Anglo-American Strategic Air Power Co-Operation in the Cold War and Beyond

By Finn, Christopher; Berg, Paul D. | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Anglo-American Strategic Air Power Co-Operation in the Cold War and Beyond


Finn, Christopher, Berg, Paul D., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract:

Air power co-operation between the Royal Air Force and US Air Force serves as an excellent model of successful coalition relations and reflects the evolution of current concepts such as expeditionary air power and effects-based operations. The authors trace strategic air power relations between the United States and United Kingdom, since World War II, explaining how past experience has shaped today's alliance.

BRITISH AND AMERICAN Airmen have been co-operating extensively in the field of strategic air power since before World War II when shared endeavours, such as the Combined Bomber Offensive against Nazi Germany set a precedent for close partnership. After World War II, the Cold War framed air power relations between the two countries, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Air Force (USAF) were the key players. The Cold War shaped the relationship until about 1990, but the two services continue to enjoy an exceptionally close affiliation today. AngloAmerican air power co-operation serves as an excellent model of successful coalition relations and reflects the evolution of current concepts such as expeditionary air power and effects-based operations.

The Anglo-American alliance is perhaps the ultimate example of a "coalition of the willing," but why have British and American Airmen had such an enduring propensity to work together? On one level their friendship has reflected the long-term political alliance between their two countries based on shared strategic interests. Within alliances, British and American Airmen have pooled their resources to oppose common enemies ever since they fought the Central Powers in World War I. The Axis was their common foe during World War II, and the Soviet Union filled that role during the Cold War. However, the AngloAmerican air power relationship transcends opposition to shared enemies. In today's complex world, foes are less clearly defined, yet the two air forces still integrate their operations closely. Several factors might help account for the ongoing rapport. Simple force of habit is one possible explanation. The services have co-ordinated closely for so long that they became habituated to working together. Personal friendships may be another contributing factor. Generations of Airmen have served together and formed close bonds during exercises while stationed in each other's countries. Personnel-exchange tours have long been a staple of the relationship between the two air forces. A common language has also facilitated friendly relations. Yet none of these explanations really accounts for the depth of the special relationship between British and American Airmen. The RAF-USAF partnership has experienced vicissitudes over the years but, like a healthy marriage, has weathered the storms. As both nations seek coalition partners today and in the future, their Airmen can profit from a retrospective study of their affiliation.

This article will examine Anglo-American strategic air power relations since World War II by considering the areas of planning and operations, organization and basing (particularly of US units in the United Kingdom), equipment (especially aircraft, missiles, and munitions), and finally joint training. However, the term strategic air power requires clarification. During the Cold War the idea that "strategic meant nuclear" was prevalent, but US-UK air power activities have shown the limitation of that notion.1 The United States has indeed often stationed nuclear-capable bombers and missiles at British bases since the 1940s. In a remarkable display of trust, the United States even equipped the RAF with bombers and, later, nuclear weapons whilst the United Kingdom built its own nuclear capabilities. Today's Airmen understand that the term strategic refers not to particular weapon systems, but to the level of effects those systems produce. This article discusses air and space power capable of producing effects that "influence activities at the strategic level of war and focus on national and multinational military objectives. …

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