CONNECTING THE DOTS: Political Implications of Air Power in a Ground Conflict

There are really only two reasons for a politician to commit air power alone to a ground war.  The first is cowardice.  Ground troops in contact with a hostile force — no matter how well — means high casualty rates.  Iraq and Afghanistan are perfect examples.  During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Senator Obama made a big deal over the casualties suffered under President Bush.  The lesson — at least for politicians — is simple: high casualty rates = political liability.  However, we know that Obama does not care about high casualty rates.  We know this because, since taking office, the casualty rates under Obama have more than doubled, yet Obama has done little to reduce them.  In fact, it could legitimately be argued that Obama’s policies in the Middle East have directly lead to the increase in American casualties.  And this leads us to the second reason for committing air power alone to a ground conflict.

In order to understand the second reason a politician would commit air power alone to a ground conflict, you have to first know that air power has never and can never win a ground conflict — period!  As a perfect example, I give you the Battle of Dunkirk:



In short, the Battle of Dunkirk found more than 400,000 British and French military men trapped on a beach, surrounded by the entire German army.  But Hitler and his high command were afraid of the terrain around Dunkirk.  They feared the marshy ground would lead to high casualties if they committed their tank forces to the capture and/or elimination of the Allied troops.  So, Hitler chose option number 1 and committed air power to a ground battle.  The result was predictable: it failed.

At the time, the Luftwaffe (German air force) was the largest, best trained and best equipped air force in the entire world.  Yet, even with the weight of the entire Luftwaffe, Germany did little more than kill or wound some 40,000 men.   Now, 40,000 killed may seem like a lot of casualties, but not when you look at those pictures again.  The Allies were literally lined up for the Germans, yet the German air force could not kill more than 40,000.  But more than that, the 40,000 also includes those Allied soldiers killed or wounded by artillery and direct fire from German ground forces.  That means the German air force actually caused far fewer casualties than it first appears.

Whatever the rational was that the German high command used to justify their actions, the truth is: they were afraid.  The net result of this cowardice was that some 300,000+ Allied troops escaped to fight another day.  In fact, had Hitler lost even 50% of his tank forces but captured or eliminated the Allied troops at Dunkirk, we now know that Churchill would most likely have been pushed out of office and the British would have sued for peace with Germany.  In short, Hitler would have saved many more lives than he might have lost and achieved the victory he wanted in the West, which would have then left the entire weight of the German might to fall on Russia.  In this light, what Hitler actually did by committing air power alone to a ground war was to aid his enemy!

That is the second reason a politician commits air power alone to a ground war: to give an appearance of strength and action while actually strengthening his ‘enemy’s’ position.  Study this issue and you’ll see that I am correct.  The German ‘Blitz’ only strengthened the British will.  Post war studies by the Army Air Corps revealed that the Allied bombing campaign against Germany only strengthened resolve of the German people.  The bombing campaign against North Viet Nam had the same effect.  The truth is, air power alone cannot and will never win a ground battle.  The best it can do is influence it by aiding ground troops.

Now, here is the point.  You must never assume that a politician does not know this.  They know that air power cannot win a ground conflict.  They know because their military commanders know this to be true, and their military advisers have studied this issue.  As hard as it may be to accept, you must accept it.  When a politician commits air power alone to a he is either acting out of fear or a desire to strengthen the ‘enemy.’  Now, ask yourself this question:

“Is Obama afraid of high casualties — especially given that the media is on his side and will not report them?”

If your answer is no, then what does that means to his committing of air power against ISIS?


9 thoughts on “CONNECTING THE DOTS: Political Implications of Air Power in a Ground Conflict

  1. Air Power in Naval engagements is a bit different.

    But on land you are spot on. The reports today mentioned about 7 vehicles and Artilery being destroyed. For a force of 40,000 this is less than zero !!

    1. Hiroshima was NOT the application of air power; it was the application of nuclear weapons. The delivery vehicle shouldn’t confuse you. If we want to use nukes now, we can do so with air craft, but also missiles and even artillery.

      Still, you miss the point. Hiroshima did less damage than the fire bombings were doing. It was not Hiroshima and Nagasaki that caused the Japanese to surrender, but the combined weight of the destruction that was being caused by all means. You have to remember that the submarines were starving Japan and the invasion army was already forming off their coast. So I think your objection misses a great many other factors, sorry.

        1. When we are dealing with the splitting of the atom, such trivial differences make little difference. I mean, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and thermoNUCLEAR warfare 😉

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