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A Need to Know: The Role of Air Force Reconnaissance in War Planning, 1945-1953

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On 1 April 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II surveillance aircraft collided with a Peoples Liberation Army Air Force J-8 fighter plane that resulted in the loss of the Chinese pilot and an emergency landing on Hainan Island by the Navy plane. The Chinese governments 11-day internment of the Navy flight crew shocked and amazed the American public. The ensuing diplomatic crisis and war of words reminded many of similar incidents from the supposedly defunct Cold War. It also focused world attention upon a still little known but highly significant aspect of the Cold War -- strategic aerial reconnaissance. The term refers to the use of aircraft to collect strategic intelligence using photographic or electronic means. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff JCS, strategic intelligence refers to intelligence that is required for the formation of policy and military plans at national and international levels. Strategic intelligence includes information provided by sources other than aircraft, including naval vessels, ground communications intercept sites, satellites, published literature, defectors, and spies. But because Air Force aircraft provided the bulk of information used by American war plans from 1945 to 1953, this book focuses on the origins of the USAF strategic aerial reconnaissance. Although official JCS publications did not specifically list strategic aerial reconnaissance, the term may be defined as the use of aircraft to gather information necessary to conduct strategic air war, also called strategic air bombardment. At the core of the topic, recently declassified JCS emergency war plans indicate that a strategic air bombardment campaign formed the heart of American military strategy from the end of World War II to the Korean conflict. A question still remains Did reconnaissance aircraft merely serve as a tool of war planners, or did strategic reconnaissance actually shape military strategy

Subject Categories:

  • Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Intelligence

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