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Global Air Power

Global Air Power edited by John Andreas Olsen. Potomac Books, 2011, 560 pp.

In Global Air Power, John Andreas Olsen, deputy commander and chief of the NATO advisory team at that organization’s headquarters in Sarajevo and visiting professor of operational art and tactics at the Swedish National Defence College, offers a companion to A History of Air Warfare, a book of similar style and scope he compiled in 2010. Whereas A History of Air Warfare, an introductory text for air warfare students, examines the most important conflicts in which airpower played a vital role (essentially at the high tactical / low operational level of war), Global Air Power utilizes a longitudinal case-study method of representative air forces to “emphasize the sociopolitical contexts that have shaped air power as an instrument of war” (p. xviii).

The editor’s rationale for these case studies is simple: “To think clearly about the future, we need to know where air power came from and how it developed into what it is today” (p. xviii). The first of the book’s three parts deals with “the evolution of airpower thought and action in the three most combat-proven air forces in the world: those of Britain, the United States, and Israel” (p. 1). The second examines emerging global players: Russia, India, and China. Each air force faces the same questions as the Royal Air Force, US Air Force, and the Israeli Air Force; however, each nation is drawing different conclusions based on their respective contexts. The third part investigates air forces from the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, and Continental Europe. In the afterword, Lt Gen Dave Deptula, USAF, retired, contemplates the future of airpower and concludes with his opinion regarding what constitutes success or failure in Brig Gen Billy Mitchell’s “aeronautical era” (p. 415).

Global Air Power is a superlative read for a couple of reasons. First, the contributors not only provide impressive case studies individually but also stick to the editor’s framework, thus allowing easy comparison and contrast across multiple air forces that should enable American Airmen to unearth some of their implicit biases (good, bad, and ugly)—if they are intellectually honest. Second, the extensive notes and entries in the selected bibliography attest to the authors’ credibility and offer readers any number of paths to expand their knowledge. (Indeed, readers struggling with a topic for their next paper would do well to select from the multiple issues dealt with in Global Air Power and make use of its extensive citations of reference material.)

In his examination of the Israeli Air Force, Brig Gen Itai Brun succinctly gives professional airmen the best motivation to read this book: “Decision makers were fascinated by the availability and flexibility of airpower” (p. 144). Recent instances of drone warfare and cyber attacks point to the continuing fascination with low-footprint, flexible applications of dissuasive or coercive diplomacy. For anyone looking for the most useful allocation of his or her precious time, Global Air Power—together with A History of Air Warfare—provides a solid foundation for understanding why air forces worldwide developed their own particular grammar to respond to their respective civilian leaders’ sometimes malleable logic.

Lt Col P. K. Cotter, Georgia Air National Guard

Robins AFB, Georgia

"The views expressed 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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