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Military Strategy, Joint Operations, and Airpower: An Introduction

Maxwell Air Force Base, AL --

Military Strategy, Joint Operations, and Airpower: An Introduction by Ryan Burke, Michael Fowler, and Kevin McCaskey, eds., Georgetown University Press, 2018, 344 pp.   

This textbook aims to link the basis of strategy, specific requirements of joint operations, and distinctive features of airpower in the contemporary strategic environment. The textbook is divided into five parts. The first part explains what strategy and desired operational effects are. The second section identifies the specifics of employing airpower in various situations, the four fundamental roles of airpower and its place in multidomain operating environment. The third part addresses the connection between air, space and cyber domains and the effects they can create. Part four explains the organizational specifics of defence, normative framework of jointness, and distinctive features of joint operations. The final part identifies the challenges contemporary strategic environment poses for development of strategy and achievement of desired effects. In this regard, such challenges as hybrid warfare, preemptive cyberattacks, mission creep, political will, and the overall complexity of military innovation are discussed.  

Overall, the textbook provides a very systematic discussion of contemporary joint operations and the challenges of developing strategy in the multidomain operating environment. The 23 chapters are short and digestible, allowing the readership to grasp the main points of the discussed topic within each chapter. From another perspective, the concise size of chapters allows mixing them according to the requirements of specific curriculum. Having used this textbook in some of my courses already, I found it useful to combine strategic chapters of the first part with the chapters of the ultimate one, since they provide a good illustration of how the strategy should be developed and which challenges might undermine its effectiveness.  

This textbook most certainly provides an excellent introduction to the topics mentioned above. Moreover, it is written in an accessible and understandable manner, which allows a nonspecialist readership to get a good understanding of the discussed subject. This textbook is very current not only because it explores the joint and multidomain discourses but also modern problems commanders face in every aspect of warfare. Challenges in decision making and strategy development were illustrated by using the most recent and up-to-date operational and strategic examples. For example, in the discussion of the cyber strategy and cyber capabilities, the authors addressed the issue of the preemptive cyber attack and its effectiveness at the first instance, and would be undermined in the future attacks because one’s cyber capabilities would become known to the adversary. Another example was a very detailed analysis of the Ukrainian Crisis and the Russian infiltration in Crimea and Donbas in the context of hybridization of warfare. The textbook also devotes due attention to the recent campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), addressing the question both as examples within chapter 11, and as a separate topic for chapter 23: “Analyzing ISIS in the Contemporary Environment.”  

This textbook is highly relevant because it puts strategy, joint warfare, and airpower into a wider political context of the American policy-making and organizational trends. For example, chapter 19 on “Expanding DoD Missions and Mission Creep” discusses very important issues of the fluidity of operating environments and the necessity of constant adjustments of strategy and actions to arising challenges. The complex public perception of the mission creep is of great importance as well. Chapter 17 on “Flawed reasoning and Bias in Decision-making” is an excellent reminder that objectivity is a key to success. However, it isn’t very easy to sustain across various situations, ranks, services, or agencies. Chapter 22 on “Innovation and Organizational Politics” is a very timely discussion of the necessity of adjusting not only the three components of the fighting power but also the very organization itself. In the rapidly changing security environment, stability might be required. However, when the organizational culture dictates thinking within the box, cutting-edge technologies will not be able to compensate for the stale mind. Both should be modernized, and organizational culture should stimulate critical thinking and innovation, both conceptual and technological.  

The variety of illustrations, including tables, learning boxes, and figures made the textbook more appealing for student audiences, allowing to present complex matters like strategy and joint warfare in a more accessible and interactive manner.  

Regarding the limitations of this textbook, like with any research project, the primary challenge is to balance the depth of content and the scope. The textbook consists of 23 very concise chapters that cover the variety of subjects, some of which are linked to one another. Assigning weekly readings in courses on strategy and airpower, a single chapter would be too short as a core reading. Hence, the chapters would work better as assigned reading if grouped as two or three.   

Also, it must be stressed that Military Strategy, Joint Operations, and Airpower is not an airpower textbook per se, nor do the authors present it as such. It does exactly what it promises—links strategy, airpower, and the planning of joint operations together addressing various challenges of multidomain warfare. The textbook can be an excellent contribution to undergraduate or cadet courses in modern strategy, operational planning, and airpower. In the courses on airpower, I would combine this textbook with other works on various operational analysis and the assessment of airpower in different operating environments.   

Overall, Military Strategy, Joint Operations, and Airpower is an up-to-date systematic textbook on strategy, airpower, and joint operations. It provides an excellent starting point for exploring each of the three main themes. Concise chapters allow for greater flexibility in using this textbook in various courses on airpower, strategy and joint warfare. This textbook will also be of relevance as an additional reading in courses on politics, international relations, security, and defence studies.   

Dr. Viktoriya Fedorchak 

The views expressed in the book review 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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