In some very important respects, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is on the upbeat. NATO has a long way to go. Yet it is better off today than it has been for many years, and opportunity is at hand for major improvements of its military capability in the form of weapons, tactics, and force structures.
NATO is often portrayed in the US as a haphazard military confederation of stingy and self-absorbed Western European nations who stand pat and let the Americans do it all in defense of their soil. At Allied Command Europe (ACE) headquarters in Belgium, however, a different, more heartening assessment comes through.
Even though ACE’s senior officers candidly acknowledge the Atlantic Alliance’s many serious military shortcomings, they stop far short of leaving it for dead. On the contrary, they convey a certain optimism.
For one thing, they agree that if Warsaw Pact commanders are smart, they will not put Allied airpower to the test over Western Europe. They would take on more than they could handle, at lest for openers, such officers claim.
NATO’s situation has improved in many resects over just the past few years. The introduction of the NE-3A AWACS aircraft as the mainstays of the direly needed NATO Airborne Early Warning (NAEW) system is a major reason for this. Others are:
• US Army Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), has introduced a new concept, taking advantage of high-technology weapons and sophisticated C3I, for counterattacking Warsaw Pact air and ground forces far to the rear of the battlefield, thus foiling their reinforcement of the front. It is controversial, but holds high promise.
• Modernization of ACE fighter and air-to-ground forces is afoot and is being extended — in the form of plans for new, advanced fighters and ever-smarter munitions and submunitions — into the 1990s.
• Despite much political and social agonizing in some Western European nations, the US Pershing 11 missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) have been accepted on the continent, with only a few hitches, and their deployment has begun.
Those missiles will greatly help to redress an imbalance of intermediate-range nuclear weapons that had reached runaway proportions in favor of the Warsaw Pact. Their advent has done wonders for military morale and cohesion within NATO.
• C3I assets are being coordinated much more fully, utilizing state-of-the-art technologies for the fusion and distribution of information on which command decisions depend. Also in the works, as one ACE officer puts it, are “plans to frame the whole [ACE] C3 structure for 1990 and later.”
• France — a NATO member but still adamantly divorced from the Alliance’s military structure — is cooperating with ACE in exercises and in technical and tactical planning to an extent unheard of in recent years.
This leads ACE officials to assume that France, which maintains a division in West Germany and highly capable tactical air units at home, would allocate combat assets to ACE in the event of a Pact attack, all under the banner of self-defense, of course.
France is even anxious to join with West Germany, the UK, Italy, and Spain in developing and producing a new multinational fighter for the 1990s and beyond.
• The flight crews of Allied air forces are first rate, and their training with one another, and with the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), leaves nothing to be desired.
There is no longer any chance, as once there might have been, that Allied air forces in Europe would be blown out in a Pact attack.
Matchups and Sustainability
“If it is their airpower vs. our air-power — matching what they’ve got on their airfields with what we’ve got on ours — we’d match them, we’d win,” confidently asserts one European officer assigned to ACE.
The gut question, though, is one of staying power. The Pact air arm is widening the numbers gap and closing the technology gap in aircraft and missiles. This same adverse trend pertains on the ground.
“How long we could bloody them is getting more problematical all the time,” adds another ACE officer.
“Our forces are just not sustainable for a long period of time. We may do marvelously well, but at a given point in time, it doesn’t matter whether we’re ahead or behind, we’re going to be out of munitions. High-technology airplanes don’t do much good when they don’t have something to fire.”
Prepositioned US stockpiles of war reserve materiel seem sufficient for American forces in ACE to sustain conventional combat for a month or more, providing that land and air reinforcements arrive from the US in time to do much good.
But such stockpiles of most other Allied nations fall far short of what is required, and it is likely that those nations would have to draw from US supplies amid severe problems of how and where to allocate them under stress.
The big problem for ACE is that units and its forward-based ground-attack and interceptor wings much more quickly than can NATO, which is heavily dependent on reinforcements from the US.
Low Nuclear Threshold
This is the main reason why General Rogers declares that “the current conventional posture of Allied Command Europe does not provide our nations with adequate deterrence, and leaves the nuclear threshold at a disturbingly low level.”
As things now stand, ACE probably would have to turn to tactical nuclear weapons fairly early in the game in order to stop Pact reinforcements from breaking through and rolling on. To SACEUR, however, a rosier scenario for the future looks something like this:
Pact land and air forces assault Allied positions in central Europe along a broad front. They are blunted, but at heavy cost to Allied air and ground units. At one or two points, they nearly break through.
From the east, a second, reinforcing echelon of Pact land Operational maneuver Groups (OMGs) and air units moves out for the front and for Pact forward air bases. They are scheduled to renew the assault at salients in the Allied line within thirty-six hours. They will almost certainly breach that line.
NATO’s AWACS aircraft and TR-1 tactical reconnaissance aircraft, equipped with wonder-working radars and swift, secure communications links, spot the fresh wave of Pact air and ground formations deploying. They pass along what they see, continuously and with precision, to Allied command posts. EF-111s jam Pact communications.
From air and land, Allied standoff missiles and multipurpose submunitions blast bridges, railway lines and switching yards, tunnels, and defiles ahead of the reinforcing armored units. They also catch the armor stacking up behind the chokepoints they have created. They blast airfields in the bargain, destroying many Pact aircraft on the ground, and denying havens for others then in the air.
So the second echelon is stymied. The third is blocked behind it. Neither can get to the front, which is at a standoff. Now it is the Warsaw Pact — not NATO — that must make the awesome decision to resort to nuclear weapons. FOFA has worked.
The FOFA Concept
FOFA stands for Follow-On Forces Attack, a tactical concept that General Rogers has propounded for NATO. The hot topic wherever ACE’s multinational officers congregate, FOFA would provide something that NATO has never had and, given its manpower deficiencies, otherwise never would — defense in depth.
Only in this case, the depth would be behind enemy lines, not NATO’s.
SACEUR’s concept, now being translated into doctrine, would take advantage of so-called Emerging Technologies (“ET” is a term newly fashionable in NATO parlance) of precision-guided missiles and other smart munitions launched against targets at varying standoff ranges.
FOFA has its genesis in the US Assault Breaker technology program and in the Army’s Airland Battle 2000 doctrine for striking behind enemy lines. SACEUR is intent on tailoring both to ACE’s particular mission in the form of the FOFA concept, which he regards as the key to the sorely needed strengthening of ACE’s conventional forces and to much less reliance on NATO’s very tenuous tactical nuclear deterrent.
As General Rogers sees it, ACE’s conventional ability to defeat the Pact’s follow-on forces hinges on two main improvements:
• In the means of collecting, processing, and disseminating intelligence for locating and identifying targets very deep, maybe 200 to 3000 kilometers, behind the battle line.
• In the standoff air and land conventional weapon systems needed to engage and destroy those targets.
Some European allies, Germany in particular, worry that paying the high costs of the high-technology weapons needed to implement the FOFA concept will inevitably result in skimping on funds for NATO’s time-honored forward-defense capability. Such allies also suspect that FOFA will lead to more of the same in the European weapons market — Europeans buying high-technology weapons from the US, but, as usual, not the other way around.
General Rogers insists that such fears are unfounded. In his view, FOFA will augment, not detract from, the NATO doctrine of forward defense and flexible response. He also believes that FOFA could well lead, for the first time ever, to a workable way of standardizing weapons among NATO forces.
How By having companies in each nation take the lead in producing particular types of ET weapons for which they are best suited.
As General Rogers describes it: “The direction in which I think we should go is to say, all right, you, the United Kingdom, you are now producing what is known as the JP=233 Runway Buster, which is relevant to attacking the follow-on forces by keeping their airpower off of us.
“You produce all those for the rest of the nations.
“You, Germany, are just this year, 1984, bringing out this pod that attaches to the bottom of your Tornado aircraft that has 600 to 700 submunitions in it — and you can make them of various types to reach back once those chokepoints are created, and strike those forces that are behind it.
“And you, the United States, you’re doing pretty well on precision-guided missiles, so you do that for us.
“Here’s a golden opportunity, I say, for specialization, with lead nations allocated to specific systems. And from that specialization will come standardization.”
It’s a nice idea but a tall order. As General Rogers himself admits: “All we hear is ‘Buy America,’ ‘Buy England,’ ‘Buy Germany,’ — and these sentiments have made it very difficult in the past for us to standardize.”
This simply has to change, the General warns, because “we’re right at the crossroads now” in choosing the way to greater military and industrial capability in Europe at a price NATO nations can afford to pay.
Skeptics may scoff, but the signs are in SACEUR’s favor. General Rogers has managed to get NATO’s defense ministers to approve his FOFA concept, from which standardization could flow. He also has introduced the concept into the force and weapons planning goals of all NATO nations.
At a meeting earlier this year, the Conference of NATO Armaments Directors (the officials who match national weapons requirements with NATO force structure goals) undertook a study of SACEUR’s proposal for lead-nation specialization in weapons production.
Last May, NATO defense ministers, meeting in Brussels, formally agreed on their common need to exploit emerging technologies for the sake of a better conventional defense of Western Europe. To the expressed satisfaction of US Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, they identified eleven systems for immediate consideration — including communications and jamming equipment, laser-guided munitions, and an identification, friend or foe (IFF) system for aircraft that is one of NATO’s most urgent requirements.
All are germane to the exploitation of the FOFA concept, which ACE officials believe can be brought into play by the end o this decade if enough nations follow through on it.
Basic to Airpower
In terms of airpower, the concept is far from revolutionary. It is nothing more than the deep interdiction that has always been a basic element of NATO tactical air doctrine. However, it enlivens that doctrine through an infusion of swift intelligence and smart weapons.
“What we did in World War II by going for bridges over the Rhine and targets like that is exactly the same thing we’re talking about now,” explains one ACE air officer. “But instead of doing it on the basis of two-day-old information about enemy movements, troop trains, or whatever, our whole idea now is to get a complete system for real-time intelligence, feed it into the command structure, and make timely decisions for action — very effective air strikes and surface-to-surface missile strikes.
“The idea is to hit the targets when they’re vulnerable, not two days later in a rigidly planned interdiction campaign, but immediately, when they have problems because they have choked up — maybe one of their trains has derailed. Then we can attack that point, and two hours later we can handle everything that’s blocked up behind it.”
Adds another air officer: “We are already trained to do interdiction. Every pilot is taught how to do this. We have the aircraft, we have the crew, we have the commanders in control right now to do it in a limited way.”
The Recce Requirement
“The one thing that prevents FOFA from taking place right now is reconnaissance. We do not know what targets we are going to attack. [But] we are planning. We are looking at the disposition of the Warsaw Pact forces. We know what their doctrine is. We know what their tactics are likely to be.
“We could probably come up with a very sound plan — high probability effectiveness where choice targets would be between the FEBA [forward edge of the battle area] and 115 to 200 to 3000 kilometers behind the FEBA.
“We could do that today. We do not know what the measure of our success would be. The Warsaw Pact has sound [air] defenses. We have to try to come up with some conclusions, and we are doing this.”
Adds yet another ACE officer: “Their [Pact] defenses are awfully tough. They have overlapping coverages. Unless we are very effective in suppressing those defenses, unless we have adequate countermeasures, we are going to get shot down.
“And we need one more thing. It’s called surprise.”
The problem with this is that NATO would go to war only if attacked, so the element of surprise rests with the other side. The way some ACE officials see it, the Alliance is set up as a punching bag — and sooner or later, punching bags get punched.
The bright side is that NATO is now much better able to see a punch coming. Thanks to its NE-3As and Nimrods, its peripheral vision has vastly improved.
The NATO Airborne Early Warning (NAEW) Force composed of those aircraft is by now a going concern. NE-3As have been operating from their main base at Geilenkirchen, Germany, since February 1982. More than half of their total complement of eighteen aircraft are in place, and all are expected to be operational by mid-1985.
NE-3A Success Story
“The NE-3As exercise all over Europe all the time,” says USAF Gen. James E. Dalton, SHAPE Chief of Staff. “They are a great success story.”
In full bloom, the NAEW Force will consist of the NE-3As and eleven British Nimrod Mark 3 aircraft. Both embody improvements over original models, most especially in radar and computer software modifications for tracking targets on land and sea, in increased speed and capacity of computers, and in sophisticated radio gear. Both are capable of relaying information to aircraft and ground stations.
The Nimrods’ main operating base is RAF Waddington. They are manned by RAF crews. But the NE-3A squadrons are truly international, composed of crews integrated from eleven nations — Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, and the US.
Despite fierce differences between their two nations on NATO’s southern flank, the Greek and Turkish members of the NE-3A crews work together smoothly and without acrimony, ACE officers report.
As the first operational force owned and operated not by one nation but by NATO at large, the NE-3A units symbolize what ACE officials see as heightened military ecumenism in the Alliance.
The implications of the NAEW Force for the development of the FOFA concept — let alone for the execution of existing doctrine and tactics — is profound.
Concepts for Employment
At 30,000 feet, each NE-3A can continuously scan and track air, ground, and maritime targets over a 312,000-squre-kilometer area. Loitering well within NATO territory — from the northern tip of Norway south to the Mediterranean and east to Turkey — the NATO AWACS aircraft can look deep into Warsaw Pact environs, detecting and tracking enemy aircraft at very high or very low altitudes over all terrain and giving directions to friendly aircraft as well.
If the shooting starts in Europe, the NE-3As will be dispersed. The first of their three Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) was activated at Konya, Turkey, in late 1983. Two other FOBs, at Preveza, Greece, and at Trapani, Italy, are scheduled for activation late this year.
FOBs for the Nimrod element of the NAEW Force are RAF St. Mawgan and RAF Kinloss. Each of those bases will eventually be capable of accommodating the NE-3As as well.
As of now, the NE-3As are especially significant for the defense of NATO’s northern and southern flanks. NATO’s central region has a dense, well-developed network of ground-based fixed and mobile early-warning and tracking radars. They provide continuous coverage down to fairly low altitudes.
This is not the case, however, on the flanks, where the more mountainous terrain tends to mask land-based radar coverages. Thus, the flanks are sorely deficient as to radar infrastructures, and their commanders now have much greater reassurance against surprise attack.
Good enough. Still, if war comes to Europe, ACE will have to make some tough decisions, very quickly, about how and where to allocate its NE-3A assets. Such decisions also will pertain to the allocation of, for example, the B-52 bombers on conventional sorties from the US, and F-111 and Tornado aircraft on interdiction sorties from the UK, Germany, and Italy.
Also, as one high-level ACE officer puts it: “We will be looking at tankers too. How many are available in the theater, how are they going to be used, how will they play Even though they’re planned for certain places, are they going to go there when the tactical situation changes Allocation of all critical air assets will have to be done, and quickly, at the SACEUR level.”
There is just no telling how all that will come out under fire. But the intelligence gleaned from the NAEW Force and TR-1 reconnaissance force will certainly help make all things work better for ACE commanders.
Joint STARS Important
The US TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft carrying the precision location strike system (PLSS) will be a big boon to ACE battle execution and to ACE’s evolution of the FOFA concept. PLSS is a radar system designed for all-weather strike capability against both emitting and non-radiating targets.
The first TR-1 was deployed with US Strategic Air Command’s 17th Reconnaissance Wing at RAF Alconbury, the UK, in February 1983. That wing, which had been activated in September 1982, will be filled out with TR-1s late next year.
Another key player in the tactics of FOFA will be the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), which the air Force and the Army now agree should be deployed aboard USAFE C-18 aircraft.
Once Joint STARS comes along, it is expected to be highly effective at spotting such moving ground targets as tank and armored personnel carrier formations.
Among other radar development programs conducive to the FOFA concept is the US Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS) for detecting the movements of such ground targets as tanks and trucks from secure, standoff ranges.
All such systems are destined to make up the C3I cornerstone of the FOFA concept: intelligence fusion and quick-time command and control against moving targets around the clock in all kinds of weather.
In this context, jammers, too, are highly important. If timely deployment of tactical aircraft against rear-echelon forces proves to be impossible, jammers could be the only means of disrupting those forces.
Land-based missiles clearly have a major role in SACEUR’s FOFA game plan. A prime candidate was the joint tactical missile system (JTACMS) now being developed by Martin Marietta Corp. and LTV Corp., makers respectively of the land-based Pershing II and Lance II theater nuclear missiles. Now JTACMS seems to have given way to separate systems for the Army and for USAF, which is considering a new cruise missile.
At the moment and for some time to come, however, only the Allied air forces in Europe have the means of striking deep beyond the battle area in anywhere near the profusion, or with the precision, that the FOFA concept demands.
Questions and Controversy
As do all military innovations, the FOFA concept raises some questions and controversy. When Allied army officers talk of striking deep, they mean maybe thirty of fifty kilometers. Air Force officers talk in terms of five to six times that far. Who — land or air commanders — will decide, and which will have tactical control of the standoff weaponry under what circumstances Which will come first: counter air strikes against airfields or sorties against armored columns
All such questions must be worked out in ACE studies now underway and in tryouts in the field. One thing is clear: The deeper the strike, the more defense suppression will be needed.
As General Rogers views it, ACE’s job will be to mix and match delivery systems, munitions, and targets in the most effective way under a wide variety of possible circumstances. The bad news is that the targets are becoming more numerous and deadly; the good news, that NATO’s delivery systems and munitions are steadily improving.
Tornado Adds Dimension
NATO’s main means of deep interdiction have been the US F-111s based in the UK and the UK Buccaneers based in Germany. Now the Panavia Tornado adds dimension to NATO’s capacity for striking deep.
RAF Germany has already formed two squadrons of Tornados as replacements for its twenty-year-old Buccaneers at Laarbruch. The RAFG Tornados carry the British JP-233 dispenser of runway-catering submunitions for destroying airfields.
RAFG is also replacing its ground-attack Jaguars with nuclear-capable Tornados. It is moving its Buccaneers and Jaguars back to the UK, with the Buccaneers switching to maritime missions and the Jaguars taking the place of Vulcan bombers.
The German Air Force, which flies F-4F Phantoms in the air-superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance modes, is concentrating for the moment on replacing its old ground attack F-104s with Tornados. It equips the Tornados primarily for counter-air operations, and it is eager to get long-range standoff missiles to hang on them to enhance, and perhaps widen, that role.
Just such a missile, now called the LRSOM, has been designed by Germany’s Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm. The cost of developing and producing it may be prohibitive for Germany alone, however, and it, like many other weapons projects in the works, may become a multinational project.
The UK also aspires to a long-range standoff missile for counter-air and possibly anti-armor missions.
Germany and France are collaborating in the development of a standoff glide weapon with wings that would range out to twenty-five miles and launch bomblets, antitank mines, and other submunitions. Its technology is based on that MBB’s MW-1 submunitions dispenser now slung under the German ground-attack Tornados.
All through Western Europe, the story has the same sweet overtones, one of national fighter forces on the rise, starting with those of USAFE.
With their coproduced F-16s for air-superiority or ground attack, the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian air forces have moved solidly into modernization. Such modernization is coming along more slowly on the southern flank, but coming nonetheless.
Turkey is buying F-16s. Spain, almost a full partner in NATO, is buying F/Z-18s. Greece was expected to announce its choice of a new fighter this summer. The Tornado, which is very important to the improvement of Italy’s air arm, was among the candidates of choice in Athens.
And then there is France.
Intent on upgrading its sea-based, land-based, and airborne nuclear forces as its first order of priority, France agrees with Germany that nuclear deterrence must remain number one in the minds of European military planners, and that raising the nuclear threshold, as SACEUR proposes, may not be so wise. Germany keeps its voice down about this. As a free-lancer, France is much more outspoken about it. Even so, French units exercise regularly and rigorously with their Allied counterparts in Europe, and French military strategists and tacticians discreetly but earnestly take part in NATO military planning conferences.
The word in NATO, and at Paris headquarters, Amerée de l’Air, is, in the words of one French official, that “cooperation in tactics, training, and interoperability is improving all the time.”
This has not come about in a political vacuum. French President Mitterrand supported the West German government’s decision to permit the initial deployment of Pershing II missiles in Germany last year, and encouraged Bonn to stand fast in the face of Soviet pressure and domestic opposition. Moreover, there is a feeling in Europe that in military relationships, France drew closer to the US, at least as a result of their shared experience in Lebanon.
The French five-year military equipment plan, through 1988, calls for the purchase of airborne early warning aircraft as a prime means of improving the capability for carrying out France’s number one requirement: defense of France itself.
As late as this summer, officials in Paris claimed that the E-3A was still very much in the running as a possible choice. But they also noted that the French had a problem with E-3A costs and may choose to install AEW radars, maybe British-made, in such European-built aircraft as the Airbus or the French Transall military transport.
In modernizing its air force but maintaining the current level of 450 combat aircraft (not including transports), France plans to buy and deploy 165 new Mirage 2000 fighters and sixty new Epsilon trainers — light, relatively inexpensive aircraft from which student pilots will transition into Franco-German Alpha Jets.
The first operational squadron of Mirage 2000 AD (Air Defense) fighters was scheduled to be on the ramp this July. Once the air defense complement of the Mirage 2000s has been filled out, replacing Mirage IIIs, nuclear-capable Mirage 2000N strike fighters will begin replacing French Jaguars, probably in 1987.
The air-defense Mirages are armed with Magic IR missiles and Matra 350 radar missiles with look-down/shot-down capability. Both the Mirage 2000N and the Mirage IV bombers of the French Strategic Air forces (FAS) eventually will carry the ASMP nuclear, medium-range air-to-surface missile. In the conventional attack mode for airfield-denial operations, French fighters now come armed with the rocket-assisted, runway-catering Matra Durandal submunitions-shooting weapons dispensers, also being procured by USAF.
Indicative of a trend that may be under way throughout Europe, France plans to replace its nuclear-capable Mirage IV, at the end of its service life, with a land-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic missile now called SX.
“For our national security, and within our nuclear concept, we think we have a good force and a good military program for giving our government the airpower we need,” said a French official in Paris. “We are keeping in front of the threat. We are very confident with our training. But we must guard against letting the gap on technologies close too much. We need standoff weapons and counter-measures. We need to train at operating in a very dense [jamming] environment.”
The French Air Force believes it has the fighter of the future (the Avion de Combat Futur) all set for development. Dassault-Breguet, which makes the Mirages and which teamed up with Germany’s Dornier on the Alpha Jet, designed the twin-engine ACF.
In Paris, at least, the ACF is regarded as potentially superior to the US F-16 and maybe even a near match for the embryonic US Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) now in the early stages of design.
The ACF airframe is designed almost exclusively for lightweight composites. The fighter would incorporate integrated, digital fire and flight controls, advanced ECM equipment, and low-observables (Stealth) technologies.
French officials conceded this summer, however, that in order to afford the costs of developing and producing the ACF, France may very well have to — and wants to — team up with other European nations. Such teamwork has been explored for some time by France, Germany, and the UK, with Italy and Spain playing lesser parts.
Defining the EFA
The three main principals in this maneuvering toward the so-called European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) differ as to its requirements and characteristics.
Germany wants a relatively light air-superiority fighter. France and the UK prefer a heavier, multi-role fighter, and tentatively plan to buy more of them than the 200 or so that Germany sees in store for itself.
Engines, too, are controversial. France would like powerplants built by its SNECMA. The UK favors Rolls-Royce engines. Germany has expressed interest in US-made engines.
Such differences threatened to dismember the fighter development venture before it ever took hold. Many NATO officials believe, however, that the nations will somehow have to bring off the project cooperatively, for none con afford to go it alone.
Meanwhile, Germany is moving to upgrade the avionics in its F-4F Phantoms, chiefly to improve air-to-air capability. It has the option, if not necessarily the funding resources, of turning to a Dornier/Northrop fighter design, based on Northrop’s F-20 fighter technology, as an interim move.
That design could also be the basis of Germany’s candidate in the presumptive European Fighter Aircraft program.
One thing seems certain. Whatever shape the future European fighter takes, under whichever auspices, it will be designed to carry the US-made advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) and the advanced short-range air-to-air missile (ASRAAM) now in development by Germany and the UK.
The preordained division of those two missile programs as between US and European industries may indeed have been the precursor of the specialized arrangements for new NATO weapons that SACEUR has in mind, courtesy of his FOFA concept.
France is also an interested observer of the NATO ASRAAM program. For now, however, France seems satisfied to stick with new air-to-air missiles being developed by its Matra.
Continued improvement of the quality and capabilities of combat aircraft and their missiles is clearly urgent for the allied powers, no matter who builds them.
“Our aircraft today are better than ever,” declares one ACE air official, “so in that respect, we’ve moved forward. But compared with the new generation of Soviet aircraft, the best we can say is that we’ve probably just about kept pace. Meanwhile, we’ve lost ground in numbers — and numbers have their own quality.”
ACE force comparisons tell the grim story. Over the past ten years, the numbers of Warsaw Pact fighter-interceptors vs. ACE fighter-bombers have remained relatively stable. This has merely perpetuated the bad news. The Pact has 4,370 fighter-interceptors. ACE has 1,950 fighter-bombers.
In the same ten-year period, the Warsaw Pact’s total of fighter-bombers actually dropped slightly — from 1,950 down to 1,920. But this is bad news, too, because the number of ACR fighter-interceptors assigned to take on those fighter-bombers has been cut nearly in half since 1973 — from 1,400 to 740.
There have been qualitative improvements on both sides, but they may have been more dramatic and continuous in Pact aircraft, avionics, and weaponry, all of which moved up from lower-quality baselines.
Worst to Come
The worst is probably yet to come — in the form of wholesale deployments of the latest and best in such Soviet combat aircraft as the MiG-25E, MiG-29, and MiG-31 interceptors and Su-25 attack aircraft.
Il-76 airborne warning and control aircraft have shown up on the European scene as well, and ACE officials expect deployment there in the near future of new Soviet air-to-ground precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and anti-radiation weapons.
Of deadly significance for NATO counter-air operations and for deep strikes against enemy ground forces, the Pact’s overlapping belts of fixed and mobile SAMs are also being upgraded. Meanwhile, NATO’s plans for improving its own air defenses are being carried out more in fits than in starts.
In mid-July, following drawn-out negotiations, the US and Germany finally struck a deal on surface-to-air missiles and arrangements for defending their respective air bases in Germany.
The US agreed to provide Germany with twelve Raytheon-built Patriot missile fire units for operational deployment, plus two more units for training, in return for Germany’s purchase of a like number of such units.
Germany also agreed to buy twenty-seven Euromissile-built Roland missile fire units for the defense of two USAFE main operating bases and one forward operating location in Germany.
Moreover, Germany signed up to buy sixty Roland tactical fire units and eight training unit and eight training units for point air defense at German Air Force main operating bases, six of which are US collocated operating bases (COBs) in Germany.
ACE and USAFE officials were heartened by the US-German agreement. It will be some time, however, before the missiles are in place.
Meanwhile, General Rogers was at pains to declare:
“Looking at ACE airpower compared to the regional threat, not only does our air defense capability become questionable, our ability to conduct conventional offensive air operations is also suspect.”
Thus, patience with NATO is strained. There have been some drastic proposals in the US for remedial measures.
Last June, the US Senate narrowly defeated a proposal by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime supporter of NATO, to cut the number of US troops in Europe by 30,000 a year, starting in 1986, unless the European allies come through on their 1978 agreement to raise their defense spending in real terms by three percent a year.
Failing that, said Senator Nunn, they could compensate by beefing up their stocks of ammunition and other war stocks, and by seeing to it that US tactical aircraft are better protector in Europe.
Senator Nunn said that he will reintroduce his bill next year. So Western Europe is on notice.
In a broader vein, former Secretary of State Henry M. Kissinger has proposed giving the Europeans greater military control of NATO (with a European SACEUR, for example) in return for their show of good faith in spending a lot more for their defense.
Absent such a show, Mr. Kissinger would have the US withdraw as many as half of the 220,000 US ground troops west of the Elbe.
Such proposals find no favor with General Rogers and his chieftains at ACE, SACEUR points out that:
• European economies have not recovered as fast or as well as that of the US.
• The European allies increased their defense spending at steady rates during the 1970s, when US defense spending declined in real terms.
• Most of them also bear the costs of military conscription (itself a show of good faith) and of providing real estate, without reimbursement, for Allied forces.
• Their combat units make up ninety percent of the NATO land forces and three-fourths of the NATO air forces confronting the Warsaw Pact.
Walls Closing In
General Rogers is not sanguine. He acknowledges that the walls are closing in on the Allies. He says it will cost them a whole lot more than they are now paying if they are to meet the force structures and weapons goals that NATO has established for the rest of this decade to strengthen its conventional deterrence.
Earlier this year, the General put this in context for the House Armed Services Committee as follows:
“We must do better with the forces already committed to ACE by bringing them up to ACE peacetime standards for manning, equipping, training, sustaining, and reinforcing.
“We must continue to modernize our weapons systems and, as we do, exploit our current and emerging technologies….
“Within ACE, we also need improvements in intelligence, operations, air defense, logistics systems, command and control, and mobilizable reserves.”
SACEUR sad he is “convinced” that NATO can do, and afford, it all. Despite bad spots here and there, the record of recent years seems, if it can be sustained, to justify his judgment.