Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/September 2011/Book reviews

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From Controversy to Cutting Edge : A History of the F-111 in Australian Service - Mark Lax

By Nick-D
A RAAF F-111C in 2009

3/5 stars
From Controversy to Cutting Edge is an authorised history of the General Dynamics F-111 strike aircraft which served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) between 1973 and 2010. While the book was funded by Boeing Australia (which was the primary contractor for the F-111 during their last decade of service) and published by the RAAF's Air Power Development Centre, it's an even handed book written by an experienced historian and former RAAF officer.

The book is focused on acquisition of the General Dynamics F-111Cs and how they were modified during their service with the RAAF. Lax provides a very detailed, yet clear, description of the background to the F-111 purchase and the technical problems which delayed their entry into Australian service for five years. It was interesting to read that the government largely authorised the purchase on short-term political grounds and the RAAF, despite being a strong advocate for the F-111, had little understanding of just how capable the aircraft actually were and didn't really know what to do with them when they first entered service. The descriptions of the modifications which were made to the original F-111C and Australia's purchase of additional F-111s are also detailed, though the material on the acquisition of 15 F-111Gs in the mid-1990s is confusing (the main section on this basically concludes that the F-111Gs were more trouble than they were worth, yet it's later remarked that the arrival of these aircraft allowed the RAAF to regenerate its strike capability). The book's text is supported by excellent photos and drawings.

While From Controversy to Cutting Edge is successful as a history of the F-111 as a weapons system, I was disappointed about its coverage of how the aircraft were actually used. There is very little detail on the training activities conducted by the RAAF units equipped with the aircraft, and almost nothing about how they fitted in with the activities of the other parts of the RAAF as well as army and naval doctrine. The coverage of the few operational uses of F-111s is quite good, but much more could have been written about the F-111s' day to day activities. The book's analysis of the impact of the F-111 on the RAAF and Australia's strategic position is also underdeveloped; it's asserted that the F-111 forced the RAAF to become much more sophisticated, but the details on how this occurred are unclear as the original situation isn't explained. Similarly, the discussion of whether the F-111s provided Australia with a deterrent capability is unconvincing: it's claimed that the Indonesian government took the F-111s' capabilities into account when discussing Australia, yet the book also (correctly) notes that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia was quite good at the time the F-111s were delivered and remained that way, so it's hard to see what the impact was. Other sections of the book (most notably that which discussed the AGM-142 Have Nap acquisition fiasco which saw over $500 million spent on missiles which entered service several years late and only about three years before the aircraft were retired) seemed unduly positive, though overall I thought most of the book was well balanced. Nick-D (talk) 06:35, 28 August 2011 (UTC)

Air Force : Inside the New Era of Australian Air Power - Ian McPhedran

By Ian Rose
RAAF F/A-18A on Exercise Red Flag 2010

3/5 stars

Australian military aviation is well served by official and semi-official histories documenting its evolution from the Australian Flying Corps in 1914, through its rebirth as the Royal Australian Air Force in 1921, its expansion before and during World War II, and its development throughout the Cold War. Those histories focussed not only on actions, equipment and personalities, but on the structure and policies of Australia's air arm, and its relationship with the Federal government.

Air Force is not a true history—even recent history—of the RAAF and does not discuss its structure, policies and raison d'etre in any great depth. However it does offer valuable snapshots of the service's people, machines, and deployments over the last 12 years or so—essentially from East Timor in 1999 until today—and devotes considerable space to perspectives on its future combat platform, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The book thus goes some way towards filling the gap in RAAF history since the publication of the most recent comprehensive works, Alan Stephens' The Royal Australian Air Force, in 2001, and the last edition of the late George Odgers' Air Force Australia, in 1996.

People-wise the author, a News Limited defence writer, properly deals not simply with senior commanders and aircrew but with all ranks and many musterings including maintenance staff, cooks, nurses, airfield defence guards, and combat survival trainers. He has chosen not to concentrate heavily on his own analysis of the recent work and current or future challenges of the RAAF, letting his interviewees do most of the talking. This yields some refreshingly candid comments on the command aspects of operations, as well as heartfelt observations regarding combat, humanitarian work, motivations for joining up, and this reaction by an F-18 pilot to the impact of September 11 attacks, which led to the deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq: "A stake had been put through the heart of the free world and it was up to people like me to stop it bleeding..." The book also boasts some great photos, the most spectacular being former Chief of Air Force Geoff Shepherd (whom I once met briefly in Darwin while contracting) taking off in an F-111 in 1988, when he banked so sharply after the wheels left the runway that it looked for all the world like a wingtip was going to plough into the dirt...

There are some minor indexing issues and a few curious expressions for an Australian air force tome, such as "Number n Unit" instead of the more typical "No. n Unit" and—god help us—"airplane" instead of "aeroplane" or simply "aircraft", not to mention the odd howler like "left (starboard) side"... Those things aside, Air Force is an engaging and useful addition to RAAF literature in this, the 90th year of its existence. It does however throw into sharp relief how overdue we are for an update to Stephens' 2001 history or, even better, a sequel to his official in-depth study of the service from 1946 to 1971, Going Solo. Ian Rose (talk) 13:03, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

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