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Main Strengths And Weaknesses Of Small State Airforces

Info: 2106 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 30th Jul 2021 in History

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What is the definition of small state? In a book by Annette “The Power of Small States: Diplomacy in World War Two (1959). Fox argued that small state could be defined in terms of ‘”local’ powers whose demands are restricted to their own and immediately adjacent areas, while great powers exert their influence over wide areas.” (Fox 1959:3, fn8). Furthermore, because of the small state’s severe deficit vis-à-vis great powers in military economic and technological strengths, the former could afford to be single-minded and intense in perfecting the diplomatic instrument. In doing so, the small state could afford to cast diplomacy in the form of “the capacity to appeal to world public opinion, operating from a ‘rectitude’ base, or their fighting qualities may gain them a reputation for being likely to resist violence with violence.” (Fox 1959:2-3)” [1] 

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During the 1st Gulf War where air strategy, training and equipment were on a level with technology and the objectives of the war was introduced, however it was lean onwards the coalition party. The result and the pace in which it was achieved was overwhelming. “From just over eighty years ago, air power has become the dominant factor in warfare, and therefore every nation interested in quarantining its independence and sovereignty, has to take a hard look at its air defenses and make sure that its forces are well trained, modern and ready to take up the challenges of an always insecure future.” [2] Today, Air power is view as more than a support weapon for the land and sea forces, many countries had witnessed the rise of air power from the early days and deem that air superiority had become a prerequisite for carrying out land/sea operations and the continuing upward trend in research and development had now reached the point where air superiority was the prerequisite for winning the war. The Gulf War is a good example to demonstrate how the ability of air power alone could almost defeat it enemy. Countries of various size, big or small with or without the technological base to support a modern Air Force have all opted for strengthening of their Air Forces.

Identifying the importance of air power to small nations

In order to secure the nation interests and securities, the defense policies needs to cover two fundamental objectives – Preventing war and defending the homeland. Singapore deterrence strength lies in its ability to defend its territorial integrity, including its territorial waters through effective use of highly maneuverable and accurate air power. In today’s context, technology has provided the means for quickly eliminating foe by making use of advance and accuracy air power. The precision in air power has resulted in a diminished need for large standing armies. A small nation’s limitations dictate her defense policy for survival. However, technological advantage presents opportunities for effective defense policy. Any small nation would certainly build a creditable air force as part of her strategy of deterrent defense. Due to her limitations, They have to have a be more proactive approach in protecting her national sovereignty. When Applied correctly, collaborations with other nations allows a small state to produce desired results. In the end, any small nation aims to avoid war. When incorporated with the overall scheme of deterrence, collaborations can become a strong deterrent factor. For a small nation’s air force, judicious procurements must be undertaken to strengthen her defense capabilities, which must inevitably sharpen her deterrent edge. It is important for small nation air force to streamlined its war requirements and its peace-time resource limitations. Gaining air superiority, or the ability to deny the adversary air superiority must be put forward as the most important factor for the protection of the nation and strategic targets , and thus air combat capability is top priority.

“Countries throughout the world have reduced the size of their standing armies to compensate for the expanded roles of air power. No longer is it necessary to present large armies as the principal deterrent in defense of the homeland. Air capability is now the chief means of national security” [3] . A small nation must possess an air force that is superior in specifications and technology for effective deterrence message. They must consistently benchmark their expertise against much more established air forces in the world. For example, Singapore a small nation had embark in various HADR missions to prove their worth with a respectable air force, taking active interest in global affairs, engaging in many bi / multi lateral Air defense exercises with many countries to prove our good relation with them. These are important platforms to strengthen co-operation and management of conflicts, with indicators of such international level could then reflect their readiness of her air force to deter potential aggressors. The ability of air power to operate with great speed and surprise its adversaries at any point or time over the battlefield can sometimes substitute for mass. If applied at the right place and time it can often overwhelm an unprepared foe. “As air power legend John Boyd said in his unpublished but widely circulated theory, the goal is to get inside an enemy’s OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop by observing, deciding and acting faster than the enemy can react to create a crushing psychological strain on the enemy mind. The goal is to overcome the will to fight by dominating time. Airmen will therefore seek to create an extremely rapid, high tempo air operation that masses effects in time as well as space for maximal erosion of the enemy’s will” [4] .

Strengths and weaknesses

In a military campaign, a small nation’s war plans need to address three critical constraints. They are:

Space Constraint

First, It would be the limited training airspace, its local areas of operation (AO). The air force , since it can only operate in an extremely small airspace that co-share with many different air operators using the same piece of sky. It’s training would be greatly affected and standards of training will be compromise and standards of the pilots will not be of a good. Even if a country can procure the latest air superiority and technological advance aircraft, the lack of space would have prevented them in using it to it’s full capacity for air defense. Space constraints also affects the land base air defense training, ADA training in the peacetime environment lacks the realistic field engagement and had to rely heavily in simulation to counter any air threats with limited operational experience.

One way to overcome the space constraints is to look towards Overseas detachments. Overseas detachment allows pilots of small states a vast regions of airspace, not available locally, to practice their manoeuvres and profiles. Another way to overcome is to participate in Bi or Multi national exercises where pilot to fly over large exercise OA practicing and validating their profiles without airspace constraints. ADA deployments over the vast land mass for real target log-on and exercising ROE.

Diplomatic ties (Soft power)

Second, Soft power is the attempt to shape the behavior of other states through attractions, emphasizes on the power of persuasion, achieved through intangibles such as culture, values and institutions. Military force is not the only way. But one with a good political ties with surrounding neighbors, collaboration and Joint Air defense exercise (ADEX) provide a good and healthy political relationship to prevent any ill intend. Memorandum of Understanding (Peace) signed between countries and leverage on super powers can prove to be a good deterrence method. “There are a number of exceptional cases where small states have accumulated military power and have used military diplomacy to reduce their vulnerability and even be in a position to pose a threat of others” [5] .

Military Diplomacy (Hard Powers)

Third, As a small state, investing heavily in hard power, building its military capacity to the point that it is able to defend itself show others we are a force to be reckon with. However it must be very well balance and not to cross the line of being an aggressor. Internationally, we must able to show the rest that as a small state it is able to “‘punch above its weight’ internationally. While its military power is recognized, having one of the most modern army, navy and air force” [6] . The examples of what Singapore have done in term of military diplomacy are Piracy patrol over Malacca Straights ( Muliti lateral co-operation between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), Training & Sharing of facilities overseas( Due to lack of training area and space to build facilities), Many military agreements with various partners near or far ( US, UK, Australia, NZ, Malaysia etc).

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A quote from Mr Goh Chok Tong : "A defense policy based only on deterrence will end up like two strangers staring at one another in the face. Each misreads the other’s stare. Suspicious thoughts go through their minds, ending up very often in punches. The staring analogy teaches us that the force of arms alone cannot keep the peace." [7] 

Populace Constraint

Third, Casualty to the man and woman are a major concern in a small country’s defense plans too. A small nation, with her limited landmass, housing estate (HDB) and office building and CBD (Central Business District) are almost everywhere and very close to each other. A single attack or bomb blast could kill hundreds of people and a crippled economy for the nation. If a small nation is only prepared to retaliate, an enemy first strike can knock out even a small number of her active and reserve forces and crippled its defense significantly. A loss of men in the defense forces of a small state would affect troop morale and readiness much more than a similar loss for larger armed forces.

Individually a small state Air Forces does not amount to much. But collectively if forming as group with other allies , they will form a handful and can deter a larger state with ill intention. The development of air power no matter how small by each state will add to the overall strength of the alliance. When Russian pull out of Baltic and leaving Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia their independence in 1994, air defense was a non existent in their states. The three countries acknowledge the importance and lack of air power decided to work together to form a airspace network covering the airspace of the 3 countries forming the Regional Air Surveillance Co-ordination Centre (RASCC) [8] .


Modern airpower is a potent and lethal weapon. The advantages includes flexibility, speed, ability to deploy precision weapons with fewer friendly and collateral casualties,. But airpower is not an “master key”, it should be used to achieve key military objectives, not an all purpose solution and it is not capable of achieving all objectives alone. That is why we need a full spectrum balanced military force with defense diplomacy. A combination of Soft power, hard power and advance military hardware( air platform and ADA weapons) prove to the best option for small state’s. A small state airforce is able to better focus on the procurement on the type of platform that best suit the situation and force projection. It will be able to provide the front line defense and act as a deterrence to it’s surrounding nations.


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