UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An unhealthy obsession? : supersonic airpower in an era of unconventional operations Heard, Kaleigh Sarah


The use of airpower capabilities in unconventional warfare has become increasingly common in recent years and with that comes an interesting dichotomy: contemporary conflict is more often conducted through counterinsurgency and counterterror missions focused on winning hearts and minds, however states often respond to these situations using conventional forms of airpower. In the most recent unconventional operations Western forces have increasingly shown a preference for the supersonic fighter jets. While supersonic airpower is certainly useful across a variety of platforms and missions, the breed of unconventional warfare that the international community is confronting today commonly occurs in the context of absolute air superiority in which such supersonic power is significantly less useful than subsonic capabilities. While supersonic procurements were a strategic choice during the Cold War, their use is now a ‘preference of necessity’ since most Western forces do not possess the subsonic fighter capabilities best suited to unconventional warfare. This study considers the influence US procurement preferences have on Allied governments’ air procurements and analyze the perceptions, conceptions and assumptions that shape them. It argues that continued, unquestioned supersonic procurement is informed by the perceptual predispositions held by the procurement elite as to what war means and looks like, and the equipment required to fight one. As a result, not only are procurement preferences towards supersonic jets determined by perceptual predispositions in the United States but they, in turn, result in an ‘only choice’ framework whereby the procurement patterns of allied states are dictated by the perceived necessity to ‘fit’ their procurements into those advocated by the United States because of long-term clientelistic relationships. This relationship is demonstrated by analyzing this pattern of US influence on Canadian military procurement patterns. This study asserts that this clientelistic relationship with the United States has, in fact, hindered Canada’s ability to create and maintain full service air force capability and operability, as budget realities and US pressure have forced allies to focus solely on the procurement of supersonic jets rather than procuring strategically relevant purpose-built aircraft for the contemporary security environment.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada