John Warden III was an exceptionally influential air power strategist whose name is inextricably connected with Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 coalition campaign to free Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. We discuss his influence with Colonel Dr John Andreas Olsen of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Warden was a pupil of theorist Carl von Clausewitz, taking from him his concept of the ‘centre of gravity’, which Warden multiplied concentrically to identify five targets for air bombardment that would bring an enemy power to its knees – his ‘five rings’. But he also rejected Clausewitz’s emphasis on a decisive battle between land forces to achieve the same outcome.
In an almost ‘Douhetian’ fashion, Warden made the case that air power on its own could bring about a decision in war – but very much unlike the Italian general, Warden wanted to spare the enemy civilian population, targeting above all the enemy’s centre of power.
Our guest, Col Dr John Andreas Olsen, is currently assigned to NATO Headquarters in Brussels. He is a professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, and a fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences. He completed a doctorate in history and international relations at De Montfort University, and he holds further degrees from the Universities of Warwick and Trondheim.
The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.
Warden, John A III: The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat (Washington DC: Brassey’s, 1988).
Warden, John A III: ‘The Enemy as a System’, Airpower Journal 9, no. 1 (Spring 1995), 40–55.
Olsen, John Andreas: John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power (Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2007).
Olsen, John Andreas: Strategic Air Power in Desert Storm (Frank Cass, 2003)
Olsen, John Andreas: ‘Warden Revisited: The Pursuit of Victory through Air Power’, Air Power History 64, no. 4 (Winter 2017), 39–53.
Reynolds, Richard T: Heart of the Storm: The Genesis of the Air Campaign against Iraq (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University, 1995).
Fadok, David S: John Boyd and John Warden: Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1995).
Senior Associate Fellow
Director, Military Sciences