The Best Article to have appeared in Air Power History during 2010, is Benjamin S. Lambeth's "Reflections on the Balkan Wars." The article appeared in the spring issue, Vol. 57, No. 1, pp. 30-43. Dr. Lambeth is a highly respected Senior Research Associate at the RAND Corporation, with extensive experience in analyzing air power in general and American air operations in particular. The article is a superb analysis of how the application of American air power has evolved in the past twenty years.
The Balkan air campaigns of the 1990s, culminating in the seventy-eight day Operation Allied Force in the spring of 1999, are critical in that they very significantly influenced and formed the foundation of the United States' use of air power, particularly in Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003. Dr. Lambeth points out that success in the Balkan air operations served to reinforce the understanding of modern air power's capabilities that some had belittled after the 1991 Gulf War where air power was the key to defeating Saddam Hussein's army (although it was not the only factor).
Lambeth notes that America's approach to war has changed considerably in recent years, directed by a number of new factors: gradualism, proportionality, noncombatant immunity, collateral damage avoidance, the need for legitimacy, plus what Lambeth cites as "the CNN [Cable News Network] factor," as well as the battle of narratives that determines who wins and who loses in the end. This important article examines how the use of transformed American air power evolved through the first decade of the 21st Century. This effort did not begin well, and Lambeth describes two years of useless effort in Operation Deny Flight against Bosnian Serbs that started in 1993 and was a reminder of the futility we imposed on ourselves in Vietnam. Following the frustrating and ineffective United Nations-controlled operation, matters were much improved in Operation Deliberate Force, mounted in response to a Bosnian Serb attack on civilians in Sarajevo in 1995.
Lambeth points out that probably the most significant outcome of the Deliberate Force and then the 1999 Allied Force air operations was the ability to deliver very precise strikes--and the future expectation that such exact targeting will be expected and demanded despite the nature and conditions of the conflict underway. Today, even a single, perceived error in weapon delivery, no matter how well disciplined the force, can undo all...