Air University Review, July-August 1978

The Central Europe Battlefield

doctrinal implications for counterair-interdiction

Colonel Robert D. Rasmussen

In the annals of war there are numerous instances of technological progress upsetting the previous balance of forces: gunpowder, the machine gun, the tank, aircraft. But these innovations were not necessarily technological surprises. When the French underestimated the effect of the machine gun on their offensive doctrine of élan, it was not due to technological surprise--the weapon had been around a long time, and the French had it also. Their failure in the case of the machine gun was a failure to fully digest its impact and, as a result, the failure to take advantage of it, develop a counter to it, or adjust their doctrine in light of it. This article will address the battlefield in Central Europe, in an effort to ensure that we do not fail to digest the impact of or adjust to the adversary's "machine gun."

the new "machine gun"

Surface-to-air missile (SAM) air defense systems have been with us a long time. The United States once led in their technology and production. We tasted the flavor of their potential, on the pointed end, over North Vietnam, but it was only a taste. A better sample for full digestion was made available in the course of the 1973 Middle East War.

The lowly machine gun has been with us since before World War I. Its larger caliber offspring, the automatic cannon, has been around for more than 20 years. The threat of modern radar-controlled, rapid-fire antiaircraft (AA) cannons has been recognized by our side for over 10 years. Yet the superior Israeli Air Force, employing primarily U.S. equipment, was faced in 1978 wit the loss of air superiority over the battlefield--not due to enemy air power but to ground force mobile air defenses. And the effectiveness of the SAM was exceeded only by that of the AA cannon.

The effectiveness of the mobile SAM and self-propelled (SP) antiaircraft artillery (AAA) combination in the 1973 war was immediately recognized, but its digestion has taken a long time--and may not yet be complete.

There were actually two separate events of potentially revolutionary significance to military arms to come out of the 1973 war: (1) the temporary achievement of local air superiority by ground forces and (2) the defeat of an Israeli tank offensive by Arab infantry armed with antitank missiles (ATM). The latter event and its implications for strategy, tactics, and doctrine have been widely discussed in a continuing dialogue in the professional journals of the U.S. Army. A major entry in this dialogue, entitled "Is the Soviet Army Obsolete?" was published in May 1974.1

A review of past issues of Air University Review, the Air Force's professional journal, searching for a dialogue similar to that within the Army, is revealing. The Review "serves as an open forum for exploratory discussion," and exists "to present innovative thinking and stimulate dialogue concerning Air Force doctrine, strategy [and] tactics..."2 The first article on the 1973 war in AU Review appeared in the July-August 1974 issue. Although authored by an Air Force officer, Captain Bard E. O'Neill, "The October War" was devoted to the political-psychological aspects of the conflict; one sentence briefly referred to the "effective use" of AAA, SAM, and ATM. Not until the November-December 1976 issue of the Review, over three years after the war, does one find the first article on the 1973 war that addresses directly the implications of that conflict for the 'hardware and doctrine" of the U.S. Air Force. The tide of the article, appropriately, is "A Call from the Wilderness."3

The present author knows, from first-hand knowledge, that much has been done in the field in terms of adjusting tactics and training to the newly perceived threat. But there is a lower level of confidence in the completion of actions that are possibly necessary to adjust our doctrine and hardware. In any event, it is apparent that those potential adjustments have not been served well by any open dialogue of "innovative thinking" in the pages of the Air Force's professional journal. The fault here, of course--if there is one--is not with our journal; its function is to publish, not write. The dearth of dialogue on the vital issue is cited as one reason for doubting the completion of the digestive process.

implications for doctrine

Air superiority is generally considered to be that degree of control of the air that enables effective air operations by friendly forces and prevents prohibitive interference by the enemy with those operations. NATO doctrine on the subject holds that

The degree of control of the air required will depend on the tactical situation; however, NATO air forces must be capable of achieving such control whenever and wherever it is required. . . . Counter air operations do not necessarily relate to specific friendly surface operations. However,... the outcome of counterair operations exercises a direct influence on all other operations. Therefore, counterair operations may demand the highest priority of all air operations whenever enemy air power presents a significant threat.4

General Chaim Herzog, in his book on the 1973 war, reported:

In the first phase of the fighting--the holding phase--the Israeli Air Force was unable to attack as planned and was obliged to throw caution to the winds and give close support (a good proportion of the sorties were made in close support of ground forces), without dealing adequately with the missile threat and achieving complete air superiority. Consequently, losses were comparatively heavy.5

The reported Israeli losses were 102 planes shot down, but only five of those were lost in air-to-air combat, the balance lost to ground-based air defenses.6 The Arabs employed SA-2, SA-3, SA-6, SA-7, and the ZSU-23-4 quad 23mm gun system. It was the SA-6 and ZSU-23-4 that took the heaviest toll.7 Both of these systems are mounted on a PT-76 tank chassis, which enabled them to be deployed in the front lines and change positions as desired. This was the first time the Israelis had encountered the SA-6, SA-7, and ZSU-23-4. The Israelis twice abandoned air support interdiction strikes on the Golan because of prohibitive losses: on the first afternoon8 and then again on the second day.9 Not until 21 October, two weeks into the war, did the Israeli Air Force gain the degree of control of the air that enabled them to conduct effective air support operations over the battlefield on the Sinai front; and that control of the air had to be wrested from the Arab SAMs.10

The implications are that the Israeli Air Force was unable to achieve air superiority in a timely manner, not because of enemy air forces but enemy ground force air defenses. Even though the Israeli Armed Forces' doctrine allocated the highest priority in both timing and effort to offensive counterair operations, the Israeli Air Force was unable to follow that doctrine. The highest priority was necessarily assigned to defensive direct support operations--specifically, stopping the armored thrusts. Paradoxically, at the same time, the primary threat to Israeli control of the air was physically located in the same target complex they were forced to attack in contravening their doctrine and war plan: the SA-6 and ZSU-23-4 systems with the enemy ground forces.

While the concentration of Arab air defenses on both fronts was certainly formidable-and the most lethal seen in action to date--one suspects that the total array and variety of similar defenses on the front in Central Europe may be even more deadly. We shall therefore shift our attention to the potential battlefield in Central Europe and, in light of the above Israeli experience, look at possible implications for U.S. Air Force and NATO doctrine.

The Threat: Central Europe

The forward deployed Soviet ground forces in Central Europe (outside the Soviet borders) are organized into four "Groups of Forces" totaling 31 ground divisions.* (See Table I.) With the addition of the supporting airborne elements, there are the equivalent of about 32 divisions in those "Groups." The four Groups are the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany, Northern Group (Poland), Central Group (Czechoslovakia), and the Southern Group (Hungary).

*This Warsaw Pact ground forces order of battle and the postulated invasion scenario are adapted from a paper presented by the author to the 1978 Air University Airpower Symposium in February 1978, "The A-10 in Central Europe: A Concept of Deployment-Employment."

Added to these Soviet forces in the four satellite countries are the indigenous forces of the Warsaw Pact host countries: 37 divisions, including the 6 in Hungary, making a total of 68 Pact divisions in those four countries. However, not all of the non-Soviet divisions are maintained in a Category 1 state of readiness. (See Table I.) If we exclude the forces in Hungary, there is a total of 58 Pact divisions in the "central" region. After further subtracting those non-Soviet divisions that are not earmarked for immediate employment, there remains a total of 48 divisions available for immediate employment without additional reinforcement. The number of main battle tanks in operational service with the divisional formations presently in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany is 16,200.11 By contrast, the corresponding number of tanks on the NATO side in the same region is 6405.12

Table I. Warsaw Pact ground forces
(Soviet and non-Soviet), Central Europe

9; 9;
Table 1. Warsaw Pact Ground Forces (Soviet and non-Soviet), Central Europe

*Also available for employment are the Pact forces in Hungary--either through Czechoslovakia or possibly across Austria, The "Southern Group of Soviet Force," in Hungary has 2 tank and 2 motorized rifle divisions. The Hungarian forces are 1 tank and 5 motorized rifle divisions. (The Soviets have excluded Hungary from "Central Europe" for purpose, of the mutual reduction of forces negotiations). The above forward-deployed Soviet forces can be reinforced on short notice from the 8 armies with 30 divisions maintained in the Baltic, Belorussian and Carpathian Military Districts, all bordering on Poland. Source: John Erickson, Soviet-Warsaw Pact Force, Levels, USSI Report 76-2 (Washington: United States Strategic Institute, 1976), pp. 31 and 67-86.

Group of Soviet Forces, Germany

The Group of Soviet Forces, Germany (GSFG), is the most powerful group of ground forces in the world. Since the end of World War II, the Soviet forces in East Germany have formed the "cutting edge" of Soviet military power in Central Europe. As such, GSFG is an elite force. Fourteen of the ten tank and ten motorized rifle divisions in East Germany carry the World War II honorific of "guards" divisions.13

The 20 Soviet divisions in the GSFG are organized under five army headquarters, two tank armies and three combined-arms armies (the Soviets have abandoned use of the Corps)- The GSFG is supported by the 16th Tactical Air Army, totaling some 1000 aircraft, of which about 850 are combat aircraft, including the MiG-23 Flogger, Su-19 Fencer, Su-17 Fitter, latest models of the Mi-21, and the Mi-24 Hind assault/gunship helicopter. The GSFG has all the ingredients of a Soviet wartime "front" (army group), and this is obviously the role that the GSFG would play in a Warsaw Pact-NATO military conflict-

The northernmost of the five Soviet armies in the GSFG is the 2d Guards Army, which is a combined-arms army composed of two motorized rifle divisions and a tank division, possessing more than 835 tanks. Directly to the south is the 3d Shock Army, a tank army with four tank divisions and a motorized rifle division. With some 1550 tanks, the 3d Shock is matched in strength by the let Guards Tank Army, which also has four tank divisions and a motorized rifle division, bringing the total tanks opposite the center sector of NATO's Central Region to about 3100. The southernmost army is the 8th Guards Army, comprised of three motorized rifle divisions and a tank division, with a tank strength of about 1100 tanks. The 8th Guards is the Soviet army that faces U.S. Army forces in southern West Germany- In the east central portion of East Germany is the 20th Guards Army, with three motorized rifle divisions and about 750 tanks. Also in GSFG are numerous nondivisional artillery units, including, reportedly, an artillery division directly under GSFG headquarters.14

In addition to the GSFG, the East German Army has six divisions assigned to two military districts that divide the country into northern and southern sections-In the north is Military District V with two motorized rifle divisions and a tank division. In the south is Military District III, also with two motorized rifle divisions and one tank division. Overall East German tank strength is about 2000 medium tanks.15 The East German divisions are permanently assigned to Soviet command in the GSFG.

Based on the known strength, disposition, and organization of the GSFG, it is possible to postulate an invasion scenario in accordance with Soviet doctrine and training; this postulation has been formulated by Graham Turbiville. (See Figure 1.) ".- - It must be assumed that the main mission of the GSFG Front will be to defeat the most powerful groupings of enemy forces in West Germany, secure Rhine crossings and drive to the English Channel."16 In this scenario, the GSFG Front, with East German divisions integrated, would cover the West German border from the vicinity of the Elbe to the Czechoslovakian border. Polish and Soviet Northern Group forces would cover the northern flank, while the Soviet Central Group with Czechoslovak units would operate on the southern flank. These forces could be joined by the Southern Group and Hungarian units, either through the Danube valley--if Austrian neutrality were violated--or through Czechoslovakia.

Figure 1. An invasion scenario

The invasion scenario has the ad Shock and 1st Guards tank armies, the heavy offensive punch of the GSFG, in a joint thrust on a single axis along the Göttingen-Aachen line, "the rough dividing line between NATO's Northern and Central Army Groups." 17 In the words of Turbiville:

It is along this axis that the weight of the two armies' 3,100 tanks would probably advance, seeking to split the two NATO army groups, isolate U.S-, Canadian and West German forces in southern West Germany and send armored spearheads racing through the Low Countries to the Channel.18

Armored columns would break off from the main body of this central thrust and sweep north and south seeking to envelop the allied units. In the north, the 2d Guards, along with the three East German Divisions of District V, would attack the British, West German, Dutch, and Belgian units in that area and launch enveloping columns to complete the encirclement of the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG).On the left flank of the main attack, the 8th Guards and the three East German Divisions of District III would attack southwestward with one mission being to link up with the enveloping 1st Guards units. The NATO Central Army Group (CENTAG) would not only have this attack from East Germany to contend with but also the attack from Czechoslovakia, and in Turbiville's estimate, "probably" the attack from Hungary pushing through Austria.

According to Soviet doctrine, the above scenario would be applicable for operations either with or without nuclear weapons; the primary differences would be in the rate of advance and the density of units in the axes of attack. Under nuclear conditions, the rate of advance would be faster, and the units would be more dispersed to increase the width of the axes. By Turbiville's calculations, using Soviet planning factors, "with nonnuclear rates of advance, the GSFG Front would be expected to reach the Channel in about two weeks."19

Soviet echelon doctrine

The Soviet operational doctrine for the employment of ground forces reflects a Soviet preoccupation with offensive operations.20 It is assumed they will take the offensive immediately on the outbreak of hostilities. Their basic principles for the offensive are surprise, superior firepower, speed and maneuverability, and continuous operations. Tactically, the emphasis is on breakthrough, penetration, and envelopment--both close and deep. Integral to Soviet operational (front or army level) and tactical (divisional level and below) doctrine is their employment of echelons.

All major Soviet ground elements deploy in echelons. One-half to two-thirds of a unit's total strength is assigned to the first echelon; it is the main attacking force and is assigned the immediate or initial objective. The second echelon is assigned the subsequent objective or other designated tasks. According to U.S. Army FM 30-40, "there is no U.S. Army equivalent to the second echelon."21 However, the preplanned and prompt commitment of reserves is essentially the same thing. The Soviet Army may employ "the reserve" also. The essential distinction between the second echelon and the reserve can be found in Sidorenko's The Offensive:

The distinction of the second echelon from the reserve was that it was created ahead of time with a precisely defined mission-to intensify the force of attack of troops of the first echelon from a specific position and exploit success in depth.22

Thus, "the mission is given to the second echelon at the same time as it is to the first echelon," whereas "the combat mission is assigned to the reserve as it is committed.23 The mission of the first echelon is to weaken and break through the frontline enemy defenses. The second echelon mission is to complete the breakthrough and exploit this breach by passing on into the depths of the enemy position to complete his destruction and engage the enemy reserves before they can reinforce the defenders or organize a second line of defense. According to Sidorenko, it is preferred to commit the second echelons and reserves "into the intervals between" the first echelon units "or from behind their flanks," to prevent mixing and overcrowding. "The commitment of fresh forces" from the rear by "leapfrogging over the first echelon" is considered "extremely disadvantageous," although it could be used "if circumstances forced it."24 Sidorenko stresses that timing in the attack by the second echelon is important; they learned in the "Great Patriotic War" that

. . . second echelons were the basic means of exploiting success and conducting an attack at high rates and to a great depth. Where they were weak or were not committed in time, the attack developed not only slowly, but even died down.25

Two echelons are normally employed at regiment and above, but divisions may be formed by the army into three echelons. Battalions and below normally form their subunits into single echelons, although battalions may form their companies into two echelons. If the battalion is formed in two echelons, then according to Sidorenko, the company of the second echelon of the battalion will usually move during an attack at a distance of 1 to 3 kilometers behind the companies of the first echelon.26 A division might advance on one or two axes on a front of five or six miles, but extended to a depth of 30 miles or more, and then concentrate the width of the front to perhaps two miles at the point of breakthrough. The four or five divisions of the army assigned the mission of break-through would advance on a width of front of perhaps only 20 miles.27

In sum, and by way of analogy, the. Soviet employment of echelons can be compared to a running play through the line in football, and if three echelons were employed, the secon4 echelon role is analogous to that of a blocking back engaging the linebackers, while the ball carrier drives for the "objective of the day." But the uniqueness of the Soviet second echelon should not be exaggerated:

it is simply the reserve force of at least one third strength of the unit, with its mission assigned at the same time as the mission of the forces on the front line, and that mission normally being to penetrate deep on the main axis and engage the enemy reserves. This same description can be applied to Western army doctrine for the offensive and, in particular, for exploitation operations.28 The primary distinction, then, between Western and Soviet doctrine is that the latter is blatantly and aggressively offensive; instead of waiting to commit the reserves when and where success develops, they intend to ensure success by planning where they will develop it with the reserve ("second echelon") commitment.

implications for air doctrine

In an article in Air Force Magazine in 1976, the Warsaw Pact threat drew the attention of Edgar Ulsamer. After noting the "vast numerical superiority" of the Warsaw Pact over NATO forces, Ulsamer continued:

Compounding the problem of numbers is the likelihood that Pact forces would be used in blitzkrieg fashion along a narrow front, with a strong assault echelon opening the way for one or more follow-on echelons. To counter that strategy, US and other NATO forces would have to concentrate their forces at the point of major attack…..

If intelligence is right [with timely warning], NATO ground forces could achieve local superiority against the first assault echelon. The second, equally decisive, "if' is whether US and other NATO tactical airpower would be able to deal with the Pact's second echelon before it could engage NATO ground forces at the forward edge of the battle area. This, then, leads to the third requirement for a successful defense by NATO forces-the rapid achievement of local air superiority over the main battle area to permit air interdictions of Pact follow-on attacks.29

The above lengthy but pithy quote concisely illuminates three aspects of the problem with significance for air doctrine:

(1) the need to concentrate our forces quickly at the point of major attack, an ability ensured through the centralized control of air power, including close air support; (2) the need for priority on the timely interdiction of the Pact reserves or follow-on echelons, and (3) the prerequisite need for gaining the degree of local air superiority over the battle area required to enable both interdiction and close air support operations. This third point relates to the main thrust of this article, but it is necessary momentarily to divert and address the second.

Unfortunately, the long, unconventional war in Southeast Asia has produced a habit of thinking of the interdiction mission as only a logistics curtailment operation. The absence of visible enemy combat formations employing the weapons and tactics of conventional warfare has apparently dimmed our doctrinal memories. Thus, we presently see a spate of writers who find the term "interdiction" inadequate to express themselves. For example, in a 1977 article in Air University Review, an author responding to the cited Ulsamer article found the "interdiction mission inadequate to encompass at-tacks against the "second echelon." He substituted the term "battlefield inter-diction mission," and defined it thus:

The term "battlefield" interdiction used in this article refers to that portion of the air interdiction function described above (i.e., ground attack in support of friendly ground forces beyond the range of weapons organic to those ground forces)30

The dividing line between close air support and interdiction has always been the fire support coordination line (FSCL). (The FSCL was originally called the "bomb safety line.") A recheck of the doctrinal manual, AFM 2-1, 2 May 1969, revealed the following first two sentences in the chapter on interdiction:

Air interdiction operations are conducted to destroy, neutralize, or delay the enemy's military potential before it can be brought to bear effectively against friendly forces. Detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of friendly forces is not required because such strikes are conducted beyond the fire support coordination line.31

The above classic definition of the interdiction mission appears completely adequate to encompass the interdiction of the "second echelon." However, a check of the chapter of AFM 2-1 entitled "The Employment of Tactical Air Forces" revealed serious trouble. In the first paragraph, entitled "Employment Tasks," this statement introduces a listing of the tasks:

While changes in the scope or intensity of conflict may alter the tactics used, the doctrine for employment of tactical air forces and the basic tasks to be achieved remains constant. Tactical air forces are employed in the following tasks.32

The four tasks are then listed (condensed here for brevity): (1) air superiority, (2) close air support, (3) "the isolation of enemy air and surface forces from their sources of supply," and (4) strategic offensive operations. Amazingly, the interdiction of enemy combat forces has been deleted from the "basic task" of interdiction in an official doctrinal manual.

A review of the latest draft of the new AEM 1-1, Basic Doctrine, to be published in 1978, then revealed what appears to be an epidemic. The page on air interdiction includes this statement:

That part of the air interdiction campaign which may have a direct or near-term effect upon surface operations is sometimes referred to as battlefield interdiction. This part of the interdiction effort must be coordinated with the ground commanders' fire support and maneuver plan .33

Thus, our own proposed basic doctrine has broken off a piece of the interdiction mission, given it a separate title, and then essentially applied to it the definition of close air support in requiring it to be coordinated with the ground commander's fire and maneuver!

We clearly and urgently need to reestablish The classic definition of the interdiction mission to include offensive air action against both the enemy's forces and logistics. A good starting point would be the brief definition of the air interdiction mission in the War Department Field Manual FM 100-20, 21 July 1948: "To prevent the movement of hostile troops and supplies into the theater of operations or within the theater."34 We can then progress to the classic words in the current AFM 2-1 quoted earlier (note 31), which are completely satisfactory as long as the meaning of "the enemy's military potential" is not confused to the extent of dropping the enemy's combat forces from his potential. We further should specifically stop the fragmentation of the interdiction mission. There is no need to fragment it, and the results could be degrading not only to the clarity of roles and missions but, more important, to combat effectiveness. As always, and still in current doctrine, the interdiction mission starts where the close air support mission ends: at the fire support coordination line. If an official need is felt to distinguish "force" interdiction from "logistics or communications'' interdiction, then any subdefinitions of the mission should be along those lines. In fact, a firm dual-component definition of the mission ("forces and logistics" vice "potential") might be constructive, in view of the apparent tendency to drop "force interdiction" from the current popular conception. And the characteristic of proximity should be handled with the descriptive terms of "deep" or "shallow"-both in relation to the FSCL.

For those who may be concerned about the ability to strike the follow-on Pact echelons without the need for cumbersome--and perhaps degrading--coordination and clearance by the ground commander, be reminded that the FSCL is set by the ground commander in coordination with the air commander. Its location can be optimized to maximize the combined effect of both artillery and air, and it can be changed on short notice, as the situation dictates. The Pact forces or "echelons" beyond the FSCL can be freely interdicted without the need for constant air-ground coordination. The Pact forces or "echelons" between the FSCL and the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) can only be attacked within the framework of the close air support system and whatever coordination procedures and rules of engagement are operative within the system at that time- Separating close air support and interdiction operations on the battlefield is relatively simple; performing either one effectively without a degree of local air superiority would be difficult, or worse.

The Offensive Air Defense:
Total Offense

The equipping of the air defense troops with modern armament permits organizing an antiaircraft defense which is capable of assuring the attacking troops freedom of maneuver and combat and repelling enemy air strikes and thereby creating the necessary conditions for the successful conduct of the offensive.35

A. A. Sidorenko Moscow 1970

By Soviet doctrine, "every chast' [regiment] and podrazdeleniye [battalion, company, platoon and squad] must be capable of fighting the air enemy under any conditions regardless of whether they are in the zone of air defense cover of the senior commander or not."36 Further, their doctrine of the aggressive, high-speed offensive requires that "all troop elements" participate equally in "a uniform and simultaneous process of struggle against the ground and air enemy." In other words, the so-called air defense weapons are actually considered to be offensive weapons, and they form "an inalienable part of the troop combat formation of any scale."37 We therefore find modern, specialized antiaircraft weapons at every level in the Soviet field army--from squad to army; and their doctrine for employment is offensive, resulting in a concept of offensive air defense,38 or total offense.

offensive air defense
order of battle

The total number, variety, and the dispersed array of offensive air defense (OAD) weapons in the Soviet field army is indeed impressive. An example of the OAD order of battle (OB) of a typical Soviet army of three to four divisions is shown in Table II. The numbers of units depicted dates from 1975, so any error would probably be on the low side (except, possibly, for the towed weapons, SA-2, SA-60, and ZSU-23-2, which probably are being supplanted by modem self-propelled replacements). Since most of the weapons are organic to a division (excepting SA-2 and SA-4), an army comprised of five, six, or seven divisions (as in the GSFG) would have proportionately more weapons in its area. Also, keep in mind that the OB is for only one army. The FEBA in West Germany, as depicted in the postulated invasion scenario in Figure 1, would be faced with at least six armies, probably seven, and possibly eight to ten armies in the first echelon.

Table II. Typical Soviet army area
battlefield air defense weapons

Table II. Typical Soviet army area battlefield air defense weapons


Unless otherwise noted below, all data are from FM100-5. Operations, Department of the Army, 1 July 1976, p. 8-3, and Understanding Soviet Military Developments (AST-1100s-100-77), AC of S for Intelligence, Department of the Army, Washington, GPO, 1977, pp. 65-68; in all cases the ranges and altitudes are from the latter.

*John Erickson, USSI Report 76-2, p.38.

**International Defense Review (IDR). April 1975,p. 183, reported the 64 "troops" (batteries) of SA-9 launcher vehicles; IDR, December 1975, p.804, reported four SA-9 vehicles per battery. Electronic Warfare, May/June 1977, p. 54, reported the Gun Dish fire control radar recently added to the SA-9 BRDM vehicle.

The organic assignment of the OAD weapons starts at the squad level in the motorized rifle units; each squad of nine infantrymen has an "AA gunner"39 member with an SA-7 launcher. This means that each squad vehicle, or every "infantry fighting vehicle" (IFV)40 contains an SA-7, and the "AA gunners" are trained to fire from the vehicle on the move (but they must open their hatch and stand up to do so). Since there are 28 SA-7s in a standard three-company motorized rifle battalion, that yields 28 SA-7s in each battalion.

Soviet regiments, both motorized rifle and tank, have their own batteries of self-propelled ZSU-23-4 and mobile SA-9. The OAD. weapons of the regiment are deploys to cover the battalions of that regiment. ZSU-23-4 mounts are organized and operate as either "platoons" of four or "sections" of two,41 and can be expected to operate in conjunction with an equivalent unit of SA-9 vehicles.42 A forward detachment or advance guard battalion will usually be reinforced with an attached ZSU-23-4 platoon. The ZSU-23-4 mounts can be expected to be positioned 500-2000 meters behind the leading tanks in the front echelon.43

Every Soviet division has its own antiaircraft regiment of 57mm AA guns, SA-6 and SA-8 missiles. Both of these SAM systems are self-propelled and employ radar guidance. The SA-8 is completely self-contained, with its own acquisition, tracking, and guidance radars mounted on the amphibious vehicle along with its four missiles.

The Soviet army has its own SA-2 and SA-4 regiments with which it provides high altitude and long-range protection to its own headquarters and subordinate divisions and units. An example of the deployment of all these missile systems in the army area and a vertical cross section of their lethal envelopes is depicted in Figure 2. The FEBA in Figure 2 represents the East German border, and when the army advances, the SA-2 envelopes will be left behind, but the deeper deployed SA-4 batteries (envelopes not depicted) will advance with the army and continue to provide the same high-altitude coverage. The SA-4 missiles are mounted on a tracked launcher vehicle and, depending on their placement in the combat formation, will project their lethal envelopes over 50 kilometers ahead of the attacking army and over 70,000 feet above it.

Figure 2. Typical Soviet army area battlefield missile air defenses. Shoulder-fired and vehicle-mounted launchers common to al of these units provide dense coverage from the front lines throughout the army area.

Figure 2. Typical Soviet army area battlefield missile air defenses. 
Shoulder-fired and vehicle-mounted launchers common to al of these units provide 
dense coverage from the front lines throughout the army area.

ground power control of the air

While in the past, the primary "means of troop air defense" was the "fighter-interceptor," augmented by AAA, Sidorenko states that the means of troop air defense are now "qualitatively different"-he reports their "basis" is now the SAM and AAA, which only "coordinate" with the fighter-interceptors.44 Colin Gray, previously on the staff of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and presently with the Hudson Institute, noted in an article in 1977 that the Soviet SAM and AAA forces posed immense problems for themselves in air battle management and threatened a high kill rate on their own frontal aviation (FA). Mr. Gray then continued:

. . . it is probably correct to claim that in many instances FA will be posed as many, if not more, problems by the impressive organic air defenses of the Soviet Ground Forces as by NATO air defenses. Soviet air doctrine attempts to minimize these problems by prescribing that interceptors operate only above 10,000 feet.45

This type of employment doctrine was sampled over North Vietnam where the integrated air defense system worked a "division of labor" between the MiGs, SAMs, and AAA. It appears to be a practical doctrine for the Soviet armies and their frontal aviation in Central Europe, in view of the impressive capabilities outlined previously. Thus, it is probable that the Soviet ground forces have assumed responsibility for the air superiority mission up to a "fire coordination altitude" such as 10,000 feet. Above that altitude they would only engage after coordinating with fighter aviation.

To realize the magnitude of this Soviet ground force "air threat," it may be useful to relate the number of weapon launchers bearing on the army's air space to an equivalent number of air superiority fighters. First, taking only the mobile, radar guided (all weather) SAM vehicles (SA-4: 2 launchers; SA-6: 3 launchers; SA-8: 4 launchers), and then using only the numbers of vehicles depicted in Table II, we find that those SAM systems equate to 45 F-15 fighters with four radar missiles each. And that means 45 F-15s overhead 100 percent of the time to equal the effect. Since there would be at least six armies along the FEBA, that translates to 270 F-15s overhead 100 percent of the time.46 Next, taking the mobile infrared (IR) (visual limits) SAM vehicles (SA-9: 4 launchers) and the number of vehicles depicted in Table II, that equates to 512 F-16s in the "air superiority configuration" with two IR missiles each! Again, six armies worth equates to 3072 F-16s overhead 100 percent of the time; and we have not even included the SA-7 or AAA!47

Certainly, many of the SAMs will miss their target, but not every F-15 that takes off will come back with four kills--or every F-16 with two. And of course, both fighters have a cannon--but do we need to add up and compare the AAA? This is obviously not an attempted cost effectiveness comparison--it is a case of "apples and oranges." The SAMs can perform no other mission, and they are cursed with that limitation of ground forces--they are of no value to anybody except those under their static limited-range envelope. If we destroy all the air defenses of a sister army 100 kilometers away, then this army's weapons are of no use whatsoever to the other army. But that is of no matter to this army's commander--he wants that offensive air defense system for only one mission, and he wants it right where it is. Yes, because of their limited range and static position, we--NATO air power--can easily avoid them by staying out of range. The Soviet commander will be happy if we avoid them that way all the way to the English Channel.

A Matter for Air Doctrine

That, then, is the crux of the matter--we must penetrate those envelopes to be effective. A standoff strike capability would be nice to have: something that can hit moving point targets with a high kill probability through a low overcast with reduced visibility. That is the weather in Germany most of the time. But as of today-and tomorrow-we still need to penetrate for a visual attack. Yes, we can penetrate at very low altitude and avoid many of the SAMs; if we train above 100 feet we are not yet realistic. But what about the quad-23 mm with the Gun Dish radar? It is the most effective of all. Since we cannot avoid enough, we must either suppress or destroy, or both.

If the primary objective of our participation in the postulated war in Central Europe is to stop the Warsaw Pact tanks short of the English Channel-and as far east as possible-then our situation will be similar to the Israelis in 1973. We will not have time for deep interdiction and deep counterair strikes. We must concentrate our forces against the main attack-both close air support on the spearhead and interdiction on the spear shaft. But if the interdiction effort against the reserves and subsequent echelons is to be effective-and the close air support also-then we must achieve the degree of local air superiority required. As cited earlier from the NATO air doctrine:

. . . counterair operations may demand the highest priority of all air operations whenever enemy airpower presents a significant threat-

This threat to our control of the air certainly constitutes a "significant threat," but it is not "enemy air power"; it is enemy "ground power" control of the air. If our air superiority force is to engage the primary threat to our control of the air-that most directly affecting our war objective-then, in theory, our F-15 force should be down attacking "tanks" (SAM and AAA chassis), or at least whatever portion of the F-15 fleet is not required, at any moment, to defend our vital installations. Absurd? Then what? Let's look at AFM 2-1 in the "Counter Air Operations" chapter. Under "types of missions," it lists six: (1) counterair strikes, (2) fighter sweeps, (3) screens, (4) combat air patrol, (5) air escort, and (6) air intercept. The closest we can come to our present problem is in the first, "counterair strikes":

These missions involve offensive strikes against surface targets of the enemy airpower complex. The objective is to establish early air superiority by denying the enemy full use of his bases, aircraft, air defense weapons and control systems. Both offensive and defensive systems are targets for attack; however, offensive systems should normally have the highest target priority.48

We need to redefine, in our doctrine, the enemy's ground force air defenses in line with the concept of offensive air defense presented herein. Then the primary threat to our top priority air operations may fit our doctrinal habits of thinking and receive its due priority. Then resources and capability might follow. Let's assume for a moment that we have developed and deployed a counterair system with the capability to effectively suppress and destroy the Pact offensive air defenses.49 The A-10s can now have a tank "turkey-shoot" throughout the depth of the attacking armies. Any aircraft airborne that can hit a tank with ordnance that will kill it can join in. But nearly half of those armored vehicles attacking are motorized rifle squads in BMP IFVs. The BMP is thin-skinned, and even the F-15--or any other fighter-could join in with its-20mm (if the "aircraft versus aircraft" role demands allowed). Once the Pact tanks were stripped of their protective infantry, the tanks would be easy prey for the NATO infantry and armor with antitank weapons. And NATO air power could then turn its attention to defeating the Pact's air power in detail-in accordance with our stereotyped counterair doctrine. It would almost certainly be a more comfortable feeling to be able to fit our action to our thinking.

This article has intentionally avoided drawing any specific conclusions or making any specific recommendations concerning hardware for the counterair problem addressed. The author doubts he has yet given the subject enough thought. But he hopes his effort will contribute to the digestive process of his profession--digesting the implications of the new "machine gun."

Air War College


1. Colonel E. B. Atkeson, "Is the Soviet Army Obsolete?" For an assessment of Soviet dialogue on the issue, see Phillip A. Karber, "The Soviet Tank Debate," Survival, May/June 1976, pp. 105-11.

2. Air University Review, inside back cover.

3. Major Donald J. Alberts "A Call from the Wilderness," Air University Review, November-December 1976, pp.35-45.

4. NATO Tactical Air Doctrine, ATP-33, 11 March 1976,  p. 4-1.

5. Major General Chaim Herzog, The War of' Atonement, October 1973 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1975), pp. 258-59. Emphasis added.

6. Ibid., pp.259,260.

7. The Yom Kipper War,The Insight Team of the London Sunday Times (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1974), p.167.

8. Ibid., p.161.

9. Herlog, p. 258.

10. Ibid.,p. 260.

11. The Military Balance: 1977-1978 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1977), p.110.

12. Ibid. These figures do not include reserve stocks.

13. Graham H. Turbiville, "Invasion in Europe—A Scenario, " Army, November 1976, pp. 16-17. Turbiville was a Soviet military affairs analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1969 to December 1975, when he resigned to pursue doctoral studies.

14. Ibid, pp. 17-18.

15. Ibid., p. 19.

16. Ibid., p.20.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid., p.21. It might be noted here that in addition to the Pact divisions cited, the seven Soviet Guards airborne divisions would also be available for employment in an unreinforced invasion operation. In the 1968 invasion of Czechos1ovakia, the first Soviet unit inserted was the airborne division lifted from Leningrad into Prague the first night. The paratroopers, prior to arrival at Prague, "thought they were jumping onto an airfield outside Munich." General James H. Polk, USA (Retired), "Reflections on the Czechoslovakian Invasion, 1961," Strategic Review, Winter 1977, p. 37.

20. See A. A. Sidorenko, The Offensive, translated and published under the auspices of the United States Air Force, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1973. (Originally published in Moscow, 1970.) For an excellent and current Western analysis, see Christopher Donnelly, " The Soviet Ground Forces," in The Soviet War Machine (London: Salamander Books, 1976), pp. 154-75, in particular, pp. 162-74.

21. FM 30-40, Handbook on Soviet Ground Forces, Department of the Army, 30 June 1975, p. 5-7.

22. Sidorenko p.97. Emphasis added.

23. Ibid, p.99.

24. Ibid, p. 151.

25. Ibid, p. 98.

26. Ibid, p. 99.

27. Donnelly, p.169, p. 167.

28. See for example, FM 100-5, Operations, Department of the Army, 1 July 1976, p. 4-11.

29. Edgar Ulsamer, "Tac Air--History's Most Potent Fighting Machine," Air Force Magazine, February 1976, p. 22.

30. Robert S. Dotson, "Tactical Air Power and Environmental Imperatives, "Air University Review, July-August 1977, p. 29.

31. AFM 2-1, Tactical Air Operations-Counter Air, Close Air Support, and Air Interdiction, Department of the Air Force, 2 May 1969, p.7-1.

32. Ibid., p. 4-1. Emphasis added.

33. AFM 1-1, Functions and Basic Doctrine of the USAF, Draft, undated, p. 2-13.

34. FM 1 100-20, Command and Employment of Air Review, War Department. 21 July 1943, p. 10. Emphasis added.

35. Sidorenko, p. 48.

36. Ibid., p. 102.

37. Ibid.

38. The concept of offensive air defense was identified by James A. Bean in a paper delivered to the 1977 Air University Airpower Symposium at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, March 1977, entitled "Soviet Doctrine and Technology for Battlespace Control in the Tactical Environment."

39. Colonel V. Lavreichuk, "Training of AA Gunners," Soviet Military Review, March 1977, p. 21.

40. Infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) is the Soviet term for their mechanized infantry combat vehicle, the BMP. The BMP has replaced the old armored personnel carrier (APC) and is truly a fighting vehicle. It carries a turret-mounted 73mm gun that kills tanks; it also carries a "Sagger" antitank guided missile, in addition to a to a 7.62 mm machine gun. The eight troops of the squad inside can fight when "buttoned up." Each troop has his own periscope and gun port through which he can fire on the move. Both the crew and the squad have NBC protection in the pressurized and filtered hull. The BMP is amphibious, it has only light armor, comparable to the PT-76 light tanks (14mm). Bill Gunston, "Army Weapons," The Soviet War Machine, p.185.

41. Colonel V. Mikhailov, "Air Defense of an Advanced Detachment, "Soviet Military Review, July 1976, pp. 28-29.

42. International Defense Review, December 1975, p.804.

43. Mikhailov, p 29. See Sidorenko, pp. 192-94, for a sample role of forward detachments and advance guards.

44. Sidorenko, p.48.

45. Colin Gray, "Soviet Tactical Airpower," Air Force Magazine, March 1977, p.69. Emphasis added.

46. If we assume one hour "overhead," a total of 30 minutes enroute time--to and from--and a 30 minute "quick-turn" ground time, .we must double the number. i.e., 540 operationally ready F-15s required in place. The SAMs are not perfect, so let's give them the same probability of kill (Pk) as our sparrow missile.

47. Same assumptions: 6144 F-16s operationally ready and in place 15 minutes from the FEBA. (If we load maximum possible missiles with wing pylons--six--we can decrease the number of F-16s overhead to 170 per army and 1020 for the front, requiring 2040 in place.)

48. AFM 2-1, p. 5-3.

49. As an interim measure, would an A-10 with an antiradiation missile be absurd? The aircraft is specialized for that specific environment. Imagine--the A-l0 as an air superiority weapon.


Colonel Robert D. Rasmussen (M.A.,) Arizona State University) is assigned to the Deputy Directorate for Force Development in the Directorate of Plans, Hq USAF. He served as a fighter pilot overseas and in TAC and as an F-100 and F-5 instructor, Luke AFB, Arizona. In Southeast Asia he had a tour with the Army as ALO/FAC, Hq 1st Infantry Division. He was a staff officer in DCS Plans, Hq TAC, and operations officer and commander of air-to-air and air-to-ground F-4E squadrons. His articles have appeared in the USAF Fighter Weapons Newsletter and TAC Attack. Colonel Rasmussen is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and a Distinguished Graduate of Air War 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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