Air power is the key to modern warfare, but it could be used differently, believes the US commander of the Kosovo air campaign



As US Air Force Lt Gen Mike Short launched his command of the air campaign over Kosovo last March, he expected to lose aircraft and aircrews. He thought that Serb forces would use skillfully their SA-3 and SA-6 missile launchers, a capability he considered a significant threat.

"If you had stopped me on the first night and said: 'Mike, you're going to fight for 78 days. Do you think you can do that without losing any aircraft or any people?' I'd have said: 'Absolutely not,'" Short says in his 16th Air Force headquarters at Aviano AB, Italy.

Two air wars, no losses

NATO lost two aircraft but no aircrews in the 78-day campaign. Looking back to the air conflict over Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, Short points out that the Kosovo was the second campaign in a row "where air power has produced results with zero losses. We prepared the battlefield - once again, air power was dominant."

Short is quick to add that another air power victory does not mean that there is no longer a need for land-based forces in modern warfare, but he says: "I think the balance perhaps should shift a bit more toward air power in some areas."

A veteran of 276 combat missions in Vietnam, Short has flown the McDonnell Douglas F-4, the Convair F-102 and F-106, LTV A-7, Fairchild A-10, Lockheed Martin F-117 and F-16C and Boeing F-15E. As an airman, he says, "my job is to prepare the battlefield to a degree that the American soldier simply has to walk in and accept the surrender of the adversary. That's what I get paid for. When American soldiers die in the field, to some degree, I failed."

The three-star general has been blunt in his criticism of his bosses' directives on how to wage the air war. He favours instead retired Army General Colin Powell's approach: "Once you've decided to go, go with everything you've got - your Sunday punch on the first night; get the adversary's attention in the strongest possible way," Short says. "Don't lead him to believe that he can survive what you're about to do to him."

The Kosovo campaign represented "incrementalism," in Short's book. "This was an escalatory, phased approach. It

worked, but I don't think that's the right way to use air power. I believe we could have brought [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic to the table much more quickly and, quite frankly, with much less destruction to the Serb infrastructure. That's a devastated nation now. That didn't have to be done if we had struck himdifferently, the way I think air power is optimised to do."

Key to optimising air power is achieving air superiority, which Short defines as "that single cornerstone from which all other military capability flows. If you can't protect the troops, if you can't strike at command and communications 1,000 miles deep, it's very tough to fight the kind of war this nation wants to fight - which is taking the fight to the enemy as opposed to letting them bring the fight to us. The only way you can guarantee the ability to do that is with air superiority."

Striking gravity centres


If, he says, "we do air superiority right and we strike the appropriate centres of gravity at the proper pace, with appropriate levels of lethality and destructive capability, then close-air support [CAS] is never required and battlefield interdiction might not be required. Maybe you won't have to put American soldiers in the field."

His experiences during the Kosovo air war convinced him that the venerable A-10 CAS/forward-air control aircraft (left) needs critical upgrades and that the potential is "extraordinary" to diversify the use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) as platforms for jamming, active defence suppression, command and control, relay and communications.

He expresses surprise that the Serbs failed to maximise the use of their SA-3s and SA-6s, saying that the "patriotic, tough Serb soldiers" opted for survival instead of attempting to knock out enemy aircraft. "None of them was willing to die for Milosevic. So they didn't use their systems properly," Short says. "This did not keep them from being a threat, becauseSA-6s and SA-3s and shoulder-helds shot at you are threats, but when they aren't being guided, when they're ballistic, they are much less of a threat."

He warns that the lack of allied fatalities should not be seen as air power's guarantee that there will be no losses in the future. Such perceptions are dangerous, he says.

Short believes, however, also that air power has "demonstrated its capability to play a dominant role to bring an adversary to the table on its own, and I think we should give air power credibility, credence, whatever word you want to use for being able to influence events in the future and save young Americans' lives."

Source: Flight International