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Published Airpower Journal - Winter 1987-88

Hogs in the Rear

A-10s in Rear Operations

Maj Darrel D. Whitcomb, USAFR

SOMEBODY ONCE said that an army travels on its stomach. This was not a reference to a mode of transportation but recognition of the important role that logistics play in military operations. The US Army is keenly aware of this fact. Additionally, it realizes that its logistical tail is vulnerable to enemy action and that combat operations may be necessary in rear areas. These rear operations will be joint affairs requiring close integration of ground and air action.1 The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of rear operations and to propose the use of the A-10 in this area. Rear operations will be defined as one part of the overall air-land battle, and possible threats will be examined. This will be followed by a discussion of the capabilities of the A-10 and some considerations for its use as a close-air-support asset in the rear area.

The US Army's current basic fighting doctrine is called AirLand Battle. As laid out in Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, it reflects the structure of modern warfare and the application of the classical principles of war to contemporary battlefield requirements. It is inherently three-dimensional in nature and requires close coordination and synchronized operations with other services. Additionally, the doctrine recognizes that commanders from theater through division level must actually conduct three types of operations in support of overall campaign plans: close, deep, and rear operations.2

Close operations comprise the current activities of major committed combat elements. They are sometimes referred to as the main battle, where steel meets steel. They are sometimes violent and can be highly dynamic, and they are marked by high consumption of materiel and heavy casualties. Close combat is frequent and includes Air Force close air support (CAS ).3

Deep operations comprise operations against enemy forces not yet in contact and are designed to influence the conditions in which future close operations will be conducted. Included are such things as attrition of enemy follow-on units or the deep maneuver of friendly units to shape future battles. Their purpose is to deny freedom of action to opposing commanders and to disrupt their tempo of operations. They would include Air Force interdiction, reconnaissance, and jamming operations.4

Rear operations comprise those activities rearward of our own units in contact that are designed to assure our freedom of maneuver and continuity of operations. They include such things as command and control and all of the logistical assets and actions necessary to sustain combat. To a division commander, they could include such things as fuel sites, transportation, and medical units. To a theater commander, they could mean securing support airfields, nuclear sites, major lines of communication, and so on. Needless to say, to an adversary our rear areas represent target-rich environments.5

The Army, in its FM 90-14, Rear Battle, recognizes three levels of threat to the rear area.6 Level I threats are generally seen as small teams of enemy-controlled agents, terrorists, or enemy sympathizers. Their objectives could be political disruption, assassination, or sabotage of key sites and lines of communication.

Level II threats have two forms. One consists of unconventional forces skilled in infiltration. The other is conventional company-size airborne or heliborne assaults. Their objectives would be to destroy key installations such as airfields and nuclear sites, logistic sites, and reserve forces. They would also collect intelligence and create disruption and confusion in support of a front/army main attack.

Level III threats are considered to be assaults by units of battalion or larger size. These could be airborne, air assault, amphibious, infiltration, or reconnaissance units or operational maneuver groups (OMG) up to army size. Their objectives would read as above but on a larger scale. They could include the seizure of national capitals, economic centers or ports, or the encirclement of major friendly ground units.

Our ground commanders must give due consideration to these threats when planning their operations. Operations plans and orders will direct that a specific unit headquarters be directly responsible for conducting operations in the rear.7 This headquarters is usually the rear area operations center (RAOC). Additionally, combat and combat-support units will be identified with, at the very least, on-order missions to conduct rear area operations under RAOC control. They will probably include aviation, artillery, air defense, military police, engineer, and possibly even infantry units. The ground commander may also plan to divert some allocated CAS sorties for use in this area.

But the commander must be careful in his allocation of combat power to the rear. He cannot allow units to be siphoned away from the main battle or from reserves being marshaled for offensive operations. He must practice economy-of-force operations, initially using his combat service support elements and CAS sorties to detect, delay, and destroy intruding forces.8

The A-10 could be a most satisfactory asset for this operation. It possesses all of the capabilities necessary for theater air power.9 It is highly responsive and can react theaterwide to rapidly changing situations. It is highly mobile and can quickly concentrate or disperse as necessary. Self-protection capabilities make it highly survivable in the rear area. It can establish presence by bringing force against weakness. By its very positioning over the battlefield, it provides an ability to observe the enemy.

Additionally, the A-10 is equipped for this mission. The inertial navigation system provides a means for quick and accurate navigation. It can be programmed with the universal transverse mercator (UTM) grid map coordinates used by Army units. Communication equipment includes a UHFAM, a VHF-AM, and a VHF-FM radio. The VHF-FM radio is common with FM radios used by Army units. This gives the A-10 pilot the ability to talk to anyone in the Air Force tactical air control system (TACS) or Army control channels.10 Ordnance loads will always include the 30-mm GAU-8 gun, a highly lethal, accurate weapon not conducive to collateral damage. The A-10 can also carry the Maverick missile and many types of free-fall ordnance. This specifically includes the CBU-89 Gator mine, which could very effectively be used to bottle up larger type units.11 Finally, the A-10 is equipped with the Pave Penny laser identification system, which, when used with a laser designator, facilitates accurate target visual identification.12

The A-10 would be optimal for such operations because its primary mission is close air support.13 However, A-10 pilot training to date has focused primarily on the main battle at the forward line of own troops (FLOT), where large formations will be in contact. Training scenarios generally call for an alert scramble with immediate tasking to a contact point where a forward air controller (FAC) is contacted for final control for a high-threat run in. Consideration of rear operations close air support requires a broadening of horizons. Alert scrambles could obviously be used, but tasking would be less clear. Aircraft could be sent into areas far from the FLOT. Minimum-risk routes of contact points may not be available. Only target UTM coordinates might be provided, and a FAC may or may not be on the scene. In the absence of a FAC, initial contact could possibly be with the air support operations center (ASOC), which is that element of the TACS collocated with an Army corps headquarters. The ASOC would probably pass the flights off to the RAOC, which would provide an initial briefing and then pass them off to a US Air Force Security Police air base defense team, an aviation commander, or ground commander for final control. However, nonFAC control is considered for emergencies only. The ground commander involved must accept the increased risk and decreased probability of mission success.14

As seen earlier, the targets themselves could vary. Level I threats may not be suitable targets warranting the expenditure of air sorties. However, Level II and definitely Level III threats would be valid A-10 targets. Additionally, since these enemy forces (be they airborne, air assault, or mechanized forward detachments) are designed for speed, they are lightly armed with air defense assets.15 This makes them low-threat targets susceptible to air attack. The exception to this, of course, would be the larger OMG units of division-plus size that could be expected to possess normal divisional air defense capability. These would have to be handled as high-threat targets.16

The A-10, then, could provide the ground commander with an excellent asset to employ in rear operations. It is equipped to be optimally used in that area, and its pilots are trained for the mission. It gives the commander the ability to react to a potential threat quickly and lethally without initially drawing upon his main battle strength.

The threat to our rear is real. The Army has a saying that the priority of support should always go to the main effort. By reacting quickly with highly lethal A-10s against any incursion in a classical economy-of-force role, we can perhaps ensure that the rear operations do not have to become our main effort.

Notes

1. TACP/USAFEP/PACAFP/AACP 50-36, Joint Concept Procedures for Close Air Support in the Rear Battle, 8 July 1986, 1-1.

2. FM 100-5, Operations, May 1986, 19.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., 20.

6. FM 90-14, Rear Battle, June 1985, 1-2.

7. Student Text 100-9, The Command Estimate (Fort Leavenworth, Kans.: US Army Command and General Staff College, July 1986), 4-11.

8. FM 90-14, 2-5; TACP/USAFEP/PACAFP/AACP 50-36, 3-4.

9. AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine, 16 March 1984, 2-3.

10. TACP/USAFEP/PACAFP/AACP 50-36, A-1.

11. TACP 50-27, Joint Operational Concept and Procedures of Air Delivered Mines (J-Mine), 26 September 1984, 4-2; Capt Jack Kearney, "The Gator Mine," USAF Fighter Weapons Review, Fall 1986, 6-9.

12. TACP 50-25, Joint Laser Designation Procedures, 11 December 1985, A-68.

13. TACM 3-1, Mission Employment Tactics: Tactical Employment A-10, 31 January 1986, 1-1.

14. TACP/USAFEP/PACAFP/AACP 50-36, 6-2.

15. FM 100-2-3, The Soviet Army, 16 July 1984, 4-131, 4-132, 4-136, 4-140.

16. Ibid., 4-59.


Contributor

Maj Darrel D. Whitcomb (USAFA) is an Air Force reservist currently assigned as an A-10 flight commander in the 303d Tactical Fighter Squadron, Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri. While on active duty, he served as a maintenance officer, a T-38 instructor pilot, and two tours as a forward air controller in Southeast Asia. Major Whitcomb is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and the Army Command and General Staff College.


Disclaimer

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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