John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power (1-246) -John Olsen
About the Author:
John Olsen is a Lt Col in the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the director of strategic studies at the Norwegian Defense Command and Staff College in Oslo. He graduated as the best international student from the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College in 2005, having received a doctorate in history and international relations from De Montfort University in 2000. During OIF in 2003, he served as an expert commentator for Norwegian media, and he has lectured widely in Europe and the US.
The life and times of John Warden, including his early years, his grooming as a strategic thinker, the development of his thoughts on the employment of air power, his removal from wing command at Bitburg, and his involvement in first gulf war. Specifically, Olsen examines two primary characteristics of Warden: 1) his ability to think strategically about air power, and 2) his internal motivation to pursue his vision at the expense of relationships with his peers/superiors. This book also tells a story of the way a highly efficient and productive team was formed by working “outside” the doctrinal system and ironing out personality clashes before they were detrimental to the effort.
Whatever anyone else’s involvement in the Desert Storm air campaign planning, John Warden was the father of it.
Olsen wrote this book almost like a biography of Warden…but without his personal reflections. His four primary sources were written accounts of historical events (including the Gulf War Air Power Survey), primary documentation from Op Desert Storm and other events directly related to Warden, the Desert Story Collection (written immediately after the war with focus on the officers who participated in the planning and execution of the air campaign), and personal interviews with more than two hundred officers who had previously worked with Warden (both acknowledged and unacknowledged).
This book does an excellent job of tracing Warden’s life and times through the lenses of those around him. It would be interesting to see these conclusions compared to Warden’s own interpretation of the events.
This book provided an excellent example of a clash between political reality and the military’s institutional resistance to change. One more wrung on the ladder of finding the “best” way to use air power, the military found a way to incorporate the ideas of a “divergent thinker” despite personality friction in order to accomplish a political objective that required something different than the O-Plan off the shelf offered. If the air campaign planning system can be compared to a human body, Warden’s Checkmate cell was like an appendix that took over the function of the heart in that a previously unrelated part of the staff became the primary source of planning for the entire air campaign.
This was a great book for seeing John Warden in the bigger scheme of the war and understanding who he was, where he’d come from, and why he acted the way he did.
There are valuable lessons to be learned from this story. Some of these lessons are the benefits of hard work and determination, ideas for using connections to get political muscle behind an idea, the importance of an idea needing an effective sales pitch and overall team in order to be meaningful, the value of embracing change in a beneficial way, and the importance of mentorship in pulling out the “best” of future leaders.
Strategic Air Power in Desert Storm (127-296) -John Olsen
About the Author:
This book (section) specifically details the origins of the Desert Storm air campaign, its execution during the war, and an analysis of its effectiveness in accomplishing the stated and implied objectives of the air planners. Olsen starts off with a summary of the way Warden and his team were able to get the political support required to implement their plan, including the restrictions and alterations placed on the plan by political/military constraints (these included the eventuality of a ground campaign and the planning of strikes on Iraqi ground forces). Olsen then outlines the nature of Saddam’s political power system in Iraq. He argues that it was a deeply intertwined system designed for the sole purpose of protecting Saddam as its leader by pitting powerful entities against one another and not against Saddam. The factions of his system that Saddam led include: 1) the Ba’ath Party, 2) the government, 3) the military, 4) the security and intel network, and 5) the tribal kinship system. Olsen suggests these apparatuses were so deeply intertwined that the Five Ring Theory would have had to be significantly amended and amplified at the central ring’s “leadership” level to displace Saddam as the leader of Iraq. Finally, Olsen describes the execution of the air war, including its setbacks (Scud-hunting, weather, political restraints, etc.), its effects (on Saddam, the Iraqi military and the people) and its results (the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait). Olsen’s conclusions highlight multiple take-aways from the conflict, including his idea that “strategic paralysis” is possible but it doesn’t have identifiable cause-effect links, requires political commitment, and necessitates understanding the enemy as a system.
While air power was somewhat effective in Desert Storm, it could have been more effective (and can be more effective in the future) if it were employed with a better understanding of the enemy system it sought to effect.
Discussions with USAF historians at Bolling AFB, the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS), the Desert Story Collection (over 200 officers interviewed immediately following the war), Iraqi news…statements by senior officials…and personal interviews with Iraqi officers.
This book does a good job of trying to incorporate multiple sides of the story. By examining the Iraqi system and viewpoint along with the US version of events, the reader’s depth of understanding increases. While Olsen doesn’t make broad claims of an air power panacea, his nuanced conclusion suggests it can be better applied. This conclusion strengthens his argument overall and invites the reader to consider non-linear effects that can be explained by air power’s use in Iraq.
This book represents the next “leap forward” in America’s air power story. Having gone through WWII, the nuclear arms race, the post-Vietnam “resurgence” of tactical air power and several smaller conflicts in the 80s, Desert Storm demonstrated how non-nuclear air power can be used with significant effects in a limited war. Although questions remain about optimizing its employment, the war solidified air power’s relevance in modern warfare.
Good book with excellent documentation. Olsen makes some sizable leaps in logic while trying to demonstrate air power’s effects, but his overall argument is well-supported given the evidence he provides.
Olsen’s book is valuable in that it provides concrete examples of the utility, flexibility and value of air power in a limited war post-Vietnam. Because it doesn’t offer nirvana, Olsen’s argument highlights air power’s strengths without overlooking its weaknesses.
John Warden demonstrates that there can be strategic air action without nuclear weapons.
Knowing which mavericks to protect is a challenge of senior leadership--the institution can't suffer all of them.
Despite being fired from wing command, the AF as an institution found a place for Warden.
Warden provides a contination of Jacob Smart's (Korea air planner) view that we shouldn't confuse war's product (destruction) with war's purpose. Warden's Five Rings Model links ends and means as a mechanism useful at the operational level of war.
(p. 129): “Air campaign planning is not only about the theory and practice of air power, but how people get along with each other.”
(p. 161): “the strategic air campaign plan was developed completely outside the pre-defined war-planning organization.”
(p. 224): “while the air planners introduced a new air power concept, which suggested going to the heart of the problem with lethal force from the outset, they had very limited understanding of the true centers of gravity.”
(p. 240): “conventional strategic air power offered a way around the whole Iraqi concept of prolonged battle and high casualties, but such realization only came about after the event.”
(p. 263): The picture that emerges is one in which the Iraqi leader’s will and capacity became irrelevant, because he was prevented from taking decisive action. The Iraqi leader’s ability to communicate with his own population and military forces was considerably reduced and to make matters worse ordinary Iraqis started criticizing their leader openly.”
(p. 272): The Five Ring Theory “is not a blueprint for success in war, because there is no such thing, but it is a framework for thinking about air power in a socio-cultural context.”