Routledge Handbook of Air Power

  • Published


Routledge Handbook of Air Power, edited by John Andreas Olsen. Routledge, 2018, 406 pp.

The Routledge Handbook of Air Power yields valuable insights regarding where airpower has been, and, more importantly, provides a foundation to understand better where it might go. The editor, Col John Andreas Olsen, has produced many high-quality books on airpower in the last decade, but this is probably the finest of them all. The Routledge Handbook is the most comprehensive treatment of airpower available today, with all chapters written by first-class experts. You will find excellent pieces from established authors such as Benjamin S. Lambeth, Phillip S. Meilinger, Richard P. Hallion, Alan Stephens, Frans P. B. Osinga, Michael Clarke, Philip A. G. Sabin, and many more. You will also find essays by serving and retired Airmen who reflect on various aspects of their profession, combining first-hand operational experience with fine scholarship. I would go so far as to say that this volume is the airpower equivalent of Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. It offers that kind of scope, perspective, and insight.

The Routledge Handbook is divided into five sections, each containing six chapters. The first part covers broad developments and experiences, and thus the width of the subject at hand; the second and third parts detail operational depth, describing the operational art of delivering and applying airpower, while the fourth and fifth parts expound on the wider context in which airpower must be assessed, including case studies from non-Western countries. Thus, by examining a series of themes and factors that contribute to an understanding of the utility and applicability of airpower, this handbook focuses on the essence of air professionalism, identifies its roles and functions, and places airpower into its strategic and national perspectives. Consequently, it meets its declared objective of approaching the “whole of air power before its components (p. 8).”

This comprehensive survey chronicles critical events, concepts, and air-minded leaders who saw past the limitations of their day and recognized the importance of embracing new technologies, new organizational concepts, and new ways of doing business. Moreover, it provides an understanding of the interplay among science, technology, invention, innovation, opportunity, necessity, requirements, politics, theory, economics, national will, and industrial practice. It also demonstrates that airpower has the potential to create effects at every level of war directly and quickly. As a result, airpower will remain a principal means for achieving strategic outcomes during international disputes and conflicts. The evolving security environment requires greater responsiveness (the ability to act in hours rather than weeks or months), long-range (the ability to span the globe), effective delivery (the ability to deliver weapons or relief with precision to achieve desired effects), and high leverage (the ability to reduce personnel, support and overall monetary costs). Airpower can quickly bring these elements to bear anywhere on the planet and in a fashion that allows simultaneous application throughout any area of interest. By its nature and by the inherent characteristics of the forces that operate in aerospace, airpower has the ability to suppress adversary operations in all physical domains—on land, at sea, in the air, and in space. It follows that aerospace forces can and should play an increasingly significant role in shaping and promoting peace and stability, and in providing the operational capabilities needed to dominate an adversary in war.

Today, 100 years after the birth of the Royal Air Force, we are witnesses to the impact of airpower around the world. Airpower has set the standard and path that thrust the world into the modern era by reducing the constraints of terrain, conquering the tyranny of distance, and routinely compressing interactions around the globe from months to minutes. Airpower continues to propel us into the future in many different ways. As great a challenge as it is to survey the conceptual distance between 1918—2018 in retrospect, consider the view of someone in 1918 looking forward to today. Since our technological push forward shows no signs of slowing down, we must realize that we are in a similar situation—with another hundred years of unimaginable progress stretched out before us. If we can learn anything from airpower’s relatively short history, it should be that the potential is limited only by our vision and our willingness to advance. One can only salute the book’s concluding statement: “The true mastery of air power lies in commitment to professional insight, technological innovation, conceptual imagination and strategic acumen and in the ability and readiness to communicate airpower’s qualities to the wider public and to the politicians elected to make strategic decisions. Air power did not come this far only to come this far (pp. 374–75).”

The Routledge Handbook of Air Power is a superb work that yields insights into the characteristics, capabilities, and capacity of airpower simply not available in previous works on the subject. Accordingly, the handbook is highly recommended for individuals and institutions who want to advance their knowledge of airpower, its indispensable functions in armed forces, and the roles it can play as a critical element of national security strategies.

Lt Gen David A. Deptula, USAF, Retired
Oakton, 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."