Strike, paralyse & control : the direction of modern strategic air power development & practice, 1989-2015

  • Matthew Paul Warren

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


‘Strategic air power’ is an operating concept through which air power is arranged and directed to achieve objectives at the strategic level of warfare by exerting control over an adversary. At the end of the Cold War, utilising a new theory of strategic effect, the Desert Storm air campaign demonstrated its power and potential in practice. A question then emerges: how did the concept of strategic air power develop in the post-Cold War period and what factors accounted for its direction? Across five development phases from 1989-2015 this question was addressed from the experiences of six relevant states by determining the underlying process in action, common factors, and an explanatory model. It is based on comparative case study analyses of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Israel and Australia and their development of strategic air power theories and capabilities, the influence of environmental and national factors, and practice.

This thesis finds that a common process of concept development became evident following Desert Storm. This process repeated itself throughout the research period. It also finds that eight common factors shaped the direction of strategic air power. In the early research period, air power transformed in response to a reconceived battlefield and new technology and was reframed as a tool for conventional strategic effect. After Desert Storm precision weapons’ unique role in enabling strategic attack was recognised and applied in successive air campaigns. Development cycles were compressed and sensor-to-shooter timescales improved, creating new options and expectations for strategic effect. Their limits were exposed by adaptive adversaries and complexity, leading to a divergence of agreement in the concept’s direction and a shift in its place in defence thinking. Combined with political and operational demands, by the end of the research period structural limits emerged on the strategic effects that could be delivered in practice.
Date of Award13 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPhillips Payson O'Brien (Supervisor) & Hew Strachan (Supervisor)


  • Air power
  • Strategic air power
  • Strategic effect
  • Desert Storm
  • Effects-Based Operations
  • Doctrine
  • United States Air Force
  • Royal Air Force
  • Royal Australian Air Force
  • Israeli Air Force
  • Russian Aerospace Forces
  • Armée de l'Air

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