Tactical Warfare High and Low

April 1, 1986

Even in their present condition, stretched thin and lacking some important capabilities, US tactical forces are considerably more effec­tive than they were five years ago. Air Force-wide, tactical squadrons are better equipped, better sup­plied, and more proficient.

Given the essential parts of the improvement program planned for them, they will be reasonably pre­pared to fight and win in theater battles abroad. That, however, de­pends on their surviving the budget wars at home.

The attention of official Washing­ton is riveted on the budget and the federal deficit. Intense budget-cut­ters tend to regard military force planners as intransigent and warn that defense spending will be re­duced, with or without their cooper­ation.

Against that backdrop, the com­manders responsible for employ­ment of theater combat forces ex­plained what they must have—and why—at AFA’s Tactical Airpower Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Janu­ary 30-31.

•The tactical air forces have four overriding system needs: the Ad­vanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), which will al­low fighters to engage several en­emy aircraft at the same time; the Low-Altitude Navigation and Tar­geting Infrared for Night (LAN­TIRN) system for attack of ground targets in darkness and bad weath­er; the F-15E dual-role fighter, which doubles as an air-superiority and long-range ground attack air­craft; and the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF), which, assuming it comes on line as scheduled in 1995, will be USAF’s first all-new fighter in twenty years.

• Nobody knows for sure how much tactical airlift it would take to supply the warfighting commands in conventional combat. What is cer­tain, though, is that Military Airlift Command does not have enough of the right kinds of cargo-carrying air­craft to do the job. Among other things, MAC needs the C-17 airlift­er, which combines intercontinental range with the capability to operate from small, austere airfields.

• Quality considerations aside, there is a serious problem of num­bers. The Air Force needs at least forty combat-coded fighter and attack wings to meet its tasking. It presently has 36.6.

Both the progress and the prob­lems in tactical airpower were illus­trated by the report of Gen. Charles L. Donnelly, Jr., CINCUSAFE. He told the symposium that USAFE flying hours are up twenty-two per­cent since 1980 and that the number of sorties flown has increased by fifty-one percent. F413s and F- 15A/ Bs have been phased out as the command has received F-16A/Bs and F-I5CIDs. The modernization, he said, will continue for the next two years with the deployment of F-I6CIDs and new forward-looking radars for RF4C reconnaissance aircraft.

But USAFE urgently needs new weapons and a better ability to oper­ate at night, and congressionally-imposed troop ceilings have left the command seriously shorthanded.

Toward Forty Wings

The Air Force is working a prob­lem of quantity as well as one of quality in its tactical lineup. It has been reaching toward forty tactical wings since 1976. Although the tar­get year in which that level is to be achieved has slipped several times, Gen. Robert D. Russ, TAC Com­mander, said that there has been “a gradual, continual increase in the number of wings. Right now, we have 36.6. The [aircraft] buy that got us there was in 1984. With the 1986 buy [of] 288 aircraft that will come into service in 1988, we will have thirty-eight wings [flying air­craft with an] average age of ten years.”

The current projection is for the Air Force to field its fortieth tactical wing sometime in the 1990s. The forty-wing goal was set rather ar­bitrarily as a programming-budget­ing compromise. Actual require­ments would suggest around forty-four wings.

In response to a question from the audience about why he had not commented more specifically about Guard and Reserve force structure, General Russ said that he does not make that much distinction between active-duty and reserve forces wings: “I give them the same sup­port. I ask them to do the same things. I test them in the same man­ner with ORIs [Operational Read­iness Inspections].”

The thinness of USAF force structure is felt starkly in the Pacific. Gen. Robert W. Bazley, CINCPACAF, said that, without augmentation, he has only eleven fighter squadrons and 264 fighter aircraft. Vietnam—the third-rank­ing threat in the Pacific, behind So­viet Far Eastern Forces and the North Koreans—has an air force that General Barley said “is equal in size to PACAF and equipped mainly with very capable MiG-21 Fishbeds and Su-22 Fitters.”

The need for force structure was also declared by Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Swaim, Commander of the USAF Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Ha. His organization conducts operational tests and eval­uations of new weapons as they are introduced for use by tactical squadrons. He said that US tactical airpower must exploit the value of high technology and “magic sys­tems” and is benefiting measurably from quality improvements but (in response to a question from the au­dience) that the single greatest defi­ciency today is “the number of air­planes that we have.”

Adding force structure alone, however, is insufficient to meet the needs of today, much less for battles of the future when warfare will be even more complex, difficult, and dangerous. Army Gen. Fred K. Ma­haffey, CINCREDCOM, recounted an incident from the recent joint ex­ercise Bold Eagle ’86 that explains why one of the tactical airpower sys­tem priorities—LANTIRN—is by itself so urgent.

“At one point,” General Ma­haffey said, “the Army force com­mander had planned a major night attack involving an armored divi­sion in order to capitalize on the superior night-fighting capabilities of his modernized armor and mech­anized infantry forces featuring the Ml Abrams tank and the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, which are capable of moving, operating, and shooting at night. In the end, he had to cancel plans for that operation. The air forces available could not support the operation because there were no effective night systems on the aircraft performing close air support. The planned attack had to be postponed until daylight. The availability of a system like LAN­TIRN would have made all the dif­ference in the world.”

Requirements High and Low

General Swaim described the dense battle arena of tactical war­fare today, with its netted radars, integrated command control and communications, graduated air defenses, and look-down/shoot-down fighters. “Between 1986 and the year 2000, we expect the battlefield to become more complex by a sig­nificant magnitude,” he said, pre­dicting “use of satellites, lasers, drones, advanced weapons, high-tech SAMs, and improved C31 sys­tems.”

Faced with a rapidly expanding electronic order of battle, the Air Force has supplemented its Tactical Fighter Roadmap with “an Elec­tronic Combat Action Plan that ad­dresses the need, across all mission areas, to provide warning, jamming, and other disruptive and destructive techniques to ensure our effective­ness in the electronic spectrum,” General Swaim said. The perfor­mance, supportability, cost, and de­ployment schedule of pods, internal countermeasures, and radar-warn­ing receivers were just reviewed at top levels to make certain that C3, warning, and countermeasures can be provided for the force as it builds toward forty tactical wings, he said.

To control the air in the 1990s, USAF must have the ATF. It needs AMRAAM even sooner than that, because, General Russ says, “It is absolutely vital that we have in the tactical forces the ability to have the first look and the first shot” in air-to-air fighting. Hot new Soviet fighters, such as the MiG-29 Fulcrum and the Su-27 Flanker, are creeping up on the dominance of the US F-15.

Meanwhile, things have been heating up on the ground, too. The Air Force will have to support the Army, which will be thrusting and maneuvering with its AirLand Bat­tle tactics that, General Mahaffey said, “put emphasis on the spirit of the offense.” The implications for close air support and battlefield air interdiction are considerable.

“Close air missions may be re­quired on short notice,” General Mahaffey said, “involving flights over dozens of kilometers of un­secured terrain to support a ground force maneuvering rapidly way be­yond the forward line of troops or even in somebody else’s area of re­sponsibility. Will the air-tasking-order cycle be responsive enough to meet the needs? Can the close air support aircraft find the maneuver­ing force and the target? How do forward air controllers operate in such an environment? What if it’s at night or in adverse weather

“Air interdiction missions can no longer operate freely forward of some clear, straight fire-coordina­tion line. The battlefield will be non­linear and full of enemy and friendly pockets. Battlefield air interdiction may look a lot like close air support of a deep-attacking ground force.”

In the first days of a war in Eu­rope, Western fighters would be performing not only close air sup­port and battlefield air interdiction in hostile territory but also flying deep-interdiction missions hun­dreds of miles to the rear of the en­emy’s first echelon. (See also “The Opening Rounds,” p. 76 of this is­sue.) It is a tall order to reconcile federal budget pressures with fund­ing for equipment and force struc­ture to carry out these missions.

The Uncertainties of Airlift

Once engaged, forces in the well-defined theaters would rely on air­lift as their lifeline for resupply and reinforcement. They would also look to the airlifters for redistribu­tion of warfighting assets within the theater. And for operations in less predictable parts of the world, the adequacy of airlift would determine whether or not combat forces could get to the fight before it got out of hand.

It is ironic that a requirement so fundamental defies quantifying, even after forty-five years of trying. “We have never accurately deter­mined how much airlift is enough in any theater,” said Gen. Duane H. Cassidy, CINCMAC.

He recalled that, in 1941, the great-granddaddy of all air war plans—the legendary AWPD-1­—predicted within two percent the number of heavy bombers it actu­ally took to win the war. Airlift re­quirements, however, were more than four times what AWPD- I had forecast.

Even the numbers-minded Robert S. McNamara was unable to calculate the airlift requirement when he was Secretary of Defense in the 1960s. The Congressionally Mandated Mobility Study (CMMS) done by the Pentagon in 1981 sets the goal of 66,000,000 ton-miles a day for intertheater airlift, but that’s only a guess for purposes of budget­ing. A Department of Defense-Joint Chiefs of Staff study on worldwide intratheater mobility is two years late.

It is only the upper limit of the requirement, though, that forty-five years of calculating have been un­able to pin down.

“Since the beginning of World War II,” General Cassidy said, “airlift has become increasingly critical to battlefield success in every major conflict. The require­ments for airlift have almost always been greater than were expected at the beginning of the conflict, and the variety of missions performed by airlift increased measurably as the conflict developed.”

MAC is well short of the CMMS goal, which itself is generally ac­knowledged to be underestimated as well as artificial.

Those who think of tactical airlift in terms of C-l3Os and nothing more fail to understand the situation. “Sure, if you must concentrate a re­supply through a container delivery system to troops in contact—or if you’re moving some precision-guided munitions from Sembach to Hahn—the C-130 is the way to go,” General Cassidy said. “On the other hand, if you are going to tactically insert some troops from Fort Lewis, Wash., to a target in Southwest Asia, the best airplane is going to be the C-141. If you are going to tac­tically move some missile batteries, the best airplane will be the C-5. If you’re going to deploy troops non­stop from Fort Bragg to Australia or Japan, you certainly wouldn’t want to do it in a C-130.”

The airlifter that MAC needs now, General Cassidy said, is the C-17, contrary to the opinions of those “who would have us buy additional C-5Bs and wish the problem of the airlift shortfall away.” Unlike the C-130, the C-17 can carry outsize cargo. Unlike the C-5, it can use small landing fields. In Central Eu­rope, there are 436 runways to ac­commodate the C-17, but only fifty-six that can handle the C-S. (See also “MAC’S Magic Number,” No­vember 1985 issue.)

Undermanned in Europe

USAFE’s General Donnelly, cit­ing the numerical and qualitative improvements to his force since 1980, pronounced himself “positive about our ability to give the Warsaw

Pact a bloody nose.” He said that in the unlikely event the Warsaw Pact allowed time for Western forces to mobilize, they could throw back a strong ground attack. His biggest problem is the number of troops on hand in Europe without such a mo­bilization.

“Ensuring readiness with the pos­sibility of a severely diminished DoD budget is not an easy task when we are limited by the congres­sionally imposed European troop strength ceiling,” General Donnelly said. “While we have outstanding people, we just do not have enough of them. In this fiscal year, the ceil­ing forces us to civilianize 1,700 more military positions and delay or cancel projected growth. [It] creates artificial constraints and is our greatest weakness in improving USAFE’s conventional capability.”

The troop ceiling has remained fixed, even though new missions have been added. For example, au­thorized manpower levels in Europe did not go up when the ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) be­gan deploying. General Donnelly said that when GLCM deployment is complete, it will take 9,000 mili­tary people to man the system and that other units will have to be drawn down or civilianized in order to fit these troops under the man­power ceiling.

“We are trading nuclear capabili­ty for conventional capability,” General Donnelly said, and thus creating the perception that “we are not as committed to conventional strength as we used to be.”

He pointed out that USAFE would no longer have its OV-10 for­ward air control aircraft on the first day of a conflict. “We had to send them home [back to the United States] to make headroom,” he said.

General Donnelly expressed con­fidence that his fighter force would be able to operate under attack. “[The enemy’s] taking out a runway slows me down, but it doesn’t stop me,” he said, adding that USAFE’s resiliency would be even better with the ATF, which will have a takeoff roll of less than 2,000 feet.

“We can find a surface that will get [USAF’s fighters] off—and back down,” General Donnelly said. In West Germany alone, there are 200 strips that can be used for tactical air operations.

A questioner from the audience wondered how effective new antiar­mor weapons would be in Europe, where the forested terrain could provide protective cover for tanks. “If the tanks are in the trees, they’re not going very far or very fast,”

General Donnelly shot back. “The only reason for them to go into the trees is to hide. Tanks and APCs can’t maneuver in the dense Euro­pean forests.”

Looking Ahead in the Pacific

General Bazley also had progress to report from PACAF, whose fight­er force has increased from 200 to 264 since 1980. Six years ago, he said, aircraft in-commission rates were commonly between sixty and seventy percent, compared to eighty-five to ninety-five percent now. These gains, however, are not commensurate with the threat posed by the combination of Soviet, North Korean, and Vietnamese mil­itary might. The greatest single threat, of course, is the Soviet Union.

“The USSR has modernized its forces in the Far Eastern theater of military operations continually over the last decade,” General Bazley said. “Today, there are almost 2,000 third- and fourth-generation fight­ers. [This is] no longer just a defen­sive posture. The Soviets routinely employ their 400-plus medium- and long-range bombers—including eighty Backfires—to project power throughout the Pacific. Since 1977, the Soviets have deployed one-third of their SS-20 [intermediate-range nuclear missile] force to the Far East. This missile and bomber threat encompasses Alaska, Guam, the Philippines, and—with access from Cam Ranh Bay—well into the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.”

World War II was won with an attrition strategy that overwhelmed the enemy with superior numbers and resources, General Bazley said. The next conflict in the Pacific, the Korean War, repeated the attrition strategy. General Bazley noted that 710,886 sorties were flown to sup­port combat operations between January 1950 and July 1953. “Later in Vietnam,” he said, “we expended enormous quantities of resources, producing sortie rates and ordnance expenditures previously un­equaled.”

He said that, in 1943, the Army Air Forces crashed more than 20,000 airplanes in noncombat losses alone. Today, the entire US Air Force inventory of aircraft of all types, including those operated by the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, totals fewer than 10,000.

“We can no longer afford a strat­egy of attrition,” General Bazley said. “We have to strike smartly to inflict wounds so severe that further prosecution of the war would be futile. We are forced to move toward a maneuver strategy—one where we strike at the time and place of our choosing. There must be a closer scrutiny of targets and a more re­fined prioritization. We have to be able to mass our forces against his weaknesses.”

Modern systems, properly em­ployed and supported, can produce unprecedented combat capability. General Bazley recalled the two strikes on the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt in World War LI. The second raid put up 291 B- 17 bomb­ers, each carrying a crew of ten.

“We did get some ordnance on target and a lot around the target, but at what a price. We lost nearly 600 young Americans as sixty air­craft went down. Another five air­planes were abandoned prior to landing back in England, and seven­teen others were damaged. The Ger­mans continued to produce those war-important ball bearings, and we changed the way we did business.

“Today, we could send a handful of F-16s, [each with a] single pilot, against a similar target and take it out with nonnuclear conventional ordnance—dumb bombs plus smart airplanes. Additionally, we could do it at night or in bad weather with Pave Tack and soon with LAN­TIRN-equipped F-16s or F-15Es.”

The first F-15E dual-role fighters come off the line in 1986, and PACAF eagerly awaits the arrival of its initial complement. The F-15E has a combat radius of 670 nautical miles on a high-low-high profile mis­sion. Its long reach, either for air superiority or ground attack, is ideal for PACAF, where vast dis­tances are a major fact of life.

PACAF conducts approximately fifty exercises a year. Although there is no NATO-like formal struc­ture to pull things together in the Pacific, ninety-eight percent of the exercises are joint (involving other US services), and fifty-four percent are combined (with allied nations participating).

Since the symposium was held a week before the Philippine election, General Bazley was bombarded with questions about US basing rights in the Pacific.

“There is no really good alter­native to the Philippine bases,” he acknowledged. “The strategic im­portance of Clark is obvious.” He said that “nonknowledgeable peo­ple” sometimes suggest Guam as a possible substitute. “To operate fighters between Guam and Cam Ranh Bay, we’d need every tanker in the Air Force,” he said.

Other Operations

Several of the speakers fielded questions about USAF prepara­tions for low-intensity conflict and defense against terrorism.

“It’s virtually impossible to pro­tect all our installations,” General Donnelly said. “A determined ter­rorist can get you. Ramstein alone has fourteen miles of fence. How can you secure all that?”

General Russ said that the Air Force and the Army were that day opening a joint Low-Intensity Con­flict Center to work on concepts, procedures, and doctrine. But, he said, “The answer to terrorism doesn’t really lie in airpower. It lies in getting enough international pres­sure put on the people who are fi­nancing that sort of thing.”

General Cassidy, who commands USAF’s Special Operations Forces, said that proposals for a separate service for special operations “make little or no sense.” And, he said, “You can’t throw money at [the Special Operations Forces] and expect to turn things around over­night. They have been neglected moneywise for some time. They are not being neglected now. We’ve got to give it a chance to mature. And I think that should be done within the institutions that we have.”

Responding to a question of a dif­ferent nature, General Russ said, “We currently have no plans for buying a new airplane to replace the Aggressors. We need to put our money elsewhere.”

Tactical Air Command operates two “Aggressor” squadrons of cam­ouflaged F-5Es that simulate late-model MiGs for training exercises. Aggressor training is also con­ducted with F-5s in the Philippines and in Great Britain.

“We are this year putting $25 mil­lion into upgrading the F-S to give it a better radar, that sort of thing. The real benefit of the F-S or any ag­gressor airplane is the tactics that the crews use. It’s not so much the aircraft itself. It doesn’t have to sim­ulate exactly what the Russians have.”