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Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists.

Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists by James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson. University Press of Kansas (http://www, 2502 Westbrooke Circle, Lawrence, Kansas 6604511444, 2003, 560 pages, $24.95 (softcover).

Irregular warfare seems to be the hot topic of late in the Air Force. Unfortunately, we as a service have suffered from a lack of good books to educate ourselves on this subject Airpower in Small Wars offers a solution, however. Authors James Corum and Wray Johnson, both former instructors at Air University's School of Advanced Airpower Studies (now the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies), wrote this book to fill the void in serious research about airpower's role in small wars. They provide a comprehensive history of that topic for American military officers and policy makers. In this endeavor, Corum and Johnson succeed brilliantly.

The book covers this specialized role of airpower in the twentieth century, from Pershing's expedition in 1916 to the Israelis' operations against the Palestinians in 2000. The 10 chapters provide a broad survey of airpower's role in small wars, covering the European colonial wars, Vietnam, Latin America, and the Middle East The authors note that the US Army first used airplanes against an irregular opponent during the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916. Ultimately however, the US Marine Corps was the first to take the use of airpower in small wars seriously. Sometimes called "State Department troops in small wars" (p. 11), the marines had extensive experience that led to the publication of the Small Wars Manual, a classic 1940s-era Marine Corps manual highlighting lessons learned in small wars of the twentieth century.

Airpower in Small Wars provides a fantastic perspective on the enduring use of airpower, emphasizing that our current interest is nothing new. Unfortunately, it also underscores the fact that we have frequently not learned the lessons of history. One of my favorite passages comes from the authors' examination of the British experience in managing Iraq after the First World War: "If the British government had had a carefully crafted grand strategic plan to alienate the three major groups in Iraq (Kurds, Shiite Muslims, and Sunni Muslims) and to force the whole country into rebellion against their British occupiers, they could not have succeeded more handily" (p. 54). Apparently, history has a way of repeating itself. This book records the successes of airpower when it is used correctly as well as its failings when it is misused.

Corum and Johnson offer the reader superb historical background for decision making in current and future irregular wars; indeed, their book serves as a useful "lessons learned" primer for Air Force leadership. In fact, every Airman involved in planning or employing airpower in current and future irregular wars should print out and post the 11 lessons they mention in the conclusion (pp. 425-37):

1. A comprehensive strategy is essential.

2. The support role of airpower (e.g., reconnaissance, transport, and so on) is usually the most important and effective mission in a guerrilla war.

3. The ground attack role of airpower becomes more important when the war becomes convention al.

4. Bombing civilians is ineffective and counterproductive.

5. There is an important role for the high-tech aspect of airpower in small wars.

6. There is an important role for the low-tech aspect of airpower in small wars.

7. Effective joint operations are essential for the effective use of airpower.

8. Small wars are intelligence intensive.

9. Airpower provides the flexibility and initiative that are normally the advantage of the guerrilla.

10. Small wars are long wars.

11. The United States and its allies must put more effort into small wars training.

I highly recommend Airpower in Small Wars not only for members of the Air Force's special operations community but also for all Airmen who contribute or will contribute to the "long war."

Lt Col Michael C. Grub, USAF

Hurlburt Field, Florida
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Author:Grub, Michael C.
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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