The Bolt from the Blue: Air Power in the Cycle of Strategies

  • Published

The Bolt from the Blue: Air Power in the Cycle of Strategies by Dr. Sanu Kainikara. Royal Australian Air Force Air Power Development Centre, 2013, 127 pp. 

 In Bolt from the Blue: Air Power in the Cycle of Strategies, Dr. Sanu Kainikara presents a twofold thesis: "that there is an indelible connection between the four strategies [influence and shape, deterrence, coercion, and punishment] and the spectrum of conflict; and . . . that the strategies are not linear progressions . . . but that the spread is cyclical" (p. 11). In other words, the spectrum of violence is not a line as often depicted, with humanitarian assistance on one end and total war on the other, but a circle with war termination immediately linked to postconflict stabilization, and the cycle continues.

In explaining his argument, Kainikara ably illustrates airpower's unique value in providing policy makers a relatively precise, scalable instrument of power with an important, nonkinetic, "soft power" dimension. Adapting the familiar linear spectrum of violence, Kainikara's continuous circle--or cycle of strategies--captures Carl von Clausewitz's subtitle "In War the Result Is Never Final" (On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989], 80). In his concise yet thorough explanation of influence and shaping strategies, deterrence, coercion, and punishment, readers will find many similarities with the works of Colin S. Gray, Daniel Byman, Robert Pape, and Phillip S. Meilinger. This is not a criticism; Kainikara synthesizes contemporary airpower theories effectively and adds nuanced observations. His chapter on influence and shaping strategy offers an example. Kainikara not only succinctly describes concepts of spheres of influence, strategic influence, and shaping the environment but also highlights airpower's strategic contribution. He explores its ability to apply nonlethal force by monitoring, its provision of physical assistance and intervention through airlift, and its active policing and stabilization through intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. With similar conceptual development, Kainikara examines airpower's impact on deterrence, coercion, and punishment strategies.

A former fighter pilot, retired Indian Air Force wing commander, and holder of a PhD from the University of Adelaide, Sanu Kainikara currently serves as an airpower strategist at Australia's Air Power Development Centre. His unique background offers a valuable international perspective on and appreciation for non-Western airpower experience. Intended as a general theory of air power, Bolt from the Blue presents a slim bibliography and few references for the scholar although the general reader may appreciate its brevity and focus. Along the same lines, Kainikara supplies few historical examples or case studies but includes clear, effective diagrams to amplify his text.

To a certain extent, the author's great strength--devising a simple yet thoughtful general theory of airpower as an instrument of strategy--also portrays the book's greatest weakness. In sum, the cycle-of-strategies concept presents a strategic vision largely devoid of the fog and friction of war. To be fair, Kainikara carefully qualifies his theory and warns of the unexpected, but the book's overall tone conveys airpower as a precise, orderly instrument that serves calculated strategic designs. Overshadowed is the mess of unknowns and the chaos that dominates the real world--as featured live and in real time on global media. Nevertheless, Sanu Kainikara's Bolt from the Blue represents a useful, concise tool for teaching airpower theory. Carefully written, elegantly argued, broad in scope, yet nuanced and detailed, this work deserves consideration as one of today's premier expressions of airpower's influence on strategy.

Dr. John T. Farquhar, USAF, Retired
Department of Military and Strategic Studies

US Air Force Academy

"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."