Establishment of air superiority early in a campaign is a fundamental ingredient in the recipe of modern warfare. This was universally accepted as a general principle by the beginning of world war two. Different countries, however, applied the concept differently. For instance Imperial Japan, as an island nation knew the importance a modern navy. She built a Navy centered around the carrier task force, a big shift from the battle ship concept. They then developed the light and agile Mitsubishi Zero in anticipation of a quick war in the Pacific. IJN commanders, with the additional advantage of having the element of surprise, employed the novel Carrier task force with relative brilliance in their December 1941 offensives in South Pacific
In Europe the hard lessons learned in the Great war about trench fighting influenced contemporary military thinkers in the inter war years, with each proposing a faster way of concluding hostilities in a favourable manner. Inspired by science fiction novelists such as H.G Wells who told of bombers obliterating whole cities, a school of thought arose that believed air forces alone could win a war .The americans built huge long range bombers for use in strategic bombing, targeting industry, infrastructure and at times civilians.
German insistence on solely the tactical aspects of air power initially looked like the work of pure genius. Their Light Tactical Support Bomber concept, which played huge key role in the total defeat of France, Poland and the low countries in the first two years of world war two, proved unable to achieve the core objectives of Sea Lion.
The use of air power was further developed in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The most important was the introduction of rotary wing aircraft. These helicopters were used in tactical transport, replacing the costly massed para drop of world war two with airmobile cavalry, utility transport and close combat support . Over the years the Argentinians, Israeli’s and South Africans have all used air power in various conflicts, with each modifying the constitution, tactics and doctrine to fit the threat facing each of them with varying results. The Coalition armies in the both Persian gulf wars smashed the Iraqi air force, air defenses and armour so completely that troops in the subsequent ground invasion encountered no cohesive resistance from regular army units. But with trial and error, the formula for achievement and maintenance of air superiority has, mostly been elucidated. But it is war at its most expensive. Acquisition and more so development of aircraft, missiles, communication systems and the training required by the people that use them is costly, and in a high intensity conflict such as the Ogaden war, and the Ethiopia~Eritrean flare up in 1998 might put a severe strain on a nations strategic resources. But the recent trend globally, since the cold war has seen the state verses state threat diminished slightly with increased focus on the threat posed by non state entities waging irregular war. This has led to the creation, by Regional and Kenyan military and police services, of several measures to counter this threat, with creation of elite and highly trained units, creation of metropolitan commands and increased interservice and intergovernment cooperation.
Low intensity conflicts such as Nigeria’s war on Boko Haram and our very own Operation Linda Nchi still require a significant chunk of air force resources for tactical transport and support, logistics and intelligence.
One of the most important roles of airforces is close air support. Fire support from helicopter and fixed wing gunships for troops in contact increases the probability of achieving the primary objective, in a general offensive such as Operation Anaconda or a local defensive action such as that fought by the U.S rangers in Mogadishu
Special operations are a relatively new concept in kenya and the east african region at large. The operations carried out recently against the alshaabab in Somalia, the LRA in southern CAR among others have provided opportunities to learn a few lessons concerning the importance of air superiority in low intensity conflicts and special operations:
1. There is need for increased insistence on special air units such as,
I) Acquisition / development of aerial direct fire support platforms. This could be by increasing attack helicopter numbers or a radical shift to fixed wing gunships.
Blogger’s Question Is it feasible to convert several of the DHC-5 Buffalo transports into weapon heavy platforms for use in close air support, air interdiction and force protection? Is there any cheap locally available technical know how, in air frames, weapons and computers to do it? This aircraft could probably be fitted with a pair of 40mm and two pairs of 20mm guns. This would need to be accompanied by a good on board computer (capable of running the hardware, fire control etc), optics, and what not. After all, budget wise and politically,what is cheaper? Readily available and accurate cannon fire systems or similarly accurate but expensive missiles, keeping in mind the recent shift to 4th generation warfare? The cannons can provide a large volume of fire in support of security operations in remote areas, be it against cattle rustlers, bandits, poachers or insurgents. The long range, slow speed ( for loitering and multiple pylon turn strikes) means that this aircraft can also be used to carry out long range reconnaissance and border patrol operations
II) Developement of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program. Their extraordinary success in recent years , not to mention operator safety, of the various drone programs around the world is to this blogger a subtle hint on how the next great war will be fought. The accuracy of their weapons, clarity of optics and sensors combined with all the advantages that come with being unmanned make this way of waging war very accommodative. Countries such as Ethiopia and Iran have shown that locally developed drones don’t have to be expensive and are pretty effective too
One might argue that both of the above require fighter cover and also effective anti- air defence capabilities to operate in their conventional role. But it is also important to remember that the most immediate threat in the region comes from non state entities with few resources and are there fore in no position to contest mastery of the sky, even from the ground. These non state entities possses only the basics in weaponry. They have no armour, no Air defense systems and are particularly vulnerable to air attack. Both of these weapon systems would make a huge difference in the cost and success of future operations, beneficial to both the defence forces and internal security.