Monday, June 22, 2009

A bit of military history

There are a number of books that I want to read, but then I see them on the remainder table. More often than not, books on the remainder table are bad news, but sometimes bad luck or publisher overestimation of interest lands them in book purgatory. Stephen Budiansky's Air Power: Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, From Kitty Hawk To Gulf War II is a book that interested me, but I saw it on the dread remainder table AND it had that word revolutionized in the title.

That word appeared to me, at least, to be code for the idea that Air Power had transformed warfare and made all other forms of power redundant. For the most part, the book isn't like that at all. Instead, it reviews the history of airplanes as a weapon from World War I all the way up to the Second Gulf War. Budiansky is critical of most of the leaders of Air Forces. He criticizes the World War 2 generals in particular for their single minded focus on strategic (read: city) bombing at the expense of tactical support of armies. These leaders became the leaders of the new Air Force who then built a bomber centric air force incapable of handling the tasks before it in Korea and Vietnam.

So far so good. Lots of critical analysis, the right balance between technology and application, a great discussion of airframes, and a number of great stories. It all falls apart in the last chapter.

In the last chapter, Budiansky seems to become a convert to the Air Power cause with the advent of precision munitions. He lauds the use of these weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan and notes that these weapons essentially won the war. Well, we now know they didn't.

These problems aside, the book is a good read for a narrow audience. For those who want to go beyond a basic understanding of airplanes as weapons, it is a good place to start. Many will find it too long. Those more deeply read in the field will dislike the cursory treatment given to many subjects.


Brack said...

Interesting. My recollection of Max Hasting's criticism of WW2 Allied air power - at least in the Eurpoean theater - was the strategic emphasis on carpet bombing civilian population centers (e.g. Dresden), instead of focusing on industrial/oil refining targets that would actually slow the German war machine. In Armageddon, he did not seem to be as hung up on lack of close ground support - haven't read his "Bomber Command," so I don't know if he parsed strategy vs. tactics in that book or not.

I am about halfway through The Gamble by Tom Ricks, which mentions expanded availablity of UAVs/drones in 2006-07 as a development that enhanced Odierno's ability to effectively redeploy ground troops into Iraqi population centers consistent with the counterinsurgeny doctrine as revamped by Petraeus.

Tripp said...

I think that Budiansky would support attacking that which helped the Germans project power (railroads, fuel dumps, etc) over production, as the latter was often almost immediately restarted at the same rate. He does note that the strategic campaign forced a huge redirection of German resources to air defense and lead to the end of the Luftwaffe.

On UAVS, for certain. I don't think the Air Force culture is too keen on the move to drones.