Air Parity: Re-Discovering Contested Air Operations – Studies of World War II Battle of Britain, Siege of Malta, and Falklands War, Objectives at Outbreak of China Conflict in East or South China Seas

Published on May 7, 2019

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This study researches the applicability of Julian Corbett’s maritime theories to war fighting strategy in the air domain, specific to the air control spectrum. The author assesses the importance of translating the theoretical ideas to guidelines for operational planners confronted with a possible conflict in the Western Pacific Theater. In particular, this thesis looks at the principles of dispersion and concentration, strategic defense with active tactical offensive lines of effort, and the “fleet in being” concept. The author uses an operational design framework as a means to investigate three cases as they relate to air control. These case studies are the Battle of Britain, the Siege of Malta during World War II (WWII), and the Falklands War. Each of these case studies features a numerically inferior opponent who prevailed. The results of this inquiry suggest some of Corbett’s ideas translate into the air domain, and while not explicitly stated by the British, were nevertheless employed by them in their three victories. The thesis concludes with proposals for intermediate air superiority objectives at the outbreak of a conflict with China in the East or South China Seas, and recommendations for employment methods to gain strategic objectives while being inferior in numbers or technology.This compilation includes a reproduction of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.The rise of China has significant national security implications for the United States. Although the US should avoid conflict at all costs, US commanders and military planners responsible for the Western Pacific do not have the luxury of being unprepared if the violent conflict were to break out. The Air Force’s procurement scheme, a legacy of the Cold War, creates significant challenges in force development to address future threats such as a rising China: “our most challenging scenario is in increasingly contested environments where gaining and maintaining air and space superiority will be our toughest mission – and our highest priority. While success in this environment cannot be at the expense of all lower-end capabilities, our unique and indispensable contribution requires that we posture for the most demanding scenario, not necessarily the most likely.” The potential violent conflict between the United States and China, that should be avoided, is of sufficient possibility and significant severity that military commanders and planners must devise a way to defeat China should it occur. This thesis focuses on the spectrum of air control (of which air superiority is one step) needed in a potential conflict with China, the problems faced in trying to gain air superiority against a numerically superior opponent at the outbreak of hostilities, and the theoretical concepts and ideas military commanders and planners might reference to guide planning for such a conflict.[In] the Battle of Britain, the anti-access force is the Germans, and the counter anti-access force is the British. This assignment might seem counter-intuitive. The Germans held potentially similar military objectives potentially to those of the Chinese: gain and maintain control over the adjacent sea and airspace to launch an invasion, deny operations, and degrade/destroy opposing forces in theater. The Germans were attempting these objectives for a potential invasion of Great Britain, and the Chinese might make this attempt as a precursor to invasion or blockade of Taiwan. The Germans also had numerical superiority at the beginning of the campaign, as will the Chinese. Both theaters feature the air and sea domains predominantly. The Germans suffered aircraft range problems, which limited their ability to project force.