From Balloons to Drones – An Update

From Balloons to Drones – An Update

Over six years ago, in June 2016, From Balloons to Drones was launched. From Balloons to Drones was established with the simple vision of providing an open access online scholarly platform for analysing and debating air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense, including space and cyber power. Since establishing From Balloons to Drones, we have published nearly 250 posts ranging from articles to book reviews. Overall, the site has received over 180,000 hits since 2016.

The past few years, however, have been challenging for all, personally and professionally. From our perspective, this has led us to publish material irregularly. However, all of that is about to change. With a renewed sense of purpose, From Balloons to Drones hopes to continue to deliver well-researched and rigorous articles, book reviews and other material, including our popular podcast series of interviews with leading air power specialists. One of our most popular features is our ever-expanding ‘Air Power Reading List.’ We continue to add volumes to this curated reading list as we review new books on air power and historic titles.

We still hold true to our original vision of providing an avenue for debate and discussion about air power. However, we are always on the lookout for new contributions from established researchers or new and emerging scholars within the air power studies community. If you are interested in contributing, visit our submissions page to learn how to contribute. All our articles are peer-reviewed by our team of highly qualified and experienced editors, and we will work with you to deliver your articles to a broad audience via our social media channels.

We hope you enjoy what we publish; however, we are always keen to hear your views on what we publish. If there is an area of research that needs to be given more coverage, please let us know either in the comments or on social media.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update, and we look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Header image: A Dassault Etendard IVP of the French Navy. (Source: Wikimedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (March 2022)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (March 2022)

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

Articles

Malcolm Abbott, ‘Maintaining Aircraft Manufacturing through Government Purchases: Australia and Canada from the End of the Second World War until the 1970s,’ The Journal of Transport History (2022), doi:10.1177/00225266221086791.

In this article, a comparison is provided of the alternative Australian and Canadian government procurement policies for military aircraft in the post-Second World War period. Procurement was used by both governments to maintain manufacturing capacity that was established in the Second World War. By undertaking this analysis, the differing characteristics of the two policies are highlighted. In both cases procurement policies promoted the maintenance of aircraft manufacturing industries, however, the resulting industries were quite different in nature, a result partly of the differing natures of the policies, and different to some degree to the results of the policy in other Western countries.

Dagvin Anderson and Jason Hinds, ‘Joint Task Force Quartz: Through and Airpower Lens,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

Joint Task Force Quartz gave Airmen an opportunity to develop, establish, lead, execute, and debrief a Joint task force during combat operations. The operational context required the development of a synchronized and integrated scheme of maneuver bringing together information operations, combat aircraft, combat support, and logistics for each night’s air tasking order. As the Air Force develops new operational concepts, the command relationships must be built upon centralized command, distributed control, and decentralized execution all under the art of mission command.

JoAnne Bass, ‘A New Kind of War,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The more Airmen recognize that influence operations have affected them, the faster we can recover and rebuild our defense against these attacks. Information warfare is not new; what has changed are the tactics our adversaries are using to conduct these operations at scale. We must empower our Airmen to recognize and actively combat this threat.

C.Q. Brown, ‘Ready to Meet the Moment,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The task of preparing the Air Force to accelerate change is solidly rooted in the service’s brief but noteworthy history. The US Air Force went from propellers to jet-powered aircraft in the blink of the eye. In the 1950s, the service rapidly developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, the world’s greatest nuclear deterrent. From there, the Air Force mastered stealth and precision weapons. The next few chapters in the Air Force story are likely to be as challenging as anything we’ve ever done. But change ensures the service remains ready, as always, to meet the moment.

Mark Clodfelter, ‘Rethinking ‘Airpower versus Asymmetric Enemies,” Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

Airpower’s effectiveness against any type of enemy depends on how well it supports the positive political goals without risking the achievement of the negative ones. The framework presented, which includes a distinctive terminology categorizing various airpower applications with those categories helping to ascertain how effectively an application supports a political goal, offers no guarantee of success or failure, nor is it a predictor of the future. But it does charge those leaders who might apply airpower to think carefully before making that decision.

David Deptula, ‘A New Battle Command Architecture for Joint All-Domain Operations,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

To achieve the objectives of JADC2, the US Air Force must deliver information to warfighters at the edge of the battlespace. The service must rapidly evolve beyond the large, centralized combined air and space operations centers of today—hundreds of people in stovepiped divisions around segregated mission areas—to a much more agile and dispersible set of processes and command-and-control structures. This new architecture must adapt to the air battle management system and JADC2 developments. But given the slow evolution of these programs, the Air Force cannot wait to begin changing the architecture for command and control of aerospace forces.

Everett Dolman, ‘Space is a Warfighting Domain,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The Space Capstone Publication opens with the declaration that space is a warfighting domain. This assertion has tremendous repercussions for force structure, budget decisions, public and international perceptions, and, perhaps most significantly, for the culture of the newest military service. The capstone publication sets a tone for military space responsibility that is long overdue.

Ron Gurantz, ‘Does punishment work? Selection effects in air power theory,’ Comparative Strategy 41, no. 2 (2022).

Air power theory initially proposed that punitive attacks against civilian targets could force enemies to surrender. The current literature, however, has largely concluded that conventional bombing is ineffective as punishment. I argue that this is the result of a selection effect. By focusing only on high-profile bombing campaigns, the theory has drawn its conclusions from cases where punishment is likely to fail. This contrasts with deterrence theory, which has analyzed diplomacy in the shadow of nuclear punishment. Air power theory should follow this model by examining how the threat of bombing has influenced diplomacy and broader patterns of international politics.

Karen Guttieri, ‘Accelerate Change: Or Lose the Information War,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The United States Air Force must accelerate change or lose an information-cyber war that is already hot and holds at risk American social, economic, and political cohesion. The Air Force has launched promising organizational and technological initiatives including an “integration imperative” recognizing the interdisciplinary, techno-sociological character of information warfare. At the same time, the Air Force has removed cyber from its mission statement. Moreover, force development does not progress past digital literacy, cyber hygiene, and information technology training. To win, the Air Force must develop and promote strategists to overcome vulnerabilities and seize opportunities in the cyberspace domain and information environment.

Clinton Hinote, ‘After Defeat: A Time to Rebuild,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

We lost people, we lost aircraft, we lost a campaign, we lost prestige, but we did not lose forever. It is time to look beyond the sense of finality that comes with defeat. We can decide not to lose. After suffering tremendous moral and physical attrition, it is time to rebuild. We cannot waste this crisis. We must implement the necessary changes to be victorious, next time.

Jacqueline van Ovost, ‘75 Years of Mobility Operations: Evolving for the Next 75,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

Operation Allies Refuge, certain to be studied for generations to come, unmistakably demonstrated the resolve of the logistics enterprise. But we cannot become complacent; the complex and dynamic nature of tomorrow’s challenges to US national security require an agile US Transportation Command, flexible, fully integrated, and responsive enough to meet the volume and tempo of warfighters’ demands. The command must place renewed emphasis on maneuver and evolve how the concept is applied across domains.

Robert Pape, ‘Hammer and Anvil: Coercing Rival States, Defeating Terrorist Groups, and Bombing to Win,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The power of airpower lies in its supreme ability to match the use of force to decisive weaknesses in an opponent’s military strategy. This power lies not so much in technology, the balance of forces between coercer and opponent, civil-military relations, or professional command and control over military forces, although each of these is critical to the successful use of coercive airpower that achieves vital political objectives without inflicting harm to no purpose. Effective airpower instead turns, fundamentally, on understanding the enemy.

John Shaw et al., ‘Sailing the New Wine-Dark Sea: Space as a Military Area of Responsibility,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

The designation of a new military area of responsibility is highly significant change, denoting the major structural and functional differences between the current US Space Command and its predecessor, which existed between 1985 and 2002. A few propositions can guide our approach to accomplishing the command’s Unified Command Plan responsibilities: the area NOT in the US Space Command AOR is the most special place in the cosmos; the word “global” cannot adequately describe the political/military range of national security considerations; the concept of key terrain must be reimagined in the domain; and the military space AOR has relevance for everyone.

Johnny Stringer, ‘Air Power, 2010-2020: From Helmand to Hypersonics,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

An examination of air power employment over the last decade yields lessons and deductions from some exceptionally challenging operations in deeply complex environments: geographical, political and informational, but also increasingly shaped by the information environment, and with multiple audiences, actors, and adversaries. The West and its allies are at an inflection point in the employment and utility of air and space power; we no longer own nor can dictate all the terms of the debate.

Marybeth Ulrich, ‘The USAF at 75: Renewing our Democratic Ethos,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

Countering threats to American democracy is a vital national interest. Civics literacy and the development of a democratic ethos must be fostered in Americans beginning in early childhood, but the military plays a role in national democratic renewal as well. On the occasion of its 75th birthday, the US Air Force must draw upon its heritage, renewing a commitment to a democratic ethos that preferences service members’ obligation to the Oath of Office above partisan or personal interests.

Heather Venable, ‘Accelerate Change and Still Lose?: Limits of Adaptation and Innovation,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

Achieving air dominance requires more than technology. History reveals that technological solutions do not always offer the surest path to success. In this vein, calls for change provide terse nods to concepts and ideas, such as potential competitors’ “theories of victory,” while privileging more technological solutions. The services need a sound strategy to answer the requisite preliminary question of innovation or adaptation: we can, but should we? And, if we pursue innovation or adaptation in one area, what other area must be neglected because of that choice?

John Warden, ‘Winning a Peer War,’ Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower and Spacepower 1, no. 1 (2022).

A war with a peer is very unlikely to start tomorrow. If it did, however, the United States would be forced to fight with the ideas and the equipment that currently exist. America might in the final analysis prevail, but the challenge would be extreme and the cost likely to be high before victory was attained. On the other hand, if the war does not start for a decade or more, the United States has the opportunity to prepare well to win at an affordable price in a reasonable period of time. America’s survival, and that of the West writ large, demands we find the solutions that will lead to victory in a war with a peer opponent. The United States cannot afford to gamble that there will not be a serious peer war in a foreseeable future.

Books

Bojan Dimitrijevic and Jovica Draganić, Operation ALLIED FORCE – Volume 2: Air War over Serbia 1999 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

On 24 March 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) launched Operation Allied Force against Serbia, claiming that Serb forces in Kosovo were engaged in ethnic cleansing and gross violations of human rights. Serbia, in turn, claimed to be fighting against an insurgency. This would be the last war in Europe during the 20th century.

The second volume of Operation Allied Force provides in depth analyses of the operation. The authors have analysed the experiences of both sides, starting from the command chain of the aviation of both air forces and the operations of the Yugoslav/Serb air defences.

This book explains many “firsts” that occurred in Operation Allied Force: the use of B-2A stealth bombers, new SEAD aviation tactics, and new munitions ranging from JDAM and JSOW to Graphite bombs. It also examines the tactics of Serbian air defences to minimize the effects of the air strikes, by adopting movement and improvisation. Finally, the authors reveal the level of damage and casualties on the FR Yugoslavia side and comments upon the aircraft losses on both sides.

The analyses are based upon original data as the authors, both the members of the joint Serbian Air Force/USAFE team which analysed Operation Allied Force in 2005–2006, received the opportunity to compare the experiences of both sides.

Operation Allied Force, Volume 2 is illustrated in full colour with photographs, diagrams and other illustrations from the FRY/Serbian Air Force, official USAF/NATO photographs from the US National Archives and original colour artworks commissioned for this project.

Raymond O’Mara, Rise of the War Machines: The Birth of Precision Bombing in World War II (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2022).

Rise of the War Machines: The Birth of Precision Bombing in World War II examines the rise of autonomy in air warfare from the inception of powered flight through the first phase of the Combined Bomber Offensive in World War II. Raymond P. O’Mara builds a conceptual model of humans, machines, and doctrine that demonstrates a distinctly new way of waging warfare in human-machine teams. Specifically, O’Mara examines how the U.S. Army’s quest to control the complex technological and doctrinal system necessary to execute the strategic bombing mission led to the development off automation in warfare.

Rise of the War Machines further explores how the process of sharing both physical and cognitive control of the precision bombing system established distinct human-machine teams with complex human-to- human and human-to-machine social relationships. O’Mara presents the precision bombing system as distinctly socio-technical, constructed of interdependent specially trained roles (the pilot, navigator, and bombardier); purpose-built automated machines (the Norden bombsight, specialized navigation tools, and the Minneapolis-Honeywell C-1 Autopilot); and the high-altitude, daylight bombing doctrine, all of which mutually shaped each other’s creation and use.

William Pyke, Air Power Supremo: A Biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022).

Sir John Slessor was one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished wartime commanders and incisive military thinkers, and William Pyke’s comprehensive new biography reveals how he earned this remarkable reputation.

Slessor, a polio victim who always walked with a stick, became a First World War pilot in the Sudan and on the Western Front and a squadron and wing commander in India between the wars. When aerial warfare was still a new concept, he was one of the first to develop practical tactics and strategies in its application. In the Second World War, as the Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command during the Battle of the Atlantic and the RAF in the Mediterranean during the Italian and Balkan campaigns, he made a remarkable contribution to the success of Allied air power. Then, after the war, as a senior commander he established himself as one of the foremost experts on strategic bombing and nuclear deterrence. That is why this insightful biography of a great British airman and his achievements is so timely and important as we enter a new era of strategic doubts and deterrence at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

William Pyke follows each stage of Slessor’s brilliant career as a pilot and commander in vivid detail. In particular he concentrates on Slessor’s writings, from his treatise on the application of air power in support of land armies to his thinking on nuclear deterrence and Western strategy.

#Podcast – The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany: An Interview with Dr Kevin Hall

#Podcast – The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany: An Interview with Dr Kevin Hall

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

During the Second World War, many allied air crews were shot down over Europe. Some escaped, some were captured, but many others became victims of Lynchjustiz (lynch justice) by Germans. These lynchings were committed not just by Nazi officials, but civilians as well, as Nazi propaganda emphasized the air war. Dr Kevin Hall, the author of of recent book on the subject, Terror Flyers: The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany (2021), joins us for a look at this difficult topic.

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Dr Kevin T. Hall is a postdoctoral researcher at the Ruhr-Universtiät Bochum, Germany. He was a Fulbright grantee in Cologne in 2013–2014 and obtained his PhD from Central Michigan University in 2018. In 2019, he was a postdoctoral research historian at the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) in Honolulu, where he assisted the agency in accounting for US servicemen missing from past conflicts.

Header image: An image of Stalag Luft 1 outside Barth, Western Pomerania, Germany. The camp held Allied airmen, mainly Americans. The image shows blocks of huts and other buildings in the camp area. Sections of barbed wire and a guard tower are visible. In the distance, the Barth church tower. (Source: IBCC Digital Archive)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (February 2022)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (February 2022)

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

Books

Douglas C. Dildy, “Big Week” 1944: Operation ARGUMENT and the Breaking of the Jagdwaffe (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

A rigorous new analysis of America’s legendary ‘Big Week’ air campaign which enabled the Allies to gain air superiority before D-Day.

The USAAF’s mighty World War II bomber forces were designed for unescorted, precision daylight bombing, but no-one foresaw the devastation that German radar-directed interceptors would inflict on them. Following the failures of 1943’s Schweinfurt-Regensburg raids, and with D-Day looming, the Allies urgently needed to crush the Luftwaffe’s ability to oppose the landings.

In February 1944, the Allies conceived and fought history’s first-ever successful offensive counter­air (OCA) campaign, Operation Argument or “Big Week.” Attacking German aircraft factories with hundreds of heavy bombers, escorted by the new long-range P-51 Mustang, it aimed both to slash aircraft production and force the Luftwaffe into combat, allowing the new Mustangs to take their toll on the German interceptors. This expertly written, illustration-packed account explains how the Allies finally began to win air superiority over Europe, and how Operation Argument marked the beginning of the Luftwaffe’s fall.

Richard Hallion, Desert Storm 1991: The Most Shattering Air Campaign in History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).

An expertly written, illustrated new analysis of the Desert Storm air campaign fought against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which shattered the world’s fourth-largest army and sixth-largest air force in just 39 days, and revolutionized the world’s ideas about modern air power.

Operation Desert Storm took just over six weeks to destroy Saddam Hussein’s war machine: a 39-day air campaign followed by a four-day ground assault. It shattered what had been the world’s fourth-largest army and sixth-largest air force, and overturned conventional military assumptions about the effectiveness and value of air power.

In this book, Richard P. Hallion, one of the world’s foremost experts on air warfare, explains why Desert Storm was a revolutionary victory, a war won with no single climatic battle. Instead, victory came thanks largely to a rigorously planned air campaign. It began with an opening night that smashed Iraq’s advanced air defense system, and allowed systematic follow-on strikes to savage its military infrastructure and field capabilities. When the Coalition tanks finally rolled into Iraq, it was less an assault than an occupation.

The rapid victory in Desert Storm, which surprised many observers, led to widespread military reform as the world saw the new capabilities of precision air power, and it ushered in today’s era of high-tech air warfare.

David Hobbs, The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe, 1939–1945 (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2022).

For the first time, this book tells the story of how naval air operations evolved into a vital element of the Royal Navy’s ability to fight a three-dimensional war against both the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. An integral part of RN, the Fleet Air Arm was not a large organisation, with only 406 pilots and 232 front-line aircraft available for operations in September 1939. Nevertheless, its impact far outweighed its numbers – it was an RN fighter that shot down the first enemy aircraft of the war, and an RN pilot was the first British fighter ‘ace’ with 5 or more kills. The Fleet Air Arm’s rollcall of achievements in northern waters went on to include the Norwegian Campaign, the crippling of Bismarck, the gallant sortie against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as they passed through the Channel, air attacks on enemy E-boats in the narrow seas, air cover for the Russian convoys, air attacks that disabled Tirpitz, and strikes and minelaying operations against German shipping in the Norwegian littoral that continued until May 1945. By the end of the war in Europe the FAA had grown to 3243 pilots and 1336 aircraft.

This book sets all these varied actions within their proper naval context and both technical and tactical aspects are explained with ‘thumb-nail’ descriptions of aircraft, their weapons and avionics. Cross reference with the Fleet Air Arm Roll of Honour has been made for the first time to put names to those aircrew killed in action wherever possible as a mark of respect for their determination against enemy forces on, above and below the sea surface which more often than not outnumbered them.

The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe completes David Hobbs’ much-praised six-volume series chronicling the operational history of British naval aviation from the earliest days to the present.

Milos Sipos and Tom Cooper, Wings of Iraq: Volume 2 – The Iraqi Air Force, 1970-1980 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

Officially established on 22 April 1931, around a core of 5 pilots and 32 aircraft mechanics, the Royal Iraqi Air Force was the first military flying service in any Arab country.

Wings of Iraq, Volume 2 tells the story of the Iraqi Air Force between 1970 and 1980. In doing so it examines the air force’s involvement in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and then the showdown with the Iranian-supported Kurdish insurgency in northern Iraq in 1974-1975. These two affairs taught the Iraqis that numbers alone did not make an air force. Correspondingly, during the second half of the 1970s, Baghdad embarked on a project based on full technology transfer from France, which was intended to result in preparing the IrAF for the twenty-first century.

This process hardly began when the new ruler in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein at-Tikriti, led his country into an invasion of neighbouring Iran, embroiling it in a ruinous, eight-year-long war. This volume details the events leading up to the beginning of that war and its opening moves in the air.

Although virtually ‘born in battle’, collecting precious combat experience and playing an important role in so many internal and external conflicts, the Iraqi Air Force remains one of the least known and most misinterpreted military services in the Middle East. Richly illustrated, Wings of Iraq, Volume 2, provides a uniquely compact yet comprehensive guide to its operational history, its crucial officers and aircraft, and its major operations between 1970 and 1980.

#BookReview – Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet

#BookReview – Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet

John W. Golan, Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet. Lincoln NE: Potomac Books, 2016. Index. Maps. Figures. Tables. Images. Appendices. HBK. 416 pp.

Reviewed by Richard Shimooka

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John Golan’s Lavi is a unique and welcome contribution to the field as the history of defence procurement, in general, remains a somewhat esoteric research area. Golan’s work focuses on the Israeli designed Lavi, a purpose-built close air support aircraft designed to replace the venerable Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in the Israeli Armed Forces (IAF) service. It had a short, bright life before the project reached an ignominious conclusion with a high stakes Israeli government cabinet meeting. Golan’s book chronicles the project’s history, drawing from a wide variety of primary sources, including documentation, interviews, and secondary sources. He effectively conveys Israel’s unique security environment and the need for a strong indigenous industrial base, which helped guide the programme’s development.

Golan’s unique background as an aviation engineer infuses his work with a different perspective than other accounts. He sews together many of the programme’s technical aspects with the project’s political, diplomatic, programme management, and doctrinal dimensions. That synthesis is rare in many accounts, which examine one or two areas and only make perfunctory acknowledgements of other areas. Lavi avoids that trap and is one of the most comprehensive treatments of a recent procurement project. The book starts by exploring the strategic and doctrinal history of the IAF that led to the project and the development of the country’s aviation industry that enabled its creation. A crucial part of these sections is how Golan highlights the experiences of various personnel, such as Benjamin Peled (p. 24) and Ezer Weizman (p. 37), who both played important roles during the Lavi’s gestation. The book then moves onto the programme’s project management, political, and technical dimensions, tracing its development until its demise. The book’s last third covers some of the post-cancellation fallout and effects.

One part of the book bears special mention: the appendixes. While most authors use them to elucidate topics not adequately addressed in the text, Golan adds nearly 100 pages covering various aspects of fighter design, performance, construction, and industrial considerations. No such comparable study exists that collects all these considerations in one place. It is the icing on top of the author’s already excellent book.

However, the account has a few shortcomings. The most apparent is how Golan addresses the factors and decision-making that led to the programme’s collapse. The book catalogues the wide array of factors that led to its cancellation, such as the desperate state of Israeli public finances in the late 1980s. However, the book largely relegates them as contributing factors throughout its narrative. Golan reserves much of the blame surrounding the programme’s collapse to US Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. In particular, the secretary’s anti-Israeli perspective and dogged bureaucratic approach are noted as being particularly effective at convincing already reticent Israeli authorities to cancel the programme.  Golan prioritises Weinberger’s agency over all other actors and seems to give his role the preponderance of blame for the outcome.

While Weinberger undoubtedly played an obstructionist role, the Israeli government was not the only one to encounter his department’s intransigence towards multinational fighter projects. For example, the development of the Japanese Mitsubishi F-2 programme experienced similar levels of strife. Thus, any multinational programme would encounter political hurdles within the United States.

Nevertheless, Golan’s focus on the political and diplomatic aspects of the programme’s cancellation slightly underplays some of the other dynamics that affected the outcome. One is the economic and industrial trends that affected all western fighter development programmes during the latter half of the Cold War. The number of Western fighter manufacturers started to decline between the 1960s to 1980s, largely due to the rising cost of developing and producing fighters, which far outpaced normal inflation.

In isolation, Israel might have been able to absorb these cost increases. However, the fiscal realities of the state were dire, as Golan described:

At the time that Israel’s National Unity Government took office, the nation was undergoing an economic earthquake. Decades of extended defense budgets had taken their toll. Defense expenditures had always been a leading element in Israel’s national budget. In the aftermath of the 1973 war, however, Israeli defense expenditures had skyrocketed – consuming an average of 24 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product during the decade that followed. In comparison, the United States – even at the height of the war in Vietnam – devoted less than 10 percent of its GDP toward defense. The burden on Israel’s economy was unbearable, driving budget deficits and inflation to unprecedented levels. (p. 101)

Golan’s characterises the factors pertaining to the Lavi’s demise as chess pieces employed by Weinberger and his staff to cancel the fighter. However, given these desperate economic realities, it is difficult to see how the programme would continue even after the fateful cancellation of the fighter on August 31, 1987. Already there was significant support for either cancelling or curtailing Lavi purchases within the Israeli cabinet. If purchases were reduced, this would create a phenomenon known as a death spiral, where decreasing lot purchases result in higher unit costs, often leading to further reductions.

Another significant dynamic unexplored in the book is the major, ongoing doctrinal shift in the close-air support mission. Golan’s work is effusive in its praise for the Israeli fighter, often pointing out its ability to undertake this mission. However, the book fails to cover the changing threat landscape, which would pose significant challenges for the aircraft’s viability in its assigned mission.

It should be noted that these are relatively minor issues in an otherwise excellent book. Very few accounts have synthesised such a disparate but relevant array of facts to create an authoritative account of the programme. Golan’s weighting of these factors may invite some critique and debate, but that should by no means discourage anyone from reading this outstanding work.

Richard Shimooka is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada. He was a Senior Fellow at the Defence Management Studies Programme at Queen’s University from 2007–2012, and a Research Fellow at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute from 2012-2017. Richard works’ cover a diverse array of topics, including Canadian and American foreign and defence policy, modern air power and defence procurement.

Header image: IAI Lavi B-2 prototype at Muzeyon Heyl ha-Avir, Hatzerim, Israel. 2006. (Source: Wikimedia)

#HistoricBookReview – The Air War, 1930-1945

#HistoricBookReview – The Air War, 1930-1945

Richard J. Overy, The Air War, 1930-1945. Potomac Edition. Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2005. Appendices. Tables. Photographs. Notes. Bibliographic Note. Bibliography. Index. vii + 267 pp.

Reviewed by Ryan Clauser

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Few historical works have altered the course of a field of study in the way Richard Overy’s The Air War, 1939-1945 did when it was first published in 1980. When the book was published initially, air power history, as a field of academic study, was in its infancy and had been mainly regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of military history (p. 240). However, Overy’s work transformed the historiography of air power history with his comparative study of the most important air forces of the Second World War.

The importance of Overy’s The Air War is hard to overstate, especially as the book has been reprinted twice in 1987 and 2005. In the most recent edition, that under reviewe here, Overy, now an Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter in the UK, provided the reader with new additions in the form of new statistical figures, updated research, and notes from the author. These new additions illustrate Overy’s dedication to his work and has helped keep The Air War an essential source for historians and remains one of the premier air power history texts. Since the publication of the first edition of The Air War, Overy has continued to write extensively about air power history and the history of the Second World War, including works such as Why the Allies Won (1995), The Battle of Britain: Myth and the Reality (2001), Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in the Allied Hands, 1945 (2001), The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (2013) and most recently Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War, 1931-1945 (2021). Potomac Books published the latest edition of The Air War as part of their Cornerstones of Military History collection.

Overy starts his work by proclaiming that ‘this is not a ‘blood and guts’ book about the air war’ (p. xiii), but rather a study that aims to compare and contrast the air forces of the warring nations along with their preparations, strategies, leadership, economics, and development. The Air War sought to provide a greater overview and understanding of the discrepancies between Allied and Axis air forces and fully explain air power’s role throughout the war.

Lancaster_B_MkI_44_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942
Three Avro Lancaster BMkIs of No. 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force based at Waddington in Lincolnshire, flying above the clouds, 29 September 1942. Left to right: W4125, ‘KM-W,’ being flown by Sergeant Colin Watt, Royal Australian Air Force; W4162, ‘KM-Y,’ flown by Pilot Officer T.G. Hackney (later killed while serving with No. 83 Squadron); and W4187, ‘KM-S,’ flown by Pilot Officer J.D.V.S. Stephens DFM, who was killed with his crew two nights later during a raid on Wismar. (Source: © IWM TR 197)

The Air War begins with an overview of each combatant nation’s preparations for war and their overall use of air power. Overy wrote that air power theory and doctrine had matured in the years leading up to and throughout the Second World War. These new ideas stated that air power could be used in many ways, such as: protecting naval power, close air support, strategic bombing, and air defence. For example, naval aviation was invaluable for Japan as the Imperial Japanese Navy used it to develop carrier strike forces. The development of Japanese naval air power sought to offset the advantages that western navies, such as the United States and Great Britain, held over Japan. However, for other Axis nations, naval air power was non-existent as Germany and Italy saw no merit in committing resources to build aircraft carriers. Instead, Germany and Italy subscribed to the theory that air power was best suited for a role in supporting their armies. However, the Allies crafted their air power doctrine more holistically to encompass all aspects of military aviation, including naval support, support of armies, strategic bombing, and aerial defence, all of which played critical roles in the Allied air war.

Overy breaks down the Second World War by year and the theatre of operation beginning with the early War in Europe spanning from 1939 to 1941. This section discusses Germany’s and the Axis’ initial success with close air support and air interdiction. However, Germany’s victories were quickly halted following the fall of France and the beginning of the Battle of Britain. Left as the only attacking force capable of striking the United Kingdom from occupied France, the Luftwaffe found itself in a role for which it was wholly unprepared. In contrast, the British utilised a far more general strategy to successfully defend their nation and launch a strategic bombing campaign of their own. Overy stated that, ‘the German rejection of a more general air strategy coincided with shifts in the war itself that made such a strategy more rather than less necessary’ (p. 37). While the air war was still an essential facet of the Second World War in its first two years, it had yet to fully mature on the battlefield.

For the rest of the war in Europe, 1941 to 1945, Overy explains how the allies’ general air strategy put them at a far more significant advantage in the air war compared to their Axis counterparts. As described by Overy, this generalist strategy allowed the allies to combine the many facets of air power, including aerial defence, ground and naval support, and strategic bombing, into one encompassing approach to the war in the air. This perspective also helped mature the Allies use of air power throughout the war. Further, the economics of the air war is also stressed. As Overy pointed out, the United States alone had seen a steady increase in aircraft production every year since 1942, and by 1944 they were outproducing Germany at a rate of nearly three to one in aircraft. Additionally, the Americans suffered less than half the losses of the Germans in the air throughout the war. These factors combined led the allies to victory in the air war and the war in general.

Zero_Akagi_Dec1941
An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M2 ‘Zero’ fighter takes off from the aircraft carrier ‘Akagi,’ on its way to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. The aircraft was flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, 1st koku kantai, 1st koku sentai, and flew with the second wave. (Source: Wikimedia)

The war in the Pacific was strategically a much different conflict than the one in Europe. Japan’s approach to air power was to use it mainly as a supporting arm of its navy to create a multi-faceted naval strike force. Japan used their war with China to hone this strategy and their aviation technology. This early period of war for Japan allowed them to create a superior fighter aircraft in the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and allowed them to hold the upper hand for a time in their war against the United States and Great Britain following the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the war in the Pacific persisted, the Allies again found multiple roles for airpower and again committed to a generalist strategy in the east. Continuously, like the war in Europe, economics played an essential role in the Pacific, as even by 1941, Japan had begun realising that their economy was in short supply of the raw materials needed to fight a war. This hampered the Japanese war effort and nearly crippled its ability to produce aircraft. By the end of the war, Japan’s aircraft industry could barely replace what was being lost in combat, while the Americans kept producing increasingly better aircraft at staggeringly higher rates. Again, Overy emphasises that the Allied generalist strategies and superior economies were able to win the air war in the east.

While strategy and economics are at the heart of Overy’s work, he also delved into other aspects of the air war, including leadership, training, organisation, science, and research of each nation’s air force, all of which played a crucial role in the air war at large. Each of these additional factors was eventually influenced at some juncture in the war by the strategy and economics of each nation and how they chose to operate their air forces. Nonetheless, each of these additional factors played a significant role in the air war of the Second World War.

Throughout the course of Overy’s research, he relied heavily on official documents, public records, and memoirs of pilots, military commanders, and government officials. Overy was also fortunate to have access to various German records housed with the Imperial War Museum in London while researching the book in the 1970s. That said, while access to some sources was abundant, others, specifically those dealing with the Soviet Air Force, were scant at best and were limited to what the Soviet government saw fit to publish. Another issue in researching this project was the state of air power scholarship, which was in its infancy. Due to this, Overy was forced to depend on more general studies of aircraft, economics, and World War II for secondary sources. A problem that the publication of the book itself began to rectify. Overy also admits that he utilised fictional and popular publications to get a well-rounded perspective of the air war but did not include these works among his cited sources.

In this new edition, Overy has added a new preface in which he claims to have changed very little of his original text, but instead focused his edits on updating the charts and statistics. These illustrations show how economics influenced the air war and exhibit the discrepancies in how Allied and Axis powers produced aircraft. Also, in this newest edition, Overy included a valuable bibliographic note in which he evaluated the development of the historiography of air power and provided the authors and titles of works that have extrapolated further on the ideas laid out in the original Air War text such as tactics and leaderships and economics. Notably, among these works are Richard Davis’s Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe (1992), John Gooch’s collection of essays Airpower: Theory and Practice (1995), and John Buckley’s Air Power in the Age of Total War (1999). This section was not meant for Overy to vaunt his own influence on the field, but rather to provide readers with a greater historiographic picture of Second World War air power scholarship and show how the field has grown since 1980.

To describe The Air War as notable would be an understatement, as Overy took on the monumental task of comparing and contrasting the primary air forces of the Axis and Allied powers of the Second World War. Even from the outset of this book Overy admitted that he only spent paragraphs on what could be volumes worth of work, yet he was still somehow able to distil mass amounts of information and statistics into only 211 pages of content. From these pages, Overy concluded that the allies were able to gain the upper hand and win the air war largely because of their generalist strategic approach and superior economies. In totality, Overy’s The Air War is still among the preeminent air power works and should continue to be heralded for ushering air power history into the mainstream of academic study.

Ryan Clauser is an Adjunct Professor of History at DeSales University. He received his MA from East Stroudsburg University where he wrote his master’s thesis on restored airworthy Second World War aircraft as important pieces of historical memory that should be preserved as living monuments. He specialises in air power history and memory of the Second World War.

Header image: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the long range strategic bomber used be the United Sates to bomb Japan. It was the largest aircraft to have a significant operational role in the war, and remains the only aircraft in history to have ever used a nuclear weapon in combat. (Source: Wikimedia)

#DesertStorm30 – Electric Avenue: Electronic Warfare and the battle against Iraq’s air defences during Operation Desert Storm

#DesertStorm30 – Electric Avenue: Electronic Warfare and the battle against Iraq’s air defences during Operation Desert Storm

By Dr Thomas Withington

In January 1991, a US-led coalition launched Operation DESERT STORM to evict Iraq from Kuwait, which the former had invaded six months earlier. DESERT STORM was a combined operation involving a major air campaign. At the time, Iraq had one of the world’s most sophisticated air defence systems. The radars and communications necessary to spot hostile aircraft and coordinate their engagement were integral to this. As a result, the coalition correctly determined that the air campaign would only succeed by establishing air superiority and supremacy. This would be achieved through an Offensive Counter Air (OCA) campaign against the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF). A crucial part of this was an electronic war waged against Iraqi air defence radars and communications. This article explains the extent to which Iraq’s air defences threatened coalition air power, how the electronic war against these air defences was fought and why they were not able to overcome the coalition’s electromagnetic supremacy.

When Operation DESERT STORM began on the morning of 17 January 1991, Iraq possessed one of the world’s most fearsome Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS). At 02:38, its demise began. Task Force Normandy, an armada of US Army AH-64A Apache gunships and US Air Force (USAF) MH-53J Pave Low helicopters attacked a group of IQAF radars. These were positioned a few miles behind the midpoint of the Saudi-Iraqi border within the Iraqi 1st Air Defence Sector’s area of responsibility. The radars consisted of P-18 Very High Frequency (VHF), P-15 Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and P-15M2 UHF ground-based air surveillance radars.[1] This attack left a large swathe of Iraq’s southwest airspace without radar coverage. As a result, Iraq’s IADS failed to detect waves of incoming aircraft tasked with hitting strategic targets. These planes followed USAF F-117A Nighthawk ground-attack aircraft which had slipped through Iraqi radar coverage earlier to hit targets in Baghdad.

The Story so Far: From Vietnam to DESERT STORM

The United States had learned about well-operated air defences the hard way during the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s air war saw the United States lose over 3,300 fixed-wing aircraft across all services. Rotary-wing and uninhabited aerial vehicle losses pushed this figure to over 10,000.[2] In addition, the North Vietnamese IADS, consisting of Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and SA-2 high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), reaped a grim toll on American aircraft. The experience led to the development of the USAF’s Wild Weasel concept.

Republic F-105G
Republic F-105G ‘Wild Weasel’ in flight on 5 May 1970. External stores include QRC-380 blisters, AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78B Standard Anti-Radiation Missile. (Source: Wikimedia)

First seeing service in the summer of 1965, customised F-105F Thunderchief fighters outfitted with radar detectors, listened for transmissions from an SA-2’s accompanying radar. The purpose of locating the accompanying radar was that it helped locate the associated SAM battery. The aircraft would then attack the radar, initially with gunfire and rockets and later with specialist Anti-Radar Missiles (ARMs). These attacks destroyed the radar site and blinded the SAM site, thus reducing the threat to incoming attack aircraft. These aircraft were eventually upgraded to F-105G standard. The Wild Weasel concept was progressively honed during and after the Vietnam War with ever-more capable radar sensors, ordnance, and platforms. When the USAF deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990, the Wild Weasels used F-4G Phantom-II jets with sophisticated radar-hunting equipment and AGM-88 high-speed anti-radar missiles.

The skies over Southeast Asia gave the US armed forces, and their North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies a taste of the potency of Soviet and Warsaw Pact air defences as they had for the Israeli Air Force during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. No sooner had the last US units left Vietnam than the so-called ‘New Cold War’ began to unfold. Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact prepared for a confrontation that might engulf East and West Germany. Part of the Warsaw Pact’s role was to ensure that air approaches into the European USSR were heavily defended. This required robust IADSs of fighter defences and an umbrella of short-range/low-altitude, medium-range/medium-altitude SAM systems covering the altitudes NATO aircraft were likely to use. This SAM umbrella protected everything from dismounted troops on the front line pushing through the Fulda Gap on the Inner German Border to strategic politico-military leadership targets in the Soviet Union.

The Wild Weasel units were not the only assets involved in degrading Soviet air defences. Also important were SIGINT (signals intelligence) platforms, such as the USAF’s RC-135U Combat Sent ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) gathering aircraft. These aircraft allowed NATO to develop an understanding of where the radars supporting Soviet and Warsaw Pact air defences were situated. Understanding where the radars were located allowed NATO to build up an electronic order of battle of the ground-based air surveillance radars and Fire Control/Ground-Controlled Interception (FC/GCI) radars the air defences depended upon to detect and engage targets with SAMs or fighters. Many aircraft configured to collect SIGINT and prosecute Soviet/Warsaw Pact air defences were the same that deployed to the Persian Gulf. After arriving, they soon discovered similar defences to those on the eastern side of the Inner German Border.

KARI: Defending Iraqi Airspace

The US Department of Defence’s official report on DESERT STORM did not mince its words regarding the potential ferocity of Iraq’s IADS:

The multi-layered, redundant, computer-controlled air defence network around Baghdad was denser than that surrounding most Eastern European cities during the Cold War, and several orders of magnitude greater than that which had defended Hanoi during the later stages of the Vietnam War.[3]

The components of Iraq’s air defence system were sourced from the USSR and France. In the wake of the 17 July Revolution in 1968, which brought the Iraqi affiliate of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power, France steadily deepened its relationship with Iraq. As a result, France sold some of its finest materiel to Iraq during the 1970s and 1980s. For Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, who had seized power in July 1979, this was ideal.

With tensions growing between Iraq and Iran, the Iraqi armed forces needed as much support as the regime could muster. They were not disappointed. Paris supplied Roland Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) SAM batteries. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, furnished Iraq with SA-2 batteries, SA-3 medium-range/medium-altitude, SA-6A low/medium-altitude/medium-range, SA-8, and SA-9 SHORAD SAM batteries. Additional SHORAD coverage was provided by a plethora of ZSU-23-4 and ZSU-57-2 AAA systems and SA-13 Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). The SAMs were mainly to protect Iraqi strategic targets. Divisions of the elite Republican Guard also had some organic SA-6 and Roland units. AAA was used for corps and division air defence, along with the point defence of strategic targets. These units would also have MANPADS coverage, some SA-8s and Rolands. These provided air defence coverage over the manoeuvre force.[4]

These air defences received targeting information from Chinese-supplied Type-408C VHF ground-based air surveillance radars with a range of 324 nautical miles/nm (600 kilometres/km). Iraq received five of these radars between 1986 and 1988. France also supplied six TRS-2215/2230 S-band ground-based air surveillance radars between 1984 and 1985. These had a range of 335nm (620km).[5] Iraq supplemented these with five French TRS-2206 Volex ground-based air surveillance radars transmitting on an unknown waveband with a range of 145nm (268.5km). The Soviet Union also supplied several ground-based air surveillance and height-finding radars for use with Iraq’s SAM batteries and independently. These included six P-12 and five P-14 VHF ground-based air surveillance radars with ranges of 135nm (250km) and 216nm (400km), respectively, plus ten P-40 radars with a 200nm (370km) range and five PRV-9 height-finding radars with a 162nm (300km) range.[6]

The IQAF’s radars, fighters, airbases, SAM batteries and supporting infrastructure that provided operational/strategic level air defence were networked using the French-supplied KARI Command and Control system.[7] The nerve centre of the IADS was the Air Defence Operations Centre in downtown Baghdad. This was responsible for Iraq’s operational/strategic air defence, particularly industrial and political installations.

Iraq’s airspace was segmented into four sectors (see figure 1).[8] Each was commanded from a Sector Operations Centre. Subordinate to the Sector Operations Centres were the Intercept Operations Centres. The Intercept Operations Centres would control a segment of airspace in a specific sector using organic radars. Their radar pictures would be sent to the Sector Operations Centre. There they would be fused together creating a Recognised Air Picture (RAP) of the sector and its air approaches. The recognised air picture was sent up the chain of command to the Air Defence Operations Centre using standard radio, telephone, and fibre optic links. A ‘Super RAP’ of Iraq’s airspace and approaches was created at the Air Defence Operations Centre. KARI used several means of communication to provide redundancy. If radio communications were jammed, communications with the Air Defence Operations Centre could be preserved using telephone and fibre optic lines. If telephone exchanges and fibre optic nodes were hit, radio communications could be used.

Iraq Air defence
Figure 1 – Iraqi Air Defence Sectors, Sector Operations Centres, and Intercept Operations Centres

Cooking up a Storm

Coalition air planners had two critical Iraqi threats to contest in the bid to achieve air superiority and air supremacy; the Iraqi IADS and deployed Ground-Based Air Defences (GBAD) protecting the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard units. The IADS/GBAD had to be degraded to the point where they would effectively be useless if coalition aircraft enjoyed relative freedom in the skies above the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. Electronic Warfare (EW) was intrinsic to this effort. The IADS and GBAD relied on air surveillance, battle management and weapons control.[9] Air surveillance was dependent on radar, battle management was dependent on communications, and both depended on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The concept of operations for coalition electronic warfare to support the air campaign was to attack the two electronic elements of the IADS/GBAD, namely radar and radio communications, without which situational awareness and command and control would be badly degraded if not neutralised altogether. Alongside electronic warfare, kinetic attacks on radars were made using anti-radiation missiles and against key nodes and targets in the IADS using conventional ordnance. Following Kuwait’s occupation, the coalition’s immediate task was to build an electronic order of battle of the radars and communications intrinsic to the IADS and GBAD. Space and airborne assets were instrumental to this effort. Although much information regarding the specifics of the US Central Intelligence Agency/National Reconnaissance Office Magnum SIGINT satellite constellation remains classified, they were almost certainly employed to collect raw signals intelligence germane to the IADS/GBAD. This would have been analysed at facilities in the US before being disseminated to allies.[10]

SIGINT collection followed a hierarchical approach. The Magnum satellites made a ‘broad brush’ collection of Iraqi electromagnetic emissions, discerning potential signals of interest from radars or communications from the prevailing electromagnetic noise generated by the country.[11] Further investigation of these signals of interest would be done using airborne SIGINT assets.[12] For example, the USAF based two RC-135Us at King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.[13] These jets flew close to Iraq’s borders to ‘hoover up’ as much ELINT as possible.[14] This served two purposes. First, the collection of ELINT allowed the coalition to determine which radars were used by Iraq’s IADS/GBAD and where they were located. This allowed potential gaps or more weakly defended areas in Iraqi air defence coverage to be identified. Second, regular ELINT collection allowed SIGINT experts to determine the pattern of electromagnetic life. This would have helped answer pertinent questions about whether Iraqi SA-2 batteries switched their radars off every evening or every weekend. By identifying geographical or temporal gaps in radar coverage, coalition planners could take advantage of weak coverage.

American SIGINT aircraft were joined by Royal Air Force Nimrod RMk.1s flying from Seeb airbase in Oman, and Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) C-160G Gabriel and DC-8F Sarigue SIGINT planes based at King Khalid International Airport. However, the Iraqis knew they were being watched. Iraqi air defenders had correctly deduced that coalition SIGINT efforts would extract as much usable SIGINT as possible. As a result, they tried to keep their radar and radio use to a minimum while coalition warplanes relentlessly probed Iraqi air defences to tempt radar activation and communications traffic for collection by SIGINT aircraft hanging back from the fighters.[15]

Support was also provided by the US Navy’s Operational Intelligence Centre’s Strike Projection Evaluation and Anti-Air Research team, better known as SPEAR. This unit helped build a comprehensive order-of-battle of the Iraqi IADS/GBAD.[16] In cooperation with the USAF and national US intelligence agencies, SPEAR identified key nodes in the Iraqi IADS that would badly degrade its efficacy if destroyed.[17] In addition, the process helped draft simulation programmes that built an increasingly detailed model of the Iraqi IADS/GBAD system. These programmes were continually updated as new intelligence arrived, allowing analysts to perform ever-more detailed replications of the expected potency of Iraqi air defences.[18]

DESERT SHIELD
An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint from the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 1700th Air Refueling Squadron Provisional during Operation DESERT SHIELD. (Source: Wikimedia)

Alongside the RC-135Us discussed above, USAF RC-135V/W Rivet Joint and US Navy EP-3E Aries planes primarily collected Communications Intelligence (COMINT) on Iraq’s IADS/GBAD. Although the Rivet Joints were primarily configured to collect COMINT from radios and telecommunications transmitting on V/UHF wavebands of 30 megahertz to three gigahertz, these frequencies were also used by several Iraqi early warning and ground-based air surveillance radars. This allowed the Rivet Joints to assist their Combat Sent counterparts in gathering ELINT.[19]

Determining Iraq’s electronic order of battle allowed the radars to be attacked kinetically by USAF F-4G Wild Weasels using the AGM-88B/C missiles. Radars were also engaged electronically by USAF EF-111A Raven EW aircraft. Likewise, radio communications were attacked electronically with USAF EC-130H Compass Call planes. However, the USAF was not the only custodian of the suppression of enemy air defence mission. The US Navy was an avid user of the AGM-88 and, together with the US Marine Corps (USMC), flew EA-6B Prowlers. These jets could electronically and kinetically target hostile radars and gather ELINT.

Now in the streets, there is violence

‘The attack on the Iraqi electronic order of battle affected every aspect of the air supremacy operation,’ noted the official record of Operation DESERT STORM.[20] The initial focus of the electronic warfare battle was to destroy critical radars and communications nodes in the Iraqi IADS to paralyse the air defence network at strategic and operational levels.[21] At the tactical level, deployed SAM systems were then attacked with anti-radiation missiles when they illuminated coalition aircraft. This was done by patrolling F-4Gs and EA-6Bs, waiting for these radars to be activated or having the same aircraft and other anti-radiation missile-armed warplanes, such as the Royal Air Force’s Tornado GR.1 ground attack aircraft with their ALARMs (Air-Launched Anti-Radiation Missiles) accompany strike packages of aircraft. This had the dual purpose of helping keep these aircraft safe and continually attritting the kinetic elements of Iraq’s air defence.[22]

As noted earlier in this article, plans for attacking Iraq’s IADS/GBAD system became a reality in the early morning of 17 January. While Task Force Normandy laid waste to Iraqi radars, F-117As hit the Sector Operations Centres and Intercept Operations Centres in the 1st and 2nd Air Defence Sectors.[23] The actions of the Nighthawks and Task Force Normandy opened gaps in southern and western Iraqi radar coverage and air defence command and control network, which was then exploited.[24] Stealthy and non-stealth aircraft alike ingressed into Iraqi airspace to reach their strategic targets with electronic attack assistance provided by EF-111As and EA-6Bs. These platforms effectively jammed Iraqi early warning/ground-based air surveillance radars transmitting on V/UHF frequencies and FC/GCI radars transmitting in higher wavebands.[25] Typically, the EF-111As and EA-6Bs flew jamming orbits to protect air operations in a particular segment of the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. For example, USAF EF-111As flew orbits in western Iraq, providing jamming support to strikes in that part of the country, performing similar missions in the vicinity of Baghdad.[26] The EF-111As and EA-6Bs also relayed near-real-time updates on the Iraqi Electronic Order of Battle in their locale using radio and tactical datalink networks. Air campaign planners then adjust the air campaign’s electronic dimension accordingly.[27]

EA-6B DESERT STORM
EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-130 refuelled by a KC-135 Stratotanker en-route to an attack during Operation DESERT STORM. (Source: NARA)

With one part of its radars destroyed and jamming afflicting the others, coalition aircraft headed into Iraq, clearing a path through the IADS, and hitting IADS targets with anti-radiation missiles and air-to-ground ordnance.[28] As well as hitting these targets, BGM-109 cruise missiles hit transformer yards dispersing carbon fibre filaments. This caused short circuits in the power supply.[29] Air defence facilities without backup power went offline. Even those with generators would still see their systems shut down before being reactivated, costing valuable time.[30]

Influenced by Israeli Air Force operations over the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon close to that country’s border with Syria in June 1982, another tactic used by the coalition was the use of USAF launched BQM-74C Chukar drones to mimic coalition combat aircraft ingressing Iraq’s 1st Air Defence Sector. The intention was for Iraqi air defenders to illuminate the drones and engage them. This allowed anti-radiation missile-equipped aircraft to determine the position of SAM batteries engaging the drones and attack their radars. The US Navy performed similar missions with their ADM-141A/B Tactical Air-Launched Decoys This was an effective tactic as it not only revealed the location of Iraqi SAM batteries, but it forced them to expend missiles.[31]

The Continuing Campaign

Initial overtures in the air defence suppression campaign were aimed at attritting Iraqi long and medium-range/high and medium-altitude SAM systems to help sanitise the airspace for following coalition strikes.[32] Typically, AAA would be effective up to altitudes of circa 15,000 feet/ft (4,572 metres/m), with Iraqi SAM batteries effective up to circa 40,000ft (12,192m).[33] The controlled kinetic and electronic violence unleashed against the Iraqi IADS/GBAD during the first 24 hours of the war was palpable. The official record notes that almost 48 targets, including an array of air defence aim points, were hit: ‘This was not a gradual rolling back of the Iraqi air defence system. The nearly simultaneous suppression of so many vital centres helped cripple Iraq’s air defence system.’[34] This inflicted a level of damage from which the Iraqi IADS/GBAD could not recover.

As the campaign unfolded Iraqi air defenders learnt that activating their radar invited an AGM-88 or ALARM attack. By the end of the first week of combat operations, the Iraqis realised that a significant dimension of the coalition air campaign focused on destroying their air defences.[35] SAMs would still be fired ballistically in the hope of a lucky strike, but sans radar, SAM capabilities were severely degraded. Switching off the radars did not stop the attacks. AAA or SAM sites that kept their radars switched off were engaged with conventional air-to-ground ordnance.[36] Life was increasingly unpleasant for Iraqi air defenders who realised that switching off their radars did not stop the attacks. One can only imagine the demoralisation this must have caused.

Assessment

Benjamin Lambeth correctly asserted that DESERT STORM exemplified the decisive migration of electronic countermeasures and EW in general ‘from a supporting role to a direct combat role.’[37] Quite simply, without EW, the coalition would not have succeeded in degrading the Iraqi IADS/GBAD to a point where it could no longer meaningfully challenge coalition air power in such a short space of time. One of the major successes of the electronic warfare aspect of the air campaign was its dislocation of Iraqi IADS/GBAD command and control. Despite the technological sophistication of KARI, it could not mitigate the hierarchical nature of Iraqi air defence doctrine. The Intercept Operations Centres struggled to operate when their Sector Operations Centre and the Air Defence Operations Centre was neutralised.[38] There appeared to be little redundancy within KARI by which these centres could assume the responsibilities of their destroyed or badly degraded counterparts. For instance, the Air Defence Operations Centre was destroyed as a priority target at the start of the air campaign. It does not appear that Iraqi air defenders could rapidly replicate Air Defence Operations Centre functions at either a back-up facility or at one of the Sector Operations Centres. Likewise, when Sector Operations Centres were taken out of the fight, their functions were not immediately assumed by Intercept Operations Centres in their area of responsibility or adjacent sectors.

While KARI was a sophisticated system, Iraq possessed radars and SAM systems already known to the US and its allies on the eve of DESERT STORM. The US had encountered similar SAM systems in the skies over Vietnam and during Operation Eldorado Canyon in 1986 when the US attacked strategic targets in Libya in retaliation for the sponsorship of political violence by its leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Likewise, Israel had faced similar defences during numerous conflicts with its neighbours. Although Israel remained outside the US-led coalition, it is all but certain that intelligence germane to Iraq’s air defence systems would have been made available to the US.[39] The French are also thought to have shared intelligence regarding Iraq’s Roland and KARI systems in a similar fashion.[40] Egypt, an avid user of Soviet-supplied air defence equipment and member of the US-led coalition, was also believed to have been furnished the latter with intelligence.[41] Some of Iraq’s air defence equipment may have lacked Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (EECM) protection to exacerbate matters. Some of Iraq’s radars, notably early versions of the SNR-75 S-band and C-band 65nm (120km) to 75nm (140km) range fire control radars accompanying the SA-2 batteries may not have been fitted with ECCM.[42]

Once the war commenced, the Iraqis fell for the US ruse of using drones to seduce radars into revealing themselves, only to receive an ARM for their trouble. A glance at the history books would have revealed that given the success the Israeli Air Force had enjoyed using this tactic a decade previously, there was every chance the coalition may follow suit. This tactic was recently revisited during the 2020 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Azeri armed forces skilfully exploited Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs were used to tempt Armenian GBADs to activate their radars. By activating the radars their location could be determined, and the GBADs then struck with suicide UAVs equipped with explosives.

Furthermore, Iraq’s air defence doctrine lacked flexibility. Indeed, it has been argued that Iraq’s air command and control writ large during the preceding Iran-Iraq War was characterised by over-centralisation and rigid planning.[43] This may have resulted from two factors; the authoritarian nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the procurement of Soviet materiel not only for air defence but across the Iraqi armed forces with a similar acquisition of Soviet doctrine not known for its flexibility.[44] There are significant questions to ask regarding the degree to which subordinates in the IADS believed they had latitude and blessing for individual initiative in the tactical battle. Similar questions apply to higher echelons. Did operational commanders in the air force and air defence force feel emboldened to take decisions as the battle unfolded? Saddam Hussein presided over a totalitarian state where insubordination, real or perceived, could be punished harshly. This raises the question as to whether the fear of taking the wrong decision paralysed decision-making. The result being that the Iraqi IADS lost the initiative in the coalition’s electronic battle. An initiative it never recovered. The net result of a lack of doctrinal flexibility, and against the backdrop of Saddam Hussein’s regime, meant that Iraq’s air defences did not respond and adjust to the electronic battle. Tactical and operational flexibility did not extend beyond radar operators switching off their systems to avoid an attack by an ARM.

However, the coalition’s success was underpinned by a vitally important factor, the luxury of time. DESERT STORM was not a ‘come as you are’ war. The US and its allies had 168 days between Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the commencement of the air campaign to plan the electromagnetic scheme of manoeuvre that supporting the air war.

DESERT STORM underlined a truism in air power: Air superiority as a prerequisite for air supremacy must be achieved over an opponent as early as possible. OCA was central to this effort. Electromagnetic superiority and supremacy are central to OCA. One must ensure one can manoeuvre in the spectrum with minimal interference from one’s adversary while denying their adversary use of the spectrum. Working towards electromagnetic superiority and supremacy reduces red force access to the spectrum, denying its use for situational awareness and command and control. Denying Iraqi air defenders’ situational awareness and command and control blunted the efficacy of the kinetic elements of Iraq’s IADS/GBAD, which were then attritted using ARMs and conventional ordnance.

DESERT STORM ended on 28 February. Electronic warfare was intrinsic to the air campaign’s success. Iraq’s IADS and GBAD were prevented from meaningfully interfering with the coalition’s actions. However, this was not the end of the story. The US and the UK would continue to confront the rump of Iraq’s air defences for several years to come until the final showdown with Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

Dr Thomas Withington specialises in contemporary and historical electronic warfare, radar, and military communications, and has written numerous articles on these subjects for a range of general and specialist publications. He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham.

Header image: EF-111A Raven aircraft prepare to take off on a mission during Operation Desert Shield. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] C. Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-2’ @http://www.ausairpower.net/Analysis-ODS-EW.

[2] J. Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia 1961-1975 (Washington DC: Air Force History and Museum Programme, 1996), p. 103.

[3] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, (Alexandria, VA: US Department of Defence, 1992), p. 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Author’s proprietary information.

[6] Ibid.

[7] KARI is the French name for Iraq spelt backwards.

[8] ‘Iraqi Air Defense – Introduction’.

[9] P.W. Mattes, ‘Systems of Systems: What, exactly, is an Integrated Air Defense System?’, The Mitchell Forum No.26, (Arlington VA: The Mitchell Institute, June 2019), p. 3.

[10] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert, 17/3/21.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] S. Morse (ed), Gulf Air War Debrief, (London: Aerospace Publishing, 1991), p. 37.

[16] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 124.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[19] Morse (ed.), Gulf Air War Debrief, p. 37.

[20] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 220.

[21] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 153.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid, p. 172.

[26] Ibid, p. 220.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert.

[31] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 202.

[34] Ibid, p. 156.

[35] C. Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-3’ @http://www.ausairpower.net/Analysis-ODS-EW.html consulted 12/2/21.

[36] Ibid.

[37] B. Lambeth, The Winning of Air Supremacy in Operation Desert Storm, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1993), p. 5.

[38] ‘Iraqi Air Defense – Introduction’.

[39] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-1’.

[42] Ibid.

[43] A.H. Cordesman, A.R. Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War Volume-II: The Iran-Iraq War, (London: Mansell, 1990).

[44] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 9.