Limiting Risk in America's Wars.
Phillip Meilinger is an airpower historian of long standing whose interests have always extended beyond the facts to both the theory and philosophy of the uses of airpower. He has contributed to what we know of previous theorists as well as contributing his own thoughts. This book is the latest distillation of his ideas of how the United States can and should use airpower to achieve its goals with the least cost and risk. Meilinger is not arguing that we can achieve our goals with no risk or cost: politics and war always have associated costs and risks. His point is that the United States has become wedded to a philosophy involving interventions in the form of large ground formations which fails to take advantage of our asymmetric power in the form of airpower--tremendously capable special operations forces and an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability unmatched anywhere in the world. When we can match these capabilities with indigenous forces, he argues we have hit on a war-winning combination.
The book is relatively short but covers a lot of ground. Meilinger discusses prominent military theorists (Hart, Fuller, Clausewitz, Jomini, and Sun Tzu) as well as providing historical examples to support his arguments. I found it curious that he failed to bring in the concept of the Clausewitzian trinity of the people, military, and political leadership, as he does discuss the issues of image in a global 24/7 news cycle world and the corresponding impact operations (especially failed ones) have on our country. His discussion of theory, however, almost completely bypasses the airpower theorists he knows so well. He discusses John Warden's airpower theory focusing on its ability to impact an enemy directly while bypassing his strength in the form of his fielded forces. He mentions John Boyd's theory of the OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop in passing but without expanding on its use and impact. There is no mention whatever of other well-known airpower theorists (the big three of early theory--Mitchell, Douhet and Trenchard--being the most obvious). The biggest shortcoming of this book, however, is the failure to address this strategy in light of the reemergence of peer and near-peer competitors in the form of Russia and China. While Meilinger doesn't state definitively that this is a theory for use in Iraq- and Afghanistan-type scenarios, his arguments and examples all point that way. He argues that nuclear weapons have made the concept of major-power force-on-force conflict obsolete. Given Russia's penchant for using proxies in seeking her foreign policy goals, this strategy might be useful; but a more robust discussion would be helpful. And while nuclear weapons certainly make the idea of a major war difficult to contemplate, our adversaries are continually seeking ways to confront us to gain advantage while avoiding our strengths. This discussion is exactly the sort of conversation needed to address these issues.
This is the sort of book we need to help continue the discussion of how the United States should be engaging in the world. The Air Force is currently developing its next generation bomber which will incorporate the latest in stealth, propulsion, and information technology. At the same time, it is exploring a relatively simple light-attack platform for use in smaller conflicts. These cost money, and the more we discuss what we are trying to accomplish and what systems are required, the belter prepared we'll be. This book is a valuable addition to that discussion.
Lt. Col. Golda Eldridge, USAF (Ret), EdD
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|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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