Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd.

Author:Eldridge, Golda
Position:Book review
 
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Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd. By John Andreas Olson, ed. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Tables. Diagrams. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 239. $49.95 ISBN: 9781-61251-804-6

John Boyd and John Warden are arguably two of the most influential military thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century. Their ideas have been discussed, argued about, ignored, and incorporated consciously and unconsciously into the operations and doctrines of militaries around the globe. They have been controversial both for their personal approaches (which could be condescending and dismissive of dissent) and their common Air Force heritage. Some people lump them with Douhet, Mitchell, and Trenchard as dreamers or proselytizers long on promises and short on results. A diverse group of airpower scholars seeks to inform the reader about Boyd and Warden's theories, place them in context, and then provide a usable framework for further developing the concept of strategic paralysis.

Olsen is a Norwegian Air Force officer with a theoretical bent and an interest in advancing the concepts of his predecessors. His coauthors are distinguished airpower historians and thinkers, including Warden himself, who provide their own perspectives on the topic. Olsen's thesis is that warfare--and specifically air warfare as it contributes to the whole--should focus not on attrition but strategic paralysis. He and his coauthors argue that regardless of the circumstances (conventional or irregular warfare), militaries and governments are still locked into a paradigm focused on destroying men and equipment. They see this as wasteful and failing to take advantage of both modem technology and thinking. They believe affecting the enemy as a system is the most efficient way to create the desired end state. They use Boyd's OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop and Warden's five-rings targeting concept but discuss them beyond what they see as the oversimplification of both ideas in common use. The discussion is sound and shows a good grasp of both the theories involved and their application. The result, as described by Colin Gray in the final chapter, is "theory presented in the form of many dicta" to enhance "clarity, accuracy and practical utility." Gray is quite dear he doesn't consider this complete or final, as any theory is always subject to revision. Airpower advocates may find some of his dicta difficult to accept, as they...

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