/ Published October 26, 2018
Airpower Applied: U.S., NATO, and Israeli Combat Experience edited by John Andreas Olsen. Naval Institute Press, 2017, 432 pp.
Col John Andreas Olsen, Royal Norwegian Air Force, has carved a niche for himself in airpower literature, publishing several volumes on the strategic effects of airpower and airpower advocates throughout the history of modern warfare. His latest is in the same vein and revisits some of the same ground covered in his A History of Air Warfare, albeit in more detail. Airpower Applied, U.S., NATO, and Israeli Combat Experience focuses on post-World War II airpower in the US and US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the evolution and experience of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) from birth in 1948 through the current day, with each chapter written by experienced airpower historians and analysts.
While exhaustively researched and well-presented, the book suffers somewhat because of a heavy focus on kinetic airpower. This particularly limits the two chapters written by former Air Force historian Dr. Richard P. Hallion, covering US airpower through Operation Desert Storm, and former RAND Corporation analyst Benjamin S. Lambeth, dedicated to post-Desert Storm US and NATO operations. A few pages are devoted to the Berlin Airlift and the development of the airlift force. However, pages of statistics on targets struck and bomb tonnage dropped and the restating of well-worn rebuttals regarding the independent strategic effects of combat airpower obscure the fact that modern US (and NATO) strategic power—land and sea included— is configured around, and completely dependent on, the speed and reach of airpower. This dependence is on not only on the delivery of weapons, but also on enabling strategic movement, knowledge of the operational environment and adversary, and coordinating operations at unmatched pace, distance, and reliability.
The chapters covering the Israeli experience are more interesting. While still emphasizing kinetic operations, historian Dr. Alan Stephens describe the changes to IAF strategic thought and organization as the operational environment and Israeli strategy changed through the end of the 1973 Six Day War. The chapter by Lt Col Rachael Rudnick and Brig Gen Ephraim Segoli, both IAF Reserve, on IAF operations in asymmetric conflicts best delivers on the promised case-study approach, placing IAF plans and actions in the context of overall Israeli strategy, then examining the results against the same measure.
The final chapter, by Col John Warden, USAF, retired, is an interesting missive on the features of airpower and how they relate to the professional airman. Unfortunately, this chapter also confines itself to arguing airpower’s ability to wage war independently of armies and navies, rather than exploring the reality that airpower in its larger sense has become indispensable to waging war in any medium. However, his observations on the education of professional Airmen are thought-provoking and worth a read.
For a reader looking for a compendium of major combat air operations since the end of World War II, this volume is an acceptable reference. As a source of insight to the application of airpower, however, it breaks little new ground.
Col Jamie Sculerati, USAF, Retired
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