Tuesday 7 March 2023

Rise Of Air Power

In a world, wherein human strides and conflicts continue to endure, it has only been natural that most of man's otherwise innocuous inventions, innovations, and emerging arts have been consigned to the fields of warfare.The genuine art of flying - a dream realized after too long - could not have been an exception. Visionaries amongst the ranks of fighting men quickly seized at it, initially just to use it as a tool in aid of war-waging on the land and sea surfaces but later because of its very versatility and omnipotence developed it into a new dimension of fighting - in the air. Through this fighting in the air, nations have acquired the ability to exert their influence and project their will and power. This ability to exert power through the medium of the air has come to be termed Air Power.

The Chariot of Phoebus
The Chariot of Phoebus

Conquest of the air had been an ambition of man for countless ages. He had been trying to fly as far back as he had been able to dream. Even his gods of ancient mythology were credited with wings through which they could get airborne. "The Chariot of Phoebus (Apollo): the winged sandals of Hermes (Mercury), subsequently lent to Perseus the fighter pilot; the stories of Pegasus and of the winged agronauts who fought. the Harpies, are all variations on a common theme." Leonardo da Vinci, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, designed and produced a winged contraption that temporarily took him off the ground it is no more than a delayed drop, but in doing so, it stimulated the development of flight. "Following him came a long trail of intrepid birdmen who spent hours watching birds in flight, and propounding theories on which they based practical experiments.”Although such experiments persisted yet there is no authentic record of anyone having successfully taken off from mother-earth until 1660 when Allard, and 1678 Bernier, both Frenchmen made a creditable attempt to fly with machines. In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers made experiments with balloons filled with hot air. Later hydrogen gas took the place of hot air as the lifting agent.

Many such experiments continued resulting in steerable balloons. Further modified, they were termed flying machines. Then followed machines powered by manual power, electric power· and even small steam engines of just three horsepower. It was not, however, until the present century when the development of the petrol engine reached a high state of efficiency that the conquest of the air became a possibility.

Man's attempts and desire to fly and its consequential effects on the affairs of mankind have also been a cause for concern for thinkers, and writers from almost all walks of life. Francesco de Lana, a Jesuit Monk, had warned the world, as early as the 17th century that in the times to come there would be airships and one of these airships might be able to cause a ship to capsize by flinging down pieces of iron, killing the crew, and setting the ship ablaze with artificial fire, bullets, and bombs. Louis P.Mouillard, an Algerian poet-farmer, who had also attempted to build a flying machine, wrote in L'Empire de L', Air in 1881 :

frontiers, strategy; all are brought to naught. It will even cause, in a very short time, the suppression of nationalities; races will be rapidly commingled or destroyed, for there will no longer be efficient barriers, not even those movable barriers which we term armies. No more frontiers! No more insular seclusion. im! (sic) No more fortresses! ... Will society perish?

He envisioned a period of distress and tempests followed by one of restored equilibrium wherein humanity will enter into possession of the empire of the air. Giulio Douhet, an ex-cavalry officer of Italy, predicted in 1909 that the sky too was about to become a battlefield. He wrote several books such as The Command of the Air (1921), Probable Aspects of Future War (1928), Recapitulation (1929), and The War of 19-- (1930). His fundamental thesis rested upon the lessons of World War I, as applied to Italy's strategic position vis-a-vis another European power in a future war.

In Douhet's opinion, only an independent air force could obtain decisive results for Italy. Aircraft, he observed, were weapons for· offensive action, of incomparable potential, against which no effective defense could be foreseen.A nation attaining 'command of the air' could proceed to shatter the enemy's war potential and will to wage war directly by aerial bombing. He wrote:

Aerial warfare admits to no defensive attitude, only the offensive. Of two Independent Air Forces, the one stronger in combat should neither seek nor avoid aerial combat; the weaker should try to avoid it. But both stronger and weaker should always be in readiness to act even before hostilities break out; and once the action has begun, both should keep in action incessantly and with utmost violence trying to hit the enemy's most vital targets-that is, targets more likely to cause repercussions on his air power and moral resistance. He brought out that victory smiles upon those who anticipate 'changes in the character of war not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur. And that to conquer command of the air means victory, to be beaten in the air means defeat and acceptance of whatever terms the enemy manages to impose.

Alexander Graham Bell, a distinguished American scientist,in his thesis.~ before the National Convention of the Navy League of United States, Washington {April 1916) exhorted America to produce not only flying machines but aviators as well "before the time comes when the necessity for their use in war arises ... and that nation which gains control of the air will practically control the world"

Winston s. Churchill as British Minister of Munitions, in a Memorandum dated 21 October 1917 wrote: 

"War proceeds by slaughter and maneuver... it is pointed out that an air offensive has never been considered on the same scale or with the same ruthlessness regarding losses for adequate objects as prevail in the operation of armies. Airplanes have never been used to attack vital objectives in the same spirit as infantry have been used, viz. regardless of loss, the attack being repeated again and again until the objective is secured ... the indispensable preliminary to all results in the air, as in, every other sphere of war, is to defeat the armed forces of the enemy".

Brigadier General William Mitchell, an American theorist, concerned with the future role of air forces, spearheaded a public crusade for an independent Air Force. He proclaimed the dawning of an aeronautical era wherein the destinies of all people would be controlled through the air. In such an era aerial sieges could be laid against a country –

"to prevent any communication with it, ingress or progress, on the surface of the water or even along railways and roads ... A new set of rules for the conduct of war will have to be devised, and a whole new set of ideas of strategy learned by those charged with the conduct of war."

Unlike Douhet, Billy Mitchell stressed the use of transportation and communications in war as well as in peace: "Just as power can be exerted through the air, so can good be done, because there is no place on the earth's surface that air power cannot reach and carry with it the elements of civilization and good that comes from rapid communications."

Air Power appeared, to these visionaries, as capable of acting faster than either land or sea forces and also capable of striking more directly at the enemy than armies or navies could. Whatsoever, the traditionalists and orthodox military men continued to consider aircraft as a sort of extended artillery only operating in conjunction with and under the control of the army commanders. The new visionaries, however, believed that air power could certainly supersede surface power. And, certain scattered incidents of armed conflicts wherein use was made of the aircraft, quickly proved that air weapon was destined to become ever more useful and was to be utilized in more important roles to achieve war aims. Nevertheless, the difficult question to answer was not whether aircraft was important, but how important it was. No definite answer as regards the ultimate efficacy of the air power could be provided. It was held by some that "as the aircraft could not be flown without a propeller, nor a propeller fly without its aircraft, so was air power related to the war effort.

It is a well-known fact that the effective development of air weapons could be carried through only by industrially developed countries that could harness technological innovations, economic resources, and scientific progress.

This was to lead to major power wars. Bruce M. Russet would have us believe that there are two distinct and incompatible views of how the distribution and redistribution of capabilities affect any incidence of major power war which can be discerned. According to him :

one predicts that there will be less war when there is approximate parity (and change towards it) among the nations and a relatively fluid power hierarchy. The other predicts that there will be less war when there is preponderance (or change towards it) of power concentrated in the hands of very few nations and a relatively stable rank order among the major powers.

It has been rightly observed that "wars appear to be inevitable in the state systems as we know it". They have to be lived through in case mankind is unable to establish a tranquil peace.

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Rise Of Air Power

In a world, wherein human strides and conflicts continue to endure, it has only been natural that most of man's otherwise innocuous inve...