From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The existing article aerial warfare is more historical than doctrinal. The Air Campaign is the title of COL John Warden's book, which may or may not be an appropriate title for the article, but gives the flavor. This article takes a different approach, absolutely full of Original Synthesis and probably some Original Research (or at least conversations with primary sources and their progeny). Bless me Jimbo, for I have sinned -- and I do not repent.

I'm trying to make this globalised and welcome inputs. At present, while there is much from US sources, NATO coordination is recognized, and there are references (some fragmentary at the moment) to work by British, French, German, Danish, Singaporean and Filipino military personnel.

I offer a set of propositions from COL Phillip Meininger, a United States Air Force theorist, commander of the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, while recognizing joint operations, still leans in the direction of "Trust Us, We're the Air Force." Nevertheless, it is a point of departure regarding both the process of air planning, and why other services' reluctance to rely on airpower alone.

Ten Propositions Regarding Air Power[1]

  1. Whoever controls the air generally controls the surface.
  2. Air Power is an inherently strategic force.
  3. Air Power is primarily an offensive weapon.
  4. In essence, Air Power is targeting, targeting is intelligence, and intelligence is analyzing the effects of air operations.
  5. Air Power produces physical and psychological shock by dominating the fourth dimension-time.
  6. Air Power can conduct parallel operations at all levels of war, simultaneously .
  7. Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass.
  8. Air Power’s unique characteristics necessitate that it be centrally controlled by airmen.
  9. Technology and air power are integrally and synergistically related.
  10. Air Power includes not only military assets, but an aerospace industry and commercial aviation.

Meininger does reflect the position that air warfare is a single entity, rather than the [2] Cold War position "Prior to 1991 Air Power thinking was generally divided in two. On the one hand Air Power was strategic employment of nuclear weapons and on the other hand Air Power was support to army land operations. After 1989 the nuclear exchange strategy was no longer valid, which only left us the Air-Land Battle doctrine to build upon. The Air-Land Battle doctrine was developed for the European Theater as the US doctrine for opposing the Warsaw offensive army doctrine. The doctrine developed for these operations was a tactical level doctrine designed to facilitate a common language for tactical level joint operations between airmen and the army, and it is this language upon which we develop today’s doctrine."


As air warfare evolves, it considers more dimensions, and, in the dimensions, greater precision. It also deals with information flow, which can be positive, as with food in the Berlin Airlift, or negative, as with bombs. Properly aimed bombs could also be argued as a means of causing information flow to cease.

The First World War: Two-Dimensional[edit]

When First World War aviators began to attack ground targets, they were principally concerned with the two-dimensional ground battlefield. They needed enough precision to know the locations of their own troops, the enemy lines, and, preferably, specific targets. With respect to the third dimension, they did not need to worry about their own artillery if they operated beyond its range. While antiaircraft was poorly developed, pilots did need to know when they were close enough that they might, by accident as much as design, be hit.

In World War I, the ground batteries were fairly straightforward: one's own front trench line, the enemy's forward trenches, and the "no man's land" in between. If the aircraft were cooperating with an attack, they might need to be aware of their own side moving into no man's land, but, realistically, the ability to coordinate between air and ground was so primitive that close air support could be as dangerous to either side.

World War I featuring forward trenches, artillery range limits

In modern terms, the trench line closest to the enemy is the Forward Edge of the Battle Line (FEBA), defined by the U.S. as "[the] foremost limits of a series of areas in which ground combat units are deployed, excluding the areas in which the covering or screening forces are operating, designated to coordinate fire support, the positioning of forces, or the maneuver of units."[3]

The Second World War: Three, and sometimes Four, Dimensions[edit]

Early in World War Two, it became common to have reconnaissance and security forces still within range of one's own artillery, but beyond the main body of ground forces.


The FLOT is a line that indicates the most forward positions of friendly forces in any kind of military operation at a specific time. The forward line of own troops (FLOT) normally identifies the forward location of covering and screening forces. The FLOT may be at, beyond, or short of the forward edge of the battle area. An enemy FLOT indicates the forward-most position of hostile forces.

Friendly air operating between the FEBA and FLOT must have positive identification of targets to prevent fratricide.

Land and Air Force Coordination[edit]

Before the advent of doctrine for the coexistence of ground troops capable of deep penetration of enemy lines (e.g., air assault, paratroop, special reconnaissance with deep strikes by aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery, it was much easier to understand the dimensions of the battlefield with respect to air missions. [4] The Fire Support Coordinating Line (FSCL) introduces definite three- and four-dimensional aspects.

Adding the FSCL

A variant on three dimensions is the "layer cake", in which there are various altitude zones. For example, it may be a rule that no friendly aircraft will go below 10,000 feet in a given area, with perhaps different rules for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The ground forces will expect to be able to fire on a low-flying aircraft that flies into their zone. |Altitude bands Another approach is to allow friendly aircraft to fly lower, but only in designated air corridors. The idea of air corridors and no-fly zones are increasingly common in operations short of war.

"If you pass the FSCL on a deep mission, can you still get CAS? Even though the tactical air employment mission definitions are vague enough to permit this possibility, the Army and Air Force employment tends to support the concept of a linear battle developing where "in depth" means an area still within the range of long-range artillery and the FSCL moves only as the FEBA and forward line of own troops (FLOT) move in a coordinated effort."[4]

The preceding largely defined the battlefield in two dimensions. The FSCL does consider the third dimension, scheduling attacks so an aircraft does not occupy the same space as an artillery shell. Proper scheduling starts to consider the fourth dimension of time.

Meininger cites a remark of Warden's: air power delivers strategic information: some of it is “negative” like bombs, and some is “positive” like food. The Berlin Airlift may well have been one of the most decisive victories of the Cold War, fought almost exclusively with noncombat aircraft.

The Airlift was strategic, in that it directly affected, defensively, a strategic center of gravity: the survival necessities for the Berlin population. Another rethinking of dimensions starts by revisiting the two-dimensional, and extending the depth of the area of operations. Strategic "strike" attacks are beyond both the maximum range of land weapons, and the authority of the Land Component Commander.

Extending to strike and special operations

In a pure strategic attack situation, when striking deep into enemy territory, there is little danger of attacking one's own regular ground troops or being hit by "friendly" air defense weapons.[5] It is, however, possible for one's air units to interact with one another, such that their operations need to be deconflicted.[6] Deconfliction, for example, might be making sure that electronic warfare resources do not jam the radars of friendly attack aircraft. It may mean that there must be enough separation between multiple attacks on the same target, such that successive attack aircraft do not fly through fragments of the previous wave's bombs.

Complicating matters are the possible presence of special operations forces, which may be inside or outside the limit of the LCC's authority. Deconfliction can be very difficult when the special operation is so sensitive that regular air planners cannot be told about it, as in the Son Tay raid. Typically, a higher headquarters informs an air operations center that they must clear a certain area, without giving reasons.

In other cases, the special operations forces will provide targeting information to the strike aircraft, who must be aware of the special reconnaissance team locations for multiple reasons.

Changing time[edit]

"an army can now operate 24 hours successfully at night time as in the day, and in all weathers. As an all-weather military the U.S. Armed Forces have a unique advantage. They can operate 24 hours round the clock."

Perhaps more significantly, that army need not launch all its attacks at once. "Pulsing" is one term, but "swarming" is becoming preferred. Swarming requires synchronization of actions, extensive information flow both up and down the chain of command but also among peer units, and extreme mobility with the willingness to hand off the initiative to another unit when yours meets heavy resistance. Much as with swarming, stinging insects, batting one away may clear the path for another to sting, and, while you are wincing from that sting, the original attacker gets through your guard.

An advanced air force stresses "information dominance", with " almost complete knowledge of enemy dispositions." ISR comes from satellites, UAVs, and airborne sensors such as the E-8 Joint STARS and Boeing RC-135. GPS position and time information is essential to merging the flow of information into a "single, uninterrupted, decisive operation by merging the tactical, operational and strategic levels of war into a single one. In other words, the U.S. was able to fight more rapid, decisive, continuous operations." [7]

Principles of air warfare[edit]

Meininger's 10 Principles are a starting point for discussion. At a deeper and more fundamental level is the idea of how an air force cooperates with other services, given the historic tendency of airmen to claim they can win all wars by themselves...once someone gets them airbases and provides fuel. Global Strike with 36-hour flights from the US can have dramatic effects in specific cases, but they cannot cover every case, especially for cooperation with ground forces, especially ground forces with UAVs and helicopters.

There is a delicate balance of priorities between striking deep into the enemy homeland, and giving local and medium-range support to troops.

Several theorists have had major effects on modern air warfare concepts, especially the retired [[colonel]s John Warden III and John Boyd. Warden and others rethought targeting, where Boyd dealt with a broader general view of warfare, but also was a noted tactician of fighter combat.

Principles of targeting[edit]

Clausewitz introduced the concept of centers of gravity (CoG) in warfare. When talking to the different services, according to Echevarria, the understanding of centers of gravity is rather like the understanding, by the proverbial blind men, of the elephant.[8] "The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, for example, typically thought in terms of a single CoG, which usually resided at the core of one’s land or naval power and provided the “source” of one’s physical and psychological capacity to fight. The U.S. Air Force, on the other hand, pursued the notion of multiple CoGs, each of which could be “targeted” from the air to achieve the paralysis of the enemy. And, finally, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), with the difficult mission of conducting amphibious forcible entry operations, preferred for a time to think of the CoG as a key weakness, or critical vulnerability, the exploitation of which would give it a decisive advantage. The CoG concept has, therefore, been fitted with many guises over the years."

The joint definition is ""those characteristics, capabilities, or locations from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight."

Echavarria disputes some of this definition. "A CoG is, therefore, not a source of strength, but a factor of balance. A closer look at the German text shows that Clausewitz never used the term “source” (Quelle). Moreover, the concept remains valid only where the enemy possesses sufficient “unity” or “interdependence” (Zusammenhang) to act as a single body. Before applying the concept in war planning, therefore, we must ask ourselves whether we can consider the enemy to act as a single entity."

Echavarria observed "Before applying the concept in war planning, therefore, we must ask ourselves whether we can consider the enemy to act as a single entity. If so, we should look for connections among the various parts of an adversary, or adversaries, in order to determine what holds them together. This is the CoG....Clausewitz’s CoG focuses on achieving a specific effect, the collapse of the enemy. Hence, it is an effects-based approach, rather than a capabilities-based one and it resembles an emerging concept called Effects-based operations (EBO) more than it does the capabilities-based notion that underpins today’s doctrine. Another important point is that Clausewitz did not distinguish between tactical, operational, or strategic CoGs. The CoG is defined by the entire system (or structure) of the enemy, not by a level of war. In addition, Clausewitz emphasized that we should look for CoGs only in wars designed to defeat the enemy completely. Only the vast amount of energy and other resources that go into wars aimed at achieving decisive victory can cause CoGs and their areas of influence to emerge."

Pendall: "Applying the notion of unrivaled information availability to the dimensions of the future battlespace forces us to conclude that future U.S. unified commanders must act locally, regionally, and globally simultaneously. Yet, they might lack frameworks for understanding these intersections—intersections that global businesses already understand."

Air warfare and gravity: a conceptual view[edit]

The Air Force drew its interpretation from COL (ret.) John Warden III, who adapted the idea of centers of gravity to the planning of air campaigns[9] especially Desert Storm in 1991. Warden, at the time, ran a Pentagon doctrinal research unit called Checkmate. He presented the original concepts to GEN (ret.) Chuck Horner, then commanding air forces (CENTAF) for United States Central Command. Horner, a lieutenant general at the time, found he did not work well with Warden, and three stars beats one eagle.

Warden interpreted the CoG as a useful concept "in planning war operations, for it describes that point where the enemy is most vulnerable and the point where an attack will have the best chance of being decisive. The term is borrowed from mechanics, indicating a point against which a level of effort, such as a push, will accomplish more than that same level of effort could accomplish if applied elsewhere. Clausewitz called it the "hub of all power and movement."

Warden disagrees with Echavarria and says that "Every level of warfare[10] has a center, or centers, of gravity. If several centers of gravity are involved, force must be applied to all if the object is to be moved. Perhaps the most important responsibility of a commander is to identify correctly and strike appropriately enemy centers of gravity. In some cases, the commander must identify specific reachable centers of gravity, if he has neither the resources nor the authorization to act against the ultimate centers. In any event, theater operations must be planned, coordinated, and executed with the idea of defeating the enemy by striking decisive blows."

What must be struck decisively? Is it an example of what has been called a "strategic target", especially by nuclear war planners? Are such targets now vulnerable to advanced conventional weapons or forces? Precision guided weapons, up-close-and-personal action by special operations forces, electronic attack, etc., all offer the potential of defeating an enemy without having to beat down his entire system.

One of the key questions of modern strategy is whether the claim of air power advocates of the past, which they were unable to demonstrate, is now true: air power can be decisive. Warden, in his work prior to Desert Storm, said that it was sometimes true that air, sea, and ground power were all needed, but that there are historical examples where only one was decisive. Of course, prior to the 20th century or even the limited use of observation balloons in the mid-19th century, there could be only two. Without using air warfare examples, he observes that Alexander the Great used land power to win his war with Persia by destroying Darius' shore bases for his fleet, and that the British Royal Navy won the war with Spain by defeating the Spanish Armada with sea power.

Fritz X guided bomb, first anti-shipping missile

On the other hand, the Luftwaffe failed to destroy the forces evacuating from Dunkirk, and horizontal bombers, touted as the end of navies by Billy Mitchell, were virtually useless against Second World War warships. The latter point changed with the German introduction of the Fritz X guided bomb, which sank the Italian battleship Roma.

Effects based operations[edit]

Warden's concepts are now mapped to the doctrine of effects based operations. "Effects-based targeting is identifying and engaging an adversary's key capabilities in the most efficient manner to produce a specific effect consistent with the commander's objectives. The underlying concept, therefore, posits it is possible to direct airpower against targets in ways that cause military and political effects beyond the mere destruction of those targets. Airpower may still seek to destroy targets, but destruction is only one effect within a spectrum of desired options. More typically, it is a first step enroute to subsequent, more highly desired effects. Consequently, effects-based targeting adherents view destruction primarily as a means and rarely as an end in itself. The aim of effects-based operations lies in using target destruction (or some other effect via nonlethal technology) to generate predetermined second-order effects at the operational and strategic levels of war, which, in turn, compel enemy decision makers to respond in ways favorable to our overall campaign objectives.[11]

Perhaps terrorist organizations best understand effects-based operations. The attacks on 11 September 2001 had less to do with selected targets and more to do with the causation of synergistic effects. [12]

Effects based targeting, without prejudging the number of levels of warfare involved, requires identifying Center(s) of Gravity (CoGs) and subsequently identifying Decisive Points (DP) and the associated targets that, if serviced will achieve the desired effect. K's illustration assumes ththe three levels of war.

Relations between the desired End State, Centers of Gravity, Decisive Points and targets

Milan Vego, Professor of Operations in the Joint Military Operations Department at the United States Naval War College, is highly critical of EBO. [13] "Effects-based operations (EBO) are a spin-off of network-centric warfare (NCW). Hence, many of its premises are largely unproven, if not outright false. EBO and NCW proponents essentially see war as a business." While EBO uses Clausewitz's terminology, Vego sees them not sharing Clausewitz's true views, and are using "a deeply flawed systems approach for assessing situations and identifying centers of gravity."

He states that "the effects-based approach to warfare is heavily dependent on mathematical methods for predicting and measuring effects." While some EBO indeed are quantitiative, others appear to infer causality in a deterministic way, without quantifying. Is it correct that there is an "increasing trend toward using various metrics to assess essentially unquantifiable aspects of warfare"? Is this true only of some EBO proponents? "EBO proponents also claim that their concept is based on the tenets of operational warfare. However, EBO is in fact the antithesis of operational thinking and practice. Operational terms are used as ornaments rather than in ways that articulate their true meaning. Worse, various well understood and commonly accepted terms are redefined to emphasize effects in lieu of objectives and tasks."

In Vego's article in Combined Arms and Joint Operations, D.H. Gurney, in a sidebar, notes that "U.S. Joint Forces Command has been developing this concept for over 5 years, and, to the same degree as the Standing Joint Force Headquarters established in each of theregional combatant commands, integration and application vary widely. While this may be considered normal for military cultural evolution, EBO is especially thorny because of its work force demands and complexity, which even U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfighting Center admits to being “convoluted.”The roots of EBO can be traced to the pre-World War II Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field In fact, some insist that it is merely a supplemental methodology. Accelerating technological capabilities have permitted leaps in both information management and precision applications of force, perhaps enabling new strategies and certainly facilitating faster and more accurate actions. Nevertheless, as in the interwar years, resources are scarce and devoted to many initiatives, highlighting the need to balance effectiveness with efficiency.

Gurney continues, " the “concept” of EBO has remained largely just that—a conceptual construct. Joint Doctrine, bound by a paradigm that limits doctrinal treatment to extant capabilities, has introduced the idea of effects and an effects-based approach to planning and assessment in mature revision efforts to key publications (Joint Publications 3-0 and 5-0). It has addressed the construct as “small letter” variants, far short of the larger EBO construct. The point of selecting Professor Vego’s critique is to elevate debate and encourage adaptation."

A taxonomy of effects[edit]

The simplest is that of direct or indirect. A direct effect is the result of actions with no intervening effect or mechanism between act and outcome. These effects are usually immediate and easily recognizable. Conversely, an indirect effect is a result created through an intermediate effect or mechanism to produce the final outcome, which may be physical or psychological in nature. Indirect effects tend to be delayed and may be difficult to recognize. One can see the relationship of direct and indirect effects in a plan that targets enemy oil refineries. Destroying a single refinery creates a direct effect: that specific refinery ceases to operate. However, if several refineries are destroyed, then the planners’ true objective, the indirect effect, may begin to be realized. The enemy’s mechanized forces become immobilized due to lack of fuel. However, if the plan succeeds, it will require some period of time before enemy fuel consumption depletes available reserves. During this time, the effects may be difficult to recognize

A more general method of grouping effects is to categorize them as physical, systemic, and psychological. The primary purpose of a physical effect is to eliminate or neutralize the object targeted. Historically, targeteers achieved this effect through destruction; however, with the advent of non-lethal technology, other means may soon be available. Systemic effects are those aimed at disrupting the functions of a specific system or systems, for example, an electrical power grid. Lastly, psychological effects occur in the adversary’s mind and require an indirect approach as there is no material basis to directly target.

This taxonomy—physical, systemic, psychological—most closely matches that used by the US Air Force in its assessment of wartime effects. Combat assessment (CA) is an overall evaluation of combat operations in relation to command objectives.

CA consists of three sub-assessments:

  • battle damage assessment (BDA)
  • physical damage assessment is an estimate of the extent of physical damage to a target based on observed or interpreted damage.
  • functional damage estimates the remaining functional or operational capability of a targeted facility or object.
  • target system in target system assessment, the combatant command fuses the previous component BDA reporting on functional damage to targets within a target system and assesses the overall impact on that system’s capabilities.
  • munitions effectiveness assessment (MEA): MEA analyzes the effectiveness of munition damage mechanisms, e.g., fuzing, against specific target types
  • mission assessment (MA), which addresses the effectiveness of broad apportioned missions, such as interdiction, counterair, etc. .



Boyd's key concept was that of the decision cycle or OODA Loop, the process by which an entity (either an individual or an organization) reacts to an event. According to this idea, the key to victory is to be able to create situations wherein one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one's opponent.

Boyd theorized that multilevel contexts, such as the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, can be modeled with a hierarchy of OODA loops (see below). He also argued that fast OODA loops require a highly decentralized chain of command isomg objective-driven orders, or directive control, rather than method-driven orders in order to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level. He argued that such a structure would create a flexible "organic whole" that would be quicker to adapt to rapidly changing situations. He noted, however, that any such highly decentralized organization would necessitate a high degree of mutual trust and a common outlook that came from prior shared experiences. Headquarters needs to know that the troops are perfectly capable of forming a good plan for taking a specific objective, and the troops need to know that Headquarters does not direct them to achieve certain objectives without good reason. [14]

The OODA model of decision and action, originally for air-to-air fighter combat, has four phases, This discussion adds interaction with intelligence and command [15]

  1. Observe: become aware of a threat or opportunity
  2. Orient: put the observation into the context of other information; form one's perspective and situational awareness
  3. Decide: make the best possible action plan that can be carried out in a timely manner
  4. Act: carry out the decision.

After the action, the actor observes again, to see the effects of the action. If the cycle works properly, the actor has initiative, and can orient, decide, and act even faster in the second and subsequent iterations of the Boyd loop.

Ever-faster Boyd loops

Eventually, if the Boyd process works as intended, the actor will "get inside the opponent's loop". When the actor's Boyd cycle dominates the opponent's, the actor is acting repeatedly, based on reasoned choices, while the opponent is still trying to understand what is happening.

While Boyd treated his cycle as self-contained, it is reasonable to extend it to meeting the intelligence cycle. Observation can be an output of the collection phase, while orientation is an output of analysis.

External intelligence interaction with operational Boyd loops

Eventually, actions taken, and their results, affect the senior commanders. From the commanders, rather than the intelligence side, come guidelines on the preferred decisions and actions.

Interactions between command and the Boyd loop

High-Low mix[edit]

Another contribution by Boyd was the recognition that quantity has a distinct quality of its own. He was a major proponent of the "high-low" mix and of the "lightweight fighter mafia"; he was a champion of the lighter, more affordable F-16 as a complement to the more capable F-15

Breakthrough technical advances[edit]

Technological developments in recent years have led to changes as fundamental as rethinking the need for nuclear weapons, but that is only a start. One of the more revolutionary ideas is distinguishing kinetic from nonkinetic mechanisms. "Kinetic weapons, as defined here, are weapons whose effects are transmitted by the motion of a substance, such as a projectile, a shock wave, or heat. Departing from the conventional definition, nonkinetic weapons include—

  • Sticky foams.
  • Graphite bombs.
  • Cyber weapons.
  • Microwaves.
  • Directed energy.
  • High-energy radio frequency strikes.
  • Calmatives.
  • Acoustic weapons.
  • Stink bombs.
  • Antitraction and antireaction chemicals.[16]

Critical mass of new kinds of attacks[edit]

Taking nonkinetic as well as kinetic effects into account, are nations limited in their response? If the attacks of September 11, 2001 had caused airliner crashes, financial system shutdowns, and disruption of emergency services, but all through information warfare effects against the controlling computers and networks, would a global war on terrorism have been declared? Remember that a series of terrorist kinetic attacks did not trigger a "global war" response. Only local response, at most, resulted from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1997 bombing of the U.S. Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 United States embassy bombings, and the 2000 USS Cole bombing.[16]

There is a need, in this emerging context, to define the concept of critical mass produced by effects. Assume the preceding cyber attacks were spread out over some period of time. Is there a point where the cumulative effects would trigger a response, or is it a matter of the moving average of effects over time? What are some of the roles air power can play in nonkinetic response? ISR is one. Electronic attack, and information warfare from air platforms, are others. Historically, kinetic attacks have been used to assist SIGINT, by disrupting communications cables and forcing the use of more easily intercepted broadcasts.

In this article, we focus on the kinds of disruption possible through air warfare, as well as the issues involved in supporting air warfare. For example, if foreign internal defense and nonmilitary foreign aid build goodwill, acquiring airfields and overflight rights become easier.

"Effects-based operations, incorporating nonkinetic tools" may provide host nations with deniability, avoiding social and economic disruption.[16] When kinetic tools are necessary, using UAVs or low-observability aircraft can minimize visibility, as with the Predator strikes in Yemen.

Precision guided aerial munitions[edit]

One of the classic principles of war is mass. Originally, this meant the number of soldiers that could be used in attacking a single point. Later on, it referred to the weight of artillery shells that could be delivered to that target. Precision, however, introduces a new way of regarding mass: many soldiers or shells are not needed, if an adequately destructive munition can be delivered to the exact place where it will do the most damage. Precision is a force multiplier.

Originally, air-delivered weapons were notably imprecise. Before examining the issue quantitatively, two quotes illustrate the "then" and "now".[18] In 1933, the former chief of the US Army Air Corps, Major General James E. Fechet, wrote:

In the past, wars’ slaughter has been largely confined to armed combatants. Soldier has slain soldier. Unfortunately, in the next, despite all peace time decrees and agreements, the principal effort will be directed at trade and manufacturing centers [sic]. Obviously the airman, riding so high above the earth that cities look like ant hills, cannot aim his deadly cargo at armed males. All below will be his impartial target.[19]

Over sixty years later, COL Phillip Meininger, wrote:

Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass ... The result of the trend towards ‘airshaft accuracy’ in air war is a denigration in the importance of mass. PGMs provide density, mass per unit volume, which is a more efficient measurement of force. In short, targets are no longer massive, and neither are the aerial weapons used to neutralise them. One could argue that all targets are precision targets—even individual tanks, artillery pieces, or infantrymen. There is no logical reason why bullets or bombs should be wasted on empty air or dirt. Ideally, every shot fired should find its mark.[1]

Evolution: dumb bombs, smart delivery[edit]

Over time, aircraft navigation and weapon aiming techniques improved.

Technical evolution and "dumb" bomb efficiency
War Number of bombs Number of Aircraft CEP (in feet)
World War II 9,070 3,024 3,300
Korea 1,100 550 1,000
Vietnam 176 44 400

By the Gulf War, accuracy from medium altitude improved somewhat, but the inherent inaccuracies of "dumb" munitions obviated the "smarter" delivery platform. Dumb bombs had reached their limit of utility against point targets.

Revolution: precision guided munition[edit]

Precision guidance often is considered a recent, or at least Vietnam-era, innovation, but there were isolated examples much earlier. Either due to a lack of additional technology, or a failure of imagination, that PGMs could change the face of warfare was not realized at the time. The next section will deal with revolutionary weapons that may or may not have precision guidance, but otherwise were revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

World War Two precision guided weapons were "man-in-the-loop", sometimes literally so, as opposed to increasingly autonomous precision guidance made possible by computers, sensors, space-based navigation, and artificial intelligence. The first air-launched weapon[20] using machine-assisted intelligent guidance may well have been the Mark 24 torpedo, which used acoustic homing to force the German submarine, U-456, to the surface, where it was sunk by convoy escorts. [21] Anti-shipping missile technology first appeared on 9 September 1943, a German Fritz-X radio-guided glide bomb dropped from a Dornier Do 217 bomber sank the modern Italian battleship Roma as it steamed towards Gibraltar. [18]

The first real example of the potential of employment of large numbers of precision-guided weapons are not often considered as such, but the many Japanese kamikaze and other weapons guided by a pilot who would die with the weapon was just that. Kamikaze attacks, especially at the Battle of Okinawa, were an example of the potential of anti-ship missiles.

Kamikaze aircraft on final attack

"The Kamikaze was the deadliest aerial anti-shipping threat faced by allied surface warfare forces in the war... Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception and attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, a distressing 14 per cent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 per cent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank. As soon as they appeared, then, Kamikazes revealed their power to force significant changes in allied naval planning and operations, despite relatively small numbers. Clearly, like the anti-shipping cruise missile of a later era, the Kamikaze had the potential to influence events all out of proportion to its actual strength.[18]

"Most Republican Guard divisions outside Baghdad were not reduced in number by 50% (as some reports at the time claimed) but they were reduced to only 20% of their original combat efficiency by the bombing. With a thousand Coalition planes in the sky, coupled with a number of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, and thousands of munitions directed to precise locations by ground spotters, the U.S. infantry was able to obtain the auxiliary power of several traditional armoured divisions."[7]

Revolution: payload types[edit]

Again, there were early demonstrations of radically new weapon payloads in World War Two, but, for various reasons, did not become a part of general air warfare until much later.

Deep penetrators[edit]

The Earth quake bombs developed by Barnes Wallis, starting with the Tallboy bomb were harbingers of the realization that hardening and burial may not be adequate defense against penetrating weapons.

Tallboy, the smaller of Wallis' earthquake bombs

The larger Grand Slam bomb devastated extremely hardened targets, such as U-boat pens. Still, Grand Slam and Tall Boy were "dumb" bombs, delivered by the specialists of Royal Air Force 617 Squadron, the "Dam Busters".

Grand Slam damage to hardened U-boat pen. The man in the picture gives a sense of scale

Perhaps the key missing ingredient in 1945 was the range of intelligence sensors (e.g., spectroscopic MASINT, with gravitimetric MASINT on the horizon) that can locate hidden targets, followed closely by precision guidance to direct the penetrating weapon most effectively. Precision guidance, deep penetration, and advanced target acquisition are a revolutionary leap when joined.

GBU-24 penetrating PGM

With more powerful conventional explosives than were available in World War II, as well as precision guidance, a bomb in the 2,000 to 5,000 pound class can do more damage than a WWII bomb ten times its weight. If greater effects are needed, precision guidance can open a hole with one bomb, and then direct a second (and more) to the bottom of the first bomb's crater, digging even deeper.

Modern penetrating bombs also have computerized fuzes, which can, for example, count the number of floors they penetrate as they travel through a building, so they will detonate in precisely the right room, defined in three dimensions.

Large blast[edit]

Large blast bombs, now using precision guidance, such as the MOAB, also reflect some of the capabilities of the earthquake bombs. These are useful for situations where a wide pressure wave is needed, as for clearing minefields, or destroying spread-out but "soft" structures.

While the MOAB uses a solid explosive, fuel-air explosives and thermobaric explosives also are ways to get much greater power from physically smaller bombs.

Kinetic energy weapons[edit]

Guidance can be sufficiently precise that for some applications, the kinetic energy of a concrete-filled bomb, carrying no explosive, still can destroy the target. There are an assortment of experiments using ballistic missiles without nuclear or conventional explosives, delivering a solid mass to a point target, or bundles of metal rods for an area target.

The speed of an incoming ballistic missile gives more kinetic energy than would be released by conventional explosives.

Information operations[edit]

Information operations includes a wide range of technologies, but of interest here are electronic attack and possibly transmission of information that will cause computer systems to fail. Basic electronic attack starts with jamming, and moves to more subtle MIJI (Meaconing, Intrusion, Jamming, and Interference). Jamming can come from ground sources, which may include expendable transmitters delivered by artillery shells, missiles, or cluster bombs. It can come from electronic pods, either self-protection for combat aircraft, or from specialized electronic warfare aircraft such as the EA-6B.

The AN/ALQ-99 system on EA-6B Prowler Aircraft. EA-6B in foreground carries 3 under-wing jamming pods for transmitting and a single fixed pod on its tail for receiving.

Specialized carbon filament dispensers, in cruise missiles and bombs, knock out electrical power systems by shorting out power lines, but do little permanent damage to the electrical grid. When air defense is at least somewhat dependent on commercial power rather than its own uninterruptible power supplies, as was the case in Iraq and the Balkans, such weapons can be potent penetration aids for attacking aircraft, and form yet another variant of information operations.

Yet another, largely experimental approach is generating electromagnetic pulse without nuclear explosions. [22]. Several open-literature techniques, requiring only conventional explosives, or, in the case of high power microwave, a large electrical power supply, perhaps one-shot as with capacitors, can generate a significant EMP:

Ground control of PGM in close support[edit]

The doctrine of bringing increasingly more accurate and potent firepower, however, has been evolving significantly since the early days of Vietnam.[23] Special reconnaissance have an ever-greater strategic capability for directing PGMs onto targets deep in enemy territory; U.S. Army brigade combat teams and other transformed units have unprecedented capabilities for target acquisition and fire direction in their tactical and operational areas.

Fratricide remains a major concern, and all new close support systems have specific measures to help avoid it. In fire support, the aircraft does not just need a position to destroy the target. In CAS operations there will always be friendly troops in near proximity to the enemy. In other words, it is not enough just to lase the target and pass the location to the aircrew. The aircrew needs situational awareness of friendly troops. After a friendly fire incident, however, deficiencies in giving the bomber the precise location of the supported troops became apparent.

SR teams penetrate will guide aircraft or missile strikes. Tactical fire control will also guide artillery. In either case, directing any support relies on one of two basic guidance paradigms:

  • Go-Onto-Target (GOT) for moving targets,
  • Go-Onto-Location-in-Space (GOLIS) for fixed targets

For close air support, the assumption had been that rapidly changing tactical situations, including sudden changes in geometry between friendly forces and the target, GOT was assumed. If the attack was to be guided from the ground, either the target would be directly illuminated with some equivalent way of putting a virtual "hit me here" indication on the target, such as a laser designator. An alternative, although less preferred because it was much more error-prone, was to put a reference point on the ground that told the weapon "hit over there in relation to my position."

A smoke grenade, indeed, was a reference point, but an imprecise one from the air. Another model, more precise than the smoke grenade, was to place a radio or radar offset beacon near the target, but the SR troops still face the problem of precise angular and distance measurement from the beacon to the target. In the Afghanistan campaign of 2001, a new technique was adopted, only recently believed possible: ground-aided precision strike (GAPS)[24]. To put GAPS in practice, MG Daniel Leaf, USAF Director of Operational Requirements for Air and Space Operations said, in 2002, "If you had offered the B-1 with JDAMs in direct support of ground forces as a solution 10 years ago, I would have laughed heartily because it’s not what we envisioned." The JDAM's principal guidance mechanism is inertial, with a GPS correction option: a GOLIS model.

To assist the bomber in identifying the target, the ground team designating the target could also designate prominent terrain features. The aircrew could watch their aircraft on a display as it flew to the correct target. Other possible applications of this electro-optical viewing system could include images of the post-strike damage. A radar or other electronic beacon, separate from the targeting system, meets the first requirement. Man-portable systems in development, which will not rely only on the bomber's radar, but will have its own GPS receiver and radio transmitter to send grid location, speed, direction, and mission status of the aircraft and the ground team.

The early Afghanistan attempts still required voice coordination to give the bomber the coordinates [25]. This led to one "friendly fire" incident killed three Special Forces soldiers and wounded 19 others. A controller had been using a hand-held GPS receiver, whose battery failed. On replacing the battery, the unit reinitialized to show the controller's own position, not the offset from it he had been targeting. He passed the coordinates to a B-52 crew, who had no way of knowing it was the wrong position. They entered it as given, and the JDAM flew accurately and unfortunately onto its own controller's position.[24] It could have been avoided if someone, on the bomber, on a command & control aircraft, or at an operations center, had full awareness of the situation. Situational awareness, in this case, means having positive confirmation of several key data:

  1. Positions, and movement if any, of any friendly forces and civilians in the area
  2. Positions, and movement if any, of the target
  3. Means by which the TACP identified the target and the precision of those means, and positive verification of the TACP's identity
  4. A means of communicating with the TACP, and with the bomber if another center is controlling the attack
  5. Location, course, and speed of all aircraft that could deliver the requested attack
  6. Nature of the weapon requested, including its delivery precision

Accurate situational awareness also requires minimizing human error in data entry. Inputting errors are fallibilities that can be removed from the system. US Air Force Chief of Staff John P. Jumper said data is best fed directly into a weapon and then merely confirmed by the human in the loop. Manual data entry, particularly in the cockpit, should be avoided wherever possible

"CAS and GAPS operations do not care what color of airpower is delivering the weapons. Certain segments of the USAF wanted to break out the use of heavy bombers and term it “bomber CAS. However, at the joint CAS symposium held at Eglin, the Navy and Marine Corps were successful in not letting the Air Force call this by a different name.

"If heavy bombers are supporting ground troops in the traditional CAS role, then a name change for that aspect is not needed. [What is being discussed, however, is a new mission:] "Precision firepower called in by TACPs on the ground [is] GAPS and [needs its own doctrine]. The situation in Afghanistan was unique; there was not a large-standing opposing army that was conducting maneuvers to bring firepower to bear against our forces... Airpower was the maneuvering element that was supported by the small fire support teams on the ground. The small ground units have been instrumental in calling in the precise air strikes [especially when Army Special Forces were augmented with Air Force combat controllers]. This emerging mission goes beyond the joint definition of CAS.[24]

General Chuck Horner, the joint air commander during Desert Storm, likened it to giving infantrymen a "2000 pound hand grenade" (i.e., a 2000 pound JDAM guided bomb) from a long-range bomber loitering overhead [26].

Nuclear weapons[edit]

Before the introduction of large-scale use of precision-guided weapons, even during World War II, there was significant debate about the effectiveness of the conventional strategic bombing of the time. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was analyzing the effects of the attacks on Germany even while the Pacific war bombings were taking place. [27], and the analysis of the German attack contained the prophetic prediction

The combination of the atomic bomb with remote-control projectiles of ocean-spanning range stands as a possibility which is awesome and frightful to contemplate.

Nuclear weapons, with their massive destructive power, presented an alternative to increasing the precision of munition delivery. "The capability to disable promptly an enemy’s center of gravity (indeed, to destroy the enemy’s society as a functioning entity) was substantially enhanced with the introduction ofthermonuclear (fusion) weapons in the early 1950s, and with the development of long-range ballistic missiles, which further compressed the time needed to execute nuclear strategic strikes. The prospective military utility, in a strategic sense (i.e., employing such strikes to achieve political ends), of this capability diminished substantially once the Soviet Union acquired significant numbers of nuclear weapons."[28]

Without going through the long history of different theories of nuclear warfare, the reality is that for a number of missions, precision guided weapons and information warfare may provide equivalent effectiveness to nuclear weapons, but with far less collateral damage and political risk.

Low observability[edit]

When speaking of low observability, stealth technology is the first technology that comes to mind. It is not the only one that conceals an approaching attack until an exploding target reveals it. In air-to-air combat, low probability of intercept radars (especially the new AESA) and communications have a major role, especially with secure communications, for interaction with pilots and to give guidance information.

PGMs make the actual munitions needed to attack the target far less. Stealth reduces the need for massing support. "A case in point involved the first non-stealthy attack on one target in the Basra area (Shaiba Airfield) with three aim points. The strike consisted of four Navy A-6s and four Saudi Tornado dropping bombs; five Marine EA-6Bs jamming acquisition radars; four Air Force F-4Gs taking out one type of surface to air missile system; 17 Navy F-18s taking out another; four F/A-18s as fighter escort; and three drones launched into the area to bring up the enemy radars. That brought the complete force package to 41 aircraft – 8 of them dropping bombs on 3 aim points at one target.[29]

At approximately the same time, there were 20 F-117 stealth fighters, all dropping bombs on 38 separate aim points at 28 different targets. That constituted less than half the number of aircraft hitting over 1200 percent the target base. That leverage equates to a stealth multiplier of around 19, or put another way, it took 19 non-stealth aircraft to accomplish the effect of one stealth aircraft in this circumstance. That was one example on the first night of the air campaign. The effectiveness of stealth over the entire campaign is evidenced by the fact that stealth aircraft flew less than two percent of the total combat sorties flown in Desert Storm, but attacked over 40 percent of the fixed target base.

Strategic strike[edit]

"Strike", or attacks deep into enemy territory, have sometimes carried the connotation of using nuclear weapons, but, especially since the development of precision guided munitions, are not necessarily nuclear attacks. Strikes may use combinations of aircraft and missiles. The aircraft may drop free-falling bombs, perhaps with guidance, or launch missiles. Missiles can also be launched from ground and sea platforms, often to help clear defenses that could interfere with strike aircraft. Air, sea, and land based electronic warfare assets can help the strikers penetrate.

The formal US definition is generic: "An attack to damage or destroy an objective or a capability".[3] By targeting beyond the FEBA, strike provided the ability to weaken an enemy’s capacity to fight by degrading that enemy’s command and control, key production facilities, infrastructure, logistic support capability and, ultimately, combat effectiveness.[30] It can be directed at ground or maritime targets.

The traditional triad[edit]

When nuclear weapons dominated strategic warfare after World War II, the initial delivery vehicles were manned bombers. While there were assorted tactical and short-range submarine-launched weapons, there was a fundamental change around 1960, when the United States and Soviet Union began to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). These three delivery systems, each presenting a different defensive problem, formed what theorists called the Triad.

While there were additional strategic delivery methods, such as cruise missiles launched from air, ground, and subsurface platforms, and while there were aids to attack (e.g., Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), low-altitude penetrating bombers) as well as defense (e.g., ballistic missile defense and mobile missiles), the Triad remains the basic strategic model among major powers. It may, however, be growing obsolete.

In particular, the ICBM leg of the Triad is relatively inflexible, and precision guided nuclear and possibly convention munitions may threaten the fixed missile silos. Submarines and bombers are mobile. Submariners claim credit for having the original stealth platform, while the only strategic bombers seriously expected to penetrate air defenses are the stealthy B-2s.

A new triad?[edit]

"A strong case can be made that the United States should take steps to create a new strategic-strike triad, relying on its precision- and electronic-strike capabilities to form two of the three legs, with a smaller residual nuclear force comprising the third leg."[28]

Support to naval operations[edit]

Helicopters are used on a wide variety of ships, with maritime-specific missions including antisubmarine warfare and anti-shipping missile delivery, as well as CSAR, AEW, transport, and a wide range of other missions. A much smaller number of navies operate full-sized aircraft carriers able to support conventional takeoff and landing airplanes; a wider range support STOL.

Maritime patrol and maritime strike may well be assigned to land-based marine aircraft. Some of the first attacks against warships were demonstrated by Billy Mitchell in 1921.

Early maritime attack by Billy Mitchell

Modern maritime patrol aircraft, since the blue-water antisubmarine mission decreased with the end of the Cold War, are taking on an ever-widening range of ISR missions.

New-generation U.K. Nimrod MPA

Support to ground operations[edit]

The basic missions are Close air support CAS and Battlefield air interdiction (BAI), with a complementary function of target acquisition and forward air control. "The thing that separates BAI from CAS in the area of the immediate battle zone is the proximity of friendly troopS, the relationship between the enemy's spatial position and the ongoing battle, and the degree of coordination and control necessary to prevent "friendly fire" casualties. The dividing line is not the fire support coordination line (FSCL), as many mistakenly believe." There is considerable controversy about CAS: when is it needed, and what service/organization provides it. BAI tends to be more important to air forces, while ground forces want CAS to be available on call. "CAS affects the land battle in the now. BAI contributes directly to the land battle in the short- or near-term-in the next few hours or maybe as late as the next day."[31] In 1990, Hallion argued that BAI is the more important mission, but there may have been changes, given the new generation of airstrike direction techniques.[32]

Defensive counter-air resources protect ground forces from enemy CAS and BAI. Since roughly the 1960s, modern ground forces have enjoyed air superiority, and have rarely used air defense weapons. Significant exceptions include the Afghan resistance's use of FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles against Soviet helicopters, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (primarily the Blowpipe missile , but limited use of Stinger) in the Falklands War, conventional wars of Israel, and ballistic missile defense in Desert Storm/


Close air support (CAS), in the U.S. definition, is "Air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and that require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces. [3] Loosely speaking, BAI is older than CAS, as in the First World War, there was a lack of the mechanisms to direct airstrikes that are "danger close" to friendly forces. "Danger close" distance varies with the technology of the aircraft, weapons, and fire direction: "In close air support, artillery, mortar, and naval gunfire support fires, it is the term included in the method of engagement segment of a call for fire which indicates that friendly forces are within close proximity of the target. The close proximity distance is determined by the weapon and munition fired."[3] Nevertheless, the 1917, when the British tactics of "trench strafing" and "ground strafing" (BAI) corresponded, respectively, to CAS and BAI. Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).

In 1979, British CAS doctrine emphasized low-level (and ultrarapid turnaround) operations, as opposed to the tactical air control system (TACS), air defense suppression assets, and guided munitions of the USAF. At this time, British forces also had a limited number of forward air controllers. as compared to the USAF, RAF operations are less susceptible to disruption, the RAF can generate higher sortie rates, and RAF operations are more closely meshed with ground forces. These doctrinal gaps have been closing with the far wider use of guided munitions, including specialized air defense weapons such as the British ALARM anti-radiation missile and the less successful JP233 runway denial cluster bomblet dispenser.[33]

A-10 during Desert Storm. Note protected engine position, large numbers of external weapons, and gun protruding from nose

There is a continuing debate between ground and air forces on control of CAS, and, indeed, the type of aircraft used for CAS. Armed helicopters for CAS usually belong to the ground forces. For fixed-wing aircraft, there is an inherent conflict between the qualities that make for the best CAS, and those that make the CAS aircraft survivable against a modern air defense system.

German Tiger helicopter, also used by Spain, France, Germany, Australia, etc.

The U.S. A-10 was originally designed as an antitank aircraft, but other systems have replaced it in that role. Its low speed, heavy armament, and survivability measures including armor and engines positioned to avoid SAMs make it highly effective for CAS. Its low speed, large size, and minimal electronic countermeasures mean that it cannot safely operate until most or all air defense has been suppressed by SEAD.

A-10 that survived heavy battle damage and came home


Perhaps one of the best things learned about the initial, abortive raid on Iraqi tanks in Karbala, Iraq, was that the AH-64 is, indeed, highly survivable even when damaged. One of the worst things learned is that attack helicopters, without coordinated SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense), cannot penetrate an alerted defense.

On March 24, 2003, US V Corps launched a raid, by 32 Apache helicopters, against Medina Division armor in Karbala, with an attack plan that would fly through the Karbala area. "Army officials now believe that the aviation assembly areas the Army established in the Iraqi desert had been under surveillance by enemy observers, who noticed battle preparations on the night of the 24th." The corps commander told reporters that post-strike analysis revealed that the Iraqi observers had alerted the defense using cellular telephones.[34]

As they approached, the power grid in Karbala was shut off, and the night went dark. The Apaches were taken under heavy antiaircraft fire. One was shot down (with the crew recovered), and enough of the others were damaged such that the raid was aborted.

Two days later, the Army again used Apaches to carry out another nighttime deep attack. Tactics used, however, were quite different than those on March 24. With support from artillery and fixed-wing aircraft, [35] the second raid was far more successful, with minimal losses. The defenses were not completely suppressed; as the helicopters moved through the Najaf area, the lights again went off, and the intensity of antiaircraft fire increased as they approached the target. Two tactical changes for the helicopters, however, made the defense far less effective. "The Apaches fired back on the move—rather than using the Army’s typical tactic of hovering over the battlefield. That made them harder to hit from the ground but reduced their accuracy." Also, fixed-wing fighters protected the Apaches' flanks and suppressed more air defense. As the helicopters moved in, they radioed the locations of air defense targets to the fighters.[36]

The March 24 raid is still being analyzed, with Air Force officers suggesting that the AH-64 alone is simply not effective for deep attack without support from conventional aircraft. Other analysts think this mission was poorly planned and the Iraqis had good intelligence on their route of attack. Nevertheless, missions assigned to Apaches generally changed from BAI to CAS. It should be noted that the Army also has missile systems, such as ATACMS, that can play a BAI, or SEAD for BAI, role.

"The results of the attack were respectable, if not spectacular: seven Iraqi air defense guns destroyed, along with three artillery systems, five radars, and 25 vehicles or other weapons systems. Not one Apache was shot down. Shortly afterward, the 3rd Infantry Division slashed through the Medina on its way toward Baghdad."[36] The second raid interdicted the forces that could have hindered the 3rd Division.


In US doctrine, counter-air is "A mission that integrates offensive and defensive operations to attain and maintain a desired degree of air superiority. Counterair missions are designed to destroy or negate enemy aircraft and missiles, both before and after launch." [3]

It includes offensive counter-air (OCA), which strikes at enemy forces in their own territory, and defensive counter-air (DCA), which protects targets of one's own side. In either case, C3I, often from AWACS aircraft, is often a critical force multiplier.

Offensive counter-air[edit]

Offensive operations to destroy, disrupt, or neutralize enemy aircraft, missiles, launch platforms, and their supporting structures and systems both before and after launch, but as close to their source as possible. Offensive counterair (OCA) operations range throughout enemy territory and are generally conducted at the initiative of friendly forces. operation.[3]

The Phillipines Air Force has examined its potential needs for OCA, and published comprehensive problem analyses. First, the geography requires that OCA missions may be of very long range. "With the likely distances to be traversed and the weight and number of weapons to be carried, sufficient built-in range and endurance will be almost impossible to attain. The need for operational air-to-air refueling (AAR) capability is compelling and must be featured in all planning." A related need is that the OCA aircraft must be able to operate from forward bases.

"The significance of the principle of 'surprise in an OCA context is that aircraft surprised on the ground are, unless they are heavily sheltered, more vulnerable and more easily targeted than when they are airborne. A graphic illustration is the success of the Israeli raids in 1967 (Operation Focus)when 196 combat aircraft destroyed 400 Arab aircraft on the ground in two days. In December 1941, American air power was caught on the ground at Clark Field and was effectively written off as a fighting force by Japanese air attacks.

"The ability to change roles quickly, [from OCA attack, offensive sweep, SEAD, and DCA.] even while airborne on a mission, can compensate for low numbers of aircraft and represents a key requirement for the PAF’s force structure. [37]

Suppression of enemy air defense[edit]

Suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), or the variant, destruction of enemy air defense (DEAD), with a sophisticated opponents, can be a prerequisite for other air attacks, whether offensive counter-air, BAI, strike, or CAS. SEAD can be electronic "soft kill" or kinetic "hard kill", while DEAD is definitely hard kill.

The US defines SEAD as "Activity that neutralizes, destroys, or temporarily degrades surface-based enemy air defenses by destructive and/or disruptive means." [3]

High-speed anti-radiation missile

Hard kill techniques include the use of anti-radiation missiles (ARM). The US and UK have taken different design approaches for ARMs. U.S. AGM-88 HARM missiles have extremely high speed, with the intention of destroying a surface to air missile's ground control before the SAM can strike. The Britism ALARM, however, deploys a parachute so it can loiter over a battlefield, and then attack any of a set of radars that quickly turn on and off as a means of electronic counter-countermeasures.

ALARM loitering anti-radiation missile
Attack on ground installations for the opposing air force[edit]

Runways are remarkably easy to patch for the needs of military aircraft, so they need deep destruction, a continuing hazard, or both. The French-made BLU-107 Durandal munition, after drop, slows and stabilizes with a parachute, and then fires a rocket to drive the warhead through and under the runway before it explodes. A variety of cluster munitions both cover wide areas with many small blasts, and the property of current units to leave unexploded bomblets, causing serious collateral damage in civilian areas, are desirable for airfield denial. British JP233 and US CBU-87 are dumb bombs containing cluster submunitions. The US Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser, Joint Direct Attack Munition, and Joint Standoff Weapon all can deliver a cluster load with much greater precision.

Fighter sweeps[edit]

A fighter sweep sends a force of aircraft, optimized for air-to-air combat, into enemy airspace, with the intention of fighting enemy aircraft on terms locally favorable to the OCA force. A variety of means are used to achieve local advantage. "For offensive sweep operations, knowledge of likely enemy Rules of Engagement (ROE) would be crucial if attrition is to be avoided when positive identification of possible targets is required."Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).

In its analysis of OCA requirements, the Phillipines Air Force observed "Offensive sweeps require suitable air-to-air weapons, in terms of both quality and quantity. Effective all-aspect short range missiles, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, as well as a gun comprise a generally accepted package. Since air-to-air engagements can be short and intense, the ability to carry an adequate quantity of missiles will be important in such operations. For the same reason, base stockpiling and resupply must be carefully managed in a prolonged conflict."[37]

Fighter escort[edit]

Historically, fighter escort was necessary for heavy bombers operating against a serious air defense, including Operation Linebacker II above North Vietnam. In a role reversal, however, heavy bombers such as the B-52 are used extensively for BAI and even CAS. The only heavy bombers expected to penetrate air defenses are low-observability, particularly the B-2.

The classic fighter escort mission to bombers may be disappearing, although electronic escort definitely was used to support F-117 light stealth bomber operations against Baghdad. Electronic warfare aircraft, and "High Value Assets" such as AWACS, ISR aircraft, and tankers, are still likely to need fighter protection if there is any threat from enemy fighters.

Defensive counter-air[edit]

Defensive counter-air increases an attacker's difficulty in damaging or destroying a target. It includes all defensive measures designed to detect, identify, intercept, and destroy or negate enemy forces attempting to penetrate or attack through friendly airspace.[3]

Active DCA[edit]

Active DCA uses air, sea, and ground based assets that either physically destroy the enemy, using antiaircraft artillery (AAA), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and fighter aircraft armed with autocannon or air-to-air missiles (AAM). Fighters have the greatest range and flexibility, but cannot provide continuous coverage of a protected area.

French Crotale short-range SAM

In the past, certain fighter aircraft were specialized for the aircraft interception mission. Multirole combat aircraft have replaced them, but some interceptors, such as the Russian MiG-25. Interceptors tend to have very high speed, but little maneuverability if they were intended to go against bombers. Their high speed and altitude capability can make them useful as reconnaissance platforms, such as the MiG-25R.

Russian MiG-25, NATO reporting name FOXBAT

Such systems can be divided by their area of coverage. Fighters and longer-range SAMs can cover areas containing numerous surface targets, while point defense of short-range SAMs and AAA can protect specific targets. A special case is the protection of high-value assets such as AWACS and tankers, which usually involves fighters, and possibly electronic warfare aircraft, escorting them.

Passive DCA[edit]

Passive DCA includes measures intended to prevent the enemy from finding, or at least accurately targeting, one's own installations. It also includes measures to limit the damage of attacks once the resource can be targeted.

Camouflage, concealment(e.g., inside a innocent-looking structure or underground), and the use of deception help interfere with targeting. Hardening, dispersal, and electronic countermeasures interfere with the attack's potential to cause damage.


ISTAR stands for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance. In its macroscopic sense, ISTAR is a practice that links several battlefield functions together to assist a combat force in employing its sensors and managing the information they gather.

Information is collected on the battlefield through systematic observation by deployed soldiers and a variety of electronic sensors. Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance are methods of obtaining this information. The information is then passed to intelligence personnel for analysis, and then to the commander and his staff for the formulation of battle plans. Intelligence is processed information that is relevant and contributes to an understanding of the ground, and of enemy dispositions and intents.

Satellites, aircraft and UAVs are the principal collection platforms for IMINT. They also can collect MASINT and SIGINT, supplemented by ground and naval platforms.

ISTAR is the process of integrating the intelligence process with surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks in order to improve a commander’s situational awareness and consequently their decision making. The inclusion of the "I" is important as it recognizes the importance of taking the information from all of the sensors and processing it into useful knowledge.

Logistical aircraft[edit]

Logistics include airlift and tankers. Airlift may have a direct strategic role, as in the successful Berlin Airlift. Part of the reason for the defeats at the Battle of Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu was the inability to maintain airlift in the face of enemy DCA. Airlift has played a strategically significant role with humanitarian and peace operations.

The C-47 "Gooney Bird" is immortal.

Airlift provides a military commander with the capacity to deploy forces quickly and over considerable distances. It also assists those deployed forces in applying their military effort effectively and affords the capacity to sustain effort. Airlift involves more than just transport aircraft and must be considered as a system which comprises several types of aircraft (both military and civil) used in a variety of tasks, supported by a range of ground elements.[38]

Historically, airlift has been classified as either tactical or strategic to reflect both the operating environment and level of command and control. Strategic airlift, which frequently included civil charter, was used to move troops and supplies into or out of a theatre with command and control usually remaining outside of the Task Force Commander. Conversely, tactical airlift encompassed intra-theatre lift with command and control being invested in the Task Force Commander.

C-130J tactical transport

Today, the distinction is not as clear. Air assets are often required to combine what were traditional strategic and tactical airlift roles into the roles of Airborne Operations and Air Logistics Support. The distinguishing characteristic now is whether the destination will be under or potentially under hostile fire.

An-225 superheavy transport

Acquiring airfields[edit]

Before any aircraft can operate in an area, there must be appropriate airfields, C3I, and logistics. There may be enemy airfields in the desired area, and a number of nations have units intended to capture, defend, and possibly operate airfields. One mark of a country that has global power projection capability is that it will have units capable of creating (or repairing) airfields in undeveloped area.

Airfield Capture[edit]
Bare-field Construction[edit]

"Land-based airpower, deployed far forward, more often than not surpasses carrier aviation for sheer combat punch and staying power. The Air Force has a long history of identifying, building, and sustaining such airfields to help the US make the most of all forms of airpower.

"And these forward airfields are more important than ever. Modern mobility assets, pre-positioned equipment and supplies, and rapidly deployable engineering units have made it possible to operate from bare bases. Agreements permitting Washington to use foreign bases reduce the need to start from scratch. Forces are trained and equipped to fill craters, remove mines, and build up facilities, making it possible to use captured facilities.[39]

In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, military engineers perfected airfield construction techniques that allowed aircraft to operate close to the action. In Vietnam, Air Force Prime BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Forces) and RED HORSE (Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron, Engineers) units mastered the art of quickly building and repairing combat airfields. [40]. Counterparts to RED HORSE in other militaries include ???

There are a variety prepackaged bare-base equipment packages, under the Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources (BEAR) name. [41] These have been used in humanitarian as well as military operations, such as Hurricane Katrina relief. [42]

Airborne Operations[edit]

Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division jump from a C-17 Globemaster

Airborne operations include all aspects of the airlift capacity needed to insert combat-ready troops into an area close to enemy-held territory. The forces and their support may be delivered by air landing or air drop from either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. The delivery may be overt, escorted, and supported with air interdiction to isolate the drop/landing zone.

While airborne soldiers are lightly armed, parachuting is the only way by which a ground force can be attack anywhere in the world, assuming their transports are equipped for in-flight refueling, and they are flying into an area where there is no air defense threat.

Special operations forces will need covert insertion, resupply, and extraction. whose mission is covert or highly specialised. This may include inserting troops into enemy occupied territory without detection to conduct hit and run raids or clandestine operations deep inside enemy territory.

These tasks are usually carried out at night, usually by specialized crews (e.g., 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (United States)) and aircraft (e.g., MH-47, MH-6). Special operations helicopters have much more extensive avionics and night vision equipment than the general-purpose variety, and, given that they may operate deep in enemy territory and fly from out-of-the-way bases, often are equipped for in-flight refueling While fixed-wing aircraft for special operations are usually under the control of a nation's air force, helicopter and tilt-rotor aircraft can belong to any service. The longer the range, the more likely it is to be an Air Force helicopter, such as the US MH-53.

On dispatch from the supporting aircraft, forces may be required to engage in combat immediately or they may develop operations against the enemy in a nearby objective area. Combat forces, once delivered into an objective area, normally require subsequent air logistics support until a surface link-up is achieved or withdrawal is accomplished. Recovery of combat forces after insertion may be carried out under fire.

Air Logistics Support (ALS)[edit]

Air Logistic Support are those airlift operations conducted to deploy or recover troops, equipment and supplies but does not encompass the carriage of troops ready for immediate battle, the mission of airborne and air assault transports. These operations may be within a theater, or going outside it.

When there is air supremacy in the theater of operations, commercial air transport companies commonly are contracted for freight and personnel movement. Using contracted airlift frees the specialized military transport aircraft, with features such as air refueling, short/rough field capability, etc., for purely military roles. Long-range military transports, for example, may be the only aircraft that can bring in heavy construction equipment for the late phases of bare-field construction.

Rescue and Medical Evacuation[edit]

Air medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), from both the battlefield and successively more advanced medical facilities going back to the home country, "can be a great combat multiplier. Air MEDEVAC eases the burden on already-scarce evacuation assets and speeds the flow of critically wounded patients to the rear."[43]

Battlefield MEDEVAC is likely to use helicopters, although there ground ambulances may be appropriate in many situations. Movement from the first definitive surgical facility back to more capable hospitals will use fixed-wing aircraft, either dedicated to MEDEVAC or modified to hold stretchers and provide in-flight medical support (e.g., oxygen).


  1. ^ a b Meininger, Phillip (1995), 10 Propositions Regarding Air Power (PDF), U.S. Air Force History and Museums Project 
  2. ^ Noedskov, K. (Royal Danish Air Force) (24 May 00), "Systematizing Effect Based Air Operations", Air & Space Power Journal  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h US Department of Defense (12 July 2007), Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (PDF), retrieved 2007-10-01 
  4. ^ a b Fawcett, John M., Jr. (Fall 1992), "Which Way to the FEBA?", Airpower Journal 
  5. ^ Gellman, Barton (14 August 1991), "Gulf War's Friendly Fire Tally Triples; Pentagon: 35 died in accidental attacks", Washington Post 
  6. ^ Griffith, David A.; et al. (6 June 2006), Coalition Airspace Management and Deconfliction (PDF), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) 
  7. ^ a b Coker, Christopher (2005), "The Second Gulf War And The Debate On Military Transformation", Pointer: Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces 
  8. ^ Echevarria, Antulio J., II (1 September 2002), Clausewitz's Center of Gravity: Changing Our Warfighting Doctrine--Again!, Strategic Studies Institute of the United States Army War College 
  9. ^ Warden, John A., III (1988), The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat, National Defense University 
  10. ^ Grand-strategic, strategic, operational, tactical
  11. ^ Beagle, T.W. (June 2000), Effects-Based Targeting: Another Empty Promise? (PDF), School of Advanced Airpower Studies , United States Air University 
  12. ^ Szafranski, Richard (Spring 2002), "Fighting stupid, defending smart", Aerospace Power Journal 
  13. ^ Vego, Milan (9 September 2006), "Effects-Based Operations: A Critique", Combined Arms and Joint Operations 
  14. ^ a b Hammond, Grant T., The Essential Boyd 
  15. ^ Yes, the additions are OR. mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, or, in the words of Gen. Napier, peccavimus
  16. ^ a b c Pendall, David W. (January–February 2004), "Effects-Based Operations and the Exercise of National Power", Military Review, United States Army Combined Arms Center  Unknown parameter |comment= ignored (help)
  17. ^ "Precision Engagement Redefining Warfare: Admiral Jim Ellis" (PDF), Defender: Spotlight on National Defense Technologies, Raytheon Corporation: 2-3, 8, 2004 
  18. ^ a b c Hallion, Richard P. (1995), Precision Guided Munitions and the New Era of Warfare, Air Power Studies Centre (Australia), APSC Working Paper No. 53 
  19. ^ Fechet, James E. (1933), Flying, Williams & Wilkins,in cooperation with The Century of Progress Exposition, p. 135 
  20. ^ The first operational homing torpedo was the submarine-launched German Falke
  21. ^ "U-456 the First Victim of US Smart Weapon" (PDF), Defender: Spotlight on National Defense Technologies, Raytheon Corporation: 1, 2004 
  22. ^ Kopp, Carlo (1996), The Electromagnetic Bomb - a Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction, 
  23. ^ Rosenau, William (2000), Special Operations Forces and Elusive Enemy Ground Targets: Lessons from Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. U.S. Air Ground Operations Against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1966-1972 (PDF), RAND Corporation, retrieved 2007-11-11 
  24. ^ a b c Theisen, Eric E. (2003). "Ground-Aided Precision Strike Heavy Bomber Activity in Operation Enduring Freedom" (PDF). Air University Press. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  25. ^ Erwin, Sandra I. (April 2002). "Air Warfare Tactics Refined in Afghanistan: Planners, air crews fine-tuning targeting techniques and rules of engagement". Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  26. ^ Clancy, Tom (2000). Every Man a Tiger. Berkley Trade.  Text " ISBN-10: 0425172929 " ignored (help); Unknown parameter |coauthor= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  27. ^ United States Strategic Bombing Survey (September 30, 1945), Summary Report: (European War) 
  28. ^ a b Krepinevich, Andrew F., Jr.; Martinage, Robert C. (March 2001), "The Transformation of Strategic-Strike Operations" (PDF), Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments 
  29. ^ Deptula, David A. (2005), "Effects-Based Operations: A U.S. Commander's Perspective", Pointer: Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces 
  30. ^ Royal Australian Air Force, "Strike", Air Force during Military Operations 
  31. ^ Alberts, Donald J. (March–April 1980), "Tactical Air Power within NATO: a growing convergence of views", Air University Review 
  32. ^ Hallion, Richard P. (Spring 1990), "Battlefield Air Support: A Retrospective Assessment", Airpower Journal 
  33. ^ Canby, Steven L. (May–June 1979), "Tactical Air Power in Armored Warfare: the divergence within NATO", Air University Review 
  34. ^ Scarborough, Ryan (April 2003), "Apache operation a lesson in defeat; Army choppers hit without air cover.", Washington Times, p. 1 
  35. ^ Ryan O'Rourke (June 4, 2003), Iraq War: Defense Program Implications for Congress (PDF), Congressional Research Service, p. CRS-36, retrieved 2007-12-12 
  36. ^ a b Newman, Richard J. (October 2003), "Ambush at Najaf: Was it just poor tactics or some deeper problem that caused the failed Apache mission?", Air Force Magazine, 86 (10) 
  37. ^ a b "[Phillipines Air Force] PAF Air Power Manual Draft interim", OSS Digest, OCT - DEC 1999, Volume 4.3  Check date values in: |date= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  38. ^ Royal Australian Air Force, "Airlift", Air Force during Military Operations 
  39. ^ Haulman, Daniel L. (February 2006), "Footholds for the Fighting Force", Air Force Magazine, 89 (2) 
  40. ^ "Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers [RED HORSE]", 
  41. ^ "Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources (BEAR)", 
  42. ^ Barriere, Terri (8/24/2006), Holloman's BEAR ready to deploy  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  43. ^ Carroll, Terry (November–December 1996), "Maximizing MEDEVAC", Army Logistician