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Air Warfare: History, Theory and Practice

Air Warfare: History, Theory and Practice by Peter Gray. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015, 208 pp.

In Air Warfare: History, Theory and Practice, Peter Gray, a senior researcher in airpower studies at the University of Birmingham, gives readers a comprehensive look into the complex world of airpower and the history that paved the way for its mainstream use in today's conflicts. The overall perspectives throughout the textbook are United Kingdom (UK) centered and do not include documentation from non-UK sources. The extensive use of references throughout offers readers clues as to where more information on the topic can be found. Consisting of nine chapters, Air Warfare provides students at all levels a supporting textbook to accompany their courses and/or research interests.

Gray's broad look at air warfare and its history generates different perspectives on airpower, supported by extensive documentation. Following the introduction in chapter 1, chapter 2, "Air Warfare, War Studies and Military History in the Twenty-First Century," and chapter 3, "Air Warfare Historiography and Sources," serve as a blueprint for how a student and/or researcher should go about constructing a sound air warfare historiography. The author makes valid points, and most of his arguments are eloquently expressed. In these early chapters, he addresses flawed scholastic studies from which students and researchers frequently draw conclusions. He attributes this tendency to (1) the misperception that military history is only glossy publications, color schemes of weapon systems, elite uniforms, and detailed accounts of tiny battles outside the greater campaign; (2) some authors' practice of merely listing the battle and lives of dead generals; and (3) a distaste for the politics of a particular conflict (pp. 6-8). To ignite discussion and critical thinking, Gray alludes to opposing views to both support and dispute his points.

Chapter 3, mentioned above, examines historiographical sources on the topic of airpower, noting the influence of formal doctrine on the Royal Air Force (RAF) / Royal Navy mind-set and on early agencies. Gray points out that RAF doctrinal publications sat dormant from 1968 until 1990, when the 4th edition of Air Publication (AP) 1300, Royal Air Force War Manual, reemerged (p. 19). The UK Strategic Defense Review of 1997; the 3rd edition of AP 3000, British Air Power Doctrine; and BR 1806, British Maritime Doctrine, followed as the British military focused on updating doctrinal publications (p. 19). The author uses case studies after each chapter to drive home its main points, thus giving readers the opportunity to see Gray's perspectives and arguments in a different light and opening avenues for discussion.

Chapter 4, "Airpower Thinking and Theory," points out alternative paths in the development of airpower thinking (p. 37). The author does not limit his coverage to the airpower prophets but encompasses expansive thinking on air warfare. He does, however, refer to the prophets' publications on the topic throughout the chapter.

"Air Warfare in Practice," the fifth chapter, covers the origins of particular roles in air warfare and describes the development of airpower thinking. Subtopics include aerial reconnaissance, naval aviation, control of the air, air-land support, strategic airpower, and generic issues. The author's views are all doctrinally based and supported by examples from past conflicts. However, Gray does ponder the cost and operational effectiveness of airpower in practice, offering references for students to explore the strategic air offensive and its effects on the enemy's diplomacy, morale, internal security, and economical infrastructure (p. 64). The author identifies the ownership of strategic air assets as another issue commonly fought over before and during most air campaigns. His solution is to have a flexible system, such as the one used in the Western Desert. Additionally, a nation's prioritization of airpower is ultimately decided by governmental bureaucracy.

In chapter 6, "Leadership and Command of Air Warfare," Gray argues that the transition from tactical to strategic airpower is more condensed than that for any other form of warfare. He asks whether leadership in the air is the same as that on the ground and whether it applies across all levels of command. After establishing a baseline definition of leadership, derived from publications of the Defense Leadership and Management Center, Gray outlines the different problems associated with operational and strategic environments. He then concludes that the two environments have different decision-making dynamics that may require varying leadership styles. Reflecting on the annual Christmas address of the UK chief of defense staff to the Royal United Services Institute in 2009, Gray suggests that the problem lies with the education, selection, and employment of strategic thinkers (p. 71). Amplifying the problem is the strategic leader's ability to adapt his or approach to both peacetime and wartime operations.

In terms of command and control of airpower, the author stresses that command must be retained at the highest level to ensure unity of effort. The concept of centralized control / decentralized execution has been well documented and remains the cornerstone for the command and employment of US airpower. Gray's viewpoint regarding the origins of air warfare's legality, legitimacy, and ethics becomes clear in chapter 7, which examines those topics. The author also notes that Dr. Francis Lieber's efforts to codify the rules of warfare marked the first significant attempt to bring air warfare to the forefront of international law. Ultimately, Dr. Lieber's inputs were later adopted by the Geneva Convention during development of its protocols and articles. Chapter 8, "Air Warfare Strategy, Operations and Tactics," simply reviews the levels of warfare and analyzes airpower. The "Concluding Comments" of chapter 9 end the book.

Broadly speaking, Gray has written an informative history textbook for the novice student of air warfare--one that is well worth reading. It is filled with references intended to broaden students' perspectives on the subject. Readers, however, could have benefited from exposure to the full spectrum of air warfare had the author addressed how the battle in space is changing all aspects of airpower. Instead, Gray merely touches on the issues associated with remotely piloted vehicles and the ethics of their employment and on how satellite and near-real-time intelligence affects decision making at the strategic level. Ideally, Air Warfare should look more extensively into space warfare as a means of helping readers fully understand today's fight and identify a way forward into tomorrow's battlespace.

Capt Ellis O. Christian, USAF
Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina

"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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