Since time immemorial, warring sides in battles have sought ways of gaining strategic advantages over their enemies. Those who manage to get that one crucial advantage during war have an added advantage and, hence, a higher probability of winning the war. For a long time, militaries from across the world have sought to take to the air and advance their ability to not only launch attacks at enemy lines but also defend their positions. Prior to the first word war, flight was largely focused on the collection of field information, including sighting of enemies and guiding of troops. This was during the hot balloon era, where the said aerial devices could be used to gain bird's eye view of the battle field.
It is important to note that although the Unites States, the only remaining world superpower, boasts of a fully fledged Air Force wing and a fleet of some of the best and advanced aerial military devices, the country's military airpower was weak pre-Word War I - like was the case with most other countries. The development and further advancement of U.S. military airpower has been a long but exciting journey.
The fact that the country has participated in two world wars and several other military conflicts has provided it with an opportunity to not only test but also demonstrate its superior airpower. Thanks to such encounters, the U.S. has also further sharpened its fighter tactics as fat as air battles are concerned. As a matter of fact, the country's superior airpower has been instrumental in not only the Iraqi war, but also Afghanistan war. In view of the highlighted developments, the relevance of reviewing the history and impact of aviation in wartime cannot be overstated. In so doing, this text will discuss
Aviation in Wartime: Focus on the United States
Aerial Warfare and Military Aviation: An Overview
Aerial warfare is as deadly as it is strategic. Indeed, the strategic benefits of aircraft utilization in warfare cannot be matched in a machine-oriented civilization. This is particularly the case given that airpower eliminates the need for military personnel to maneuver cumbersome terrains and engage the enemy on the ground. Aircraft is also difficult to counter.
Military aviation, in basic terms, has got to do with the utilization of aircraft in the conduct of warfare. In that regard, therefore, military aircraft, in the words of Abeyratne (2012, p. 3) could be "defined as aircraft that are designed or modified for highly specialized use by the armed forces." It would be prudent to, at this point, highlight the various kinds of military aircraft that have been used in wartime scenarios. These include reconnaissance, transport, fighter and bomber aircraft.
Reconnaissance Aircraft: this kind of aircraft comes in handy in the conduction of aerial survey of enemy positions or otherwise (for military intelligence purposes). Although reconnaissance has in the past been carried out by manned aircraft, it is increasingly becoming a standard for the same to be conducted using unmanned aircraft that could be designed to not only conduct imagery of target areas but also intercept signals.
Transport Aircraft: transport aircraft help in the movement of troops and military hardware.
Fighter Aircraft: they are manufactured for purposes of air-to-air combat. In addition to speed, they are designed for maximum maneuverability and agility. They are also smaller -- in comparison to other kinds of military aircraft that largely focus on ground targets (Abeyratne, 2012). It is, however, important to note that although fighter aircraft also have capabilities for ground attacks, these come as a secondary capability.
Bomber Aircraft: these, as the name suggests, are of great strategic importance during wartime. Although they have in the past been designed to fire torpedoes or drop bombs on ground targets, recent bomber aircraft have the capability of firing cruise missiles (Messenger, 2013).
Utilization of Aircraft in War
Prior to World War I, aircraft had not been used extensively in war. The only airborne machinery that had been actively used (mainly for surveillance purposes) prior to World War I were tethered balloons (Dugdale-Pointon, 2007). These were mainly used to direct both mortar and artillery fire to the relevant targets -- in what is referred to as artillery spotting.
World War I (1914 to 1918)
This could be regarded as the United State's first aerial warfare engagement. On this basis, a bit of some background information would be relevant for the discussion at hand. America was drawn into World War I by Germany's move to consistently sink American Civilian ships -- in total violation of the 'Sussex Pledge.' There was also the infamous telegraph that Germany had sent Mexico promising to help recover some territory the latter had relinquished to the U.S. (Conlin, 2013). All these facilitated the move to declare war on Germany.
At the onset of World War I, airplanes were largely used for observation purposes. According to Dugdale-Pointon (2007), from the onset, Germany was actively making use of rigid airships that were commonly referred to as Zeppelin. Counties like France were, at the very beginning, largely relying on aircraft for recognizance purposes, as opposed to active combat. However, by the time the U.S. was being drawn into the war (in 1917), Great Britain and France were utilizing combat aircraft, albeit sparingly. It was not until 1918 that the Air Service was established, resulting in the creation of the very first United States aerial warfare force (Air Force Historical Research Agency - AFHRA, 2008).
In the words of the Air Force Historical Research Agency - AFHRA (2008), "despite a combat record of only nine months (February to November 1918), the Air Service made a respectable showing during World War I." It is important to note that as AFHRA (2008) further points out, by November 1918, the total number of U.S. aircraft allotted to squadrons stood at 740 -- representing approximately "10% of the total aircraft strength of Allied nations" ( AFHRA, 2008). This was, by any measure, immense improvement. It firmly set the Air Service on the path to greatness as a strategic and tactical war unit.
During the first nine months, from February 1918, the Air Service made a great showing -- managing to execute more than 100 bombings. As AFHRA (2008) points out, "in all, the Air Service downed 756 enemy aircraft and 76 enemy balloons, while losing 289 airplanes and 48 balloons."
World War II (1939-1945)
Despite the great showing during the late periods of the First World War, America's aerial power become of age during the Second World War. It is, however, important to note that the development of aircraft technology was rather fast between World War I and World War II. In 1918, the airplanes available for deployment were largely inefficient: most were air-cooled and had wooden frames (Lorell, 2003).
By the time the Second World War was commencing, however, aircraft altitudes as well as speeds had been doubled or tripled. This significantly increased not only the payload but also the range of military aircraft. It should be noted that as Lorell (2003) points out, at this point, many theorists as well as military strategists - both within and outside the U.S. -- were of the opinion that future wars would be won by those with the ability and the capability to effect or cause widespread destruction of enemy installations (both industrial and military) from the air. In 1932, Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister at the time, cautioned that "it was time for the man in the street to realize there is no power on earth that can protect him from bombing" of an aerial nature (Head and Tilford, 1996, p. 310).
During the Second World War, the U.S. military aviation service in place was the United States Army Air Forces -- USAAF. By 1942, USAAF had, as part of its inventory, four-engine high-altitude bombers (Murphy and McNiece, 2009). These particular aircraft were equipped with advanced defensive armament and could be commissioned in large groups to conduct daytime air attacks on prime targets. Germany, thanks to these new bombers, had its war economy badly hit. At this time, there were those who, according to Murphy and McNiece (2009), were convinced that heavy bombers did not require escort fighters due to their large tactical formations. This is an assertion that was, however, disputed.
It is important to note that during World War Two, Germany's weakening was, to a large extent, the direct consequence of consistent aerial bombardment from Allies. As a result, Luftwaffe was sufficiently weakened, and later, the integrity of Germany's skies (and hence ground targets) could not be guaranteed. Although this was not sufficient to win the war for the allies, it was instrumental in weakening of Germany and its partners.
Aerial warfare was taken to a whole new level, as far as potentiality for widespread destruction is concerned, after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. In what eventually informed the surrender of the Japanese, the bombings resulted in mass deaths and destruction of…