The CSS Blog Network

Airpower May Not Win Wars, But it Sure Doesn’t Lose Them

Pilot conducting preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II. Source: US Air Force/Flickr.

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 August, 2015.

“A modern, autonomous, and thoroughly trained Air Force in being at all times will not alone be sufficient, but without it there can be no national security.”

— General H. H. ‘Hap’ Arnold, USAAF

The beginning of the 21st century has been hard on the Department of Defense. Following closely behind two 20th-century successes in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, the Department of Defense (DoD) was knocked back on its heels following the September 11 attacks. Departing from the successful post-Vietnam template that relied on airpower to seek limited objectives, the United States engaged in two costly, drawn out, and ultimately unsuccessful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ground-centric approach failed to achieve stated goals, mired the U.S. military in complex local political contests, and so constrained two presidents that they both were forced to choose between losing now, and reinforcing failure (losing later). » More

Death From Above

“Death from above” . Image: AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This book review was originally published by the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) on 28 May, 2015.

Andrew Cockburn. Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins. Henry Holt Publishers. 307pp. $28.00.

It’s not often that a book review coincides with current events. Books, particularly nonfiction, are usually written and published months, if not years after an event has occurred. That’s because good nonfiction is written in retrospect: writers have spent some time absorbing their subject, researching and analyzing the facts; authors are hesitant to be rash in judgment or thought.

However, there are exceptions. Some pieces of nonfiction, particularly journalists’ works, are appropriate now — not later. Andrew Cockburn’s new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, is one of them.  Cockburn’s book is timely.  In just the past few weeks there has been a flood of reporting from media outlets stating that a drone strike killed an American and an Italian hostage when targeting a group of Al-Qaeda members operating near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. » More

LHD and STOVL – An Engineer’s View

F-35 Lightning

This article was originally published on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute‘s blog, The Strategist, on June 20, 2014.

As a military aircraft engineer, I’ve been associated with STOVL aircraft operations for around 30 years, and have worked on the F-35 program. So I’ve followed the current discussions around potential use of F-35B from the Canberra-class LHDs with interest.

In my view, it’s remarkable how much the debate focuses on the problems that the aircraft would face in operating from those ships rather than the potential benefits to be gained. Assertions abound about the ‘limited’ nature of F-35B operations from an LHD, and the ‘severe challenges’ involved in generating a militarily ‘decisive impact’ from ‘small’ platforms. And yet for 30 years or more the UK and US (using AV-8Bs and Sea Harriers) have delivered
significant operational effect from similar platforms. Clearly, STOVL at sea can work. So I’d like to offer a few observations that might assist and inform the debate. » More

Aircraft Stories: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Part II)

An F-35B Lightning II makes the first vertical landing on a flight deck at sea, courtesy of U.S. Navy/wikimedia commons

This article was originally published on the blog The Disorder of Things, on 17 May 2014.

This is the second part of a single post about the F-35 as actor-network. The first part is here.

Strike

This word is meant to convey the F-35’s identity as a proper multirole fighter, a machine rigged to conduct both air superiority and strike missions, the latter defined as tactical attacks on a ground or naval target with a particular focus on “initial blow” or “first day of attack” operations. All three variants of the F-35 fighter family hold this capability: the conventional A version designed for use by the U.S. Air Force and allied air forces; the Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) or B variant for the U.S. Marines Corps as well as the UK’s Royal Navy, as well as the conventional carrier-based edition for the U.S. Navy, the F-35C.

Airstrike, or strike for short, shapes, and is shaped by, the evolving structure of international politics in important ways. Pax Americana, defined in terms of successive hegemonic or hierarchical international and regional orders centered on Washington, D.C., can be regarded as an assemblage made possible by the so-called global strike, among other smaller assemblages. Since the middle years of the twentieth century warplanes have transformed themselves into multirole, fighter-bomber machines capable of ever-greater lethality and survivability. What makes U.S. strike aircraft especially formidable is the surrounding stuff—assets like ballistic and cruise missiles plus countless “force enablers” such as ground bases, aircraft carrier groups, logistics depots, a large tanker force and aerial refueling know-how, interlinked information and communication systems, the ability to generate and sustain the use-of-airspace deals on relatively short notice and so on. » More