Airpower Reborn

The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd

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Airpower Reborn offers a conceptual approach to warfare that emphasizes airpower’s unique capability to achieve strategic effects. Six world-leading theorists argue that a viable strategy must transcend the purely military sphere, view the adversary as a multi-dimensional system, and pursue systemic paralysis and strategic effects rather than military destruction or attrition.

The book is divided into three parts. The first section presents a historical perspective on airpower theory and airpower strategy, tracing their evolution from the 1920s to the 1980s. The second section contains in-depth examinations of the strategic concepts that John R. Boyd and John A. Warden developed in the 1980s and 1990s, with an emphasis on their contemporary relevance. The final section provides further context on modern airpower theory and strategy. Theory, in this setting, serves as the basic paradigm, strategy represents its generic, mechanisms-centered application, and plans of campaign constitute the specific steps for any given situation.

In short, the authors look beyond the land-centric, battlefield-oriented paradigm that has continued to dominate military theories and strategies long after airpower offered new options. The book acknowledges the essential role of advanced technology in improving airpower capabilities, but emphasizes that air services must cultivate and harness the intellectual acumen of airmen and encourage officers and men to think conceptually and strategically about the application of aerospace power. Modern airpower can offer political decision-makers more and better options—provided the underlying strategy coherently links the application of airpower directly to the end-state objectives rather than limiting it to “the battle.”

The book recommends that all countries should consider establishing a dynamic and vibrant environment for mastering aerospace history, theory, strategy, and doctrine; a milieu for cultivating broader knowledge of and insight into airpower; and a setting in which airpower experts have the opportunity to communicate their narrative to politicians, the media, and fellow officers, and to interact to mutual benefit with experts from all sectors of governance. This effort should emphasize the potentially unique contribution of airpower to political objectives and joint operations, and in turn connect to operational headquarters that do operational planning. Mastering such strategic thought lies at the heart of the military profession, but it requires in-depth knowledge and understanding of theory, strategy, and airpower, and transcends traditional metrics.

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Editorial Reviews

"Airpower Reborn is well written and logically structured. It brings together a century of airpower theory in one concise reference, providing airpower's historical roots as well as its contemporary theory. Not all readers will agree with certain theoretical aspects, but most will find the discussion intellectually stimulating. Airpower practitioners and anybody involved in strategic planning, from policymakers to warfighters, are likely to consider it a must-read."  —Military Review
"...Much of what is discussed in Airpower Reborn is, in my opinion, that which is essential for the defence strategic communityùmilitary, civilian, political, academic and media to understand. Airpower Reborn is an important book which is useful for any military professional's individual development but which should also be beneficial for anyone interested in 21st century military operations. Hopefully Airpower Reborn gains the readership it deserves and the Western military is willing to adapt its mindset with the paradigm shift that is clearly necessary."  —Australian Naval Institute
"Airpower Reborn is both an anthology of airpower thought and a call to action. Today, there is a great need for contemporary airpower thought. This book is a commendable attempt to spark discussion about airpower theory and strategy. Also, Olsen's call to action is both timely and relevant, since the words 'Douhet was wrong' still ring from people's mouths. This persistent (and mistaken) belief that modern airpower thought rests solely on century-old airpower prophecy says more about our failure as airpower advocates than it does about airpower critics. It is our job to effectively develop and communicate modern strategic airpower thought to our interested brethren. In this, we seem to have failed. Luckily, Olsen's Airpower Reborn is a great step toward reinvigorating and improving the critically important field of airpower theory."  —The Strategy
"The authors of Airpower Reborn cover a lot of ground; keeping up with them can be challenging. At the end of the day though they succeed in their goal of moving the discussion of airpower forward. This is a book strategists from any service should read."  —Air Power History
"Extremely well written and argued, this book should be required reading for every staff and war college in the country. These ideas need to be examined and discussed. Our present strategic thinking is moribund; if the ideas presented here are not a suitable answer, perhaps they will at least generate a serious debate as to the fundamental principles and goals."  —The Journal of Military History
"For those working in the fields of doctrine development, regardless of the colour of one's uniform, this is a useful study, not only of airpower, but of strategy generally and is recommended."  —Canadian Naval Review
"Airpower Reborn is an essential and surprisingly accessible read for all airmen and airwomen and is unashamed at 'doing what it says on the can'. While there will be those who regard the clarion call for a return to air power for strategic effect as being a little too shrill, it is clear that new thinking, doctrinal rebalancing and a cultural shift are all required in the post-Afghanistan, post-campaigning strategic context of 2015 and beyond. Recent operations in Libya and against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq indicate that future interventions in the new era of contingency may well be either confined to air capabilities alone, or at least air-led. What is indisputable ù as is clearly and compellingly articulated in this book ù is the requirement for air practitioners to engage with the issues at an intellectual level: both to make the case for air capabilities, which is particularly relevant given the impending Strategic Defence and Security Review; and to ensure that air power is used to best effect. The theories of Boyd and Warden are now over 30 years old: this book may not provide entirely new answers ù and in a sense, arguably offers 'old wine in new bottles' ù but, nevertheless serves a useful and entirely worthwhile purpose by reappraising air power theory in the modern strategic context. It is highly recommended, not least for stimulating the new thinking that will be necessary to promote the air power renaissance that is required if military force is to remain as an effective and useful lever of power."  —Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies - CAS's Reading List 2015
"Airpower Reborn is a valuable tool in the effort to bring airpower to the table of strategic thought and rebalance the power dynamic among the proponents of land, air, and sea. It neatly joins a significant number of authors, ideas, and opinions into a single, coherent case for airpower.... [I]t is most assuredly a worthwhile read for anyone seeking an air-centric perspective on contemporary warfare."  —Air & Space Power Journal
"This book is a must read for any Air Force officer attending Command and Staff College as it will provide a strong foundation from which to understand, debate, and further develop a working knowledge of airpower theory and strategy. It also has much to offer a broader readership wishing to deepen their understanding of airpower's history and future. Although some readers may not be swayed by the case the book presents, the quality of the chapters will challenge the engaged reader to think deeply about the points that are raised."  —The Sir Richard Williams Foundation (Australia)
"Since its unbroken record of achievement from the first Gulf war of 1991 through the major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, airpower has taken a back seat to the more costly and ineffective land fighting that has prevailed in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the ensuing years. In Airpower Reborn, John Andreas Olsen has marshaled an able quorum of experts to reflect thoughtfully on the abiding strategic vision that will be needed for airpower to regain and retain its due place as the tool of first choice in future tests of strength around the world."  —Dr. Benjamin S. Lambeth, author of The Unseen War: Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein
"In Airpower Reborn, John Andreas Olsen presents an incredible contribution of insights from several leading strategists regarding the realization of airpower as fundamental to success in modern conflict. This work will well serve policymakers, national leaders, and warfighters. Olsen ties together assessments of why we must recognize success in future warfare as fundamentally different from the ground-dominant bias of how it was conceived, planned, and applied in the past. This reality will be critical to defining the ways, means, and ends of success in future conflict. The bottom line is that this book is a 'must read' for those interested in meeting the challenges of modern warfare."  —Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), dean, Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies