It was the 19th century British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston who famously remarked that in international relations there are ‘no eternal allies […] only interests.’
Palmerston’s hard-headed worldview has particular relevance for small- and medium-nations that find themselves drawn into high-intensity warfare. The October 1973 war in the Middle East and the 1982 war in the Falklands illustrate the point.
The 1973 war began on 6 October when Egypt and Syria launched a sudden attack against Israel. Over-confident Israeli commanders were shocked when their previously dominant air force found itself unprepared for the quality and tactical disposition of the Arabs’ ground-based air defence system. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) started the war with about 290 frontline F-4 and A-4 strike/fighters, and within days some fifty had been shot-down. It was an unsustainable loss rate.
A week later, as the war in the air began to turn and the Israelis started to assert their expected dominance, it was the Arabs’ turn to experience unsustainable losses.
Now, both protagonists faced the same urgent problem: neither had the reserves nor the local capacity to rapidly reinforce their fighting units.
There is a limit to how much a nation can spend on otherwise non-productive war industries and stockpiles. Governments have to make fine judgments regarding how many weapons – which represent stranded assets until they are used – they can afford to have parked on ramps or stored in warehouses against the possibility of a contingency that might never arise.
That economic imperative is especially pronounced in the war in the air, in which platforms and weapons are exceedingly expensive. Moreover, in high-intensity fighting, extreme loss and usage rates accompany extreme unit costs. Thus, during the nineteen days of the October War, the Israelis lost 102 strike/fighters and the Arabs 433, and the Arabs fired 9,000 surface-to-air missiles. Those numbers alone amounted to thirty aircraft and $560 million per day.
What that meant was that neither the Israelis nor the Arabs were capable of fighting a high-intensity air war for more than about a week without direct assistance from their American and Soviet sponsors. Moreover, that is precisely what happened. On 9 October, the Soviets started a massive airlift to resupply the Egyptians and Syrians with missiles, ammunition, SAM components, radars, and much more; shortly afterwards, the US did the same for Israel. The US also made good the IAF’s aircraft losses by flying-in about 100 F-4s, A-4s and C-130s, some of which arrived still carrying United States Air Force markings.
Without that resupply, Israel and the Arab states could not have sustained such a high-intensity conflict.
This point bears emphasis. Israel was far superior militarily to the Arab states, and its excellent indigenous industry enabled it to develop essential capabilities (such as electronic warfare counter-measures) during the conflict. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to suggest that, had Egypt and Syria been resupplied and Israel had not, the war would have ended differently.
Sustainment in the form of aid from an external source was again crucial during the 1982 Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
The UK’s armed forces are among the world’s very best, and the nation is one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful. Argentina in 1982 was a dysfunctional, second-world nation led by an incompetent cabal of military dictators. According to both the key foreign affairs advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Lord Charles Powell, and the US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Richard Perle, ‘Britain probably would have lost the war without American assistance.’ That assistance extended to providing vital intelligence, and to ‘stripping part of the frontline US air forces’ of the latest version of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
Argentina, by contrast, found itself the dismayed subject of Lord Palmerston’s unsentimental characterisation of alliances, when it was abandoned by two nations which, until the day the shooting started, it had believed were its friends. The first, the US, cut-off intelligence and diplomatic assistance; and the second, France, which had sold the Argentine Navy Super-Etendard strike fighters and Exocet missiles, withdrew the technical support needed to make that capability fully effective.
In the event, the Argentines managed to fire five Exocets, sinking two ships from the British war convoy and severely damaging a third. It is feasible that, with better targeting information and only a half-dozen more operational missiles, the Argentines might have inflicted sufficient damage on the convoy to have compelled it to turn back before it got within 100 kilometres of the Falklands.
Should Australia become involved in a high-intensity conflict in the next ten years, we can confidently expect that our air power would be well-trained and well-equipped. Those attributes would be insufficient in themselves, however, if they were not underwritten by a strong and reliable alliance.
N.B. This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of Australian Aviation.
Dr Alan Stephens is a Fellow of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation. He has been a senior lecturer at UNSW Canberra; a visiting fellow at ANU; a visiting fellow at UNSW Canberra; the RAAF historian; an advisor in federal parliament on foreign affairs and defence; and a pilot in the RAAF, where his experience included the command of an operational squadron and a tour in Vietnam. He has lectured internationally, and his publications have been translated into some twenty languages. He is a graduate of the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, and the University of New England. Stephens was awarded an OAM in 2008 for his contribution to Australian military history.
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Sean Walsh considers some of the issues surrounding the use of Uninhibited Aerial Vehicles with a particular focus the on the implications for ground units who may increasingly come to rely on such platforms that operate at ultra-low-levels.
In the near future air operations will happen at altitudes as low as the heel of a soldier’s boot as aircraft capable of offensive and defensive operations reduce in size and increase in range.
That this is likely is demonstrated by the slaughterbotsvideo that went viral in November 2017. The slaughterbots are autonomous offensive drones that can fit in the palm of a human hand. Fitted with explosive warheads designed to impale human skulls, these very low altitude drones were depicted in the video as having the ability to autonomously select and engage targets based on age, sex, fitness, uniform and/or ethnicity.
The video ended with one such robot killing an unarmed student lying under a desk in a lecture theatre (a clear-cut war crime). Legitimate militaries have no interest in perpetrating genocide, but the prospect of autonomous drones attacking human combatants with explosives and projectiles is very real.
Very Low Altitude Drones
Future weaponised micro-aircraft will be capable of operations at very low altitudes – just millimetres above the ground. Indeed, some aircraft may become hoppers having the ability to fly through the air and drive on the ground.
This descent to ankle altitude of air power will fundamentally change the nature of army operations. Increasingly, they will come to resemble air force operations. Effective air power is now small enough to fit in a backpack or armoured personnel carrier. This low-altitude air power is mostly used for reconnaissance enabling an infantry unit to have an eye in the sky; however, these systems are starting to become weaponised.
In future high-intensity war, infantry units will need to be familiar with air force logistics and tactics. Future ground troops may need to be airmen as well as soldiers in that they will need to understand low altitude air war in addition to land war. Alternatively, combat airmen may need to be embedded in infantry units. One might argue this is the continuation of a process that started when the cavalry switched to helicopters from horses. Regardless of the institutional arrangements, ground units will need defensive drones, portable anti-aircraft weapons they can carry themselves, or both.
Tiers of Air Superiority
In the near future, it may be there are tiers of air superiority. At low altitudes, the air will be dominated by large numbers of relatively small and cheap aircraft flying at low speed and having relatively low range. At higher altitudes, existing air force concepts of air superiority will continue to apply. There will still relatively small numbers of expensive supersonic fighters clearing the skies of enemy aircraft but F-35s burning through the sky at high speed will be of limited use against swarms of slaughterbots flying less than 10 feet above the ground at relatively low-speed attacking infantry and other ground-based targets.
Indeed, already we have seen how such cheap low altitude drones can be used to attack expensive hi-tech aircraft sitting on the ground. In Syria, in January 2018, a low-tech attack by Syrian rebels was made on hi-tech Russia on its airbase at Hemimim and its naval station at Tartus. Militaries will find it irresistible to develop weapons costing a few hundred dollars that could destroy supersonic aircraft worth tens of millions on the ground. Naturally, countermeasures to guard against such threats have already been developed. The Russians were able to see off the attack.
As an aside, this gives the lie to the claim made in the slaughterbots video that ‘humans will have no defence’ against such attacks. In the history of war, the measure has always led to the development of counter-measures. The spear led to the shield. The submarine led to the depth charge. Barbed wire and machine guns led to tanks. The slaughterbot will lead to counter-measures just like every other technological innovation in military history.
Traditional High-Altitude Air War Will Still Be Critical
Even given the new low-altitude threats, F-35s and other fighter aircraft will still be able to target the transport planes and vans delivering the low altitude ‘slaughterbots’ to a range close enough for them to attack in a conventional war. Destruction of enemy logistics will still be a key to victory as it was in the Battle of Midway and many other historic engagements. However, given suitable terrain, it is conceivable that one belligerent in a future high-intensity war might have air superiority at altitude while the other has air superiority close to the ground.
Even in an asymmetric war, a plucky low-tech belligerent might find a way through the emerging countermeasures and achieve low-altitude air superiority with devastating effect to a high-tech foe. We can expect those who perpetrated the failed attack on the Russians in Syria to go back to the drawing board and try again, this time targeting the low altitude air defence systems first (perhaps with a suicidal or stealthy ground attack) before unleashing the drones on the high-value targets in the hangers.
Increasingly these low altitude aircraft will be autonomous in their combat functions. This is because such craft is far too small for an onboard human pilot. Also, in the near future, a fight between a human-telepiloted Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAV) and an autonomous UAV will be as fair a fight as Kasparov vs Deep Blue or Sedol vs AlphaGo. There will come a time where the AI has advanced to a point where humans cannot defeat it. A further reason is that existing drone counter-measures use techniques such as jamming GPS and telepiloting frequencies. To counter the counter-measures, drone-makers could resort to dead-reckoning or visual navigation to avoid the GPS vulnerability. To avoid the telepiloting vulnerability, they could disconnect the network card and develop onboard autonomy.
Moral Arguments regarding Lethal Autonomy
There is, of course, a moral argument here in addition to the technical ones regarding lethal offensive autonomy. It is foreseeable that there will be a ban on autonomous weapons but terrorist and criminal groups (narcoterrorists) will readily adopt such low altitude air power because of its low cost and easy availability. Indeed, they already have. ISIS weaponised telepiloted hobby drones in 2016. Drones are now being used to smuggle drugs across borders. It is only a matter of time before cartels use them to assassinate police, judges, and ministers. This will force democratic nations to adopt counter-measures. To be effective, such counter-measures, like existing close-in weapons systems such as Phalanx, will need a high degree of targeting autonomy. Historically, military necessity has trumped moral objections to many new weapons because belligerents will do whatever it takes to win.
Jefferson Davis objected to ‘torpedoes’ (mines) as ‘cowardly’ weapons, but when the Confederacy got desperate, he acquiesced to their use. Submarines and bombers were similarly objected to on moral grounds yet because they were militarily effective and could be used in compliance with principles of discrimination and proportionality, they survived. Military norms changed to accommodate them. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots may get a ban on autonomous weapons, but these efforts may not bear fruit.
A human officer might say to a swarm of robots, ‘clear that house’ and the robots will autonomously work together to search for threats and clear it. Swarm robotics is a rapidly progressing area of research. If the swarm of robots needs to shoot enemy combatants therein (be they human or robotic) they will do so within the scope the human order “clear that house” gives them.
Similarly, having disposed of the low altitude air defence, a commander could say to his swarm ‘search for and destroy all Sukhois on this airfield’, and the robots would do this. If they needed to shoot airmen trying to defend their craft, they would do so within the scope of their human order and the normative constraints of targeting law.
Such airborne robots would integrate with ground-based robots. Ground-based robots will be primarily logistical with strike ability mostly airborne except for some very particular tasks, such as sneaking up like snakes on enemy low altitude air defence posts. Command and control will be distributed and redundant. Cybersecurity will be critical.
Much research and development will be needed to ensure these drones operate in accordance with targeting law. However, such research is being funded. In the absence of a policy prohibition, the advanced powers will succeed in developing normatively compliant autonomous weaponry. In a climate where major powers do not trust each other, each will keep their guard up.
Increasingly, given the advances in AI and robotics, the front line of combat will be a combination of Uninhabited Ground Vehicles and UAVs on land and Uninhabited Sea Vehicles, Uninhabited Underwater Vehicles and UAVs at sea.
Future War May Be Predominantly Robotic in the Front Line
Future war may well evolve into robot vs robot at the front line. Human resistance against robots may become futile. Should such conditions evolve in war, it may be conventions evolve to take human surrenders in such hopeless circumstances.
Indeed, future war might become as ‘civilized’ as the wars of the Italian condottieri in the Renaissance. Machiavelli wrote of the Battle of Zagonara in 1424 that it was a ‘great defeat, famous throughout all Italy’ and yet ‘no death occurred except those of Lodovico degli Obizi and two of his men, who having fallen from their horses were drowned in the mud.’
Historians doubt the body count in Machiavelli’s report as he had it in for the lack of warfighting prowess of the condottieri, but even so, just as the wars of the condottieri were more about manoeuvre and posture than actual hard fighting, future war might become a matter of destroying material rather than people.
Some would argue war has been as much as about destroying material rather than people since the Second World War as evidenced by the raids on Schweinfurt and Bologna and the U-Boat campaigns in the North Atlantic. Once the opposing robots are destroyed, the humans may surrender as the ability of humans to defeat robots in combat might no longer exist. Resistance without robots may turn out to be as futile as trying to beat Deep Blue at chess without a computer.
In a future high-intensity war, it might be written:
[u]sing a new technological invention, the Red robots wiped out the Blue robots in the first days of the war, compelling the Blue humans to surrender. Some Blue humans tried to fight on, but the Red robots disarmed them, laughing at their slowness. The videos taken by the Red robots went viral.
Header Image: Pictured is a Royal Marine controlling a Black Hornet 2 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). This pocket sized and hand launched RPAS uses micro thermal cameras, visible spectrum cameras and proprietary software for flight control, stabilization, and communications. Weighing 18 grams, the Black Hornet helicopter can fly for up to 25 minutes at line-of-sight distances of up to one mile at speeds of 18 km/h. It uses GPS navigation or visual navigation via video and can fly pre-planned routes via its autopilot. The Black Hornet was developed in 2007 and been used by NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011, with the United Kingdom the first to acquire the type and use it operationally. (Source: MoD Defence Imagery)
 Niccolo Macchiavelli, History of Florence, Book IV, Chapter I.
By the Reverend Dr (Wing Commander) David Richardson
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, the Reverend Dr (Wing Commander) David Richardson discusses the relationship between society, political culture, and military sacrifice.
In his thoughtful account of the closing days of the Second World War, Max Hastings argues that the character of the conflict in western Europe was determined by the character of the western democracies themselves. The armies of Britain, America and their associates, he suggests, may have lacked the ruthless military prowess and determination of the German and Soviet forces, but ‘fought as bravely and well as any democracy could ask, if the values of civilisation were to be retained in their ranks’. When Churchill and Roosevelt invoked ‘Christian Civilization’ as the grand cause worthy of sacrifice, they were not so much making a religious statement as appealing to a shared sense of identity which they expected their listeners to understand and relate to. Seventy-five years later, it is by no means evident that this shared identity still holds. In this series articles published by From Balloons to Drones and The Central Blue considering the possibility of high-intensity war in the future, it is worth pausing to reflect on this relationship between political culture and military sacrifice, and some of its implications.
As peace returned to the shattered remains of Europe in 1945, some positive developments followed in its wake. West of the Oder, at least, liberal democracy seemed to strike deeper roots than ever before, going hand in hand with a prosperity that followed a solid upward trajectory. Across the Atlantic, America abandoned isolationism and committed itself to be both the guardian and bankroller of freedom. The only primary rival in town, Marxist-Leninism, was seen off the stage after 1990 – it seemed as if the liberal democratic steamroller would flatten a global path for economic and personal freedom. However, all was not quite as it seemed.
Before considering just how the course of history unravelled after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is useful to lay out – with a very broad brush – some of the presuppositions that had driven western society up to this point. From the Fall of Rome until the Enlightenment, religious horizons essentially bounded the world, symbolised most powerfully by the Holy Roman Emperor kneeling in the snow at Canossa. Architecture, art, and music all reflected this human concern about relating to the divine. Come the Enlightenment; the focus changed to working out what kind of world humans could create for themselves, relying on their unfettered reason and empirical discoveries. This was the age of science and developing democracy, which held out a dream of unending human progress. The waves of devastation which swept across Europe twice in the first half of the twentieth century cruelly mocked any such hopes. The last spasms of Enlightenment optimism at least gave birth to the liberal democratic project which seemed to triumph – and had been worth making sacrifices for.
However, the liberal democratic project rested on increasingly shaky foundations. Premodern people could find their certainties in religious truth. Enthusiasts for the Enlightenment could base their philosophy on a confidence that the truth was out there for any rational person to discover. Although these two views were divergent in almost every respect, they had this in common – a belief in a transcendent universe which provided a framework for understanding the place of human beings in the world. As James Davison Hunter expresses it, there was a ‘common grammar for recognising the natural affections and moral sentiments shared by all humanity…the seeds of social solidarity could be found in human sentiments, the public good within private interests, the universal within the individual’. This is precisely the transcendent worldview assumed by Churchill and Roosevelt in 1945. One of the tragic ironies of recent history is that, just as the liberal democratic project appeared to triumph, its internal coherence began to dissolve.
To put it crudely, liberal democracy bifurcated into liberal and democratic elements. Regarding liberalism, this was not the classic liberalism that Adam Smith would have recognised. Instead, it is something new – neoliberalism. The underlying assumption behind this concept is that the market is sovereign – and not merely over economic issues. Based on the theory of Friedrich Hayek, nothing has a given and immutable value – even those aspects of human significance and meaning that previous generations would have treated as normative. Objective truth is no longer ‘out there’ to be revealed or reasoned out but is determined by what the market will bear. As Stephen Metcalf points out, the old political processes of public reason – debate and thoughtful argument – are incongruent with this process, as in market terms they are simply opinions. What happens instead is that the public square ‘ceases to be a space for deliberation, and becomes a market in clicks, likes and retweets’. There is no longer a shared, transcendent mise en scène for human existence. Virtues have transformed into values – individually held and formulated – but of no binding or enduring significance.
Regarding democracy, the individual now has an unprecedented status. Once seen in relation to divinity or wider society, human beings are now increasingly regarded as sovereign agents. As the public sphere has become eviscerated of a shared cultural story, the individual is now free to decide his or her path through life. Alternatively, so the theory goes. Jackson Lears expresses it like this – ‘redefined as human capital, each person becomes a little firm with assets, debts, and a credit score anxiously scrutinised for signs of success or failure’. The individual may be freer to choose than ever before, but also carries an increasingly heavy burden for their destiny. Lacking the safeguards of a benevolent Providence – or a paternalistic society – the individual must shift for themselves. The mantra that every schoolchild knows so well – ‘follow your dreams and you can achieve whatever you want’ has a darker side that few if any primary school assemblies ever spell out. Failure to achieve those dreams or ambitions will be your responsibility alone. In such a culture, the individual faces an unrelenting pressure to boost their own image and status above all else. For example, an intriguing textual analysis of Norway’s main national newspaper between 1984 and 2005 revealed that as the occurrence of self-referencing words such as ‘I’ and ‘my’ increased, instances of other-focused concepts such as ‘duty’ and ‘obligation’ declined.
What, if anything, does all this have to do with high-intensity warfare in the twenty-first century? Going back to where we began, the armies which liberated western Europe in 1945 did so against a broadly shared cultural outlook. Britannia, Marianne, and Columbia are hardly identical sisters, but bequeathed a remarkably similar legacy of shared understanding to their descendants – and the freedoms for which they gave their lives had a transcendent quality. This situation, it may be argued, no longer obtains. Evidence for this can be seen in a wide variety of forms, from Allan Bloom’s analysis of education to Robert Putnam’s influential work on the decline of social cohesion in late twentieth century America. As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor observes, ‘the individual has been taken out of a rich community life and now enters instead into a series of mobile, changing, revocable associations’. With his or her small stock of human capital, each person makes their way through life via a series of short-term contracts, which run the gamut of human existence from car insurance to employment. What matters most is the utilitarian and the instrumental – an epistemic ecology where traditional concepts such as humility, duty and sacrifice seem anachronistic surds. Moreover, as analysts of our neoliberal world have suggested, the promised blessings of prosperity and success have not trickled down universally, leading to a considerable degree of cynicism about public life – from fake news to the political establishment. This is not a development which augurs well for a strong common existence. If citizens withdraw from political and civic engagement into a private sphere of personal fulfilment, as Larry Siedentop remarks, liberal freedoms are at risk.
One of the founding principles of modern democracy is that the individual citizen surrenders certain freedoms and benefits to the state in exchange for protection and stability. This relationship is perhaps seen in its starkest form when a nation sends its citizens to war. In the post-2001 operations, when the legitimacy of the campaigns was subject to intense public scrutiny, this affected the commemoration of those citizens who had given their lives. As Sandra Walklate, K.N. Jenkings and others have observed, repatriation ceremonies became ‘deeply political acts’ protesting against military action, where those who died were remembered as victims of government policy. Anthony King, in his analysis of the obituaries of British service personnel, comments that the death of soldiers is not seen so much as an act of service for the nation as ‘the meaningful expression of a man who defined himself by his profession’. If the individual is indeed a small firm with a limited stock of human capital, a strong relationship of trust between citizen and society is vital should the citizen be required to sacrifice that capital for a bigger purpose.
Moreover, this is the nub of the argument. As Alexis de Tocqueville saw some two centuries ago, a society which favours atomism and instrumentalism undermines the very freedoms which it cherishes. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the freedoms that the western world enjoys have primarily been sustained without significant periods of high-intensity conflict – and the associated heavy demands of blood and treasure. Future military operations may not follow this pattern, and free nations may have to pay a large price for such nebulous terms as liberty and democracy. A worldview furnished from the moral stockroom of utilitarian instrumentalism will offer little strength in such circumstances. To quote Taylor again, ‘high standards need strong sources’ – a stripped down public square does not provide the wherewithal to sustain a deep understanding of human meaning and purpose. Churchill and Roosevelt saw the battle that they were engaged in as something more than a struggle over resources and the possession of territory.
Alternatively, in other words, they understood the need for spiritual resilience – an awareness that human existence cannot be reduced to a profit and loss transaction. The free society which values the individual did not arise from an instrumentalist worldview – indeed Siedentop has recently published a fascinating volume which explicitly traces the development of modern liberal equality right back to Christian thinkers in the middle ages. One does not need to share the faith of these scholars to appreciate their insights. Perhaps it is time to pause in our pursuit of relentless individualism to consider the bigger truths of the world to which we belong. Davison Hunter remarks that our current cultural trajectory is likely set to bend us away from the very concepts of justice, freedom, and tolerance that we treasure. Before we are called upon to defend these convictions in intensive conflict, it is undoubtedly worth reflecting on why they are worth defending in the first place.
The Reverend Dr (Wing Commander) David Richardson is a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, initially ordained into the Church of Ireland. A graduate of the universities of Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, and King’s College London, he has served on a variety of RAF stations. His operational experience includes tours across Afghanistan and Iraq.
 Jackson Lears, ‘The long con of Neoliberalism,’ The Hedgehog Review, 19:3 (2017).
 Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic (New York, NY: Free Press, 2010), p. 264.
 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (London: Penguin, 1987); Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York, NY: Touchstone, 2000).
 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 502.
 Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual (London: Penguin, 2014), p. 363.
 Sandra Walklate, Gabe Mythen and Ross McGarry, ‘Witnessing Wootton Bassett; An Exploration in Cultural Victimology,’ Crime, Media and Culture, 7:2 (2011), pp. 149-65. K.N. Jenkings, N. Megoran, R. Woodward and D. Bos, ‘Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning,’ Area, 44:3 (2012), pp. 356-63.
 Anthony King, ‘The Afghan War and ‘postmodern’ memory: commemoration and the dead of Helmand’, The British Journal of Sociology, 61:1 (2010), pp. 1-25.
 Quoted in Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. 502.
High-intensity war is often equated with conventional or regular war, as after the Middle Ages, this was the ‘usual’ type of war. However, high-intensity war has somewhat fallen from the regular discourse. Being replaced by what is ironically known as irregular war. However, as was highlighted in the opening post to this series, this is starting to change. High-intensity war has become a distinct possibility in the near future, so we must prepare for and try an understand what that means for us. This article aims to explore the possible characteristics of future high-intensity war as a crucial step in preparing ourselves for it.
An attempt to control a domain typifies high-intensity warfare. In recent decades, the requirement and ability to control the air domain has been somewhat of a non-issue. Recent conflicts have instead been labelled irregular or low intensity, and seeks to hurt, harass or demoralise the enemy; there is less of an intent, or perhaps a requirement, to control a domain. In looking to the future, we need to consider the context in which control of a domain, which in the case of this article is air, is required before any further action.
The ability to forecast when and where this high-intensity war will occur with any accuracy is challenging to say the least. However, with that said, why should we have to predict such an occurrence? If western air forces were able to maintain a seamless mastery of the full spectrum of operations, then the finer detail such as whether it was to be high or low intensity, would not matter. We would be prepared regardless. However, as Austin Long, an Associate Professor at Columbia University asserted ‘no military has been able to achieve this goal.’ In preparing for high-intensity warfare, the best we can do is outline potential realities with the aspiration that they will, in some way, prepare us through the generation of discussion and preparedness of the mind.
One. Displacement, trauma and bloodshed are unavoidable. According to The Economist, in:
 two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. The number of megacities with populations of more than 10 million has doubled to 29 in the past year, and each year nearly 80 million people are moving from rural to urban areas.
So, while the exact location of future conflict is unknown, it is safe to assume, high-intensity war will be fought in an urban environment. More significantly, these urban areas will be more densely populated than any time in history. High-intensity warfare in such an environment will be confronting to the moral sensibilities of a western society conditioned to small-scale conflict in less populated areas. This will be further compounded as scenes of mass destruction are broadcast over media networks worldwide. One needs only to recall the recent global outcry over the Syrian civil war as an illustration. The humanitarian disaster that unfolded in the wake of the Syrian civil war would be nothing compared to high-intensity conflict in a modern mega city. Syria had a pre-civil war population of 22 million, but only two cities with a population more than one million. One can only imagine the implications of a war in a city with a population ten times that of a Syrian city.
Civilian death, displacement and trauma are not the aims of modern democratic governments, noting that there have been some historical exceptions, but are unfortunately unavoidable. Combine a high-intensity conflict and a significant population centre, and the scale of destruction is exponentially increased from anything witnessed in recent history. The effect of a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe will be two-fold. There will be a requirement to prevent the overflow of conflict and refugees into surrounding nations and potentially cause further unrest. However, secondly, as these images are broadcast into our living room, it will be the responsibility of the government to maintain a supportive domestic base in the face of such horrific scenes. The morality of this scenario is complex and must be considered prior to its eventuality.
Two. Competition with near-peers will challenge our resilience and capacity. For the first time in 10 years, the United States has released a new National Defence Strategy in which it outlines strategic competition to be the ‘central challenge to US prosperity and security as Russian and Chinese military capabilities expand’. This document highlights that great power competition is now the focus. Given the accelerating regional military modernisation that is occurring in the Asia Pacific region, Australia too must focus resources on overcoming the challenges that the growing confidence of China or Indonesia poses. The fight against a near-peer offers several challenges not experienced in the preceding decades. One such example is the effect of a significant loss of platforms, refer to Rex Harrison’s post on attrition. There are assets in the Australian order of battle that will not be able to enter a contested environment without a high probability of loss, and to do so would deplete capability at an untenable rate.
Should we lose aircraft at an untenable rate, we also face the prospect of losing our highly specialised aircrew. With such a small air force relative to our potential adversaries, we lack the capacity and redundancy offered by larger forces. To win the high-intensity war, an organisation needs enough people who are willing to commit their lives to the higher objective. Unfortunately, due to the small population of our nation, we lack the recruitment pool to both enlist personnel at a high rate in the case of war or prepare adequately through the employment of additional personnel in times of peace for redundancy.
Three. High-intensity war will be fought through a multi-domain construct. One hundred years ago there was debate as to the utility of an independent air force. With the acceptance that land and maritime control could not exist without control of the air; an independent, specialised air force was born. In 2018, the same argument must be made for the cyber and space domains. Without control of the cyber and space domains, we do not control the air domain. Greater knowledge of the benefits and limitations of these domains must be established and socialised within the broader warfighting community if success in a high-intently war is to be achieved. In fighting a high-intensity war, warfighters cannot continue to think from a domain-first perspective. Success in high-intensity war will need to:
[f]eature militaries capable of complex combined arms operations, as well as lethal offensive threats. These conflicts will engage US allies and disrupt the ability of the future joint force to move within operational reach of the adversary.
In analysing the ‘Context of Future Conflict and War,’ Jeffrey Becker explained that:
[t]hreats will transcend tidy categories, cutting across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, while being distributed across military domains and/or reaching across broader geographic range and scope.
It is not only Western militaries that are faced with this realisation. Chinese military publications also indicate that war is no longer a contest between units or specific services. The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) refer to this concept at systems confrontation [体系对抗]. Systems confrontation is:
[w]aged not only in the traditional physical domains of land, sea, and air, but also in outer space, nonphysical cyberspace, electromagnetic, and even psychological domains. Whereas achieving dominance in one or a few of the physical domains was sufficient for war fighting success in the past systems confrontation requires that “comprehensive dominance” be achieved in all domains or battlefields.
This inevitably leads to the question as to the suitability of the current organisational structure, and if we are truly ready to fight the joint fight. However, that is a whole other post.
Four. Implications for capability transition. From an Australian air power perspective, we are both blessed and disadvantaged by the new capabilities entering service. In the coming five years, the RAAF will see several new platforms enter service. Platforms such as the F-35 Lightning, EA-18G Growler and P-8 Poseidon enable greater integration with coalition forces, while also enhancing connectivity with command. However, while the RAAF may have exceptional new, high-end capability, if these assets cannot fully integrate into the joint fight, or, if the wider warfighting community does not fully understand their capabilities, then their effectiveness is partially lost. With capability transition must come education. Air power practitioner’s need to emphasise the effects of their platforms rather than just assume the joint force knows what each platform brings to the fight. High-intensity warfighting must emphasise effects-based operations.
Five. We cannot rely purely on advanced technology to win; we need a contest of ideas. Given the intricacies of the new, high-end capabilities as well as a large number of unknowns within the new domains, it will take everyone, from airmen and women to the Chief of Defence Force to achieve success in an effects-based operation. No one person, organisation or government holds the panacea to predicting and defeating an adversary in a high-intensity war. It is vital members at all levels are engaged and given the freedom to voice their ideas and concerns. It is through the contest of ideas that innovation is realised. This concept was aptly summarised by Air Marshal Leo Davies, Chief of Air Force, when he states that:
It is far, far better that we should respectfully engage in that contest than to hide our thoughts, only to find them wanting when it matters most.
It is only through engagement and conversation that we become truly prepared for the future.
The five observations mentioned above about the character of future high-intensity warfare are in no way to be considered an exhaustive list. However, a common thread can be identified. Education and discussion into the broader warfighting community are vital. Future high-intensity war cannot be considered from a single-domain perspective, and consequently, a greater knowledge of all domains and capabilities is required.
Squadron Leader Jenna Higgins is an Air Combat Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force and editor at The Central Blue. She can be found on Twitter @jenna_ellen_ The opinions expressed are hers alone and do not reflect those of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.
Header Image: A Royal Australian Air Force F-35A flies in formation with a US Air Force F-35 during trial flights from Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix Arizona, c. 2016. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)
 Michael Muehlbauer and David Ulbrich, Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century (New York: Routledge, 2014), p. 3.
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Dr Kenton White examines Britain’s defence policy with regards to the air defence of the United Kingdom. He compares Britain’s commitment to air defence during the Cold War period with that of the present. With regards to the present, White concludes that given certain factors, the Royal Air Force (RAF) will struggle to regenerate if faced with a high-intensity conflict with a near-peer enemy.
This article talks broadly about strategy, planning and its practice. It uses examples from Britain’s defence policy, and hard numbers from the Cold War experience, to illustrate some of the problems the RAF faces today. It looks at Britain’s commitment to the air defence of its islands during the Cold War – an age of certainty – and compares it directly to the current defence policy and practice in the age of uncertainty.
A historically pessimistic view of international relations and strategy is taken. The reason for this pessimism is based on historical precedent. In 1914, Europe went from peace to war in less than two months. In the 1930s Britain’s rearmament began in mid-decade to replace bi-planes and other equipment, but the RAF still went to war in 1939 with obsolescent, vulnerable equipment, and suffered severe losses of personnel and machinery.
I take it someone has worked out whether we can defend ourselves.
Jim Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister, 1978
This comment is written on the front page of a Joint Intelligence Committee report on the ability of the Soviet air force to attack targets in Britain. The report showed Britain was poorly prepared to defend itself in times of war, despite the apparent threat from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact.
Questions relating to Britain’s air defence capability are as relevant now as they were then; however, the circumstances are very different. The familiar bipolarity of the Cold War is missing, and the range of threats to the UK is much broader, including both state and non-state actors.
A vital role of the RAF is to deter attack, and ultimately the defence of UK airspace if that deterrent fails. Deterrent plans are aimed at a perceived threat: planning for the manifestation of that threat. These plans relate intimately to national strategy. The nation must appear to have a capable air force if it is to act as a deterrent. However, deterrence also requires the ability to sustain operations. Britain’s air defences protect around 1 million square miles of airspace, reaching out into the North Atlantic. This indicates how vital airborne maritime reconnaissance is in defence of the islands.
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review read:
The Government’s most important duty is the defence of the UK and Overseas Territories, and protection of our people and sovereignty.
In written testimony to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) in 2013, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield told the committee that, in an ideal world, air defence of the UK should be the priority of UK defence policy. The 2015 SDSR states ‘[T]he Royal Air Force protects our airspace and is ready at all times to intercept rogue aircraft.’ Concerted attack from the air by a peer adversary is not perceived as an imminent threat.
The conventional threat during the period of ‘Flexible Response,’ as the NATO Cold War strategy was called, was clear – direct attack from bombers equipped with gravity bombs or stand-off missiles aimed at denying the vital infrastructure needed for the reinforcement of Europe by UK and US forces. The UK was responsible for the air defence of the Eastern Atlantic and the UK itself, and the airspace over the UK was an Air Defence Region in its own right. However, the defensive response to the threat was never completely put into place, leaving UK airspace extremely vulnerable, and Britain’s ability to continue a fight very doubtful.
What is the threat analysis today? The HCDC identified several distant threats to the national interest, and while qualifying the analysis heavily, identified the Russian/Middle Eastern threat as being the greatest to the UK itself. In 2015, the HCDC commented that:
[t]he resurgence of an expansionist Russia represents a significant change in the threat picture […] and has implications not only for the UK but also for our allies as well.
The ability of the Russians to interfere with the sea and air communications into the UK is seen as a considerable problem, and the capability to use cyber-attacks to cripple the country has been recently in the news thanks to the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Unofficially at least in public, there is also the fear of the break-up of NATO, and the need for Britain to be able to defend itself alone, as in 1940.
What is being defended?
For us to understand the demands of the air defence of the UK, we must understand what is being defended. The knee-jerk response to this may be that the population is being defended. However, the official documents indicate otherwise. During the early Cold War, the first thing being defended against attack in the UK was the nuclear deterrent. Other targets such as other military installations, ports and airports were next on the list for air defence, with civilian installations such as power generating stations as poor runners-up.
Once the nuclear deterrent took to sea in submarine-launched missiles, the priority of defence changed. There is no longer the clear military imperative to defend the nuclear deterrent if it functions correctly with one boat always at sea, but neither is there the capability, nor the political will, to defend the vital military and civil installations in the country from attack from the air. Security documents speak in vague terms about ‘defence of the UK’.
Self-defence of the RAF, in other words maintaining the RAF air defence and surveillance capability, seems the obvious next choice given that the resources available to the RAF are insufficient to defend the national infrastructure.
What are the vulnerabilities?
The ‘internal’ vulnerability comes from Government cuts and a drive for greater ‘efficiency’. This results in a lack of equipment, weapons, supplies and trained personnel. There are many examples of short-sighted ‘cost-savings’ which resulted in reduced air defence capability. To many in the RAF and the other armed services, the greatest enemy is the Treasury.
Air defence of the UK suffered considerably during the early Cold War. Because the expectation was that any war would turn nuclear very quickly, the provision of expensive air defence systems was considered unnecessary. The RAF finds itself in a comparable situation now, following a period of cuts, ‘refocusing’ or simple indifference by the government.
National air defence should be flexible and capable of responding to a multitude of threats. However, the historical lesson is that even in a period of certainty, the resources were not made available to the RAF to provide what it saw as the minimum level of defence for UK airspace. Flexibility comes at a cost. It relies on balance within the forces, and sufficient numbers to respond to different scenarios.
There is a lack of a layered surface to air defence system. Other services rely on layered defence, while the RAF has been forced into a two-stage defence: overhead and arm’s length. Without the numbers, achieving flexibility becomes problematic. However, not all aircraft will be available all the time, so a simple count up of aircraft in service is misleading – battle damage, faults and maintenance will reduce the numbers available.
The armed forces are increasingly run by governments of all colours in the fashion of a business, with ‘outputs’ and ‘levels of cost-effectiveness’. The only real measure of an armed force is how it operates in its true environment, which is war. Which brings us to the second vulnerability.
This is primarily political self-delusion, but also some self-delusion within the Service. A strategic vulnerability has developed out of the policies which attributed success to the NATO strategies. However, lack of failure does not equal success.
This vision of success contributes to the self-delusion. According to the politicians of successive Governments, aircraft numbers could be cut, pilot training be restricted, and obsolete weapons retained, but the overall strategy was still successful. Behind this apparent success, the UK air defence capability had effectively been eviscerated.
This same self-delusion of success led to the cuts under the ‘Peace Dividend’ and led to very quickly forgetting how to face an adversary that has capable Air Power regarding credibility and numbers. To reinforce this misplaced belief, most recent RAF operations have been fought in more-or-less permissive air environments. They have not had to deter nor fight a peer state.
The political class, public, and even the other armed services have lost sight of the fact that ‘air superiority’ is not a given. The memory of what it is like to have to operate against an adversary which has credible and numerically similar air power has been lost. This extends to the protection of the supporting infrastructure, which in recent deployments has remained free from attack. The ground facilities suffer from vulnerability to air attack to blind the surveillance systems, which is why maritime reconnaissance, air surveillance and control systems and airborne warning and control systems are so very important. Indeed, a lack of maritime patrol aircraft has been an embarrassment to the British Government in the recent past.
The third vulnerability is the physical existence of the RAF if it is faced with a peer enemy.
This vulnerability, a result of the combination of the first and second threats, is particularly applicable to Britain’s armed forces. If a relatively small force accomplishes military excellence, the effect of combat losses will be disproportionately devastating. The RAF may be genuinely excellent, capable and agile in all its operations, but because of its reduced size, any combat losses, should it come to a peer-to-peer war, will be truly ruinous.
Difficulties, if not disasters, in the early stages of war, and the need for time to recover and re-arm, have been vital for the UK. The British Expeditionary Force experienced this in the First World War, and nearly by the RAF in the Second World War. Had Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding not refused to send more fighters to defend France it was likely that the air defence of the home islands would not have been sufficient to survive the impending attack.
An ex-RAF officer commented that:
This threat poses the problem the RAF has faced for decades: condemning themselves to low capabilities for a while, and eventually getting better if they last long enough.
In this age of uncertainty, flexibility is the key to respond to threats from different areas. However, the RAF, along with the other armed forces, have been starved of the necessary resources for even the basic defence of the home nation.
It would appear that many of the limitations placed on UK air defence during a period of strategic certainty have continued into the current age of uncertainty.
Following the apparent success of the Cold War strategies, the idea the ‘teeth’ could be sharpened at the expense of the ‘tail’ persisted and has now grown to dangerous proportions. Pursuing the business model of ‘efficiency’, the Armed Forces have been cut to very low levels yet asked to do more. Moreover, with the increasing tensions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific, the number of possible threats is increasing.
The overwhelming problem with a denuded air force is the time it will take to recover its capability if, and when, it is needed. Modern equipment is complicated to manufacture, and aircraft cannot be built in the numbers previously seen. Nor, frankly, is there the will to provide such facilities during peacetime for use in the event of war.
War has a habit of appearing without much announcement, and the diminished resources of the RAF would take years to bring up to the necessary levels to defend the UK against a determined enemy, and defending these islands is precisely what the RAF may be called upon to do, before too long.
Dr Kenton White is a Sessional Lecturer in Politics, International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading. He also works as a part-time Lecturer in Strategic Studies at Cranwell with the RAF. He has a PhD in Strategic Studies, researching British defence policy and practice during and after the Cold War. He studies military history and defence policy from the Napoleonic Wars to today. Before entering academia, he was the Managing Director of a computer animation company.
Header Image: A Russian Bear aircraft is escorted by a Royal Air Force Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon during an intercept in September 2014. (Source: MoD Defence Imagery)
 The National Archives, PREM 16/1563, JIC (77)10, The Soviet Capability to Attack targets in the United Kingdom Base, 26th October 1977, ‘Defence against the Soviet Threat to the United Kingdom’, n.d.
 Cmd 9161, ‘National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom’ (The Cabinet Office, November 2015), chap. 4. Hereafter, SDSR 2015
 HC 197, ‘Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part One’, (House of Commons, 7 January 2014), p. 58.
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Dr Bleddyn Bowen examines the place of space power in modern high-intensity warfare. In doing so, he discusses two competing astro-strategies and their applicability to air forces and the use of air power.
Modern air forces cannot conduct precise and highly coordinated operations without the navigation and communications services provided by satellites. Proven in 1991, America’s space power-enabled military forces decimated Iraq’s massed conventional forces and turned a defeat into a rout as Iraqi troops abandoned their heavy weapons and dispersed. Other military forces have now emulated precision bombing and networked air interception capabilities. Space power integration within the military forces of China and Russia proceeds apace with their precision strike and sophisticated standoff area denial weapons.
It is inevitable that space power’s influence on the battlefield, as well as attempts to disrupt or disable satellite operations, will be a significant feature of high-intensity warfare. Deterrence failure would open up space to the trials of space warfare for the first time. Satellite communications, intelligence, and navigation services are essential to the operation of modern warfare in all terrestrial environments, and in particular, enable the combat and logistical effectiveness of fifth-generation air forces. Air power in future wars will be increasingly shaped by the influence of space power upon terrestrial warfare.
Two astro-strategies encapsulate competing visions of space warfare: a Space Pearl Harbor and a Reserve strategy. Both centre upon when and where each side wants to unleash a precision-guided munitions (PGM) salvo from and against air and maritime forces as well as fixed bases. Such a PGM salvo is the tip of the spear that a fifth-generation air force provides. Space warfare threatens to blunt or parry this tip that modern military forces have come to rely upon. This article examines these two astro-strategies that influence the employment of airpower. While both astro-strategies centre upon when and where either side wishes to exploit and deny the dispersing effects of space power on the battlefield, modern air forces have a crucial role to play in imposing and denying those dispersing effects of space power and have a critical dependency on space power themselves to function.
The Influence of Space Power
Space power enables aggressive air forces to reliably shoot what they see promptly and increases the efficiency at which they can operate. This imposes dispersing pressures on the opposing force because of the reliability of precision-strike weapons. Unless the PGM can be intercepted, its launcher destroyed, or its space-based navigation crippled, the targets must hide or scatter. As well as imposing a dispersing influence on enemy forces, dispersion through space services allows friendly deployed forces to remain physically dispersed while retaining a networked ability to concentrate firepower in time and place. The exploitation, denial, and negation of the dispersing effects of space power is a critical operational dynamic for future high-intensity warfare.
The hard edge of Western military forces – deep and precise airstrikes conducted at long distances from home – cannot function without space power. Fifth-generation aircraft and the emergence of ever-more autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft increases the reliance of modern air forces on the communications, navigation, and intelligence provided by satellites. In future high-intensity warfare, the practice of air power seems to grow acutely dependent on possessing a command of space. Naturally, then, satellites are logical targets in any future high-intensity conflict as part of a range of options to degrade a PGM salvo capability. Air forces can be a direct counter-space or anti-satellite capable service with the employment of air-launched suborbital-capable missiles and electronic warfare suites.
Without space systems, the modernised military forces that have dispersed lose their connectivity and become less effective and vulnerable to any massing and concentration of the opposing force. Early warning of enemy movements and a return to ‘dumb’ weapons make massing against a fifth-generation air force and modern ground forces no longer a suicidal option. This is the reason that space infrastructure is a lucrative target in modern warfare: space power makes vulnerable opponents scatter and hide while allowing smaller forces to stand up to larger massed conventional forces. Attacking the space power that supports this military advantage improves the odds against fifth-generation aircraft and their joint methods of warfare.
How and when should an opponent’s space infrastructure be attacked, then? Fears and confidence in the success of a first strike in space warfare, or a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’ may be over-blown but timing a coordinated space warfare campaign with operations on Earth and holding counter-space operations in reserve may be more difficult than anticipated. These opposing views of space warfare in a future great power clash dominate operational-level thought about space warfare.
Space Pearl Harbor Strategy
The phrase ‘Space Pearl Harbor’ gained traction following the publication of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 Space Commission Report. The Commission noted a potential threat to U.S. space systems in the form of a debilitating first strike from a near-peer adversary against its space systems. Striking space systems first is an attractive strategy from China’s point of view because it undermines America’s dependencies in long-range precision-strike capabilities. Reducing the speed and flexibility at which fifth-generation aircraft can be tasked, reducing their weapons accuracies, decreasing the ranges at which they can fire-and-forget, as well as hampering battle damage assessment, can improve the odds of strategic success for the People’s Liberation Army. The incentive to strike American space systems and risking a like-for-like retaliation may seem like a possibly acceptable cost given China’s disproportionately reduced dependence on space power for a Taiwan scenario.
Not only has China developed a credible suite of anti-satellite capabilities, but China has also begun to resemble the early stages of the space power-enabled military machine the United States had in 1991. A massed military force is slowly transitioning to a lighter and more lethal-per-platform professional force. Today, both China and America are developing longer-range precision strike and uncrewed weapons to counter increasingly sophisticated air defence and maritime denial systems. These increase the dependency on space power and its dispersing effects on oneself and the enemy.
In future high-intensity warfare fifth-generation air forces must consider their dependencies on space systems for various degrees of operational capability as area-denial, and anti-access (A2AD) capabilities increasingly seek to disable and disrupt space communications. A Space Pearl Harbor strategy is increasingly appealing for the United States – not only its potential adversaries. China’s Qu Dian system – its satellite communications, command and control, and intelligence-gathering capabilities – is a potential target for America. China and America may become the first two military powers with competing systems-of-systems and fifth-generation aircraft to fight each other, with space systems providing the backbone for all long-range military capabilities. Both military powers possess reconnaissance-strike complexes, have provided ample targets for each other in orbit and on Earth.
A key calculation in the strategies of China and the US with their opposing precision strike complexes is how long naval and airborne forces could operate within one another’s A2AD zones to fire their PGM salvos and retreat to safety. Successful counter space operations – whether through soft kill jamming or hard-kill destruction of satellites – may provide more time for aircraft in an anti-access region as dismantling the space component of A2AD weapons reduces the effectiveness and reliability of a precision-strike complex. However, the United States is also thinking and acting along these lines. China’s ever-increasing space infrastructure provides more targets worth hitting for US and allied ASAT programs, especially as China itself intends to project the dispersing influence of space power-enabled terrestrial strike weapons across the Pacific.
There is a strong incentive therefore to an early strike against space systems for both sides to prevent fifth-generation aircraft from being able to reliably intercept enemy fighters and bombard targets on Earth’s surface. Doing so would undermine the opponent’s ability to launch a fully capable PGM salvo which requires reliable celestial lines of communication. Part of China’s A2AD plan for a war in the Pacific may require the targeting of US bases in Guam, the Philippines, and Japan, and is developing longer-range air-launched PGM capabilities to do so. Such deep PGM strikes resemble what Clausewitz called an attack on the enemy’s army in its quarters, which prevents the enemy from assembling at its preferred location and buys significant time for the assailant as the victim spends days assembling at a more rearward, safer, position.
Space power’s influence on fifth-generation air forces partly increases the value of the first strike against space systems, especially if it is to prevent an expeditionary force from arriving in theatre before other hostilities begin. A fifth-generation aircraft’s utility in future high-intensity warfare may be determined by what happens in orbit to a degree only glimpsed by fourth-generation aircraft. Losing a space warfare campaign may seriously undermine the long-range strike options available for fifth-generation air forces, as without some space systems aircraft could not even leave an airfield, let alone navigate to a specific target and reliably hit it with one-shot-one-kill reliability. In close combat operations, impaired space support may disable reliable close air support that small and dispersed land units have come to rely upon in Western armed forces.
However, this does not mean that a U.S.-China war will inevitably begin in space. For strategists, the discussion of when and how which satellites may be targeted in war is particularly thorny, and has no obvious answer, despite the benefits of striking space systems. Space power is pervasive and diverse in its functions and influences, and space infrastructure may be more resilient or redundant than a first strike strategy may anticipate. Surprise attacks may not produce the strategic results desired, and forces will be needed in reserve. Betting everything on a surprise attack and a debilitating first strike is the other aspect of the Pearl Harbor analogy that seems under-emphasised in such discussion. A surprise attack has no guarantee of success, and there are good reasons why strategists tend not to commit their entire force and war plan to the success of the opening shots. The Space Pearl Harbor strategy has its merits, but it is only one possible astro-strategy. The defender is not always so helpless, and not necessarily so strategically vulnerable to such attacks.
Beijing must assault Washington’s celestial lines of communication that support the maritime and air forces that Washington must dispatch to aid Taiwan. The consequences of doing so, or failing to do so, results in the dispersing influence of space power being brought to bear on the side that manages to keep using space power and commanding space to a good enough degree.
A strike against space systems at the outset of hostilities or manoeuvres may not be necessary or inevitable because of the needs and conditions of the terrestrial campaign. If a terrestrial campaign requires complete surprise, an attack on space systems may give away the terrestrial attack and reduce its effect. Expecting space superiority for an air strike may tempt the opposing force to conduct an opening airstrike without space superiority – much like how Egypt’s land offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War took Israel by surprise because they did so without air superiority.
A simple incentive to use a reserve strategy is that its timing can be used to increase the terrestrial consequences of the loss of space support at a crucial time. America would have more incentive to wait until its forces are converging on Taiwan when China needs to gather more data from sensors ashore to increase its anti-ship missile hit probabilities – making this the opportune time to disable the Qu Dian system and launch a concerted American space offensive. This is seemingly risky, but if timed well, can create the crucial opening for amphibious reinforcements of the Taiwanese resistance by the US Navy and Air Force. If the Qu Dian system is neutralised too early, workarounds may have been deployed by the time American expeditionary forces arrive in-theatre.
The reserve strategy may be useful to as a responsive posture based on when the adversary is about to launch a PGM salvo, and that salvo in itself may be used only when enemy terrestrial forces have concentrated on Earth around a geographical point, such as Taiwan and its surrounding waters. Counterspace operations and point-defence systems can parry the blow of a PGM salvo, or at least deny the one-shot-one-kill potential feared in Chinese A2AD systems. Indeed, the best time to deny Chinese A2AD systems is when the Chinese are counting on them to work at a crucial time of their choosing. This approach, however, may require a risk appetite that is now alien to the leaders of Western air and maritime forces.
Space power and air power are not immune to strategic logic. The abstract and absolutist nature of a Space Pearl Harbor assault on space systems is feared and has triggered thought and planning on mitigating the damages of such an attack on both sides. Mitigating the risks of a decisive blow from above in space follows a classic logic of strategy. Space systems may be more resilient than some assume. Terrestrial mitigation measures to parry the blow of a PGM salvo may decrease the need for excessive and pre-emptive counter-space operations. Fifth-generation aircraft may have a significant role as interceptors of long-range A2AD platforms and projectiles to protect the heavy-hitting destroyers and carriers as they approach a point of geographic interest and increase their risks of taking on damage. There may be an incentive not to shoot at or disrupt satellites first if one side thinks they can weather successive rounds of PGM salvos and exhaust the enemy’s supply of PGMs while retaining the ability to meet the objectives of the campaign in the aftermath. Space warfare and astro-strategy in a Taiwan scenario should – in part – be subordinated to the needs of a terrestrial salvo competition, which is itself partly subordinated to the needs of the amphibious Taiwan campaign and its political objectives.
The proliferation of space power increases its usefulness in warfare. Therefore the payoff of counter-space operations also increases. This proliferation, however, does not necessarily result in reduced strategic stability, as the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ mentality encouraged by the Space Pearl Harbor astro-strategy is not without its inherent strategic flaws as a surprise attack. Space weapons and anti-satellite operations may be held in reserve to coincide with a critical moment on Earth: joint operations must include space power, but space operations must also embrace the needs of terrestrial warfare. With the advent of fifth-generation air forces and the emergence of remotely piloted or autonomous reconnaissance and combat aircraft, the reliance of air power on space power will only increase. Future high-intensity warfare will witness competing systems-of-systems, and space warfare will play a frontline role as a method of parrying and blunting each side’s precise airborne spear tips as two high technology militaries exploit and impose the dispersing effects of space power.
Dr Bleddyn E. Bowen is a Lecturer in International Relations at the School of History, Politics, and International Relations, University of Leicester. Previously, he lectured at King’s College London and Aberystwyth University. Bleddyn is a specialist in space power theory, astro-politics, and space security, and has published in The Journal of Strategic Studies, The British Journal of International Relations, and Astropolitics, frequently contributes to blogs on space warfare, and has featured in the podcasts The Space Show and The Dead Prussian. Amongst other things, Bleddyn is currently working on his research monograph on space power theory and convenes the Astropolitics Collective.
Header Image: An Atlas V rocket carrying a Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite for a US Air Force mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 19 January 2018. (Source: US Department of Defense)
 This article is based on research presented at the International Studies Association 2017 Annual Convention and will feature in a forthcoming monograph. Bleddyn E. Bowen. ‘Down to Earth: The Influence of Spacepower Upon Future History’, paper presented at ISA Annual Convention, Baltimore, February 2017.
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Ian Shields explores the implications of the concepts of time and space for airmen. Using these concepts, Ian explores the differences between the services concerning culture, technology, and decision-making. Understanding these differences is essential if we are to leverage the advantages of each of the domains in high-intensity warfare.
Time and Space bound all military operations. We are used to the idea of trading time for space, although that is primarily applicable to the land campaign. If we think about the time/space relationship in two campaigns separated by a significant amount of history associated concepts show a great deal of change:
The Peloponnesian wars – campaign duration, the speed of manoeuvre, communication, size of battlefield/weapon ranges.
The First Gulf War – campaign duration, the speed of manoeuvre, communication, size of battlefield/weapon ranges.
It can be argued that time and space constrains airmen; however, we have a different perception and are better able to exploit both time and space.
Nevertheless, before going any further, what do airmen do? In 2010, Colonel Tim Schultz, the then Commandant of the USAF School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies suggested that airmen ‘project innovative forms of power across traditional boundaries.’ Again, with emphasis, airmen ‘project innovative forms of power beyond traditional barriers.’ The key words here are, ‘project,’ ‘innovative’ and ‘power’ and these are the key to why airmen are different. Given this, this article focusses on four areas: the impact of air power; our cultural differences as airmen compared with soldiers and sailors; the impact of technology; and decision-making before concluding.
The Impact of Air Power
Looking at the world at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, it was well-ordered, firmly based on the idea of the nation-state that was built on Treaty of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna. Europe was, by historical standards, relatively peaceful with well-defined and respected boundaries.
To alter the balance of power required armies crossing these boundaries which, as we saw in 1914, could have disastrous results. Navies could control trade, impose blockades, and prevent armies moving over stretches of open water but they are themselves constrained by the availability of water; water covers only 70% of the surface of the earth.
The events of 17 December 1903 changed all that, although it was not appreciated in those terms at the time (or, arguably, ever since): with 100% of the earth covered by air, boundaries drawn on maps and the constraints of the ocean became far less relevant. Again, airmen project beyond traditional boundaries.
While technology did not allow air power to be fully exploited in the First World War, the omens were there. Yes, there was an over-reaction in the 1920s and 1930s with, for example, Stanley Baldwin’s pronouncement that ‘the bomber will always get through,’ but the seeds for air power to exploit time and space in innovative ways began to be appreciated.
When exploring the question of what time and space mean for airmen, it is worth also reflecting what they mean for the soldier and the sailor. Time and space considerations bound both far more than airmen.
Take the soldier. Their horizon is limited in both spatial and temporal terms: soldiers may be interested in what is going on over the next hill, but rarely will he or she have to think much further. The modern-day artilleryman may point out the range of his or her weapon systems but compared with the airman they are limited. All too often the soldier’s view is limited to the range of their vision, which is perhaps why he or she may not understand that air power can protect him or her without necessarily being always in sight – or under command.
The sailor, by contrast, is far more used to the open horizons of the blue ocean. His or her vision is bounded not by the trench system but by the curvature of the earth. Away from the shore the sailor enjoys a sense of freedom more familiar to the airman and is used to thinking in large distances. Culturally, airmen have more in common with the sailor than the soldier, and it is perhaps not surprising that we have adapted the nautical methods of navigation – speed in knots, distances in nautical miles, latitude and longitude as our geographic reference system rather than units more familiar to a soldier. The sailor, though, is also more bounded than the airman. Not only does the sailor’s domain stop at the shoreline or the river’s edge, but his or her speed across the oceans is, by our standards, slow while, with obvious acknowledgements to submariners, like the soldier he or she is largely constrained to operating in just two dimensions.
There is a further cultural divide, which is the way the pace of technology has shaped airmen. For the sailor, he or she has progressed from the sail, through steam to nuclear propulsion over many centuries. For the soldier, the path from bows and arrows, via the musket to today’s weapon systems has been a journey of some half a millennium. In contrast, airmen have moved from the Wright brothers through the jet engine to Sputnik and then on to the Space Shuttle in a short space of time. So, our perception of time, driven by the technology that permits us to operate in the third dimension, is fundamentally different.
Airmen even refer to it in our poetry – the definitive High Flight talking of slipping the surly bonds of earth, of wheeling, soaring and swinging high in the sunlit silence and, finally, of reaching out and touching the face of God – sentiments that speak loudly to we who exploit the third dimension and are less constrained by the fourth – time – than our earth- and water-bound brothers.
Less I am accused of too many flights of fancy, let me continue with something altogether more concrete, the impact of technology.
Impact of Technology
Technology allows us to fly and we are inexorably wedded to it as a result. We are at home not just with the advances, but the speed of change: we are adaptable. Technology allows us to challenge the constraints of time and space constantly. We go ever faster, ever further, ever higher to the extent that now it is the human in the cockpit, or in the loop, that becomes the limiting factor with the demands on the human body regarding g-force and life support becoming critical in aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. The very speed at which our platforms can operate bring new pressures on command, control, and communications, and on the decision-making cycle. So, we can shrink time and exploit it to an ever-greater extent but are we reaching a new plateau with the human body the limiting factor? If so, we turn again to technology and remove the human from the cockpit – the Remotely Piloted Aerial System (RPAS) – or help with decision-making by more automation.
However, is this shrinking or expanding of time? It is both, depending on your viewpoint: it is shrinking because we need less time to undertake actions, or it is expanding because we can achieve more in the same period.
Regarding space, we see a similar dichotomy, the shrinking and expanding of the concept of space. As we move further up – and even out of – the atmosphere, we seemingly shrink space – we have access everywhere from our lofty vantage point in orbit, and it is less and less possible to hide from our gaze. At the same time, we are shrinking space as our targeting becomes ever more precise and our discrimination better.
Perhaps nowhere is our different approach to time and space more starkly illustrated than in the realm of decision-making. It was, after all, John Boyd, an airman – and a fighter pilot to boot – who came up with the OODA loop – a means of getting inside the enemy’s decision-making cycle – that is of exploiting time.
While air power offers the politician some advantages – being able to posture from afar, being able to deploy rapidly a potent force but one with only a small footprint – the speed and reach of air power (or, to put it another way, our use and exploitation of time and space) offers him or her specific challenges too; the perils of the hasty decision or the too-long delayed choice. For example, if there is verified intelligence of a hijacked Boeing 747 heading for Canary Wharf but presently over central France, when do you intercept it?
These challenges extend ever further down the decision-making process to the commander and, increasingly, to the man or woman in the cockpit: that split-second decision facing the Harrier pilot, Tornado crew or RPAS operator – to drop or not to drop ordnance?
However, perhaps the ultimate tyranny (so far in human history at least) of decision-making regarding time and space has been the advent of nuclear weapons. The initial employment of these weapons of mass destruction in 1945 came about because of long and careful decision-making, but with the range of ICBMs and the proliferation of weapons, both time and space have been shrunk as the decision-making cycle becomes ever more compressed with no chance of correcting mistakes. Moreover, remember that for the first 40 years of the nuclear weapon age, it was airmen alone who were responsible for their delivery.
In this brief article, I have sought to illustrate that we can use time and space – and the relationship between the two – as tools with which to explore air power in a unique way. We can use it to identify differences and similarities with the other domains, and it offers a different means of analysing what it means to be an airman.
Time itself has constrained this article to no more than a cornucopia of ideas, and I have explored neither space (as in outer space) nor cyberspace, both domains of increasing importance.
Let me offer you three conclusions. First, as airmen, we are more constrained by time and space as we lack permanence and rely on technology to fly at all. Second, as airmen, we are less constrained by time and space because we operate at high-speed, have great reach, are inherently responsive, and have a cultural appreciation of time and space that is unique. Third, new and emerging technologies, as exemplified by fifth-generation air power, will continue to challenge our present perceptions of time, space, and its relationship; the exploitation of both outer space and cyberspace are excellent illustrations of both. To conclude, Francis Fukuyama famously talked about the ‘End of History,’ but perhaps what we are seeing is more an end of TIME and, if not an end then certainly a new appreciation of space.
Ian Shields is a retired, senior Royal Air Force officer who has a wealth of experience as an operator, commander, and analyst. After a 32-year career that saw him command a front-line squadron and reach the rank of group captain, he has more recently established himself as a highly respected commentator on defence and security issues, specialising on aerospace matters. Ian holds post-graduate degrees from King’s College, London, and the University of Cambridge. He currently an Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and writes for several academic and journalistic publications on current issues within defence and international relations.
Header Image: A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan, c. 2011. (Source: UK MoD Defence Imagery)
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Chris McInnes examines the case for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to develop a fully integrated expeditionary air wing capability to deal with the challenges offered by high-intensity warfare.
In introducing Plan Jericho to the world in 2015, then Chief of the RAAF Air Marshal Geoff Brown argued that the Royal Australian Air Force:
[n]eed[s] to evolve our techniques, tactics and procedures to work as a champion team, not a team of champions.
Brown’s distinction between a champion team and team of champions is a particularly important one for small air forces to consider as they ponder the requirements of high-intensity operations in a changing world. The tempo, complexity, and costs of high-intensity operations will sunder the seams of a team of champions.
Small air forces have had mercifully limited experience of this pressure because larger forces, generally the United States Air Force (USAF), have absorbed much of it. For the RAAF, a lacklustre command experience in the Second World War has been followed by niche contributions that operated as part of US-led combat air operations but in isolation from each other in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Australian officers have led these contributions and regional coalition operations, such as East Timor in 1999, and gained valuable knowledge as embeds in larger US headquarters. However, as a collective, Australia’s airmen have had little exposure to building a champion team to withstand the pressures of high-intensity warfare.
This is why Operation Okra’s air task group is so important. The dispatch of a self-deploying, self-sustaining air task group to the Middle East in September 2014 marked a departure from Australia’s experience of combat air operations. For the first time since the Second World War, Australian air power– the E-7A airborne early warning and control aircraft, KC-30A tankers, F/A-18F fighters, C-130J transports, air base, and enabling elements – contributed to the wider US-led operation as a coherent Australian team.
This team came together despite the lack of a common organisational concept or a well-prepared headquarters to facilitate their integration as an Australian champion team. The aircraft and air bases mentioned above reported to three separate chains of command: Air Task Group 630 commanded the E-7A, KC-30A, and F/A-18 elements while Joint Task Force 633 retained command, as separate units, of the C-130J aircraft and the air base elements in the Middle East. This organisational fragmentation was not helped by the fact that, according to the commander of the initial air task group and now Air Commander Australia Air Vice-Marshal Steve Roberton, the principal headquarters element responsible for integrating the separate capabilities ‘formed over there; [it] was not stood up before we deployed. In fact, people hadn’t even met.’
The friction-induced by the ad-hoc organisation and an under-prepared headquarters in September 2014 was overcome through the cooperation of quality personnel in stressful but controlled circumstances. These favourable conditions are unlikely to be present in high-intensity operations, and self-inflicted friction will only exacerbate uncontrollable external challenges, delaying and potentially preventing an Australian team of champions becoming a champion team when it matters most.
This article argues that invigorating and embedding the concepts and capabilities needed to operate as an expeditionary air wing is critical if Australian air power is to meet Brown’s challenge when it matters most. The article will argue that the wing is the critical expeditionary echelon for small air forces like the RAAF in high-intensity operations, outline why building expeditionary air wings may be difficult for the RAAF and draw upon British and Canadian experiences over the past decade to suggest some ways forward as a means of stimulating broader discussion.
First, ‘wing’ in this post means the lowest air power command echelon with the necessary resources – command, flying, maintenance, base services, and other enablers – to generate, apply, and sustain air power autonomously. The core concept of a wing is that it is the collective of multiple capabilities under a single commander that generates air power, not a specific number of aircraft, squadrons, or personnel. This historically-proven concept of a wing is flexible, scalable, and modular; not all wings need the full suite of enabling services, and it is entirely possible to have a wing with no permanent flying units. Importantly, wings can be defined by function or by geography depending on the circumstances – the Australian Air Component in the Middle East formed in 2009 was, in essence, a reorganisation of existing independent units to form a wing. Army personnel would recognise the concept of a wing as a combined arms formation, similar to a brigade.
The wing is the critical echelon for small air forces precisely because it is the lowest echelon capable of autonomous operations and command, either as part of a coalition force or independently. Even when an air and space operations centre (AOC) is available, the wing is where indispensable but often overlooked tactical planning, integration, and assessment occur to turn the AOC’s higher direction into executable plans. Much of the planning on operations and exercises, such as Red Flag and Diamond Storm – the RAAF Air Warfare Instructor Course’s (AWIC) final exercise – happens at the wing level because it is focused on integrating multiple capabilities to achieve a mission. In operations led by a larger partner, such as Okra, a wing enables a small air force to present a coherent, readily identifiable, force package that reduces integration costs on both sides. In more modest operations in which a small air force may lead a joint or combined force a wing headquarters can provide the command and control core, potentially obviating the need for a separate AOC. This latter point is especially crucial for small air forces whose expeditionary resources may mean a separate AOC is unaffordable and unnecessary, particularly in high-intensity operations that generate substantial homeland defence tasking and thereby limit the assets available for expeditionary operations.
High-intensity warfare reinforces the criticality of the wing for small forces because of the need for flexibility, agility, and resilience. When then-Commander US Pacific Air Forces, General Hawk Carlisle, argued for greater distribution of command and control functions that would see ‘the AOR [area of responsibility] […] become a CAOC,’ part of his vision, according to Lieutenant General David Deptula (ret’d) , was that wings would play a ‘role much more integral to a distributed [command and control] system than simply their historical force-provider role.’ Resilience is boosted by reducing air power’s dependence on a single node and allowing operations to continue despite degraded communications. Enhancing command and control capabilities at multiple points increases flexibility because each node is better able to integrate different forces or adapt to new missions. Agility is fostered by supporting concurrent and locally-focused activity across many organisations; USAF exercises indicate this distributed planning model can significantly accelerate the air operations planning process.
These rationales are apparent in Britain and Canada who have developed expeditionary air wings since 2006. The two countries have taken different paths, but both have made wings the foundations of their expeditionary forces, with required capabilities plugging into the wing framework as required. Britain has multiple standing expeditionary air wings drawn directly from Royal Air Force (RAF) stations, while Canada maintains two expeditionary wings at any given time. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has a permanent high-readiness expeditionary wing for contingency operations drawn from 2 Wing and one focused on longer-term operations that are drawn from the Air Force’s remaining wings on a rotating basis. An RAF colleague at the Australian Command and Staff College viewed the wing framework as so fundamental to expeditionary air operations that, after a presentation on the initial Okra deployment highlighted that capabilities were deployed without such a framework, he opined that “you Aussies do this air power thing upside down. Is that because you’re from the southern hemisphere?”
Australia’s apparently inverted approach to expeditionary air operations stems from a structure that is optimised for managing discrete capabilities rather than producing integrated air power packages. As Air Vice-Marshal (ret’d) Brian Weston has pointed out, the force element group (FEG) construct has many positives, and FEG played a crucial role in ensuring that the team of champions were ready for Operation Okra. However, the capability-defined FEG and their similarly defined subordinate wings mean that no two FEG or wings are alike and no FEG or wing is structured for, or practised in, leading an integrated expeditionary team in combat. The rise of FEG-aligned control centres and divisions in Australia’s standing AOC reinforces this separation because it drives cross-FEG integration up to the AOC (at least in a formal sense). These structural barriers to integration are reinforced by a cultural one that arises because personnel tend to ‘grow up’ through their own FEG and could reach very senior ranks with limited exposure to ‘other FEG.’ The lack of a ready and rehearsed wing headquarters for Operation Okra stemmed directly from a disaggregated organisation that is optimised for generating individual champions.
So how then to build the champion team necessary for high-intensity warfare? As Okra and other operations have demonstrated, almost all the pieces of an Australian expeditionary air wing already exist. The establishment of the Air Warfare Centre (AWC) to champion integration and develop the techniques and procedures for integrated tactics is an important step forward. Much work is already underway through Plan Jericho initiatives, the establishment of an Air Warfare School and AWIC, and integration-focused exercises such as the Diamond series and Northern Shield.
Integrated tactics and training courses, however, will count for little in high-intensity operations if they are executed by ad hoc organisations using personnel that have not met and whose usual focus is on managing the routine activities of individual capabilities. The RAAF’s positive steps towards integration must be complemented by efforts to build a collective organisational framework for expeditionary air power and the command and control capabilities at the core of that framework. An expeditionary operating concept and expeditionary headquarters focused on generating, applying, and sustaining integrated air power – a champion team – are essential to complement the disaggregated FEG construct that is so adept at building individual champions.
The articulation of a clear expeditionary operations concept with the expeditionary air wing at its heart would appear to be a relatively simple task. In 2016 the RCAF included a chapter in its capstone doctrine articulating how it delivers air power to joint or coalition commanders and in domestic or expeditionary settings. This chapter, which was not present in the 2010 edition, includes an air task force concept with an expeditionary air wing as its central operational element and discusses how these frameworks can be tailored to suit specific circumstances. Publicly available articles build on the doctrine chapter to explain the RCAF’s concept and rationale. The RAF explains expeditionary air wings on its public website and emphasises their central role in projecting British air power around the globe. The RAF declares that:
[t]he aim of [expeditionary air wings] is to […] generate a readily identifiable structure that is better able to deploy discrete units of agile, scalable, interoperable and capable air power.
Because of this investment in expeditionary air wings, British air power is expected to:
To achieve greater operational synergy, delivering focused operational effects from the outset of a deployment;
To generate a more cohesive trained audience;
To engender more widely a greater understanding of the capability of air power;
To achieve a more inclusive formation identity.
By contrast, Australian air power doctrine, including a 2009 publication focused on command and control, devotes more attention to the workings of the RAAF’s garrison structure than operational considerations and tends to description rather than explication. There is no distinction between expeditionary and domestic organisational considerations; ‘expeditionary’ appears only six times scattered across the 245 pages of the RAAF’s Air Power Manual, usually to describe units or capabilities. Discussion on air power command and control is confined to stating a preference for a senior airman to command air power and describing operational-level headquarters. The reader is left with a sense that the RAAF either does not have a clear idea of how it wants to organise integrated air power for a joint or coalition commander or is reluctant to express a view. This is undoubtedly implicit knowledge for many, but high-intensity warfare is not the time to discover that your implicit knowledge differs from the person next to you.
The RAAF should explicitly articulate its force presentation and organisation preferences, similar to the Canadian example. An outline of how future air task groups – centred on expeditionary air wings – would function and be organised, the available options, and the considerations that influence choices is necessary. Expressing a clear view on how to best organise and present an integrated air power team for operations in domestic and expeditionary settings is professional, not parochial. This conceptual framework should be widely accessible, preferably in a public document, to maximise the spread of this concept to Australian airmen and colleagues from other Services, agencies, and countries. A clear, and readily accessible, organisational concept underpins the ability of Australian air power to build a champion team quickly, particularly in the face of the pressure and friction of high-intensity operations.
The final element needed to rapidly form a champion team from the RAAF’s tactical champions is the commander and, crucially, staff. Commanding an expeditionary air wing is a problematic and vitally important challenge – particularly in high-intensity operations – that must be addressed by a coherent command crew that is trained and exercised to high levels of proficiency. Developing outstanding individuals to serve as commanders is vital but insufficient; they must be supported by adept staff to enable and execute their command responsibilities. Britain and Canada conduct training and exercises to build the expeditionary air wing headquarters team and equip the personnel in that team with the necessary skills and experience. They do so in a coherent and structured fashion to build teams that endure and are available to form the core of a headquarters for expeditionary operations. As a result, the RAF and RCAF are unlikely to confront the situation encountered by Australia’s air task group in 2014.
Generating these headquarters elements is likely to pose the greatest challenge for the RAAF to realise a coherent expeditionary air wing capability. The RAF and RCAF approaches will not transfer easily across because the personnel and capabilities needed to lead an expeditionary air wing must be drawn from multiple FEG, and no current RAAF headquarters aside from the AOC focuses on cross-FEG operational coordination. Current Australian practice for expeditionary air operations – the practice used for Operation Okra – is to nominate a commander for deploying forces, build a headquarters structure, and then endeavour to fill the identified positions with personnel on an individual basis. This ad-hoc approach to structures, processes, and staffing for expeditionary headquarters is how Roberton came to be equipped with a headquarters ‘that formed over there […] [with] people that hadn’t even met.’
There are many options to meet this requirement that require evaluation, but all will come at a cost. If dedicated organisations are not feasible, one approach that may minimise cost is to generate a standardised expeditionary headquarters staff structure and then fill the positions on a contingency basis with personnel from a single RAAF base. Each major base – Amberley, Williamtown, and Edinburgh – has the necessary personnel to form a viable headquarters element and aligning them by base would facilitate team building while reducing the impact on in-garrison duties. Rotating the responsibility around bases would spread the burden further. A standardised construct would enable training to be baselined and increase redundancy by enabling personnel from other bases to more readily supplement deploying teams. A permanent high-readiness wing, similar to the RCAF, could be considered to address short-notice contingencies and build expeditionary command and control expertise. RAAF Base Amberley’s resident air mobility and air base elements provide a sound basis for this high-readiness element.
However, the personnel needed belong to multiple FEG and have day jobs. Explicit direction from very senior levels would be necessary to ensure these cross-FEG teams can be formed, trained, exercised, and maintained in the face of competing priorities. These teams could be trained and given experience through a structured series of exercises and activities similar to the RAF and RCAF. They could also be given responsibilities for leading major exercises, such as the Diamond series, Pitch Black, and Talisman Sabre as certification activities. The force generation cycles of key expeditionary air wing elements – such as the headquarters, air base, and communications elements – could be aligned to maximise an expeditionary wing’s coherence upon deployment. This building block approach is similar to the Australian Army’s combat brigade force generation cycle, providing an opportunity to align force generation cycles and enhance readiness across the joint force.
Invigorating and embedding expeditionary air wing concepts and headquarters capabilities in Australian air power are essential for the RAAF to turn its team of champions into a champion team. An ability to deploy and fight as an expeditionary air wing from day one is vital for small air forces in high-intensity operations because combat effectiveness, resilience, and flexibility across multi-national forces must be optimised while national control and identity are assured. The RAAF’s history, structure, and culture presents challenges to this task, but there are ways forward, with much good work already underway. Clearly articulating how the RAAF intends to organise expeditionary air elements and building expeditionary leadership teams are the next steps needed to ensure the RAAF’s fifth-generation champions can fight and win as a champion team when it matters most.
Wing Commander Chris ‘Guiness’ McInnes is an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force and an editor of the Central Blue. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.
Header Image: An RAAF E-7A Wedgetail is silhouetted by the setting sun at the main logistics base in the Middle East during Operation Okra. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)
 Air Marshal Geoffrey Brown in Royal Australian Air Force, Plan Jericho: Connected – Integrated, (Canberra: Royal Australian Air Force, 2015), p. 1.
 Alan Stephens described the RAAF’s command and organisational experience in Europe during the Second World War as ‘an institutional disaster’ while he devoted an entire chapter (out of 16 in the book) to ‘The RAAF Command Scandal’ in the South West Pacific, see: Alan Stephens, The Australian Centenary History of Defence – Volume II: The Royal Australian Air Force (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 98, pp. 109-25. Further detail on the RAAF’s command performance in the South West Pacific is available in Norman Ashworth’s fittingly titled two-volume account: Norman Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force! The Higher Command of the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War – Volume 1 and Narrative (Canberra: Air Power Studies Centre, 2000).
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Sean Carwardine describes the development of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) airfield defence policy and questions the adequacy of current policy in preparing the Air Force to defend its bases in a #highintensitywar situation.
Air power is generated from air bases. Therefore, in a high-intensity conflict, air forces should expect that their adversary will target their bases. Unfortunately, airfield protection in a high-intensity conventional conflict has attracted little attention in the development of the RAAF’s fifth-generation force. This article looks at the history of RAAF airfield defence, and in consideration of lessons learned, will propose critical questions for future tasking, capabilities, equipment, command and control, training, planning, scale, interoperability, and security force influence on the air domain.
Since 1929, the RAAF has had a single-service policy towards airfield defence, involving airmen providing low-level anti-aircraft and machine gun ground defence. Past RAAF airfield defence policy worked on the assumption of RAAF involvement in small localised, asymmetric or low-intensity warfare in a joint environment. The policy has developed in the context of operations involving rapidly deployed aircraft operating from forward bases secured by allied nations supplying the bulk of force protection. These bases have been in relatively secure rear-areas of sanctuary, with security focusing only on countering the threat of small incursions. In a modern high-intensity war situation, these sanctuaries may no longer provide a guarantee of safety or security. Accordingly, the RAAF and its airfield defence policy must evolve. RAAF airfield defence policy must consider force protection in a high-threat environment, and possibly without significant assistance from major allies.
The RAAF has never been in a position, apart from five months in the Second World War, to provide full airfield defence for its bases in a high-intensity war situation; it has been partly or wholly reliant on allied forces.
During the Second World War, RAAF policy focused on the Australian Army providing low to high-level anti-aircraft defence and ground defence outside the wire. Within the wartime RAAF, there was a clear divide between RAAF Headquarters (the RAAF’s administrative command) and RAAF Command (the RAAF’s operational command) as to the workforce and organisation of airfield defence in the RAAF. The former believed small sections of Guards (20-30) could protect RAAF assets with technical airmen acting in the role as a secondary duty (a reactive defence). For RAAF Headquarters there was no requirement for a specific organisation to provide airfield defence. RAAF Command was against this ‘penny pinching’ policy and promoted a ‘RAAF Regiment’ of guards so that specialists focused on protection, and technical airmen focused on keeping aircraft in the air.
By 1945, the RAAF had the equivalent of five squadrons worth of guards (1,042 guards) in No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron of the First Tactical Air Force (First TAF), five squadrons worth in the Northern Command (723 guards), four squadrons worth in Security Guard Unit/No. 1 Airfield Defence Squadron (570 guards) in the North-Western Area Command. Approximately, 1,900 guards (some cross-trained as war dog handlers and guard gunners) were also allocated to every aerodrome, inland fuel storage, radar/radio station, wharf/dock, RAAF chemical warfare storage, bomb and ammunition storage, civilian aerodromes and squadron in southern Australia. In addition to the guards, the Service Police had small units in every capital and small numbers on stations and in some squadrons. These forces provided the full scope of air base defence requirements for the RAAF.
At the end of the Second World War, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) removed airfield defence from the RAAF, six months before the official disbandment dates. RAAF Service Police strength was also reduced to fewer than 100 airmen across the nation. CAS stated, ‘I am not prepared to agree to any more of these specialised units.’ However, senior airmen argued against this. In 1945/46 senior officers such as Air Commodore Frank Bladin (Deputy Chief of the Air Staff), Air Commodore Frederick Scherger (Commander of First TAF), Air Vice-Marshal William Bostock (Air Officer Commanding RAAF Command) and Air Commodore John McCauley supported a proposal for a new airfield defence policy and the formation of an RAAF Regiment as put forward by Wing Commander George Mocatta.
Mocatta was Operation Staff Officer – Defence for the RAAF Command Headquarters Allied Air Force, a post which he held since 1942. He was a graduate of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Defence Officer course, and in 1944/45 Mocatta had studied the ground defence of airfields by the RAF Regiment in Europe and the Far East.
Mocatta’s proposal argued that the formation of a RAAF Regiment would see a reduction to around 2,000 guards and 300 police but would provide a full-time airfield defence force that included a ground fighting force, low level anti-aircraft force, airfield engineers, explosive ordnance disposal, mortars and armoured vehicles. Mocatta’s proposal was not progressed; it stayed in RAAF Headquarters un-actioned until the file was closed in 1949.
During the 1950’s, under the National Service Scheme, two aerodrome defence squadrons were formed to train reserve airmen as Ground Gunners. Early in the 1950’s a total of four Aerodrome Defence Officers, 25 Guards and a small number of Service Police were sent to Japan and Korea to provide squadron guard duty and security. Although low-level ground base air defence was considered a RAAF responsibility, the RAAF provided no ground-based air defence of any type on operations in Korea.
Between 1952 and 1955, the Air Staff Policy Memorandum No. 15 RAAF Ground Defence Policy (ASPM 15) highlighted the possibility of a conflict on a global scale against Communist forces. This possibility of high-intensity war would force the RAAF to establish its light anti-aircraft (LAA) defence units, thus releasing the Australian Army from this duty. The policy also raised the possibility of an attack by Communist ground forces, in either large-scale commando style or clandestine attacks. Under ASPM 15 active and passive defence of RAAF assets would be undertaken by six Rifle Squadrons, one Armoured Squadron and three LAA Squadrons of Guards or Ground Gunner reservists.
The 1950s saw another push for the formation of a single permanent Airfield Defence Squadron. The idea this time was similar to Mocatta’s 1945 proposal; however, this time the proposal focused on a single peacetime squadron as a nucleus for a war-time RAAF Regiment. Then in the late 1950’s, the RAAF Ground Defence Policy Chapter of Air Staff Doctrine listed no requirement for ground defence units and highlighted only the need for a few Ground Defence Officer’s, Aerodrome Defence Instructor’s and Guards, with National Service airmen training as Ground Gunners in the reserve.
By 1957, the policy of RAAF airfield defence changed in response to the evolving strategic situation. No major global war was foreseen. Therefore, there was no need for RAAF ground defence forces. The policy was that under an inter-service agreement, the Australian Army would provide all active and passive defence for RAAF assets. The only time the RAAF would require its active defence was when units were overseas, operationally deployed away from land forces or in an emergency. Also, RAAF commanders would initiate their ground defence force from airmen within their unit.
In the early 1960’s the RAAF trained Aircraft Hand/General Duty airmen and RAAF Service Police in infantry tactics to perform airfield defence for duty in Thailand. By 1965 the RAAF created a new mustering for airfield defence and guard duty; the Airfield Defence Guards (ADGs) were formed. Again, the idea of a RAAF Defence Squadron equipped with low-level air defence capability emerged, resulting in the acquisition of eight 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft Guns and 140 Oerlikon 20mm cannons for the proposed formation of a peace-time airfield defence squadron. Interestingly, in the files, a staff officer queried this policy asking, ‘who are we going to shoot them at?’ The Bofors ultimately went to the Australian Army, and the Oerlikons stayed in storage. The RAAF then introduced the Bloodhound missile defence program, by 1968 the system was outdated, and the project ended.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, RAAF policy on ground defence focused on limited war. Unsurprisingly, the ground defence policy for Vietnam focused on low-intensity warfare with an allocation of a 30-man flight of ADGs. At the time, RAAF Ground Defence policy (AAP 938) highlighted the RAAF’s responsibility to provide its own ground-based air defence units using equipment such as 20mm cannons and surface-to-air missile systems. One paragraph in AAP 938 indicates the RAAF did not have any of these systems and would have to acquire them from Britain, ‘when the war starts’. This raises the concern that in a high-intensity conflict, waiting for equipment would be too late. By 1973, the RAAF officially removed anti-aircraft defence from RAAF capabilities, instead relying on the Australian Army’s ground-based air defence (GBAD) systems or aircraft to provide air defence.
The 1980’s and 1990’s saw separate Rifle Flights of ADGs around the country, undertaking guard duty and exercises. During this period, however, the reformation of No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron and eventually combined all Rifle Flights into one squadron in one location. Operation Warden, the Australian-led intervention in East Timor, in 1999 highlighted the capabilities and the benefits of having a dedicated, air-minded, air force security force in a low-intensity environment. However, having one full time and one partly-staffed reserve unit (No. 1 Airfield Defence Squadron), demonstrated the need for a force protection restructure.
In the subsequent shift to the asymmetric conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan, RAAF security forces have integrated with Australian Army units and law enforcement agencies to protect aircraft in Aircraft Security Operations, protect air force detachments and take responsibility for the defence of international airfield defence duties. This is the basis of airfield defence policy that still defines RAAF Security Force approach.
Group Captain Jeremy Parkinson, an RAF officer from NATO’s Joint Air Power Competence Centre stated ‘Firstly, because of a lack of understanding of how [Force Protection] is provided, it is all too often seen in capitals and headquarters as little more than a static guarding task and as such is not perceived as contributing to the actual delivery of the mission’. He also stated, commanders, have a lack of understanding of how complex and resource intensive force protection is, and one should not assume that ‘the host nation will provide’ airfield protection for deployed forces. Considering Parkinson’s statement, it is fair to ask: does the current RAAF Security Force structure cater for all air base defence requirements, does it have an absolute, definite intent of potential operational tasking?
In a high-intensity conflict in the future, it is likely the Australian Army would deploy a brigade, which would likely include GBAD for the field force. The RAAF would deploy an Air Task Group to operate from a coalition airfield. What is unclear is if deploying as part of a coalition force, and with US or NATO units in place, would Australia be required to supply a Security Force Squadron? Would Australian GBAD systems automatically attach to the forward air base as stated in the 2016 White Paper? What capability does a current RAAF Security Force bring to the table?
I believe that the RAAF has been guilty of turning a ‘Nelsonian blind eye’ to the need for its own air base defence capability. History shows the RAAF has a lack of understanding of the specialist nature of all air base protection as it has developed a reliance on others, an aversion to committing fully to the airfield defence role and does not appropriately resource airfield defence. Are we learning from history, or following it?
Some questions need to be asked if the RAAF is to prepare to defend its operating bases in a high-intensity conflict. Does the RAAF insist Australian Army GBAD systems be permanently on every air base or will they be allocated to the RAAF after the start of combat operations? Does the RAAF have dispersed hardened or underground shelters, its own air-minded specialist protection force, or does current policy remain extant and we will rely on allies or host nations for our protection?
Analysts will discuss the pros and cons of the Australian Defence Force being a versatile and flexible force that can fight in low and high-intensity conflicts. However, the current legacy RAAF Security Force Squadrons remain established as a ‘small-war’ force, ill-equipped and lacking ground intelligence capabilities to protect air bases, overseas and at home, in a future high-intensity war?
Australia needs a RAAF specialist security protection force that is equipped and trained to respond across the spectrum of future conflict scenarios. A fifth-generation air force must be able to defend the bases that generate its air power.
Sean Carwardine joined the RAAF in 1986 as an Airfield Defence Guard and retired in 2007. Sean served at No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron, No. 1 Central Ammunition Depot, RAAF Base Richmond, Australian Defence Force Academy, RAAF Base Amberley, Headquarters Airfield Defence Wing. Sean also served on operations in Indonesia 1992, Timor 1999/2000, Afghanistan 2002 and Iraq 2003/04. Sean has completed a Bachelor of Education (University of Southern Queensland), Master of History (Airfield Defence) and is the final year of a PhD – History and Analysis of Airfield Defence Policy in the RAAF (University of New England). Sean has published two articles on RAAF airfield defence, lectured at RAAF Security and Fire School, Security Forces Squadrons (SECFOR) and SECFOR Conference.
Header Image: Leading Aircraftman Joel Sitkiewicz from No. 1 Security Force and Military Working Dog ‘Lucky’, patrol the F/A-18F Super Hornet flight line during Exercise Aces North 2015. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)
 National Archives of Australia (NAA), A1196, 15/501/258 PART 2.
Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue andFrom Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. This article is a cross-post from the team at The Strategy Bridge from their Operation Iranian Freedom series and was originally published on 16 February 2016. This is the second post in that series, and takes place simultaneously, but from a different perspective, as with the first (11 August 2016) and third (10 June 2016) instalments. This article has been selected as it highlights to use of fiction to contemplate, consider, explore, and engage with strategy and the possibilities of future conflict. When considering the requirements to prepare for and engage in modern #highintensitywar, fiction such as the Operation Iranian Freedom series is a good place to start. Our sincerest gratitude to the authors and the team at The Strategy Bridge for permission to use this post in the #highintensitywar series.
It was predictable. The moment U.S. policymakers signed a nuclear deal with Iran, it made future military action inevitable. What was Iraq in 1991 if not a foreshadowing of this more deadly situation? United Nations Resolution 687 called for Iraq’s leadership to destroy, remove, or render harmless its chemical and biological weapons as well as all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres. That resolution, at least in part, set the stage for the series of events leading to Operation Iraqi Freedom. This newer deal created its eastern brother, Operation Iranian Freedom.
While there was some hope the nuclear deal would succeed when Iran handed over their enriched uranium to Russia in 2015, it was short lived. The Russians, who played a critical role in the 2015 nuclear deal, were furious when Sweden joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2022. One year later, the Russian economy, already weakened by increased natural gas and oil exports from U.S. shale, began a precipitous downward spiral when the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy sold technology to European countries that enabled them to essentially end their dependence on Russian-supplied natural gas. In response, Russia returned the enriched uranium to Iran. The regime in Tehran, also reeling from the economic shocks of cheap oil and chafing against an increasingly belligerent U.S. government under the new administration elected in 2024, used this opportunity to reinstate their highly-controversial nuclear program.
As has been shown throughout modern history, international agreements and strict United Nations resolutions are worthless. This one is no different. Like those before, the Iranians violated the nuclear deal and U.S. policymakers will end up choosing between military force and looking feckless; what politician chooses to appear impotent? And at the end of the day, who is going to get the job done if not the U.S. military? No one else has the resources or capacity.
As someone who ends up implementing policy when diplomacy fails, I’d prefer our policymakers to focus on slow, steady, multi-decade campaigns that revolve around non-military solutions, but long-term thinking is not the strength of most diplomatic efforts. Plus, most nations, particularly in the Middle East, only really understand the threat or use of force. While difficult, particularly in the politically contentious times we find ourselves in, politicians could use a few pages out of the books I read at the U.S. Army War College to weave together both military and non-military means. Admiral J.C. Wylie’s cumulative strategy and George Kennan and Paul Nitze’s efforts against communism come to mind as successful frameworks. But what do I know? I’m just a lowly Marine colonel slaving away in the operations shop of Joint Task Force–Iranian Freedom (JTF-IF). At least the international hotels in Doha serve alcohol.
Preparation for this campaign has been hard, especially for those of us trying to fuse national policy and the brief snatches of guidance from the Pentagon to operational realities on the ground. The last decade’s drawdown of U.S. forces following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with austere budget cuts, ensured all lobbying efforts to increase military capabilities fell on deaf ears. In contrast, Iranian defensive capabilities, particularly along the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, have vastly improved. As always, we will be forced to make do with what we have.
The only good to come of the debate regarding military action against Iran is that our military leaders have actually implemented most of the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than pursuing regime change, which required not only breaking a nation but rebuilding it as well, our strategy is now centred upon the concept of a “substantive punitive raid” or “SPR”, pronounced “spear” for short. The SPR doctrine combines Colin Powell’s concept of overwhelming force (or, more precisely, Clausewitz’s principle of mass at critical points), with the short-duration strike operational concept from U.S. special operations forces. Without the burden of a large occupation force on the ground, there will be no forward operating bases to sustain, fewer convoys to attack, and our military will be employed like a military—not like a police or training force.
I’ve never agreed with missions that require our young troops to learn about a foreign culture and train partner forces. Maybe it’s a Marine thing, but I don’t care about 18-year olds understanding culture. I need our 18-year olds prepared to destroy culture. “Train them for high order violence and you can always hold them back by the belt” was the Marine Corps of my early days. Thanks to this ability to eschew “stability operations,” we are truly expeditionary, just as the Corps has largely been since its founding. It’s about time the rest of the U.S. military followed our lead.
So far, we’ve gathered a formidable team for the raid—no thanks to the bean counters in the Pentagon or the micromanagement of the politicos on the National Security Council staff. Fifth Fleet naval forces are going to secure the sea-lanes, provide for air superiority, and will play a large role in amphibious operations. U.S. Air Forces Central, with some GCC support, will begin the operation with strategic strikes, secure air superiority, and provide close air support to our troops on the ground.
On the ground, we have heavy forces ready to cross the National State of Iraq from their jump off point to the east of Baqubah. Due to the strengthened relationship with Israel and Jordan in the decade-long fight against the Islamic State (and our substantive infrastructure agreement to overcome Iranian interference in the Arabian Gulf and political issues in Kuwait), our supply lines from Aqaba and Eilat in the Gulf of Aqaba all the way to Baqubah are secure. Meanwhile, airborne and amphibious forces stand ready across the Arabian Gulf to seize their objectives. I try not to dwell too much on the fact that my former regiment, 8th Marines, is leading the way in the Gulf. This will be the Corps’ first contested amphibious landing since the Second World War. I know many faces in that regiment, many of whom won’t return home. I hear my old driver, Smitty, is a squad leader now; I hope he’s telling some of our old stories to his men to lighten their mood before the assault.
More than anything, I wish I could lead Marines in this campaign. Instead, having given up regimental command six months ago, Army General Brad Silvia requested the Corps allow me to serve here on JTF-IF as his chief of operations. It’s better than working at Headquarters, Marine Corps, I suppose. At least it allows me to work under Major General Bill Friese, an old battalion commander of mine, who is now the JTF-IF J-3. Both Friese and I recognize that sometimes what units on the ground actually need is less interference from us. National Security Council (NSC) requirements may cause us friction, but we’ll do our best to avoid passing it onto the units executing the operation.
Damn. Another call from Washington. I’ve given up on fighting back against the NSC going around the chain of command and pestering our staff over tactical minutia. There’s a reason Friese sends the staffers my way; he doesn’t want to deal with them. I don’t blame him. I almost relish the frustration of constant operational working group meetings; at least they give me time to think without being asked for another nit-noid detail to feed yet another NSC information request.
“Evening, Arash. What’s up?”
Phil Walter has served in the military, the intelligence community, and the inter-agency. He blogs at www.philwalter1058.com. Dr Diane Maye is a Visiting Professor at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. She tweets at @DianeLeighMaye. Nathan Finney is an officer in the United States Army. He tweets @nkfinney. This article does not contain information of an official nature, nor do the views expressed in this article reflect the policy or position of any official organization.
Header Image: Two F-35C Lightning II carrier-variant joint strike fighters move slowly on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, 3 October 2015. (Source: US Department of Defense)