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Propositions on Airpower


I initially posted this at ID, but Blogger appears to be undergoing a complete meltdown.  For your pleasure…

I’ve been having some unfocused thoughts on the air campaign in Libya, and think that it’s time to let a few of them see the light of day. A proposition, and some hypotheses:

Proposition 1: The air campaign in Libya bears little resemblance to a “strategic” air campaign, designed to win a victory on its own. It does not appear to be characterized by the kind of target selection associated with Effects Based Operations, in which attacks on key political, strategic, and operational nodes are expected to have an exponential effect on enemy capabilities. Rather, targeting seems concentrated on the goals of force attrition, logistics denial, and some close air support. In short, it’s the kind of campaign designed to make John Warden cry.

I’m open to critique of the above argument from either an empirical or a theoretical point of view. Certainly, there have been some strikes against Loyalist C3, but again these seem mostly to be geared around tactical and operational goals. However, if we accept proposition 1, that leads to four hypotheses:
  • Hypothesis 1a: The lack of a strategic air campaign is caused by a lack of agreement on strategic goals among the major players in NATO. Hard to have a strategic campaign when there’s no agreement on outcomes.
  • Hypothesis 1b: The lack of a strategic air campaign is caused by the unwillingness of the United States to commit its full strength to the anti-Gaddafi cause. A true strategic air campaign requires more assets that France, the United Kingdom, and the other players are capable of bringing to the table.
  • Hypothesis 1c: There is disagreement within the coalition about the utility of strategic airpower doctrine. Maybe the United States is pushing for the Full Warden, but some of the other players doubt the usefulness of strategic airpower doctrine, and are pushing back.
  • Hypothesis 1d: There is now substantial doubt in the politico-military elite of the United States (and elsewhere) that strategic airpower campaigns can deliver what they promise. Because of the experience of the 2006 war or whatever else, people are no longer interested in buying the strategic concepts that Warden et al are selling.
I’m probably most sympathetic to 1a and 1d, because I haven’t really seen much evidence that the United States is pushing for a full strategic campaign. I also don’t really believe that the demands of such a campaign are so great that France, the UK, and the rest of NATO couldn’t come up with the ordnance. But I’m obviously interested in everyone’s thoughts; links are most welcome.


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