#BookReview – Korean Air War: Sabres, Migs and Meteors, 1950-53

#BookReview – Korean Air War: Sabres, Migs and Meteors, 1950-53

Michael Napier, Korean Air War: Sabres, Migs and Meteors, 1950-53. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021. Images. Notes. Bibliography. Glossary. Appendices. Index. Hbk. 320pp.

Reviewed by Dr Ross Mahoney

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In the western world, the Korean War is often thought of as the forgotten war of the early Cold War. This was, at least from an American perspective, because ‘[l]ike the proverbial shrimp caught between two whales, the Korean War [was] trapped between World War II and the Vietnam War.’[1] Furthermore, from a British and French perspective, the war does not easily fit into national narratives surrounding their ‘retreat’ from empires in Southeast Asia, namely the Malayan Emergency and the French-Indochina War. The Korean War did, however, significantly impact the Cold War’s early course, particularly strengthening the recently established North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

From the perspective of the application and development of air power, the Korean War was also significant. Specifically, it was the first time jet fighters met in combat. Furthermore, the war also saw a wide range of air power capabilities deployed over Korea, including discussions throughout the conflict about the potential delivery of nuclear weapons.[2] This has meant that, despite the unfortunate epithet of being a forgotten war, several important works, such as Conrad Crane’s American Airpower Strategy in Korea (2000), have appeared and examined the use of air power over the Korean peninsula.

Michael Napier, a retired Royal Air Force fast-jet pilot and author, comes into this mix with his 2021 volume, Korean Air War. In just over 300 pages, Napier systematically describes the course of the air war over Korea. The book, chronologically laid out, deals with the air war in seven chapters plus a retrospective to finish the volume. There are also two appendices included. The chapters follow the broad course of the main phases of the Korean War. For example, Chapter Three deals with the period of the offensive by United Nations (UN) forces between August and October 1950 (pp. 72-113). This is then followed up by a chapter that looks at the period of the Chinese offensives (pp. 114-55) against UN forces that forced them back to roughly the 38th Parallel. Within these chapters, Napier details the various uses of air power by both sides during the war. This includes the use of tactical and strategic air power as well as naval air power. Napier also does a good job of describing the coalition character of the air war for both sides. However, his attempt to highlight the British contribution can sometimes be overstated.

lossy-page1-3000px-U.S._Marines_of_the_First_Marine_Division_Reconnaissance_Company_make_the_first_helicopter_invasion_on_Hill_812,_to..._-_NARA_-_520805.tif
US Marines of the First Marine Division Reconnaissance Company make the first helicopter invasion on Hill 812, to relieve the Republic of Korea 8th Division, during the renewed fighting in Korea, 20 September 1951. (Source: Wikimedia)

While the book comprehensively deals with the air war over Korea, readers should not expect an academic examination of the use of air power between 1950 and 1953. That is not what this book is. However, this is not a criticism per se. Instead, the book has been written with a specific audience in mind – the general reader looking for an introduction to the subject. This is highlighted by Napier’s choice to examine the war chronologically (p. 6). This is a choice that makes it easier for the lay reader to understand what was a complex and contested operating environment. Ultimately, therefore, we end up with a very useful narrative of the course of the air war that introduces readers to the subject matter.

One area, however, where the book does fall down is in its use of sources. Regarding primary sources, Napier has overwhelmingly relied on files in British archival institutions, notably The National Archives and the Royal Air Force Museum. While perhaps a pragmatic decision given the author’s location and the character of this book as a popular account of the air war, it does, nonetheless, skew the author’s interpretation. Furthermore, at least from the perspective of UN forces deployed, most of the air power deployed in support of the war effort came from the US. As such, one would expect more attention to be given to the records produced by those forces involved. Finally, given the above issue, Napier relies on secondary sources to fill in the gaps despite arguing that published accounts of the air war over Korea were less than ‘objective’ (p. 6) in their analysis. However, it appears from the notes and bibliography that Napier did not consult important, more ‘objective’ works such as Crane’s noted above and others.[3] The use of such works would have further enriched Napier’s narrative

Overall, despite the above criticism, Napier has done an excellent job of writing a comprehensive introductory narrative to the air war over Korea. In particular, Napier does a good job of weaving together a narrative that tells the story of both sides of the air war over Korea. The book is lavishly supported by high-quality imagery and maps that help support the text.

Dr Ross Mahoney is the Editor-in-Chief of From Balloons to Drones and is an independent scholar specialising in air power and the history of air warfare. He is currently the Senior Historian within the City Architecture and Heritage Team at Brisbane City Council in Australia. He has over 15 years of experience within the heritage and education sectors in Australia and the United Kingdom. He was the inaugural Historian at the Royal Air Force Museum in the UK. In Australia, he has worked as a Historian for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and taught at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University based at the Australian War College. His research interests are focused on military history, with a specific focus on the history of air warfare, transport history, and urban history. He has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He has a website here and can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header image: Four US Air Force North American F-86E Sabre fighters over Korea in November 1952. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Allan Millett, The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005), p. 1.

[2] Daniel Calingaert, ‘Nuclear weapons and the Korean War,’ Journal of Strategic Studies 11, no. 2 (1988), pp. 177-202.

[3] Other works of note not cited include: Eduard Mark, Aerial Interdiction: Air Power and the Land Battle in Three American Wars (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1994); John Sherwood, Officers in Flight Suits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War (New York, NY: New York University Press, 1998); Jacob Neufeld, Coalition Air Warfare in the Korean War 1950–1953 (Washington DC: U.S. Air Force History and Museums Program, 2005); Roger Horky, ‘Clipping the Eagle’s Wings: The Limiting of the Korean Air War, 1950-1953’ (PhD Thesis, Texas A&M University, 2013).

#Podcast – The True Origins of the Cold War: An Interview with Dr John Curatola

#Podcast – The True Origins of the Cold War: An Interview with Dr John Curatola

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In the years after the Second World War, the US shifted its strategy to one focused on air power and delivery of nuclear weapons–but why and how did this happen? Dr John Curatola, the Military Historian for the Center for War and Democracy at the National World War II Museum, takes us through the fierce rivalry between the US Air Force and Navy, the scandalous ‘Revolt of the Admirals,’ and the development of thermonuclear weapons. 

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Dr John Curatola is the Military Historian for the Center for War and Democracy at the National World War II Museum. He was formerly a Professor of Military History at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Curatola is a retired Marine Officer of 22 years with a Doctorate from the University of Kansas. In addition to his published works, he has lectured extensively on airpower and early Cold War topics at the National Archives, C-SPAN, and international venues. His latest book is Autumn of Our Discontent: Fall 1949 and the Crises in American National Security (2022).

Header image: A US Air Force Convair B-36B Peacemaker of the 7th Bombardment Wing in flight, in 1949. (Source: Wikimedia)

#BookReview – An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot

#BookReview – An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot

Mandy Hickson, An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot. London: Mandy Hickson, 2020. Images. Pbk. 294pp.

Reviewed by Mark Russell

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Women have long served in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Female service in the RAF began during the First World War when up to 25,000 women served until the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), disbanded in 1918. Approximately 180,000 then served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the Second World War, followed by those who served in the re-formed WRAF, an administrative entity within the RAF from 1949. Finally, in 1994, the WRAF was merged into the RAF.  

Although 166 women flew during the Second World War as delivery and ferry pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary, it was not until 1991 that women began to serve as pilots, a decision approved in 1989. The first female pilot was Flight Lieutenant Julie Ann Gibson, who re-trained from her existing career as an RAF engineer before flying Andovers with No. 32 Squadron from RAF Northolt in 1991. However, the issue of allowing women to fly fast jets still raised questions. Nonetheless, in December 1991, it was announced that women were cleared to fly in combat roles. However, it was not until August 1994 that Flight Lieutenant Jo Salter breached the ‘holy of holies,’ the fast jet pilot role, when she joined No. 617 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth to fly the Tornado GR1B. She became the RAF’s first female fast jet pilot. As of 1 April 2019, there were 30 female fixed-wing pilots in the RAF, while as of July 2021, 15.1% of the RAF regulars were female. 

Mandy Hickson’s An Officer, Not a Gentleman, is the autobiography of only the second woman to fly the Tornado in the RAF. It documents her experience flying the Tornado and becoming an operational fast jet pilot. Some of what Hickson writes will also resonate with those working within large organisations that continue to grapple with issues of inclusion and equality. It must, however, be noted that the RAF of the 1990s comes out of Hickson’s recollections well – perhaps not as an organisation, but certainly in the attitudes of some of those individuals Hickson encountered during her service.

Hickson has said she did not feel like a pioneer: ‘no different to anyone else for being a woman’ (p. 161). The book describes Hickson’s life and her RAF career. Hickson’s description of her feelings. For example, Hickson describes her isolation on her first deployment to the Gulf in 2000 as the only female aircrew on the squadron (pp. 187-90). This type of insight sets this book apart from some of the more ‘traditional’ aircrew memoirs written by male aircrew. Indeed, to this reviewer’s knowledge; this is the first memoir written by a female RAF pilot.

Hickson’s story opens with her joining the Air Training Corps in 1986 before winning a Flying Scholarship and receiving her Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) in August 1991 at 18. As one of the first female pilots in the RAF, Hickson inevitably faced challenges. For instance, being six feet tall at 16, she was too tall for the RAF height to weight charts and was told she needed to lose weight to obtain the Flying Scholarship, although her doctor noted that she was a healthy weight. Having cleared that hurdle and obtained her PPL, she went to the University of Birmingham, where she joined the University of Birmingham Air Squadron (UBAS) in late 1991. During this period, Hickson appears to have had no problem fitting into the flying and social life of the University Air Squadron (UAS), and she does not describe any times when she felt that being a woman created additional challenges for her or saw her discriminated against in any way. This may have been because she was, as she describes, ‘a bit of a tomboy’ (p. 1) and ‘a sports-mad teenager’ (p. 2). 

The next hurdle Hickson faced was at the start of her third year at university, when, to remain in the UAS, she needed to demonstrate a more concrete commitment to an RAF career. In December 1992, the UAS was told women could train as fast jet pilots, which triggered Hickson’s application to become aircrew. Having attended Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre, she failed the pilot aptitude tests despite having flown over 100 hours with the UAS. Instead, she was offered a career as an air traffic controller. The Officer Commanding of her UAS, Squadron Leader Karl Bufton, allowed her to continue flying with UBAS and arranged two separate check rides with instructors from the RAF’s Central Flying School both of whom rated her as above average as a pilot. He believed ‘the tests are wrong. I have a feeling they are not designed for women’ (p. 13). Hickson had the support she needed to continue. 

Hickson joined the RAF, and in November 1994, a month into her initial training at RAF College Cranwell, she was told that her request to transfer to the General Duties branch had been approved so that she could train as a pilot. ‘My grin stretched from ear to ear’ (p. 26). Later Hickson discovered that she ‘had been taken on as a test case to see how far I would get before I failed’ (p. 27). Discovering this when qualified as a fast jet pilot can only have made the achievement all the sweeter, but at the time, her feeling was: ‘They’d opened the door. I was ready to barge through it’ (p. 27). 

However, she soon came up against some of the less enlightened aspects of the RAF’s expectations of women. Most notably, Hickson describes her first performance appraisal with ‘Flight Lieutenant Beige’ as she nicknamed him. Hickson was told she should ‘be more feminine’ (p. x) and not buy two half pints of beer in the Mess at a time so she could drink pints – despite, as she puts it, having ‘spent three years at university doing exactly that’ (p. x). Hickson describes this experience as being ‘the first of many encounters with more senior officers who had a problem with women taking on new roles in the RAF’ (p. 38). Being six feet tall, extroverted, and athletic, one suspects that Hickson may have struggled to meet the RAF’s definition of ‘femininity’ (as being described as ‘Amazonian’ by Flight Lieutenant Beige indicates). However, it would be interesting to know more about the experience of other female officer candidates through this period, who may have been more ‘feminine’ and to understand the extent to which the culture at Cranwell has changed since the mid-1990s.    

There is evidence throughout the book of just how male-centric the RAF was at this point in its history. In addition to the requests that she be more ‘feminine’, there were also comments which she believes were ‘undoubtedly […] all meant in humour’ (p. 88) from instructors along the lines of ‘Off to apply your lippy, are you’ which Hickson says she had not noticed until fellow male course mates raised them with her, saying they felt it was wrong. Her coursemates raised these comments with the squadron commander, who immediately resolved this and apologised to her. The instructors who had been making these comments also apologised. Hickson reflects on this: ‘It’s shocking how I had normalized this behaviour to simply ‘get through’’’. This is another insight into how far the RAF had to go to make the most of female talent and invite work on where it is now in terms of its culture and ethos. 

A more positive story is how Hickson’s coursemates rallied around to teach her the mechanics of ‘battle turns’, leading to her instructor saying he had ‘never heard of a course coming together like that’ (p. 97). This is interesting on two levels: firstly, the willingness to help a female coursemate, suggesting) that the new generation was rather more enlightened than the organisation, and, secondly, with fast jet seats likely at a premium, one might have expected a more ‘dog eat dog’ attitude from Hickson’s fellow students – one person failing means more chance of a fast jet seat for the remaining students. The collegiate attitude is a tribute to her coursemates and, perhaps, to the supportive ethos that the training had inculcated to date. 

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Mandy Hickson stood in front of a Panavia Tornado.

Her lowest point career-wise came on her first two-month operational tour in Kuwait in 2000. She says, ‘I don’t think they had any empathy for how hard it was being the only woman’ (p. 187). During this tour, Hickson had issues with more senior squadron members, although when she later discussed it with one specific individual, he was unaware of the stress he had placed her under with his attitude (p. 196). ‘I was their first female pilot, and they weren’t used to it’ (p. 187), and they either consciously or unconsciously were not including her in squadron life, to the point that she felt ‘bullied’ and ‘marginalised’ to the point where she was confused about ‘who – and what – I was trying to be’ (p. 187) and considered handing in her resignation (p. 190). ‘Do I try to fit in […] or do I stand out?’ – another conundrum that, 20 years later, minorities continue to face despite inclusion programmes in many workplaces. ‘I was just trying to fit into the mould of junior fast jet pilot, regardless of gender’ (p.188) without the benefit of role models or (understandably) feeling able, as the most junior pilot on the squadron, to have any real impact on the definition of what a junior fast jet pilot was expected to be.

Hickson also got used to being assigned rooms on postings whose walls were covered in porn. She was not sure if this was how all rooms were or whether they had been prepared as a special welcome for her. However, Hisckon recalls that she took this in her stride, ripping the pictures down and throwing them into the corridor with a shout of ‘Porn’s up, boys’ (p. 175). While such interior decoration was considered acceptable, concerns over the impact women would have on the RAF’s prevailing culture are highlighted by Air-Vice Marshal Roger Austin, the Director-General Aircraft. In March 1989, a mere five years before Hickson arrived at Cranwell, Austin lamented on the coming day when the RAF would be ‘powdering its nose as it admire[d] Robert Redford and Tom Jones on the Flight Safety calendar.’[1]  Austin went on to become Commandant, RAF College Cranwell later in 1989. Culture continues to be a challenge for women in the military in the UK.

Being six feet tall, Hickson did not have some of the practical problems documented by other early female aircrews in terms of flying clothing not fitting and simply being the right size and shape for the aircraft. This had been a critical part of the debate about opening up fast jet cockpits for women, and it was a genuine issue. However, Hickson does document the consequences of the RAF not having thought through how to allow female aircrew to urinate while strapped into an ejector seat. The options available meant unstrapping from the seat, which was not an option when Hickson was policing the no-fly zone over Iraq, for example (p.194-195). Hickson being grounded due to a kidney infection that resulted from being unable to urinate in the air shows the need to think through these things. The solution on offer – a form of nappy – was described by Hickson as ‘awful’. Other female aircrew concurred, recalling that ‘they tried to avoid using them.’[2]  

Hickson left the RAF in 2009, having had two children in 2003 and 2004. She left in part because she was unable to be promoted under the RAF rules of the time, which required her to take another flying job to be promoted to Squadron Leader. In addition, she felt this was incompatible with having two children and a husband who was an airline pilot. ‘If you’re on a flying squadron, you’re on a flying squadron’ is how she puts it, and ‘You can’t just say “Oh sorry, I can’t do this bit today”’ (p.275). 

One recent reviewer of Hickson’ book in The Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society has suggested that it ‘is not a major work of moment.’ While one day we might view memoirs of female aircrew as being ‘seen as nothing remarkable’ as there no longer anything unusual about that experience, that day has still yet to be fully realised. Indeed, this book is a work of the moment because it is a pioneer’s story. While it has many elements of what one might call the ‘standard aircrew memoir’ that chronicles the path from air cadet to operational flying, it also provides many insights into the culture and ethos RAF of the time – the early post-Cold War period – and how the Service adapted to the introduction of female fast jet aircrew. In doing so, both Hickson and the RAF emerge well from the telling. A highly recommended book on many levels that may provide valuable insights to future historians, especially those interested in the RAF, military culture, and the role of gender in the military.

Mark Russell graduated with a 2:1 in History in 1985 and has worked in professional services ever since. He returned to academia in 2015 and graduated with an MA in Air Power: History, Theory and Evolution from the University of Birmingham in December 2017. Since then, while working in professional services, he has published articles and reviews in various publications, including the RAF’s Air and Space Power Review, the Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society, The Aviation Historian and From Balloons to Drones. Longer term, he is interested in organisational culture and how the coming of unmanned aircraft might impact on the culture of air forces. He is currently researching a possible article on Squadron Leader Freddy Lammer DFC and Bar.

Header image: A Panavia Tornado GR4 in grey colour scheme and special markings for the 95th anniversary of No. 2 Squadron in 2007. This was the type flown by Hickson with No. 2 Squadron. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Kathleen Sherit, Flying Roles for Women in the RAF, Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society 63 (2016), p. 63.

[2] Kathleen Sherit, ‘The Integration of Women in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Post-World War II to the Mid 1990s’ (PhD Thesis, King’s College London, 2013), p. 235.

#Podcast – Air Combat in the Gulf War: An Interview with Rick Tollini

#Podcast – Air Combat in the Gulf War: An Interview with Rick Tollini

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In our latest episode, we interview F-15 pilot and MiG-killer Rick Tollini. We discuss his new book, Call-Sign Kluso and he tells us all about the harrowing missions flown in the opening of the 1991 Gulf War. 

call-sign-kluso

Rick Tollini, call-sign Kluso, is a freelance writer, live performer, former United States Air Force F-15C Fighter Weapons Officer, and current F-15C flight simulator contract instructor pilot. Tollini is recognised as an expert in the field of air superiority operations and tactics. He has also worked as a feature writer for Pacific Star and Stripes weekly journal, CNN Travel contributor, and has recorded and published over 30 original songs.

Header image: An air-to-air view of two US Air Force F-15C  Eagles of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing and a Royal Saudi Air Force F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft during a mission in support of Operation Desert Storm. (Source: Wikimedia).

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Articles

Kristen Alexander and Kate Ariotti, ‘Mourning the Dead of the Great Escape: POWs, Grief, and the Memorial Vault of Stalag Luft III,’ Journal of War & Culture Studies (2022), DOI: 10.1080/17526272.2022.2097774.

In March 1944 seventy-six Allied prisoners of war escaped from Stalag Luft III. Nearly all were recaptured; fifty were later shot. This article examines what happened in the period between recapture and the interment of the dead prisoners’ cremated remains at Stalag Luft III. It positions what came to be known as ‘the Great Escape’ as an event of deep emotional resonance for those who grieved and reveals the dual narrative they constructed to make sense of their comrades’ deaths. In discussing the iconography of the vault constructed by the camp community to house the dead POWs’ ashes, this article also suggests a dissonance in meaning between that arising from personal, familial grief and the Imperial War Graves Commission’s standardised memorial practice. Focusing on the Great Escape’s immediate aftermath from the perspective of the POWs themselves provides a more nuanced understanding of the emotional impact of this infamous event.

Susan Allen, Sam Bell and Carla Machain, ‘Air Power, International Organizations, and Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan,’ Armed Forces & Society (2022), doi:10.1177/0095327X221100780.

Can the presence of international organizations reduce civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing? This commentary examines this question in the specific context of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. We evaluate this based on interviews conducted with members of international organizations that were present in Afghanistan during the conflict, existing intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and government reports, and with quantitative data on civilian casualties between 2008 and 2013. We conclude that there is tentative evidence from Afghanistan that international organizations can in fact reduce the severity of civilian killings that result from the use of air power. However, there is much need for greater data sharing to more fully answer this important question.

Derek Lutterbeck, ‘Airpower and Migration Control,’ Geopolitics (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2022.2094776.

Migration scholarship has thus far largely neglected the role of aircraft in both (irregular) migration and state policies aimed at controlling migration. Drawing inspiration from the field of strategic studies, where ‘airpower’ has been a key theoretical concept, this article explores the role of aerial assets in states’ migration control efforts. The article discusses three main dimensions of the use of airpower in controlling migration: the increasing resort to aircraft for border enforcement purposes – or what can be referred to as ‘vertical border policing’ –, states’ tight monitoring of the aerial migration infrastructure, and the use of aircraft in migrant return operations. As a core element of state power, it is airpower’s key features of reach, speed and height which have made it a particularly useful migration control instrument.

Priya Mirza “Sovereignty of the air’: The Indian princely states, the British Empire and carving out of air-space (1911–1933),’ History and Technology (2022), DOI: 10.1080/07341512.2022.2079370.

Who owns the skies? Under British colonialism, the ownership of the skies of India was a contested matter. The onset of aviation presented a challenge to the territorial understanding between the British and semi-sovereign Indian princes, Paramountcy (1858–1947). Technology itself was a tricky area: roadways, railways, telegraphs, and the wireless were nibbling away at the sovereign spheres which Paramountcy had put in place. This paper looks at the history of aviation in princely India, from aviation enthusiasts such as the rulers of Kapurthala, Jodhpur and Bikaner to subversive princes like the Maharaja of Patiala who worked towards a military air force. The paper tracks the three stages of the journey of aviation in princely India, from individual consumption, to the historical context of World War One which aided its access and usage, and finally, the collective princely legal assertion over the vertical air above them in the position, ‘sovereignty of air’. The government’s civil aviation policy in India remained ambiguous about the princes’ rights over the air till 1931 when their sovereignty of the sky was finally recognised. The paper focuses on the Indian princes varied engagement with aviation, modernity and their space in the world.

Ayodeji Olukoju ‘Creating ‘an air sense:’ Governor Hugh Clifford and the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria, 1919-1920,’ African Identities (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14725843.2022.2096566.

This paper focuses on the neglected subject of the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria in the aftermath of World War I. Until now, the literature on civil aviation in British colonial Africa had focused largely on Kenya, Central and South Africa and on post-World War II West Africa. This paper, relying on previously unexploited archival material, examines policy debates and options considered by the Colonial Office, the Air Ministry and the Nigerian colonial government. The unique, pioneering aviation drive of Nigeria’s Governor Hugh Clifford took place in the context of immediate post-World War I dynamics: economic vicissitudes, Anglo-French rivalry in West Africa and the policy interface between London and the colonies. This paper demonstrates that aviation development in Nigeria had roots in the early 1920s, and that the initiative was not a metropolitan monopoly, thereby illustrating the extent of colonial gubernatorial autonomy vis-à-vis London.

S. Seyer, ‘An Industry Worth Protecting? The Manufacturers Aircraft Association’s Struggle against the British Surplus, 1919–1922,’ Journal of Policy History 34, no. 3 (2022), pp. 403-39.

The American aircraft industry’s important role in the economic, military, and cultural expansion of the United States over the past one hundred years has been well documented by historians. But America’s twentieth century aerial dominance was not preordained. After World War I, the nascent American aircraft industry faced a concerted British effort to dump thousands of war surplus machines on the U.S. market. With aircraft outside of the nation’s tariff regime, members of the Manufacturers Aircraft Association turned to Congress for emergency protections in the face of what they considered an existential threat. Despite efforts to equate a strong industrial base for aviation with the national defense, aircraft antidumping legislation became mired in partisan debates over tariff policy and accusations of wartime corruption. In the absence of relief from Congress, the Wright patent served as a barrier against the importation of foreign surplus machines.

Ameya Tripathi, ‘Bombing Cultural Heritage: Nancy Cunard, Art Humanitarianism, and Primitivist Wars in Morocco, Ethiopia, and Spain,’ Modernist Cultures 17, no. 2 (2022), pp. 191-220.

This article examines Nancy Cunard’s later writing on Spain as a direct legacy of her previous projects as a modernist poet, publisher and black rights activist. Cunard was a rare analyst of the links between total war, colonial counter-insurgency, and cultural destruction. Noting the desire of both the air power theorist and art collector to stereotype peoples, from Morocco to Ethiopia to Spain, as ‘primitive’, the article brings original archival materials from Cunard’s notes into dialogue with her journalism, and published and unpublished poetry, to examine how she reclaimed and repurposed primitivism. Her poems devise a metonymic and palimpsestic literary geopolitics, juxtaposing fragments from ancient cultures atop one another to argue, simultaneously, for Spain’s essential dignity as both a primitive and a civilised nation. Cunard reconciles Spain’s liminal status, between Africa and Europe, to argue for Spain’s art, and people, as part of a syncretic, universal human cultural heritage, anticipating the art humanitarianism of organisations such as UNESCO.

Books

Stephen Bourque, D-Day 1944: The Deadly Failure of Allied Heavy Bombing on June 6 (Osprey: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

D-Day is one of the most written-about events in military history. One aspect of the invasion, however, continues to be ignored: the massive pre-assault bombardment by the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF), reinforced by RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force on June 6 which sought to neutralize the German defenses along the Atlantic Wall. Unfortunately, this failed series of attacks resulted in death or injury to hundreds of soldiers, and killed many French civilians.

Despite an initial successful attack performed by the Allied forces, the most crucial phase of the operation, which was the assault from the Eighth Air Force against the defenses along the Calvados coast, was disastrous. The bombers missed almost all of their targets, inflicting little damage to the German defenses, which resulted in a high number of casualties among the Allied infantry. The primary cause of this failure was that planners at Eighth Air Force Headquarters had changed aircraft drop times at the last moment, to prevent casualties amongst the landing forces, without notifying either Eisenhower or Doolittle.

This book examines this generally overlooked event in detail, answering several fundamental questions: What was the AEAF supposed to accomplish along the Atlantic Wall on D-Day and why did it not achieve its bombardment objectives? Offering a new perspective on a little-known air campaign, it is packed with illustrations, maps and diagrams exploring in detail the features and ramifications of this mission.

Laurence Burke II, At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane 1907–1917 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2022).

At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane, 1907-1917 examines the development of aviation in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps from their first official steps into aviation up to the United States’ declaration of war against Germany in April, 1917. Burke explains why each of the services wanted airplanes and show how they developed their respective air arms and the doctrine that guided them.   His narrative follows aviation developments closely, delving deep into the official and personal papers of those involved and teasing out the ideas and intents of the early pioneers who drove military aviation   Burke also closely examines the consequences of both accidental and conscious decisions on the development of the nascent aviation arms.  

Certainly, the slow advancement of the technology of the airplane itself in the United States (compared to Europe) in this period affected the creation of doctrine in this period.  Likewise, notions that the war that broke out in 1914 was strictly a European concern, reinforced by President Woodrow Wilson’s intentions to keep the United States out of that war, meant that the U.S. military had no incentive to “keep up” with European military aviation.  Ultimately, however, he concludes that it was the respective services’ inability to create a strong, durable network connecting those flying the airplanes regularly (technology advocates) with the senior officers exercising control over their budget and organization (technology patrons) that hindered military aviation during this period.

Jim Leeke, Turtle and the Dreamboat: The Cold War Flights That Forever Changed the Course of Global Aviation (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2022).

The Turtle and the Dreamboat is the first detailed account of the race for long-distance flight records between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy less than fourteen months after World War II. The flights were risky and unprecedented. Each service intended to demonstrate its offensive capabilities during the new nuclear age, a time when America was realigning its military structure and preparing to create a new armed service – the United States Air Force.

The first week of October 1946 saw the conclusion of both record-breaking, nonstop flights by the military fliers. The first aircraft, a two-engine U.S. Navy P2V Neptune patrol plane nicknamed the Truculent Turtle, flew more than eleven thousand miles from Perth, Western Australia, to Columbus, Ohio. The Turtle carried four war-honed pilots and a young kangaroo as a passenger. The second plane, a four-engine U.S. Army B-29 Superfortress bomber dubbed the Pacusan Dreamboat, flew nearly ten thousand miles from Honolulu to Cairo via the Arctic. Although presented as a friendly rivalry, the two flights were anything but collegial. These military missions were meant to capture public opinion and establish aviation leadership within the coming Department of Defense.

Both audacious flights above oceans, deserts, mountains, and icecaps helped to shape the future of worldwide commercial aviation, greatly reducing the length and costs of international routes. Jim Leeke provides an account of the remarkable and record-breaking flights that forever changed aviation.

Micheal Napier, Flashpoints: Air Warfare in the Cold War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

The Cold War years were a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, yet they also saw a number of localised but nonetheless very intense wars throughout the wider world in which air power played a vital role. Flashpoints describes eight of these Cold War conflicts: the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Congo Crisis of 1960-65, the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, the Falklands War of 1982 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. In all of them both sides had a credible air force equipped with modern types, and air power shaped the final outcome.

Acclaimed aviation historian Michael Napier details the wide range of aircraft types used and the development of tactics over the period. The postwar years saw a revolution in aviation technology and design, particularly in the fields of missile development and electronic warfare, and these conflicts saw some of the most modern technology that the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces deployed, alongside some relatively obscure aircraft types such as the Westland Wyvern and the Folland Gnat.

Highly illustrated, with over 240 images and maps, Flashpoints is an authoritative account of the most important air wars of the Cold War.

David Nicolle and Gabr Ali Gabr, Air Power and the Arab World – Volume 6: World in Crisis, 1936-March 1941 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

Volume 6 of the Air Power and the Arab World mini-series continues the story of the men and machines of the first half century of military aviation in the Arab world. These years saw the Arab countries and their military forces caught up in the events of the Second World War.

For those Arab nations which had some degree of independence, the resulting political, cultural and economic strains had a profound impact upon their military forces. In Egypt the Army generally remained quiet, continuing with its often unglamorous and little appreciated duties. Within the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF), however, there were a significant number of men who wanted to take action in expectation of what they, and many around the world, expected to be the defeat of the British Empire.

The result was division, widespread mistrust, humiliation, and for a while the grounding of the entire REAF. In Iraq the strains of the early war years sowed the seeds of a yet to come direct armed confrontation with the British.

Volume 6 of Air Power and the Arab World then looks at the first efforts to revive both the REAF and the Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF), along with events in the air and on the ground elsewhere in the Arab world from 1939 until March 1941.

This volume is illustrated throughout with photographs of the REAF, RIrAF and RAF and a selection of specially commissioned colour artworks.

Adrian Phillips, Rearming the RAF for the Second World War: Poor Strategy and Miscalculation (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022).

When the RAF rearmed to meet the growing threat from Nazi Germany’s remorseless expansion in the late 1930s, it faced immense challenges. It had to manage a huge increase in size as well as mastering rapid advances in aviation technology. To protect Britain from attack, the RAF’s commanders had to choose the right strategy and the right balance in its forces. The choices had to be made in peacetime with no guidance from combat experience. These visions then had to be translated into practical reality. A shifting cast of government ministers, civil servants and industrialists with their own financial, political and military agendas brought further dynamics into play. The RAF’s readiness for war was crucial to Britain’s ability to respond to Nazi aggression before war broke out and when it did, the RAF’s rearmament was put to the acid test of battle. Adrian Phillips uses the penetrating grasp of how top level decisions are made that he honed in his inside accounts of the abdication crisis and appeasement, to dissect the process which shaped the RAF of 1940. He looks beyond the familiar legends of the Battle of Britain and explores in depth the successes and failures of a vital element in British preparations for war.

John Quaife, Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Australian Air Force in Coastal Command 1939-1945 (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2022).

At the outbreak of World War II, somewhat by accident — and just as the first shots of the war were fired — young Australian airmen from the Royal Australian Air Force were engaged in operations that would become known collectively as the Battle of the Atlantic. Arguably lesser-known than air campaigns in other theatres, large numbers of Australians who volunteered for service with Royal Australian Air Force, found themselves fighting in this battle. Australians were there at the outbreak and many would go on to fly some of the final missions of the war in Europe.

This book captures some of the experiences of the Royal Australian Air Force members who served with Coastal Command and, through the weight of numbers alone, stories of the Sunderland squadrons and the Battle of the Atlantic dominate the narrative. Being critical to Britain’s survival, the battle also dominated Coastal Command throughout the war but Australians served in a surprising variety of other roles. The nature of many of those tasks demanded persistence that could only be achieved by large numbers of young men and women being prepared to ‘do what it took’ to get a tedious and unrewarding job done. Over 400 did not come home.

Steven Zaloga, The Oil Campaign 1944–45: Draining the Wehrmacht’s Lifeblood (Oxford: OIsprey Publishing, 2022).

With retreating German forces losing their oilfields on the Eastern Front, Germany was reliant on its own facilities, particularly for producing synthetic oil from coal. However, these were within range of the increasingly mighty Allied air forces. In 1944 the head of the US Strategic Air Forces, General Carl Spaatz was intent on a new campaign that aimed to cripple the German war machine by depriving it of fuel.

The USAAF’s Oil Campaign built up momentum during the summer of 1944 and targeted these refineries and plants with its daylight heavy bombers. Decrypted German communications made it clear that the Oil Campaign was having an effect against the Wehrmacht. Fuel shortages in the autumn of 1944 forced the Luftwaffe to ground most of its combat units except for fighters involved in the defense of the Reich. Fuel shortages also forced the Kriegsmarine to place most of its warships in harbor except for the U-boats and greatly hampered German army campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-45.

This fascinating book packed with key photos and illustrations examines the controversies and debates over the focus of the US bombing campaign in the final year of the war, and the impact it had on the war effort overall.

#Podcast – Women Naval Aviators: An Interview with Beverly Weintraub

#Podcast – Women Naval Aviators: An Interview with Beverly Weintraub

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

After the Second World War, women were not allowed to fly in military aviation roles in the US. That began to change in the 1970s. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Beverly Weintraub tells us about the story of six women US Naval aviators from her book: Wings of Gold: The Story of the First Women Naval Aviators from Lyons Press.

Beverly Weintraub is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose coverage of aviation, education and social services has appeared in the New York Daily News and the Washington Post. She served for 10 years on the Daily News Editorial Board, winning the Pulitzer with several colleagues for editorials examining the illnesses afflicting 9/11 first responders. She is currently executive editor at The 74, a K-12 education news site. An instrument-rated private pilot, Weintraub is a member of the Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots; serves on the board of directors of the Air Race Classic, the annual all-women cross-country aeroplane race; and is a five-time ARC racer.

Header image: Captain Rosemary Mariner, the commander of VAQ-34 in the early 1990s. (Source: US Naval History and Heritage Command)

#HistoricBookReview – Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-1972

#HistoricBookReview – Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-1972

Marshall L. Michel III, Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-1972. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. Appendices. Endnotes. Index. 340 pp.

Reviewed by Dr James Young

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As indicated by the title, Marshall Michel’s Clashes is a chronological examination of the air war over North Vietnam. At the time of its publication in 1997, Clashes was the first comprehensive treatment of the conflict to take advantage of North Vietnamese sources. Unlike most of his predecessors, Michel consciously avoided basing his main argument on the political issues surrounding Operations ROLLING THUNDER and LINEBACKER. These political issues include targeting choices by the White House, bombing halts, and rules of engagement enforced by US Navy (USN) and the United States Air Force (USAF) Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Instead, Michel focuses on the ‘military significance [USAF’s and USN’s bombing campaigns had] in the larger context of the Cold War and possible U.S.-Soviet military confrontation,’ as ‘this was the one area of the Vietnam War that had military significance in the global balance of power.’ (p. 1) Within this framework, Michel posits that the twin campaigns were a ‘test of American air combat performance,’ (p. 1) and then proceeds to explain how the USAF and USN largely failed the exam.

Michel’s organisation is simple, with Clashes divided into two chronological sections. The first of these begins with a discussion of air combat in general, the two American services’ thoughts on fighter doctrine, and how the USN and USAF evaluated these theories in a series of rigorously controlled exercises. Michel takes great pains to point out that these exercises, conducted in the clear skies and low humidity of the western United States, led to a misplaced faith in American technological superiority as the war began. After this introduction, Clashes transitions to the initial campaign against North Vietnam. After a cursory discussion of operational goals, Michel starts with the initial USN air raids and the gradual escalation that became ROLLING THUNDER. Clashes highlights the friction that emerged from both services’ aircrew rotation policies, internal and external service rivalries, a harsh climate and, most importantly, a rapidly evolving and uncooperative enemy. By the end of Part I, Clashes makes two things clear. First, the North Vietnamese proved to be far more capable opponents than the American forces expected, with their Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) arguably the deadliest of its kind in the entire world. Second, it became clear that the USAF/USN’s already inadequate conventional capabilities had worsened throughout ROLLING THUNDER.

A-7A_Corsair_II_of_VA-27_about_to_launch_from_USS_Constellation_(CVA-64)_in_the_Gulf_of_Tonkin_on_27_August_1968_(NNAM.1996.253.7075.035)
A US Navy Vought A-7A Corsair II from VA-27 prepares to be catapulted off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64) in the Gulf of Tonkin on 27 August 1968. It is armed with Mark 82 227 kg Snakeye bombs and AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles. VA-27 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 14 aboard the Constellation for a deployment to Vietnam from 29 May 1968 to 31 January 1969. (Source: Wikimedia)

Having presented the reader with this sobering assessment, Michel begins Part 2 by stating, ‘[t]he judgments about air-to-air combat during Rolling Thunder were a Rorschach test for the U.S. Air Force and Navy.’ (p. 181) The USAF’s leadership had a ‘clear lack of interest in improving its air training’ (p. 185) for several disparate reasons. In contrast, the USN’s admirals ensured that its crews were ‘prepared for the new round of air combat anywhere in the world’ (p. 188) by both enforcing new doctrine and modifying existing equipment. Michel manages to deftly interweave both services’ advances using simple yet accurate language concerning ordnance, electronics, and airframes. Finally, unlike other works before it, Clashes concludes Part II’s introductory chapter with a discussion of the North Vietnamese Air Force’s (NVAF’s) contemporaneous improvement in doctrine, equipment, and training. In this manner, Michel sets the table for the remainder of Part II by ensuring the reader understands why Operations LINEBACKER I and II are not simple continuations of ROLLING THUNDER. As with Part I, Michel’s writing ability stands out as he discusses how the USAF and USN engaged the NV-IADS. Only a prohibitive amount of resources prevented steep losses among strike aircraft for the USAF (p. 242-6). In contrast, the USN’s emphasis on the Top Gun program, missile improvements, and strike doctrine resulted in ‘MiGs concentat[ing] almost exclusively on Air Force sorties’ (p. 277) due to heavy losses. By drawing this stark contrast, Michel both explicitly condemns USAF leadership for their choices from 1968-1972. He implicitly proves his thesis by establishing a connection between difficulties in Southeast Asia being indicative of the USAF’s conventional capabilities in a broader Cold War sense.

Although subsequent books, such as Craig C. Hanna’s Striving for Air Superiority (2002) and Wayne Thompson’s To Hanoi and Back (2000) have taken advantage of more recently declassified documents, Clashes remains a work of tremendous value for anyone interested in post-Second World War air combat. Michel’s reliance on official USAF and USN primary documents, such as Project CHECO, the USAF’s Red Baron report, and the USN’s Ault Report, erases much of the ideological clutter affecting previous works that dealt with the war. When coupled with his skilful prose, the overall result is a balanced, informative account that is quite accessible. Clashes’ continued relevance would make it equally at home in a public library, a professional military course, or an undergraduate Vietnam course. Even beyond these uses, it remains an excellent cautionary tale of what can occur when an air service fails to rigorously test, train, and exercise its doctrine before entering a conflict. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in Cold War military history for all these reasons.

Dr James Young is an air power historian, aviation enthusiast and military analyst. His writing credits include the USNI’s 2016 Cyberwarfare Essay Contest, articles in ArmorThe Journal of Military History, Marine Corps University Press Expeditions, and USNI Proceedings. In addition to his historical work and the critically acclaimed Usurper’s War-series, he has collaborated with bestselling authors Sarah Hoyt, S.M. Stirling, and David Weber.

Header Image: A US Air Force Boeing B-52G Stratofortress from the 72nd Strategic Wing (Provisional) waits beside the runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as another B-52 takes off for a bombing mission over North Vietnam during Operation LINEBACKER II on 15 December 1972. (Source: Wikimedia)

#Podcast – Never Panic Early: An Interview with Fred Haise

#Podcast – Never Panic Early: An Interview with Fred Haise

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Fred Haise was on Apollo 13, flew the space shuttle Enterprise, and had an extensive military aviation career. In this episode, he joins us for a deep dive into all of those experiences and reveals how he is able to keep calm in tough situations and not panic. That’s the subject of his new book, Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut’s Journey, from Smithsonian Books.

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Fred Haise served as a backup Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 before serving as the Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 13 mission. He worked with NASA for nine years after Apollo 13, serving on the backup crew for Apollo 16, commanding free flight test missions for the Space Shuttle program, and was scheduled to command Apollo 19 before its cancellation. He left NASA in 1979 to work as an executive for Grumman Aerospace Corp.

Header image: Fred Haise views his Apollo 13 mission patch, the flight on which he served in 1970, in a StenniSphere display donated to NASA by the American Needlepoint Guild. The exhibit is on permanent display at StenniSphere, the visitor center at John C. Stennis Space Center. (Source: Wikimedia)

#Commentary – Air Superiority as a Political Activity

#Commentary – Air Superiority as a Political Activity

By Dr Michael E. Weaver

Air superiority needs to be conceived as a political condition that begins in peacetime, not merely a wartime operational pursuit. Perceiving air superiority in this way will make connections to the ordinary peacetime conditions political actors like the United States seek, resulting in military strategy, targeting, and weapons acquisition more in tune with national policy. This commentary piece is an essay based on a comprehensive study on the relationship between military means and political ends. Typically, examinations of air superiority start with discussing airframes, basing, technology, and tactics. This proposal, however, begins with the issues of legitimacy and norms and suggests ways of achieving air superiority rooted in peacetime operations. It concludes that a mix of manned and unmanned fighter aircraft is the best means of achieving this national policy.

An Essential Condition
Airliners require airspace free of the threat of missiles, drones, and gunfire before they even consider flight. Conversely, military pilots prefer unimpeded airspace in which whatever fire an enemy can send their way is insufficient to cause more than an occasional loss through which they can fly their missions without substantial interference and complete their missions. If the stakes are high enough, aircrews will press forward despite losses to hostile fire. Those can increase to the point that only the most necessary missions will justify prohibitive losses.

Air superiority is the general term used to describe these varying grades of airspace control. The condition is normally conceived in operational and physical terms: is a sector of airspace permissive enough for operations to be completed without too many losses? How many aircraft can one lose before it becomes too difficult to dominate a sector of airspace? Can a military actor achieve air superiority by shooting down a number or a percentage of aircraft?

More abstractly, one can relate air superiority to achieving a military strategy. For instance, Great Britain did not achieve air superiority over south-eastern England in September 1940 when its shoot-downs of Luftwaffe aircraft reached an arbitrary threshold. Instead, Britain gained air superiority when Germany could no longer proceed with its agenda of invading the United Kingdom; inflicting losses was just an intermediate step for the Royal Air Force. As a result, the British achieved a favourable outcome even though losses to enemy aircraft continued.

A Function of Governance
One can best perceive of air superiority as a political act and consequence. Since the ultimate goal of politics is to decide who governs where, how, and under what terms, the most helpful way to conceive of air superiority is as a political act. A state should ask whether its norms, rules, power, and assumptions govern what happens in the air when determining the safety within the airspace in which its national interests lay. These concepts take us into the realm of sovereignty: who or what has ultimate authority. For example, the Soviet Union was not completely sovereign over its airspace in 1983 when it shot down the Korean airliner flight 007 because of standards of international behaviour. It had the capacity to shoot down intruding airliners, and it could have continued to shoot down airliners for some time without much exertion. Instead, Moscow found itself condemned for shooting down an aircraft that should not have been where it was in the first place because international norms had already labelled what the Soviets did as illegitimate. The Soviets had violated a norm that really did not need to be codified: you just do not shoot down civilian airliners full of people. Because international discourse had long since settled that issue, the Soviet Union was condemned for its action. Arguments such as, ‘It’s over our territory,’ or, ‘warnings are all over air navigational charts; they simply should not have been flying there,’ carried insufficient weight. Furthermore, the issue had already been decided years before the incident through international law and had nothing to do with aircraft capabilities or weapons loads. The Soviets did not recognise that air superiority was ultimately a political issue, not an issue of military power, and they did not have ultimate authority over the concept.

Bird of a feather ...
An F-15 Eagle banks left while an F/A-22 Raptor flies in formation en route to a training area off the coastline of Virginia, 5 April 2005. (Source: Wikimedia)

Formulation
Norms, discourse, legitimacy, and governance, should be the starting points for understanding air superiority; machines such as aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), drones, or satellites are tools that may or may not ultimately determine the legitimacy or reality of airspace control. Furthermore, since military force is a subset of information warfare, political actors can largely determine the legitimacy of airspace control before a shooting war is even contemplated, thus predetermining a significant portion of the consequences of hostile actions before they are initiated. States already pursue these conditions by flying between China and Taiwan or over the Sea of Okhotsk. Because airforces – and more ideally, civilian airliners – normalise these flights by making them regularly, they have become legitimate. Because international rules are related to air superiority, both should be considered cohabitants on the same continuum, like radio waves and light waves on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The achievement of air superiority thus begins in peacetime with the establishment of what is legitimate behaviour. Therefore, China understands this and is trying to construct airspace sovereignty over the western Pacific Ocean with manufactured islands, agitation over centuries-old, discredited maps, and military power: air sovereignty constructivism, if you will. Of course, nearby actors such as Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines, cannot give in lest they normalise China’s aggression, but they do not have sufficient power to resist militarily.

Although it forms a critical component of the response, resisting China’s aggression and preserving airspace freedom does not begin with building powerful air forces. Regional powers must perpetuate an ongoing narrative about what is legitimate in the airspace off the coasts of Asia. When they make violations of their airspace by Chinese military aircraft actions that are automatically condemned; for example, they will have contributed to a powerful foundation for air superiority. Grassroots rhetoric condemning Chinese production of runway cratering missiles, not to mention artificial islands, would further contribute to the discourse of air superiority. So, the first component of air superiority operations would be to create a norm of, ‘this is simply the way things are; this is what is appropriate.’ For instance, international airspace is accepted, and air defence identification zones extend only as far as radar coverage from one’s mainland (generally around 200 miles). When no one, or at most, only China, questions that assertion, those states will have added to the legitimacy of their own defensive military aggression if it is ever necessary. Nurturing this narrative does not carry prohibitive costs, but it requires constant attention and never ends.

This endeavour’s more deliberate components include international agreements, international organisations, multinational military exercises, and air sovereignty flights. Conducted as a diplomatic-information campaign, these activities can predetermine who will be the victim and who will be the aggressor if armed conflict erupts. Indeed, ensuring that one’s state achieves victim status and is not labelled the aggressor is the most critical goal in the discourse of air superiority. Victims have very liberal rights to self-defence during war, while aggressors may not have any rights. Therefore, possessing the legitimate right of self-defence when protecting airspace is critical and begins in peacetime. States should make maintaining that status an ongoing component of their grand strategy and ensure that illegitimate power is the only means available to actors like China and Russia.

Ultimately a determined aggressor will not care. International opprobrium, condemnation, and even new enemies who wage war against the aggressor state may not be enough to dissuade a political actor from taking what he wants by force. However, if the revisionist power wins that battle over airspace, it will find itself in a weakened condition for resisting the international opprobrium that would follow. Ideally, regional actors will possess enough military power to persuade an aggressor to not go to war in the first place or fight him to a standstill if war comes. The question of what the best hardware is for accomplishing that goal is one that states must answer the first time correctly.

Prior to Weapons Acquisition
The most important question surrounding the hardware of air superiority is not which machine will shoot down the most enemy aeroplanes or missiles. Instead, one should ask political questions addressing legitimacy, deterrence, which governs where and how, and gaining victim status. Covering those bases will function as force multipliers to the combat capabilities of one’s air and space forces. States should opt for a mix of capabilities—not for operational reasons or the ability to achieve high kill rates of invading aircraft and missiles, although necessary. Instead, the capabilities must further political goals. Air capabilities need to be able to deter, reaffirm legitimacy, confer aggressor status on the state that is attacking, and wreck the aggressor’s strategy. From there, one should construct a system of sufficient lethality to preserve or regain air superiority. Furthermore, an air force should pursue air superiority as a component of governance, not merely as a military operation.

Surface-to-air missiles may be the best starting point because they are inherently defensive. A PAC-III missile cannot attack China from South Korea or anywhere else, for that matter. SAMs are legitimate because they operate from within a country or one of its warships. They are not aggressive since they are defensive weapons. An enemy must attack them, often as the first step in an airstrike; thus, SAMs force the enemy into labelling himself the aggressor and your state the victim, giving the attacked country the power that comes to a victim in today’s discourse. But an air force can use up its SAMs quickly. Suppose the enemy still has offensive power after the defender fires off its last missiles. In that case, the defender will be in a precarious state, and victim status and the legitimacy of his cause may be so much rhetoric.

The SAM’s stablemate, antiaircraft artillery, can cause great destruction to an attacker. As inherently defensive weapons, they are legitimate and not a weapon of aggression. They need to be able to detect and hit enemy missiles and aircraft; however. Otherwise, their use conveys the image of mindless firing and panic. Since the geographic coverage of each piece is quite small, they are tertiary weapons.

Cyber weapons should be a component of air superiority hardware. Few things could be better than somehow switching off or wrecking enemy hardware from within, for instance, but to my knowledge, computer viruses do not yet cause circuit boards to melt themselves. A force struck down with computer viruses can clean out the malicious software, and even examine and exploit it for a counterattack. For that reason, cyber weapons are one-shot pieces of software. They can help defeat an enemy onslaught, but they can also help an enemy strengthen his network defence because the attack exposes a weakness.

Space-based weapons have the potential to dominate the airspace below, but they have problems when it comes to legitimacy, deterrence, and labelling. If a country flies a space laser over its enemy to protect international airspace, it does so intrusively, confusing the world audience as to who the aggressor is. Placing a satellite armed with defensive weapons could give the appearance of a constant offensive threat overhead. Damocles would not be a politically helpful label for an armed satellite.

An F-35C Lightning II assigned to the VFA-101 launched off the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) flight deck on 4 September 2017.

Weapons Have Differing Meanings
There is currently a rush to build unmanned aircraft that either function as remotely piloted vehicles or as autonomous aircraft flown by artificial intelligence. They are less expensive, there is no pilot to be killed or captured, and their swarms can overwhelm defences or attacking strike packages. Drones, however, can only extend firepower, not legitimacy. Squadrons of drones either convey the seriousness of large groups of appliances or the sinister capability of robots; fiction writing has already determined many of the meanings we attach to drones. It will be challenging for drones to be perceived solely as defensive and fully legitimate, and their deterrent effect may be less. One of the components of deterrence is forcing the enemy to attack and kill your people and your territory if they wish to attack. Thus, an enemy is less likely to attack an ICBM in a silo, for example, than a ballistic missile submarine; land-based ICBMs enhance deterrence. Furthermore, people, not machines, need to govern airspace. People are more legitimate than machines, and people, not machines, can be victimised. Drones can threaten, but unlike manned aircraft, they cannot coerce in a way that is seen as legitimate. Drones will be most effective in furthering a political narrative when retained as adjuncts – extra shooters – to manned aircraft.

Because of the politics of air superiority, its optics, the issue of legitimacy, the need to convey political will and commitment, and the different meanings attached to manned aircraft and autonomous aircraft, a great need remains for men and women to fly the aircraft and man the SAM sites that achieve air superiority. Skin in the game is necessary because an aggressor will be less inclined to shoot down a manned aircraft than a drone. The people of a country will be up in arms if one of their piloted aircraft is shot down during a crisis, but if one of their drones is shot down, how should they react when an armed appliance has been destroyed? Drones will provoke, but fighters with a human at the controls can deter, signal, provoke, defend, escort, and assert international norms. While drones can provide more tactical firepower, only manned fighters can function as political weapons. Indeed, fighter aircraft that cannot be used against surface targets unless they spend six months in a depot undergoing conversions may be in the national interest to a far greater degree than a multi-role aircraft. It may even be in the national interest to produce a follow-on to the F-22 that can only be used as an air-to-air weapon.

Air Superiority without Bombing China
A capability to achieve air superiority over eastern Europe or the western Pacific without needing to carry out bombardment missions against Chinese or Russian SAM sites or airbases is most attractive politically as well as militarily; an ability to dominate airspace with a mix of manned and unmanned fighter aircraft without the assistance of aircraft attacking targets on enemy territory gives several advantages to political leaders. First, such a capability remains a defensive, legitimate political act of governing airspace and defending airspace. Such aircraft cannot attack their adversaries and thus are less escalatory. They can complete the mission of air sovereignty over their own territory or within international airspace. Proposals of bombing Chinese or Russian airbases in defence of Taiwan or the Baltic states are asinine. When one is bombing Russian airbases, one is attacking Russia, a Russia with a nuclear arsenal. Airfield and SAM site attack strategies, operations, and capabilities were essential when deterring the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. They may be a requirement against peer states when a geopolitical relationship is going down the tubes, but bombing Chinese or Russian airfields constitutes poor politics for the United States and its allies except in the most extreme circumstances. An offensive capability and strategy in defending friends along the Asian periphery will lead to a war that worsens conditions, rather than a settlement in which those areas are governed in ways that respect the sovereignty of smaller states and international law. An offensive-defensive strategy will erode the victim status regional actors can easily retain if they emphasise an airspace politics of live and let live.

Developing the best new aircraft, SAMS, and directed energy weapons for shooting down enemy aircraft and missiles must not be procurement’s starting point for maintaining air superiority over the western Pacific. Again, air superiority is a political act, a contest of who governs the western Pacific in this instance, and how. What characteristics will the machines employed to carry out that task needs with that goal in mind? Because of the lethality of SAMs, air-to-air missiles, cyber weapons, and guided ballistic missiles, aircraft must be excellent technologically, but not for the sake of fielding the most advanced technology. Because of the political goals of the United States and its allies, the weapons should be defensive. An F-22, for example, is ideal for this mission because it does not possess much of an air-to-ground bombardment capability. That trait is a political advantage because the capability, intentions, and rhetoric are all congruent with a policy goal of governance and air defence. Since F-22-type aircraft do not support a ground attack strategy well, they are politically ideal for preserving air superiority. Several wings of American and allied F-22s and Next Generation Air Dominance Fighters (NGADs) would have the ability to defeat Chinese assets. Since they do not have the range to penetrate deep into Chinese territory, they threaten China less and match the political rhetoric of the United States and its friends more. Most importantly, highly-capable fighter aircraft can achieve air superiority solely in international airspace – the ideal location for exerting air sovereignty.

Because of the political goals behind its existence, the NGAD should be designed as a single-purpose, air-to-air combat-only fighter with a person in the cockpit. It does not need the capability to penetrate deep into Chinese or Russian airspace to destroy surface targets because that capability will not match up with any of the United States’ political goals. Why should the United States and her friends must have the capability to destroy SAM sites and airfields on Russian or Chinese territory? For that reason, the NGADs should be forward deployed, not F-35s. Keep the offensive capabilities of F-35s away from our adversaries. That will support American rhetoric and strategy, and their transfer forward in a crisis will help diplomatic efforts if it ever comes to that.

Air defence NGADs should be the forward-deployed aircraft because they can survive airspace infested with long-range Chinese SAMs fired from warships and long-range fighter aircraft far better than variants of the F-15 or F/A-18. The most advanced legacy airframes – including those not yet manufactured like the F-15EX – would only function as SAM sponges in the western Pacific and have no business flying in this theatre unless Chinese air capabilities have significantly been diminished. Even though it is more survivable against SAMs than legacy aircraft, the F-35 is not ideal for this mission because its offensive capabilities run counter to the policy and narrative desirable for governing the airspace over the western Pacific. Furthermore, it is too slow to run down and destroy the fastest Chinese fighters; it cannot engage and disengage at will like an air superiority fighter needs to do. However, given the low numbers of extant F-22s, F-35s must participate in the air-to-air battle in this scenario for the next several years. Finally, the NGAD should be designed as an aircraft carrier-launched aircraft and then equip both the US Navy and the US Air Force. Aircraft designed for carrier operations can be flown from land bases, but aircraft designed for runway operations cannot stand the stresses of carrier catapult launches and arrested landings. The NGAD should not be multi-role, but it will be multi-service. Furthermore, if it does its job well, it will not need to carry bombs because peer adversaries will not continue offensive warfare if they have lost command of the air.

Policy Goals, Grand Strategy, Narratives, Military Strategy, then Weapons Acquisition
The way to determine what kind of new technology to acquire for deterrence and war is not to first pursue the most advanced technology conceivable. However, the military strategy that results from a defence review may require just that. States need first to decide what they want. What political world do they want to live in? How can they use force, diplomacy, acquisitions, deterrence, legitimacy, and narratives to reach that world without stumbling into a major war – or winning if war breaks out? Air superiority starts with political goals, not technology, doctrine, or operations. Such an approach will significantly improve the United States’ opportunities for maintaining an international order conducive to the ideals and interests of itself and its friends. The capabilities of its military hardware will then be congruent with its peaceful rhetoric.

Dr Michael E. Weaver is an Associate Professor of History at the USAF Air Command and Staff College. He has authored five air power articles and a book on the 28th Infantry Division. His second book, The Air War in Vietnam, is due out in the fall of 2022. Weaver received his doctorate from Temple University in 2002, where he studied under Russell Weigley.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed herein are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, the U. Air Force, or Air University. 

Header image: An F-15EX Eagle II from the 40th Flight Test Squadron, 96th Test Wing out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, flies in formation during an aerial refuelling operation above the skies of Northern California, 14 May 2021. The Eagle II participated in the Northern Edge 21 exercise in Alaska earlier in May. (Source: Wikimedia)

#BookReview – British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars

#BookReview – British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars

Alex M. Spencer, British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2020. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Pbk. 307 pp.

Reviewed by Ashleigh Brown

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The First World War was a catalyst for the development of aviation. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the British Army and Royal Navy air arms, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), acted purely as auxiliaries to the British Army and Royal Navy. By 1918, although still predominantly considered a support function for the other services, aviation had taken on an increased level of importance, as illustrated by establishing the independent Royal Air Force (RAF) on 1 April 1918. The importance of aviation and air power was not lost on the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire. Inspired by the experience of the Australian Flying Corps and the creation of the RAF, Australia began looking toward an independent air force during the closing stages of the First World War. This vision was soon realised with the creation of the Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 31 March 1921 (the ‘Royal’ prefix was added in May). New Zealand, the smaller dominion, was understandably slower during the interwar period. The New Zealand Permanent Air Force came into being on 14 June 1923 and grew slowly, much to the frustration of the United Kingdom (pp. 70-1). It is the experience of these two forces that Alex Spencer, a Curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the United States, discusses in his new book, British Imperial Air Power.

Focussing on the Australian and New Zealand experience, British Imperial Air Power, derived from Spencer’s 2009 PhD thesis from Auburn University, offers one of the few contributions about military aviation developments in the Pacific dominions during the interwar period. Although the Australian and New Zealand experience of air power during has been examined, the interwar period is decidedly less studied. This is unfortunate; a far more comprehensive understanding of the air war during the Second World War can be gained by understanding the many steps taken between the wars. The immense technological, tactical, and organisational developments made during this period, as a direct result of First World War experiences, undeniably affected how air power was used in the next war. As such, as well as being an essential contribution to the discussion over the development of air power in Australia and New Zealand specifically, Spencer’s work is more generally a vital contribution to air power history of the interwar period. Spencer takes a thematic approach to the topic, beginning with the imperial air defence schemes of 1918 and 1919, which leveraged the progress made in military aviation during the war (pp. 11-36). Other themes investigated include the Empire’s air defence, post-war air transport, airships, disarmament and eventual rearmament, and the final preparations for war.

Looking at the development of the air forces of Australia and New Zealand through the imperial lens, Spencer places the dominions within the context of the British Empire. This includes a discussion of the RAF’s own struggles, namely, its fight to remain an independent service and its battle for resources throughout the interwar period. Wider economic and political issues are also discussed, including the Great Depression and the Geneva disarmament discussions, which had the potential to make building and modernising air forces more difficult (pp. 173-94). Spencer’s analysis of the broader economic, political, and imperial context is valuable. The dominions’ air forces were not created and developed in a vacuum; external factors inevitably influenced them. Additionally, Australia and New Zealand faced problems in developing their air forces – including interservice rivalry, difficulty obtaining resources, and economic restrictions – which were not unique to these dominions. Rather, they were problems faced worldwide, not least in Britain itself. Therefore, the RAF’s imperial context and experience are valuable inclusions in Spencer’s work.

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Two unidentified Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew wearing flying clothing and standing in front of an Airco (de Havilland) DH9 two-seat light bomber. This is one of 29 DH9 models that the British government gave to the fledgling RAAF as an Imperial Gift to Australia in 1920. (Source: Asutalian War Memorial)

In addition to these broader considerations, Spencer discusses the emergence of a more immediate threat to Australia and New Zealand: Japan (p. 38). Given the dislocation of the Pacific dominions from Britain, it is not surprising that fears of attacks by Japan influenced their plans for local air defence (p. 149). Spencer also discusses the renewal of Britain’s alliance with Japan (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance), which occurred to the consternation of Australia and New Zealand (p. 52). This demonstrated some cracks that were beginning to form between Britain and the Pacific dominions. Britain appeared less interested in the Japanese threat, in some instances appearing to completely disregard it as a threat despite the concerns of the dominions. Spencer adds to this issue by discussing the movement away from complete dependence on Britain and forging a closer relationship with the United States as an ally. Under the assumption that the United States had a greater interest in the Pacific area than Britain, Australia increasingly aligned itself with America. Additionally, with supply issues in Britain inhibiting the RAAF’s ability to acquire aircraft, Australia turned to the United States for new aircraft (p. 207). Spencer’s discussion of this provides essential context for the close relationship between the United States and Australia, which was apparent from the Second World War.

Spencer takes his work a step further by incorporating civil aviation’s development in Britain and the dominions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Importantly, he links this to the concurrent development of military aviation (p. 86). This is rare; military and civil aviation are usually treated quite separately. As Spencer points out, however, they were not entirely separate efforts. In addition to proving the value of aircraft in a military capacity, the First World War also opened the door for the possibility of civil aviation. For Australia, both veterans of the air war propelled spheres of aviation. While some Australians – such as Richard Williams and Stanley Goble – continued in the military and were instrumental in the RAAF’s early years, others – including Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness, and Charles Kingsford Smith – pursued careers in civil aviation upon returning home. Fysh and McGinness, along with Fergus McMaster, founded the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), while Smith completed a series of daring long-distance flights. With developments in military and civil aviation taking place parallel to one another during the interwar period, it is entirely appropriate to discuss the latter in Spencer’s work. Spencer explains that civil aviation of the era included mapping routes to connect Britain and the dominions, which was undoubtedly an important effort in terms of aerial defence (p. 249-50).

Spencer’s work is not without its problems. On a surface level, an unfortunate typographical error (Jan Smuts is incorrectly referred to as ‘Ian Smuts’) within the first 15 pages leaps out at the reader (p. 15). Additionally, large block quotes are frequently used, often becoming a distraction from the main text. In many cases, the author could have effectively summarised these and added little to no value by being quoted in full. More significantly, there is an uneven focus throughout the book: the bulk of Spencer’s analysis is dedicated to Australia, with New Zealand’s experience receiving less attention. This is understandable given the disparity in the size of the air forces and the advancements each made. However, Spencer should have explained this in the introduction to avoid the reader expecting to see an even comparative study of the two.

With these minor issues aside, Spencer presents a thoroughly researched and well-reasoned account of the formation of Australia and New Zealand’s air forces and the developments and challenges they faced during the lead-up to the Second World War. This includes archival research in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, focusing on air ministry and air department records and political decisions. Importantly, this is placed within the context of the Empire and international events, providing a broader view of the various difficulties faced during the interwar period. As such, Spencer’s work is an important contribution to this underserved period in military history.

N.B. You can listen to an interview with Dr Alex Spencer about his book here.

Ashleigh Brown is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. Her thesis focuses on the creation and interwar development of the Royal Australian Air Force. Ashleigh is a researcher for the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq & Afghanistan and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor, where her focus is Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan between 2005 and 2010. She is also an editor at From Balloons to Drones. Her research interests include the First World War, the interwar period, recent conflicts, air power, and military command. Ashleigh can be found on Twitter at @ash__brown.

Header Image: A Line up of two Vickers Vildebeests of the Royal New Zealand Air Force at RNZAF Station Wigram in the late-1930s. Vildebeest NZ108 is in the foreground. The flashes on the fuselage and wheel spats are blue. (Source: Air Force Museum of New Zealand)