Not much more than a century old, airpower and airpower theory have already provided a compelling and varied narrative. The emergence of a third dimension to warfare in the ﬁrst decades of the twentieth century sparked some theorizing as to the role, promise and potential of airpower in warfare. The theorists most associated with early airpower theory are Italian General Giulio Douhet and American General William Mitchell. Douhet’s vision was a grand one of airpower being revolutionary in nature, a weapon so powerful it would replace other forms of warfare. Mitchell’s thinking was more circumscribed, viewing airpower as an important domain of war to be integrated with, not replace, other forms of warfare. Many of Douhet’s key tenets were proven wrong by the events of World War Two, while elements of Mitchell’s perspective held up and have become the foundation of contemporary US Air Force doctrine. During the Cold War conventional airpower theory received relatively little attention,
dominated as the era was by nuclear strategy. But beginning with the 1991 Gulf War, which seemingly vindicated some of Douhet’s ideas, the post-Cold War period has contained numerous conventional airpower cases and examples. This has resulted in a signiﬁcant degree of strategic thinking about the role and utility of airpower. This chapter examines contemporary strategic thought in the air dimension. It begins by highlighting and oﬀering a critique of the key ideas of Giulio Douhet and William Mitchell. It then examines new ideas about airpower, some of which can be viewed through the prism of the Douhet or Mitchell lenses, but many of which are substantively new. Notable post-Cold War airpower theorists, all civilian scholars but some with military backgrounds, include Stephen Biddle, James Corum, Benjamin Lambeth and Robert Pape, among others. The chapter concludes by brieﬂy raising strategic thought on the newest form of airpower, unmanned kinetic precision force.