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The Age of Airpower    by Martin van Creveld order for
Age of Airpower
by Martin van Creveld
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In this very readable book Martin van Creveld not only traces the rise of airpower in the twentieth century as the preeminent tool of modern warfare but he also suggests the airplane's day may have come and gone as an effective weapon.

The opening section , Into the Blue, offers a brief introduction to the rise and evolution of air warfare until the beginning of World War II. That is followed by The Greatest War of All, which examines air campaigns and operations during World War II and The War That Never Was, which looks at the Cold War confrontation when, as the author puts it, 'another war always seemed to be just around the corner but somehow never broke out'.

The fourth part of this overview, entitled Little Wars, deals with air warfare as it was conducted by a number of countries other than the superpowers during the period from 1945 to 2010.

The focus of the fifth section of the book, War Among the People, concerns the attempt over the past century to use airpower in all its numerous forms against uprisings, guerrilla forces, terrorism, and similar forms of non-traditional warfare.

Chronicling the glory days of airplanes in combat, van Creveld documents how the knights of the sky dueled thrillingly above the trench warfare of World War I as well as how bombers and fighter planes helped decide the course of World War II.

The most contentious part of this volume comes at the end when the well known military historian suggests that the end of airpower's glorious age is near. Although many would disagree, van Creveld asserts that modern precision guided munitions have not made fighter bombers more effective against many kinds of targets than the aircraft of the Second World War.

He asserts that U.S. ground forces calling in air support in Iraq in 2003 didn't receive it any faster than Allied forces did in France in 1944. Looking to the future where conflicts with terrorists, guerrillas and insurgents may become the norm, it seems quite obvious that cruise missiles and drones will increasingly replace extremely expensive manned combat aircraft and the equally costly, highly trained pilots who fly them.

When he asserts that 'far from growing, the power of airpower has undergone a slow, but steady, decline' and then follows that comment up by citing the reasons he feels air power has steadily lost utility, van Creveld will provoke a spirited response from the military community. But he may well be correct, airpower, as it was once defined, may no longer be extremely relevant.

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