Established in 2016, From Balloons to Drones is an online scholarly platform that analyses and debates air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense, including space and cyber power. To date, with have published over 250 articles on various air power-related subjects.
Since its emergence at the start of the 20th Century, air power has increasingly become the preferred form of military power for many governments. However, the application and development of air power are controversial and often misunderstood. To remedy this, From Balloons to Drones seeks to provide analysis and debate about air power through the publication of articles, research notes, commentaries, book reviews, and historic book reviews – see below for a description of the range of articles published.
The study of air power is to be understood broadly, encompassing not only the history of air warfare, including social and cultural aspects but also incorporating contributions from related fields, such as archaeology, international relations, strategic studies, law and ethics. Possible subjects to be explored might include, but are not limited to:
Strategy, Theory and Doctrine | Organisation and Policy | Roles
Operations – Kinetic and Non-Kinetic | Tactics, Training and Procedures
Strategic and Operational Effect | Technological Developments
Ethical and Moral Issues | National, International and Transnational Experiences
Personal Experiences | Culture | Memory and Memorialisation
From Balloons to Drones welcomes and encourages potential submissions from postgraduates, academics, and practitioners involved in researching the subject of air power.
From Balloons to Drones publishes informative peer-reviewed articles on air power that range from historical pieces to the analysis of contemporary challenges. These well-researched articles should attempt to bridge a gap between the specialist and the non-specialist reader. They should be around c.3,000 words, though From Balloons to Drones will accept larger pieces. We reserve the right to publish them in parts.
Air War Books
From Balloons to Drones publishes a series of review articles that examine the top ten books that have influenced writers on air power. See more here.
From Balloons to Drones publishes opinion pieces on recent news on either contemporary or historical subjects. These should be no longer than c.1,000 words.
From Balloons to Drones publishes research notes on contributors’ current research projects. These take the form of more informal pieces and can be a discussion of a source or a note on a recent research theme. These should be c.500 to 1,000 words.
From Balloons to Drones publishes regular book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of appraisals of recent publications about air power. If publishers are interested in having a publication reviewed, then, please contact us via the email address below. See more here.
Historic Book Reviews
From Balloons to Drones publishes occasional historic book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of appraisals of critical historic publications about air power history, theory, and practice. See more here.
Submissions should be submitted in Word format and emailed to the address below with ‘SUBMISSION’ in the subject line. Also, please include a 50-100 word biography with your submission. References can be used, and please be careful to explain any jargon. However, if you are unsure if your idea fits our requirements, please email us with ‘POTENTIAL SUBMISSION’ in the subject line to discuss.
If you are interested in contributing, please email our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at email@example.com or via our contact page here.
Header image: A Panavia Tornado GR4 of No. IX(B) Squadron on a training sortie in preparation for deployment to Afghanisation, c. 2012. (Source: Wikimedia)
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)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or via our contact page here.
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.
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.
From the First World War onwards, the use of air power in naval and maritime spheres has become an essential element of military operations. Indeed, even by 1918, many of the roles associated with naval air power, such as carrier airstrikes, had emerged. Similarly, the development of maritime air power was well-developed by 1918. Moreover, as the world’s major navies recognised the importance of naval air power and commissioned aircraft carriers between the First and Second World Wars, further developments and debates emerged.
2022 marks several significant anniversaries in naval and maritime air power history. In 1922, the US Navy, which became the world’s major user of carrier-based air power, launched its first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. 2022 also marks the 80th and 40th anniversaries of two significant examples of the effective application of naval and maritime air power, the Battle of Midway and the Falklands War, respectively. As such, From Balloons to Drones is seeking submissions for a series of articles that examine the varied use of air power in the maritime sphere, broadly defined. Articles might, for example, explore the development of carrier-based air power, the use of land-based air power in support of naval and maritime operations, or the use of air power in support of amphibious operations. Possible themes to be explored might include, but are not limited to:
Strategy, Theory and Doctrine| Organisation and Policy | Roles
Operations – Kinetic and Non-Kinetic | Tactics, Training and Procedures
Strategic and Operational Effect | Technological Developments | Ethical and Moral Issues
National, International and Transnational Experiences | Personal Experiences
Memory and Memorialisation
We are looking for articles of between 500 to 4,000 words, though we will accept larger pieces, and we reserve the right to publish them in parts. Please visit our submissions page for more information on the types of articles published by From Balloons to Drones
We plan to begin running the series in February 2022, and it will continue for as long as we receive potential contributions. We welcome and encourage submissions from academics, policymakers, service personnel, and relevant professionals. We also welcome submissions written from diverse academic disciplines.
Submissions should be submitted in Word format and emailed to the email address below with ‘SUBMISSION – Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited’ in the subject line. Also, please include a 50-100-word biography with your submission. Footnotes can be used, and please be careful to explain any jargon. If you are not sure if your idea fits our requirements, then please email us with ‘POTENTIAL SUBMISSION – Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited’ in the subject line to discuss.
If you are interested in contributing, please email our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at email@example.com or contact us via our contact page here.
Header image: The Japanese aircraft carrier IJS Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. (Source: Wikimedia)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or via our contact page here.
Donald Bishop and Erik R. Limpaecher, ‘Looking Bakc from the Age of ISR: US Observation Balloons in the First World War,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).
No abstract provided.
Patrick Luiz Sullivan De Oliveira, ‘Transforming a Brazilian aeronaut into a French hero: Celebrity, spectacle, and technological cosmopolitanism in the turn-of-the-century Atlantic,’ Past & Present (2021). https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtab011
This article explains how the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, who at the turn of the twentieth century became the first global celebrity aeronaut, operated as a symbol of ‘technological cosmopolitanism’ — a world view that ostensibly promoted a vision of global unity through technology-enabled exchanges while simultaneously reproducing a core-periphery imagined geography that threatened to erase marginalized populations. Technological cosmopolitanism fitted snugly within the rubric of the Third Republic’s aspiring universalism, which assumed that France offered a model to be emulated around the world, but it was not hegemonic. If for the French appropriating Santos-Dumont meant safeguarding France’s leadership in aeronautics and assuaging their claims of universality, for Brazilians the elision was marked by ambiguity. Brazil’s First Republic hungered for heroes, and authorities saw Santos-Dumont as a symbol of modernity that showed that its place in world history was more than peripheral, even though that very vision was shaped by a Paris-centric world view. But marginalized Afro-Brazilians also found ways to appropriate a white ‘Frenchified’ Brazilian and reimagine their place in a cosmopolitan order. Technological cosmopolitanism evoked a world united by transportation, communication and exchange, but imagining who got to construct and partake in that community was a process continuously marked by erasures and reinsertions.
A. Garcia, ‘The South African Air Force in Korea: an evaluation of 2 Squadron’s first combat engagement, 19 November until 2 December 1950,’ Historia 66, no. 2 (2021).
South African participation in the Korean War (1950–1953) in direct support of an international military offensive led by the United States of America demonstrated the National Party administration’s commitment to opposing Communism. This article details how the deployment of South African Air Force 2 Squadron achieved the strategic objectives of the South African government in supporting the anti-communist United States-led United Nations coalition in the Korean War. It evaluates the performance of South Africa’s Air Force in their first operational test since the Second World War. The combat operations discussed under the scope of this article include the first tactical engagement of 2 Squadron in support of the initial advance (19 November to 21 December) 1950 and then later, the retreat of the United Nations force.
William Head, ‘The Berlin Airlift: First Test of the U.S. Air Force,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).
This article examines the development of precision guided munitions (PGMs) from the earliest proto-PGMs of the late 18th century to the miniaturised, semi-autonomous forms in present service. N R Jenzen-Jones and Jack Shanley trace the history of these revolutionary weapons and examine how their battlefield roles and real-world use cases have evolved over time.
T.B. Kwan, ‘“The effects of our bombing efforts”: Allied Strategic Bombing of the Japanese Occupied Territories during World War II,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).
No abstract provided.
Wyatt Lake, ‘Origins of American Close Air Support,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).
No abstract provided.
John G. Terino Jr., ‘Cultivating Future Airpower Strategists: On “Developing Twenty-First-Century Airpower Strategists”,’ Strategic Studies Quarterly 15, no. 4 (2021).
In 2008, Major General R. Michael Worden forecast specific challenges for airpower strategists including emerging technology, transnational terrorist organizations, an explosion of information power, budgets, and resourcing. His predictions have borne out in what the Air Force faces today, and Air University is responding, providing the next generation of airpower strategists.
Joseph B. Piroch and Daniel A. Connelly, ‘Six Steps to the Effective Use of Airpower: On “The Drawdown Asymmetry: Why Ground Forces Will Depart Iraq but Air Forces Will Stay”,’ Strategic Studies Quarterly 15, no. 4 (2021).
Then-Lieutenant Colonel Clinton S. Hinote’s 2008 analysis of the Iraq drawdown and the continued role of airpower in that conflict serves as a foundation for six steps to the effective use of airpower today.
Thomas Wildenberg, ‘Col. Thomas L Thurlow and the Development of the A-10 Sextant,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).
No abstract provided.
Phil Haun, Colin Jackson, and Tim Schultz (eds.), Air Power in the Age of Primacy: Air Warfare since the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).
Since the end of the Cold War the United States and other major powers have wielded their air forces against much weaker state and non-state actors. In this age of primacy, air wars have been contests between unequals and characterized by asymmetries of power, interest, and technology. This volume examines ten contemporary wars where air power played a major and at times decisive role. Its chapters explore the evolving use of unmanned aircraft against global terrorist organizations as well as more conventional air conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and against ISIS. Air superiority could be assumed in this unique and brief period where the international system was largely absent great power competition. However, the reliable and unchallenged employment of a spectrum of manned and unmanned technologies permitted in the age of primacy may not prove effective in future conflicts.
Mark Lardas, Truk 1944–45: The Destruction of Japan’s Central Pacific Bastion (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).
A fully illustrated history of how the US Navy destroyed Truk, the greatest Japanese naval and air base in the Pacific, with Operation Hailstone, and how B-29 units and the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet kept the base suppressed until VJ-Day.
In early 1944, the island base of Truk was a Japanese Pearl Harbor; a powerful naval and air base that needed to be neutralized before the Allies could fight their way any further towards Tokyo. But Truk was also the most heavily defended naval base outside the Japanese Home Islands and an Allied invasion would be costly. Long-range bombing against Truk intact would be a massacre so a plan was conceived to neutralize it through a series of massive naval raids led by the growing US carrier fleet. Operation Hailstone was one of the most famous operations ever undertaken by American carriers in the Pacific.
This book examines the rise and fall of Truk as a Japanese bastion and explains how in two huge raids, American carrier-based aircraft reduced it to irrelevance. Also covered is the little-known story of how the USAAF used the ravaged base as a live-fire training ground for its new B-29s — whose bombing raids ensured Truk could not be reactivated by the Japanese. The pressure on Truk was kept up right through 1945 when it was also used as a target for the 509th Composite Squadron to practise dropping atomic bombs and by the British Pacific Fleet to hone its pilots’ combat skills prior to the invasion of Japan.
David Nicolle and Gabr Ali Gabr, Air Power and the Arab World – Volume 5: The Arab Air Forces and the Road to War 1936-1939 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).
The years immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War saw the earliest and the more recently established Arab Air Forces attempting to play a role on the regional if not yet on the world stage for the first time. It was a period when those Arab states which had real or merely theoretical independence were more or less allied with European countries that were gearing up to face the growing Fascist and Nazi threats. Unfortunately, these anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi countries were themselves the imperial powers, France and the United Kingdom, which were still seeking to maintain their domination of the greater part of the Arab World. To say that this complicated the situation, and strained the loyalties of the men of the newly emergent Arab air forces would be an understatement.
Volume 5 of the Air Power and the Arab World series, therefore, seeks to shed light on a difficult and widely misunderstood time. It draws upon decades of research, including previously unpublished interviews with men now dead, archive sources than have never before been translated into a European language, and material which, though available in obscure Arabic publications, has been almost entirely neglected by aviation historians.
This volume is richly illustrated with specially commissioned colour artworks illustrating the aircraft flown by the air forces in the Arab world during this dynamic period of time.
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.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or more commonly, Drones, have become increasingly key to contemporary warfare, even iconic. But are they really as revolutionary as they appear? Dr Michael Boyle joins us to discuss his recent book, The Drone Age: How Drone Technology Will Change War and Peace. He examines the drone phenomenon as it has currently affected global conflict, and how drones might shape the future.
Dr Michael J. Boyle is an Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at La Salle University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. His previous books include Violence after War: Explaining Instability in Post-Conflict States, Legal and Ethical Implications of Drone Warfare, and Non-Western Responses to Terrorism.
Header image: A USAF MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies above the smoky San Gabriel Mountains of southern California on its way to a fire mission in the northern part of the state, August 2020. (Source: US Department of Defense)
Five years ago, on 15 June 2016, From Balloons to Drones was launched. From Balloons to Drones was established with the simple vision of providing an open access online platform for the analysis and debate of 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 195 posts of various types ranging from articles to book reviews. More recently, in 2019, we started producing a popular podcast series with interviews with leading air power specialists. Overall, the site has received over 130,000 hits since 2016.
None of the above would have been achieved without the support of our editors, contributors, and readers. Personally, I am grateful to all the members of the From Balloons to Droneseditorial team for their continuing hard work, especially as it is all done voluntarily. Indeed, when the site was established, it was run by one person, our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney. However, over time, the editorial team has grown and evolved. In 2018, long-time contributors Dr Brian Laslie, Dr Michael Hankins, and Alex Fitzgerald-Black came onboard as editors. While Alex has moved on, we have continued to build and strengthen the editorial team with the addition of Victoria Taylor and Dr Luke Truxal to the team. As we look forward to the next five years of From Balloons to Drones, I am pleased to announce the addition of two new editors to the team: Dr Maria Burczynska and Ashleigh Brown. Maria is a Lecturer in Air Power Studies at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, while Ashleigh, a PhD student at UNSW Canberra, is a researcher for the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq & Afghanistan and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor. The addition of Maria and Ashleigh will help strengthen the team in several areas, and we are looking forward to what the future holds with them.
I am also grateful to all our contributors and readers. Without our contributors, there would be nothing to publish and, as such, no website. However, we are always on the lookout for new contributions either from established authors or from new and emerging scholars within the air power studies community. If you are interested in contributing, then visit our submissions page to find out how to contribute.
So, what about the future? More of the same but better. We still hold true to our original vision of providing an avenue for debate and discussion about air power. We will aim to continue to refine what we offer in terms of content and build on the success of the past five years. We have more articles, book reviews and podcasts in the pipeline. 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.
Finally, as a bit of fun to celebrate our fifth birthday, here are the top five most-read posts since our launch in 2016:
Header image: Pilatus PC-21A aircraft from No 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown fly in formation on return from Sydney in support of an Air Force 2021 commemorative service held at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)
What is air power? How do we study it? How do we use it? Do previous characterisations sufficiently capture the concept? Perhaps. This article contends that prior attempts to put meat on the bone towards a framework to study air power scholarship are insufficient.
Moreover, we must appreciate the richness of our inquiries if we – scholars and professionals, such as political scientists, historians, policymakers, practitioners and users – want to understand better the concept of air power to help answer important questions. These questions may be: how do civilian airline pilots and training schools contribute to a nation’s ‘air power?’ Can peacetime control of airspace access constitute a form of air power? To what extent does air information, such as weather, the electromagnetic environment, knowledge of space weather, constitute a form of air power? Furthermore, more, importantly, how do these questions and related concepts orient to each other. As such, this article argues that air power is the domain-agnostic admixture of personalities, outcomes, organisations, technologies, ideas and events to do or, that do, something in or for, the air.
This definition is unique in that it explicitly and parsimoniously joins together the breadth of military and civilian endeavours. It highlights the ‘stickiness’ of related topics and contends that air power is not an inherently military pursuit, though its application almost always manifests as such. The definition provides more form to the general, varied ideas of military thinkers about essential elements of air power. This article begins the discussion on the topic of how we structure air power studies across various academic fields and cordons a more robust dissection of the topic in future publications. Furthermore, this article details the constituent components of air power to clarify meaning. Then, it uses this perception of air power to explain its evolution throughout history. Finally, briefly, it discusses our current air power disposition to make sense of what component will drive innovation in the coming decades — organisations. So, how have we come to envisage this elusive thing we call air power?
Definition and Components of Air Power
In the Age of Airpower, Martin Van Creveld explored about 250 years of the concept. Among others, he highlighted the work of people with simple, yet elegant definitions of air power, such as that of Brigadier General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell who viewed it as doing ‘something in the air.’ Other writers such as Mark Clodfelter provided more angles: breaking the concept of air power into direct and indirect applications. For Clodfelter, direct air power generally involves kinetic outcomes such as bombing and indirect presumes more non-kinetic capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
Meanwhile, organisations such as the US Air Force (USAF) define air power based on its organisational experience and conceptual refinement. The latest iteration of USAF Basic Doctrine defines the concept as ‘the ability to project military power or influence through the control and exploitation of air, space, and cyberspace to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives.’ So, how do we break air power down for study?
While Mitchell’s definition is more parsimonious, adding a little complexity provides the explanatory muscle to how we think about air power and thus how we can consider the concept’s change over time. Foundationally, one should recognise that to do something in the air does not necessarily mean that the activity must originate in or from the air. For instance, a ballistic missile launch originates from the land, traverses through the air and maybe space, and then strikes somewhere on land. This example demonstrates the potential of the agnosticism of the air domain. Furthermore, a more robust definition allows for careful, coordinated forecasting of future air power applications using clear and structured links within and across the subject’s elements. For instance, air power researchers studying C-17 humanitarian assistance capabilities may be linked to those studying procedurally based command and control organisations as well as those studying the political effects of humanitarian assistance to optimise future disaster response towards national priorities.
Conceiving of air power as an admixture of component concepts: each noteworthy, though not equal, in characterising the ability to do something in the air is vital for several reasons. One benefit is to have more structured research programs that allow thinkers to situate their contribution to the subject area. Another is to generalise debates on air power concepts that link military and civilian theory and application. A generalisation can help guard against what seems to be a tendency to overly militarise air power thought, evoking the coercive and persuasive elements of the concept. The benefits are similar to those of academic fields like history or political science though air power studies can best be described as an interdisciplinary subfield or topical field.
Importantly, to be useful, the components must be defined. First, personalities may be individuals or groups that have a profound impact on the development of the notion. For instance, Mitchell vocally and publicly advanced the idea of a separate US military service despite the misgivings of more senior leaders, including President Calvin Coolidge. In part, the general’s 1925 court-martial resulted from agitation for a separate US air service. However, the spectacle thrust air power into America’s national dialogue. He challenged the US Army – then overseeing land-based air forces – stating that their leaders were negligent for not building an air service capable of national defence. Mitchell is credited by many as being the original maverick in pursuing an idea of independent military air power that was largely sidelined at the time. Mitchell’s persona, in part, catalysed the existence of organisations critical to the development of air power.
Mitchell’s calls for an independent air service bring us to the second component — organisations, which are administrative and operational systems that foster ideas, leverage people and exploit technologies towards some outcome. An exemplar is the USAF’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) under Major-General Curtis LeMay’s tutelage. SAC pursued the idea of ‘strategic’ air power, discussed later, towards its outcome of long-range conventional and nuclear bombing. SAC oversaw most of the US nuclear deterrent and development of bomber capabilities for the USAF. The organisation came to personify air power in the US and for much of the world during the Cold War. Albeit an unfair approximation, civilians and military personnel alike were lent the idea of air power’s ability to render an outcome of total enemy devastation embodied by SAC’s long-range bombers and, later, ballistic missiles.
In our context, outcomes are the effects, assessments and results by which military and civilian leaders come to associate air power. For instance, after the Second World War, both military and civilian leaders came to associate air power with the unconditional surrender of the enemy evoked by the use of nuclear weapons. This idea created problems during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, where expectations outpaced the new reality of limited, non-nuclear warfare. Limited warfare lends itself to more technical means — leaving technology to be the more tangible, driving component of air power.
As a component, technology includes all the capabilities, research, design, development and testing that allow practitioners to do things in the air. For instance, a significant component of the US’ advancements in stealth technology originated with the Skunk Works team under Kelly Johnson’s orchestration, among others. The team’s research and design techniques led to advances like the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk. These technologies, along with other capabilities-related advances, influenced expectations such as those discussed above: enabling the limited, non-nuclear warfare that became characteristic of vast swaths of America’s recent history. However, while technology is sometimes the easiest to translate as an air power component, though not always easy to grasp, it is ideas that sometimes generate change.
Doctrine, strategy, theories, policies and politics combine to form air power’s conceptual component. These ideas embody how personalities can use other components. Reciprocally, all the other components can help thinkers conceive of new ways to conceptualise air power. To demonstrate, during Operation EL DORADO CANYON, President Reagan and his national security team viewed air power as a punitive instrument of national security policy. Existent technologies in the 1980s allowed Reagan’s response to state-sponsored terrorism with a long-range, airstrike on targets tailored to the perceived offence. Reagan’s team shepherded the technology component in a way that had not yet been explored to its fullest. They updated strategic attack doctrine; tested theories of international relations; set new international policies; and ignited the politics of air-driven limited, military interventions.
Events like Op EL DORADO CANYON also constitutes the last element of air power. Our understanding of past campaigns, battles and historical milestones enables a fuller appreciation of air power and the possibility of modifying its future use. Unfortunately, these so-called understandings can sometimes lead to misapplications of history and, ultimately, to disaster. For instance, the counterinsurgency in Iraq that began almost immediately after the invasion in 2003 required a different application of air power than previously practised, but it would take multiple Secretaries of Defense to enforce this understanding upon the military, as evidenced by the explosion of unmanned technologies among others. The components of air power – personalities, organisations, outcomes, technologies, ideas and events – provide the critical infrastructure for the study of air power. We can use this infrastructure to help us understand various aspects of the topic, like what elements may be more important at various times in history. This understanding can help us orient ourselves in history relative to the seemingly dominant feature of our time so that those who study, and practice air power can best allocate resources, whether academically or practically.
Epochs of Air Power
In this section, this article now considers the prominence of the above elements as determinants of historical periods in air power’s evolution. A short walkthrough of air power’s epochal changes rooted in the above-defined elements illuminates current and the future application of air power. Geoffrey Barraclough, in An Introduction to Contemporary History, provided an idea about ‘spots and jumps’ that define historical periods and transitions. He used the timeframe 1880-1960 to discuss the shift between modern and contemporary history based primarily on economic and geopolitical factors. Using a similar conception of eras punctuated by ‘spots and jumps,’ rooted in the components of air power to characterise the shifts, this section divides the evolution of air power into five timeframes. Importantly, during shifts between the timeframes, changes in predominant component concepts of air power led to changes in our concept of air power.
Before 1783 – The Age of Imagination
Air power before 1783 can be viewed as an ‘Age of Imagination’ or ideas. There were no bounds except those imposed by humanity’s evolving understanding of terrestrial physics. Some of the earliest human records depict mystical flying or lobbing objects through the air as weapons. In their way, our ancestors from around the world gave us our first concept of air power. They conceived of divinity by drawing and storytelling of gods that could defy gravity unassisted, a fruitless pursuit for mere mortals that dates to Greek, Roman and Chinese mythology. While ancient and pre-industrial humans did not themselves defy gravity, humankind created things to help defend themselves, such as arrows and trebuchet missiles. These weapons are essential to the study of air power because the idea of projectiles travelling large distances to destroy an enemy finds its roots here. These weapons emerged over thousands of years, sometimes a crowning achievement of empires such as Persia and the Mongols. Nonetheless, the wild-eyed dreams of fantasy came to a relatively abrupt end in 1783 when the Montgolfiers floated their first balloon. The brothers’ flights began the period of the ‘Origins of Air Power.’
1783 to 1903 – The Origins of Air Power
Between 1783 and 1903, changes in the concept of air power resulted from slow changes in technologies. For instance, a new class of ‘aeronauts’ proliferated workable ballooning technologies that ended up in the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, though his use is not the first use on the battlefield. He used available technologies when and where he could to enhance reconnaissance and direct artillery strikes. In 1798 Bonaparte used balloons to try to overawe the Egyptians in a campaign to subdue the Middle East and North Africa. After an unsuccessful display, Napoleon ordered the balloon unit’s disbandment. Undoubtedly a balloon would have come in handy in 1815 when Napoleon looked for Grouchy to spot and crush Blucher’s flanking movement at Waterloo. Nearly a half-century later, professionals continued to struggle with the concept of air power: conceiving of it as an unproven, unpredictable and unusable conglomeration of technologies and techniques, such as gas-producing machines for balloons, telegraphs and airborne mapmaking. Such was Thaddeus Lowe’s disposition in bringing air power to fruition during the American Civil War. Thus, it would be until the turn of the twentieth century.
1903 to 1945 – The Douhetian Epoch
From 1903 to 1945, ‘strategic’ air power and its offshoots was the idea that drove changes in the conception of air power as something more than an observational or auxiliary tool for ground forces. The idea of independent air power came to full fruition in August 1945 with the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. To begin, in December 1903 the Wright Brothers brought heavier-than-air flight to reality. Driving the science of aeronautics were ideas like those refined by Giulio Douhet in the early part of the 20th century. Theorists like Douhet opined that wars could be won by striking at city centres from the air to break the will of a people, forcing them to surrender. Douhet’s original Italian publication in 1921 would not get immediately translated into English; however, people like Hugh Trenchard, the first Royal Air Force commander, articulated similar thoughts and organised, trained and equipped his military forces towards those ends. Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris would make use of Trenchard’s advancements during the Second World War over German cities such as Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin. Though it would take the American military time to adopt the British model of indiscriminate bombing, this idea came to epitomise air power for the period.
Importantly, this was also the timeframe during which commercial air travel in lighter- and heavier-than-air vessels took root. Though the ‘golden’ age of commercial air travel would come later, concepts like air routes, navigating via beacons, airports and other ideas began to solidify. These concepts had both military and civilian applications and technologies that enabled further development of the idea of air assets used over long distances. However, the military would continue to dominate ideas about air power as a ‘strategic’ concept even as these ideas came into contact with a significant theoretical challenge: limited warfare in an age of potentially unlimited destruction from thermonuclear weapons.
1945 to 2001 – The Era of Immaculate Effects
The next era, roughly spanning 1945 to 2001 is the maturation of strategic bombing extremes enabled by high technology. Militarily, the era is marked by the rise of a more immaculate, precise warfare with limited aims to mitigate aircrew losses, fulfil more specific international obligations and for operational efficiency among other goals. There was a change in the concept of air power because of what it was perceived to have achieved during the Second World War and the idea that the same outcome could be realised even in the face of more limited warfare. By the beginning of this timeframe, the USAF sidelined more tactically-minded airmen like Pete Quesada to ensure adoption of strategic bombing as a vehicle to solidify the association with air power. In part because of his prestige as a tactical aviation adherent, the ‘bomber generals’ defanged Quesada and the organisation he led, Tactical Air Command, after WWII. There was no room for anyone but true believers in the strategic attack mindset, but this would change after the experiences of Korea and Vietnam in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Only later in the period would Quesada’s tactical aviation and more precise attack legacy permeate military circles.
In civilian aviation, technology-fueled huge leaps in air power. National airspace, global navigation capabilities and air-containerised freight were concepts that would hold vast military and civilian applications. It is during this time that military and civilian aircraft started to compete for airspace for things like training, exercises and navigating various corridors. Another critical advance was the widespread implementation of the instrument landing system that allowed commercial aircraft to land in increasing levels of degraded atmospheric conditions. Again, precision enabled by technology characterised this era.
2000 and Beyond – Flexible Niche
The most recent period begins at around the turn of the millennium. This is the epoch as ‘Flexible Niche’ because it involved the use of existing or new technologies for a variety of activities dependent on how organisations are positioned to leverage them. Beginning in the late 1980s, formalisation of the contemporary Air Operations Center (AOC) is an early indicator of the present epoch. This organisation enabled the focused air campaign during Operations INSTANT THUNDER and DESERT STORM that, in part, led to ultimate victory for coalition forces in 1991. It was no longer enough to think of air power as just a capability or bringing about the strategic defeat of an enemy via the limits of destructive power or achieving national objectives with as few civilian casualties as possible. The organisation became the template for how to leverage air power across a wide area and from multiple sources. A contemporary view of air power considers the construct of how and which organisations best leverage technologies, ideas and people towards a given outcome, which may be a military one. There are a variety of concepts that the United States military is exploring, including the Multi-Domain Operations Center and Defense Innovation Unit, in addition to the standup of a Space Force among other initiatives.
Civil aviation is undergoing a similar bout with organisations, especially in the United States, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grapples with how best to control airspace with the rise of unmanned technologies, especially in congested metropolitan areas. Should the FAA continue to hold all the cards or is the organisation in need of decentralisation of authorities to states and localities? Technologies may forestall the organisational decision, but this era’s solutions seem to be organisationally related rather than technically.
For the new century and beyond, it will not necessarily be which countries and industries have the best technologies or smartest people or best ideas that define the development of air power: it will be the organisations that can best leverage the other components that will determine how we conceive of air power. To summarise, again, air power is the domain-agnostic ability to do something in the air resulting from an admixture of personalities, outcomes, organisations, technologies, ideas and events. These components, at various times, represent reasons why our concept of air power changes over time.
The use of epochs allows us to generally discuss how components of air power drive thinking and successful pursuits of the concept over time, which is why it is useful to develop a unified framework for their study. Moreover, as opposed to the more traditional commentary of air power, linking military and civilian advancements in the same epoch demonstrates that air power is not an inherently military concept. This article serves as an overview of the start of a more robust discussion about the development of air power and a characterisation of what will likely temper that development for the 21st century — organisations. Future topics will involve civilian efforts to deal with drones and swarms, the importance of civil aviation and commercial space efforts in air power development, and the exploration of the idea that organisations will be the defining issue of this era.
Given all of this, air power is the domain-agnostic admixture of personalities, outcomes, organisations, technologies, ideas and events to do or, that do, something in or for, the air. Moreover, these components at various times have influenced significant shifts in our conception of air power over at least five critical epochs. Scholars and professionals must acknowledge the military and civilian dimensions of air power to live up to the concept’s full potential. Hence, to conclude, there is a need for a unified framework for the study of air power to promote the integration of military and civilian issues with the field.
Major Jaylan M. Haley is a career USAF Intelligence Officer. Currently, he is a student at the USAF School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies at Air University. Over 14 years, he served in a variety of intelligence-related positions from the strategic to the tactical levels. During Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and INHERENT RESOLVE, he served as an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Liaison Officer to multiple US Army Divisions and US Marine Expeditionary Forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently he was an Air University Fellow, serving as an Instructor in the Department of International Security at the USAF Air Command and Staff College. He is a PhD Candidate in the Kansas State University Security Studies program with research focused on leverage air power as a tool of national policy.
Header Image: A US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat intercepts a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 ‘Bear D’ reconnaissance-bomber over the Pacific Ocean on 21 November 1984. The F-14 was assigned to fighter squadron VF-51 aboard the USS Carl Vinson and was deployed to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean from 18 October 1984 to 24 May 1985. (Source: Wikimedia)
 Domains include air, space, cyberspace (or electromagnetic), land and sea. Domain agnosticism disregards a specific domain towards the application of a specific concept. For instance, intelligence collection is domain agnostic. This means that intelligence collection can come from any of the domains-air, space, cyberspace, land or sea.
 ‘Strategic Implications for the Aerospace Nation’ in Philip Meilinger (ed.), Air War: Essays on Its Theory and Practice (Abingdon: Franck Cass, 2003), pp. 217-30.
 Martin Van Creveld, Martin, The Age of Airpower (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011), p. 71; William Mitchell, Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power (New York: Dover Publications, 1988), p. xii.
 Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), p. 213.
 United States Air Force, Core Doctrine, Volume 1 – Basic Doctrine (Maxwell AFB, LeMay Doctrine Center, 2015).
 Robert Smith, ‘Maneuver at Lightspeed: Electromagnetic Spectrum as a Domain,’Over the Horizon: Multi-Domain Operations & Strategy, 5 November 2018. Importantly, the so-called warfighting domains of air, space, land, navy and now cyber – or perhaps more aptly electromagnetic – all interface with the air domain and provide a medium through which something can happen in the air.
 Douglas Waller, A Question of Loyalty (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004), pp. 21-2.
 Donald Mrozek, Air Power & the Ground War in Vietnam (Virginia, VA: Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publishers, 1989), pp. 14-5.
 Conrad Crane, American Airpower Strategy in Korea: 1950-1953 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000), pp. 16-22.
Boar 81, we’ve got approval to strike the convoy you found. This will be Type 2 control, single GBU-38s, 30-second spacing, attack from the north. Your target is a column of vehicles near coordinates 123 456. Nearest friendlies are 40 kilometres east. Expect weapons clearance on final…
The situation described above is becoming increasingly common in US and NATO air operations. Aircrew found a legitimate target in an area in which risk of fratricide is nil, yet the strike is being closely controlled by ground personnel hundreds of kilometres away via satellite radio and using Close Air Support (CAS) procedures. The trouble with this example – based on an actual occurrence during Operation INHERENT RESOLVE – Is that it illustrates the US military’s misapplication of CAS procedures to situations for which those procedures were not designed. This issue largely stems from two factors: a continued inability to resolve tensions inherent in operational frameworks (how we divide battlespaces up for command and control purposes) and weaknesses within United States and European doctrine that cleaves all air-to-surface operations against enemy military capabilities into either Air Interdiction (AI) or Close Air Support (CAS) categories.
The framework issue is discussed often, and therefore largely ignored in this article. However, the doctrine issue remains mostly unaddressed. The main notable exception is a 2005 RAND study entitled Beyond Close Air Support. More importantly, the flaws in the doctrinal models reflect deeper issues with the theoretical foundation western militaries use to understand air-to-surface operations. This article attempts to resolve this issue by presenting a more nuanced theory of counterland operations by examining the differences between the CAS mission and CAS procedures as well as addressing why this difference matters.
Understanding the purpose of CAS and the intent of CAS tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) as codified in US Joint Publication (JP) 3-09.3 Close Air Support helps one recognise that CAS TTPs are intended to mitigate the risk of fratricide. However, the CAS mission is focused entirely on affecting an enemy in close support of a friendly land force. This, in turn, suggests that while many air actions may fall under the purview of the CAS mission, only a subset of these missions require the level of control typically used. The current poor understanding will create significant issues if the US or NATO fights a peer adversary. Ground commanders, Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP), and aircrew should foster a culture of flexible TTP application based on risk assessment to enable a more effective tempo depending on the specific operational environment.
Examining Definitions of CAS
Determining what defines CAS as a mission begins with JP 3-09.3 Close Air Support, which views CAS as an action by fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft against targets in close proximity to friendly forces which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces. The two key phrases most often keyed upon by CAS-focused communities like the TACP and A-10 tribes in the US Air Force are ‘close proximity’ and ‘detailed integration.’
Interestingly, the NATO definition of CAS includes the same definition almost word for word but adds that TTPs are executed ‘for fratricide avoidance and targeting guidance performed by a […] Forward Air Controller.’ British air and space power doctrine does not include detailed integration in its most basic definition but notes that ‘intensive air-land integration and coordination’ is necessary for fratricide prevention and target identification. Most other American allies match either the NATO or US definition. The US and its allies, therefore, agree that the mission of CAS is airstrikes in close proximity to ground forces and that detailed integration is needed. However, most allied doctrine notes explicitly that the purpose of detailed integration is to either mitigate fratricide risk or enable target correlation.
Close proximity is clearly a subjective term. Close means one thing to an infantry unit defending urban terrain and something entirely different to an armoured formation attacking through a desert. Doctrine even describes close as situational. Likewise, detailed integration may encompass entirely different issues depending on the situation. So, even though these two clauses are the cited hallmarks of CAS, one cannot easily list out the explicit characteristics required to meet the conditions because they are too situationally dependent. JP 3-09.3 even states that when deciding if a mission should be considered CAS or not, ‘the word ‘close’ does not imply a specific distance […] The requirement for detailed integration because of proximity, fires, or movement is the determining factor.’ Therefore, even though proximity is considered one of the two main factors, the emphasis for describing CAS is detailed integration.
Three main elements drive a need for detailed integration: proximity, fires, or movement. These elements are multifaceted in the ways they influence air-ground integration. Proximity presents the most obvious issue in CAS: risk of fratricide. There is also a risk to the aircraft due to their proximity to surface-based fires which requires mitigation. Proximity further mixes with fires and movement to suggest another theme not mentioned in any of the definitions. Airstrikes occurring within a land commander’s area of operations (AO) may have a considerable impact on future actions by the effect those strikes may have on the enemy, the terrain, or civilians. These effects might be long-term, such as the destruction of crucial infrastructure or critical damage to military equipment, or short-term like the psychological effect of a large airstrike on an enemy unit. In either case, the land commander must both approve the strikes – in a sense ‘buying’ the effects of the attack – and ensure that the effects facilitate the overall operation. Considering fires and movement, the intent of CAS is to strike targets that directly enable the land scheme of maneuver. Doctrine hints at some of these points. This discussion highlights a weakness prevalent in all the doctrinal definitions of CAS that feeds into the misunderstandings throughout the US and allied forces: the definitions describe what CAS is, not the purpose of CAS. This is due in no small part to the way that most doctrine organises the various missions of air power.
The Counterland Doctrinal Framework
Once again, there is a large degree of consensus between the US and its allies over air power’s mission structure. US JP 3-0 Joint Operations simply classifies most air power missions within the various joint functions; most of the subjects discussed in this essay naturally fall under fires. In contrast, NATO doctrine creates a hierarchy of air missions. Air attack encompasses most missions which directly influence an enemy. One subset of attack is counter-surface force operations, under which falls air power contribution to counterland operations, which in turn incorporates two missions: AI and CAS.
UK doctrine closely aligns with NATO thinking. The US Air Force theory lies between the US joint doctrine and European concepts. It describes all-action intended to influence an enemy’s land forces as counterland which includes just two sub-missions: AI and CAS. The US Marine Corps presents a slightly different perspective. Marine thinking classifies six functions of Marine aviation, one of which is offensive air support (OAS). OAS incorporates CAS and deep air support (DAS), which includes AI, armed reconnaissance, and strike coordination and reconnaissance (SCAR). Of note, Marine doctrine states explicitly that ‘detailed integration is accomplished using positive control’ and that ‘positive control is provided by terminal controllers [JTACs].’ This listing shows that, except for US joint and Marine Corps doctrine, militaries tend to organise CAS and AI under a broader counterland concept (see Figure 1). Therefore, most US and NATO service members view CAS as a subset of a counterland concept.
CAS, as shown earlier, occurs close enough to friendly land forces that strikes require detailed integration. AI – the other half of counterland operations – occurs far enough away that this level of integration is unnecessary. Adopting a more conceptual view, the larger counterland mission set is enemy-centric – any counterland mission focuses on affecting an enemy’s combat system. AI and CAS, though, are friendly-centric – the doctrinal difference between the two lies in the level of integration mandated by the proximity of friendly land forces. Harkening back to the earlier identification of fratricide risk as to the primary reason demanding detailed integration with target nomination as a close second, we arrive at the crux of the issue.
To solve these two problems, CAS is differentiated from AI in that while executing CAS, aircrew does not have weapons release authority. By mandating that the land force commander must approve target nomination and weapons release and because the land commander is the authority for expenditure of weapons in the assigned area of operations, the various systems seek to resolve the two critical issues associated with airstrikes near friendly land forces. This clarification enables one to define the purpose of the CAS mission while still acknowledging the characteristics that separate it from AI.
The Purpose of CAS: A Mission-Based Definition
CAS is an air mission flown in close support of land forces to disrupt, degrade, or destroy enemy forces. These enemy forces are in close enough proximity to friendly land forces that risk mitigation mandates detailed coordination between the air and land forces. This definition does not roll off the tongue as easily as the current definition in JP 3-09.3 but does address both what the CAS mission is in addition to its characteristics and requirements. By creating a definition that addresses the purpose of CAS, we introduced the key elements that form the basis for CAS procedures.
Evaluating CAS Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
CAS TTPs intend to mitigate the risk of fratricide and integrate air effects into a larger fire support plan by efficiently nominating, correlating, and approving weapons release against targets. A process termed Terminal Attack Control accomplishes this goal, hence the name for the person that controls CAS strikes, the JTAC. Standardised communication – most notably the CAS Briefing, referred to as the 9-Line – and specific weapons release authorities and parameters combine to achieve the overall intent. Compared to defining the purpose of CAS, deducing what CAS TTPs intend to do is simple. However, two major presumptions within the CAS TTPs are not readily plain and may cause issues in a large-scale conflict. These concerns drive the overall conclusion that there is a disconnect between the intent of CAS and the procedures laid out in current doctrine.
First, CAS procedures are almost entirely reactive. One can argue that planned CAS is an exception to this, but two factors reduce the strength of this claim. In this author’s decade of experience practising CAS, preplanned missions were far and away the exception rather than the norm. Mike Benitez’s article ‘How Afghanistan Distorted CAS’ shows that my experience is typical. Further, unless the plan includes detailed restrictions and weapons release authority, TACP and aircrew must still resort to using the entirety of CAS TTPs even during a planned mission. Nevertheless, in my experience reactive TTPs are so ingrained that even when strikes are planned in detail, both the controllers and aircrew have difficulty merely executing the plan. Decades of experience in the Middle East created a sense within the minds of both parties that 9-Lines need to be passed and confirmed on the radio even if there are no changes to the plan.
In stark contrast to aircrew performing AI, there is a limited ability within this paradigm for CAS aircrew to exercise initiative during battle. Since CAS is doctrinally a form of fire support, at first, this seems reasonable. However, on closer inspection, it should cause concern for several reasons. None of the doctrinal models with the notable exception of JP 3-0 specifies CAS as a form of fire support – it is air attack against land forces near friendly forces. This suggests that either the doctrinal models are flawed or that CAS is a distinct mission that happens to provide fire support, not a fire support mission that happens to be conducted by aircraft. Putting that point aside, ground-based fire support may conduct any number of missions with some level of internal initiative. Artillery raids or counter-battery fire are two examples. Further, harkening back to the doctrinal model point, CAS is quite different from other forms of fire support.
If lethal fire support for land maneuver is broadly divided into the categories of CAS and artillery, note that virtually all forms of artillery employ indirectly. That is, the artillery crew aimed at a location derived and passed from another source. CAS aircrew, on the other hand, receives target information from the JTAC and aim or guide the munitions themselves. Apart from bombing on coordinates, a technique not commonly used, CAS aircrew perform the aerial equivalent of aiming a rifle at the assigned target. Thus, even though they might be dropping a bomb from several miles distant, the aircrew is employing a direct-fire system as compared to other, indirect forms of fire support.
This distinction is significant because it shows that in many cases aircrew, unlike artillery operators, have the capability to find their own targets independent of specific target nominations from a controller. In recent years, CAS practitioners even added guidance to the doctrine explaining how CAS aircrew could nominate a target to a JTAC then receive a nomination and weapons release authority for the same target.
Going back to the concept of reactivity, one should now see the first issue clearly. CAS procedures, as an adjunct of fire support procedures, are inherently reactive. However, aircrew, unlike artillery operators, can identify targets independently. Therefore, the possibility exists that CAS can be performed proactively, given the right circumstances and presuming risk to friendly forces is mitigated. This suggests that the doctrinal models are correct: CAS is a distinct counterland mission that has fire support characteristics but is not inherently a fire support mission that happens to be performed by aircraft. If one accepts this notion, then we necessarily come to the second presumption behind extant CAS doctrine.
The reactive nature of CAS rests on the idea that detailed integration and risk mitigation are best accomplished through the close control of individual targets and, in most cases, individual attacks. This may be proper in many cases. In some cases, though, a single target or target set may require multiple attacks. This notion is part of the rationale behind Type 3 control in current doctrine, in which the land force commander approves multiple strikes on the same target. This type of control is still inherently reactive. However, with enough planning and an appropriate command and control capability, forces may be able to conduct CAS with a level of initiative unheard of today. Therein lies the problem with the mindset prevalent in the US military today.
The Grey Area between AI and CAS
While the earlier discussion showed that all counterland missions are inherently enemy-centric, but the difference between CAS and AI revolves around friendly land dispositions. AI is performed in areas in which the risk to friendly land forces is nil and therefore, only minimal integration is required. CAS, on the other hand, is performed in areas where the risk of fratricide exists and detailed integration into the land fires scheme is required. In practice, this means that battlespaces are cleanly divided into AI and CAS areas by the Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL). Virtually any US doctrinal manual that discusses the FSCL conveys that the FSCL is not a dividing line between AI and CAS TTPs, but instead ‘delineates coordination requirements for the joint attack of surface targets.’ The line is closer to a command and control border than anything else. However, for all intents and purposes the mindset discussed at length that aircraft operating within a land component area of operations are conducting CAS, the FSCL becomes a border between AI and CAS areas. While joint doctrine attempts to negate this thinking.
Accepting the argument regarding CAS TTPs are inherently reactive, one sees how the FSCL creates a zone where aircraft can operate proactively and a second zone in which aircraft must function entirely reactively. The problem is the size of the second zone. During the major combat phase of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the US Army often placed the FSCL more than 100 kilometres from friendly troops. Obviously, friendly forces were at basically zero risks of fratricide if aircraft struck targets that far away. Additionally, most surface-to-surface fires were shot at targets well short of that distance.
Recent Warfighter exercises indicate that FSCLs today are often placed about thirty to 40 kilometres from the friendly lines. Even in this battlefield geometry, there is still a sizeable portion of the battlespace between the friendly front and the FSCL in which the risk of aircraft causing fratricide is minimal. This article does not address the operational framework concerns raised by this example, i.e., where should the line be, or should there be other coordination lines? Instead, this author posits that regardless of how a force organises a battlespace there will be a grey area.
This grey area is entirely subjective and based on the context of each individual battlespace. When analysing a battlefield, one can usually clearly lay out the areas near friendly troops where CAS procedures must be used to mitigate risk to friendly forces and integrate air strikes into the larger fires plan. One can also clearly see the areas in which no risk is present to friendly troops and the need for detailed integration into the fires plan is nil – the AI area. However, there will be many areas on the map that do not fit neatly into either category. These areas might be far enough away from friendly troops that fratricide risk is low but still close enough that detailed integration is required to deconflict aircraft with surface-to-surface fires.
Alternatively, there might be areas that, due to the nature of the terrain or the friendly scheme of maneuver, are relatively close on the map (say within a few kilometres) but the risk of fratricide is nevertheless quite low. These two simple examples illustrate the notion that between CAS and AI is a nebulous area that can be found in many battlespaces. The pressing concern for US and NATO CAS practitioners is to learn to conduct proactive CAS in these grey areas to achieve the purpose of CAS while retaining enough control to accomplish the intent of current CAS TTPs.
Finding Solutions to Enable Proactive CAS
The extant CAS paradigm relies on the idea that CAS fires must be reactive. A reactive mindset, however, is not conducive to success in a modern battlespace in which the speed of decision-making is paramount. The paradigm should allow for aircrew to proactively achieve the purpose of CAS – disrupting, degrading, and destroying enemy forces per a land maneuver commander’s intent and with minimal risk to friendly forces. The 2019 US JP 3-09 Joint Fire Support identifies the criticality of fast-paced decision-making in modern combat, emphasising that joint fire effects are best achieved through ‘decentralized execution based on mission-type orders.’ A myriad of options to do this is already within US doctrine.
The joint force could incorporate the US Marine Corps concept of the Battlefield Coordination Line into joint doctrine. This line allows land commanders to simply denote where the risk to friendly forces is low enough to justify AI TTPs. Whether land commanders and TACP utilise preplanned 9-Lines with Type 3 control, engagement areas with specific restrictions attached, or even restricted fire areas, the possibilities for enabling initiative to abound. If targets appear outside those areas, or the ground situation changes, then switch to close control of individual attacks. Nonetheless, in large conflicts, allow CAS aircrew to achieve the intent of CAS by providing enough freedom of action to enable initiative. US forces should foster a mindset that emphasises the concepts of mission command and decentralised execution – delegate decision-making authority to the lowest appropriate level. The simple fact is that US forces in all domains must make decisions faster than the enemy. A reactive CAS mindset virtually ensures a slow decision cycle. A proactive perspective, with proper risk mitigation, allows for thinking aircrew to engage the enemy faster with commensurate effects on the enemy’s tempo.
In summary, let’s review the key takeaways. First, counterland missions affect an enemy’s land military capabilities and consist of AI and CAS subsets. The only difference between these two is that CAS is executed in close proximity to friendly forces while AI is distant enough that detailed integration is not needed. Second, the purpose of CAS TTPs is to facilitate target nomination and mitigate risk to friendly ground troops. Third, the current US mindset is that a CAS mission must be controlled using individual 9-Lines for every target regardless of actual risk to friendly forces. The disconnect between the first two points and the third point creates a potentially dangerous concoction for CAS effectiveness during future major conflicts.
Land commanders, TACP, and CAS aircrew should train now to using various control methods to enable initiative on the part of aircrew. Whether that means more sophisticated uses of fire support coordination measures or learning to transition between CAS and AI TTP control methods flexibly is irrelevant. The point is to learn now, on bloodless training grounds, how to delegate initiative to the lowest levels to make decisions as rapidly as possible. The lessons learned today at Combat Training Centers and countless air-to-surface ranges around North American and Europe concerning how to conduct proactive CAS missions will pay dividends in a potential future conflict.
Major E. Aaron ‘Nooner’ Brady is a student at the US Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy with a BS in History in 2006. He is a graduate of the US Air Force Weapons School A-10 course and is a senior pilot with more than 1,800 hours including more than 360 combat hours.
Header Image: A US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II maneuvers through the air during Red Flag-Alaska 19-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 17, 2019. The exercise provides counter-air, interdiction and close air support training in a simulated combat environment. (Source: US Department of Defense)
 Marine Corps Reference Publication 1-10.1 – Organization of the United States Marine Corps (Washington DC:, Department of the Navy, 2016), p. 6-1.
 JP 3-09, Joint Fire Support (Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2019), p. A-5.
 Pirnie et al, Beyond Close Air Support, p. 68.
 Travis Robison and Alex Moen, ‘Reinventing the Wheel: Operational Lessons Learned by the 101st Division Artillery during Two Warfighter Exercises,’ Military Review, 96:4 (July-August 2016), p. 75.
As we come to the end of 2019, it is time to take stock of what has happened and what is to come in 2020.
Twenty-nineteen has been another year of growth for From Balloons to Drones. We have expanded our editorial team, our list of contributors, and we have moved into new areas of engagement with you, our readers.
In terms of our editorial team, we were pleased to welcome Victoria Taylor onto the team. Victoria is a British based PhD student looking at the Nazification of the Luftwaffe. In 2020, Victoria will be increasingly taking over at the helm of our social media accounts. We also became more organised with how we manage content with Dr Brian Laslie taking over responsibility for our book review processes and Dr Mike Hankins overseeing our new podcast series. Alexander Fitzgerald-Black oversaw the development of our new logo, which I am sure all of you will agree is very attractive!
Personally, I am grateful to all the members of the From Balloons to Drones editorial team for their hard work. While we do not peer-review material per se, we do read and comment on all the article submissions that we receive, and this is done in addition to the work noted above.
We also reached the 80,000-hit mark. This was a nice milestone to reach. We recognise that in terms of both the military history and professional military education ecosystems that we offer a niche product. However, it is good to see that people are taking the time to read and engage with the material that our contributors write.
Over the year we have published around 35 pieces at From Balloons to Drones. These have ranged from articles through our ongoing book review series to our newly launched podcast series.
During the year we have published two themed series of posts. In the first series, Assistant Editor, Dr Brian Laslie produced a series of book reviews to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11. This was an excellent series of reviews, and we are grateful to Brian for taking the time to produce these insightful reviews.
The second series was our themed #AirWarVietnam series. While we did not publish as many articles as we had hoped, we did receive some fascinating contributions. It was particularly pleasing to receive articles that looked at the role of helicopters in war. It is important to remember that the history of air power, and its application in war, is not just about fighters and bombers. A particular favourite of mine in this series was Hayley Hasik’s article on the cultural iconography of the helicopter during the Vietnam War.
The most significant development to occur in 2019 was the launch of our new podcast series. Assistant Editor Dr Mike Hankins manages this series. The podcast series aims to build on the success of From Balloons to Drones, and it 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. So far, we have released four interviews with more lined up for 2020. You can find the podcasts at our SoundCloud channel here.
Finally, but certainly not least, here are the top five most-read posts of 2019.
So, what about 2020? More of the same but better. We will aim to continue to refine what we offer in terms of content and build on the success of this year’s developments. If you are interested in contributing to From Balloons to Drones, then you can find out how here. Also, we have already put out a call for submissions for a series of themed articles to be published in 2020. The ‘Bombing to Win Revisited’ series will aim to explore the varied use of air strikes, both kinetic and non-kinetic, at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. We also have more podcasts coming in 2020 as well as more book reviews, which will, of course, be added to our ever-expanding ‘Air Power Reading List.’ We are also looking at what anniversaries our coming up and what we might publish to coincide with these.
Finally, again, we would like to thank our contributors and you, our readers, for taking the time to read and engage with what we have published throughout the year. See you in 2020!
Header Image: A US Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over the light-grey scheme in early 1942. (Source: Wikimedia)