Article

Strategic Air Power

Robert Gerald Hughes

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0066
Strategic Air Power

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Strategic air power is one of the means by which a military strategy employs aerial platforms to bypass the battlefield to achieve decisive political results in conflict. Most obviously, this has involved the coercion of an enemy nation-state by seeking to destroy its economic ability to wage war (as opposed to eliminating its armed forces). In Clauzwitzian terms, this represents a fundamental shift in identifying the enemy’s “center of gravity.” Debates over whether air power can achieve strategic goals date from the very first applications of it. The use of strategic air power requires systematic organization (e.g., RAF Bomber Command; the US Strategic Air Command) and, in addition to the use of strategic bomber aircraft, can be used in conjunction with missiles or tactical aircraft against targets selected to diminish the war-making capacity of the enemy. One of the aims for using strategic air power is enemy demoralization—that is, the racking up of punishment to the extent that the will of the enemy to resist is broken. The theory of strategic heavy bombing began to be developed during the aftermath of World War I. By the time of World War II, opponents of strategic air power made frequent reference to “terror bombing” as shorthand for its use. Of course, this term is dismissed by proponents of the use of strategic air power for the manner in which it delineates between other aspects of war (often equally unpleasant) and the targeting of civilians/war-making capacity. The use of strategic air power has been limited since World War II for a number of reasons. Not least among these is the relative scarcity of major wars as well as the inability of the vast majority of modern nation-states to devote sufficient resources to seek any decision in conflict via strategic air power. The United States is a notable exception here and it employed strategic air power in Vietnam in 1972, against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, and in Kosovo in 1999.

Article.  13873 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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