If you wanted to to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off?
Why . . . no, sir!'
Of course not. You'd paddle it. There can be circumstances when it's just as foolish to hit an enemy with an H-Bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an ax. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government's decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him . . . but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing . . . but controlled and purposeful violence.
Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers
Death from Above was the motto of the Starship Troopers. It is said that Heinlein was influenced by the feats of the Fallshirmjaegerkorps in the Invasion of Crete and by the largescale airborne operations in Normandy, Market Garden, and in the Phillipines. By 1959 when he wrote the book it was not such a great stretch. Space travel, yes, still in the future, but Sputnik was in orbit. The "bounce" was still a future capability but the mini-nukes were already in the inventory or at least designed, remember SADM, MADM, Davy Crockett?
Death from above, of course, is not limited to airborne forces. The war in Vietnam spurred the development of air-delivered weapons far beyond the tactical nuclear weapon. As Heinlein implied, somtimes wholesale destruction is not desirable. In April and May 1972 the 8TFW flying out of Ubon, Thailand, essentially destroyed the famous Thanh Hoa bridge in North Vietnam with less than 25 sorties carrying laser-guided bombs.
Predictably, some learned analyst from the RAND Corporation quickly pronounced that the very nature of war was changed forever by the advent of guided weapons. PAVEWAY was not the first guided weapon, nor did the nature of war really change, but we have certainly continued the development of almost incredible capabilities.
We quickly proceeded to "dumb airplanes" with "smart bombs," and we're currently at the stage of "smart airplanes" with "smart bombs." Bombs need targets, so in the intelligence world we proceeded rather quickly from choosing DMPIs (desired mean point of impact) for multi-ship attacks, to "which window do you want me to put it in?"
With the current capabilities of the armed Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, Heinlein's troopers would probably feel outgunned. In Waziristan these days there's no place where it's safe to have a meeting if you are a certain kind of individual. Some people scoff at the capabilities of the tactical UAVs, and it's true they are not very stealhy to radar, but if you don't have a radar they are not all that easy to detect.
If you choose to hide inside a potent, highly integrated air defense environment it's no guarantee of invulnerabiltiy either. There are such things as the Advanced Cruise Missile launched from the redoubtable B-52, the ubquitous Tomahawk Cruise Missile from submarine and surface platforms, and, of course, if push comes to shove, the F-22 is not merely a long range fighter. It is a highly capable immensely stealthy platform capable of supersonic cruise, and capable of carrying the JDAM and the GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb. Both are guided weapons with impresive accuracy.
It is not hard to imagine a single-ship mission deep into the heart of enemy territory to strike a single immensely valuable target. The nature of war has not changed, but the capability for "controlled, purposeful violence" has never been higher.--Basilisk