As Parliament today debates airstrikes in Syria it is worth discussing the type of airstrike we plan to use. Air warfare came of age in the the Second World War and divided airstrikes into two schools; strategic, as typified by the Nazi bombing of Guernica, depicted by Picasso, and tactical, which was then used to spearhead the Nazi blitzkrieg into France. This second, the use of tactical, or close air support has essentially remained unchanged to the present day, to the extent that a 1940 panzer commander handed command of the 'shock and awe' invasion of Iraq would have recognised to tactics, and with little retraining achieved the same results.
In the current debate on airstrikes there is no distinction between tactical and strategic. A pity as when Parliament vote for an airstrike there are two very different executions, and this decision will then be taken by the military without further debate. This ambiguity is compounded by the fact that whereas in 1940 the aircraft used to deliver these strikes were very different, the lumbering four engine Lancaster is a strategic bomber, the Nazi Stuka is a tactical bomber, today both strikes can be delivered by fighters, bombers and even drones.
A final point is the strategic strikes are the preserve of an airforce, tactical strikes an amalgam of players both in the air and on ground. This leads to airforces, and indeed politicians, leaning towards strategic strikes. Airforces because tactical strikes lead to long hang times for expensive aircraft in dangerous situations where they are controlled by unknown and sometimes untrustworthy forces on the ground, unpopular with pilots, and politicians because strategic strikes can now be carried out with accuracy against political targets far from the confusing and partizan front lines of modern conflicts.
And when things go wrong with tactical strikes the results are immediately obvious: The recent attack on the hospital in Afghanistan, the shooting down of a Russian strike aircraft on the Turkish border are all in the tactical melee, whereas who can say who actually got hurt in the strategic drone strike that may or may not have killed 'Jihadi John'. So in voting for airstrikes in the present climate we can be assured parliament will be voting for strategic airstrikes, and we the public will be none the wiser as to their outcome nor contribution to a Syrian solution.