The Unseen War
Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein
Air Force Chief of Staff 2014 Reading List Selection
Choice Outstanding Academic Title Selection
Royal Air Force Chief of Staff 2015 Reading List
The Unseen War offers a comprehensive assessment of the role of allied air power in the three weeks of major combat that ended the rule of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in 2003. Unlike in the earlier Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the contribution of air power in the second war was less readily apparent to most observers, since the land offensive began concurrently with the air offensive and the overwhelming majority of the deployed journalists who reported on the war were embedded with ground units. Lambeth's work fills a longstanding gap in the literature on modern warfare by telling, in full, the story of the role of air power for the first time. This book is published in cooperation with the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, who was responsible for planning and conducting the 2003 air offensive for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Ben Lambeth unlocks air power's complexities and fully describes their often subtle but always significant impact on joint and coalition warfare."
- Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF (RET.), Chief of Staff, U. S. Air Force (2001-2005)
"... A tour de force survey of air power employment in the early twenty-first century. Ben Lambeth's expertise in the field of air warfare and this work are profound gifts to all who care about air power's contribution to modern conflict resolution."
- Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF (RET.), Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (2001-2005)
"The author's analysis of events in context, deftly balancing breadth and depth, makes this clear, accurate, and valuable book the most comprehensive analysis of the [Operation Iraq Freedom] campaign to date... This is an important book, providing a solid counterpoint to the ground centric literature of major combat operations and detailing significant lessons on the application of modern warfare. Lambeth's critical analysis combines the big picture with necessary specifics on achievements and deficiencies. The book also delivers a useful reminder that if a campaign's overarching goal is to supplant an existing regime, then plans for stabilization, nation building, and defense and security sector reform must receive as much attention as the campaign plan for major combat operations — or even more. Lambeth teaches the sobering lesson that 'every war must end' and that exit strategies and transition plans should be in place prior to military engagement. Replacing an existing regime with a functioning and accountable authority in line with Western principles of democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, and human rights requires a focus that extends well beyond the battlefield."
- Col. John Andreas Olsen, PhD, Royal Norwegian Air Force, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Winter 2013
"Operation Iraqi Freedom was well covered from the ground perspective, but finally we have an extremely well researched and interesting documentary of the air war that balances the strategic and operational view of how the U.S. military marched quickly to Baghdad with an air campaign that had prepared the battlefield over the course of 12 years of Operations Southern and Northern Watch…. This book is a must read to understand how the air war, out of sight of the media, shaped the battlefield and allowed the ground forces to surge forward while their flanks and forward areas were protected through air power. The anecdotes and comments from many interviews make this a lively read and a truly complementary piece to the many other books on the ground war."
- ADM Mark Fitzgerald, USN (Ret.), Chairman of the Association of Naval Aviation, Wings of Gold Magazine, Winter 2012
"Ben Lambeth of the RAND Corporation is one of the premier historians of operational air power. His account of the air campaign that supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein during Operation Iraqi Freedom the spring of 2003, The Unseen War, does nothing to diminish his reputation. He is a master of the complexity of modern air power…. Readers looking for a comprehensive description of our nation's last conventional air campaign will be rewarded by this study…. Lambeth's work… will remain the authoritative source for this unique air campaign for some time and is highly recommended for military professionals of all stripes to read critically."
- Dr. John T. Kuehn, Prof. of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, published by the Naval Historical Foundation
"… brings the many facets of an air campaign together into a coherent narrative…. You will gain a thorough understanding of the complexity of aerial warfare in the 21st Century."
- Military Heritage, May 2014
"Few books have tried to record the joint and combined military operations of the 2003 Iraq War, and Ben Lambeth is right in his statement that the air side of that story has been largely ignored…. After 37 years with the RAND Corporation, [he] is one of the master advocates of air power [and is] rightly acknowledged as a subject matter expert on recent … air … operations. The Unseen War makes a valuable contribution to the literature on war in the 21st century. It is much more than required reading for anyone interested in the 2003 Iraq War; this book should be read by those who wish to better understand modern conflict."
- Journal of the Australian Naval Institute, June 2014
"Ten years of thorough research and very good writing have produced an outstanding account of the nearly unknown air war during the three-week phase of major combat operations in Iraq that helped end the regime of Saddam Hussein. In contrast to the strategic error of under sourcing ground forces, especially for postcombat stabilization, the joint and combined air operations were almost flawless. It was not a question of "shock and awe" but of over 41,000 well-planned sorties that resulted in precise, relentless, and highly lethal air strikes. With collateral damage a constant concern, the effects were to shred Iraqi ground troops and armor and reverse the traditional roles of air and land power in high-intensity combat. During this phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, ground forces flushed the enemy, air power attacked them, and ground forces then finished off the remnants. Lambeth (senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments) brilliantly analyzes the reason for success as well as the reasons for occasional failures along with perennial problems such as insufficient tanker capacity, reluctant allies, fog and friction, and the inter-service delicacies involved with any joint action. No history is definitive, but this report comes close."
- B. Cooper, University of Calgary
"Benjamin Lambeth has provided the most thorough evaluation available of airpower's role in the 23 days of formal conventional combat that began Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lambeth is the most eloquent and enthusiastic writer on American airpower today…. This well documented and well written book deserves serious consideration by anyone who desires to understand the current capabilities of American airpower and its role in modern war."
- Review by Dr. Conrad C. Crane, Chief of Historical Services, US Army Heritage and Education Center, published in Parameters, Winter 2014-2015
"The Unseen War is an essential read for anyone interested in understanding how a truly joint and combined operation consisting of all elements of national power is directed, planned and conducted. Military professionals and individuals interested in military history will benefit most from this book because it describes adeptly how conventional military force can be applied to systematically dismantle a State’s military capability."
- Squadron Leader Keith Slack, Royal Airforce
Research conducted by
This report is part of the RAND Corporation Commercial book series. Periodically, RAND Corporation researchers publish with commercial presses. These books are not available from RAND but can be requested directly from the publisher, except in cases where the rights have reverted to RAND and we have republished a new edition.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.