Airpower and Technology: Smart and Unmanned Weapons

  • Published

Airpower and Technology: Smart and Unmanned Weapons by David R. Mets. Praeger Publishers, 2008, 248 pp.

Since it became a separate military branch of the US armed forces in 1947, the Air Force has been associated with high technology, dominant airpower, and leading-edge development in the air and space domains. Recently, the service has added the cyberspace domain to its vast number of responsibilities. Addressing military concerns in all the domains remains a constant challenge that will not diminish but very likely increase in a number of ways, known and unknown, as the twenty-first century unfolds.

Now along comes a useful book from Praeger Security International, Airpower and Technology by David Mets, to help set the scene and point the way forward for selected topics. Before airpower entered the arena, warfare in general involved two dimensions: land and sea. Mets groups the three domains—air, space, and cyberspace—into a third warfare dimension. Although his work goes beyond the Air Force realm, that service receives most of his attention.

According to the author, many studies have addressed the older two dimensions and some the third, which occasionally features both land- and sea-based aspects. With a few exceptions, we have lacked an attempt by qualified writers to treat all of them. Airpower and Technology seeks to assist the various users, partisans, and students of the subject so they can better appreciate the viewpoints of the other services and the general public.

Mets has the expertise to write on the subject. He had a full active duty career in the Air Force, serving as a pilot, navigator, commander, and an academic. The author of several books and the former editor of Air University Review, Mets is a professor emeritus at Air University’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, where he served on the faculty for 14 years teaching airpower history to the military officers selected for this prestigious program.

In Airpower and Technology, Mets aims to produce a readable synthesis that yields insights into the choices and problems facing the United States as it develops and employs air, space, and cyberspace power to support its national interests. The narrative proceeds along chronological lines, starting in the early 1900s with the humble beginnings of military airpower. The author offers ample discussion of the theories, doctrines, organizations, and technologies of land- and sea-based air and space power. Included are pieces on the technologies and techniques pertaining to precision-guided munitions, remotely piloted aircraft, information warfare, and space, all there to assist readers in making judgments connected to these aspects of the subject.

The book also addresses the evolution of air and space thinking and technology. During World War I, the initial uses of airpower were merely extensions of old land and naval functions: reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Gradually, ground attack and limited bombing came into play. After the Great War, the “First Fighter Age” emerged, emphasizing pursuit and command of the air. During the interwar years, the Navy spent time and effort expanding its air arm. The era of the industrial web—a term used by Brig Gen Billy Mitchell during war college lectures—saw the rise of the strategic bomber. After World War II, Strategic Air Command’s bombers enjoyed their heyday, and when the Soviet Union attained nuclear parity, fighters reemerged as part of airpower’s capabilities. Following the Cold War and the diffusion of the nuclear threat, command and control and precision-guided munitions came to the fore.

In many ways, that’s where the US military finds itself today, as it looks toward the future with airpower. The armed forces want air and space power to enhance the ability to “deliver projectiles with maximum accuracy from a maximum distance” (i.e., precision and standoff) (p. 3). Regardless of the spectrum of conflict, the adversaries, and the associated costs, airpower in its several forms still involves developing and delivering precision attack and standoff to ensure our security and prosperity with the lowest possible risk of life.

Again, professor Mets attempts to synthesize disparate concepts and realities into an integrated whole, providing both a map of the past and a guide to future generations of airpower. He incisively describes how technology has served as a core element of airpower and has furnished a range of military effects. Dedicated readers of Airpower and Technology will come away with a better understanding of the key technological issues associated with the air, space, and cyberspace domains.

Dr. Frank P. Donnini

Newport News, 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."