Tomorrow's Air Warfare: A German Perspective on the Way Ahead

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:

Operation Iraqi Freedom's application of joint operations, networkcentric warfare, and improved sensors and weapons will influence future NATO equipment and force-structure decisions. The author states that nations who do not adjust to these developments will not meet the standards required of future coalition partners. NATO's implementation of a Response Force and other initiatives indicates that it understands this message and is strengthening transatlantic links.

IN YEARS TO come, operational scenarios will increasingly require multinational cooperation.1 This notion applies not only to defense alliances with structures already established in peacetime-such as NATO or the European Union of the future-but also, and more particularly, to so-called coalitions of the willing, tailored to the specific requirements of a given mission. Some time ago, for example, the essential program for achieving this interoperability included NATO's Defense Capability Initiative. Meanwhile, the NATO Response Force, expected to reach its full operational capability in 2006, has become the driving force of transformation and the benchmark of its success. Plans call for equipping the European contingents of the NATO Response Force in a way that ensures they can fully cooperate with US forces across the entire range of operations. Due to the United States' military-pioneering role and technological superiority, that country will predominantly determine the developments in warfare over the next several decades. Therefore, one would do well to take a closer look at the US policy documents and strategy papers that will govern such developments and to draw lessons from the US conduct of operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Doing so will help identify the changes that coalition partners of the United States have to follow in order to ensure compatibility in terms of the conduct of operations.

Lessons learned from Iraqi Freedom make it possible to derive conclusions about air warfare in future conflicts. However, any evaluation of the results from that operation must consider the war's initial situation:

* Sorties flown in the northern and southern no-fly zones neutralized a major share of the enemy air defense systems before the beginning of hostilities. Furthermore, the Iraqi air force did not fly a single sortie. Thus, the coalition enjoyed air superiority over most of the country from the very beginning, obviating the need for an extended air campaign as a prerequisite for the ground offensive.

* Analysis of the initial deployment must not ignore the fact that since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, coalition forcessome of them with heavy equipment-had remained in the Gulf region, able to prepare for a major force deployment.

* Ultimately, one must consider the differing capabilities of the adversaries involved in the conflict in terms of technology and training. From the very beginning, the Iraqi armed forces, elements of which were more suitable for preventing domestic riots than for conducting warfare, proved incapable of acting jointly. Thus, what took place on the Iraqi side during the operation amounted to a very static land war.

Due to these circumstances, then, one cannot readily apply lessons from the Iraq war to future conflicts. Nevertheless, one can derive some principles from the US transformation concept and the practical course of the war. The central element of the transformation process entails an evolution towards forces that lend themselves to more efficient employment. Future wars will be waged by rapidly deployable, smaller, more mobile, and lighter forces, capable of immediately engaging in combat operations in the theater of operations. In this context, mere force ratio will become less important. Indeed, future operations will exhibit jointness, further development of networkcentric warfare (NCW), intensive employment of special operations forces (SOF), and an increase in information operations. …