbers that came together for an actual engagement.

We noted that the larger force almost always inflicts greater absolute and relative casualties on the smaller force. And it also usually suffers less in the process. This concept is certainly not new; in fact, it has been around for centuries in surface warfare. It is useful to know, however, that it is even more applicable in the air. Of course, qualitatively superior aircraft that are committed in battle in such a way as to be also superior in number to the enemy will accomplish far more than equal or inferior aircraft could hope to do.

After identification of the type of war and appropriate steps to win air superiority, we moved on to look at air interdiction and close support. We noted that destroying enemy equipment at or close to the source was more efficient than destroying them directly on the front. Thus, interdiction seemed theoretically preferable to close support. Recognizing that close support nevertheless was a vital air mission, we suggested that this scarce resource should be committed where the ground commander would commit his last division or artillery brigade.

Reserves A New Subject

Our next subject was one relatively new to air operations -- reserves. With few exceptions, the concept of reserves has been foreign to air forces. The theory of reserves, their ability to create a new situation and to shock and confuse the enemy, seemed as apropos to air as to ground campaigns. Our tentative conclusion, based on limited historical experience, suggests that air reserves ought to be maintained and committed at decisive points in the campaign.

We don't tend to think of war in the same terms as we think of music and concertos. But our discussion carried us to the conclusion that war plans had to have defined objectives and identified key forces if they were to lead to victory. The score for the concerto of violence had to be in consonance with the nature of the enemy, one's own nature, and the nature of the war. Discordance leads to defeat.

Lastly, we tried to integrate everything to produce a coherent air campaign plan. We saw that committing everything in emergency situations could be dangerous, if the commitment did not lead directly to a decision. We also saw that ground and naval forces could contribute to winning the air superiority that is vital to all. Finally, our discussion ranged to the use of deception and psychological warfare. Through it all ran the thread of concentration and mass.

War is Baffling, Intriguing

Of all mankind's activities, war is the most baffling and intriguing. It brings out the best in men; and it uncovers the worst. War is the last argument of kings; appeal from its verdict, frequently impossible, is always difficult. War demands from its leading participants the coldest calculation, the most rational thought. Leaders lacking the ability to think clearly and precisely under war's enormous pressures pay dearly -- often with their lives, always with the present and future of their followers. Methods of war change, but the principles of war -- the essence of war -- have not changed since Miltiades repulsed the Great King on the Plains of Marathon.

War affects every person and nation it touches. The only way to mitigate its effects is to understand it thoroughly. Our purpose in this book has been to help in that process.