Reviewing my theses on air power in light of the recent wars


Well, how did they stand the test of time?

(1) Missiles such as Iskander, LORA et cetera can and should substitute and complement strike by combat aviation, particularly early in a conflict. They require much lower operating costs due to no flying hours required for training. At the same time they don't serve the officer corps' interests well because they're not 'sexy' like fighters and missile units require few officers.
This looks very fine, even though the recent reports about GPS guidance issues after two years of conflict restrict a bit what can be done with missiles. 

(2) MEADS is overpriced nonsense. The IRIS-T-SL addition is actually interesting, but I greatly favoured the SAMP/T area air defence system (with by now substantial missile defence capability) as it could have been bought military off-the shelf after its introduction by France and Italy. VL MICA could have complemented it the way IRIS-T SL is a short(er) range missile component in MEADS.
MEADS has a ridiculous program cost: batteries planned for purchase ratio.
The CAMM ground variant may become another alternative if we regain senses and finally cancel MEADS after all.
MEADS was cancelled. Patriot looks better than I expected in Ukraine because PAC-3 actually performs well against SRBMs and the Russians are too stupid or too cowardly to effectively go after large air defence radars.

(3) Air power will compete with ground forces for airlift capacity, particularly early on in an unplanned hot conflict. It will also be very busy with its counterpart and ground-based air defences early on, and likely possess little ability to decisively affect ground operations in the first days or weeks. I think air power fanbois such as British folks who point at the theoretical load carrying capacity of 18 Brimstones under a Typhoon - theoretically enough to wipe out a tank company - would be very disappointed if modern combat aircraft were ever used in the anti-tank role against a great power's army.
The air/ground has certainly been unimpressive over Ukraine, but they don't use Western weapons. Brimstone was delivered to Ukraine for ground/ground use, but I have not seen much effect or praise for it.

6x3 Brimstone missiles under a Typhoon
Actual airbases in German: Path dependency rules!
(4) The German Luftwaffe isn't a necessity for NATO or EU or even only Germany, but -if done well- it can be useful because it would be (a) barely at a safe distance to survive a  surprise attack and (b) barely still close enough to the Eastern frontier to help Poland and Lithuania from German airbases. The usefulness of airbases and auxiliary airfields in Eastern Germany is much higher than the West German ones'.
The Russians weren't able to fully suppress the Ukrainian Air Force. They waste missiles on irrelevant targets and had for two years of conflict a too long process from collecting sensor data to strike a fleeting target (such as a parked operational aircraft) on the ground. So I underestimated the usefulness of Polish airbases, but my point about the desirability of airbases in East Germany and Czech Republic stands.

(5) It's still up for debate whether the next fighter generation will be manned, unmanned or optionally manned, but this is missing much of future air war anyway (in my opinion). Traditional air war is about growing aircraft flying high and fast, while in future much of the air war may or will be about small, low-flying and short-ranged drones that may even mimic birds. Thousands of these could be unleashed into an area for attack and/or reconnaissance. It's not apparent that ground forces have adapted to this with appropriate changes in battlefield air defences, but it's astonishing to me how Western air forces appear to ignore the entire possibility and thus cede this probably more decisive air power element to the ground forces. Current fighter types and designs certainly don't incorporate counters; the missiles in use cost 10-100x as much as a small drone needs to cost.
I was proved correct.

(6) Air combat will consume a terribly high quantity of expensive missiles. The kill probability will be terrible (AMRAAM has a 50% pk track record, and that was gained in very advantageous situations). We may need more than 30 air combat missiles in stocks to kill a single top quality fighter, which means we should purchase 40+ missiles per air combat kill expected to be necessary. Foreign powers that shall be deterred are likely aware of this, and they're likely aware that such munitions purchases have a low priority in air forces that stare on aircraft quantities and where the officer corps in control doesn't benefit from higher ammunition stocks directly.
It appears that both Ukrainian and Russian combat aircraft have little air combat, as S-300 and S-400 area air defences repulse them so far back (above 200 ft) that they rarely come no escape zone ranges with hostile aircraft.

(7) It should be obvious once again by now, but let's spell it out: I think of air forces as bureaucracies. The caste in control is the officer corps. The junior officers are typically fine, but beginning approx. at Lt.Col. the officer corps begins to follow the descriptions of the principal-agent problem when it comes to resources.
I moved my blaming for poor decisions from the industry profit motive to the principal-agent problem in the bureaucracy (and its political overseers) years ago already.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.

(8) The public is poorly informed about air power matters because important info isn't communicated (mostly for obvious reasons). We learn how many aircraft of a particular type were purchased and in service, but we rarely learn how many daily sorties they could generate, for example. The difference between two and eight daily sorties changes the utility of the aircraft in question by very much, of course. Higher sorties rates can be generated with aircraft meant for shorter ranges and of more simple technology - that is, aircraft that run against the actual procurement trends.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

(9) Many mistakes have been made in procurement by air forces. There's no reason to trust the bureaucracy's expertise in future procurement projects, even though we don't learn about many important variables.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

(10) The trend towards using air bases far away (much farther than 500 km) from the targets and the thus exaggerated need for tanker aircraft is worrying. NATO appears to be so lazy that it rather adds a 500 km transit than to move a wing or detachment to a less fully developed but much better located airfield.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

(11) Equally disturbing is the obsession about bunker-busting. I suspect that many "bunker buster" munitions are secretly meant to penetrate into reinforced concrete pillars of river bridges to blow them up from the inside, but even this enlargement of target options doesn't really justify the obsession with bunker busting. To penetrate aircraft bunkers on airfields would typically not even require a standard-sized bomb, much less a dedicated bunker penetration warhead as in the Taurus missile.
Bunker busting was so far quite irrelevant in the Russo-Ukrainian War and bridge pillars weren't blown up.

(12) Western air power military theory and campaign plans/command are utterly unimpressive. Strike choreography has been rather impressive since the 1960's, but the typical answer of air power to problems is still to throw more resources at the problem, to bomb more. I'm utterly unimpressed by supposed stars of air warfare theory, such as Warden whose theory is an utterly useless fig leaf for incompetence campaign ideas. I tried to criticise constructively, of course.
The Russian air power strategy appears to be so dumb that they could do better if they asked ChatGPT for help. The Ukrainian air power strategy appears to be on about the same level, albeit there are rudimentary signs of a counter-oil strategy.

(13) I don't like the assassination-by-drone campaign, but most of the time the country's government appears to have green-lighted it. Cruise missile diplomacy on the other hand is much worse; it's plain arrogance and aggression most of the time.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.  

(14) Western air forces don't need bigger budgets. They should make better use of their budgets, oriented at (collective) defence and deterrence.
The impotence of Russian air power in face of old (and totally known to them) air defences as well as the ability of Ukrainians to conduct 1,500 km long strike missions with cheap improvised cruise missiles kind of proves my point.

(15) Close air support is overrated because it was available in a much bigger ratio to ground forces in contact than this would be the case in Europe. In Europe, individual platoons wouldn't be heard by the air force; maybe individual reinforced battalion battlegroups would be heard. CAS was also exaggerated because air defences haven't distracted and impeded CAS after 1991 any more.
Close air support was not very important or very effective in the Russo-Ukrainian War until recently, when guided Russian glide bombs began to pound known Ukrainian field fortifications in an effort to do what Russian artillery is apparently too impotent to do. Still, it's only relevant at main efforts. Meanwhile, the classic CAS as Westerners think of it is absent and there's instead a drone plague in effect at up to 20 km depth. I consider such short-ranged drones to be more akin to artillery, not air force-like assets.
(16) I'm no fan of large airlift capacity. I understand that the Americans need it to deploy past the oceans quickly, but Germany doesn't need any military transport aircraft in my opinion. Most needs can be (and many are being) covered by chartered aviation, some can be eliminated by doctrine and others are merely imagined. The A400M project was an embarrassing de facto subsidy to a most ungrateful (and unexpectedly incompetent) industry.
The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.  

(17) Long-range radar aircraft (E-3 and E-8 as examples) are impressive, but would likely be pushed back if facing modern Russian technology. Once pushed back by fighters and batteries with long-range missiles, they could look barely or not at all into 'hostile' territory any more, and thus wouldn't play their huge potential roles in attacks and offensive operations on the ground. A possible countermeasure would be supersonic businessjets turned into radar aircraft since these could survive 50-100 km farther forward, but no such businessjets ever seem to reach the prototype stage.
Electronic countermeasures add another big question mark behind the utility of air and ground surveillance radar aircraft.
The Russian A-50 Mainstay AEW aircraft was able to operate for a long time, but a few losses in the air and attacks on their airbase appear to have neutralised these assets. They would sure love to have a survivable AEW aircraft, but they did generally neglect AEW and had too few of the ordinary AEW aircraft to begin with. ECM effect against Mainstay and electronic intelligence aircraft was not published AFAIK.

(18) Maybe - contrary to Brimstone fanboyism et cetera - tactical air support of the future (CAS) will primarily be about detecting and identifying targets for ground forces' artillery that grew very much in range and precision during the last 20 years. This means that the old (since early 80's) Brevel/KZO or Aquila approach for an artillery spotter drone may still prove to be the way to go.
This is what drones did and do; originally the TB-2, nowadays quadcopter/multicopter drones.

(19) Airspace deconfliction has gotten out of hand.

This event looked scary, but did no harm. I have not read about or heard of any losses due to lacking deconfliction between artillery and airpower. There weren't terribly many aircraft over the frontlines, though. The biggest deconfliction issue appears t be 'friendly fire' against drones (especially with jammers) and of Russian air defences against Russian combat aircraft.  


So overall, I think my theses look pretty good, kind of above average compared to most publications about modern  war in the air.



  1. Would it be possible to integrate AEW into a drone cloud instead of a single aircraft? That might actually be much more survivable and could penetrate deeper.

    1. Sufficiently powerful radars will be heavy, big, require much cooling and require much electrical power.

      A drone swarm that flies over hostile territory would not be persistent; it would face rapid attrition.

    2. New development: Russians have started using shotguns with birdshot against grenade quadcopters to great effect.

    3. Grenade-dropping drones can stay above 50 m, where even buckshot isn't much of a threat.
      FPVs are 80+ kkph fast. That leaves 1.5 seconds in which a defender could use a shotgun on it after having less than a second audible early warning.

      Shotguns are the equivalent of Cold War SPAAGs without search radar (~M163). Fine to deter attacks that last long (in case of SPAAGs that was strike aircraft making a 2nd pass), but of no use against surprise attacks.