Typically, states build airpower capabilities in line with other strategic objectives of national security since the funding and resources that build airpower are considerably high. In most of the cases, the airpower capability has been primarily designed to counter conventional or regular warfare. However, the issue of Irregular Warfare has a long military tradition. History has taught us that Irregular Warfare has involved most military actions recognizing the fact that security is critical. The occurrence mostly confronts the conventional forces that the kind of war forces train for might seemingly become less and less relevant. In the 21st century, warfare is characterized by Irregular Warfare, unconventional tactics, and other non-unformed combatants which impact the roles of airpower. This paper will examine the roles of air power in Irregular Warfare, challenges confronted by conventional air forces, and the contributions of airpower to combat Irregular Warfare.
Roles of Airpower in Irregular Warfare
The pollical nature of airpower provides it with critical military objectives as brings about asymmetry to war (Schmitt, 2007). In most cases, the first use for its success revolves around maximizing of asymmetry to war and minimizing the limitations. Airpower is essential in both the political aspects of maintaining physical connectivity between the people and governments and different operations to secure and maintain the environment (Hoffman, 2006). However, there are primary roles that airpower plays in Irregular Warfare (IW) include control of the air, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike and information, and air mobility.
Airpower provides the fundamental air mobility and the resupply capabilities to forces operating with an IW environment. Primarily, air mobility and resupply are directly involved with the movement of resources and people both intra and inter theatre, whereby, it is not only about airlift, but also include air refueling during the movement of airborne assents. Air mobility could be one of the most critical roles of airpower in that the rapid mobility around the battlefield ensures that the commitment of the forces at the critical points. Also, as the units on the ground expend the ammunition, food, healthcare, supplies, and other vital requirements, the timely replenishment of the supplies could mean a significant difference between the failure and success in a campaign. Often, air mobility is limited in military thinking to deliver or supply military personnel and equipment to where they to be; however, this is a misjudgment and would be a misuse of the airpower in IW. The role of airpower in air mobility expands beyond the operational and tactical military decisions to the grounds the operators seek to constrain.
Correspondingly, the concept of vertical airlift has been one of the developments in airpower involving air mobility and is vital to IW operations. Helicopters have been a good and cheap airpower alternative offering possible vertical lift that allows the capacity of air mobility. Since the capability or air mobility is not limited to conventional combat, it is critical to all aspects and operations of IW. For example, in US history, the El Salvadorian military acquired six significant medical evacuations from the United States. In El Salvador, the air mobility offered by helicopters in evacuation capability increases military aggressiveness and effectiveness an occurrence confirming to the role of airpower in providing air mobility (Corum, 1998). Majorly, the nature of IW requires that air mobility should be used as a strategic capability.
Control of Air and Precision Capability
According to numerous IW case studies, they demonstrate that the need for airpower utilization in missions creates the role of control of air which in other cases could be considered as precision capability. Within the control of air, it includes the ability to freely conduct operation the air alongside the surface below without any significant interference from adversary airpower. In this case, the adversary airpower is not constrained to aircraft; it should also encompass air defence capacity and capability. In the role of controlling the air, it is sufficient to enhance and provide the freedom of movement. However, the control does not demand that the adversary cannot impact the air claiming that in most of the cases, air supremacy would be unnecessary (Corum, 2007).
In the 21st century, technology has developed and allowed a possibility to the extent whereby the airpower can supply and deliver munitions with proper accuracy. Accuracy is critical in the control of air, particularly in Irregular Warfare. For example, in counterinsurgency (COIN), it is vital to ensure a significant limitation of the collateral damage whereby the magnitude of the damage should align with the goal. A case of COIN strategy that relied on airpower but did not comprehend the actual nature of the insurgent problem is the early phases of US involvement in Vietnam. While the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) gained access to airpower - a technology that had high accuracy, they used the airpower it severally against villages suspected to support the insurgency. There has been a significant development in that the airpower has aided in maintaining and controlling the air to ensure that such cases do not occur again. During IW the airpower is applicable to avoid unnecessary collateral damage (Peck, 2007).
Strike involves an attack to seize, damage, or destroying, which is a component of airpower as it provides kinetic effects. In numerous cases, the kinetic effects are solely thought as airpower delivery, and much focus is placed on the kinetic effects at the expense of desirable non-kinetic effects. In the role of airpower in strikes, the US has had various encounters in the application of the role on airpower to make strikes. For example, with the creation of the AC-130 gunship in the US that provided close air support (CAS), force protection, and air interdiction, the gunship played a major in undertaking strikes (U.S. Air Force, 2016). The gunship was developed for use in Vietnam as an AC-47 gunship that comprised of side-firing weapons. Even though not a kinetic gunship, the EC-130J Commando Solo gunship is another example of airpower used to undertake strikes in fulfilment of the role of the vital role of airpower (U.S. Air Force, 2016). Also, despite the lack of identifiable marks on the failure and success, the gunships provide the fundamental capability to influence populations which is essential in IW operations.
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)
Airpower has played a significant role in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance which is an absolute capability that enhances and directs significant efforts at the operational, strategic and tactical levels of in IW. Today, airpower includes both human-crewed and crewless aircraft, whether for intelligence or strike, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. In the involvement of ISR, airpower provides critical possibilities of aerial reconnaissance to the ground forces by offering different advantages. For example, manned ISR has aided in the ability to redirect IW operations as expected and offer the capacity to make real-time decisions in the different IW operations. Airpower is useful in the ISR in other ways whereby it has offered the possibility of taking necessary measures to protect human warfare. One of the cases where airpower had maintained its use in the ISR includes the historic degrading of the Al-Qaeda in a 2011 raid into Pakistan that killed Osama Bin Laden. Also, the combination of the US airpower with the SOF and the ISR have aided the development of crucial IW operations in countries such as Somalia where some of the operations include a drone strike in March 2015 that killed Adan Garaar, an al-Shabaab intelligence and security wing chief.
In summary of the roles airpower plays in Irregular Warfare (IW), it is equally indispensable and fundamental since it can influence and erode opponents' power. In most cases, governments have used airpower to enhance the government's legitimacy, offer an asymmetric advantage over adversaries, and promote a countries development. Moreover, airpower provides useful and practical ways that governance can be consolidated to ensure populace which is a significant outcome in the event of IW (Peck, 2007).
Challenges Faced by A Modern Air Force in Irregular Warfare
While airpower is advantageous and comprises of a wide range of unparalleled and unique capabilities in IW, there are various limitations the new air force faces in the IW. For instance, there is the issue of the impact of technology, the influence of national demography, resource constraints at the national strategic level, and dealing with collateral damage.
Impact of Technology
Airpower has remained reliant on technology since it was born of technology. The effectiveness in the application of airpower is dependent on the ability of modern air force to optimally accept and adapt to new sophisticated technology. While technology in the modern air force could enhance a significant strength, it could be a challenge, particularly with the dependence on technology. As a challenge, the total technology-dependence is being susceptible to being targeted by asymmetric ways and neutralizes the Irregular Warfare. The massive dependence on technology has made the development of new air force competencies a complicated practice, particularly with the issue of cost. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, it is likely that by the mid-21st century, the US Defense budget will only be capable of procuring one air platform if the growth cost increases along with inflation (Younossi et al., 2007). Even though high-end modern air force can be purchased, often the maintenance expertise resides in the nation of manufacture, an occurrence that could render high costs. Thus, the impact of technology has been a significant challenge.
Influence of National Demography
Within democracies, the demography of a country directly affects the culture and structure of its military forces, including the airpower. The evolutionary changes that occur in a democracy alter the national strategies and security perceptions of the country. It means, such challenges equally affect airpower capabilities, an occurrence that has transpired as a challenge in the modern air force. For example, the threat perception by the general population in an economy is termed as the absence of direct physical threat; however, due to the general view of e public, it becomes generally difficult for the national government to meet different demands by the modern air force. This occurrence has possessed a significant challenge to the modern air force in IW (Hoffman, 2006).Resource Constraints at the National Strategic Level
Often, most of the military forces, especially modern air force faces resource challenges, whether at wrong times or good times since governments are reluctant to allocate a higher share of national resources to defense and the airpower than what the public could consider adequate. The increased complexity in the national security and the involvement of multiple agencies has rendered a significant challenge to the modern air force. In most cases, resource constraint and implication are critical challenges to airpower regardless of the immersion of the force in operations. The strategic leadership of airpower is obligated to fine their resources to cater for the broader national constraints which in one way or the other could result to the failure of the air force by pushing significant limitations to its practices in the event of Irregular Warfare (Hoffma...
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