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Reply to "A New Form of Air Warfare".

READING THE IDEAS that the enthusiastic and creative French Air Force lieutenant Tim Larribau develops in his article "A New Form of Air Warfare" (Fall 2007) prompted me to outline some thoughts derived from my own vision of airpower and air superiority and the meaning of those terms in the air and space environment. ([dagger]) Lieutenant Larribau contends that the tragic events of 11 September 2001 (9/11) in the United States led to a truly new way to conquer a fleeting and unexpected degree of air superiority that allowed a small group of terrorists to launch a horrifying attack against American targets in the homeland. But the author goes farther, presuming that we face a new kind of aerial warfare whose procedures and rules of engagement diverge from airpower's historical fundamentals. I would say that Lieutenant Larribau believes he is witnessing the revolutionary birth of a significant new way to dominate the air domain. That is no small thing.

Let us do some analysis. When we judge that an air force achieves air superiority over an opponent, we are in fact acknowledging that the opponent enjoyed that advantage up until a particular moment when it then lost superiority due to the opposing air force's actions. Nevertheless, air superiority is not an ephemeral status, subject to changing hands by means of legerdemain. A full roster of items sustains the side that exercises air superiority over any other challenger. That roster includes doctrines, organizations, resources, and training, all of which contribute to maintaining an advantageous air situation over the long term. A fortuitous or surprising enemy deed does not in a single blow alter the very complex combination of factors that frames the air superiority situation.

Conceiving of air superiority in this manner, I contend that seizing it by means of a mere isolated action would be very difficult. In the final analysis, just four commercial aircraft were involved in 9/11, and only three of them reached their unfortunate targets. Looking dispassionately at the outcome, one must assess the attack as a coordinated act that enjoyed only partial success (one aircraft did not reach its target) due to two factors not always taken into account: initiative and surprise. However, the question is, did this premeditated, savage act put local American air superiority at risk? Frankly, it did not.

We simply need to remember that preserving a measure of air superiority does not preclude an opponent from undertaking suicidal and unexpected attacks, as demonstrated by the Japanese kamikazes of World War II. Yet whoever holds air superiority has the power to exact a high price from those who make such reckless attacks.

Let me disagree with the young and visionary Lieutenant Larribau, whom I urge to continue his research. These days, because unconventional wars are putting centuries-old theories to the test, our understanding of what is happening will require time, perseverance, and continuous effort. Once again, the events of 9/11 did not inaugurate a new art of aerial warfare. Nor are we seeing the debut of a new concept of air superiority. The terrorists never placed American air superiority at risk. Rather, the Americans found themselves stunned and unsure about what to do in the face of a refined manifestation of terror (the reason I previously mentioned rules of engagement) wherein depraved minds patiently and perversely exploited those two factors--initiative and surprise--that I hope no modern planner ever forgets.

Neither should we mistakenly consider 9/11 only a police saga. No, it was an act of outright, unconventional war. Sadly, therefore, I must warn everybody that this attack will not be the last. We must keep initiative and surprise out of the enemy's hands.

([dagger]) Editor's note: Colonel D'Odorico read the Spanish version of Lieutenant Larribau's article, available at 4tri07/larribau.htm.


* Colonel D'Odorico has logged over 5,000 hours of flying time, has taught at the Argentine Air War College for nearly 40 years, and has written more than 200 articles about military topics.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Title Annotation:The Merge
Author:D'Odorico, Jose C.
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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