Chapter 4: Fundamentals of Aerospace Power (B-GA-400-000/FP-000, Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine)

Aerospace Doctrine

If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and we lose it quickly.

- Field Marshal B. Montgomery

The Nature of Conflict

A peaceful relationship between nations is always desirable; however, history has shown that conflict is sometimes unavoidable. Nations wage war to achieve political objectives when all other means to achieve them have failed. It is these political objectives that shape military activities and define the boundaries of conflict. Although advances in technology influence how war is conducted, wars are won or lost by people. Success in conflict is largely a matter of judgement, primarily based on knowledge. While common sense and balanced judgement are indispensable qualities for a successful military commander, these qualities alone rarely ensure success under the rigorous conditions of conflict, the nature of which is unpredictable and chaotic, permeated with danger, exertion, uncertainty, fear, and chance. Therefore, the commander’s decision-making ability must be underpinned by a sound knowledge of certain fundamentals and proven principles, which have marked the success of commanders in the past.

The Principles of War

The Principles of War, as described in Table 4-1, are fundamental guidelines for military action and are the most basic form of military doctrine. They are not laws but rather are simply indicators of action that have proven successful in the past. They are as applicable to the air and space environments as they are to the land and sea environments. With the exception of the principle of Selection and Maintenance of the Aim, which is regarded as pre-eminent, not all Principles of War apply to all situations at all times. The remaining principles are not listed in any particular order of importance. Although the individual principles may vary between nations, the underlying doctrine is generally similar. It is essential to keep these fundamental principles in mind, especially since aerospace power is often exercised jointly with the other forms of military power. To disregard the Principles of War involves risk and has often brought about failure.

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Table 4-1. The Principles of War


Every military operation must have a single, attainable, and clearly defined aim that remains the focus of the operation. The aim defines the operation; deviation from the aim dilutes effort and risks failure.


Morale is the most important element in ensuring cohesion and the will to win. It is nurtured through good leadership, sound discipline, realistic training, confidence in equipment, and a sense of purpose.


Distinct advantage lies with the offence because it confers the initiative, gives freedom of action, and compels the enemy to be reactive rather than proactive.


Security guards vulnerabilities and protects vital interests. It provides freedom to take offensive action and denies this advantage to an opponent.


Surprise can produce results out of proportion to the effort expended. An opponent surprised is ill prepared, and unable to mount an effective opposition.


It is essential to concentrate superior force at a decisive time and place. Forces should be disposed in a manner which permits them to combine quickly to deliver a decisive blow or to counter an enemy threat when and where required.


Resources are always limited, so they must not be wasted. To achieve maximum concentration at the main area of interest (AI), prudent risk may have to be accepted in other areas.


No plan can accommodate all factors of chance and opposition. Success requires the ability to alter plans to take advantage of opportunities or to counter difficulties.


Cooperation among elements of a force maximizes its capabilities. It entails a unified aim, team spirit, interoperability, division of responsibility, and coordination of effort to achieve maximum effectiveness.


No plan or operation can succeed without adequate administrative and logistic support. Scarce resources and critical materiel must be controlled at the appropriate level of command. The most economic and effective use of materiel is required at all times.

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Characteristics of Aerospace Power

Aerospace, meaning the air and space environments, defines the environment that surrounds the Earth and extends through the air into space from the Earth’s surface. This environment is unique and demands a distinct and considered approach to operations within it. For optimal employment of aerospace power, a fundamental understanding of the following characteristics of aerospace power is essential:

Elevation. The capacity to employ aerospace power above the surface of the Earth offers the ability to observe and influence activities on the surface and below the sea.

Fragility. Aerospace vehicles tend to be more fragile than surface vehicles, and therefore require special handling to keep them in operation.

Impermanence. Typically, aerospace platforms cannot remain aloft indefinitely, and therefore cannot hold a station permanently. This can be offset by committing aerospace platforms in rotation to maintain a posture of relative permanence, or by repeating missions as required.

Payload. Payloads of some aerospace vehicles are limited when compared to those carried by maritime and land forces; although, it is possible to compensate for small payloads by using high sortie rates. In addition, a small payload delivered quickly may stabilize a critical situation more effectively than a large payload delivered later.

Precision. Aerospace power can be employed with great accuracy and minimal collateral damage because of inherent capabilities provided by precision guided munitions and surveillance satellites.

Reach. Aerospace power can be projected globally, unimpeded by surface features such as mountain barriers or water expanses.

Sensitivity to Environmental Conditions. Aerospace power is typically sensitive to environmental conditions. Bad weather, for example, creates difficulties with take-offs and landings, navigation, target acquisition, and weapons delivery.

Sensitivity to Technology. Relatively small innovations in technology can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of aerospace power. Technological advances dictate an ongoing requirement for continuous improvement and development of aerospace forces.

Speed. The inherent speed of aerospace vehicles provides a rapid response capability that can be projected over great distances. Speed can also be used to achieve surprise and allows for a reduced time of exposure to hostile action, thus increasing survivability.

Stealth. Stealth (tactics and technology) gives aerospace power the ability to be employed with minimal risk of detection, increasing survivability, and allowing for surprise.

Support Dependency. Aerospace power requires a high level of technical and logistical support that must be provided from a support base of operations.

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Applications of Aerospace Power

The distinguishing characteristics of aerospace power offer decision makers a diverse range of options to achieve national objectives, making aerospace power as important an instrument for preserving peace and managing crises as it is for waging war. Although not an exhaustive list, aerospace power is ideally suited for the following applications:

Support. With speed and reach, aerospace power can provide physical support, such as humanitarian relief or military assistance, around the world.

Observation. Elevation gives aerospace power the ability to locate, monitor, and observe dispositions of enemy activity.

Presence. The presence of aerospace power as a credible counter-threat can serve as a measure of reassurance and is a considerable deterrent to any potential aggressor.

Delay/Denial. Aerospace power can be used effectively to inhibit or prevent aggressors from employing their forces, thus providing friendly forces time to strengthen defences or launch spoiling attacks.

Diversion. Aerospace power can be used to influence opposing forces by concentrating attacks in key areas, forcing the enemy to divert resources from otherwise intended purposes.

Disruption. Damage inflicted by aerospace power can cause an enemy mental and physical disruption because of resulting confusion, weakened unit cohesion, and vulnerability to follow-on attacks.

Destruction. Aerospace power has considerable scope to inflict physical destruction on all types of enemy forces, when and where it is required.

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Tenets of Aerospace Power

The inherent characteristics of aerospace power make it attractive for employment in diverse and multiple tasks; however, care must be taken to avoid fragmentation of resources and dissipation of effort. To ensure the optimal employment of aerospace power, certain fundamental tenets must be observed. These are referred to as the Tenets of Aerospace Power. While the Principles of War provide general guidance on how to employ military power, the Tenets of Aerospace Power have been developed from past experience to provide specific considerations for the employment of aerospace power.

Centralized Control and Decentralized Execution. Centralized control gives coherence, guidance, and organization to the employment of aerospace power. It is achieved through a single aerospace commander who, informed by a theatre-wide perspective, has the authority to assign the available assets to best achieve the assigned objectives. The aerospace commander is therefore responsible for the control (which includes planning, direction, prioritization, allocation, synchronization, integration, and de-confliction) of all aerospace assets. Centralized control ensures the most efficient use of limited aerospace assets, and permits one commander to confirm all of the requirements and then assign or reassign resources to specific missions, based on changing circumstances and priorities. Decentralized execution, the delegation of authority to subordinate commanders to execute assigned missions, is subject to the commander’s intent, the rules of engagement, and the other parameters established by higher command. Decentralized execution allows commanders at all levels to apply their expertise and understanding of local conditions for mission accomplishment, while also fostering initiative and situational responsiveness in a dynamic environment.[1]

Flexibility and Versatility. Flexibility and versatility are key to the effective employment of aerospace power. Inherently flexible and uniquely versatile, aerospace resources can be quickly and decisively shifted from one objective to another across a broad spectrum at the strategic, operational, or tactical levels of conflict.

Synergistic Effects. The coordinated employment of aerospace power with or in support of other forms of national power can produce synergistic effects that exceed contributions of individual forces employed separately.

Persistence. The persistent employment of aerospace power gives a commander influence and presence in an AI. Even though aerospace power cannot occupy terrain or remain in constant proximity, its inherent characteristics of speed and reach allow for the continuous revisiting of targets.

Concentration. Effective employment of aerospace power must achieve concentration of effort and guard against fragmentation of effort in attempts to fulfill the many competing demands of the operation.

Priority. Because of limited aerospace resources, prioritization of the demands for aerospace power is essential for the optimization of its employment. Aerospace power is most cost-effective when employed for tasks that give high-value pay-offs.

Balance. It is essential to balance the employment of aerospace power with due consideration for the Principles of War and the Tenets of Aerospace Power. It is equally important to balance the impact of accomplishing objectives against the associated risk to friendly forces.  

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Operation Desert Storm was a multiphase campaign that followed Operation Desert Shield , the six-month buildup of coalition forces in Saudi Arabia that followed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After the lapse of a deadline set in UN Security Council Resolution 678 for Iraqi forces to leave occupied Kuwait, the Coalition launched a massive air campaign. The campaign commenced on the morning of 17 January 1991, with more than 1,000 sorties per day. The sorties were launched mainly from Saudi Arabia and the six Coalition aircraft carrier groups located in the Persian Gulf. The Canadian Air Force provided CH124 maritime aviation helicopters to support the blockading fleet and CF18 fighter aircraft for air cover and bombing missions. The air campaign was conceived in three phases.

Phase 1, the first five weeks of combat, was an air war. While the ground forces positioned themselves, Coalition air forces mounted air operations consisting of deception operations to focus Iraqi attention on defence and cause them to incorrectly organize their forces. Following this were deep strike operations designed to decapitate Iraqi command and control, and eliminate their ability to reinforce Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

In Phase 2, which overlapped the first phase and continued to the end, the Coalition gained undisputed air supremacy over Kuwait. This permitted unfettered attack on Iraqi ground forces to reduce their combat power and destroy reinforcing units. Phase 3 began with the ground invasion of Kuwait and Iraq. Coalition air forces fixed Iraqi forces in place to assist armoured force penetration and exploitation of terrain, to destroy key lines of communication, to interdict resupply and reinforcement from Iraq, and to eliminate Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The ground war lasted only four days, a triumph due largely to the success of the air campaign.

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Tenets and applications


Desert Storm validated the concept of the joint forces air component commander (JFACC), solving historical problems of fragmented air operations command. Although this concept had been used as early as the Second World War, this was the first conflict in which the JFACC was established formally. Canadian CF18 fighter aircraft were deployed to the Gulf as part of the Canadian Air Task Group Middle East (CATGME).2 Their initial mission was to provide combat air patrol (CAP) overhead of the Coalition fleet. Although under the operational control of the Coalition naval commander, CF fighter sorties were incorporated into the daily air tasking order (ATO) issued by the JFACC. This integration permitted the JFACC to exercise centralized control over fighter assets, thereby permitting airspace de-confliction and the provision of a listing of available assets for re-tasking as required, while allowing the CF18s to carry out scheduled CAP responsibilities.3


During Desert Storm , a United States Navy (USN) F-18 was tasked with a ground attack mission. En route to the target, a USN E-2 indicated an enemy aircraft was in the area and re-tasked the F-18 to intercept. The F-18 pilot reconfigured the aircraft and proceeded to intercept and eliminate the air threat, and then switched back to successfully conduct the ground attack mission.


The air campaign was phased to degrade and destroy Iraqi air defences before attacking infrastructure, thus increasing freedom of action. The coalition ground forces were particularly effective as they advanced into Kuwait and Iraq with close air support. The synergistic effects caused by the initial air attacks, combined with the Coalition ground offensive, resulted in minimizing Coalition casualties while maximizing the destruction of the enemy.
PERSISTENCE Iraq possessed a highly sophisticated integrated air defence system (IADS) designed with built-in redundancy and flexibility in order to survive an air attack. However, Coalition air forces conducted continuous day and night operations, stealth attacks, and they employed precision guided munitions (PGMs), cruise missiles, drones, attack helicopters, special operations forces, and more to keep constant pressure on the enemy. Through the persistent application of aerospace power the Coalition severely degraded the Iraqi IADS.
CONCENTRATION The essence of concentration was realized during the air attacks at the commencement of the Gulf War. In the first 24 hours there were 1400 Coalition sorties. The effect of so much aerospace power being brought to bear in a specific place and time was to overwhelm the enemy.
PRIORITY A main Coalition campaign objective was to cripple the Iraqi command and control (C2) system in order to paralyze their war fighting capability. However, it was recognized that the defensive capability of the Iraqi IADS had to first be neutralized, so this became the number one priority. Once the IADS was degraded, significant freedom for aircraft action was achieved and the priority was shifted to targeting the C2 system.
BALANCE After initial Egyptian and Syrian successes during the Yom Kippur war, the Israeli Defence Forces counterattacked, but without first achieving air superiority. This ineffective balancing of their aerospace resources proved to be very costly as the Israelis lost 60 fighter aircraft during the first week.
SUPPORT Airlift support for CATGME was provided primarily by Canadian Forces (CF) Hercules and Boeing 707 aircraft deployed from Canada and staging out of Canadian Forces Europe. Additional cargo and passenger requirements were met through a combination of contracted commercial support and on a space-available basis from Coalition nations. The initial rapid deployment of Coalition forces into theatre demonstrated firm resolve.
OBSERVATION Coalition commanders had an unprecedented level of surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlespace, using satellites, unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and manned aircraft.
PRESENCE Coalition air forces consistently covered the entire area of operations (AO): observing and disrupting Iraqi movements, intercepting communications, and destroying forces and infrastructure. This illusion of continual presence was a critical hindrance to Iraqi ability to conduct an effective campaign.


The action of Coalition air forces played a significant role in preventing the Iraqi forces from effective participation. The Iraqi Air Force was rendered ineffective by the threat of being overwhelmed, in many cases refusing to fly or fleeing to neighbouring Iran. Army units, stunned by aerial bombardment, surrendered in large numbers when the ground war began.
DIVERSION Coalition naval air assets, in conjunction with Coalition ships and marine amphibious units, aggressively demonstrated off the coast of Kuwait, offering the potential of a sea-borne assault. This diversion complicated Iraqi defensive options and made it difficult to concentrate Iraqi ground forces against the Coalition ground assault.
DISRUPTION Prior to the ground campaign, Coalition air forces attacked the Iraqi Air Force, lines of communication, and command and control infrastructure, thus hampering organization of defences. During the ground offensive the Iraqi Air Force was unable to operate effectively, and ground movement by the Iraqis was all but impossible.
DESTRUCTION During the initial air campaign, and during the ground offensive, the Iraqi Air Force suffered the loss of many aircraft, airfields, and C2 networks, rendering it incapable of mounting an effective defence. After a prolonged aerial bombardment phase, the Iraqi ground forces had their combat capabilities significantly reduced with entire units rendered ineffective.


When you have no relevant doctrine, the army and the navy do not understand what you do nor how hard it is to do it properly.[4]

- Major-General J. J. C. Bouchard

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1. The Air Tasking Order (ATO) embodies command decisions that must be centrally controlled, but decentralized for the operators to execute effectively. It enables the aerospace commander to control theatre-wide aerospace forces in support of the joint force commander’s intent. The ATO ensures the integration of aerospace operations theatre-wide to bring forces to bear at the time and location of the commander’s choosing. The ATO is centrally planned and developed at the operational level, but its execution is decentralized to subordinate command and control nodes, and tactical-level units.  (return)

2. Jean Morin and Richard H. Gimblett, The Canadian Forces in the Persian Gulf: Operation FRICTION, 1990-1991 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997), 99. (return)

3. Canadian Forces College, “Control of Air Ops During the Gulf War,” unpublished compilation of CF documents in relation to the Gulf War. The document is held at the Canadian Forces College library. (return)

4. Lieutenant-General J. J. C. Bouchard, then Major-General, interview with Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Blais, Winnipeg, December 2006. (return)

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