Air University Review, March-April 1979

Tactical Air Defense

a Soviet—U.S. net assessment

Major Tyrus W. Cobb, USA

In the next decade, United States and Soviet ground forces will encounter formidable air threats, consisting of light/medium bombers, fighter aircraft, and assault helicopters, all capable of employing sophisticated electronic warfare (EW) measures and delivering ordnance with excellent accuracy, speed, and effectiveness. To counter the air threat, the U.S.S.R. has deployed a diverse and extremely dense tactical air defense (AD) network, ranging from advanced interceptor aircraft to fully tracked, self-propelled surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems augmented by highly mobile, rapid-firing antiaircraft artillery (AAA).

Although the United States has deployed an impressive counterair capability, ground-based air defense has received relatively low priority in terms of research and development (R&D) funding, weapon systems acquisition, and doctrine development. This trend has shifted since 1973, when the critical importance of SAMs and AAA on the battlefield was clearly demonstrated by the Arab-Israeli War, Still, Soviet air defense systems are currently more numerous, mobile, and responsive than their U. S. counterparts. Further, the fact that the Russian systems are generally as sophisticated and technologically advanced as the U. S. weapons erases one of our traditional "combat multipliers. "

The relative importance of tactical AD on the battlefield will continue to increase in the near future. Army commanders will be facing Warsaw Pact attack aircraft capable of striking at low altitudes while using terrain-following techniques and employing increasingly sophisticated air-to-surface missiles, cannons, and conventional ordnance. Not only is the growing lethality of the threat a factor but modern AD systems will also have to operate in a potentially chaotic environment. The airspace will be congested by many users, including friendly and enemy high-performance aircraft, rockets, missiles, helicopters, air defense, and field artillery weapon fires, etc., all employing advanced EW measures. The difficulty in acquiring and tracking targets and differentiating between friendly and enemy aircraft will be increased dramatically.

It is useful to try to determine how well the U. S. and Soviet tactical AD systems are capable of denying this airspace to their adversaries. Comparing defensive weapon systems is somewhat of an illusory exercise, however, since they will not be pitted in battle against one another and can only be understood in terms of the threat they are designed to counter. Thus this assessment begins with an analysis of the air threat to both Soviet and U. S. forces, then examines the AD aircraft, SAM systems, and AAA weapons deployed by each superpower to counter the enemy's offensive capability. Finally, deployment patterns and tactical employment concepts will be compared to complete the net assessment.

At the outset it might be helpful to distinguish between strategic and tactical air defense. In both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. strategic AD is the responsibility of a major command that has the mission of defending the territorial integrity of the homeland. The disparity between U. S. and Soviet strategic defenses is quite broad, reflecting different perceptions of the threat and contrasting strategic doctrine. The U.S.S.R. now has some 12,000 SAM launchers and 2600 interceptor aircraft under its National Air Defense Command (PVO Strany), whose responsibilities include coordination of the AD effort in all the Warsaw Pact countries. The U.S.-Canadian counterpart, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), suffers in comparison, having recently eliminated the United States Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM) and most of its Nike-Hercules units and reduced the number of interceptor squadrons to fifteen--six active USAF F-106, six manned by the Air National Guard, and three by the Canadians. *

*PVO Strany is one of the five services that constitute the Soviet Armed Forces For a more complete comparison of U S and Soviet strategic defense, see Major Tyrus W Cobb. "Who's Out in Front?" ARMY. January 1975

The Air Threat
to Tactical Forces

Prior to undertaking an assessment of U. S. and Soviet AD systems, a review of the air threat these weapons are designed to counter is in order. Soviet defense planners must design their AD systems to defend against an impressive array of USAF fighters and bombers, Navy and Marine carrier and land-based aviation, and U. S. Army helicopters. Technically superior and at least numerically equivalent over the years, U. S. aviation, unlike its Soviet counterpart, has traditionally performed close air support (CAS) missions as well as interdiction and counterair roles.1 While the U. S. advantage in tactical aviation has been narrowed dramatically in the last few years, Soviet air defenses must still consider that the U. S. has some 6000 fighters and helicopters in its inventory.2 Most of these platforms are equipped with sophisticated air-to-surface, antitank, and antiradiation (to suppress air defenses) missiles, some of them precision-guided and laser-assisted. The front-line interdiction aircraft now is the F-111 all-weather, variablegeometry fighter-bomber, backed up by the multipurpose F-4s. The Warsaw Pact forces will soon have to deal with the A-10 CAS fighter, the dual-mission F-16, and the Army's family of advanced attack and transport helicopters.3 The A-10 will mount Maverick missiles, Rockeye cluster-bomb units, and a 30mm cannon. The A-10, in conjunction with the Army's soon-to-be-deployed Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH), will give the U.S. two potent tank-killers on the battlefield.

Following ten years of fighting in Vietnam, U.S. Army ground forces became accustomed to operating in a total air-superiority environment. This factor had the effect of deferring R&D efforts in the AD area in favor of more pressing concerns raised by the Vietnam conflict. Although the Soviet air threat was not forgotten, the numerically large but comparatively unsophisticated Soviet Air Force—de-emphasized in Soviet tactical considerations in favor of armor and artillery firepower--was not viewed as a sufficient threat to require an extensive U. S. battlefield AD network.

Soviet tactical aviation (Frontovaya Aviatsiya), when employed in the ground-attack role, has been used primarily as an extension of the artillery, striking targets beyond the range of the ground systems, and seldom employed to support troops in contact. Recent doctrinal changes, however, have broadened Soviet tactical air responsibilities. The U.S.S.R. is now deploying fighter aircraft with improved avionics, advanced munitions capabilities, and greater range, enhancing their capability to perform ground attack and interdiction missions and possibly even close air support.

The new-generation aircraft entering the inventory are indeed impressive. The venerable MiG-2l/Fishbed has been modified to give it greater range and payload capabilities. In 1973 the Su-17/Fitter-C fighter-bomber was deployed, followed by the multipurpose MiG23/Flogger. Both are variable-geometry aircraft carrying rockets, bombs, cluster bomb units, and cannons. The Fencer A, the first Soviet fighter designed specifically for the ground-attack role, carries bombs, 57mm unguided rockets, and four air-to-surface missiles (ASM) fired by an on-board weapons officer. The variable-geometry fighter has a laser rangefinder and a terrain-avoidance radar. About 200-300 of the Fencers have been deployed with Soviet forces in East Europe.4 Tactical bombers have been upgraded, too, especially with the deployment of the controversial Backfire to naval and long-range aviation units. These new aircraft will carry modern air-to-air missiles (AAM), tactical ASMs, and cluster and retarded bombs. Most are day/night and all-weather capable and are designed to fight in a heavy ECM environment.5

The Soviets are also encroaching on a former U.S. preserve with the rapid deployment of transport and attack helicopters. Most impressive is the new Mi-24/Hind, the world's most heavily armed helicopter. Carrying antitank guided missiles (ATGMs), rockets, and a 23mm cannon, the Hind can also transport an infantry squad.

Because of this rapidly expanding inventory, General George Brown, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has estimated that the Warsaw Pact would have a 2 to 1 edge in fighter assets over NATO air forces in the opening stage of a European conflict.6 In addition, the increased range will mean that the Floggers and Fitter-C will be capable of striking NATO airfields and command and control centers from bases in the Western U.S.S.R. The number of tactical aircraft in Warsaw Pact operational units now exceeds 5000, including 4000 fighters, up 1300 since 1968.7 These forces could be further augmented by medium bombers dispatched from the long-range aviation command and several hundred armed assault helicopters now in theater. Countering this massive threat carrying advanced munitions and employing sophisticated penetration measures, U.S. air defense gunners will have only seconds in which to acquire, identify, track, and engage targets.

Air Defense
Command and Control

Effective air defense requires centralized planning of AD weapon employment in an area of operations, although execution may be decentralized and autonomous. Identification criteria, weapons assignment procedures, rules of engagement--all must be standardized and coordinated. Both U.S. and Soviet doctrines adhere to these requirements, but there are significant differences in the conduct of tactical AD operations.

U.S. doctrine for the employment of air defense weapons by a unified command designates the senior Air Force commander as the "Joint Air Defense Commander," who has authority to exercise operational control over the various weapon systems of all forces. He in turn assigns weapon systems in the required amount, type, and sequence to meet the threat. Usually this Area Air Defense Commander will establish AD regions and subassign areas of responsibility, delineated by distance from the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA), horizontally and vertically, delegating authority to U. S. Army AD commanders for air defense within certain parameters. Coordination is achieved through common doctrine, standing operating procedures (SOPs), established procedures, and joint target distribution centers. Nevertheless, AD operations have become quite autonomous, with the USAF primarily handling the air-to-air battle and the U.S. Army concentrating on the surface-to-air conflict.

While there is a great deal of commonality between AD operations in the Soviet and U. S. armed forces, one important difference is the Soviet practice of assigning responsibility for AD operations to the ground forces commander. In fact, virtually all Soviet air operations are controlled from the ground.8 "Frontal Aviation" units, usually organized as tactical air armies (TAA), are organic to military districts (MD) in the U.S.S.R. or Groups of Soviet Forces in East Europe and operate under the control of the ground commander. These MDs and Groups will probably become Fronts in wartime, a level somewhat analogous to a V.S. Army Group but perhaps better considered as a Joint Task Force in terms of functions and organization. At the front the Air Defense Directorate (PVO Voisk) will coordinate early warning, tactical AD employment, and direct air-intercept operations from the ground (GCI).* On the whole, AD operations in the Soviet forces appear to be much more centralized, rigid in terms of execution, and lacking in flexibility.9

*Where the line of responsibility between PVO Strany and the PVO Voisk is drawn is not clear, but the former will probably control AD operations up to a few miles from the Pact's western border.

Air Defense Weapon Systems

fighter-interceptor aircraft

Given the traditional Soviet emphasis on the air defense role for its fighters, the numerically impressive interceptor inventory is not surprising. There are about 4600 fighters in Frontal Aviation units, about 40 percent of which are designated primarily counter air. Counting the 1000 or so organic to Soviet forces in East Europe, augmented by an equivalent number in the other Pact nations' inventory and about 500 immediately available in the Western U.S.S.R., the Pact could send over 2500 fighter-interceptors into battle in the first hours of a European conflict.10

The most widely deployed tactical interceptor is the MiG-21/Fishbed, principally the J, K, and L versions. These Fishbeds are shortrange, delta-winged mach 1.1 all-weather fighters carrying four A-A missiles. The most recent addition is the multipurpose MiG-23/ Flogger, a variable-geometry aircraft deployed in interceptor and ground attack variants. Likely soon to become the Pact's primary air-to-air tactical weapon system, the Flogger is capable of flying at mach 2.3 while carrying four A-A missiles. The MiG-25/Foxbat is also reported to be deployed in the forward area, but in a reconnaissance not an interceptor role

The USAF, in contrast to Soviet Frontal Aviation, developed its fighters primarily for interdiction and ground-attack missions and only secondarily for the counterair role. Relatively few aircraft were developed especially for one or the other task. The prevailing philosophy has been simply to assign a certain percentage of the available dual-mission aircraft to the counterair role and the rest to ground attack, with the emphasis going to the former in the initial stages of the conflict. However, the rapidly expanding and diverse threat represented by Soviet tactical aviation has caused a rethinking of this approach. The Tactical Air Command (TAC) is now moving away from generalized to specialized training, having its F-4 wings designated as either primary air-to-air or air-to-ground, and requiring 65 percent of training to be in the primary area. Aircraft specifically designed for a single mission, like the A-I0 CAS plane, the F-15 counterair fighter, and the F-111 interdiction fighter-bomber, are now the rule.

The primary U. S. fighter today is the F-4, performing both ground attack and counterair missions as required. The F-4E is the principal interceptor version, a mach 2.3 fighter armed with infrared (IR) seeking Sidewinder and semiactive homing Sparrow missiles, and further augmented by a 20mm cannon. The USAF fighter inventory will soon be enhanced by the addition of the world's two most capable fighters, the F-15 and the F-16. Each has a primary mission of air superiority, but the F16 can also be employed in the air-to-surface role.

The F-15/Eagle is a single-seat, fixed-wing, all-weather fighter carrying Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles and a 20mm cannon.11 The F15, a mach 2.5 aircraft, can climb to over 65,000 feet and has radar that can track highspeed objects down to tree-top level (with a "head-up" display) for dogfights. The USAF first deployed the Eagle with TAC in 1974 and ultimately plans on procuring 729 of them. The F -15 was specifically designed for sustained air combat operations against potential future Soviet Frontal Aviation fighters.

The F-16 is the Air Force's newest fighter, a relatively low-cost, multipurpose aircraft being developed primarily to defeat the large number of Warsaw Pact aircraft that will likely provide cover for a Soviet armored breakthrough. The F-16 is highly maneuverable, flies at mach 2, and carries a 20mm cannon and IR missiles. It can also load munitions for a ground attack mission. It does not, however, have an all-weather capability. The comparatively low-cost F-16 will complement the longer-range F -15 for the close-in air-superiority battle and will become the standard fighter for four other NATO nations.

A major advance in effective battlefield management should be forthcoming as the first of the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (A WACS) aircraft are deployed While the E-3A will perform several functions, from tactical and theater-level command and control to long-range reconnaissance, the air defense capabilities of the system will also be substantial. The goal is the establishment of a single, integrated capability to control and allocate air defense resources for a theater of operations in peacetime and wartime.12 From a normal operating level of 30,000 feet, the A WACS can detect low-flying aircraft some 250 miles away and is virtually immune to enemy electronic countermeasures. AWACS is the forerunner of a family of compatible units that will tie in with the JTIDS, the projected Joint Tactical Information Distribution System. Once integrated with the ground systems, DOD believes the AWACS will result in a significant improvement in offensive as well as defensive air operations and will increase our capability to detect a Warsaw Pact preparedness to attack.13

surface-to-air missiles

The rapid Soviet advances in surface-to-air missile technology and deployment exemplify the comprehensive military-technological revolution the Kremlin has embarked upon to overtake the V.S. A decade ago the United States had widely deployed its Nike-Hercules missile systems, augmented by the Hawk tactical SAM system, and the Redeye infrared missile was coming into the inventory. The Soviets, in contrast, were performing tactical AD with machine-guns, AAA, and two SAM systems, the SA-2 and SA-3. Since that time they have deployed five new tactical SAM systems as well as several advanced variants of the SA-2. The U.S. has fielded only the Chaparral system and is not overly pleased with its performance. Currently, for every U.S. SAM system there are generally two Soviet counterparts in the field, and the U.S. trails in terms of tactical SAM launchers by at least a three-to-one margin. The proliferation of SAM systems has been so rapid that DOD now estimates that Soviet AD systems will have multiplied threefold in the five-year period from 1973 to 1978.14

Providing medium-to-high-altitude air defense for Soviet forces are the SA-2/Guideline and the SA-4/Ganef. The SA-2 is, a two-stage, command-guided missile system with a slant range of 45 km and a ceiling of 80,000 feet. The Guideline is fired, often in "salvo" fashion, from a single-rail launcher deployed in star fashion in a group of six about a central firecontrol radar. While the SA-2 lacks the mobility of newer SAMs, it is transportable. Formerly organic at front and army echelons, the SA-2 is primarily used today to defend static positions in the rear.15

The primary SAM system for high-altitude air defense is the SA-4/Ganef, twin-mounted on a tracked carrier and capable of striking targets 70 km away.16 The SA-4 is command-guided, and the fire-control radar is also fully tracked. Like the SA-2 it is replacing, the Ganef is organic to front and army. Because of its excellent mobility, the SA-4 will be deployed far enough forward to provide AD coverage to divisions in contact, leaving rear-area defense to the SA-2 and SA-3.

Two excellent SAM systems are providing low-to-medium-altitude defense for the Soviet ground forces, the SA-6 and SA-8. The SA-6/ Gainful, with an effective slant range of about 22 km, is triple-mounted on a tracked carrier and can deliver extremely responsive fires. Employing sophisticated electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) and command-guidance systems, coupled with semiactive homing, the SA-6 proved to be an effective weapon against Israeli aircraft in the 1973 October War. The Gainful is found at army level but may be deployed at division level with the SA8 as the 57mm guns are phased out.

One of the newest SAM systems is the SA8/Gecko, a fully contained, short-range (10-15 km), command-guided missile system. The highly mobile SA-8 system mounts four rails on top of a 6-wheeled amphibious carrier and has an auxiliary electro-optical (TV) tracking system for use in a heavy ECM environment. A third low-altitude system, the older SA-3/ Goa, is a dual-mounted SAM system now employed primarily in defense of installations, airfields, and critical assets in the rear.

Two infrared, passive heat-seeking missile systems round out the Soviet inventory. The man-portable and shoulder-fired SA-7/Grail (Strela in Russian), like the U.S. Redeye, is effective only for short ranges (about 2-3 km) and is organic to maneuver battalions. The newest SAM, the SA-9/Gaskin, is a low-altitude IR system effective to about 7 km. Four missile canisters are mounted on a modified BRDM-2 amphibious armored vehicle. The Gaskin, along with the ZSU-23-4 Shilka AAA system, will provide air defense at the regimental level.

The proliferation of SAM systems gives the Soviets capabilities at various frequencies, defense in depth, and complementary systems. Qualitative improvements as well as these numerical deployments have lessened their dependence on fighters for air defense, and will, consequently, free some Frontal Aviation assets to concentrate more on ground attack operations.17 While this proliferation may not in itself raise the kill probability against attacking aircraft to beyond, say, .05 percent, a 1-in20 shot against a vehicle costing perhaps 500 times as much is certainly cost-effective! Of course, the very proliferation of SAMs has generated countermeasures such as air defense suppression, but this requirement will take away assets that might otherwise be engaged in offensive operations and thus is in itself an effective measure.

Long-range, high-altitude air defense is provided for U. S. tactical forces by the commandguided Nike-Hercules system in conjunction with USAF interceptors and Hawk missiles. "Herc" units are normally assigned to theater AD organizations protecting critical rear area assets. The Hercules, which also can be employed in a surface-to-surface role, carries either high explosive or nuclear rounds and is effective out to 140 km. The "Herc," first deployed in 1958 with the last one produced over 13 years ago, is technologically out of date. The system suffers from a lack of mobility and a limited rate of fire, and it is becoming quite expensive to operate.18 However, until the Patriot system is deployed in the 1980s, the Nike-Hercules will continue to serve as NATO's only high-altitude SAM system.

The key to U. S. ground-based tactical air defense is the Hawk system, designed to provide protection against the low-to-mediumaltitude air threat. Often described as the best SAM system in the world, the Hawk employs semiactive homing guidance and ranges out to 30 km. Current doctrine for a U.S. corps organization prescribes one Hawk battalion with a direct support mission to each committed division, while at least one battalion provides general support to the corps rear. In practice, a "Hawk belt" may be established parallel to and about 30 km from the FEBA. Under the "belt" concept, all AD assets above division level would be employed in a line designed to stop massive waves of aircraft in the initial assault. *

*This Hawk forward-missile intercept zone ("belt") is essentially an extension of the FEBA as the Hawk units will still be deployed so as to cover deploying divisions.

The Basic Hawk system was first deployed in 1959 and is in the process of being phased out in favor of the Improved Hawk (IH). In addition to the fact that the original system reflects 17 -year-old technology, Hawk lacks mobility, is hampered by an inability to engage more than two targets simultaneously, and is susceptible to ECM.19 The Improved Hawk has an increased range capability (40 km), a repackaged warhead with greater lethality, more sophisticated ECM equipment, and enhanced ability to discriminate against multiple target formations. The missile is delivered as a "certified round," ready to fire without field maintenance or testing. The IH system will appear only in towed form efforts to employ a self-propelled Hawk having been somewhat unsuccessful.20 In comparison to the Soviet SA-6, the IH has greater range and a better capability at lower altitudes, but the SA-6 has greater mobility and is deployed in greater density on the battlefield.

Like the Soviets the U. S. has fielded two infrared-missile systems, one man-packed and one vehicle mounted. The Chaparral system carries four IR missiles mounted on a self-propelled, fully tracked launcher. However, targets must be acquired visually and tracked only with the assistance of an audible tone to the gunner. The missile is effective out to 5 km but, like most IR-seeking missiles, can be easily evaded. More important, the Chaparral is more of a "revenge weapon" in that it can engage aircraft only by "chasing" the attacker after he has passed over the defended area. Doctrine calls for the Chaparral to be generally employed in conjunction with the Vulcan gun system. A composite Chaparral-Vulcan battalion is now organic to infantry, armor, and mechanized divisions, and platoons of each system are generally cross-attached for maximum effectiveness. The towed Vulcan alone is the airborne and air-assault division weapon.

Low-altitude, short-range AD for the division is provided by the man-portable, shoulder-fired Redeye IR missile, with one team generally assigned to each company-sized unit. Like the Chaparral, the Redeye uses a passive-homing, infrared-seeking guidance system, has a short effective range (about 3 km), and can engage only receding aircraft. The Redeye is employed in concert with small arms, AA guns, and with the self-propelled Chaparral system.

DOD officials are clearly unhappy with the present lineup of American SAM systems.21 Both the Nike-Hercules and the Hawk reflect aging technology and are clearly limited in terms of mobility, reaction time, and ability to engage multiple targets. The Chaparral and Redeye are clear-weather, day-only systems, since targets are visually acquired. Neither is effective against high-performance aircraft or any incoming target. Even if the SAM systems were more effective, adequate defense would be hampered simply by the sparsity of deployment of these systems. The adequacy of our SAM program can be gauged by noting that Egypt alone had more SAMs deployed along the Suez Canal in 1973 than we then possessed in our entire inventory!

The inadequacy of U. S. tactical air defense was recently highlighted by former Undersecretary of the Army Norman Augustine and Lieutenant General Howard Cooksey, then the Army's DCSRD&A, who noted that our SAM AD systems simply were not capable of inflicting unacceptable attrition rates on a mass formation of the sophisticated high-speed attack aircraft possessed by the U. S. S. R. They added that this might cause the loss of essential installations and units and could cause the diversion of our high-performance tactical aircraft to the air superiority mission instead of being used in support of engaged ground forces.22 In view of these serious shortcomings, the U.S. is now committed to moving forward in the development of a new family of mobile, capable, and responsive SAM systems. The aging Hercules and Hawk systems will be replaced by the Patriot, formerly the SAM-D. In the forward battle area, the U.S. Roland system is programmed to replace or supplement the Chaparral, and Stinger is slated to come in for the Redeye.

The Patriot is an advanced AD guided-missile system designed to counter threats across the entire spectrum. Programmed to replace both Hercules and Hawk in the mid-1980s, Patriot will have the capability of engaging a high-G maneuvering target, multiple aircraft, and maintaining effectiveness in a dense ECM environment. Patriot will have a single multifunction phased-array radar tied to the launcher area by radio, not cables. Although the development program is very ambitious, system performance has thus far met or exceeded all criteria. No further improvements will be made to the Hercules system in the interim, but the Improved Hawk program will be upgraded through the next decade until Patriot is in the field.23

Complementing the Patriot in the forward area, the U.S. Roland SAM program will provide an all-weather, day/night, low-altitude capability in place of or supplementing Chaparral. The entire firing module, developed jointly by France and West Germany, is now being adapted to U.S. production. The system will be tested this year and operational by the mid-1980s. However, all is not roses in this effort at NATO standardization. The U.S. contractor has experienced considerable difficulty in interpreting the engineering design and many parts were not interchangeable.24 However, an international interchangeability program is now progressing well. Congressional critics have criticized the excessive R&D costs for what was supposed to be an operational missile system. DOD is also moving ahead on an improvement program for Chaparral. The improved system will have a forward engagement capability, an improved fuze and warhead, a new guidance system, identification, friend or foe (IFF) capability, reduced signature, and increased resistance to countermeasures.

Stinger, a follow-on system to the Redeye, will be in the field later in this decade. It has an extended range and velocity over Redeye, an improved IR seeker, IFF capability, and will engage incoming as well as outgoing aircraft.

antiaircraft artillery

Soviet planners have carefully monitored the U. S. experience in Vietnam and lessons learned from the 1973 Mideast conflict. From these disparate wars one conclusion came through loud and clear: AA guns working in concert with SAMs are a' very effective AD team in the forward area.25 The U. S. S. R. has produced a number of weapons ranging from 12.7mm machine-guns (MGs) to 130mm AAA guns. Several of the 12.5, 14.5, and 23mm caliber machine-guns are proliferated throughout the forces, either single, double, or quadbarrel versions, towed or mounted on armored vehicles and tanks, and some 100mm and 130mm guns are found in reserve and East European divisions. But the frontline AAA systems are the S-60 and the impressive ZS U23-4.

The Soviet ZSU-23-4/Shilka gun system was credited with nearly half the total kills against Israeli aircraft in the 1973 Mideast War.26 The completely self-propelled system mounts four 23mm cannons on a modified PT-76 chassis and is capable of firing up to 4000 rounds per minute to an effective range of 2.5 km. Target acquisition and fire control are radar-controlled, with an optical assist for use in an ECM environment. The Shilka can fire on the move at speeds up to 25 KPH. The ZSU-23-4 with its high rate of fire can also be effectively employed in a direct-fire role to a maximum range of 7 km. The Shilka covers the "dead zone" of the SA-6. The ZSU-23-4 and the SA9 apparently will be organic to tank and motorized rifle regiments.

The Soviets have phased out the ZSU-57-2 system, a twin 57mm self-propelled gun effective to 4 km that was found in tank divisions. A towed 57mm gun, the S-60, has served as the standard AA gun with the Soviet motorized rifle divisions. The S-60 is a powerful, radarcontrolled gun that can also be employed effectively as a direct-fire weapon in addition to its AA functions. The S-60 is being replaced by the SA-6 and SA-8 missile systems, but it probably will be utilized in a rear-area static defense role.

Following the phase-out of the venerable twin-40mm Duster gun system, the U.S. Army fielded the Vulcan gun system as a stop-gap measure to provide automatic weapons AD support for the division. The Vulcan is fielded in towed and self-propelled versions, and its 20mm gun system is capable of firing at a rate of 3000 rounds per minute. However, the Vulcan gun is severely limited in range, effective only to 1200 meters in the AD role, and hampered by the lack of a fire-control radar. The gunner is assisted by a range-only radar but must visually acquire the target, making the system effective only in good weather. The Vulcan is severely limited in range, accuracy, and kill probability. The system is very vulnerable to ECM and cannot handle rapidly maneuvering targets. Vulcan is normally deployed with Chaparral, in four-gun teams, but the Vulcan may move with the maneuver unit while Chaparral is held back to defend critical, fixed assets. In airborne and air assault divisions the towed-Vulcan is the only organic AD system.

The U.S. Army is unhappy with the performance of the Vulcan gun system and greatly impressed by the success exhibited by the ZSU-23-4. A 1974 study concluded that a new low altitude forward area air defense system (LOF AADS) gun was needed, and Army is now proceeding with a development program for a division AD (Divad) gun system. This system is expected to be a self-propelled (tracked), radar-aimed, medium-caliber, allweather system capable of firing over 4000 rounds per minute; in other words, it is a system not unlike the Soviet Shilka! However, it is doubtful that such a gun could be fielded ,before the mid-1980s.

Deployment Patterns
and Tactical Employment

In the employment of tactical AD systems, Soviet doctrine stresses mobility, mass, mix, system redundancy, centralized fire control, and passive defensive measures.27 A viable air defense network must represent a mix of complementary systems that can engage enemy aircraft at virtually any altitude, at great distances, and in any condition of visibility. Multiple frequency capabilities even within the same system (e. g., the various models of the SA-2) are considered necessary in order to force enemy ECM operators to jam a wide spectrum and suffer a consequent loss of power.

Realizing that insufficient assets in an area represents a significant risk, Soviet planners insist on deploying AD systems in mass. Coverage in depth and over a wide lateral area is ensured by utilizing "obsolete" weapons in gap-filler and auxiliary defense roles. Through such redundancy a progressive saturation of the airspace horizontally and vertically throughout the area of operations is ensured. Since virtually every Russian AAA and SAM system deployed in the last decade is selfpropelled, the requirement that AD systems have mobility equal to that of the unit supported is being achieved.

Training is repetitive, rigorous, and somewhat mechanical. The primary systems that their air defenders train against are attack helicopters, close air support aircraft employing smart bombs and antiradiation missiles, Wild Weasel locate and attack aircraft, and standoff jamming airborne platforms.28 Passive defensive measures such as camouflage, terrain preparation, hardened sites, and use of nonelectronic acquisition and tracking means are emphasized. Centralized fire control and tight fire discipline are required.

U.S. air defense tactics do not materially differ from those of the Soviets. However, our efforts have been handicapped by insufficient numbers of systems in the field and by a growing gap in the application of technology. A comparison of AD assets available at equivalent tactical levels is shown in Figure 1 and illustrates the impressive lead maintained by the U.S.S.R.

A Soviet "front" is the highest tactical level and has no set organization, although it is roughly analogous to a U.S. theater army or NATO Army Group. Air defense assets are a composite of organic fighter-interceptors and long-range SAMs,29 augmented by AAA in a point defense role. Although all of the aircraft are multipurpose and Soviet air regiments are designated with a primary mission, it would be difficult to say with any certainty how many MiG-21s and 23s would be available for the air superiority role. A reasonable guess is that about 40 percent of the TAA's aircraft will be fragged for air defense in the initial stages of the conflict. Ground-based AD in the near future will be provided by one or two SA-4/ Ganef brigades (27 launchers in each), replacing the less-mobile SA-2/Guidelines. However, as the SA-4 deployment progresses, the SA-2 will probably shift to a rear-area static defense role, protecting bridges, rail junctions, airfields, and the like. In addition, some SA-3s will provide low-altitude point defense in the rear, and S-60s and other AA guns will serve as gap-fillers and back-up AD systems.

Since there is no table of organization and equipment (TO&E) for a U.S. theater army, it is necessary to speculate regarding probable AD assets.30 If CENTAG, in the NATO chain, is used as an example, this echelon might have four Nike-Hercules battalions supported by a number of U.S. and allied F-15, F-16, or F-4 wings. The area air defense commander would initially devote the majority of his air assets to counterair, but these aircraft would not be controlled by the ground commander (CENTAG) as is the case with a Soviet front. Some Hawk and even Chaparral-Vulcan (C/V) assets may be pulled from corps support missions to form a rear area AD belt, depending on how the threat is perceived.

The subordination at a U.S. corps/Soviet army level is somewhat clearer. An American corps will have one Hawk battalion in a general support role (24 or 27 launchers) and one C/V battalion (24 of each), although other assets may be pulled from their role in support of subordinate divisions. A Soviet army currently has the SA-2, but the Guideline is gradually being relegated to rear area defenses at this level, too. Air defense for an army in the future probably will consist of one or two SA4 brigades and an SA-6/Gainful regiment (20 launchers).

Air defense for the division is in the process of rapid change in the Soviet armed forces as the 57mm guns are phased out. The future mix of division AD assets is subject to debate, but it now appears that both the tank division (TD) and the motorized rifle division (MRD) will have either an SA-8 regiment (24 fire units) or an SA-6 regiment organic-or possibly a mixed SA-8/SA-6 regiment. Although the SP 57mm guns are being withdrawn, the venerable towed S-60 will likely be kept around to perform close-in defense of critical positions. In contrast, a U.S. division is now limited to one organic C/V battalion (24 Vulcans, 24 Chaparrals) or a straight towed Vulcan battalion in airborne and air assault units, augmented by a Hawk battalion in direct support when the division is committed.

A U.S. brigade is not a fixed organization and has no organic AD assets and will be limited to whatever support division makes available. A Soviet regiment, on the other hand, is extremely strong in terms of air defense. Until recently a motorized rifle regiment (MRR) had a mixed AAA battery consisting of towed 14.5 and 23mm AA guns and from four to eight SP ZSU-23-4s, while a tank regiment (TR) had a mixed ZSU-23-4 and ZSU-57-2 battery. The future regimental AD picture for both the MRRs and the TRs will consist of a platoon of four ZSU-23-4 SP guns complemented by a platoon of SA-9 infrared seeking missile fire units.

Finally, at maneuver level the U. S. now has roughly 73 Redeye teams organic to battalions in a type division (six weapons per team). The Soviets have a similar number (about 400) of the SA-7/Grails deployed with the division's maneuver elements. In addition, some combination of older 14.5 and 23mm AA guns will be scattered throughout the Soviet division.

The contrast in relative emphasis placed on tactical air defense by Soviet and U. S. planners is quite significant. The gap between battlefield AD systems is now approximately threeto-one in favor of the U.S.S.R, and, in light of the continued deployment of Soviet systems, is likely to widen further in the near future. More disconcerting, however, is the technological edge enjoyed by the Soviet armed forces in this field, an area of traditional U. S. supremacy that formerly could offset Russian numerical advantages.

Complicating the comparison is an increasingly more sophisticated Soviet Air Force that is shifting its focus away from an emphasis on the air-superiority role toward increasing its capabilities for ground attack and interdiction missions. Fighter aircraft are now being deployed with improved avionics, range, munitions, and penetration capabilities. Added to this are the versatile new attack and transport helicopters, the Hind AID and Hip E, which significantly broadens the spectrum represented by the Soviet air threat.

Defense planners in the U. S. have coped with the challenge in the counterair arena rather well. The new U. S. aircraft in the air defense role such as the F-15 and the F-16 represent the most advanced technology available and are clearly superior to their Soviet counterparts. In fact, tactical fighters are the only item in the current defense budget in which we will outspend the Russians.31

The same cannot be said with respect to SAMs and AAA guns. Our Hercules and Hawk systems reflect aging technology and are limited in terms of mobility, reaction time, and ability to engage multiple targets. The Chaparral and Redeye systems are clear-weather only and somewhat ineffective against high-performance targets, deficiencies that will be partially corrected by the Roland II. The Vulcan's shortcomings have caused DOD to search for a more effective forward-area AD gun. In comparison with the newer Soviet SAMs such as the SA-4/Ganef, SA-6/Gainful, or the SA-8/Gecko, the U.S. systems have serious drawbacks. The impressive ZSU-23-4 has been in the field for several years and is clearly ahead of anything we will have until the Divad gun is deployed.

However, tactical air defense is only on (~ of the critical areas in conventional force weaponry in which the Soviets are rapidly outpacing the U.S. Right now the U.S.S.R. maintains an impressive three-to-one lead over the U.S. in artillery and is outproducing us by an eight-to-one rate! The Soviets lead us by four-to-one in numbers of tanks, by more than two-to-one in armored fighting vehicles, and they have a critical advantage in offensive and defensive chemical equipment. In view of these discrepancies, it may be difficult to secure funding for additional tactical air defense weaponry. On the other hand the rapidly expanding Soviet fighter and helicopter inventory makes it imperative that the U. S. respond with a capable battlefield air defense network.

U.S. Military Academy
West Point, New York


1. Whether the Soviet Frontal Aviation performs close air support missions is a matter of dispute within the U.S. intelligence community. If close air support is considered as the delivery of aerial fire, in support of ground forces in contact, then it is the author's opinion that, although the Soviets conduct ground attack missions, they have not traditionally performed close air support (except in emergency circumstances).

2. The United States has about 4100 tactical aircraft in its inventory, including asset from the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps (excluding trainers and CONAD aircraft), supplemented by about 9000 helicopters. The 6000 figure represents an assessment of the number of tactical aircraft and assault helicopters that Soviet AD gunners could face. For a more detailed comparison see General George Brown, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Military Posture for FY 1979 (20 January 1978)" pp. 82-86. (Henceforth referred to as United States Military)

3. A thorough comparison would include non-U.S. aircraft in this discussion, but U.S.-only assets are discussed here since the focus of this article is on the U.S.-Soviet comparison.

4. Technical characteristics of the Fencer Can be found in Commanders Digest, 17 February 1977, "How DOD Assesses, the Balance of US, USSR, & PRC General Purpose Forces," p. 16.

5. Ibid, pp. 14-18.

6. Brown, United States Military, FY 1977, p. 12.

7. Harold Brown, Annual Defense Department Report, FY 1979 (February 2, 1978), p. 76, and Brown, United States Military, FY 1979, p. 82.

8. Military Operation, of the Soviet Army (Arlington, Virginia: U.S. Army Intelligence Threat Analysis Detachment, 25 May 1976), pp. 229-234.

9. See Major A. E. Scheghlov, "The Commander of an Anti-aircraft Battery Controls the Fire," Voennyi Vestnik # 3(Military Herald), 1971 (Moscow, translated by OACSI, # K-0089) Scheglov stresses that the unit commanding officer must have constant control over his fire units, resorting to decentralized operations only when centralized mode is not feasible. Even when the shift to decentralized operations is made, the subordinate leaders are required to "act according to the instructions given them." (p. 133)

10. Reaching an accurate count of the "available interceptors" is almost an impossible exercise given the difficulty in deciding which aircraft are to be used in that role, whether the assets of the other Pact nations should be counted, if the PVO Strany aircraft, should be included, and if one should consider the fighters immediately available from bases in the Western U.S.S.R. The difficulty is compounded further by the multimission capabilities of the newer Fishbeds and especially of the Floggers.

11. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Annual Defense Department Report, FY 1978 (January 17, 1977, p. 214). (Henceforth referred to as FY 1978.) See also Harold Brown, DOD Report, FY 79, p. 207. The F-15 Program Review can be found in DOD FY 79 Authorization Hearings (Part VI) before the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee (March 1978), pp. 4596-4615. (Henceforth referred to as FY 79 Authorization Hearings)

12. John Ralph, "Tactical Air Systems and New Technologies," in The Other Arms Race (Kemp, Pfaltzgraff, and Ra'anan), Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Book" D.C. Heath, Co., 1974, pp. 29-30.

13. Harold Brown Department of Defense Annual Report, FY 1979, p. 209. In the JTIDS role, the AWACS will assure jam-resistant-to-air communications, and data links essential for command and control AWACS is designed to provide real-time intelligence to commanders on the battlefield. See FY 79 Authorization Hearings, pp. 4692-4705.

14. "The Importance of Electronic Warfare to the National Defense Posture," Commanders Digest, 9 December 19776, p. 4.

15. The SA-2/Guideline is the most widely deployed system in the U.S.S.R., with some 9000 SA-2 launchers under the control of the PVO Strany. In addition, the SA-2 is found in all of the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact countries. In the "strategic" role, the SA-2 is operated from fixed sites, much like the U.S.'s Nike-Hercules.

16. Data on Soviet air defense missile systems is extracted from numerous sources. Among the most useful are "Military Operations of the Soviet Army," pp. 36-43; USAREUR Pamphlet 30-60-1, Identification Guide Volume II, Part One, Artillery (15 January 1973), Handbook on Soviet Airpower and Artillery (Fort Bliss, Texas: U.S. Army Air Defense School, April 1976); Organization and Equipment at the Soviet Army (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: USA Combined Arms Development Activity, 1 December 1976), and Selected U.S. and Soviet Weapons and Equipment (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: USA Command and General Staff College, July 1976).

17. Commanders Digest, 17 February 1977, p. 15.

18. Ibid., p. 8.

19. See Rumsfeld, FY 77 and FY 78 Reports. Of course, virtually any AD system is susceptible to ECM, but the Hawk vulnerability at present is beyond what DOD would like. The IH organization of the Triad configuration will allow the Hawk system to engage three targets simultaneously (battalion level).

20. The self-propelled Hawk system foundered on maintenance and alignment problems, the fact that it was more expensive and primarily because time to fire was not significantly improved merely by bettering the system mobility. Alignment and missile transfer problems determined the battery operations time more than maneuverability.

21. See, for example, the issues of the Commanders Digest of 17 February 1977 and 27 May 1976, both stressing the need for the U.S. to move ahead with a more mobile family of battlefield air defense systems with greater capabilities and response time. For a complete overview of the Army's air defense program, see FY 79 Authorization Hearings pp. 4804-14.

22. Statement by Norman Augustine, Assistant Secretary of the Army for R&D, and Lieutenant General Howard Cooksey, Acting Deputy Chief m Staff for RD&A, before the House Armed Services Committee, 7 March 1975, p. 38.

23. Ibid., pp. 40-41, and Rumsfeld, FY 78, p. 169.

24. Gene Famiglietti, "Europe Roland to Fire US Missiles," Army Times, 20. December 1976, p. 28.

25. See, for example, A. N. Latukhin, Sovremennaya Artilleriya (Modern Artillery), Voenizdat, 1970, p. 215 and p. 33. The author notes that the appearance of armed helicopters on the battlefield created "a renewed need" for AA guns. To complement the AAA systems, the Soviets are introducing the SA-8 and SA-9 SAM systems into the forward area, also.

26. RB 100-2 Vol. 1 Selected Readings in tactics: The 1973 Middle East War (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: USAC&GSC, August 1976), Chapter 5, "Air Defense."

27. See Scheglov, "The Commander," for a review of Soviet tactics. For an excellent summary of Soviet air defense training, see Captain Michael H. Crutcher, "Soviet Tactical Air Defense--An Introduction of Anti-Aircraft Unit Weapons fur the, Defense of Maneuver Forces," unpublished paper written at the U.S. Army Institute for Advanced Russian & East European Studies, Garmisch, Germany, March 1975.

28. Ibid.

29. USAITAD, "Military Operations," pp. 229-38. Colin Gray in "Soviet Tactical Airpower," Air Force Magazine, March 1977, argues that a typical tactical air army organic to the front would have two Fighter-Bomber Divisions and three Fighter-Interceptor Divisions, but the total number of assets available could range from 100 to 1100. (pp. 62-65)

30. It is extremely difficult to compare a Soviet front, which has organic aviation and ground units, to a comparable U.S. or NATO entity. The NATO Army Group; such as CENTAG, has no aviation assets, but it is supported by a Tactical Air Force under the control of the Commander of the Allied Air Forces in Central Europe, who is on a level equal to the CENTAG commander. All land and air force, from the Alps to the Elbe River are under the next higher commander, CINC AFCENT, who has two Army Groups (Allied) and the Allied Air Force (CE) , subordinate to him. The 4th ATAF supports the Central Army Group and is composed of Canadian, German, and U.S. components. See Jim Taylor, "USAFE and AAFCE: Central Europe's Airpower," in Air Force Magazine, February 1977, pp. 41-47.

31. In recent years the U.S. has surrendered its lead over the Soviets in numbers of tactical aircraft but the trend was reversed last year. However, the U.S. total will continue to be about 1000 below the numbers of tactical aircraft fielded by the Soviet (Commanders Digest, 17 February 1977, p. 14).


Major Tyrus W. Cobb, USA, (M.A., Indiana University) is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy. His assignments have included tours in Vietnam and as an adviser with the Italian Air Force; he has been on the Army Staff in Intelligence and Operations Directorates and a member of the Chief of Staff’s Strategic Assessment Group. Major Cobb has published articles on Soviet politics, military strategy, and air defense, and he is a Ph.D. candidate, Georgetown University.


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.

Air & Space Power Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor