Strategy, Air Strike and Small Nations

By Meilinger, Phillip S. | Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Strategy, Air Strike and Small Nations


Meilinger, Phillip S., Aerospace Power Journal


Strategy, Air Strike and Small Nations by Shaun Clarke. Air Power Studies Centre (http://www. defence.gov.au/aerospacecentre), RAAF Base, Fairbairn ACT 2600, Australia, 1999, 204 pages (softbound).

This is one of the freshest and most original books on airpower theory I have read in some time. Wing Comdr Shaun Clarke, a Royal New Zealand air force officer, is an unusually clearthinking, insightful, and gifted writer. Most of what is written today concerning airpower comes from the pens of "large nation" airmen. Clarke questions whether such writings are applicable to the air arms of the world's 129 "small nations" that possess an air-strike capability. He therefore sets about examining the issue of strategic air attack and its relevance to a New Zealand-Australian alliance that possesses 150 strike aircraft. The results of his inquiry are important.

The air arms of small nations tend to emphasize the support of ground forces. This is due to the traditional dominance of defense establishments by armies; the `junior partner" status of small nations involved in coalitions; the high cost of quality air arms, which reduces their number and gives them less clout than their more numerous surface brethren; and the belief that strategic air attack requires mass-an attribute unobtainable by small nations. Only the last item can claim any sort of logical legitimacy-tradition is hardly a worthy criterion for a defense force structure. In the past decade, the emergence of highly effective and inexpensive precision-guided munitions (PGM) has demolished the barrier of mass. Precision weapons make aircraft exponentially more effective than they used to besmall nations can now "punch above their weight." As a consequence, these air forces, despite their size, can now play a far greater role and thus obtain better status at the defense table.

If PGMs make strategic air strikes feasible for small nations, then the next question concerns what the primary targets should be. After a good discussion of various targeting theories, Clarke focuses on the enemy's leadership as the key center of gravity in a state: it must be induced to modify its behavior and accede to the attacker's wishes. He coins a term, "SPOT [strategic persuasion oriented targeting] bombing," that employs a detailed intelligence assessment of an adversary and that utilizes PGMs to produce the maximum effect on the enemy leadership. Of importance, unlike the guidance of US Air Force doctrine, a high tempo for these air attacks is not necessary-indeed, it is problematic for a small nation. The author concludes with the caveat that SPOT bombing will almost certainly become part of a larger package of military, economic, and political levers designed to influence an adversary. Air-power cannot do it alone.

This is an interesting proposal, but Clarke is too modest. …

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