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Fundamental surprise in the application of airpower

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Technical Report,05 Jul 2016,25 May 2017

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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Airpower means different things to different people. All of these interpretations are deeply rooted in context. For the airman, it is the ability to slip the limitations of ground combat and achieve a degree of operational reach and simultaneity few shackled to the earth could imagine. For the soldier, it can be a method to ensure freedom of maneuver, a way of seeing deep into enemy held terrain, or a tool to drastically shift the balance of force presented at the decisive point. The enemys perspective, particularly when outmatched in the air, is more complicated and also the most important interpretation for an air planner to understand. Without a clear realization of how an enemy understands the air domain, planners are vulnerable to applying airpower in ways that prove to be less relevant than expected. This disconnect between expectation and reality leads to what theorist Zvi Lanir calls a fundamental surprise. This study will highlight approaches to planning and cognitive biases that steer air planners to internally focused interpretations of both context and meaning. Planning approaches based on meeting specific threats scenarios or using definitive friendly-force capabilities have the potential to prevent air planners from fully understanding the operational environment, and in particular how the enemy views the friendly forces strength with regards to airpower. Cognitive biases, including anchoring and adjustment bias, mirror-imaging bias, and blind spot bias, create failures in understanding of both context and meaning. These misunderstandings perpetuate a planners view of reality that is no longer relevant to the enemy. This relevance gap is then realized when a plan fails, and the enemy can negate or avoid the friendly forces assumed advantages in the air. Two compelling examples of fundamental surprise in the application of airpower are the Israeli Air Forces experiences in the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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