Every author faces a number of questions when setting out on a writing project. There may then be external influences, particularly from a publisher, and every author faces the challenges of fitting everything into a limited amount of time and budget. When the book reviews a hundred years of military aviation, fitting it all into 198 pages, including the index, is a considerable task. Overall the author has produced a very interesting book that does reasonable justice to the subject and is a worthy addition to any library bookshelf. Within his own specialist knowledge, the author has provided an important and authoritative account of COIN operations and recent campaigns. Elsewhere, the challenges of the brief show through to anyone who has specialist knowledge in those areas, which is to be expected.
NAME: A Century of Air Power, The Changing Face of Air Warfare 1912-2012
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Dr Dave Sloggett
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Wwi, WWII, Cold War, Korean War, RAF, COIN, UAV, biplanes, monoplanes, piston engine, jet engine, sub-sonic, super sonic, pressurized, bombers, fighters, maritime reconnaissance, carrier aircraft, drones, technology, tactics, helicopters
DESCRIPTION: Every author faces a number of questions when setting out on a writing project. There may then be external influences, particularly from a publisher, and every author faces the challenges of fitting everything into a limited amount of time and budget. When the book reviews a hundred years of military aviation, fitting it all into 198 pages, including the index, is a considerable task. Overall the author has produced a very interesting book that does reasonable justice to the subject and is a worthy addition to any library bookshelf. Within his own specialist knowledge, the author has provided an important and authoritative account of COIN operations and recent campaigns. Elsewhere, the challenges of the brief show through to anyone who has specialist knowledge in those areas, which is to be expected.
One way of viewing this work is to accept that the more recent conflicts and the use of aircraft in COIN operations is an excellent book and the early period would have been better as a book in its own right. The author demonstrates a breadth of knowledge and an attention to detail that would have been best rewarded by one or two other books, covering the amazing developments of the 1912-1918 period and the 1935-1950 period.
The Royal Navy and the German Navy made major contributions to the development aggressive aviation. The Royal Navy concentrated on fixed wing heavier-than-air craft and small semi-rigid lighter-than-air craft, while the Germans concentrated funds and energy on rigid airships. Their work was very different from their Army colleagues. The Royal Navy set up its own flying school and began training pilots before naval aviation was forced into the Flying Corps. However, the RN continued training its pilots and largely ignoring Flying Corp activity while fighting hard to regain control of naval aviation. That resulted in the newly formed RNAS preceding the start of World War One by a matter of weeks, but dropping the first torpedo a month before the outbreak of war and entering the conflict with real weapons systems. The German Navy also entered the conflict with airships capable of attacking enemy targets with bombs. By contrast the two Armies started with flimsy scout aircraft that did not carry radio or weapons, other than personal small arms carried by some aircrew. The British Army faced the added challenge of being dependent on a Government-owned aircraft factory that produced some very uninspiring designs.
All countries faced the challenge of deciding how to fit aviation into military activity. This has never been adequately addressed and continues to divert effort into political and administrative activity that frequently produces poor management of military aviation. A few countries have attempted to combine all military units into a single command structure that rarely works, losing the morale and capability built up by separate forces. In 1918, the politicians in Britain decided to combine all assets into the RAF, although the RN hung onto its airships for two more years. At the time, the main use of airpower was seen as building a strategic bombing organization that would have short range point defence fighters and a few general purpose machines for naval and army co-operation duties. That left the RN with the budget to develop aircraft carriers but not the control over the aircraft to operate from them. Having clung on to WWI technology, the RAF suddenly woke up to the new German threat and entered a crash program to bring fighter and bomber designs up to date, paying little attention to naval/maritime aviation. That cost many lives at sea in the early days of WWII when the RN was equipped with obsolete aircraft in very small numbers, while the RAF was unable to cover the convoy routes to North America. The Army was also poorly provided with air support that contributed to the rapid advance of German forces into France and the lucky escape of British and French troops at Dunkirk.
The Royal Navy pioneered first strike attacks on an enemy fleet in port. The first plans were drawn in the late stages of WWI where a carrier force was assembled and trained for an attack on the German High Seas Fleet in its home port. The attack was never executed, allegedly because of a lack of commitment by the newly formed RAF, but the plans were dusted off in WWII for an effective attack on the Italian fleet in its home port, an attack that was to inspire the Japanese to launch a similar attack on the US Pacific Fleet in port, bringing the US into WWII and arguably being the most significant contribution to eventual victory by the Royal Navy through its inspiring example of first strike in the Mediterranean. The RAF also eventually built the bomber force that was to operate in close concert with the USAAF to bring round-the-clock bombing to Germany, disrupting German arms production and exhausting its ability to fight.
The Germans, British and Americans also developed weapons that were to inspire the arms that dominated the second half of the 20th Century. The ballistic missile, cruise missile and stand-off guided bomb were all used before the close of WWII, together with jet aircraft, helicopters and nuclear weapons.
After WWII, in-flight refuelling, VSTOL and STOVL aircraft and global integrated command and control systems have combined to change the face of warfare. Most significant has been the rise of UAVs that may be controlled remotely from the other side of the world, or fly under semi-autonomous control or with complete launch and forget autonomy.
During the last hundred years, aviation has advanced from the first frail machines of very limited military value, to machines that can undertake a very wide range of duties, with or without human crews, and carry weapons that in a single strike can exceed the total destructive value of all of the weapons launched by every combatant during WWII.
The current pre-occupation with asymmetric warfare in the ‘War on Terrorism’ offers many new risks. The greatest risk may be that wealthy countries are seduced into thinking that they can fight all future wars with robots that avoid the political consequences of casualties to their own forces. Britain and America are now routinely flying UAV missions into the sovereign air space of other nations in actions that would never have been contemplated had it been necessary to employ human pilots and aircrew. The worst that can happen, some politicians think, is that a drone aircraft may be lost, or collateral damage may include innocent human casualties in the target country. There is no longer a danger that aircrew will be captured to be interrogated and placed on show trials. The world is slow to work up any outrage over a pile of twisted metal and a few bomb craters. However, this move to using robots is less successful than many think and potentially very dangerous as outrage builds against the use of UAVs in ‘peacetime’ and without authorization in other sovereign countries. It also diverts attention from some very significant risks that could result in large conventional or nuclear conflicts.
The author has covered many of these issues in a very informative book.