Airpower for Strategic Effectby Colin Gray
In this magisterial tour d'horizon of the air weapon's steady rise in effectiveness since its fledgling days, Colin Gray, a prolific strate gist of long-standing scholarly achievement and international repute, has rightly taken a long view of today's pattern of regional conflict by appraising airpower in the broader context in which its operational payoff will ultimately be registered. His careful development of airpower's "strategic narrative," as he calls it, shows convincingly how the relative criticality of the air weapon in joint warfare is neither universal nor unchanging but rather is crucially dependent on the particular circumstances of a confrontation. More to the point, viewed situationally, airpower can be everything from single-handedly decisive to largely irrelevant to a combatant commander's needs, depending on his most pressing challenges of the moment. Because its relative import, like that of all other force elements, hinges directly on how its comparative advantages relate to a commander's most immediate here-and-now concerns, airpower does not disappoint when it is not the main producer of desired outcomes. Indeed, the idea that airpower should be able to perform effectively in all forms of combat unaided by other force elements is both an absurd measure of its operational merit and a baseless arguing point that its most outspoken advocates, from Giulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell onward, have done their cause a major disservice by misguidedly espousing over many decades. Although the air weapon today may have been temporarily overshadowed by more land-centric forms of force employment, given the kinds of lower-intensity conflicts that the United States and its allies have been obliged to contend with in recent years, there will most assuredly be future times when new challenges yet to arise will again test America's air posture to the fullest extent of its deterrent and combat potential. Professor Gray's central theme is that airpower generates strategic effect. More specifically, he maintains, airpower is a tactical equity that operates-ideally-with strategic consequences. To him, "strategic" does not inhere in the equity's physical characteristics, such as an aircraft's range or payload, but rather in what it can do by way of producing desired results. From his perspective, a strategic effect is, first and foremost, that which enables outcome-determining results. And producing such results is quintessentially the stock in trade of American airpower as it has progressively evolved since Vietnam. Airpower for Strategic Effect offers an uncommonly thoughtful application of informed intellect to an explanation of how modern air warfare capabilities should be understood. Along the way, it puts forward a roster of observations about the air weapon that warrant careful reflection by all who would presume to find it wanting. Among the most notable of those observations are that context rules in every case and that whether airpower should be regarded as supported by or supporting of other force elements is not a question that can ever have a single answer for all time. Rather, as noted above, the answer will hinge invariably on the unique conditions of any given conflict.
This manuscript is without equal in comparison to any other publication I have read on the subject of airpower. It is a unique and timely analysis of the problems drawing upon important case studies of the application of airpower from its relatively short history.
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Meet the Author
Colin S. Gray, one of Britain's most renowned analysts of military strategy, is professor of international politics and strategic studies at the University of Reading. Professor Gray served in the U.S. Government and founded and ran a defense think-tank in Washington, D.C.
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