Military Airpower: A Revised Digest of Airpower Opinions and Thoughts

  • Published

Military Airpower: A Revised Digest of Airpower Opinions and Thoughts by Col Charles M. Westenhoff, USAF, Retired. Air University Press, 2007, 277 pp.

Military Airpower, a compilation of quotations on war fighting and, in particular, air and space power, is an essential addition to the library of any student of war in the air, space, and cyberspace age. This book came about as a result of a request by Gen T. Michael Moseley, former Air Force chief of staff, that the author, retired Air Force colonel Charles Westenhoff, update Military Air Power (1990)—the original version. Colonel Westenhoff, a former forward air controller and fighter pilot, became an esteemed member of the Air Force’s cadre of military strategists and theorists. He served at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, contributing to the development of Air Force Manual 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, and at the Pentagon, where he worked on quadrennial defense review issues in the 1990s and, after retiring from service, as a Checkmate senior mentor. The author’s contributions across the spectrum of airpower application inform his choice of thoughts and remarks for inclusion in this book, giving them direct applicability to today’s war fighter—whether as essential background reading for the development of briefings and white papers or as primary reference material for the formulation of strategic plans.

In the foreword, General Moseley remarks that “this book is about what Airmen have in common—our heritage, capacity, and future potential. It also illustrates that while we’re on the leading edge, we’re also part of the sweep of military history” (p. vi). Both of these points speak to the utility of Military Airpower.

First, with regard to what Airmen have in common, Colonel Westenhoff designed this book to help them fill their clue bags, a term familiar to pilots and others, whether those bags are empty or full. I do not necessarily suggest that readers memorize all of the quotations and regurgitate them cadet-style in the Fort Myers Officers’ Club. The selected quotations are not random thoughts but useful examples of synthesis realized by past and present leaders on topics important to Airmen at large. For example, according to Gen Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, “The argument has been advanced that the Air Force should be concerned with land objectives, and the Navy with objectives on and over the water. That distinction is to deny the peculiar quality of the air medium, the third dimension. The air is indivisible; it covers land and sea” (p. 53). Such an observation is not just good fodder for a professional military education research paper; it is a position taken by a founding member of the Air Force that still applies in joint discussions at combined task forces today.

Second, by offering historical quotations, Colonel Westenhoff helps tie classic military thought and principles of war to modern air, space, and cyber technology, doctrine, outcomes, and arguments. The book weaves together the thoughts of contemporary air and space power leaders and thinkers as well as those of classic military strategists. For example, most Airmen have at least a passing familiarity with Carl von Clausewitz and his seminal book On War, excerpts from which pepper the pages of Military Airpower, such as the familiar statement “The ultimate object of our wars, the political one, is not always quite a simple one” (p. 63). To be compelling in a joint arena, however, that observation could benefit from insight offered by a modern airpower leader like Gen Charles G. Boyd: “Above all, PGMs [precision-guided munitions] connect political objectives to military execution with much greater reliability than ever before. The political leader can have far greater confidence that discrete objectives can be met and can thus gain broader latitude in formulating the overall objective. This is not just a change in air power or even in military power; it is a fundamental change in warfare” (p. 146).

Military Airpower is not simply another book of quotations. Rather, it covers old and new, touching on concepts dear to the hearts of air and space power theorists and armchair strategists alike. Colonel Westenhoff ranges across the principles of warfare, outcomes, and arguments from Operations Desert Storm, Deliberate Force, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom—as well as from classic battles and strategists during the world wars—exploring airpower, technology, command and control, and doctrine.

I suggest that all serious students of war and military history obtain a copy of Military Airpower and peruse it every now and then to reboot their notion of airmanship. The thoughts and ideas found therein will enhance discussions about joint and combined arms, doctrine debates, and especially conversations that take place in the halls of the Joint Staff—where Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines know their own service’s dogma. The quotations themselves tell a story, and the organization of the book helps compare apples to apples. As Sir Winston Churchill reportedly said, “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations” (p. 4). That goes double for the educated ones.

Col Merrick E. Krause, USAF, Retired

Springfield, Virginia

"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."