EXAMINING AIR POWER. AS A SYSTEM
Systems analysis represents system objects symbolically; denotes their structures (function, links, organisation, and development), events, properties, objective laws, and formal relationships between them; and displays structural similarities, properties, composition, communication, and development as evidence of functional system integrity.
To apply systems theory to a phenomenon means to study that phenomenon thoroughly, but without recourse to classical experimentation. The aim is to discover the phenomenon’s structure and behaviour. This entails using methods from a number of disciplines. (Indeed, the benefits of the systems approach stem from the fact that it is isomorphic, breaching historical bounds between sciences claiming to study entirely different phenomena.)
Attempts to study air power as a system date back some decades. To your Author’s knowledge, Stephen Possony made the first such attempt in 1949. Writing on Elements of Air Power in the Infantry Journal Press, he listed 15 elements of air power:
– materiel and fuel
– industrial potential; a high level of technological progress and instrument development
– a network of bases and forces to defend them
– communications and electronics
– logistics support
– auxiliary services
– airborne forces
– guided missiles and nuclear weaponry
– aeroplanes and other aircraft
– human resources
– inventions and research
– tactics, strategy, and planning.
Possony then described the significance of each element, but ended his article short of stating the need to apply a systems approach.
The 1992 Air Force Manual exhibited a similar level of perception in treating the United States’ aerospace doctrine. Possony was cited verbatim, but without clarifying things in the least; what was omitted includes:
– the internal organisation of air power, and modes of interplay between its components
– the functions of air power components
– horizontal and vertical links between air power and other structured systems
– mechanisms and factors for system preservation, improvement, and development
– methods and phasing in air power development with a view to defining its historical prospects.
But why examine air power as a system? Indeed, is the systems approach suitable to air power? It recommends itself because:
– air power is created by man and involves components with different natures
– air power has a purpose, and each of its components has an aim (tasks whose performance generally involves the air)
– the scope of air power is very broad, as witnessed by the variety of its components, and the number of functions and values involved
– air power is sufficiently complex to merit study as a unity. Any internal or environmental change begets other significant changes. Moreover, inputs and outputs are non-linear, which renders mathematical modelling both exceptionally complex and far too subjective
– inasmuch as adversaries always strive to downgrade air power, it contains an element akin to competition. In the aforementioned business systems, commercial competitors assume the adversary role.
In examining air power, the systems approach entails study of a series of aspects, each of them important, viz.:
– system elements
– system structure
– system function
– system communications
– system integrity
– system history.
The system elements aspect tells us what the system contains. The components of air power are listed above, along with their major elements where relevant. This ought to have made it clear that the system’s net product is to enable a country to use the air in the pursuit of its political, business and military objectives: a topical issue today. This issue has long represented a major priority before any national and military leadership that has ever set its public ambitious tasks for the pursuit of national prosperity. It has become particularly pertinent in the light of plentiful recent examples of the benefits of air superiority. These benefits stem from the advantages of three-dimensional space, great speed, manoeuvrability, the mobility and flexibility of airborne platforms, and the multiplicity of tasks performed.
The conclusion has to be that the system under review has a great many interrelated properties. These properties do not derive merely from the properties of individual components, nor are they reduced to them. They also depend on the environment and on the elements and subsystems of components. Air power is part of the hierarchy of national power, and is itself a hierarchy: a complex system with a great many interdependencies. This renders formal mathematical descriptions practically impossible: such descriptions would transgress any levels of conditionality deemed useful in practice.
In this and similar cases, the systems approach is not a stage on the road to mathematical modelling. The main task is not to employ mathematics to detail structures, links and functions —but to research trends. In Bulgarian conditions, this may be paraphrased as finding how to guarantee the retention of air power, and how to maintain a reasonable level of air potential.
The system structure aspect shows how the system is put together, and how its components may interact. Though they may be shown as equal, the development of one or another of them is a matter of priorities and affordability. Factors determining the relative import and degree of development of individual components include:
– national economic potential
– political and military leaders’ air priorities
– national human resources’ potential (in demographic, intellectual and educational terms)
– national scientific potential
– geography and regional geopolitical encumbrances
– heritage and development prospects.
The degree to which an air power component is present or absent affects the links between others, and may impose system restructuring. For instance, in Bulgaria an element of one of the components (flying schools) has to stand in for the entire headline component (R&D, E&T, and manufacturing): the rest barely exists. (It must be stressed that the lack, or underdevelopment, of any system component degrades overall system effectiveness. That is why balancing between components while keeping account of national interests and abilities is so necessary.)
The reason this system is proposed is to facilitate better understanding of the issue, and ultimately to promote better policy in its regard. The system may be used to determine the role of air power in the conduct and outcome of armed conflict. The formation of most components of air power is revealed when examining system function aspects.
On the one hand, the system communications aspect helps delineate the system under review. On the other, it sets air power in the broader context of the system of national power. The formation of some components (due for examination later in the volume) was not only a process of emergence, but also of gradual fitting into the national power hierarchy, and of linking with land and sea power. We shall review this aspect in subsequent volumes, which will cover air power’s increased importance, and its attainment of equality with the other two elements of national power.
Today, air power is a decisive factor in the performance of strategic national tasks. This in no sense downgrades its functions in securing air superiority or mastery, or in offering adequate resistance in the defence of sovereignty over land or sea. On the contrary: it is the very ability of this element of national power to react most rapidly and appropriately to any threat, irrespective of where it arises, that gave it its dominating significance vis-a-vis the other two forces.
However, regardless of how great the success at the end of hostilities, consolidating it is down to land and sea power. This mutual dependence has been confirmed repeatedly, and will continue to be confirmed in your Author’s opinion.
The system integrity aspect of air power cannot be regarded as a constant. As will be obvious from the very infancy of air power, the emergence of its various components was evolutionary and uneven in time. It continues to this day, and will continue. Air power is an open system; protagonists at its entry and exit points are both the tangibles and intangibles listed above (Diagram 1), and the tasks and objectives before it.
Air power’s system history is possibly its most important aspect in the context of this study. It provides answers as to how the system came about, what development stages it underwent, and what prospects it faces. History is basic to this volume, and it will inform future volumes in the series. The intention is to show how air power evolved into a system over clearly defined periods, and to attempt to glean general trends for the near future. Apart from that, air power is the product of various nations’ air potential: an item also subject to evolution in set periods, and to trends in the future.
The study of air power leads to these conclusions:
– Air power is among the major indicators of national economic and military prowess. It expresses a country’s genuine ability to utilise the air in the pursuit of its interests. Thus, it is undoubtedly a primary element of the national security system, and a measure of national prosperity and potency.
– The benefits bestowed by air power and the possession of air potential stem from the air as an environment (high speed, long range, three dimensional manoeuvrability), and from the promise of further development as science progresses. The air allows high mobility, flexibility and universality, and offers politicians and soldiers rapid and effective solutions to complex problems. This helps rank air power as a prime element of national power. The primacy of air power, and its growing importance, means that it is a major issue that would repay study as a system with a set of clearly defined components.
– The number of components and the degree of their development express priorities and objectives nations set themselves. They are explicit in national security doctrines and implicit in geography, and in the state of tangible and intangible sources of national power. This state varies with time. It also relates to the links between system components. In this sense, air power is a complex open system whose entry point features its components and their subsystems, and whose major source is air potential.
– Air power has a multipurpose nature in both peace and war. It is involved in a variety of tasks, each drawing upon a different set of components, thus calling for a proper balance which may be determined according to set principles and criteria. Experience shows that imbalance in component construction and development results in limited ability to perform tasks, and degraded ability to tackle subsidiary tasks. In this connection, the balanced arranging of components, and their subsequent manipulation in order to maintain a suitable balance between them is a challenge to national business, intellectual, and political leaders.
– The utilisation of air power depends on the proper interaction of components which are heterogeneous in nature. Thus, utilising air power does not imply merely summing these components’ potentials, but rather invoking an altogether higher degree of unity and potency. Attaining proper balance in the structure of air power depends to a decisive degree on the complex process of scientific management during
its construction and maintenance. This in turn may call for adequate funding; obtaining it ought not to be a problem, since air power is always a matter of adequate sufficiency in a national context.
– Armed conflicts are direct stimuli for the development of air power and air potential. They have played an unbroken shaping role ever since air power’s emergence. Experience from assigning one role or another to air power’s components has read across to military science, and to the formulation of national priorities as a whole. Armed conflict is an extreme state that most rapidly tests the veracity of peacetime assumptions. What is necessary is a thorough study of the influence of air power on the course and outcome of armed conflict (particularly of the influence of air power’s major wartime component: the airforce). Because of their properties, airforces also manifest themselves as prime instruments of national policy in a variety of historical circumstances.
The emergence of air power occupied a relatively brief period. However, this pe – riod was rich in the variety and dynamism of processes it witnessed. Events influencing the emergence of air power and determining its place in the system of national power were numerous. Therefore, your Author proposes to review only the major ones among them. There is also a wish to forecast the future of air power in the context of the information society. Thus, subsequent volumes in the series shall review air power and conflict in successive periods:
– the First World War, featuring the rapid evolution of national aerial forces into separate commands able to tackle tactical tasks independently, influence operations, and undertake strategic duties
– the interwar period, marked by developments in doctrinal thinking, and by air power’s growing importance in periodic local armed conflicts
– the Second World War, which conformed airforces’ strategic significance as separate commands equal to the army and navy in determining the outcome of strategic operations
– the postwar period, which witnessed the gradual imposition of a state where leading industrial nations honed their aerospace forces’ readiness to react to any threat immediately and in a measured way, and when these forces assumed the role of prime deterrent in international relations.