Air University Review, March-April 1978

Defense Suppression as a Basic
Operational Mission

Lieutenant Colonel David Brog

The Air Force currently faces an unprecedented combination of problems and opportunities, the responses to which may shape its roles and structure through the end of the century. Air defense capabilities of potential enemies, as demonstrated in North Vietnam and the Middle East, pose a serious threat to air operations. At the same time, tactical air power has become increasingly necessary to counter enemy ground strength, particularly armor.1

The proliferation and sophistication of hostile air defense systems have caused the defense suppression problem to become increasingly complex. Past efforts to grasp the problem analytically have been for the most part fragmented and issue-oriented.2

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations have tried to offset or reduce the USAF's combat power effectiveness through the use of extensive and sophisticated mobile air defenses--defenses involving mixes of guns and missiles that provide overlapping coverage. Warsaw Pact air defenses now provide a mobile umbrella that. accompanies each echelon of the pact armies, including forward deployed battalions. The variety and numbers of air defense weapons accompanying a typical Warsaw Pact army of four or five divisions are impressive.

Table I shows the variety and density of a typical Soviet air defense system near the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA):3 The weapons listed are organic to and controlled by a Soviet army group. They cover a front approximately 50 kilometers long and 100 kilometers deep.

Table I These heavy weapons do not include air defense weapons common to all troops (rapid fire AAA guns, machine guns), shoulder-fired SA-7 Grail missiles, and BRDM-2 vehicles mounting quadruple SA-9 Gaskin launchers. Electronic Warfare, March/April 1976.




Launchers 9;

Vertical Range
(in meters)
ZSU 23-4 AAA 32 128 2000
S-60 AAA 23 138 over 4000
SA-6 SAM 5 15 10,000
SA-4 SAM 9 27 15,000
SA-2  SAM 3 18 25,000

Whenever and wherever the heavy use of air power is needed to win the air-land battle, the enemy air defenses must be suppressed, or losses of aircraft will be too high and the effectiveness of air support too low. Suppression operations may include temporary neutralization of selected facilities and short-term degradation of other installations, as well as the planned destruction of critical defensive elements. The overall aim is to reduce friendly defensive elements. The overall aim is to reduce friendly attrition to an acceptable level.4

Defense suppression encompasses both the destruction of defensive systems as represented by lethal weapons and the degradation of defensive systems as accomplished by nonlethal means represented by electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. EW means include the passive capabilities used for receiving signals and the countermeasures, such as chaff and active jammers, used for degrading the radars.

Defense suppression has already been identified in AFM 2-1 as an essential supportive task contributing to the effectiveness of other operational missions.5 It has also been used as a tactic against enemy ground-to-air defenses. The sole purpose of the tactic is to detect, locate, identify, and then degrade, neutralize, attack, and destroy hostile air defense systems6 by the use of either destruction or EW means.

Until now the defense suppression role has been identified vaguely as a submission of the counterair combat operational missions.7 Surface-to-air defensive systems are further identified as one example of offensive counterair targets.8 However, the hostile air defense systems have proliferated improved, and become more complex. Therefore, the nature, method of operation tactics, and equipment necessary to perform defense suppression have become more and more peculiar to that specific mission. A new generation of weapon systems has evolved to perform defense suppression. These weapon systems are not at all related to counterair. The tactical electronic reconnaissance (TEREC) system has been developed to identify and locate the hostile air defenses. The EF-lllA support jamming system has been developed to degrade or neutralize hostile early warning and acquisition radars. The EF-lllA is further required to perform this mission either by standoff or escort jamming in support of the strike force. The F-4G Advanced Wild Weasel has been developed from the Southeast Asia vintage F-105F/G Wild Weasel to identify, locate, and destroy both early warning/acquisition radars and the terminal threat surface-to-air missile systems that constitute as great a threat to Air Force strike aircraft as enemy aircraft. To enable the Wild Weasel to perform its mission, a new generation of air-to-ground radar homing missiles has been developed to destroy the hostile radars. These include the AGM-45 (Shrike) family, the AGM-78 (Standard ARM) family, and the AGM-88 (HARM). These missiles are specifically designed to be integrated with the unique F-4G Wild Weasel Avionics system, the APR-38. The Precision Location Strike System (PLSS) has been developed to use time of arrival, distance measuring equipment (TOA/DME) to allow guided weapons to be targeted against radiating defensive systems.9

In addition to the specific manned weapon systems described, another totally different family of systems has been under development. These are the unmanned remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), recoverable and expendable. and expendable support countermeasures such as chaff and battery-operated jammers. The RPVs can be used to degrade the air defense net by acting as decoys, thus drawing missile fin' that would otherwise be used against the strike force. At the same time they can be used to seed areas with chaff and carry a variety of small jammers. RPVs could also be used to carry explosives and homing devices that would enable them to destroy hostile radars 10

A final important development peculiar to defense suppression has been the addition of a self-protection electronic warfare capability for each combat aircraft. This is the one development that can be used by all aircraft on all types of missions. The self-protection capability consists of radar warning receivers (RWR) and electronic countermeasures (ECM) pods to provide warning of arid jamming against enemy terminal threat systems. The newest RWR and ECM pod systems, the ALR-46 and ALR-56 RWRs and the ALQ-131 ECM pods, have brought along with them a unique logistic support system that is needed to monitor and change settings arid techniques through a software center located at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins AFB, Georgia. 11

Primary among the basic operational combat missions for tactical air forces are counterair, both offensive and defensive, close air support, interdiction, and tactical air reconnaissance. AFM 1-1 states that counterair is the mission to destroy or neutralize an enemyís offensive and defensive air capability. Offensive counterair is conducted to seek out and destroy targets that constitute or support the enemy order of battle. * Defensive counterair counters enemy aircraft penetrating friendly airspace. Close air support is conducted in support of and in close integration with friendly surface forces. Interdiction is conducted against enemy surface forces before they can be brought to bear against friendly forces. Tactical air reconnaissance primarily provides field commanders with timely intelligence on the enemy order of battle.12

None of these combat operational missions stands alone. Each one requires some complementary action by another. However, defense suppression is a mission that must be accomplished prior to performing interdiction, close air support, counterair, or reconnaissance effectively. Even in an air-to-air encounter the battle is best fought after the ground-to-air threat has been neutralized, In close air support and interdiction missions flown at low altitudes, the need for defense suppression far outweighs the need to neutralize the enemy aircraft threat. The importance of defense suppression and its associated need for specialized equipment, training, and logistics--all strongly suggest that it has grown to the status of a unique basic mission essential to the accomplishment of overall objectives of the Air Force. The Soviet military is continuing to develop and deploy newer air defense systems, such as the SA-8, Additionally, there is increased interest at all U.S. governmental levels. Therefore, it is vital that defense suppression be identified sufficiently to ensure adequate emphasis, proper funding, and appropriate planning for future force structure and development.

Because of the great proliferation of the Soviet threat and the increased activity in developing countermeasures, defense suppression has become a mission requirement. Therefore, to ensure that it is fully recognized as such at all levels of the military and the government, defense suppression must be given the status of a full-fledged basic operational mission rather than remain a vague submission that it has outgrown.

AFM 1-1 should be amended to include the following defense suppression mission along with the other operational missions in paragraph 3-5:

The purpose of defense suppression is to allow friendly air forces to conduct, with minimum exposure to enemy surface-to-air defenses, chose other missions required to destroy enemy aircraft, support friendly ground forces, and interdict enemy lines of communication. Defense suppression operations are conducted using both lethal and nonlethal means to destroy, degrade, or neutralize enemy surface-to-air defenses. Lethal means consist of those specific air-to-ground guided and unguided weapons, either bombs or missiles, required to locate, identify, and destroy enemy SAM sites and AAA defenses. Nonlethal means consist of those electronic warfare systems needed to locate, identify, degrade, neutralize, or avoid enemy radar, electro-optical, and infrared surface-to-air threats. When in conjunction with close air support missions, these operations will require close cooperation with friendly ground forces. The integration of ground and air defense suppression efforts will help to optimize the use of all available defense suppression forces against the enemy surface-to-air threat.


*Authorís note: This is the vague reference to defense suppression.


1. Donald E. Lewis et al., An Analysis of Alternatives for Improving US Air-to-Ground Capability in NATO (1980); Executive Summary (U), The Rand Corporation, R-1732-PR, November 1975 (Secret), P. 1.

2. United States Air Force Defense Suppression Analysis and Evaluation Steering Group, "Charter," Minutes of 21 October 1976 Meeting of same group.

3. Headquarters, Department of the Army, "Operations," FM 100-5, 1 July 1976, p.8-3.

4. Ibid., p.8-4.

5. United States Air Force, Tactical Air Operations-Counter Air, Close Air Support, and Air Interdiction (Aerospace Operational Doctrine), AFM-2-1, 2 May 1969, para 5-2.

6. Major W. Kross, (AF/XOXFT), Defense Suppression Conceptual Framework-- A Position Paper (U), 17 November 1976.

7. United States Air Force Basic Doctrine (Aerospace Doctrine), AFM1-1, 15 January 1975, para 3-5.

8. USAF Operational Doctrine, AFM 2-1, 2 May 1969, para 5-2.

9. Edgar Ulsamer, "Needed: A New Family of EW Systems, "Air Force Magazine, February 1976, pp. 27-30.

10. "USAF Augments Drone EW Capabilities," Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 27, 1975, pp. 119-22.

11. Ulsamer, pp. 27-30.

12. USAF Basic Doctrine, para 3-5.


Lieutenant Colonel David Brog (M.E., University of Southern California) is assigned to Hq USAF, Directorate of Military Assistance and Sales. His early career was spent in special operations in Europe, and much of his service has been in electronic warfare. In 1968 he flew a combat tour in the F-105F Wild Weasel out of Korat AB, Thailand. In 1969 he was assigned to Hq USAF, Directorate of Operations, Electronic Warfare Division, where he was primarily responsible for tactical fighter electronic warfare capabilities. A colonel selectee, Colonel Brog is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and 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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