The issue of air power is topical in Bulgaria, a nation going through a trying patch in the history of its sovereign existence. Yet, air power has never been subjected to in­depth professional research, particularly as regards its role as an instrument for attain­ing specific political, economic or military objectives.

Why is air power topical? Because:

– it has existed, exists now, and will continue to exist into the future

– it has always presented planners with a broad range of options, does so now, and will continue to do so in future

– it calls for significant capital investment entailing large measures of risk

– it is highly dependent upon national scientific and technological potential

– it is an exceptionally convoluted and complex matter where decision making and implementation call on a whole range of disparate resources

– it is central to national security.

The methodology for addressing similar issues does not call for a precise definition of success. (Some systems analysis authorities even claim that such issues do not need too close a formulation to be researched.) However, national security matters such as air power and its role in armed conflict are overridingly important. Therefore, it is incumbent before specialists studying air power to define it, and the options for its development, to the greatest attainable degree of precision.

In pursuing the exercise’s objectives, one has to adhere scrupulously to objectivity and logic. Objectivity is essential in monitoring and data processing. Logic is a way of thinking which aims at rational conclusions. The body of evidence under considera­tion forms the substance of the transparency and clarity essential to such studies. Empirical monitoring is the process whereby data gathered forms a system, which in turn provides grounds for recommendations. The latter, in their turn, are logical con­clusions resting on properly selected fact.

As stated above, Bulgarian military science has not yet grappled with the meaning of air power. Due to post-Second World War historical divisions, it still employs Soviet terminology. Yet, contemporary realities call both for the introduction of air power as a concept, and for new ways of interpreting it. They would reflect contemporary na­tional priorities, and enable a proper appreciation of air power in the context of the recent conflict near Bulgaria’s Western borders.

While retaining the hierarchy of fundamental issues, it is crucial to redefine air power, and examine it as an element or subset of national power.

As national potential develops, so do science and technology. They in turn promote further development. National potential determines how nations rank in the world league: a nation’s ability to attain political, commercial and military objectives depends upon it. Never has this been truer than today, as leading na­tions (‘the Superpowers’) enter the information society. However, regardless of the era a country is in, its development depends on proper harnessing of whatever potential it has. National power may be defined as the extent to which national potential can be actualised in the pursuit of set political, commercial or military objectives. It determines a country’s vitality, its ability to endure hard times, and to go on to prosper.

If national power is the extent to which national potential is actualised, we may view it as the result of a process: the outcome of a system of mutually linked components. We may prove that such a system exists by noting its intrinsic com-

ponentry, and its point of entry (the presence of an object affected by the process at play within the system).

New realities require a broader view of national power as a whole, and of each of its components. In researching the issue, the fact that one is observing an open system in which air power is an entry point is significant. Once we agree to regard national power as a system, we also agree to examine its environs: finite objects with a definite influence on the system. Vital to the system’s existence, each of these objects is a source of input into the system. We may call the sources of national power ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ (Diagram 1).

Tangible sources include, inter alia, geography, economic potential, infrastructure, the extent of technological development, human resources, and the armed forces. Intangible sources include, inter alia, culture, ideology, national will and morale, gov­ernment powers and resolve, diplomatic skill, and significant political and military success or failure in the past.

Depending on the objectives set before it, national power may be military or non­military. This subjective distinction derives from the sources of national power, which may also acquire the same distinction in turn. The subjectivity deepens by the emer­gence of an information society in advanced nations. There, links between compo­nents of national power grow stronger, while bounds between them grow weaker.

Nevertheless, in your Author’s opinion, the distinction is still necessary because few nations are ‘advanced,’ remaining (according to Toffler’s definition) at the indus – trial/agrarian stage.

According to the same author again, industrial nations’ striving to retain a status quo that gives them world leadership and the ability to shape that world according to their interests, is natural. This striving is one of the reasons for sharp political and economic crises, frequently leading to the use of armed force.

Unarmed power derives from non-military sources that feed the part of the system relating to national political and economic potential. Armed power derives from the military. Both sources may be tangible or intangible, and determine the methods and resources used in pursuing objectives: political and economic, or military goals. The recent clash of arms in the Balkans bears out the correctness of such a classification: it has been degrading Bulgarian national potential for the past ten years.

Discourses on national armed power are particularly apposite in view of the na­ture of the issue under review. Armed power is the sum total of material and morale at national/class/international alliance level, and as the ability of that nation/class/alli – ance to mobilise these resources for combat objectives or in the resolution of other issues. Military prowess depends upon national business, social, scientific and techno­logical prowess, and national morale. A country’s armed forces and their ability to attain objectives set by political leaders are its direct expression.


Sources of
National Power:




-National Will and Morale

-Government Power and Resolve

-Diplomatic Skill

-Past Success and Failure in Peace and War


Sources of
National Power:

Geography – Economic Potential Infrastructure Technological Development Human Resources Armed Forces


National Power:

The Degree of
Actualisation of
National Potential in
Attaining Objectives






Components of by Purpose


National Power and Source


Components of National


Power by Environment


On the High
Sea and Waterways


In the Air


Extent of
Actualisation of
National Air



Diagram 1: The sources and components of national power




Armed forces are classified according to their environment: army, airforce, and navy. The ability of each to perform depends on its armed power. Armed power is the totality of material factors and morale characterising the state of the armed forces and their ability to attain combat objectives. It depends directly on, inter alia: personnel numbers, morale and training, the quantity and quality of combat equipment, and good command. Armed power is the ability and potential to attain a set objective in the context of a specific set of conditions. The major components of armed power (Diagram 2) are:

– personnel and equipment in direct combat: people and machines basic to com­bat potential

– reserve personnel and equipment: technical and logistics backup providing sus­tainability

– command strength and mechanisms: management potential.

Combat potential is basic to armed power. It is the state and potential of person­nel and equipment in direct combat: those directly committed to attaining set com­bat objectives.

Before delineating the bounds of air power as a subsystem of national power, the point that national power is classified by environment (land, water or air) repays reiteration. This best enables countries to utilise land, water and air for objectives relevant to their prosperity and ability to endure.


Diagram 2: The components of armed power