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Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 14 - Dr. Richard Newton of the RAF and Tribal Control

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  • By Dr. Richard Newton

Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.

Dr. Margaret Sankey: Welcome to Wild Blue Yonder on the Air, Air University's podcast. Today, our guest is Dr. Richard Newton. And we're talking about his book, The RAF and Tribal Control. So welcome and thank you for being with us today. 

Dr. Richard Newton: Thank you, Dr. Sankey. It's a pleasure to be here.

Sankey: Can you start off by telling us how you came to be interested in interwar aviation?

Newton: Well, I will admit that wasn't my original interest. But the book is a culmination of my experiences that contributed to the things that I did to help restore the Air Force's combat aviation advisor capabilities. Back you up again a little bit. I graduated from the Air Force Academy in '77. And so while I was a cadet, the Vietnam War ended and the POWs came home and that became... The end of the war started a period of introspection by our Air Force. They were examining the successes and failures of US policies and strategies. And what was the tension between conventional war against the North Vietnamese versus the irregular war in Southeast Asia, the Viet Cong, the Khmer Rouge, and other insurgent groups. And the academy was part of that effort, and I got to take courses while I was there, such as Airpower and Modern Warfare, Political Violence, and Revolutionary Change.

My academic advisor was an Army helicopter pilot, and in those days, there was no such thing as an aviation branch or a special forces branch. So he was an infantry officer who was an aviator, but when he was enlisted had had his Green Beret handed to him by President Kennedy. So I was tainted as a cadet. What's also interesting in there is we used David Galula's book on counter-insurgency warfare as a textbook. I still have my hard cover copy of that 1960s book that General Petraeus brings back in the 2000s as he's recreating counter-insurgency doctrine for the Army. So this whole notion of unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, irregular warfare, I developed an early interest while I was a cadet.

And so in 1989, I was the only AFSOC officer that was selected for Staff College that year. And in a conversation with the headquarters, they basically said, if we as an Air Force major command are going to truly understand what it means to be Special Ops, we better figure out this Army stuff. And so I got sent to Leavenworth for Staff College. Not unwillingly, by the way, it was... I knew a little bit about it. I had visited friends who in previous classes who had been there, so it was a happy occasion. So when I got there, the Army Major who was babysitting all of the special forces officers, found out he had an Air Force Special Ops command major also attending the class, and he grabbed me and said, "You can do certain things with the Air Force, but you're hanging out with us for the next year." And we became fast friends and it was all wonderful. And my classmates ended up becoming senior leaders within Army special forces and within the ranger regiment, civil affairs, and PSYOP. So it was a great, great experience.

While I was there, I had the opportunity basically to expand on an article I had written for what was then known as the Airpower Review. And it was the role of Air Forces in counter-insurgency support. I remember from my studies as a cadet how we had this ability to train Air Forces to employ aircraft in combat in the host native language." But we lost that at the tail end of Vietnam. Thus the article was, "Hey, we need to go back and recreate this capability because the mandate or doctrine, strategy, policy says we should be prepared for combat across the entire spectrum." But in the '80s, late '80s, we're focused on air, land battle, and the Soviet Union, and the central plains of Europe. And in my opinion, I think what we're doing now is we're throwing out all this experience with irregular warfare that we've gained in Afghanistan, and Iraq. And Syria, and other places to focus almost solely on great power competition.

So after I graduated from Leavenworth, I got the opportunity to go to US Special Operations Command in the J5, and was given a portfolio to create this idea that I had had both in the squadrons when I wrote the article and then as my SAMS thesis, my Master's thesis out of SAMS was, I could take the article, put more research into it, better library, better resources, and expand on it. And a gentleman by the name of Jerry Klingaman, who was at CADRE, took my thesis, put an Air Force cover on it, and that thesis became the first volume of the future of the Air Force series that the CADRE was doing in the early '90s. So someone at US SOCOM read that thesis, handed it to the Commanding General, and I was hired to go to J5 to create this idea that I'd had.

Coincidentally, AFSOC was working along the same lines, and there was a cadre of people with General Fister I believe was the commander at the time, with his blessing saying, "Hey, we need to recreate this combat aviation advisor capability in the Air Force." And so between me at SOCOM, them a few years later by '96, the 6th SOS comes along and we've recreated that capability. So that kind of gets me into this... Why I was interested in this sort of a topic. Later on in about 2008, I was given the opportunity to work on a PhD, and I went to the British Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham, and their King's College, London provides the academic underpinning unlike Air University, which can grant a Master's degree in their own right, the British system is different. So I was there working on a PhD, living at Shrivenham, and wanting to expand. And this is so 2009-2010 school year, but through about five, six, seven, eight, there was this ongoing debate in our Air Force about air control. And people were looking at Air Force officers, students at Air University, even some at Leavenworth, were going back and using the British Air Control experience as justification for what was then their version of air control. How do Air Forces contribute to irregular warfare?

It was very much an "Air Forces can go it alone," kind of an attitude. And as I looked at their primary source, which was a book called "Air Power and Colonial Control", it focused overwhelmingly on kinetic aspects of air power. Now, going back to what I told you earlier about all that study I had done as a cadet, and then just ongoing readings, I knew there was more to it. I mean, it's hearts and minds, it's carrots and sticks. Pick a cliche that you'd like to use. Nearly everyone, including highly credible historians and political scientists were using this one book, David Omissi's 1990 book, which was based on his PhD dissertation. So I said, there's something wrong with this argument. So as part of my research, I went back to the primary sources. Lots of days in the National Archives, outside of London, reading through those dry dusty documents and trying to figure out what it is that made air control work. And there's arguments back and forth. Did it really work?

My premise was, yes, it did, at least in Iraq, in what is now Jordan, to a lesser extent in the Sudan, for one short period on the northwest frontier of India, now Pakistan. Air control theory, as Trenchard and his staff and the thinkers of the period were looking at it, air control did work. And as the book goes on to, it didn't work in other places, but that's a different question. So, I started looking at knowing that the Air Force was going through this period of "We need to have language-capable officers and NCOs, we need to have culturally attuned officers and NCOs who can operate effectively in this environment," Afghanistan and Iraq at the time. So I went back and started looking at that, and then disagreeing with these SAASS and Air War College and Air Command Staff College students' papers about why air control could be applied to modern warfare. I discovered that basically, the human on the ground had been ignored or neglected. And I'll cut those guys some slack, because if there's only one source that looks at this, and it's a credible PhD thesis, been turned into a book, you can understand why they went down this path. And so my work, then my research was to go back and actually talk about those SSOs and how they made air power personal, which in a highly technologically-oriented service like our Air Forces, that's a tough thing to do.

It is very difficult to make air power personal from 20,000, 30,000 feet, but the British figured out how to do that. And I think we lost that, beginning with about 1939-1940, the Second World War, and then we go into the Cold War. I'm sorry for the long answer, but it explains how I got to this point and the fact that the interwar period has been embraced by so many students and scholars and planners as being the shining example we should all emulate if we're going to use air power in irregular conflict.

Sankey: Well, that sets us up really well to talk a little bit more about the specifics of British maintenance of their empire. And especially, you kind of teed me up perfectly in talking about great power competition, because as World War I ends at Versailles, maybe the great power competition is over, but a lot of much smaller conflict is just beginning and continuing. The reality is the British Empire is huge. It's still a global entity and it's still in some geographically very challenging places. Can you tell me, what does that frontier look like in the 1920s?

Newton: Until about the 1960s with the independence of so many British colonies, the cliche, because it was true, was, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." It was a global empire that spanned the globe. British colonies, protectorates, dominions, and even mandates were in every single hemisphere. And so after the war, as you said, the Treaty of Versailles divided up, in addition to setting the terms of the peace, it divided up the former German colonies and the Ottoman Empire. And large swaths of the Ottoman Empire were mandated to the French and the British. Unlike colonies or protectorates where the British had gone in either economically, British East India Company, the British West India Company, and then assumed a governing role, these mandated territories were Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia. It doesn't become Iraq until 1921. So you have these places. Syria was mandated to the French. But again, the British and French attitude of the early 1900s was that they needed civilizing influences. That they were not capable of governing themselves on a Western European model.

And so in order to help them get to the point where they were able to join the League of Nations on their own and act politically, diplomatically, economically along the lines that these, essentially 19th century statesmen were wanting, they needed to have big brother, babysitter, tutor, mentor, coach, pick a noun. They needed to be helped along to join the civilized world. And so, at least in the area that I looked at, the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, and Iraq, they knew there was oil there. Now, the British... The Royal Navy was still coal powered. They were switching to oil. But they also knew that it was going to be at least 20 years before they could economically get the oil out of the Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. And then get it to a place where they could do something about it. And so they wanted the oil rich regions. Persia was linked to Britain at the time. So they naturally were in these wild and dangerous and isolated places.

And so the British Army had a system. The regiments were based at home. They would have four battalions. And the battalions would take turns going into one of the colonies, or protectorates. And they would serve there. So there would be India-focused ones, the jewel of the British Empire. There were regiments that were focused on Africa. Which is why in the book you see things like the people who were looking at this. Trenchard, the first chief of the Air staff, served in Nigeria and Rhodesia and in West Africa. Salmon, also as a young officer, they fought in Africa. So you have this notion of Army officers doing time in the colonies and then coming home and swapping out with another battalion that would go down and pick up those constabulary and policing duties. And that's an important part to remember. Prior to World War I, the British Army was a constabulary Army. Much like our US Army on the frontier of the American West. They were not designed to fight force on force against divisions and corps, even going into the Civil War we have this challenge with our Army. It's a constabulary Army. And so this was the British Army going into the First World War. It makes for interesting perspectives on foreign service, but it doesn't do much to help you fight a continental war in Europe.

Ironically, the end of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the League of Nations is also the beginnings of this retreat from colonialism. Some of the colonies, because of their massive contributions to the British efforts to fight the war in Europe, were given an elevated status. They were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa were considered dominions. So they had a higher placed seat at the table within the colonial office and the foreign office.

British population at this time is increasingly uninterested in maintaining the colonial system, but we've got 19th century politicians and leaders who felt that maintaining this global empire was key to being perceived as a global power. And Churchill was one of the leading imperialists of the time. So, I think they needed to protect the system in order to protect their status as a global power. And there is a very real tension within the cabinet between giving up the colonies and growing the colonies. And so, with the Treaty of Versailles and these mandates, the imperial structure doesn't get smaller, it gets bigger because now they've got all these mandates in the Middle East, in Africa, and in the Pacific, former German colonies, former Ottoman Empire. That they've now got to figure out something... They've got to go do something and they're responsible for this. And that's a lead into a future question, but I'll drop it there so we can get on to some of the other ones that you thought you might want to talk about.

Sankey: Well, from my own British historical work, I'm familiar with these kind of frontier garrisons, only the British really experimented and perfected them in Scotland and Ireland. So that's the period that I work on. They have a really long track record of success with the amazing phrase "burn and scuttle", which you point out in the book. What do airplanes add to this kind of paradigm of coercion and compellence on frontier people in areas?

Newton: Well, I think because many airmen are not going to understand what burn and scuttle means, let me take a moment to explain that. And it was a derisive nickname, and the British soldiers called it burn and scuttle for their punitive expeditions. And prior to the interwar period, punitive expeditions were battalions of soldiers who were assigned a garrison and police the Empire, mounting up with all their baggage and everything that it takes to put soldiers into the field, so you've got combat forces, but also a combat support and combat service support. You've got to maintain lines of communication, you've got to feed them, you've got to fuel them, it may be fodder for horses, but you've still got to fuel the transportation system. Basically, burn and scuttle was these large formations of soldiers marching out of their garrisons through populated areas and literally leaving a trail of damage and destruction because these are not small formations. The goal being to restore order and punish the tribes.

It was a crude, slow and cumbersome system, and it did very little to win hearts and minds. It also presented the opposing populations, guerrillas, insurgents, whatever you wish to call them, tempting targets. And this is nothing new. It goes back to the Roman times, there's always stragglers, there's a transportation system, and these are lucrative and vulnerable, weak targets that you can harass from the... But after the First World War, they needed something new, they needed a new way of doing business for a lot of reasons. And sending soldiers out to police recalcitrant tribes was wasteful and expensive. For example, in 1919, one of the records I found, there was a battalion that was marching through Waziristan what is now modern day Pakistan, and they suffered 40% casualties in 11 days without ever actually getting into a fight. Forty two killed, a 160 wounded, 20 were missing because you're in mountainous terrain and there are choke points.

And so a guerrilla with a rifle, they can pick off small detachments, they can attack your supply chains, and so interestingly enough a few years later in the same area, a punitive expedition by a flight of aircraft, one was faster, so they were able to catch the retreating tribes before they got back into a comfortable and safe environment. They punished the perpetrators of whatever the issue was at the time, and suffered zero casualties, and part of that is because they never had to spend the night in the field, they didn't have to leave small detachments to protect their lines of communication, and they didn't suffer any diseases, from disease or injuries while they're marching along through wild and difficult terrain. So, this is burn and scuttle. During this period, and it didn't come out in some of the questions we had talked about earlier, but the British Army didn't want to take on responsibility, they just couldn't. I mean it's demobilization, the country is almost bankrupt, the people don't want... They're tired of war, and so the British Army didn't want to do it, but they were even more vocal about not wanting the Air Force to try it. And so they, the British Army mounted a very vicious anti Air Force, anti-air control campaign to try and stop the Air Forces from at least experimenting with trying to control... Control the empire from the air.

Okay, so Trenchard is actually fighting two wars; trying to actually make his idea work in difficult places, but also having to fight back home against his own Army that's trying to undermine what he's trying to do, and he's proven that he can do it for 80% cheaper than the Army did. So you asked me, so how does this apply to some of the modern theories of coercion and compellence? Well, it was hard for at least the Army to coerce the populations they were policing into the behavior that they desired. Again, that slowness, the cumbersomeness, just the inherent destruction of formations of soldiers passing through your village, that's not unique to Iraq or the air control, I mean, Roman legions, Napoleon's battalions, Nazi German armored formations passing through, it's just messy and destructive, but it can't be helped, and this is supposed to be an era of peace. I mean the war is over, we're supposed to be policemen, not... So they're trying to figure out a way to work within the civil authorities to impose peace and stability, not to defeat an insurgent opponent.

And that's an important point because as we look at things, and we won't today, but as students and historians and politicians and decision-makers look at Malaya, Borneo, Algeria, and some of the great insurgencies, at least from the Cold War era, we're trying to defeat an opponent militarily, we're trying to impose law, order, stability and get an economy back up on its feet. And ostensibly, and I think that they went into this believing it, they were really trying to help Iraq stand up as an independent nation, able to join the League of Nations in its own right, not as a colony. I believe the leadership thought that way. Alright, so then you ask about coercion and compellence, so that also drives a lot.

We had talked earlier about Schelling and his work with coercion, and others, and I know a lot of that gets studied at Air University, but a lot of their work was looking at Cold War paradigm. Schelling wrote it in the early '60s, and I think the book was like '65 or '66. So "Arms and Influence", was really the first book, or if not the first, it was one of the more powerful ones that set the tone for a lot of research into coercion that came after him, and he's the one who coins the term "compellence" and what he was talking about is, how do you use force or the threat of force to influence your opponent, your adversary, or even just a population in general, to act in the way that you want them to do, to comply with your wishes. I think he came at it from a negative perspective, I mean it was the fear of nuclear annihilation that coerced the United States and the Soviet Union into not using nuclear weapons against each other. One can say we came really close with the Cuban Missile Crisis, there probably were some others, I just don't know what they are, but I mean there were times when the use of nuclear weapons was considered, but not used because of the threat of mutual assured destruction, mutual annihilation from the other side.

Newton: And so it's interesting that later on others... I think Alexander George was the one that first starts to take Schelling's work, and adds this notion of persuasion, and this becomes important, even though it's 40 years after the interwar period where, the '60s and the '70s, where they're looking at how do we influence a population to act how we want, and that's where George comes in. And Alexander George says, "Hey, we need to add a component of persuasion, we may coerce in the short term, but there's always going to be decision-makers and leaders who will not take a quantitative approach, they'll come at this from an emotional or a qualitative saying, 'You know what, we can survive whatever it is they're going to do to us, and we're willing to go to the brink and maybe even actually start a war because of emotional decisions rather than hard quantitative decisions.'"

So, I think George comes in and he brings in this notion of rewards and incentives to ensure that whatever behavior we've coerced someone into, that we're able to keep that behavior ongoing and dissuade future bad behavior. And I think that the other piece that comes out of this, you can read it in the early 1920s RAF manuals, and the writers on coercion, obviously the two I've just spoke up, but I think Karl Mueller also brings it out in his work for RAND and for Air University, is that you've got to remember that this notion of credibility, our nation faced this lack of credibility with our deterrent capabilities, and a couple of instances; Hungary, Czechoslovakia under Eisenhower, I think are two examples.

But going all the way back to the 1920s RAF manuals, it says that the threat of force or the coercion lacks any credibility unless you actually use it, and this becomes important I think, because I think that's one of the strengths of what the British understood and what they did in the Middle East and in other places where I think air control actually worked. They did apply limited kinetic force, the "inverted blockade" was the term that they called it. And the inverted blockade is a great example of this limited force aspect that we have studied our entire careers. And their notion was they were just going to impose a level of inconvenience, and it was a clever turn of a phrase, a level of inconvenience at the local level to induce the local populace to change their behavior. And it was a very leadership-centric approach.

We've gone through this in our DOD with trying to... Is it a population-centric approach or a leadership-centric approach? Well, what the British did in the '20s and '30s was leadership-centric, and it was very, very local, there's scores of tribes just between Baghdad and Basrah, and if you understand a little bit about that culture, they're very insular. And so this notion of Iraq was not the modern western notion of a nation-state. I mean, yes, there was an Iraq, they had a king, but the tribes were still the power on the ground. And so you have to take each individual tribe and influence them. And as tribes compete for resources and prestige and esteem, then you end up with the notion of bad behavior. And so the inverted blockade would go into an area. The British would tell the people to get out of their camp or their village, and they would go off and tell them, take your valuables, take your children, take what you value and move it out, and then they would come in and they would bomb houses, scatter the flocks, and burn crops.

And at first, I mean, you don't get this from the official reports, but you do get it from some of the private papers where the local population would sit on the side and it's like Olympic diving competition, and they would grade the performance of the airmen. And they didn't hold up the cards like the judges do at the Olympics with each airplane score on it, but I mean, you get this notion of how almost comical it was, and they clapped politely, and they'd say, "Okay, yes, you bombed a grass hut or a mud hut or villages and you scattered some flocks and we're going to have to send people out to go find all the animals again and... " But you know, after a few days of that, mom and the kids are not happy now, they want to get back to their house, they want to rebuild their lives. And so where it was all fun and games at first, now you've got angry families that are going to the village elders, to the decision-makers going, "Okay, enough is enough, whatever it was, we didn't pay our taxes, we didn't turn in the criminal to the police... " And it's civil disobedience is what they're trying to enforce or what the British and the Iraqis are trying to enforce. And so, now you've got families going, "Okay, enough is enough, we want to get back in our houses, give them what they want, so we can get it on with our lives."

And so, it is levels of inconvenience. And again, the British also come out and in their doctrinal publications, it's going... They must always remember that the people they are attacking, once that's done with, you've got to govern them. And so this is where you end up with this coercion plus persuasion kind of thing where once you've actually stopped the bombing and you've gone in and they've made whatever concessions the British needed them to make, now, they come in with civil-military help, rebuild houses, inoculate the flocks, there's a couple instances where in locust areas where they've actually had the airmen get out there with flame throwers on and trying to kill all the locusts that are going to eat the crops. So, they have this carrot and stick approach, that term comes out of the Vietnam war, but this carrot and stick approach is we now got to go in to help them become a productive village, tribe, sector again, to support the civil authorities.

Sankey: Your book does a really fantastic job in identifying the kind of secret sauce, and that's if the British put the right boots on the ground, and this is in the person of these SSOs, the people who are helping precisely calibrate that degree of inconvenience. What is going to be important to target, how much is too much, what is the local kind of temperature on how much can they be persuaded? Could you tell me a little bit about SSOs? Who are they? What kind of role do they play? Where are they getting these guys?

Newton: Thank you very much. I mean, I hope we've got a few days because this is like my favorite thing to talk about. [chuckle] And it's a great follow-on to your earlier question. SSOs, Special Service Officers. Now in our Air Force, at least when I was growing up, a special service officer was what you and I now know as Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer. But for the British, between the wars and through about the early '60s, these were officers on specialized service. And this was not a new concept. The British had had colonies since the 1400s, they had political officers from their foreign service who would go out and represent the colonial government or even in the indigenous government in those nations where you had a native bureaucracy. So you had these political officers living in the villages, junior guys, learning the culture and learning the languages. They would tend to stay in the areas for a long time, so they got culturally attuned as well as learning and practicing their languages. So, they had this tradition going into the interwar period.

In the 19th century, the British Army picked up on what the political officers had been doing and created this category of special service officers within the British Army. And as we talked about before, under the regimental system, where there'd be a battalion forward in a policing mode, garrisoning a colony, and other battalions back home recruiting and training or just resting. Some of their offices would stay there and they would serve an intelligence function. Intelligence was very human-driven, even going into the Second World War. There were bits and pieces in the First World War of signals intelligence, but most of it was human-driven. The Army SSOs were essentially collectors, but they were also advisers to the battalion staff on appropriate tactics, appropriate responses to whatever was going on in areas where they were working. So when Trenchard proposes air control and policing from the air, he realizes, based on his experiences having served within the Army's regimental system prior to becoming an airman, that they were going to need something like this to help the Air Forces understand appropriate tactics, appropriate responses, and the intelligence collectors, as they determined what was going on within this theater. I mean, Trenchard had his faults, but he did understand, back to my earlier theme, that policing has to be personal and that from the air that's all but impossible.

Now, there are things you can do to make it personal, and we can talk about that later, but he did understand and the people he surrounded himself with and the commanders he put in place understood his vision and that he had to figure out how to get down to the local level where policing happens. They create this cadre of special service officers, and in fact, even during the Cairo Conference, where Churchill meets with leaders from the Middle East and from the various cabinet agencies to try and figure out how they were going to divide up the Middle East, and who is going to do what where, they call for special service officers that early in the process. These airmen are pilots and observers, what we would call navigators today. But when you're hanging out the front of an open cockpit airplane, you're observing a lot on the ground, so observer was the term at the time. They needed them to collect intelligence, they needed them to provide the cultural awareness to the decision-makers within the squadrons that were charged with providing the air policing.

And in the course of that, because they were on the ground, they were able to also do what we now call targeteering, trying to figure out the effects needed to achieve the results desired. We have whole disciplines in our Air Force today, professionals who try to figure out how to take the weapons that we've got or the weapons that may need to be developed in order to achieve desired effects. They were also because they were pilots and observers able to be forward air controllers, and what I'm talking about there is making sure you're putting the weapon that was selected or the effect that was selected on the right target. So whether it's a leaflet or a bomb or a strafing, they had very limited means of affecting things from the air during the '20s and '30s. You now had a human who would gather the intelligence, was able to advise on the means... I avoid using the weapon because not everything was a weapon, so the means needed to achieve the desired effect and then they could communicate with tribal leaders or village chieftains and then come in and explain to them the consequences of not following the rules.

That communications piece comes through loud and clear in Karl Mueller's work, for RAND on coercion. It's been missing in a lot of the theory, but the British understood this early on. Communicate the results desired and the consequences of not following the rules, and if you didn't follow the rules, they could... These are DH9A Biplanes with big balloon tires, they could land on the desert floor, then they'd land. The special service officer would climb in the back seat, direct the pilot where to put the bomb, you don't... It's all eyeball and gravity bombs back then, and so it is, "Fly over it, do their quick reconnaissance, see the house next to the river. No, not that one, the one to the left of that," classic voice-driven forward air controlling. And then they would do the attacks or do whatever was needed, land. SSO would get out of the airplane, go find the village chieftain and say, "We told you we were going to do this. We did it. What's your choice?" As I said, sometimes these would go on for three or four days, families are still grading the airman's performance and so they come back and do it again until such point where the village chieftain goes to the SSO, "Okay, now we're willing to meet your demands."

So, this is who these guys were, but how do you get a British pilot or airman to get out of the cockpit? I know from my own experiences, if you offered me a chance to go live in a village by myself with my native driver and a... For a couple of years, not speaking to anyone except the locals in their native language, that's not something a lot of modern airmen would sign up for, but you need to understand the ethos of the time. There was still this mysticism out there of adventure and going to explore uncharted places. 1920, there are large places on the map that are still white, that says unexplored, and there was this whole class of adventurer, typically public school boys, so public school in the British system is private school in the American system, often from well-off families, not necessarily noble, but well-off, so they have means, who would leave for a year or so of adventure and go to these wild places and draw a map and have these experiences.

And so, the Orient in the British sense of the interwar years is everything from the Suez Canal to China's Pacific coast, that is the Orient. So there was no shortage of actual airmen who wanted to go do this. They were willing to go learn Arabic. Lowell Thomas had created this myth of Lawrence of Arabia through his expositions in the United States and Europe, and so this dashing character in flowing robes, living in and amongst the tribes by himself, that was appealing to these adventure-seeking young men. And so the chance to go do that for a couple of years, they did. To support that, the Royal Air Force had this notion of... And they would publish it that a couple of years doing this kind of a job, if you were successful in getting through that, there was nothing in the Air Force's career to follow that was going to be too difficult and you can see, I think in the back of the book, I listed a number of future Royal Air Force leaders who as young officers actually did this job. And they went on to do great things during the Second World War and beyond.

I don't know if we have that culture anymore. Part of it is... Another factor that I think that's in there is this notion of acceptance of risk. Again, in a peace time environment, these special service officers in the villages were not facing the same kind of threats that, say, special forces team that was in a small garrison in the wilds of Afghanistan or in the hinterlands of modern-day Iraq through the last 20 years of war. Different threats. And part of that is because they were British and not from any of the tribes. They were seen as almost, I would say, a neutral third party outsider. So if you come from this notion of the tribes really would just like to be left alone and live in the way that they've lived for centuries, then having a British-led or British-influenced King at the head of the government in Baghdad doesn't really affect you out in the villages. It is a pain to have to pay taxes and other things.

Sankey: Well, if I can follow-up on the SSOs, I'm also kind of an archive junky. I love the National Archives at Kew. It was really nice in your book when you have that great light bulb moment and you encounter Flight Lieutenant H. H. James, and when you say that this is kind of the Rosetta Stone, what breathes life into all of these dry reports that really unlocks how this system works. Can you tell me a little bit about him and why his journals and thoughts are so important to understanding this process?

Newton: Finding Huck James, his nickname was Huck, that's what his family called him, was one of those pleasant accidents. I was probably 80% done with my dissertation, and it was very quantitative, because that's what the official reports were. Squadrons then, like squadrons today, when they wrote up their official reports would say, "We flew this many hours, dropped this much ordnance, and the maintenance status of our aircraft is this." Not much to... Dry, dusty and... But part of this is also, if you come from a technological or a technocratic service, writing eloquent prose is not often rewarded. So they didn't write great documents talking about the effectiveness of what they were doing. It was just... It was an engineering scientific-based system of, "We flew this many sorties, this many hours, this many bombs, we need this kind of resupply for parts and pieces to keep the airplanes flying." And I was frustrated by that because my PhD supervisor at King's... You might know Christina Goulter and David Jordan. So they were my supervisors. So they were... First off, they were pleased that we discovered this notion of the SSOs and that it was missing from David Omissi's book, or downplayed.

It wasn't missing, but it really was glossed over, I guess is the correct term. So they were saying, "Hey, can you tell me more about this? This is a great find. It's not been explored. Tell us more about this," and it just wasn't out there. I mean, you go through some of the journal articles, Trenchard's staff were great writers at the time, and they were advocating for a separate service and the efficacy of air control in the professional journals of the time, but they didn't talk about these SSOs and that connection between the air and land effects. So I was struggling and looking for stuff, and I'm no longer in London or out at Shrivenham, reading the actual stuff, I'm having to do it from a distance. And I stumbled across a fairly recent website at the time by Lieutenant James' great-great nephew, and he had posted some information about what his relative had done in Iraq between the wars. And this is in about 2012. So, Britain's decisively engaged in Iraq at the time, is discovering these letters and journals and diary entries that his great-great uncle had written were timely based on what was going on in the world at that moment.

So I said, "This is great." I called him up [chuckle] and said, "Hey, would be okay if I came to the UK and read through the stuff?" He says, "You're perfectly welcome, and I've got lots more that I haven't scanned and posted." So in the course of our conversation, he basically said, "Please come on over if you'd like, but I'm more than happy to just go ahead and scan and give it to you." And so it was a very happy accident, and I think for both of us. Because Lieutenant James had written about other airmen that he was working with in a kind of a code, using initials, and they meant nothing to his great-great nephew. But because I had spent so much time in the archives and I could correlate the official reports and official correspondences and intelligence reports with these letters... That's why I use this term "Rosetta Stone", I mean to take Egyptian hieroglyphics into Greek, into Latin, it basically opened it all up. So I could now take James' journal entries and diaries and letters and bring them back and place them in the "who, what, where", and then take his personal observations of dinner with this sheikh or touring through the countryside with John Bagot Glubb, who's one of the great special service officers, and who wrote a number of books on the experiences, and pick those personal perspectives and breathe life now into those dry and dusty reports, so it really did just open everything up.

And then I went back to Glubb's, he wrote a couple of books about his experiences, and then when he goes on later into leading the Arab Legion in Jordan, and it actually changed how I read Glubb's books. Because they had large overlaps, and then to go back in now and find where future leaders of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War are in these places, during these times. Now I've got conversations to put into their mouths that didn't come out of the official reports. So, it was a wonderful experience.

And Huck James is... He's an interesting character. He stayed there. There were actually two sorts of RAF officers who did this. Some went in and did it because it was the right thing to do, but they did it for one tour and went back to flying for the squadrons. Others absolutely love doing this. They love that lifestyle, and they became the second persona of Lawrence of Arabia, or John Bagot Glubb. So they stayed there for multiple tours over and over again. And James was one of these people who did this for a long time. Eventually he, with Iraq independence, he gets thrown out of the country and ends up in Egypt. I mean, he's a fascinating character, and there's another book just begging to be written, but he crosses paths with Lawrence of Arabia during the First World War. James is an infantry officer on the Western Front, applies for flight school, goes to flight school, and then ends up in Northern Italy on the Caporetto front, especially after the Italians who are on the Allied side during... The Italians have lost the initial engagements in the Caporetto front in North Eastern Italy. And so the British and the French send squadrons and a couple of divisions to help the Italians. Lieutenant James is in one of the squadrons.

After that, he goes to Egypt. He's flying in support of Allenby and the Palestine campaign, which includes Lawrence as an irregular adjunct to the Palestine campaign. Lawrence is a huge advocate and proponent for air power. "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", he talks about meeting Borton, who's the commander of the Middle Eastern Brigade, and Jeffrey Salmon, who was John Salmon's brother. Jeffrey Salmon was leading Middle Eastern Air Forces during the First World War, and the uses of air power and 14 Squadron becomes kind of like a taxi service and personal air service for Lawrence. And a lot of the air liaison kinds of things are employed during this campaign where communicating between units are done by airmen flying over, talking to this commander, carrying messages back and forth. So you've got James, First World War doing all this, getting a taste of Egypt and Arab life. So he actually crosses paths with Gertrude Bell and has tea with her, and so there's some cool stuff going on here. Later he goes back and he serves now in this area, and so he gets that taste.

Interesting anecdote. But while I was going through my research, so I was at the point now where I was transitioning the dissertation into book form. My editor had said, "Hey, can you get some pictures to add into this?" So I had a list of names of RAF leaders and others. So I sent that ahead to the Royal Air Force Museum in North West London and scheduled an appointment to go in and look through their archives. Found some great stuff, and one of the archivists came out and she had... It was probably about a 2 x 2-foot by 6 inches parcel that was wrapped in heavy, heavy white paper and really dusty. And she's got white gloves on, and she hands me a set and she says, "I don't know what this is, but it's got Lieutenant James' name on it, and he's one of the people you're looking up, so I thought I'd bring it out and together we could look at it because it hasn't been opened in 30 years." And so I'm going, "Okay, this is Ark of the Covenant kind of stuff, Indiana Jones almost." Two of us sit there and very carefully take this heavy, heavy paper off and we're trying not to get dust over everything else that's in the room, and we open it up and it's Lieutenant James' scrapbook from the First World War, and it's got pictures of him and some of these other SSOs.

It's got tickets in there from when he's in London buying his uniforms for the Royal Air Force, or for the Royal Flying Corp at the time. It's got mess receipts in there, it's got pictures, it's got his early flight logs from when he was in flight school and his own family didn't know that was there. So, one of those, "Okay, this is when it's really, really fun to be a historian." [chuckle]

Sankey: Moving from this amazing individual relationship, which is part of the... You're exactly right, this is part of the fun of being a historian, to kind of the bigger institutional picture, the successes of these kind of SSO operations really affect the RAF's claim for service independence in-between the wars. How does that work?

Newton: After the war, students of the Independent Air Force will know that in response to German bombings of London and the inadequacies of air defenses in 1916, 1917, in April of 1918, Britain creates the first Independent Air Force. That doesn't sit well with the Royal Navy and the Army. So almost as soon as the war is over, the Royal Navy and the British Army start this campaign to get their air services back. And the British Army very much wants to control, they see air power as an adjunct of land power and in a supporting role, so they want, what the British call, "Army Cooperation Squadrons", close air support. Air is just another aspect of doing land operations, and so they reject this notion of the independence of the air service. Royal Navy, experimenting with aircraft carriers and the projection of air power from the sea, from ships. And so they also want their Air Forces back. Trenchard, who is the first Commander of the Independent Air Force that was created, and Independent Air Force was actually a formation for those who don't study this very much, but the Independent Air Force was Britain's attempt to create a strategic bombing force at the end of the First World War that would take the air campaign to Germany.

War ended before it actually came to fruition and became fully effective but he was the first commander and he had this notion of what we now call strategic bombing. So he carries those notions with him and he's recognizing after watching the impact of German air raids on London, which from a kinetic perspective were not all that damaging, but psychologically they were horrifying. And you have fiction writers talking about war from the air. And so Trenchard and his supporters recognize the psychological impact of air power. And so they are able and willing now to apply that, I guess it's still theory at this point, to policing the empire. And so going into the Cairo Conference, which is, as I said... Churchill, who is now the colonial secretary and not the minister for air and the war departments, Air Forces and Army were under one department at that time in the cabinet. So Churchill gives that up to become the colonial secretary because he has this notion of how he wants to divide up the Middle East.

And Churchill is an air advocate, he took flying lessons as a young man, he never got his license because he crashed a couple of times and his wife and his cousin talked him out of it, but he is an advocate for the air. After the war, you've got Lawrence, an advocate for the air who's using his status and his charisma to advocate for Air Forces and air power. You have John Slessor, future chief of the air staff, who effectually called himself and a few of the others who worked on Trenchard's staff as the English merchants. They were eloquent guys who could publish and speak in public, and did so on behalf of an Independent Air Force, and they're looking for a way to prove the post-war value of an Independent Air Force. So, there's a perfect storm, if you will, of conditions that line up to help Trenchard, Churchill, and others prove that an Independent Air Force is necessary and value added to the defense of the nation.

As we mentioned earlier, Britain is heavily, heavily in debt, it can't afford to garrison the empire, to police the empire with the Army as it did before the war. You've got an exhausted population. After the First World War and the horror and devastation, they're tired and they don't want anymore, so they've got to find cleaner, more humane, if you will... And if I don't remember, please bring me back to that more humane aspect. More humane ways of warfare. You've got a de-mobilizing population. Britain had never had a conscript Army, but in order to fight and win the First World War, you had to create this conscript Army, massive divisions that never existed and they didn't want to do that again. And you have the Army looking at the cost of... Just the sheer cost in men and money and material in the wake of the war that was going to... To resume what they had done previously even on that limited scale of the regimental system. So you have this perfect storm now, all this coming together... Oh, and wait a minute, there's this thing called the 10-year rule and this was a cabinet decision that was made in 1919 where they basically stated that for the next 10 years, there would be no great wars and thus no need for an expeditionary Army to go fight those great wars.

And that had two sub-pieces to it, was one, replace humans with mechanical contrivances, replace humans with technology was one of them. And I've got to go back to make sure I say this correctly. And then the other piece was, even given that the straits that the British government was in the wake of the war, there was still a requirement for the Army and Air Force to garrison the empire. So we're not going to have a major war, there's no need for large armies to go fight a major war, replace humans with mechanical means, and also don't forget, you still have to garrison the empire. So all of this stuff comes together and creates the conditions for Trenchard to go to Cairo and say, "I think I have an idea." It's innovative, it's creative, and it's rejected. But again, because you've got Churchill and Lawrence who are there, and Gertrude Bell who's there at this conference. Gertrude Bell, someone very worth studying by your students, because the Mother of Modern Iraq is her nickname and the only woman allowed to actually a seat at the table at the Cairo Conference. She's a fascinating character, tangential to this book but she's part of it because she gets it.

Anyways, all this comes to happen, so they need a way to prove the experiment and that's what Trenchard does. He doesn't call this a program or a proposal, he says, "I want to just experiment." And this is 1921, and he's going back, and he can point to the British experience in British Somaliland, which is the far northern northwest part of modern day Somalia. There had been an expedition in 1919 to get a recalcitrant sheikh, a Somali sheikh who had given the British fits for decades. He was known as The Mad Mullah, Abdullah Hassan was his name, but he held sway over this area and he had taken advantage of British absence during the First World War. So now they're coming back in and the Army's estimate was about 30 million pounds to go and mount an expedition to get him under control.

The foreign minister at the time was friendly with Trenchard, he says, "Hey, I can't afford to send the Army, what do you think you guys trying this?" And Trenchard said, "Sure, I'll give it a try." And he sent one squadron of airplanes, and it was Squadron Leader Robert Gordon, who will play a prominent role in the First World War against irregulars, we can have that discussion if you wish, because he's a key player in this current book I'm working on. So you have Robert Gordon going and getting Abdullah Hassan and the Dervishes under control for relatively cheaply. In fact Avery calls it "the cheapest war ever fought", was the term he used. So Trenchard is given his chance, and as I said, he realizes he's got to create an intelligence structure, he's got to create a way to make air power personal, but he recognizes that it can't be totally from the air. And so he builds in armored car squadrons, the beginnings of the Royal Air Force Regiment.

So, he's at least got forces on the ground, but the Royal Air Force doesn't own any armored cars in 1921, inter-service rivalry hasn't changed, so the British Army in a peak of fit just says, "Fine, you want it, you've got it, we're going home and then we're taking our toys with us," they didn't even leave the used armored cars on the ground for the Royal Air Force Armored Car squadrons to use. So, Trenchard has to go buy armored cars, new ones, you find these instances over and over again. So they come in and they are very successful because of how they apply it, and they bring in six squadrons, two of them are airlift squadrons. And air mobility was a brand new thing at the time, you don't find instances of cargo aircraft moving soldiers around the Western Front, and when I say cargo aircraft moving soldiers around the Western Front, we're talking 12-16 at a time, because again, the nature of aircraft technology. And then Slessor is actually commanding one of these airlift squadrons, not one of the fighter bomber squadrons under John Salmon.

So the experiment is successful. So by about 1923, '24, the Royal Air Force is safe. It's not going to be absorbed back into the British Army, only part of the Royal Naval Air Service squadrons are folded back into the Royal Navy, although there are Royal Air Force squadrons who are maritime-oriented, so you have a relationship that would seem odd to modern airmen today, but it worked for them. So this is how the survival of the Air Force happens because basically they've proven that for the primary mission of military forces, at least through about 1933, '34, '35, as we are still not gearing up for confrontation with Nazi Germany, the Air Forces are able to do the primary mission of military forces at the time. It goes so far as to, into other areas. In order to defend Singapore, the proposal is to take out the naval guns and replace them with bomber squadrons. They don't get to that, but it's a Royal Air Force officer who's the Commanding General in Singapore when it falls. And so it's an Air Force officer, not an Army or a naval officer who takes the blame for the fall of Singapore.

Anyway, there's more to this and then we can go on and on, but the other notion that comes out, I think that we ought to explore is this idea, and Meilinger calls it "Morale Bombing." Because Trenchard and other air leaders had seen the efficacy of psychological effects of air attacks, and then how the influence of limited air attacks was able to manipulate the behavior of tribes on the ground, there is a debatable connection between what they learned between the wars during Air Control and to how they applied strategic bombing during the Second World War. And I say it's a debatable connection because there are strong opinions on both sides, and I'm a good enough school teacher to argue both sides of that question. You can see where absolutely, the effect of aircraft overhead, surveillance, and reconnaissance when you don't know if you're really being looked at or can be seen, limited use of force because no news travels like bad news. And so the psychological influencing effects of limited attacks were able to influence local populations and manipulate their behavior to achieve the desired results of the civil government.

I think it's a stretch, in my opinion, to say can you achieve the same effects on a strategic level, because we know that the Japanese and the German governments were able to resist the horrendous effects of strategic bombing campaigns of the Second World War. We know the North Vietnamese government were able to resist the effects of the bombing campaigns during the Vietnam War, and we can see that, we can argue I guess is a better way of saying it, the effects of bombing against insurgents during the last 20 years of Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria and other places. So I think that the strategic level kinds of impact you're trying to achieve with morale bombing, you don't have that personal nature, so you don't have the key aspect of the air control experience in war years of that human on the ground that is reinforcing the capabilities of Air Forces, through communications. That doesn't exist, in say, the World War II strategic bombing campaigns, and I don't know if we could get to that, I just don't know.

You can see in some of the memo... For example, we found that memo from Al-Qaeda, it was in Timbuktu, Mali on how to avoid air power and it was kind of an anti-air power or defensive sort of memo that were put out to their local chapters. So we do know that bombing did influence the behavior of Al-Qaeda. Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army and the Central African Republic had the same sort of comments about the effects of air power, it did influence their behavior. There were similar stories out of Columbia, so you can find those instances. But I think that how much the interwar experience in Iraq and Jordan and northwest frontier, in Sudan, and I don't know if the applicability is as neat and as total as many theorists would have us believe. Like I said, I led off with "it's debatable", and so I think it's an ongoing debate and I kind of come down on the side where they maybe took the wrong lessons. The World War II leadership took the wrong lessons from the air control experience and tried to apply a very local tribal sort of result to a nation-state perspective, with the addendum of one was considered policing whereas the other one was war making, and they're not parallel.

Sankey: I think you've identified the downside of being a historian, is that we have to acknowledge everything is messy and incomplete, and there's no neat theory that fits everything. [chuckle]

Newton: I think you're exactly right, and I think we want theory, we want neatness, and I... Again, our service is one of scientific repeatable processes. If we can create an algorithm to predict the future, we want to do that. We model social phenomenon, and ops research is a huge discipline within the DoD and especially within our own service because we do want scientifically-based repeatable processes in what is an inherently emotional non-scientific qualitative human domain, and it doesn't fit. And I think what the British understood is that decision-making in these sort of situations is based on past experiences or past knowledge or personal bias and perception, and it's emotional, and we do it with feeling, and it's not based on rationality.

I just remember the air power theory stuff I had to take at the academy, and so much of what we did during the Cold War was based on the rational actor theory, that the Soviets were going to act much as we were and have the same considerations on what was valuable. But when we take it down to irregulars or insurgents or guerillas, and we get into a David and Goliath kind of a situation. I love Jeff Record's book on "Beating Goliath" because I think he very much captures the essence. The Davids of this world are fighting based on passion and they're not making rational, scientific, mathematically-modeled decisions, they're making decisions on combat and lifestyles and on some future notion of what they want their society to be. In the American way of war, it's based on numbers and tonnages and it doesn't fit, which goes back to your point I think, that we want to avoid the messiness and we want to figure out ways to make it so that we can model it so that if we make this input, we have a predictable outcome. And that's just not true in warfare, but it's especially not true in a regular warfare because they're fighting with passion on their side and we tend not to be.

Sankey: Well, as we wrap things up, you teased us a little bit in talking about your next project, can you tell me where your scholarship is headed next?

Newton: I told you about the Army Major who grabbed me on my first day at Leavenworth and said, "You're one of us, you're going to learn about Special Operations," and he handed me a book. It was a Hoyt's book on the East Africa campaign during the First World War. General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was considered one of the great guerilla fighters. The only German general to not surrender in the First World War. He actually just turned himself in two weeks after the war ended and said, "I heard the war's over, what should I do?" And he led the British on a, what Mao would call, a defensive strategy, a guerilla campaign for the entire length of the war. He's the only German to have invaded British territory.

So, in 1989, he was, "Here's the classic book on guerilla warfare, you need to read it before we start into actual instruction of the courses." Back then, Air Force officers had to go to Leavenworth two months early so that we could learn to speak Army. [chuckle] So that has always stayed with me. I've looked up other stuff and the East Africa campaign is a side show among side shows. It was a campaign the British never wanted to get into. Kitchener, who was the chairman of the imperial general staff, actually said, "No, we will not. We're going to hope you can... Defensive measures, but this is a fight we don't want." And so, the cabinet didn't approve going... Into starting that campaign until he was in the Middle East on an inspection tour and out of communication, and by the time he got back, the train had left the station.

So I've always wondered, "Wait a minute, was there any air power involvement in that campaign?" And I said... Again, there's not enough resources to go around, and I discovered that there was. And then I started looking around trying to figure out, "Well, where is this written down? How do your students actually learn about air power against irregular forces?" For my research, this is the first long-term exploration, the first long-term instance where air power is used against guerrillas and irregular forces. American students know about 1st Aero Squadron supporting Pershing in 1916 against Pancho Villa. In fact, I was listening to a podcast done a few months back and he actually mentions that campaign. And it's cool and it's an important part of our US Air Force history, Benjamin Foulois and what those guys did. But the British were doing it two years, and the Germans were doing it two years before Pancho Villa. The Germans actually had one airplane. There's not a lot in this, but in the German's perspective it's one airplane but a very charismatic guy who is flying in support of Lettow-Vorbeck in August when the war begins.

This book is actually just become so fascinating to write because what I've discovered is no one's talked about it, no one's written it down. There's been an odd journal article here and there, but some of them are hard, hard to find, or you have to be a member of the society that's publishing the journal to even get access to their stuff. So it's not out there in JSTOR or some of the normal research databases. So, I'm having a lot of fun discovering that there's something in this book, in this campaign, for everybody. The German's are involved, both in the early days with some reconnaissance and surveillance work. But also the story of Zeppelin L 59 trying to do intratheater resupply. Oh my! That doesn't come about the normal until almost the Second World War. The story of the Zeppelin going, flying from Bulgaria all the way to Sudan, finding out that they've lost the landing field. So they now got to turn back, and it was until recently the longest continuous manned flight. And this happened during the First World War. So, the Germans are involved.

You've got the Navy trying to hunt down the SMS Konigsberg. And we know about Billy Mitchell and Ostfriesland and trying to bomb ships. In 1914 the British are asking the Air Force, "Hey, can you bomb this ship because we can't find it when it's hiding up in the delta of the Rufiji River?" And then just this notion of squadrons that are supporting the formations on the ground, and all the elements of air power's role in irregular warfare are there. Surveillance, reconnaissance, air attack. There's this liaison, this communication because you've got formations wandering around the jungle and can't talk to each other, so airmen are having to go find him and drop messages and pick up messages, so the general can maneuver brigades and divisions. Unless you're a die hard air-to-air fan and that's what you believe, that offensive counter air and air superiority is really the only true mission of an Air Force. None of that is in there, so you won't like this next book. But for everyone else who studies the roots of air power's role in irregular conflict, it's all there.

And even, Margaret, to the point where the first recorded case of casualty evacuation happens during this campaign. So like I said, it's a fun project, it's an exciting project. There are some people out there who are telling me this doesn't exist anywhere else. At least scholars who've looked at the East Africa campaign, so I'm optimistic. And even if I never sell one of them, I'm having a blast doing it. [chuckle]

Sankey: Well, I hope we covered all of the topics you'd like to explore. We'd love to have you back as you work on your next project because of course it has all the hooks that I think airmen would love to know more about. Are there any lessons learned or any concluding thoughts that you'd like to leave us with?

Newton: Yes, I mentioned earlier that discussion and how I got into the interwar period and that story about the Air Force losing its ability to advise, train, and assist and to actually apply the indirect notions of air power in conflicts of an irregular character. And I'm going to bring us back to our earlier discussion on great power competition. It's a necessary shift and I am fully on board and I agree that this is where we need to be looking. Because that is the future. But my fear is that in the course of doing this, we will as we've done so many times in the past, take this bad experience of 20 years of counterinsurgency and say, "Okay, that was a bad idea. We don't want to do that again." So let's flush all the lessons we've learned, all the doctrine we've written, all the TTPs, all the aircraft modifications... Let's take all that stuff and get rid of it because we want to focus on fifth and sixth generation opponents, to the exclusion of everything else.

When we did this after Vietnam, we ended up with that situation where massive retaliation didn't work in Hungary and the Czech Republic. During that time period, the Americans and even our European allies focus this emphasis on massive retaliation in large measure because it was a cost saving measure. We didn't have to have large formations to fight conventional wars. We created a void, and we ended up in all these... At the time they were called Brushfire Wars. All of these small wars on the fringes, Angola, Namibia, Cambodia, Latin America, it was in the developing world. And so the superpowers started confronting each other in those places which were not going to trigger World War III. And my fear is that we're embarked on that same path again as we retool and reorient to the most dangerous threat to our national survival, great power competition with Russia, China, Iran, perhaps North Korea.

Again, that we are going to create a void and take down those forces that were designed intentionally to address those small wars on the fringes. We now call them Special Operations Forces. They're small teams with all those skills we saw in the Special Service officers. They're soldiers, but they also understand the civil military dimension. And they're able to provide that broader perspective than just war fighting capabilities. They're not there to fight the battles, they're there to help others protect and defend themselves. They have the tools for the types of air/land integration that we saw from the special service officers, provide that personal face of air power. And I think that's where as we look at where our Air Forces are going, air/land integration to modern day Air Forces tends to be overwhelmingly kinetic. We've created some amazing airmen, the battlefield airmen, that can put precision weapons into basketball nets. And so the technology is there, and the control mechanisms are there, and the training is all there, but they don't put a personal face on air power. Special Operations Forces do that.

And so as our technically driven service now reorients to figuring out how to counter fifth and sixth generation opponents, then I think we're going to lose all this capability that we've created over the last 20 years. And I'll even go one step further. I think that as US Special Operations Command tries to figure out what they will do going forward, in this great power competition environment, that they too will say, "We need to go do some of the things that Special Operations Forces did. We need to reorient to what we did to counter the Soviet Union." And again, we're going to seed space on the fringes where Special Operations Forces traditionally have operated and served the national security needs. That end is my fear.

I've just heard and I don't know, and I'm only going to give this a bit of... because I haven't actually seen the documents, that AFSOC is considering to zero out funding for a squadron of Combat Aviation Advisors. The only squadron. There are Aviation Advisors in the conventional forces, but these combat ones who do for Air Forces, what Special Forces teams do for land forces AFSOC's considering zeroing out their budget and getting rid of that capability. If that's not a Deja vu moment for historians I'm not sure what is. It's like Laos in 1965. We'd been training the Laotians to use old air planes to fight their own wars, and we got rid of all that. And all those air commando squadrons became direct action close air support squadrons. Again, I don't know if it's totally parallel. History doesn't repeat itself. Mark Twain, I think has said, "History doesn't repeat, it just simply rhymes." But you can hear the rhyming and the echoes of past Vietnam era decisions showing up again, as our senior leaders make some very tough decisions about budgets and equipment and resources and roles and missions going forward. And so that is my parting shot, I would hope that we would learn from things like this and avoid making the same mistake we made in the 1970s after Vietnam.

Sankey: That's a powerful advocacy for historical research and the human touch, even in a very technocratic system. Thank you, Dr. Newton for joining us today. We've been talking about his book, The RAF and Tribal Control, which I heartily recommend, and his future projects and of course, their relevance for a 21st century Air Force. Thank you for joining us today.

Newton: Thank you for having me. It's been a real pleasure

Dr. Richard Newton
Richard Newton has a long history in the special operations community. He served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force as a combat rescue and special operations helicopter pilot; as well as a combat aviation advisor, planner, and educator. Newton continued his service in the SOF community as a senior faculty member at the Joint Special Operations University. He is an educator, planner, researcher, and curriculum developer in the fields of air-ground integration, irregular and asymmetric warfare, and special operations. He is the author of The RAF and Tribal Control: Air Power and Irregular Warfare between the Wars (University Press of Kansas, 2019).

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