Warfare is fought with weapons of destruction, the rifle, torpedo, and bomb. To transport and operate these weapons, armies and navies have been formed. Today, there has been introduced a new carrier for these weapons, the airplane, which, operating in a third medium at tremendous speed, introduces intricate problems of offense and defense. Enthusiasts of new methods of warfare have always loudly voiced their invincibility. The ironclad, torpedo, and submarine, all have had their moments of apparent advantage, but after countermeasures had been discovered and applied, they were relegated to their proper places. Air-minded zealots claim that the airplane is without peer, being able to cross immense distances, to rain down destruction on navies and cities. This claim stirs the imagination and is believed by a multitude of civilians, who, like many of the propagandists, have little knowledge of the technical details of an airplane and little familiarity with the laws of warfare.
There is no doubt whatever that the aircraft has great possibilities, yet aerodynamic demands impose limitations on its characteristics. If, for example, the motive power is doubled, with a resultant increase in speed, the range is decreased owing to the weight of the extra fuel required, as well as the additional weight of the engine. Also, when the load to be carried is increased, the height to which the plane can climb is lowered. Like a ship, which is a compromise between armor, guns, and speed, the airplane must sacrifice some of its qualities, in order to obtain the maximum results for others.
Military aircraft are divided into two classes, depending on their missions. The first class is composed of dirigibles and heavy planes, capable of operating over great distances and of remaining in the air for a long period of time. Dirigibles have been beset with a series of unfortunate mishaps. Their military worth, as compared with their fragility, is questionable, and, one by one, after experimentation with disastrous results, nations have abandoned this type, at least for the present. In the heavy plane, maneuverability, ceiling, and speed have been sacrificed for endurance, range, and load-carrying capacity. This type of aircraft is used for attack by bombs and torpedoes. Although figures are not comparable, owing to the rapid development of aviation, some illustrations may indicate their effectiveness. The French bomber of the Bloch class is able to carry 2,400 pounds of bombs for a distance of 621 1/2 miles, while the Dornier DO-X, if carrying four torpedoes of 3,000 pounds each, could fly 1,000 miles at a speed of 100 knots. If ex-plosives are removed and replaced by fuel, the range will be greatly increased. This type is used for observation and scouting.
To destroy, and conversely, to protect the larger plane, the combat, or pursuit plane has been evolved. It has great speed and high maneuverability, by which is meant a high rate of climb and ceiling, superlative "stunting" ability, and efficient gunfire. To obtain these characteristics, a very great motive power with minimum plane load is required. A relatively small amount of fuel is carried, so that the endurance is small, between three and four hours.
The rules of warfare do not change. After moral force, public opinion, arguments, and treaties have failed to settle disputes, war is the final means of persuasion, by which sufficient pressure is brought to bear upon an opponent that he will be willing to accept the terms demanded by the aggressor. A strong nation may by a show of strength or threat of armed action sufficiently browbeat a weak adversary to its will. With nations of equal strength, however, it is apparent and natural that one will resist encroachments by the other. To force an attitude of compliance, it would become necessary to destroy the opponent's armed forces, blockade his ports, and occupy his territory, in order to weaken or destroy his ability to defend his economic life, his subjects, and his territories. These methods must be relentless and continuous, exerting a persistent effort, gradually bringing about a sense of inevitable defeat. Efforts that are spasmodic, even though temporarily overwhelming, are not sufficient, for as soon as the pressure is relieved, or is no longer in effect, there remains no necessity for bowing one's head to fate.
Island nations and countries bordering on the sea must protect their commerce and colonies during war, as well as prevent invasion by sea. This is best done by a naval force, which allows freedom to operate on the seas, while at the same time denying that privilege to the enemy. Thus commerce may be carried on, the enemy coasts and ports blockaded, and land forces transported, all the while preventing the enemy from doing likewise. If air power, alone, is to accomplish the mission of the naval forces, it must do one of two things, either eliminate or disregard the necessity for control of the sea, or usurp the functions of a navy.
In operating successfully without control of the sea, implication is made that aircraft can force a settlement of peace, by defense measures alone, or by direct attack against enemy territory. The defensive, if predominant in air strength, can only result in keeping the opposing naval forces out of range of the shore-based aircraft, until such time as it is desired to launch an attack, while in the meantime the sea is swept of commerce. Like a fort which is static, shore-based aircraft can only await the onslaught of the enemy.
With countries situated close together, operations by air can be carried out against enemy territory. The answer to this menace is the building of an opposing air fleet of suitable proportion. The proper method of air defense in this case is to destroy the enemy bases and aircraft factories. Owing to the great speed of the airplane in the air, it is very difficult to intercept an air attack. Even with a stronger force, air raids cannot be wholly prevented. Bombing of industrial centers, bases, and cities will be carried out in future wars, but this threat will be met, not alone by counter airplane attack, but by placing vital resources underground or under bomb proofs, the further development of anti-aircraft defense from the ground, smoke screening, decentralization, and lastly, by training the civilians in procedure and providing explosive-proof refuges, during air attack. Bombing cities will have no military effect, except on the morale of the people, and if panic can be avoided and public opinion sustained, the results can be only a greater feeling of bitterness and hate. Obviously, airplanes cannot transport enough troops, ordnance, and supplies to capture and hold territory.
With countries separated by great distances, over large bodies of water, the question of aircraft operations becomes more involved. Airplanes are not able to operate over long distances, and the problem resolves itself into securing a base close enough to the objective, whether it be offensively against the enemy military power, or defensively to protect communications. No nation, with the possible exception of Great Britain, has enough oversea bases, at strategic points, strong enough to resist attack. Extended operations by air would not only require the establishment of at least temporary bases, but also the transportation to that place, by ship, of fuel, supplies, material for maintenance and repair, troops for defense, and ground personnel. All of these transports, fuel ships, cargo, and supply vessels require protection from surface and submarine attack. The bases are open to amphibious attack, as well as by the concentrated ship-based air force of the enemy. Transportation of airplanes requires carriers, which, like the supply detachment, need a powerful surface protective force. Thus the aircraft operations become dependent on surface ships, and these in turn, requiring more powerful ships for protection, lead directly to the formation of a navy. This last statement does not imply that in the future a navy will exist solely for the protection of the aircraft carriers or convoys; it merely points out that, even if aircraft could be used without the necessity of control of the sea, a naval force would still be necessary.
Control of the sea by naval power is obtained by the destruction of the enemy naval forces. Destruction of naval power makes control of the sea easy to maintain. However, it may be that the enemy is unwilling to risk a decision with his fleet, and keeps it under cover as a "fleet in being." In this case it becomes necessary to maintain a fleet of predominant strength, mobilized and ready to anticipate the enemy, if he attempts to use his force. In addition, naval forces must protect communications, to allow a free and uninterrupted flow of trade, protect colonies and possessions, and in addition guard the transportation of troops and supplies which are sent by sea for operations against enemy territory in forcing a decision. Moreover, the enemy trade must be intercepted, captured, and destroyed. These are the elements which comprise the functions of naval power.
As stated before, in extended operations a surface naval force is indispensable to carrying and maintaining an air force, whether the base is stationary or movable. But the enemy fleet will also have an air force with its fleet, or perhaps it will operate under the range of shore-based planes. The enemy air force will be used to protect its own fleet, the best method being to destroy the opposing carriers and protective force by offensive attacks. For opposing air forces to clash at sea, the fleets must be at least within 200 to 400 miles of each other, as the planes carrying torpedoes and bombs must be protected by combat planes. The radius of operations of the air arm becomes dependent on the range and endurance of the protective planes. Thus one naval force will be within striking distance of the other, the air squadrons protecting their own carriers and surface vessels from attack, and operating to destroy the opposing air and surface fleets. The truth is that control of the sea must embrace control not only of the surface, but also of the air. The air force protects the battle fleet, which in turn guards the air force. Control in the air allows the surface forces to operate unhindered from interference from the air.
Commerce warfare has been carried out by two methods, (1) by stationing ships outside the ports of the enemy, and (2) by tracking down their ships on the high seas. Since the advent of the torpedo and mine, it has been no longer feasible to establish a close blockade. During the World War, the British, owing to their strategical position across the German lines of communications in the North Sea, were able to enforce an effective "distant" blockade. The introduction of airplanes will force a more distant blockade than heretofore. Outgoing and incoming ships will be protected to the range of the protective aircraft. On the other hand, the use of the airplane is also advantageous to the blockading force; cruisers equipped with airplanes can extend their eyes many times.
Warfare on commerce from the air alone presents much the same difficulties that confronted the use of the submarines for that purpose. Airplanes cannot visit and search, remove the crews of ships before they are sunk, nor carry enough men to provide prize crews to bring vessels to port. It is not practical to force ships to proceed to port for examination, as at night or during thick weather it would be a relatively easy matter to escape detention. Indiscriminate bombing from the air by an unscrupulous nation, in disregard to international law, will result, as did the use of the torpedo in the World War, in protests and strained relations by neutrals, which may perhaps eventually end in war.
The answer to the submarine in commerce warfare was the protected convoy system. Convoys, escorted by warships, are considered as military, and would therefore be open to bombing. Removal of the protection would lay the convoy open to submarine and surface attacks. Therefore, it would seem that future convoys must be routed, even circuitously, out of range of enemy aircraft, while at the same time control of the sea beyond that point is important. Otherwise it becomes necessary, at least for the more important convoys, to provide aircraft protection strong enough to defeat the probable air strength that the enemy may be able to dispatch. This manifestly will divert air power from the fleet. Protection against air attack may take two forms: (1) An escort may be provided from the edge of the danger zone to port, much as convoys were met at the edge of the submarine area; (2) aircraft may be sent with the convoy across the whole distance. In either case, however, it is of utmost importance to have control of the sea, and of the air, over the route of the convoy. This control must extend over a much larger area than heretofore was considered necessary.
The conclusion is drawn that aviation cannot, of itself, operate indefinitely and independently over large areas without surface support; that alone it cannot insure control of the sea; and that control of the sea is dependent on control of the air as well as the surface. The bulwark behind which naval power rests still remains in the battle line ships. In general terms the mission of the air force is to extend the range and power of the surface ships.
Some of the many specific tasks assigned to aviation, and now indispensable to the modern navy, are enumerated without any attempt to elaborate or discuss. Aircraft observation extends many times the area possible for a surface ship to cover. During daylight the night run of the enemy may be covered. Tactically, the enemy dispositions can be observed from the air, where a surface striking force would not be able to penetrate the enemy defensive screen. Air patrol will be used for many purposes, such as observation, location of enemy raiding forces, mine layers, and submarines.
During maneuvering preliminary to battle, activity in the air will be at its height. Both sides will seek to establish control of the air. Squadrons of combat planes will protect the surface fleet, and the bombers, torpedo, and observation planes, while more squadrons will seek out the enemy air force. Then as the fleets come in contact, planes will take positions to spot the fall of shot, others may be laying smoke screens, while still others may be diving almost vertically at the enemy battleships and cruisers for light bombing and strafing attacks.
Aircraft have never really had a chance to prove their capabilities during warfare. It is true that both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air were used during the World War, but the technique was crude, the proper strategy not understood in all cases, and the technical development was still in infancy. The bombing of English cities had no military effect, and the use of dirigibles in the North Sea was disappointing owing to poor navigation and unfavorable weather conditions. On the other hand, the English were remiss in the operation of their air forces. Attempts to use planes from ships against enemy shore objectives resulted in failure. Bombing expeditions against enemy bases, unsupported by combat planes, resulted in many casualties, for the bombers were not able to defend themselves against the more efficient German fighters. Today air operations have expanded to an untold degree. But their use is still theoretical, based on the artificiality of peace-time maneuvers. Until such time as they prove their capabilities in actual war, it must be held that aviation, like the cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, is a part of the fleet, playing a most important role. Separately, it becomes ineffective. Working with the fleet it adds to the power and extends the range.