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AIRPOWER EXPERIMENT XXI-II: BATTLESPACE LIBYA


Even before the realities of Air Warfare, futurists of the early nineteenth century were already building up the great hype and powers of aircrafts, in dominating future battlefields, that, without any need for ground armies, or as sound-bites culture refer to, boots on the ground.

From H. G. Wells to Douhet, Mitchell, Ap and to the recent experiments in Serbia by the Nato Forces, Air Power Theorists, have always argued that, air crafts can one day be the only required mobilised branch of arms, in defeating the modern ‘little nations”, who are less military capable. Here we are not going into in-depth analytical and historical discussion, and the other debates, but rather limit ourselves to the dryness of the issue to the simplicity of the ‘still absurdity’ of the argument.

First debate of this nature was stop on its track during the second world war, then followed the cold war and the concept of strategic bombing, dropping nuclear warheads by air, without a single use of the ground forces (after all, the theory at the time, within the greater concept of ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ (MAD, yes we are, were), was that of either one strike first through this means and annihilate one’s opponent, or one is to be annihilated, or left with less capabilities of ”Second Strike”, via the nuclear submarines and other well strategically positioned warheads outside ones original state; that First and Second Strike Concepts of Nuclear Warfare). This proved as the overriding concept stated, simply MAD, and unthinkable, not only will air power in itself is useless without the support of other arms, but it has less role in such a new world.

The above hope and dreams did not end there, but will come to abrupt and short-lived end with the Serbia Wars of the late twentieth century, when Nato attempted to bring to an end the local civil wars by the sole application of airpower, without ground forces, sadly, again, the old wisdom of warfare came top, as the western allied were forced to mobilise their ground forces, and to this day, we are still there. There was Iraq War I, the Arab-Israel Wars, all these as others to follow, proved these airpower theorists to be highly self-delusion, or just attempting to lobbying for more defence budgets for the airforces, or fearing the disbandment of this branch, as it is proving itself less useless in the modern age of hearts and minds, urban terrained operations, unconventional warfighting and so forth and forth. However, they have one thing that keeps them alive and still hoping, the ears of the politicians who seek cheap and less human (that our own sides casualties) costs, for fear of what is referred to as the ‘body-bag effect’, or the ‘CNN-effect’.

Well, after Serbia, airpower theorists went underground, just to rise again ten less than a decade later, equipped with a new magical weapon to prove once and for all, airpower is viable, cheap and only option for modern wars; the UAVs, Unmmaned Aerial Vehicles, or sound-bite favourite, Drones!

The first battlespace experimental Laboratory was to be the Afghanistan War. However, at this point they were still supported by ground troops in terms of small special forces units, acting as ground forward observers and target acquisition for HVT/P (High Value Target and Personnel), as in Yemen, Pakistani Swat Valley, inside Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Somalia, North Africa etc. This was the first experiment of the twenty-first century revival of the old debate (XXI-I, Libya is XXI-II). It is Libya which present a very novel and virgin battlespace for a complete experimentation of a seemingly purely airpower application in bringing the enemies to their fateful ends, but alas, again, the theory seems to fail, but is not giving up still, hence, we hear secretary of defence (US), Mr. Gates, on Thursday 21st of April stating the deployment of unlimited use of drones on the Libya Battlesapce, the experiment lives, but just. why but just? We saw the ”mission creeping” by foot soldiers in the ground, the Afghan-Model of special forces: airpower combination is what is going on at the present.

So, to end this discussion, Airpower, is useless as main point of operational strategy and conduct, so it was in the past, so it is at the present, and to be in the future.

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About s.s.salim: Geopolitical Analyst

Political & Strategy Defence & Security Intelligence & Communications

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