cover image The Age of Air Power

The Age of Air Power

Martin van Creveld, PublicAffairs, $35 (428p) ISBN 978-1-58648-981-6

Air power has been at the cutting edge of 20th-century war. Its story is most often told from a triumphalist perspective. Van Creveld, professor emeritus of history at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, acknowledges air power's past glory with his usual blend of perception and panache. He then tells the rest of the story—the part air power enthusiasts neglect. Even in its heyday, air power's achievements were limited: armies and navies did not disappear. For more than half a century, air power's operational effectiveness has been limited by thermonuclear weapons at one end of the spectrum and low-intensity conflict at the other. Air forces are whipsawed between the growing demand of publics and governments that war be waged with minimal casualties, and a limited number of targets. But as the cost and complexity of aircraft metastasize, they are no longer expendable assets. Yet the very cultures of air forces are eroding, as pilots become increasingly passive aboard their computer-directed, ground-controlled aircraft rather than flying them. Van Creveld's suggestion that helicopters and drones represent air power's future is extreme, but cannot be dismissed as a flight of fancy. (May)