By Giancarlo Maragucci


It is common to hear about national and military strategies, but it is not easy to define their relations and implications. Yet the role of the military should be aligned with both, and the Air Force should ultimately define its own character framed by the national strategy. Using open source information, the following is an attempt of understanding how the Air Force should shape its future based on national/military strategies.


National Grand Strategy or National Strategy?


Grand Strategy or High Strategy includes the “purposeful employment of all instruments of power available to a security community”.

Grand Strategy is the highest level of national statecraft that establishes how States, or other political units, prioritize and mobilize which military, diplomatic, political, economic, and other sources of power to ensure what they perceive as their interests. Depending on one’s theoretical perspective, these perceived interests focus the minimal goal of ensuring the Stat’s survival, pursuing specific domestic interests or establishing a specific regional or global order. The “grand” in the concept is often confused for grandiose or ambitious; however, it does not suggest expansive goals but rather the managing of all the State’s resources toward the means of the State’s perceived ends.


The prominent theoretical approaches to the study of grand strategy in political science accept the interplay between threats and opportunities of the international environment and the constraints or drivers of domestic politics. Some authors use terms other than Grand Strategy, such as National Strategy or Foreign or Security Policy, in nearly the same sense. In practice, it can be difficult to establish clear distinctions between these concepts and Grand Strategy.


From Grand Strategy to Military Strategy


A country’s political leadership typically directs Grand Strategy with input from the most senior military officials. Development of a nation’s Grand Strategy may extend across many years or even multiple generations. All nations own some grand strategies and affiliated, but subordinate, military strategies. The former refer to the totality of resources and how they are used to achieve policy goals, the latter pertain to the economic resources and manpower needed to sustain the armed forces and achieve military objectives.


Four variables prove to be significant determinants of Grand and Military Strategies:


  • A State’s strategic geographic and political environment;

  • National resources;

  • Ambitions and effectiveness of the political leadership;

  • A country’s strategic culture.


The interaction among these four variables proves to be particularly significant in shaping Grand Military strategies.

In the hierarchy of strategies, then, Military Strategy resides just below Grand Strategy and should in theory bring detail to the grand strategic use of the military instrument of power. 


The Military Doctrine


Military doctrine is an important part of the building material for military strategy. It represents central beliefs or principles for how to wage war in order to achieve the desired military ends. A  Doctrine thus provides ways to use military means against a given type of threat or scenario. Doctrine thus has implications for force structure, training, and equipment.

The ideal military doctrine would be truly joint “i.e. integrating land, air, maritime, and special operations in an efficient and effective way to achieve the military objectives”“ and a flexible enough to deal with any kind of foreseen and unforeseen threats, as well as a range of political objectives.


The role of air force


National Strategy can only be pursued with an integrated force of military and non-military national entities and organizations, and the air force plays a fundamental role in pursuing the freedom of access of air, space and cyberspace domains, maintaining information superiority and guaranteeing the security and resilience of national technologies, all under a secure Command and Control service.


Besides the different National and Military Strategies around the world, the air forces share some common features, all of them converging in the term airpower. Airpower is the ability to project military power or influence through the control and exploitation of air, space, and cyberspace to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives.


Due to speed, range, and its multidimensional perspective, airpower operates in ways that are fundamentally different from other forms of military power; thus, the various aspects of airpower are more akin to each other than to the other forms of military power. Airpower is the product – not the sum – of air, space, and cyberspace operations. Each depends on the others to such a degree that the loss of freedom of action in one may mean loss of advantage in all other domains.


An American study analyzed six emerging trends with implications for the airpower:


  • Adversaries’acquisition and development of capabilities to challenge the Nation;

  • Increasing importance or frequency of irregular, urban, humanitarian, and intelligence operations;

  • Increasing challenges to deterrence;

  • Energy costs;

  • Exploiting new technology opportunities;

  • Challenges of climate change.


From now until 2030, the technological advances reshaping the globe may cause the air force to evolve from an air, space, and cyber force to a cyber, space, and air force, with an emphasis very different from that of today. While this will clearly be a vulnerability to those unable to adapt, it also becomes an enduring advantage for others.


“Strategic” in this context refers to the national security implications of how the air force organizes, trains, equips, and employs its personnel, and therefore preparing for a threat based solely on current geopolitical realities will be insufficient. Even if national and military strategies embrace long term applicability, the air force needs to evolve and adapt continuously in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment.