Ejaz Haider, in his article “Air Power Alone?” (Daily Times, February 3), has complemented well the missing links in my article “Was India ready for war?” (Daily Times, February 2).
The ‘air power alone’ debate is an old one, initiated immediately after a novel and sustained air campaign of around four weeks in Iraq during the first Gulf War that facilitated General Schwarzkopf’s famous 100-hour annihilating ground war and brought the until then credible Iraqi army and the Revolutionary Guards to their knees.
The second Gulf War, begun in 2003 with expanded objectives and fought on the lines of traditional land-based strategy, continues till date with the United States looking for ways to end its embroilment.
For the ‘traditionalists’, it must be stated that use of air power in this war has been mostly in a supporting role. Long land wars are messy and difficult to extricate from. These types of wars embroil and enmesh, but still need to be fought sometimes. Usually, extrication is difficult and not without compromising on the initial objectives.
Two other clarifications are in order: one, air power cannot hold ground even if it can get the ground vacated — you always need “boots on the ground” to hold ground; and second, to answer Haider’s query, no, wars — and we are talking real wars as in the Indo-Pak mode — cannot be won with air power alone.
That said, let’s for the moment put aside the erstwhile Yugoslavian conflict or the Kosovo experience, though these are but perhaps the most avid examples of how the nature of conflict has changed. And yes, all around, the nature of conflict has changed, even if we do not wish to alter the balance of how we employ force. The weight of emphasis in any future war will be a lot different than what we are used to, and I hope we can imbibe this lesson the soonest for our own benefit, away from defining the dominant strategy that will govern future wars.
Now to the issue at hand.
Nations apply the military instrument with a clear strategic objective: capture of spaces, destruction of opposing forces, or, increasingly in the modern wars, coercion of the adversary into conformal behaviour. The last of these strategic objectives as a contemporary goal of war creates the manifestation of ‘pain and punishment’. At times both space and destruction can be implicit, but this is halfway treatment without real legs; destruction to weaken the adversary is the real motive.
The Arab-Israeli War of 1973 stands witness to this theory, except for Golan. Recent forays into Lebanon and Gaza by Israel also support the contention that universally the occupation of land becomes difficult to sustain. Iraq will soon prove the point, while the jury on Afghanistan is still out.
‘Parallel application’ in air strategy — as proffered by John Warden, the modern day Liddlehart, not sufficiently rewarded by his own country, the US — was the means to an end-state of ‘strategic paralysis’, that being the strategic objective of his notion of the United States’ air power application.
So, parallel application is not a ‘theoretical’ model only; it is the practice in all air forces of any consequence. And, no, you do not need to be an air force like the USAF to be able to practice the concept; any air force can partake of this model to its capacity. The size and the extent can be varied to conform to the needs.
Haider alludes to it well when he talks of the centre of gravity, and its various levels. These ‘centres’ in size and enormity correspond to the objectives defined within the achievable domain of an applying force.
The concept of ‘supremacy’ or ‘superiority’ is a relative function. Each level of this state must be incidental per se since the aim is not to hold conquered air space. The notion is transitional in nature and any attempt to give it permanence in the tradition of conquering land is actually an entirely wasteful activity. Analogous to applying force to achieve a purpose, airspace too is needed by an air force to do something, and when that something is done, it becomes a useless stretch of air.
Historically, this is what the convention has been tied to, a linear cycle of achievement of various stages with an unaccountable quantity being wasted in gaining superiority. The same effort on the back of transitional supremacy or superiority could actually be used to inflict unsustainable ‘pain and punishment’.
In the case of what may be termed as defensive air superiority, the denial of air space to the offending force, one may desire sustainability, but that again must only be on need basis; hence the reason for sound and modern air defence capacity.
But let me refer again to the Sri Lankan example, where despite supremacy in quantifiable terms, particularly within the defence domain, the LTTE Zlins always found a way in. This example may never be trivialised; it is the essence of air warfare. So when Pakistan says that any surgical strike shall be responded to, it has all the assurance of sound professional qualification. The rest is left to the pain threshold for each side to consider.
Is parallel application as a notion restricted to air power alone? I do not think so. In fact, even a street fighter with multiple objectives may employ the concept based on his speed, flexibility, range and lethality, since soon the people around will separate the two warring sides. The variations shall always be in relativity.
That is why nations going to war must have clearly stated strategic objectives, and then make a choice of their most appropriate instrument of application to achieve those objectives. Efficiency and efficacy are the two golden principles in application of force, which act as force multipliers.
The writer is a retired air vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and a former ambassador. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Article reproduced by permission of DT.