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Airpower Applied: U.S., NATO, and Israeli Combat Experience

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Airpower Applied: U.S., NATO, and Israeli Combat Experience edited by John Andreas Olsen. Naval Institute Press, 2017, 432 pp.

Airpower Applied: U.S., NATO, and Israeli Combat Experience presents a critical assessment of the role and influence of airpower in modern warfare, focusing on the operational and strategic levels of war. The editor, Royal Norwegian Air Force Col John Andreas Olsen, and his team of distinguished authors review the evolution of airpower and its profound impact on the history of warfare. By comparing and contrasting US, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Israeli combat experience in the past 75 years, they offer unique insight into the use of airpower and demonstrate how airpower, as employed by its leading practitioners, has fundamentally changed the character of war. Exploring the underlying nature of airpower in action supplements these examinations.
Airpower Applied demonstrates to the fullest that the evolution of airpower depends on the evolution of technology and, more importantly, on the imagination and knowledge that enable the invention, development, and application of airpower instruments. As the 29 case studies in this book reveal, airmen from the US, Britain, France, Israel, and elsewhere in the world worked tirelessly during the twentieth century to embrace innovation, creativity, and change. Airpower Applied records the results of their efforts, demonstrated in conflicts ranging from the Allied strategic bomber offensive in World War II to today’s campaigns against insurgents.

Airmen who fly and fight today have capabilities at their disposal their predecessors could not have imagined. With its survivability greatly enhanced by platform speed and low observability, modern airpower can strike anywhere around the globe—rapidly, in all weather, day or night—and with extreme precision. Equipped with weapons capable of exquisitely accurate targeting, a single aircraft today can achieve the same effects that took thousands of bombs on hundreds of aircraft during World War II. 

However, while airpower has matured to the point where it is acknowledged as an indispensable element of modern warfare, current practitioners may have become too complacent regarding its potential to determine the outcomes of any given conflict. Since the fateful events of 11 September 2001, nations have applied airpower primarily in the context of counterinsurgency operations. This means that the vast majority of today’s active duty airmen have only experienced operations at the low-intensity end of the conflict spectrum. Without having encountered the challenges posed by more demanding conflict environments, national leaders—both military and political—may become increasingly inclined to accept this most recent combat experience as normal. Airpower Applied provides a more comprehensive perspective by highlighting the application of airpower in a range of settings radically different from those familiar to today’s active duty airmen. The case studies in this book illuminate both the intentions of airmen as they applied airpower in a range of conflict environments and the often unanticipated outcomes. This spectrum of historical operations will become more important to future generations of decision makers in all countries and all services who, themselves, have only experienced early twenty-first century counterinsurgency operations.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this book lies in its linkage of specific operational details to the wider political context in which nations and coalitions have employed airpower. The case studies not only identify how airpower achieved effects in various military campaigns but also explore the theoretical and doctrinal underpinnings of those operations. They demonstrate convincingly that leaders must understand the strengths and limitations of airpower relative to their goals in any given conflict. As the editor states in his introduction, “even the most robust and capable air weapon can never be more effective than the strategy and policy it is intended to support.” Combining an understanding of these multiple contexts with their own experience and expertise will enable the airmen of the future to design and deliver airpower options that optimize evolving aerospace capabilities and best exploit the virtues and value of operating in the third dimension.

This comprehensive and thoughtful account of recent campaigns can help military professionals and interested general readers to understand how airpower has become an increasingly more important and at times decisive political tool for conflict resolution—but only when appropriately exercised as part of a carefully crafted policy. I highly recommend Airpower Applied to officers of all services and civilians interested in defense and security, international relations, and military history.


Lt Gen David A. Deptula, USAF, Retired
Oakton, Virginia

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.

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