“Four elements make up the climate of war: danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance,” wrote Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal On War.1 He observed that collectively, those four elements comprised the notion of friction, which he defined as “the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.”2 Friction has disrupted the implementation of war plans since the dawn of civilization, and despite efforts to minimize its effects, it will continue to do so.
From the Airman’s perspective, friction looms especially large because of the importance of the technology needed not only to fight in the third dimension above the surface of the Earth, but also to live there, or at least to secure a presence in that environment. The possible breakdown of equipment or structural failure of an airframe could heighten stress and danger regardless of whether an enemy attempts to shoot down an aircraft. Additionally, unanticipated weather conditions could have a tremendous impact on aerial operations and their prospects for achieving success, or even occurring at all. Clausewitz remarked, “Countless minor incidents—the kind you can never really foresee—continue to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls far short of the intended goal.”3
H/T to Jason, this is your must read of the day. It's fairly long, about 35 pages, but looks at the role of the B-52 crews in the Vietnam war, and how those same issues of friction impact our leadership and our operations today.