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Document created: 1 September 04
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2004
Maj David P. Briar, USAF
Editorial Abstract: The Air Force has invested little in securing an air base beyond the maximum effective range of security forces’ heavy-weapons teams that operate inside the base’s legal perimeter. Thus, a gap exists from which our adversaries can launch standoff attacks with little fear of reprisal. This article reviews the history of such attacks and makes recommendations in the areas of organizational structure and manpower for dealing with future threats to our air bases.
Writing about Allied convoys sailing the cold, wind-swept seas of the Central Atlantic during World War II, Williamson Murray and Allan Millett note that “the crews’ biggest worry was the large gap . . . where Allied air cover could not reach.”1 The German navy quickly exploited that gap, sinking many a vessel there. Even though the Allies could have shrunk or eliminated the gap by using long-range aircraft such as the B-24, they decided against using these bombers in an antisubmarine role, thus giving the Germans a fleeting chance to “crush the Allied convoy system.”2 That decision cost many lives and much treasure.
Just as the Allies left the door open for Adm Karl Dönitz’s U-boats, so has the Air Force left a gap outside our air bases that its security forces, for the most part, cannot reach. Even though the service has taken great pains to develop a coherent base-defense doctrine, the latter considers the security forces capable of controlling only those areas out to the maximum effective range of the heaviest weapons system available to the defense force commander. According to Air Force doctrine, security forces should consider threats emanating from sources outside that range but let other forces, such as those of the host nation or sister services, handle them. Even though this door is not as wide open as the one in the Central Atlantic during World War II, the Air Force needs to review its doctrine and organizational structure carefully to insure that it can meet future threats.
To that end, this article examines the postulated threat to air bases, especially those outside the continental United States (CONUS), and the adequacy of the service’s force--protection and base-defense doctrines in order to determine what the Air Force needs to do to resolve the problem. In order to make such a review viable, the article makes certain assumptions. First, it considers only a narrow range of potential threats against air bases—specifically, attacks from surface-bound adversaries using mortars, bombs, rockets or rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles (SAM), or long-range rifles. It does not consider operational-level threats such as theater ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons. Second, the article considers threats according to the manner in which they would attack an installation as opposed to the size of the adversary or the force dispatched to deal with the threat. Third, because the article deals with existing doctrine and the operational practice of force protection and base defense, many topics—such as physical security, sensors, and technology—remain outside its scope. Finally, this article leaves the reader with some open-ended questions, such as how we should go about finding the resources necessary for change.
On 1 November 1964, the Vietcong attacked Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, with 81 mm mortars, killing four people, destroying 20 aircraft, and marking the beginning of a campaign by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army that would include over 400 additional attacks, claim many more lives, and destroy valuable resources.3 The attack on Bien Hoa sent a message that air bases are vulnerable to attack and that a fairly unsophisticated enemy could disrupt air operations for at least a short time and inflict substantial casualties. Without acknowledging such lessons from our military history and their implications for the future, we cannot evaluate the adequacy of current security-forces doctrine. Furthermore, attacks such as those on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 should prompt the Air Force to question whether its doctrine meets the needs of a world in which enemies use asymmetric means of attack. Finally, history gives us the starting point for all our doctrine, allowing us to determine past trends, extrapolate them in some imperfect fashion, and decide what the future may hold.
Regarding the environment in which US forces are likely to find themselves, Dennis Drew comments that “insurgencies, protracted revolutionary warfare in the underdeveloped and developing world, appear to be the most likely, if not the most threatening, kinds of conflict the US will face in the future.”4 Additionally, Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-4.1, Force Protection, asserts that “the post–Cold War period is characterized by a significant shift in the Air Force functions and an increased exposure of its resources to the worldwide enemy threat. Today, potential opponents are more unpredictable, and US assets are more at risk to enemy attack. Additionally, there is an increase in the availability of high and low technology weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). US Air and Space power requires protection from these threats at home station and abroad.”5
Recent experience lends credibility to these ideas. US involvement in Afghanistan calls to mind many aspects of insurgent warfare, including establishing relations with former warlords, protecting a newly established government, and conducting search-and-destroy missions from fixed bases. In Iraq the US military once again finds itself fighting insurgents and revolutionaries.
In their book Check Six Begins on the Ground, David Shlapak and Alan Vick claim that “the most likely threat facing USAF bases in the -future will likely resemble those presented -by. . . the [Vietcong]/[North Vietnamese army] in Vietnam.”6 The chief problem for the Air Force in facing a Vietnam-type threat is the manner in which those forces tend to conduct operations. According to Vick’s book Snakes in the Eagle’s Nest, “96 percent of the attacks [in Vietnam] . . . used standoff weapons rather than attempting to penetrate defenses.”7 The weapons of choice for the Vietcong/ North Vietnamese army were rockets and mortars. These attacks, which simply went over perimeter defenses such as machine guns, sentry dogs, and observation posts, represent the classic asymmetric threat that base-defense planners need to consider strongly.
Steven Metz and Douglas Johnson point out that asymmetry is the “use of some sort of difference to gain an advantage over an adversary.”8 That difference has played out on the battlefield over the course of history in many ways. Asymmetric attacks are nothing new—witness the kamikaze attacks against Allied ships in World War II and the destruction of the Marines’ Beirut compound in 1983, for example. In the same way fire ants use asymmetric capability (e.g., superior mobility and poisonous mandibles) to defend their territory, opponents seek to defeat the United States in a manner and place that avoids US strength and technology. Overall, as the United States prosecutes a campaign to rid the world of threats, the Air Force may face enemy forces that use asymmetric tactics and methods such as standoff attack as a means of avoiding a conventional engagement with the service’s technologically superior security forces.
Experts tend to agree with this assessment. Clifton Dickey, for one, argues that “future adversaries of the United States will likely employ some type of asymmetric strategy to defeat or lessen the effectiveness of the United States Air Force’s [air and space expeditionary force] (AEF).”9 He makes a case for the effectiveness of asymmetric, standoff attack in his account of the 1968 Tet offensive:
On the night of 29 January 1968, the US realized the seriousness of its air base vulnerability with the beginning of the TET offensive. On the first night, enemy forces mounted forty-four attacks against friendly air bases with forty-one classified as standoff attacks. The standoff attacks relied on crude rockets, 81mm mortars, and recoilless rifles while managing to destroy 13 aircraft and leaving 40 others with major damage. When the TET offensive finally ended on 31 March 1968, the [North Vietnamese army]/[Vietcong] had attacked 23 US and [Republic of Vietnam] airfields, 36 provincial capitals, and numerous hamlets but lost the offensive at a cost of over 45,000 casualties.10
Institutionally, the Air Force recognizes the significance of the asymmetric threat. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 31-101, The Air Force Installation Security Program, has this to say about the threat to air bases: “Asymmetric threats will increasingly challenge base defense forces. Historically, elements such as special forces, light infantry, airborne, airmobile, terrorist, guerrilla, and irregular units have successfully employed unconventional warfare tactics to harass personnel and destroy vital resources.”11 The word unconventional implies that adversaries will not likely charge headlong into a perimeter of infrared sensors, military working dogs, and manned fighting positions but will seek to disrupt Air Force operations by employing tactics that avoid formidable defenses. Consequently, standoff attacks—because they are least likely to encounter Air Force strength—represent the wave of the future in terms of asymmetric warfare.
Even the strike against the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996 qualifies as a standoff attack since the perpetrator never entered the legal limit of the installation, yet killed 19 Airmen. Moreover, al-Qaeda and the Taliban employ standoff rocket and mortar attacks in Afghanistan, as attested by Maj David Young, a security forces officer on the ground at Kandahar Air Base from December 2001 to March 2002, who reported four rocket attacks on the base. According to Young, the attacks were not effective but typify the enemy’s attempt to find and expose gaps in base defenses.12
To determine whether Air Force security forces are capable of defending against the threat of attacks on air bases, one must move down the doctrinal ladder from basic air and space doctrine, through combat-support and force-protection doctrine, to base-defense doctrine. By doing so, one will discover not only the doctrinal and physical gaps, but also some other minor flaws in Air Force doctrine. The latter concern the difference between force-protection and base-defense doctrines. Even though it is fairly clear that base-defense activities designed to counter kinetic, ground-based threats are a subset of the wider group of force-protection operations, some Air Force documents confuse this point. According to AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine,
air and space power is most vulnerable on the ground. Thus, force protection is an integral part of air and space power employments. Fixed bases are especially vulnerable as they not only must withstand aerial and ground attacks, but also must sustain concentrated and prolonged air activities against the enemy. This must be a particular focus of operations during peace support or crisis situations, when forces may operate from austere and unimproved locations, in small units, or in crowded urban settings and face threats to security from individuals and groups as well as possible military or paramilitary units.13
Air base defense, then, is a key element of all Air Force operations. The service considers base defense a part of its overall force--protection program—a combat-support function. AFDD 2-4, Combat Support, documents the importance of force protection and the doctrinal submission of base defense as a function of force protection:
Force protection provides the safe and secure operational environment necessary to ensure mission completion. It plays a part in every Air Force operation, from conducting surveillance against threats, to furnishing air base defense, protecting against health threats, providing community safety, and protecting communication and information systems. Everyone is responsible for force protection. Every airman should be trained in force protection knowledge, concepts, and weapons skills; self-aid and buddy care; field hygiene; [nuclear, biological, and chemical] defense measures; and antiterrorism and threat awareness. The prime goal is to execute the mission with increased freedom and reduced fear.14 (emphasis added)
AFDD 2-4 further notes that security forces provide “forces for air base defense, security, and law enforcement services [and] protection to weapons systems, personnel, and infrastructure.”15 Also regarding the role of security forces in force protection, Air Force Policy Directive (AFPD) 31-3, Air Base Defense, states that “an effective defensive posture must be established to allow generation, launch and sustainment of Air and Space operations. In these situations, air base defense forces provide force protection . . . for warfighting assets” (emphasis added).16 The minor flaw with this definition is that it essentially makes force protection a function of security forces. In fact, the Air Force views force protection and the role of security forces more broadly. For example, according to AFI 31-301, Air Base Defense, “activities that [air base defense] forces could reasonably expect to conduct include, but are not limited to, physical security, law enforcement . . . and force protection. Force protection encompasses everything US forces do to protect personnel, resources and property, and is not just the sole responsibility of security forces.”17
In spite of these issues, Air Force doctrine clearly defines air base defense as “actions taken by force protection forces in theater preparing for an overt attack by level I, II, or III threats. Forces should be organized to prevent and defeat attacks.”18 Basically, security-force planners assume that overt attack means an adversary will use kinetic, ground-based means to attack the air base directly or indirectly. Air Force doctrine for base defense boils down to putting bodies, weapons, sensors, and fires in the right place at the right time. Force protection, in Air Force terms, describes the overall process of protecting people and resources, of which the service considers base defense only one part.
The Air Force has made great strides in documenting base-defense doctrine. AFPD 31-3 provides the foundation:
The Air Force will provide in-place and deployable air base defense forces who are organized, trained, and equipped to undertake force protection missions in accordance with the Air Force [Wartime Mobilization Plan]. During periods of low- or mid-level threat (Level I or II), air base defense forces are primarily responsible for protecting the force from attackers attempting close attack by penetrating forces and from stand-off attack within the TAOR [tactical area of responsibility]. The TAOR is the area which the defense force commander can control through organic heavy/light weapons fire. The Air Force component will ensure adequate support is available from the other joint components, host nation, coalition, allied forces, and civilian authorities to meet surveillance and denial needs, such as for the standoff threat beyond the capabilities of the Air Force. During periods of high-level threat (Level III), air base defense forces rely on a tactical combat force (TCF) comprised of other US service components, allied, coalition or host-nation forces to ensure the survivability of air bases. Outside the air base TAOR, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, host-nation military forces or civilian security/law enforcement agencies will have responsibility for security requirements.19 (emphasis added)
The key to understanding this section and the doctrine of air base defense lies in the definition of TAOR. Essentially, the Air Force considers its security forces capable of defeating only the standoff threats they can put fire on. Moreover, the service assumes that another friendly force will maintain responsibility for areas outside the TAOR. As a result, the TAOR is determined not by the needs of the installation or the threat to it but by the maximum effective range of the heaviest weapon available to the defense force commander. Two issues spring from this doctrinal line in the sand.
First, if security forces just handle threats within the TAOR, then our bases are exposed to increased risk because enemy forces simply need only move beyond the range of our organic weapons to attack us. This risk and the possibility that the enemy will find that safe spot from which to operate constitute the aforementioned gap in base-defense doctrine. Even though this doctrine states that we will enlist host-nation or other forces to counter the threat outside the range of security-force weapons, that position is fraught with danger. For example, denying the area from which an adversary can employ SAMs against US aircraft requires a significant and persistent commitment of manpower. If the friendly forces tasked with providing that commitment are diverted for some other purpose, then the Air Force will face great risks. Conversely, if the Air Force has heavy weapons on par with those that opposing forces can bring to bear, then it can realize some measure of balance. Weapons such as the M-24 sniper rifle and Mk-19 grenade launcher give the Air Force greater capability to increase the size of the TAOR but don’t sufficiently address SAMs, which do not attack an air base directly but rely on stealth and concealment to move inside an unprotected SAM footprint.
Second, this doctrine falls short of the defense force commander’s mission. We find in AFI 31-301 that “the [defense force commander] organizes forces to defeat level I threats, disrupt or delay level II threats and delay level III threats.”20 Arguably, in order to do that, the commander must have forces capable of moving beyond the TAOR in order to deny territory to enemy forces threatening to attack with standoff weapons. Moreover, joint doctrine suggests that defense forces take this action. According to Joint Publication (JP) 3-10.1, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Base Defense, “an early priority in the base defense plan may be to establish patrols outside the perimeter.”21 The Air Force primarily plans to do that with the assistance of host-nation or sister-service forces. In sum, doctrinal restriction of security forces inside the TAOR and reliance on friendly forces for controlling the terrain beyond the TAOR come with risks that the Air Force may not be prepared to handle. Joint doctrine sheds some light on why the service chose to accept this risk.
According to JP 3-10.1, the combatant commander must insure that bases are adequately protected.22 Presumably, this means the commander will provide the necessary forces to meet any threat to air bases. However, two problems arise. First, a cursory review of JP 3-10.1 reveals that it applies to a linear, contiguous battlefield. For example, it talks about establishing rear areas, base clusters, control centers, and other control measures designed to share the burden of base defense.23 However, US armed forces are rapidly moving away from this construct, as illustrated so well in the recent invasion of Iraq. The implication is that the Air Force likely will be left on its own to secure a remote yet vital airfield.24 Second, these joint tactics, techniques, and procedures assume that security forces assigned to a given base can defeat a level-one threat. Given that a single terrorist or sympathizer might use a standoff weapon from outside the TAOR of that security force, such an assumption may not be valid.
In the best-case scenario, these problems become moot. However, warfare is rarely so simple. Consider a conflict in which the combatant commander tasks the air component commander with protecting the air bases. What forces does the Air Force have to accomplish this mission?
The venerable 820th Security Forces Group’s three squadrons could quickly be tapped out supporting steady-state AEF missions. Other provisional security-forces units are the sum of subunits, also known as shreds, organized under the AEF model out of fixed-base units in the CONUS and overseas. These shreds leave their home units behind, minimally manned to meet the mission demands of the post-9/11 environment. The bottom line is that the Air Force’s security forces are spread so thin over CONUS and overseas missions that they risk protecting nothing by trying to protect everything. This is not to say that each air base outside the CONUS needs 1,000 security forces and mounted patrols 20 kilometers from the base. It is to say that today we have—and will likely have in the next war—aircraft deployed so far forward that our security forces will have to patrol the standoff footprint because other friendly forces simply will not be available to conduct these operations. Thus, security forces need the organization and training to conduct these operations successfully.
AFDD 2-4 states succinctly that “the basic foundation of combat support is a motivated and ready force tailored, organized, trained, and equipped to accomplish tasks. Combat support leaders should always be looking for ways to optimize their forces to more effectively and efficiently support the warfighter.”25 Arguably, the current structure, mission set, and daily requirements of the security forces do not allow them to become all that this doctrine document envisions, a situation which has implications for the standoff threat.
Significantly, AFDD 2-4.1 ranks standoff attacks—emanating “from outside, sometimes far outside, a base perimeter”—first on its list of threats. It also acknowledges that they have been the most frequent attacks to occur since World War II and are “difficult to counter.”26 Similarly, according to AFI 31-301, “the stand-off attack is more difficult to detect and defeat. . . . [It is] the most likely threat to Air Force personnel and resources.”27 If everyone from Santa Monica to Washington, DC, agrees that this is the most likely threat, then we must ask whether the security forces’ organization is capable of handling it.
The image of an eagle—talons extended, poised over an airfield, ready to strike—emblazoned on the security-forces beret is also a metaphor for our security forces in action around the world, denying enemies the chance to affect the Air Force’s air operations. However, most members of provisional security-force squadrons do not receive the level of training required to move beyond a perimeter-based defense. Conversely, the formation of units like the 820th Security Forces Group and the 86th Contingency Response Group is a posi-tive sign that the Air Force is transforming to meet its needs on the modern battlefield.
Writing about the 820th, a truly expeditionary unit in an expeditionary air and space force, Herbert Brown declares, “With the capability to deploy within 24 hours of notification, the USAF has finally established a viable solution to the age-old problem of protecting our deployed assets.”28 Arguably, his view of this group as a panacea is premature. Brown does not account for the vast number of steady-state deployments levied on the 820th, nor does he mention the number of forces required over the last few years as the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he is on target in his assessment of how we should organize and train security forces. Operations in support of the global war on terrorism further illustrate this point.
When the 822d Security Forces Squadron deployed to Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, unit leadership established patrols—both mounted and dismounted—off the installation to secure the SAM footprint.29 What makes this patrolling important is the training required to do it well. Lt Col Donald T. R. Deery, commander of the 822d, commented about the deployment to Kyrgyzstan: “Our unit does nothing but train and deploy to contingency operations.”30 In other words, the squadrons in the 820th Security Forces Group train the way they fight. More recently, members of the 86th Contingency Response Group launched mounted patrols outside the installation perimeter in Bashur, Iraq, in order to limit the possibility of standoff attack.31 Overall, only a handful of units in the security forces possesses the training and organization to move beyond the confines of Air Force doctrine.
However, several issues remain. For one, the 820th and other units simply cannot keep pace with the demand for their services. Furthermore, in many cases the Air Force lacks opera-tional control of forces assigned to patrol the area of greatest threat. Also, with regard to a nonlinear, noncontiguous battlefield, joint doctrine is not specific about who bears responsibility for this area. In fact, the definition of the TAOR is found only in Air Force publications. Finally, the overall organization of provisional security-forces squadrons puts the Air Force in such a position that security forces do not train the way they fight.
The chief risk of the current approach to building provisional squadrons by forming a squadron from the sum of numerous elements is that, if faced with a combat situation, the squadron may not perform optimally because, arguably, it is not really a unit but a composite of several different units. Certainly, good leadership, a positive climate, military discipline, and a common mission serve to bond units together. For example, in the late 1990s the Air Force realized that sending individual replacements to Southwest Asia was a bad practice. Overall, the change by Air Combat Command requiring at least a 13-person squad to deploy to Southwest Asia was a great initiative. However, when a unit consists of 10 such squads as well as other larger and smaller elements, all from different bases, gaps are likely to form in its unity and cohesiveness. Moreover, because provisional squadrons formed on the AEF shred concept are unevenly trained, deployed squadron commanders and operations staffs risk spending their time on integrating new shreds every 90 or 120 days rather than on the tough business of force protection.
Another salient point that bears directly on current base-defense doctrine is the role of Air Force personnel who are not in the security forces. In its discussion of survivability, AFDD 2-4 states that “at a minimum, successful air base defense requires basic weapons and tactics training for all deployed Air Force personnel.”32 It seems that the Air Force is placing its future not in a large, dedicated organization of security forces but in each and every Airman assigned to the expeditionary wing. This point raises questions about the level of risk the Air Force is willing to accept and whether or not that risk assessment is appropriate in today’s operating environment.
The Air Force is an expeditionary service, so its security forces should be equally expeditionary. Making them so will require a new mind-set, increased risk, and reorganization. The new mind-set will entail shifting a major portion of these forces from law enforcement, entry control, and administration in the CONUS to new expeditionary units based on the 820th model. This mind-set is new because it requires each installation to adopt a contract security force to handle those functions that Air Force security forces need to give up. Although increased risk is inherent in this approach, modifications to Title 10, Armed Forces, occasioned by the Defense Appropriations Act of 2003, make such an approach legal. The risk goes beyond this, however, in terms of uneven training, lack of control, and the possible existence of a greater criminal threat on our installations. Nevertheless, radical times call for radical changes. With regard to organization, this particular change is huge.
CONUS security-forces squadrons would relinquish to a contractor such functions as law enforcement, resource protection, crime prevention, administration, personnel and information security, and entry control. Those manpower positions would move to new expeditionary squadrons. Moreover, the old squadrons would retain a core of military manpower under the leadership of competent officers and senior NCOs to perform vital weapons-system security for resources at priority-level three and above. Moving these “bill-paying” positions from conventional to expeditionary squadrons is certainly revolutionary. Other changes are equally radical.
An expeditionary unit needs to focus on training and deploying to fight. For example, when the 23d Fighter Squadron is at home in Spangdahlem, Germany, its members are training to fight for the next war. However, the 52d Security Forces Squadron, also based at Spangdahlem, is trying to squeeze training into a schedule that includes registering cars and making sure that base organizations properly secure their classified documents. The organizational change mentioned above addresses the need to divest these functions and transform security forces into an expeditionary force while leaving only a precious few members behind to provide close-in security and response capability for key war-fighting resources. As a result, as additional groups of security-forces squadrons form, they can focus on training in the way the Air Force now fights—as part of an air and space expeditionary task force. Organization and training are not the only changes that have to be made. Air Force leaders must change their minds about what risks they are willing to take.
In a sense, Air Force leadership has already answered the question about its willingness to accept risk. As forces began to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Air Force confronted the need to send security-forces reservists home, the Air Force and Army National Guard agreed to mobilize thousands of soldiers to augment security forces at CONUS installations. This approach, although short term, carries with it operational risks, even though good leadership from competent NCOs and officers mitigates those risks. Furthermore, the Resource Augmentation Duty (READY) program provides another example of leadership’s willingness to accept risk to provide security for air bases. Overall, the practice of accepting moderate risks to put forces where we need them most has occurred for years. Some people may believe that the hiring of contractors to perform entry control, basic law enforcement, and administration functions represents a radical change, but it is really not that different from current practice.
As for resources, many are already available. Just as manpower moves from traditional squadrons to expeditionary units, the equipment the unit utilized in its former mobility mission can do likewise. However, the Air Staff would have its hands full addressing the following resource issues:
1. Location of the units. Related matters include dorms, housing, ranges, and offices. Moreover, the activities of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission would assure congressional involvement as forces move from state to state.
2. Funding for a large contract security force in the CONUS.
3. Funding for the balance of equipment required, such as weapons and ammunition.
The Air Force should combine AFI 31-101, 31-301, and 10-245 (Air Force Antiterrorism Standards) into one comprehensive base-defense doctrine document. We would find ourselves on much firmer ground with such a document—one that deals comprehensively with threats to air bases, in the CONUS or overseas; eliminates the distinction between threats posed by terrorists and those posed by special forces during a major theater war; and focuses on countering threats based on the capabilities, tactics, or techniques that an enemy could employ to attack our bases.
The threat-level system also needs modification. Talk in the Pentagon these days favors a capability-based force. If the armed forces are moving more toward this model, then it is time to change the threat-level system accordingly. The current system indicates only the size of the threat. However, a level-one threat comprised of men armed with an 81 mm mortar is much more serious than one from the same group armed only with rifles. Additionally, that same level-one threat potentially could do more damage than a level-two threat attempting direct penetration through a tactical automated security system, fighting positions, and well-controlled response forces. The bottom line is that future enemies aren’t going to fit into neat packages based on the size or type of element attacking the air base. Conversely, they will possess more easily classified capabilities and should be dealt with accordingly. In other words, if a single terrorist packs enough punch to warrant a response force moving against him, then so be it.
That said, the threat classification system should change as follows:
• Level One: Capable of conducting a direct attack using tactics such as infiltration, improvised explosive devices, or small-arms assault.
• Level Two: Capable of conducting direct and standoff attacks using small arms, mortars, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, snipers, large-magnitude bombs, and limited biological or chemical agents.
• Level Three: Same threat as levels one and two plus capable of conducting company-sized direct or standoff attacks that would require a response from a mobile combat force with heavy weapons.
• Level Four: Same threat as all or part of levels one through three plus capable of launching theater ballistic missiles with or without chemical or biological agents.
At least superficially, the Air Force learned a lesson from the attack on Bien Hoa Air Base and created doctrine (AFI 31-301) to address its base-defense needs and the requirements of joint doctrine. However, operational practice, force structure, and the AEF construct fight against that doctrine. Chiefly, organic forces are rarely available to installation commanders who need to patrol outside the TAOR. Even though current security-force initiatives like “close precision engagement” or the employment of sensors or unmanned aerial vehicles promise to extend the reach of security forces, the adaptable enemies the United States will face in the future will likely not cooperate by moving inside the maximum effective range of the M-24. Clearly, the Air Force is concerned with the standoff footprint but considers itself largely incapable of denying its use to the enemy, a stance which leaves the service in a real quandary. If Maj Clifton Dickey and Alan Vick are right, the expeditionary air and space force could be in for a world of hurt.33 In the same way the German U-boat captains found the gap where airborne escorts could not protect Allied shipping during the Battle for the Atlantic, it is only a matter of time until forces opposing the United States find the gap around our air bases and begin to exploit it. Moreover, host nations and sister services, in accordance with their doctrine, may be involved in more significant offensive operations, unable to focus on the needs of expeditionary air and space forces. Consequently, the Air Force needs an expeditionary security force with the force structure and training to meet steady-state AEF needs as well as provide combatant commanders with a unified, highly trained force capable of moving beyond the TAOR to meet the enemy: five, 10, or maybe even 15 kilometers from the air base. This concept does not mandate a stand-alone force. Rather, expeditionary security forces need to work with other support-group units, Office of Special Investigations detachments, host nations, and sister services to achieve synergy in base--defense operations.
To repeat, radical times demand radical changes. In Vietnam, who would have thought a B-52 could drop a bomb guided precisely to a target by a satellite constellation? Now such practices are accepted as the norm for Air Force operations. Even though the Air Force willingly underwent these kinds of revolutionary changes, today’s security forces are much like those BUFFs that flew in Vietnam. Security forces need to become more precise, lethal, and capable. Reorganizing, accepting moderate risk at CONUS installations, and creating at least four more expeditionary -security-forces groups make for a good place to start. In accepting these recommendations, the Air Force will go a long way toward insuring that the eagle’s talons become significantly sharper.
1. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 253.
2. Ibid., 255.
3. Roger P. Fox, Air Base Defense in the Republic of Vietnam, 1961–1973 (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1979), 1.
4. Dennis M. Drew, Airpower in the New World Order (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1993), 3.
5. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-4.1, Force Protection, 29 October 1999, 1.
6. David A. Shlapak and Alan Vick, “Check Six Begins on the Ground”: Responding to the Evolving Ground Threat to U.S. Air Force Bases (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1995), 37.
7. Alan Vick, Snakes in the Eagle’s Nest: A History of Ground Attacks on Air Bases (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1995), 68.
8. Steven Metz and Douglas V. Johnson II, Asymmetry and U.S. Military Strategy: Definition, Background, and Strategic Concepts (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2001), 1, http://www.au.af.mil/ au/awc/awcgate/ssi/asymetry.pdf.
9. Maj Clifton L. Dickey, “Air Base Defense for the Air Expeditionary Force: More Than Defending the Redline” (thesis, School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Maxwell AFB, AL, 1998), 1.
10. Ibid., 9.
11. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 31-101, The Air Force Installation Security Program, 1 December 1999, 4–5.
12. Maj David Young, McConnell AFB, KS, interview by the author, 4 April 2003. Major Young also recounted four additional strikes in which the enemy attacked on foot with small arms.
13. AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003, 25.
14. AFDD 2-4, Combat Support, 22 November 1999, 12.
15. Ibid., 3.
16. Air Force Policy Directive (AFPD) 31-3, Air Base Defense, 28 December 2001, 1.
17. AFI 31-301, Air Base Defense, 15 May 2002, 16.
18. AFDD 2-4.1, Force Protection, 27.
19. AFPD 31-3, Air Base Defense, 1–2.
20. AFI 31-301, Air Base Defense, 16.
21. Joint Publication (JP) 3-10.1, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Base Defense, 23 July 1996, IV-12.
22. Ibid., II-1.
23. Ibid., passim.
24. Kevin Dougherty, “Leader of Bashur Patrollers Understands Importance of His Job,” European Stars and Stripes, 10 April 2003. The article refers to the 173d Airborne Brigade moving south to conduct offensive operations. That movement left Air Force security forces solely in charge of base defense while relying heavily on local Kurds to provide key intelligence.
25. AFDD 2-4, Combat Support, 1.
26. AFDD 2-4.1, Force Protection, 17, 18.
27. AFI 31-301, Air Base Defense, 6.
28. Lt Col Herbert T. Brown, “Current Air Base Ground Defense Doctrine: Are We Postured to Meet the Expectations of the AEF?” research report (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Command and Staff College, April 2001), v–vi.
29. Linda D. Kozaryn, “The Road from Baltimore to Bishkek” (Washington, DC: American Forces Press Service, 14 May 2002), http://www.defenselink.mil/news/ May2002/n05142002_200205148.html.
30. Quoted in Linda D. Kozaryn, “822d Security Forces: On Guard in Kyrgyzstan” (Washington, DC: American Forces Press Service, n.d.), http://www.defend america.mil/awt/jun2002/awt062802a.html.
31. Kevin Dougherty, “Security Forces Take on First Patrols of Key Base at Bashur,” European Stars and Stripes, 10 April 2003.
32. AFDD 2-4, Combat Support, 6.
33. See Dickey, Air Base Defense; and Vick, Snakes in the Eagle’s Nest.
Maj David P. Briar (USAFA; MS, Troy State University) is commander of the 99th Security Support Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada. Previously, he served in CONUS and overseas assignments as a flight commander, squadron operations officer, wing executive officer, division chief in a subunified command, and squadron commander. Major Briar is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Army Command and General Staff College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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