AFRI Research Paper 2009-2, Learning to Fight Together:
The British Experience with Joint Air-Land Warfare
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Applying a methodology that is best described as “inductive synthesis,” this research paper examines the elusive quest for effective integration between air and land forces in the context of joint operations. It draws on the British experience from the first attempts to provide air support for land operations in the First World War to contemporary operations in Afghanistan. The study is reflective in nature. It is not meant to be a detailed chronological account of every twist and turn in the history of army-air co-operation between the British Army and the Royal Air Force. It focuses on command and control issues and the need, now as much as then, for air and land commanders to be in each other’s minds and plans from the outset. Both historical examples and contemporary experiences are used to illustrate enduring disagreements between soldiers and airmen over who should control aircraft on and above the battlefield and what air forces should do to assist the army in its operations. These two questions have bedevilled successive generations of generals and air marshals. Even when agreement has been reached on the operational benefits to be had by the two services working together—as equals and at all levels of command according to a common plan—effective and long-lasting co-operation has been difficult and illusory. Perhaps by taking another look at the historical struggle in Britain to develop army-air co-operation, contemporary airmen and soldiers on both sides of the Atlantic will be better equipped conceptually to develop and deliver air-land integration that meets their respective requirements in the complex operating environment of today and tomorrow.
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