From Balloons to Drones: Contributors Wanted – We Want You!

From Balloons to Drones: Contributors Wanted – We Want You!

Since its launch in June 2016, From Balloons to Drones has published a variety of articles, commentaries, research notes, and book reviews dealing with issues related to air power history, theory and practice. However, to continue to develop and regularly publish material we need new contributors keen to publish on the subject of air power. As such, we need you!

From Balloons to Drones welcomes and encourages potential submissions from postgraduates, academics, and practitioners involved in researching the subject of air power. We seek to publish articles, commentaries, research notes, and book reviews that encourage a healthy discussion about air power from historical themes through to commentary on contemporary operations and challenges.

Air power is treated in its broadest sense and includes cyber and space power, and we are happy to discuss the suitability of any proposal for the site. We also encourage contribution from people working in the fields of strategic studies, law, politics, ethics, international relations, archaeology, and museology.

Submissions can take the following form:

  • ArticlesFrom Balloons to Drones seeks to publish informative 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 non-specialist reader. They should be around c. 1,000 to 1,500 words, though From Balloons to Drones will accept larger pieces though we reserve the right to publish them in parts. References can be via footnotes and hyperlinks.
  • CommentariesFrom Balloons to Drones seeks to publish opinion pieces on recent on a recent piece of news, either on a contemporary or historical subject. These are to be responses to such piece and should be no longer than c. 1,000 words.
  • Research NotesFrom Balloons to Drones seeks to publish research notes related to contributor’s currents 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. Unlike other pieces published by From Balloons to Drones, they can be written in the first person, though they can include references. These should be c. 500 to 1,000 words.
  • Book ReviewsFrom Balloons to Drones publishes occasional book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of appraisals of recent publications on the subject of air power. If publishers are interested in having a publication reviewed then, please contact us via the email address below.

Submissions should be submitted in Word format. Also, please include a 50-100 word biography with your submission. However, if you are not sure if your piece fits our requirements, then please email us with the POTENTIAL SUBMISSION in the subject line. References can be used, and, given the readership of this site, please be careful to explain any jargon used.

If you are interested in contributing, please email us at airpowerstudies@gmail.com

Header Image: A B-1B Lancer drops back after air refueling training, 30 September 2005. This B-1B, from the 28th Bomb Wing, deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of the Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. (Source: Wikimedia)

#Commentary – A Rose by Any Other Name…

#Commentary – A Rose by Any Other Name…

By Dr Ross Mahoney

In a recent piece for The Central Blue, the blog of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation in Australia, Robbin Laird has suggested that rather than describing the F-35 Lightning II as a 5th Generation aircraft, we must think of it as ‘a first generation information and decision making superiority “flying combat system”.’[1] (Emphasis in original)

Arguably, this is an important shift in how we think about the capabilities of this new platform and the implications this has regarding how we think about air power. However, this labelling of platforms and capabilities raises several interesting observations and what follows are some personal opinions on the issue of ‘labels.’

First, and while we should always be careful of generating faulty parallels, as a historian, I am quite certain I have heard similar phrases before namely Giulio Douhet’s ‘battleplane’ concept. In short, in the second edition of his seminal work Command of the Air, written in 1926, Douhet argued that the roles of combat and bombing should be combined with a single type of aircraft, the ‘battleplane.’ This was a move away from his thinking outlined in the 1921 edition of Command of the Air, but as Thomas Hippler has noted, at a conceptual level, the ‘battleplane’ was important because it allowed Douhet to reconcile the ideas of war in the air and war from the air.[2] For Douhet, both were synonymous and one, though whether this proposed platform would have solved that challenge remains debatable. This was clearly a lesson derived from Douhet’s views of the First World War. Nevertheless, the problem with the ‘battleplane’ idea is that it was a solution to one set of circumstances and would not have applied to all situations where the use of air power might have been called upon. Could we end up in the same situation if we think of the F-35 in a similar vein?

Second, a broader issue with Laird’s description is that of buzzwords or phrases. Buzzwords tend to be created to support someone’s vision of the future, and they are unhelpful if not grounded in some form of intellectual rigour. Indeed, buzzwords and phrases are certainly not something limited to air forces but pervade the military more broadly. For example, in the last few days, it has been reported that the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations has decided to shelve the use of Anti-Access/Area-Denial as a ‘stand-alone acronym’ primarily because it ‘can mean all things to all people or anything to anyone.’[3] This is an important point, and the same can be said of effects-based operations, which was fashionable in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[4] Both of these strategies are ideas that have history, and we should be careful about trying to re-invent the wheel. As I recently heard from one colleague, if you want a new idea, read an old book. As such, is the description being applied to the F-35 helpful when thinking about the application of air power? It is indeed being linked to the idea of 5th generation strategy, but we must continually ask the question within the question and seek to understand what is underpinning such statements. For example, is the platform important or the ideas about their use? Also, should we be careful about linking platforms to strategy?

Nevertheless, while I would advocate the need to critique statements, such as Laird’s, there is certainly always a case to build new language and ideas to explain future challenges. This is particularly important for air power because, since the end of the Cold War, it has become, arguably, the West’s preferred way of war.[5] Nevertheless, as Tony Mason reflected, ‘while our technology is lifting us into the 21st century, our formative concepts remain rooted in a bygone age.[6] This comment remains as relevant today as it did in 1998. While today’s core air power roles can be identified in the activities of the First World War, it is perhaps an axiom that as with any field of human endeavour, the language and ideas about the use of military aviation should and must evolve as time goes by and situations change.

This, however, raises my third point of how we improve and encourage the conceptual thinking that underpins many of the statements made by commentators and practitioners. It is ok to have opinions and advocate them; however, they must be derived from the intellectual study of the field. Indeed, while advocacy can create friction, that friction, in turn, can generate innovation, which is important if organisations are to adapt to changing strategic, operational and organisational shifts. However, it should also be recognised and understood that such friction needs to be managed so that it does not become divisive as it arguably did at the strategic level between the RAF and Royal Navy in the inter-service debates of the 1920s. This is clearly an issue of education, and how that process is utilised and retained by air forces. This is difficult for western air forces primarily because they have been involved in sustained operations for at least the past decade. This has not given air forces significant time to think and reflect on their craft as their focus has been elsewhere. Nevertheless, air forces have, where possible promoted thinking. For example, the modern RAF runs a fellowship to encourage study and expand the Service’s ‘intellectual capacity.’[7] However, this intellectualising of air power needs to filter back into the development of thinking, policy and doctrine and refresh the lexicon while providing the necessary foundations to attempts to redraw conceptual boundaries.

Just to conclude, this is clearly a thought piece and does not propose any solutions to the challenges of today; however, we should be very careful about the labels we apply to platforms, capabilities and concepts. Terminology, as the discussion section of Laird’s piece, illustrated, matters and has a tendency to carry cultural baggage. In developing effective thinking about the application of air power as part of the solution to strategic challenges, air forces need to think about their place in the pantheon of options open to policy makers. I would argue that in an age of austerity and uncertainty, this requires air forces an investment in the organisation’s human element to generate the capacity to think effectively about the conceptual component.

This post can also be found at The Central Blue.

Dr Ross Mahoney is an independent historian and defence specialist based in Australia. Between 2013 and 2017, he was the resident Historian at the Royal Air Force Museum, and he is a graduate of the University of Birmingham (MPhil and PhD) and the University of Wolverhampton (PGCE and BA). His research interests include the history of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, air power and the history of air warfare, and the social and cultural history of armed forces. To date, he has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and is an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He blogs at Thoughts on Military History, and can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header Image: An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft banks over the flight line at Eglin Air Force Base, 23 April 2009. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Robin Laird, ‘The F-35 and the Transformation of Power Projection Forces,’ The Central Blue, 19 September 2016.

[2] Thomas Hippler, Bombing the People: Giulio Douhet and the Foundation of Air-Power Strategy, 1884-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 147. There is a question over the correct date for Douhet’s second edition. Hippler consistently refers to it being produced in 1926 while the most recent imprint of Dino Ferrari’s 1942 translation describes it as the 1927 edition, see: Hippler, Bombing the People, p. 144; Thomas Hippler, ‘Democracy and War in the Strategic Thought of Guilio Douhet’ in Hew Strachan and Sibylle Scheipers (eds.),  The Changing Character of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 181, fn. 13; Guilio Douhet, Command of the Air, translated by Dino Ferrari (Washington DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998), p. x. It is clear, however, from the original Italian that while published in 1927, the second edition was written in 1926.

[3] Sam LaGrone, ‘CNO Richardson: Navy Shelving A2/AD Acronym,’ USNI News, 3 October 2016. Also, see: B.J. Armstrong, ‘The Shadow of Air-Sea Battle and the Sinking of A2AD,’ War on the Rocks, 5 October 2016.

[4] For a useful discussion of effects-based warfare that takes account of historical and contemporary views as well as a multi-domain approach, see: Christopher Finn (ed.) Effects Based Warfare (London: The Stationary Office, 2002).

[5] For useful views on future air power thinking, see: John Andreas Olsen (ed.), Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015).

[6] Air Vice-Marshal Professor Tony Mason, ‘The Future of Air Power,’ RAF Air Power Review, 1(1) (1998), p. 42.

[7] CAS Fellowships – http://www.raf.mod.uk/raflearningforces/usefulinfo/casfellowships.cfm

#ResearchNote – J.M. Spaight after the Second World War

#ResearchNote – J.M. Spaight after the Second World War

By Dr Ross Mahoney

In 2004, War in History published an article by Alaric Searle that posed the question ‘Was there a ‘Boney’ Fuller after the Second World War?’.[1] In short, Searle concluded that Major-General J.F.C. Fuller’s theoretical writing continued after 1945 alongside his historical writing and was not simply a ‘footnote to [his] biography.’[2] Searle’s question is an interesting one and could easily be applied to James Malony Spaight. In the inter-war years, Spaight, who was a trained jurist and, as a civilian, served in the Air Ministry, produced several notable volumes on air warfare with particular reference to issues such as its legality. As Robin Higham reflected:

No survey of British airpower theorists in the interwar years would be complete without mention of […] Spaight.[3]

Furthermore, Peter Gray noted that Spaight’s influence, due to his work within the Air Ministry, went further than just being ‘Trenchard’s good friend,’ as Higham suggested.[4] As Gray noted:

Spaight’s work was a readily available source of legal advice for his colleagues in the Air Ministry, and those who were likely to become staff officers having attended the Staff College at Andover.[5]

Before the Second World War, Spaight was clearly a critical influence on the development of air power thinking in Britain.

Despite his pre-war influence, what happened after the Second World War? Spaight retired from the Air Ministry in 1937, but continued writing during the Second World War, for example, in 1944 he published Bombing Vindicated in which he argued ‘that the line between military and civilian objectives’ was blurred.[6] Higham and Philip Meilinger in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry noted the important books that he published after the Second World War.[7] Specifically, these were the third edition of Air Power and War Rights (1947), The Atomic Problem (1948) and Air Power Can Disarm (1948).

However, what else was written? Before the Second World War, Spaight had contributed to journals such as The Royal Air Force Quarterly and the Journal of the Royal United Services Institution. Both are important sources as they were read by officers who emerged into senior positions and thus they would, possibly, have been one influence on their thinking and leadership development. Simply put, after the Second World War, Spaight continued publishing in these journals. This reinforces the idea that Spaight’s writings were not only important in a general sense that he was still writing but, given where these articles were published, they, potentially, helped shape the discourse of air power in the early-Cold War years. However, while Spaight published, what is needed is an examination of the content of these articles so that we can bridge the narrative between his pre-Second World War writings and those produced after. Only by doing this can we consider how, or if, Spaight’s views changed. Broadly speaking the post-war articles are a cross-section of comments on the role of air power in the Second World War, air power’s future role in the nuclear age and the international affairs.

So far I have identified the following articles:

  1. ‘The Covenant of 1919 and the Charter of 1945,’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly, 17 (1945-46);
  2. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment, 1943-45,’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 18 (3) (1947);
  3. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment (continued),’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 18 (4) (1947);
  4. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment (continued),’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 19 (1) (1948);
  5. ‘The Rio and Brussels Treaties,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 93 (570) (1948);
  6. ‘Sea and Air Power,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 93 (572) (1948);
  7. ‘That Next War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 1 (1) (1949);
  8. ‘Target for To-morrow,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 94 (576) (1949);
  9. ‘The Ghost of Douhet,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (2) (1950);
  10. ‘Trans-Polar War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (3) (1950);
  11. ‘Korea and Aggression,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (4) (1950);
  12. ‘Korea and the Atom Bomb,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, (95) (580) (1950);
  13. ‘The End of a Dream,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 3 (2) (1951);
  14. ‘Morale as Objective,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 3 (4) (1951);
  15. ‘Pax Atlantica,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 96 (583) (1951);
  16. ‘Limited and Unlimted War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 4 (1) (1952)
  17. ‘Why Stalin Waits,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 4 (3) (1952);
  18. ‘Napalm,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 98 (589) (1953);
  19. ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 99 (593) (1954);
  20. ‘Cities as Battlefields,’ Air Power: Incorporating The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (3) (1955).

I would be keen to know of anymore articles by Spaight in this period.

This post first appeared at Thoughts on Military History.

Dr Ross Mahoney is an independent historian and defence specialist based in Australia. Between 2013 and 2017, he was the resident Historian at the Royal Air Force Museum, and he is a graduate of the University of Birmingham (MPhil and PhD) and the University of Wolverhampton (PGCE and BA). His research interests include the history of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, air power and the history of air warfare, and the social and cultural history of armed forces. To date, he has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and is an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He blogs at Thoughts on Military History, and can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header Image: The aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. (Source: © IWM (MH 29447))

[1] Alaric Searle, ‘Was there a ‘Boney’ Fuller after the Second World War? Major-General J.F.C. Fuller as Military Theorist and Commentator, 1945-1966’, War in History, 11 (3) (2004), pp. 327-57.

[2] Ibid, p. 357.

[3] Robin Higham, The Military Intellectuals in Britain, 1918-1939 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1966), p. 230.

[4] Ibid; Peter Gray, The Leadership, Direction and Legitimacy of the RAF Bomber Offensive from Inception to 1945 (London: Continuum, 2012), pp. 54-7.

[5] Gray, Leadership, p. 56.

[6] Phillip S. Meilinger, ‘Spaight, James Molony (1877–1968)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/58055, accessed 5 Jan 2016].

[7] Ibid; Higham, Military Intellectuals, p. 233.