Portuguese American Journal

Book: ‘Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower’ in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974 – Editor’s Note

Following the 1952 reorganization of the Portuguese Air Force from the army and naval air arms, Portugal now had an entity dedicated solely to aviation that would bring it into line with its new NATO commitment. As it proceeded to develop a competence in modern multiengine and jet fighter aircraft for its NATO role and train a professional corps of pilots, it was suddenly confronted in 1961 with fighting insurgencies in all three of its African possessions. This development forced it to acquire an entirely new and separate air force, the African air force, to address this emerging danger.

This is the story of just how Portuguese leadership anticipated and dealt with this threat, and how it assembled an air force from scratch to meet it. The aircraft available at the time were largely castoffs from the larger, richer, and more sophisticated air forces of its NATO partners and not designed for counterinsurgency. Yet Portugal adapted them to the task and effectively crafted the appropriate strategies and tactics for their successful employment.

The book explores the vicissitudes of procurement, an exercise fraught with anti-colonial political undercurrents, the imaginative modification and adaptation of the aircraft to fight in the African theaters, and the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures for their effective employment against an elusive, clever, and dangerous enemy. Advances in weaponry, such as the helicopter gun ship, were the outgrowth of combat needs. The acquired logistic competences assured that the needed fuel types and lubricants, spare parts, and qualified maintenance personnel were available in even the most remote African landing sites. The advanced flying skills, such as visual reconnaissance and air-ground coordinated fire support, were honed and perfected. All of these aspects and more are explored and hold lessons in the application of airpower in any insurgency today.

About the Author
John P. Cann is an Adjunct Research Staff Member at the Institute for Defense Analyses, a former Scholar-in-JohnPCann_Residence at the University of Virginia, and the retired Professor of National Security Studies at Marine Corps University. He earned his doctorate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London, in 1996 and subsequently published Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974 and Brown Waters of Africa: Portuguese Riverine Warfare, 1961-1974. He is likewise the author of The Flechas – Insurgent Hunting in Eastern Angola 1965-1974 and some thirty articles on conflict in Africa.

Cann is a retired naval captain and flight officer specializing in open-ocean-reconnaissance aviation with a variety of aviation assignments, including command. He also served on the staffs of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of Defense and was awarded the Portuguese Medal of Dom Afonso Henriques and the Portuguese Navy Cross Medal. He is an Associate Member of the Portuguese Academia de Marinha.

Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, USMC (Ret), professor at Harvard University, Cambridge, described the research by “Dr. Cann’s work draws primarily on his wide-ranging interviews of participants and decision-makers and on the extensive use of their personal papers. This original material is ably blended with published sources in both Portuguese and English to produce an informative, valuable, and readable account of the agonies and successes in the development of Portugal’s counterinsurgency capabilities. Even today Portugal’s systematic and logical approach to its insurgency challenge holds valuable lessons for any nation forced to wage a small war on the cheap.”

Book Details

  • Title: Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974
  • Author: John P. Cann
  • Publisher: Helion and Company
  • Date of Publication: March 2015
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 480 pp.

Source: Helion & Company & PAJ.staff

Related: Book series by John P. Cann on the military history of Portugual’s counterinsurgency during the Colonial wars in Africa:


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