Aerial warfare is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines in warfare, including military airlift of cargo to further the national interests as was demonstrated in the Berlin Airlift. Developing from unpowered observation hot air balloons in the 18th century and even older Kite, aerial warfare has become a high-technology affair that has led to many advances in technology and techniques such as propulsion, radar, and use of composites and engineered materials such as carbon fibers.
- 1 Kite warfare
- 2 Balloon warfare
- 3 Before World War I
- 4 World War I
- 5 Between the wars
- 6 World War II
- 7 Post World War II
- 8 Post Cold War
The earliest documented aerial warfared took place in ancient China,when manned Kite was set off to pry military intelligence and communication.
Balloon warfare in Ancient China
Balloon warfare in Europe
Some minor warfare use was made of balloons in the infancy of aeronautics. The first instance was by the French Aerostatic Corps at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794, who used a tethered balloon, "l'entreprenant", to gain a vantage point.
During the American Civil War, balloons were used by both the North and South as a means of observing battlefields - initially it was thought they could be used for preparing better maps. In one instance the balloon of Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was used as an FAO (Forward Artillery Observer), by which Lowe was able to ascend to a height from which he could view an "unseen target," and with a series of flag signals was able to call artillery fire in from an unseen fire base.
Balloons had disadvantages. They could not fly in bad weather, fog, or high winds. They were piloted at the whims of the winds and were also a very large target. Union Army balloons were always under fire, and whatever type of shot, rifle or cannon, was aimed at them and missed, they fell on the Union side of the battlefield. Confederate balloons faced bigger problems. Because of embargoes they had no access to balloon silk. They used what there was of dress-making silk material to fashion balloons. Often the city, usually Richmond, had no inflation gas.
The use of balloons in warfare was not seen for another 30 years. The invention of the blimp, or dirigible, with its mechanical means of propulsion and steering made inflatable aerostats more useful. Added to this was the idea of dropping ordinance from the blimps onto enemy positions. The use of military aerostats became practical during World War I, and helium made the use of inflatables safer and more dependable during World War II.
American Civil War
Union Army Balloon Corps
The American Civil War was the first war to witness significant use of aeronautics in support of battle. In June 1861 Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe left his work in the private sector as a scientist/balloonist and offered his services as an aeronaut to President Lincoln, who took some interest in the idea of an air war. Lowe's demonstration of flying his balloon the Enterprise over Washington D. C. and transmitting a message via telegraph to the ground was enough to have him introduced to the commanders of the Topographical Engineers.
Lowe's first action was at the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 with General Irvin McDowell and the Grand Army of the Potomac. With the use of his balloon Enterprise Lowe did a free flight observation of the Confederate positions, but as he had no identifying insignias or colors he was turned away by Union forces who could not identify him. He was forced to land behind enemy lines, but was rescued before he was discovered.
In another demonstration, Lowe was called to Fort Corcoran by artillery General W. F. Smith. Lowe ascended to a given altitude in order to spot rebel encampments at Falls Church (Va.). With flag signals he directed artillery fire onto the sleeping encampment. As the General put it: "The signals from the balloon have enabled my gunners to hit with a fine degree of accuracy an unseen and dispersed target area."
By October he had orders in hand to build four balloons with portable hydrogen gas generators for use in aerial reconnaissance. Working with several other prominent American balloonists he formed the Union Army Balloon Corps who never received commissions, working as civilian contractors, This was of great concern should the aeronauts be shot down over enemy lines, as civilian spying is summarily punishable by death. Therefore Lowe instructed on the strict use of tethered (as opposed to free) flight, by which the balloons remained attached to ground crews by cable. By attaining altitudes from 1,000 feet to as much as 3-1/2 miles, an expansive view of the battle field and beyond could be had.
Lowe built seven balloons: Eagle, his first; Constitution, one of the smaller balloons; its sister, Washington; Intrepid, a larger balloon and his favorite; a sister, Union; Excelsior; and United States, which never came out of storage.
As the Confederates retreated toward Richmond (Va.) the War turned into the Peninsular Campaign. Due to the heavy forests on the peninsula, the balloons were unable to follow on land. Lowe was introduced to the George Washington Parke Custis, a coal barge converted to a flat top that would serve as the first aircraft carrier in effect. The balloons with their gas generators were loaded aboard and taken down the Potomac, where reconnaissance of the peninsula could continue. The GWP Custis was taken up the Pawmunkey River, where Lowe was reunited with McClellan's army.
Lowe's most dramatic action came in the Battle of Fair Oaks, where he was able to view the advancing of Lee's army onto the isolated detachment of General Heintzelman. Working from two balloon camps, one at Mechanicsville and one at Gaine's Farm, Lowe galloped six miles twice daily to keep up with the reconnaissance reports. McClellan was sure that the rebels were feigning an attack, but Lowe could see differently. Heintzelman was left stranded on the other side of the Chickahominy River with the bridges having been taken out overnight by the swollen waters. Lowe sent a dispatch of utmost urgency to have the bridge repaired immediately and reserves sent to Heintzelman's aid. He then sent dispatch from Mechanicsville to Gaine's Farm calling for the immediate inflation of the large balloon Enterprise, which would aid him in overlooking the imminent battle.
When Lowe arrived at Gaine's, the Intrepid will still far from being inflated. In a quick work of inventive ingenuity, Lowe had the bottom of a camp kettle cut out and joined the valve ends of the Intrepid and the partially inflated Constitution hooked together, thereby transferring the gas from the latter into the former. Within 15 minutes he was in the air to oversee the battle. McClellan took Lowe's advice and came to Heintzelman's aid, saving the day.
Lowe fell prey to malaria during Fair Oaks and was out of commission for more than a month. On his return he found that the Balloon Corps had been stripped of horses and wagons and left out of service for the Battle of Antietam. Lowe was called back into service at Sharpsburg and later responded to Gen. Burnside's army at Vicksburg. The ensuing defeat of the Union Army in what was referred to as the "Mud March" led to Gen. Joseph Hooker's replacement of Burnside. By this time the Balloon Corps had been assigned to the Engineers Corps, and a newly promoted Captain Comstock cut Lowe's pay dramatically.
Lowe tendered a letter of intent to resign and was released from military duty in May 1863. The Balloon Corps continued to operate under the direction of the Allen Brothers who were ill-equipped to run the corps effectively. By August the Union Army Balloon Corps was disbanded.
Silk Dress Balloons
Due to the effectiveness of the Union Army Balloon Corps, the Confederates felt compelled to incorporate balloons as well. As coke gas was not always available in Richmond, the first balloons were made of the Montgolfier rigid style, cotton stretched over wood framing and filled with hot smoke from fires made of oil-soaked pinecones. They were piloted by Captain John R. Bryant for use at Yorktown. Though Bryant's performance was not all that bad, his handlers were poorly experienced and his balloon was left in the air spinning like a top. Another incident had one of the handlers becoming entangled in the ascending tether rope which had to be chopped loose, leaving the Captain free-flying over his own Confederate positions whose troops threatened to shoot him down.
Attempts at making gas-filled silk balloons were hampered by the South's inability to obtain any imports at all. They did fashion a balloon from dress silk (purportedly silk for making dresses, not from silk dresses themselves). The inflated spheres appeared as multi-colored orbs over Richmond and were piloted by Captain Landon Cheeves. Before the first balloon could be used it was captured during transportation on the James River by the crew of the Monitor. A second balloon did see action until summer 1863, when it was blown from its mooring and taken by Union forces only to be divided up as souvenirs for members of the Federal Congress. As the Union Army reduced its use of balloons, so did the Confederates, and much to their relief.
Before World War I
The armies of many countries evaluated the use of aircraft for observation purposes. Naval aviation was pursued as well; several tests were made in which floatplanes were launched by catapult from ships at sea, and recovered later by crane.
The U.S. Navy had been interested in naval aviation since the turn of the 20th century. In 1910-1911, the Navy conducted experiments which proved the practicality of carrier-based aviation. On November 14 1910, near Hampton Roads, civilian pilot Eugene Ely took off from a wooden platform installed on the scout cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2). He landed safely on shore a few minutes later. Ely proved several months later that it was also possible to land on a ship. On January 18 1911, he landed on a platform attached to the American cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) in San Francisco harbour.
The first use of aeroplanes in an actual war occurred in the 1911 Turco-Italian War with the Italian Air Force bombing a Turkish camp at Ain Zara, Libya, and in the 1912 First Balkan War with the Bulgarian Air Force bombing Turkish positions at Adrianople. Air reconnaissance was carried out in both wars too.
World War I
- See also: World War I Aviation
Initially during that war both sides made use of tethered balloons and airplanes for observation purposes, both for information gathering and directing of artillery fire. A desire to prevent enemy observation led to airplane pilots attacking other airplanes and balloons, initially with small arms carried in the cockpit (even resorting to such objects as bricks), but due to the technology of the time pilots couldn't have forward facing machine guns. It wasn't until the Germans developed the Interrupter Gear which worked by jamming the gun every time the propeller was in front of the guns. Eventually the Allies were able to capture German fighter with the Interruptor Gear and reverse engineering it, this would lead to the birth of the dogfight. Unfortunately there were no set tactics or rules for dogfighting so many pilots had to go into combat through trial and error. Eventually the German ace Oswald Boelcke created the Dicta Boelcke, which contained the eight rules of dogfighting. Dogfights occurred when planes fought each other at close quarters, leading to the development of maneuvering tactics. Both sides also made use of aircraft for bombing, strafing and dropping of propaganda. The German military made use of Zeppelins and, later on, bombers such as the Gotha, to drop bombs on Britain.
By the end of the war airplanes had become specialized into bombers, fighters and observation aircraft.
Between the wars
Between 1918 and 1939 aircraft technology developed very rapidly. In 1918 most aircraft were biplanes with wooden frames, canvas skins, wire rigging and air-cooled engines. Biplanes continued to be the mainstay of air forces around the world and were used extensively in conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War. Most industrial countries also created air forces separate from the army and navy. However, by 1939 military biplanes were in the process of being replaced with metal framed monoplanes, often with stressed skins and liquid cooled engines. Top speeds had tripled; altitudes doubled (and oxygen masks became commonplace); ranges and payloads of bombers increased enormously.
Some theorists, especially in Britain, considered that aircraft would become the dominant military arm in the future. They imagined that a future war would be won entirely by the destruction of the enemy's military and industrial capability from the air. The Italian general Giulio Douhet, author of The Command of the Air, was a seminal theorist of this school, which has been associated with Stanley Baldwin's statement that "The bomber will always get through"; that is, regardless of air defenses, sufficient raiders will survive to rain destruction on the enemy's cities.
Others, such as General Billy Mitchell in the United States, saw the potential of air power to neutralize the striking power of naval surface fleets. German and British pilots had experimented with aerial bombing of ships and air-dropped torpedoes during World War I with mixed results. But the vulnerability of capital ships to aircraft was finally demonstrated on 21 July 1921 when a squadron of bombers commanded by General Mitchell sank the ex-German battleship SMS Ostfriesland with aerial bombs.
Germany was banned from possessing a significant air force by the terms of the WWI armistice. The German military continued to train its soldiers as pilots clandestinely until Hitler was ready to openly defy the ban.
World War II
Military aviation came into its own during the Second World War. The increased performance, range, and payload of contemporary aircraft meant that air power could move beyond the novelty applications of WWI, becoming a central striking force for all the combatant nations.
Over the course of the war, several distinct roles emerged for the application of air power.
Strategic bombing of civilian targets from the air was a strategy first proposed by the Italian theorist General Giulio Douhet. In his book The Command of the Air (1921), Douhet argued that future military leaders could avoid falling into bloody World War I-style trench stalemates by using aviation to strike past the enemy's forces directly at their vulnerable civilian population. Douhet believed that such strikes would cause these populations to rise up in revolt and overthrow their governments to stop the bombing.
Douhet's ideas were paralleled by other military theorists who emerged from World War I, including Sir Hugh Trenchard in Britain. In the interwar period, Britain and the United States became the most enthusiastic supporters of the strategic bombing theory, with each nation building specialized heavy bombers specifically for this task.
In the early days of WWII, the Luftwaffe launched devastating air attacks against the besieged cities of Warsaw and Rotterdam. In both cases, each city had managed to resist German ground forces, and the air attacks were seen as a means of breaking the city's will to fight.
During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe, frustrated in its attempts to gain command of the air over Britain in preparation for the planned invasion, turned to the bombing of London and other large English cities. However, the Luftwaffe found that these raids did not have the effect that was predicted by prewar airpower theorists.
Royal Air Force
The British, erroneously believing that the German civilian morale was easier to break, started a strategic bombing campaign in 1940 that was to last for the rest of the war. The British bombers of the early war were all twin-engined designs and were lacking in defensive armament. Therefore they were quickly forced to adopt a policy of night bombing, which meant that they were never able to hit specific targets such as factories or power plants.
Military Air Forces of the Workers and Peasants Red Army
Abbreviated in Russian as ВВС РККА, and commonly known as the Red Air Force during WW2, it was organised according into Air armies, Air forces of the Fronts, Air forces of the (ground) Armies, Military district Air forces and Air Forces of the Military Fleets. There were also numerous independent Air Corps, divisions, brigades, regiments and squadrons, many of which were awarded the additional title of Guards.
During the course of the war the Red Air Force underwent numerous changes, the major of which were: Air forces of the Military districts were transformed into Air Armies on commencement of war; Air forces assigned to ground Armies were disbanded in May 1942; by the end of the Second World War there were eighteen Air Armies generally assigned at a rate of one per Front, and four Fleet Air forces, as well as four flotilla Air forces. Although lacking a strong strategic bombing air forces, the Red Air Force was famous for its Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik Ground Attack aircraft, and use of aircraft to support partisan troops operating behind the Wehrmacht lines.
U.S. Army Air Force
When the U.S. Eighth Air Force arrived in England in 1942, the Americans were convinced that they could do what the RAF and the Luftwaffe could not. The 8th was equipped with B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators, both high-altitude four-engined designs with turbo-superchargers. The new bombers also featured the strongest defensive armament yet seen - up to 13 .50 caliber machine guns, depending on the version, most of them in power-operated turrets. Flying during daylight in large, close formations, U.S. doctrine held that tactical formations of heavy bombers would be sufficient to gain air superiority in the absence of escort fighters. The intended raids would hit hard on chokepoints in the German war economy such as oil refineries or ball bearing factories.
The U.S.A.A.F. was compelled to change its doctrine that bombers alone, no matter how heavily armed, could achieve air superiority against single-engined fighters. Loss rates rose from five per cent to twenty per cent in a series of missions penetrating beyond the range of fighter cover between August 17 and October 14 1943, when raids against Regensburg and Schweinfurt resulted in the loss of 60 bombers on each mission.
During the Battle of Britain many of the Luftwaffe's best pilots had been forced to bail out over British soil, where they were captured. As the quality of the Luftwaffe fighter arm decreased, the Americans introduced the long-ranged P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang escort fighters, carrying drop tanks. Newer, inexperienced German pilots—flying potentially superior aircraft like the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Heinkel He 162 and the Messerschmitt Me 262—gradually became less and less effective at thinning the late-war American bomber streams. Adding fighters to the daylight raids gave the bombers much-needed protection and greatly improved the impact of the strategic bombing effort.
Strategic bombing by non-atomic means did not win the war for the Allies, nor did it succeed in breaking the will to resist of the German (and Japanese) people, but in the words of the German armaments minister Albert Speer it created "a second front in the air" long before D-day created the second front on the ground. Speer succeeded in increasing the output of armaments right up to mid-1944 in spite of the bombing. Still, the war against the British and American bombers demanded enormous amounts of resources: antiaircraft guns, day and night fighters, radars, searchlights, manpower, ammo and fuel. As a result, the German army groups in Russia, Italy and France rarely saw friendly aircraft and constantly ran short of tanks, trucks, and anti-tank weapons. The only option left was to create World War I-style slit trench defenses quite unlike the Blitzkriegs of 1939-1941.
Tactical air support
By contrast with the British strategists, the primary purpose of the German Luftwaffe was to support the ground army. This accounted for the presence of large numbers of dive bombers in the make-up, and the scarcity of long-range heavy bombers. This 'flying artillery' greatly assisted in the successes of the German Army in the Battle of France (1940). Hitler determined that air superiority was a requirement for the invasion of Britain. When this was not achieved in the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 the invasion was cancelled, making this the first major battle whose outcome was determined primarily in the air. The Soviet Air Force was also primarily used in the tactical support role and towards the end of the war was used very well in the support of the Red Army in its advance across Eastern Europe. The main reason it was used in this role was because it had large numbers of tactical aircraft including meduim bombers like the Ilyushin Il-4, Tupolev Tu-2 and the B-25 Mitchell, Low Altitude Fighters like the P-39 Airacobra, P-40, P-63 Kingcobra, Yak-1, Yak-3, Yak-9, LaGG-3, La-5 and La-7 and ground attack planes like the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the Chance-Vought F4U-1, F4U-2 and AU-1
Military transport aviation and use of airborne troops
Military transport aviation was invaluable to all sides in maintaining supply and communications of ground troops, and was used on many notable occasions such as resupply of German troops in and around Stalingrad after Operation Uranus, and employment of airborne troops. After the first trials in use of airborne troops by the Red Army displayed in the early 1930s many European nations and Japan also formed the airborne troops, and these saw extensive service on in all Theatres of the Second World War. However their effectiveness as shock troops employed to surprise enemy static troops proved to be of limited success, and notable failures. Most airborne troops served as light infantry by the end of the war despite attempts at massed use in the Western Theatre by US and Britain during the Operation Market Garden.
- Battle of Taranto
- Attack on Pearl Harbor
- Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse, the first time a capital ship fleet had been destroyed solely by aircraft.
- Battle of the Coral Sea, where neither fleet was in visual contact with the other, and all fighting was carried out by aircraft — a military first
- Battle of Midway, where American aircraft sunk four Japanese carriers at a cost to the Americans of one carrier sunk and one disabled, plus some other ships.
- Battle of the Bismarck Sea: US and Australian squadrons destroyed a fleet carrying Japanese reinforcements to New Guinea in 1943.
- Great Marianas Turkey Shoot: US planes all but destroy Japanese naval aviation.
- Battle of Leyte Gulf: the first appearance of kamikazes; conventional planes also play a significant role in perhaps the largest naval battle in history
Post World War II
Military aviation in the post-war years was dominated by the needs of the Cold War. The post-war years saw the almost total conversion of combat aircraft to jet power, which resulted in enormous increases in speeds and altitudes of aircraft. Until the advent of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile major powers relied on high-altitude bombers to deliver their newly-developed nuclear deterrent; each country strove to develop the technology of bombers and the high-altitude fighters that could intercept them. The concept of air superiority began to play a heavy role in aircraft designs for both the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Americans developed and made extensive use of the high-altitude observation aircraft for intelligence-gathering. The U-2, and later the SR-71 Blackbird were developed in great secrecy. The U-2 at its time was supposed to be invulnerable to defensive measures, due to its extreme altitude. It therefore came as a great shock when the Soviets downed one piloted by Gary Powers with a ground-to-air missile. Air combat was also transformed through increased use of air-to-air guided missiles with increased sophistication in guidance and increased range.
In the 70s and 80s it became clear that speed and altitude was not enough to protect a bomber against air defences. The emphasis shifted therefore to maneuverable attack aircraft that could fly 'under the radar', at altitudes of a few hundred feet.
The development of the helicopter revolutionised the entire battlefield by the improvement of the "Third Dimension" of "Vertical Envelopment" that had been introduced shortly before World War II with the development of Airborne units (pioneered by the USSR). This included the aerial support of ground forces, and expansion of the "Cannae Maneuver" from two dimensions (Encirclement) to one of Three Dimensions (Encirclement and Vertical Envelopment). In addition, the introduction of the helicopter removed most barriers to troop movement on the battlefield, and provided the sort of mobility that the artillery had been dreaming of since its inception. A helicopter could deliver troops and weapons quickly to areas inaccessible to fixed-wing aircraft - and, unlike paratroops, they could be recovered again. Likewise, ground units could call for aerial fire support that could save them from capture or destruction. The first such operation was undertaken by the British Army during the Suez Crisis of 1956. This led to an entirely new class of airmobile troops, and the introduction of "Air Cavalry" in the U.S., able to land unexpectedly, strike, and leave again. Such tactics played a major part in the Vietnam War, and is today an integral element of US tactical thinking for all forms of warfare. Soviet campaign in Afghanistan also saw widespread use of helicopters as part or the Air Assault (Воздушный десант) brigades and regiments.
Post Cold War
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 forced Western air forces to undergo a shift from the massive numbers felt to be necessary during the Cold War to smaller numbers of multi-role aircraft. The closure of several military bases overseas and the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure program have served to highlight the effectiveness of aircraft carriers in the absence of dedicated military or air forces bases, as the Falklands war and U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf have highlighted. While the advent of precision-guided munitions have allowed for strikes at arbitrary surface targets once proper reconnaissance is performed (network-centric warfare). In some cases, such as the NATO Operation Allied Force effort against the Serbian invasion of Kosovo, air power was the deciding factor with ground forces mostly securing the area afterwards.. However in most case the standard military doctrine still applies: wars against third-world regional entities still cannot be won through air power alone.
Persian Gulf War
The role of air power in modern warfare was dramatically demonstrated during the Gulf War in 1991. Behind-the-lines air attacks were made on Iraqi command and control centers, communications facilities, supply depots, and reinforcement forces. Air superiority over Iraq was gained before ground units moved in and Operation Desert Storm commenced.
The initial strikes were composed of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from battleships situated in the Persian Gulf, F-117A Nighthawk stealth bombers with an armament of laser-guided smart bombs, and F-4G Wild Weasel aircraft armed with HARM anti-radar missiles. These first attacks allowed F-14, F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 fighter bombers to gain air superiority over the country and then continue to drop TV and laser-guided bombs. Armed with a gatling gun and heat-seeking or optically guided Maverick missiles, the A-10 Thunderbolt bombed and destroyed Iraqi armored forces, supporting the advance of US ground troops. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, fired laser guided Hellfire missiles and TOW missiles which were guided to tanks by ground observers or scout helicopters. The allied air fleet also made use of the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and a fleet of B-52 bombers.
The aerial strike force was made up of over 2,250 combat aircraft, which included 1,800 US aircraft, which fought against an Iraqi force of about 500 Soviet-built MiG-29 and French-made Mirage F-1 fighters. More than 88,000 combat missions had been flown by allied forces with over 88,000 tons of bombs dropped by the end of the fifth week.
Operation: Iraqi Freedom
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by US and British forces to defeat the regime of Saddam Hussein, aerial warfare continued to be decisive. The US-British alliance began its air campaign on March 19 with limited nighttime bombing on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Several days later, intensive bombardment began. About 14,000 sorties were flown, and at a cost of $1 million dollars each, 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at numerous targets in Iraq from March 19 until mid-April 2003. By this time Iraqi resistance had largely ended.
Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons were unable to open fire on high-altitude US bombers such as the B-52 or stealth aircraft such as the B-2 bomber and the F-117A. US and British aircraft used radar-detecting devices and aerial reconnaissance to locate Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons. Bunker buster bombs, designed to penetrate and destroy underground bunkers, were dropped on Iraqi command and control centers. Iraqi ground forces could not seriously challenge the American ground forces because of their air supremacy. By mid-April 2003, US-British forces controlled all of Iraq's major cities and oil fields.
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