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Old 05-07-2006   #1
SWJED
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Default First use of Air Power in a counterinsurgency (Nicaragua, 1926-27)

Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists

by James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson

Reviewed by LTC Lester W. Grau, USA (Retired), Military Review, Nov/Dec 2004

Despite catchy phrases like "surgical strike" and "precision bombing," airpower remains a blunt instrument in unconventional and small wars. Air strikes against guerrillas fail when guerrillas cannot be precisely located. Bombing civilians in retaliation (or error) is ineffective and counterproductive. The pre- World War II aviation concept of "air control," in which aviation occupies and controls a small country by airpower alone, is clearly outmoded and wrong. What then is the role of airpower in small wars?

James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson have a clear vision of this role and have written extensively on air and ground power. Corum is a reserve army officer and a distinguished historian and professor at the U.S. Air Force (USAF) School of Advanced Airpower Studies. Wray R. Johnson is a retired USAF colonel who spent a career in special operations and is now professor at the U.S. Marine Corps University.

Airpower has been a player in small wars and counterinsurgencies since French aviators bombed Moroccan rebels in 1913. Sometimes airpower has been a key player; at other times, it has promised much more than it could deliver. In the case of French Indochina, airpower's failure to deliver as planned at Dien Bien Phu lost the war for the French. Air Power in Small Wars, the first comprehensive history of the subject, analyzes numerous conflicts with guerrillas, bandits, rebels, and terrorists in colonial wars, police actions, counterinsurgencies, and expeditions.

The book's pre-World War II section describes General John J. Pershing's expedition into Mexico; U.S. Marine Corps expeditions into the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua; British Colonial expeditions in Somaliland, Aden, Transjordan, Iraq, and the Northwest Frontier Province of India; Spanish Colonial expeditions in Spanish Morroco; French Colonial expeditions in French Morocco and Syria; and Italian Colonial expeditions in Libya and Eritrea.

The post-World War II section includes the Greek Civil War; the Philippine Anti-Huk campaign; the French Colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria; the British Colonial wars in Malaya, South Arabia, and Oman; the war in South Vietnam; southern African insurgencies in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Rhodesia and Malawi; Latin American insurgencies in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Columbia; the Egyptian expedition in Yemen; the Soviet War in Afghanistan; and the Israeli excursion in southern Lebanon. While it is an ambitious undertaking, it succeeds.

Among the book's key findings are that in small wars, the political and economic instruments are often more important than the military instrument. Reconnaissance and transport are usually the most important and effective aviation missions in guerrilla war. Airpower's ground attack role becomes more important as the war turns conventional. Aviation high-tech and low-tech systems might play an important role in small wars. Joint operations are essential for the effective use of airpower. Small wars are long and intelligence-intensive. Training for major wars does not translate into readiness for small wars.

This is an important book and, hopefully, one on which ground power and airpower advocates can agree. Insurgencies, expeditions, and other small wars might occupy the attention of the U.S. Armed Forces in the near term. The time to prepare is now, and getting the air and ground component to work together harmoniously is part of that preparation. This book should be a basic component of that preparation and of that harmony.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 01-02-2013 at 04:06 PM. Reason: This is NOT the opening post, but an old post copied here. PM to Rose to view.
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Old 12-13-2012   #2
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Default First use of Air Power in a counterinsurgency (Nicaragua, 1926-27)

Hey all. I've come a long way from my first post back in 2007ish. I've finished up the application process to the Air Force for a pilot slot on the upcoming rated boards. I just want to be selected for anything as an officer.

Anyways... I'm finishing up my history degree, and I finally am able to write about something other than the revolutionary war for my thesis paper. I've been wanting to do a lot more research on counterinsurgencies but haven't had an excuse too until now. I wanted to do something on the use of air power in counterinsurgencies due to (hopefully) being selected by the boards, and the first use that I came across was in Nicaragua against Sandino by the Marines. I have about 10 secondary sources on it, a few magazine articles and news paper accounts, but scant else.

Any suggestions on primary sources, or where to find any reports from those battles? First hand accounts? Possibly any review of the efficiency by the war department? Or any other suggestions?

I'm hoping to use this down the road when I go back for a masters as a launching pad for something better, maybe even a book that is really only read by people like those on this site/
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Old 12-13-2012   #3
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Try old issues of the Marine Corps Gazette. The book "Mars Learning" looks at the development of the Small Wars Manual and may give you some direct pointers to articles that covered air power. I don't think this was actually the first use, though...it might go back to the DR and/or Haiti. I don't have "Mars Learning" in front of me right now, so I can't check for sure.
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Old 12-14-2012   #4
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In "7 Pillars" there is some treatment of the use of air power to support the Arab uprising. But that is perhaps one of the first uses of air power in UW.
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Old 12-14-2012   #5
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The French and I believe the Italians also used air assets in their colonial "adventures" both before and after World War I.
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Old 12-14-2012   #6
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Default Learning from Iraq?

Have a look at 'Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force, 1919-1939' by David Omissi, pub. 1990. IIRC the focus was on Iraq, where the RAF for reasons of economy became the 'policing' power, not the Army. It may give you a template to follow, see the contents summary:http://books.google.co.uk/books/abou...d=9QYNAQAAIAAJ

A critical review, more of what the book describes than the book itself and oh boy is it expensive:http://www.amazon.com/Air-Power-Colo...owViewpoints=1
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Old 12-14-2012   #7
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I think I started a whole thread on that subject sometime back. "Air Policing" is the concept that the British developed for use in WW1 and it has a lot of merit and some of the work has influenced the development of some modern Air Weapons (small diameter bombsfor example).

Link to my earlier thread COIN: Is Air Control Theory The Answer
http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=7603I

Last edited by slapout9; 12-14-2012 at 04:11 PM. Reason: Link
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Old 12-17-2012   #8
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Thank you guys for the insights. I have Mars Landing, and I will be diving into it this week. I will definitely have to check out the Marine Corps Gazette.

David, I will pick up a copy of the book as soon as I can this week.

And I should have specified more so with the American experience of small wars. I need to go back over my materials and see if there was any air power used in the DR/Haiti. I didn't think so... but... Touching any other COIN effort will have to be later when my professors actually deem military history "history"....

Slapout, I read through the first page of the link you gave, and it was interesting. I did have a problem with the link in your first post. Is there any way you could furnish a good one or a way I could get a copy of the pdf?

Last edited by Rose; 12-17-2012 at 07:33 AM.
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Old 12-17-2012   #9
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Rose, don't know what happened to the original link but try this one. Should work.

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/saas/gagnon.pdf


If you read the reference sources at the end of each chapter you will find alot of good sources for further exploration. I have always said that The Air Force could fight and win a Small War with the edition of a small cadre of Green Berets but not to many here agree with that idea. Just my opinion but people in general have vastly underestimated the Air Force and what they could do to fight a Small War if they were allowed to.

Last edited by slapout9; 12-17-2012 at 06:30 PM. Reason: add stuff
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Old 12-17-2012   #10
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Link to good article on the British experience with Air Power in Small Wars.


http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/a...-aug/dean.html
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Old 12-17-2012   #11
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Default Air Power in COIN

Slap,

That is a good find, although I am confident the Inter-War British use of air power was based on economic factors. The concluding comments on the US lack of a doctrine plus for using air power in small wars is worth reading alone, written in 1983.

Quote:
In late 1920, a serious rebellion (in Iraq) against British rule was in progress; the 80 British and Indian battalions (120,000 troops) garrisoning the country were being hard pressed to maintain order. An additional 15,414 men sent from India were quickly absorbed in trying to control an insurrection of at least 131,000 armed men.
Dramatic draw down:
Quote:
The army began to withdraw from Iraq during the summer of 1922, leaving behind four battalions of British and Indian troops and three armored car companies.
Those cursed political officers appear too:
Quote:
Excellent intelligence also enabled the Royal Air Force to avoid attacking people not directly involved—an important requirement in a constabulary-type operation. The Royal Air Force had its own well-trained intelligence officers and civilian political officers on hand to build the necessary intelligence networks.
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Last edited by davidbfpo; 12-18-2012 at 03:16 PM. Reason: two corrections
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Old 12-18-2012   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
Rose, don't know what happened to the original link but try this one. Should work.

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/saas/gagnon.pdf


If you read the reference sources at the end of each chapter you will find alot of good sources for further exploration. I have always said that The Air Force could fight and win a Small War with the edition of a small cadre of Green Berets but not to many here agree with that idea. Just my opinion but people in general have vastly underestimated the Air Force and what they could do to fight a Small War if they were allowed to.
Slap,

You may want to look at James Corum's chapter on airpower in small wars in "A History of Air Warfare". He has an interesting analysis of air policing and its actual effectiveness. In short, he says it had an impact early on, but the impact diminished as the locals became accustomed to air elements and their limitations. Colin Gray also lists small wars-type stuff as something airpower does poorly in his "Airpower for Strategic Effect."
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Old 12-19-2012   #13
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Steve Blair,
Thanks for the references. I have read Gray's Airpower several times and as usual he is very insightful but I disagree on several points of his. I have not read the other reference so I will take a look.
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Old 12-19-2012   #14
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Corum is something of an authority on Luftwaffe doctrine, and has also written a book specifically about airpower in small wars.

I actually found Gray's list of airpower strengths and weaknesses quite balanced and in line with history as opposed to theory (page 281 of that book).
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