Air University Review, March-April 1980

Tactical Air Power within NATO

a growing convergence of views

Major Donald J. Alberts

DR. STEVEN L. CANBY's presentation in the May-June 1979 issue of Air University Review1 and Dr. Edward N. Luttwak's critique of American "attrition doctrine" in the August 1979 issue of Air Force Magazine2 both suffer from what I perceive to be a misunderstanding of tactical air power history and doctrine. This is particularly true of the United States Air Force doctrine in regard to a possible war in NATO Europe. Canby's article, while persuasive, well documented, and, in most instances, accurate,3 misses the essential trend of air power doctrinal thought as it is evolving in NATO. Dr. Luttwak acknowledges "his indebtedness to Steven L. Canby for key ideas in the article,"4 and as to air power application, there is indeed a similarity of views, especially regarding the reputed USAF overreliance on defense suppression and attrition as objectives.

It has been a common complaint of air power proponents over the years that those steeped in the traditions and training of land warfare do not appreciate the power and magnitude of tactical air applications properly conducted. I must admit to a similar inclination in that I believe this fundamental difference in perspective is at the heart of many of the commonly cited problems and deficiencies of strategy and tactics in fighting a European war and in the various critiques that these two authors have leveled at current U.S. conventional war philosophy.5 While I share some of the concerns expressed by these authors, my perspective is different, and it leads me to a different conclusion concerning the proper role of air power and the trend in NATO thought.

Canby mixes procurement policies, tactics, operations, weapons employment, and other diverse subjects into the same bag, thereby conveying a misleading impression of both the diversity and commonality of opinion within the NATO air forces. Canby asserts that, "In the past, the USAF pushed common doctrine and tactics among the NA TO air forces but has now muted it."6 The latter part of this statement is demonstrably incorrect.

In the past year or two, four important efforts toward common doctrine were either completed or initiated. Allied Tactical Publication (ATP) 42, a book of common doctrine on counterair operations, was drafted, negotiated, and is presently circulating for ratification among NATO member nations. A TP 42 stemmed initially from a USAF initiative at the NATO Tactical Air Working Party in December of 1977. Other recent efforts toward common doctrine and tactics deal with offensive air support, tactical air doctrine, and electronic warfare in air operations. ATP 33(A), Tactical Air Doctrine, and A TP 27(B), Offensive Air Support Operations, were ratified by the United States in September 1979.7 Additionally, another much-needed manual concerning electronic warfare in air operations has been initiated in ATP 44, the first preliminary draft of which was prepared by a combined United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Netherlands drafting committee hosted and chaired by the USAF.8 The effort toward establishing common doctrine in NATO is accelerating, not being muted.

Canby implies that the USAF was trying to force common tactics on these allies, something that the allies resisted. This is also far from accurate. I suspect that fighter pilots in the USAF would resist anyone's attempting to standardize and dictate tactics for them. The standardization attempt is directed toward procedures, not tactics. Admittedly, it has taken some time for the various people involved to understand what is meant by a procedure and what is meant by a tactic. A tactic is how a particular task or operation is performed against the enemy. A procedure is the organizational or structural method of approach. The difference is oftentimes in perspective and the level from which one views and analyzes the problem at hand. It is a little like the difference between tactics and strategy-one level's tactics is another level's strategy. For example, the establishment of a high-altitude missile engagement zone is a tactic from the perspective of the manager of the air defense net in his battle, but the process by which that zone is established and the constraints it automatically places on a fighter pilot in pursuit of an enemy aircraft constitute procedures.

NATO air forces in their air doctrine recognize several types of air operations--all of which will have to be performed in order to successfully blunt a Warsaw Pact attack upon NATO Europe, particularly one that occurs with main emphasis in the Central Region. Of particular importance for this discussion are counter air operations, offensive air support operations, and interdiction operations. Counter air is subdivided into offensive counter air (activities undertaken at NATO initiative and carried to the enemy to destroy his air power) and defensive counter air (or, air defense to some). Offensive air support is subdivided into close air support (CAS), battlefield air interdiction (BAI), and tactical air reconnaissance. All except air defense, by definition, are offensive air operations.

In discussing offensive air operations, Canby asserts:

For the short run, the diversity of aircraft design inhibits common tactics and delivery techniques. Among other factors, commonality will not be possible for the next two decades, as the attack aircraft now coming into the inventory--Jaguar, Harrier, Alpha Jet, and Tornado--operate best at low levels. New U.S. aircraft on the other hand, give greater maneuverability and better performance at the medium and higher altitudes. From the European viewpoint the present diversity in operational tactics and techniques offers them the best possible situation. Without being tested in war, there is no way of knowing which approach is the more valid. However, U.S. reliance on high technology to overcome ground air defenses forces the Soviets to devote disproportionate efforts to counter the U.S. systems. This allows the Europeans an alternative approach, relying more on organization and procedures than on technology, thus permitting them to buy larger numbers o! aircraft at the expense of elaborate electronic environment preparation. It also means that since the U.S. is buying expensive defense-suppression systems, the Europeans could always, if necessary, supplement U.S. forces should their own approach fail. . . . The Europeans do not argue that the U.S. imitate their style; rather they argue that NATO gains by the two approaches. Thus, while sincerely believing in their own approach, the Europeans retain a hedge against failure by the U.S. . . . the U.S. has no similar hedge and is more constrained in shifting to the European style because of equipment in general and training in particular.9

There is some truth in these assertions but not for the reasons stated. The most important, I would maintain, is that the Soviets have not devoted a disproportionate effort to counter U.S. systems because of the U.S. reliance on technology but rather because of the traditional U.S.-NATO reliance on offensive tactical air power, primarily interdiction and close air support. (And, to be truthful, Soviet doctrine also derives from the World War II experience against the more or less combined arms teams of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe.) It is interesting to note that the Soviets and their allies doctrinally have placed what might be considered an inordinate amount of effort into air defense: enormous numbers of interceptor aircraft, extensive radar ground control intercept (GCI) netting, antiaircraft artillery (AAA) guns in massive numbers, and, more recently, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The Soviets started to build this massive air defense umbrella well before the USAF started "elaborate electronic countermeasures," and only after providing themselves with a truly impressive set of capabilities did they acquire an offensive air capability to complement their traditional ground offensive power. If one assumes the Soviets to be rational (and one must if one hopes to deter them from inimical activities, as NATO has), it is simply not logical (even allowing for a perceived traditional mania for the defense of Mother Russia) to provide so much defense against something that is not feared. NATO's problem is somewhat different. Soviet reliance on extensive air defenses to protect their ground offensive force from NATO air has created what many perceive to be a very decided blunting of NATO's most potent counterweapon to the Soviet offensive, air power.

NATO's problem is how best to overcome the defenses and reassert the potential advantage enjoyed for many years. There are and have been differences in approach among the allies on how to accomplish this. These differences extend to how best to apply limited air assets against the expected modus operandi indicated by Soviet doctrine and exercises. The Canby quote tends to hide these more fundamental differences in approach in the discussion of tactics.

But the tactical differences need explaining. The preferred USAF tactic for penetrating into hostile air space would be a medium altitude penetration. However, most of the practicing fighter forces realize that our preferences may be very difficult to enact. We may not have sufficient Suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD)10 assets to fight in this manner..' We are not convinced that the British preference for low altitude penetration is necessarily better--better being defined as more survivable and efficient at accomplishment of the mission. I think a quick scan of the fighter squadrons in Europe will show widespread use of low-level planning.

It must be remembered that in Vietnam, the USAF's initial reaction to the relatively unsophisticated SA-2 SAM threat was to fly into defended areas at low altitudes. Visually aimed barrage fire from automatic weapons and World War II vintage AAA guns caused losses--the type of losses that might, if sustained over a period of intense air operations, be prohibitive. Airspeed is no necessary cure; neither is going even lower. It is a sad fact of life that airplanes can run into bullets (yes, bullets) fired in front of them. There is nothing in the British approach that necessarily precludes such losses. If the enemy gunner knows of aircraft presence, he does not have to aim his gun to bring about a kill--he merely needs enough lead to put out a volume of fire in front of the aircraft. The aircraft then runs into the fire.11

Again, the preferred approach, built on experience both real and vicarious, would be to penetrate above the ground fire envelope of AAA and automatic weapons (AW). You cannot evade the ground fire by flying low if you"do not know where the concentrations are. But, under present force constraints, flying above the AAA and A W threat is not especially practical. In the view of many, we do not possess enough SEAD assets to allow medium altitude penetration. Again, I suspect that if Canby performed a survey of USAF fighter pilots he would find that their tactics are quite similar to those of the British and the Germans. The cited difference in training has very little to do with preferred tactics or the expected threat. The differences in training have much to do with constraints caused by the peacetime air traffic control system, flying safety, and an organizational constraint that frowns on aircraft accidents. Low altitude is a relative thing but its restrictions are not governed by tactical considerations, rather by flying safety. It is not that the "USAF at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and Marine Corps have rediscovered the advantages of on-the-deck flight operations."12 Rather, it is a case of increased willingness to accept the risks attendant on flying at those altitudes in a peacetime training environment. Through rather strenuous past efforts, arising from within the fighter community, the USAF is more willing to accept such peacetime risks in certain places in. order to train as we will fight.

I feel that it is fair to acknowledge that we have been struggling over the problem of how best to provide direct support to the ground forces and, more important, what is the best form of air power application to aid in the accomplishment of the overall objective--the defeat of a Warsaw Pact offensive. I also return to my earlier assertion that views here are converging--slowly, but surely converging. There is a growing realization that all forms of offensive air will be needed to defeat the total offensive. There cannot be a reliance on CAS solely, or interdiction solely, or air defense alone. Rather, the need for each will be a proportion of the total air effort. Further, I would. maintain that these earlier differences in emphasis were, and to a great degree still are, governed more by the views held by ground commanders than by air commanders, and by ground staffs than by air staffs. This more fundamental problem affects, to varying degrees, all NATO armed forces that have both land and air forces.

What we are really faced with is a problem of strategy or, at least, of optimum asset usage in a very scenario-dependent threat situation. In the past, despite an established command structure, NATO air forces were not really NATO air forces. By this I mean that the Royal Air Force generally worked" with the British Army of the Rhine, USAFE generally worked with the U.S. Army in Europe, and the Luftwaffe worked with the Budeswehr.13 Only in air defense was there an integrated structure, and this structure was a long time in coming. Essentially, NATO was not planning on fighting a combined war against the enemy but rather was planning on a series of national battles against the enemy.

The establishment of the Military Agency for Standardization (MAS) within NATO and the overall movement toward rationalization, standardization, and interoperability (RSI) has allowed greater air force interaction at all staff levels. We are now talking to each other. One of the most startling early realizations in this process was that the various air forces were using the same words to connote different concepts or different words to connote similar concepts. Over time, and after much discussion, it has come to be appreciated that in air doctrinal terms, at least, the air forces are not that far apart in fundamental thinking. There are differences, however.

An example is CAS. There are those in the United States who maintain that the Europeans do not believe in CAS. This statement by itself lacks sufficient precision to determine the truth or falsity of it. The Europeans believe in CAS, but not in the way the USAF wants to conduct CAS. To be more specific, the Europeans lack faith in the survivability of the airborne forward air controller (FAC) under probable combat conditions. The function of providing an air firepower complement to supplement ground organic firepower to forces locked in combat is seen as vitally necessary. Both the Germans and the British have FACs, on the ground, to help control this application of air firepower. The basic point is that, in the European view, the alternate procedures (those without the availability of an airborne FAC) must be known and practiced. This is the more conservative and surer course to follow. If the airborne FAC is survivable and there, then it can be used. The danger lies in not having alternative means of bringing air firepower to bear in the absence of an airborne FAC.14 Common procedures allow USAF air to support British or German troops and, conversely, the procedures allow RAF or Luftwaffe aircrews to use airborne FACs to support the U.S. Army.

This, of course, leads directly to the broader issue--how best, with the resources available, to affect the land battle. Airmen, in general, have traditionally felt that the farther from the actual point of land force combat air power can be applied, the better. It is not just a concern with interdiction and supplies, as is often maintained,15 but rather, it is a concern with attacking the enemy's combat power in its fullest sense. The more successful air power is in disrupting or destroying the enemy's combat potential, the less evidence there is for the ground forces to observe in assessing that effectiveness as it applies to the ground battle, particularly when the ground force is on the defensive. It is this phenomenon that has led to the ground force misperception of air power. The results simply are not visible to ground elements. The enemy battalion that is obliterated 100 kilometers behind the combat zone never reaches the combat zone and does not enter into battle and does not affect that battle.16 The ground commander sees the enemy that is being engaged. Each element of the enemy that is engaged represents danger that must be dealt with: the enemy battalion 100 kilometers away is not a problem today--it may be a problem tomorrow or next week, but the ground commander's problem is right now.

The theoretical disagreement in NATO is not so much between air forces but between certain national air forces and the same nations' army. As Canby and Luttwak have made clear in other places, the NATO armies have somewhat different philosophies on how to fight.17 The importance that the various armies place on CAS and other air operations differs from army to army, not necessarily from air force to air force. And each nation has its own version of the Department of Defense, which has an input into the debate of how best to fight.

My impression is that among the NATO armed forces, the divergence of view on how best to use air is greatest in the United States and perhaps least in the German forces. The German army will only call for CAS on the defensive when it is absolutely necessary to save the day. Some elements in the U.S. Army, on the other hand, seem to want to be able to count on a specified amount of air, both planned and on standby, guaranteed at all times. This is the age-old problem of the control of air assets, laid to rest (or so we thought) in 1943, that keeps coming back in the United States again and again and yet again.18

One of the things that NATO has done to compromise this issue is battlefield air interdiction, or BAI. BAI may be new to Vietnam-era Americans, but it is a relatively old concept (albeit Western), perhaps first used by Americans in 1944 by General Patton in conjunction with 9th Air Force in Normandy.19 BAI is 'directed primarily at those enemy forces, resources, and formations not yet engaged but positioned to affect the land battle directly.

To be more specific, and place the concept in its most complex environment, the targets with which BAI is to deal are enemy second echelon regiments or divisions, moving toward contact with friendly troops already engaged by enemy first echelon regiments/divisions and enemy air defense units.20

Air interdiction, and what Americans (particularly those involved in land warfare) have come to associate with that term, affects the land battle in the long-term perspective.21 CAS affects the land battle in the ,now. BAI contributes directly to the land battle in the short- or near-term-in the next few hours or maybe as late as the next day.22

Air power is applicable as firepower from the enemy front line of own troops (FLOT)23 all the way to his heartland. From a war perspective, one of the most relevant variables is time. Wars are made up of a series of battles involving space, force, and time. If all forces are deployed opposite one another at the outset of hostilities, a single climactic battle might be the entire war, but this has seldom been the case. The less critical any single battle or engagement is to the outcome of the war, the more force can be husbanded, or used elsewhere, to create a decisive situation in one's favor. Air power affects the time factor. If applied against the rear of the enemy, it may not affect the outcome of the first battle, but it may guarantee that there will only be a small battle to fight in the second week of the war or perhaps on the second day of the war. From an air person's perspective, air power is properly applied in the context of the war and the winning of the war, not necessarily in the context of winning any particular land battle.

This doctrinal truth derives in part from one of the fundamental characteristics of air, its flexibility. Air can be applied anywhere in the theater of operations, bounded only by the performance capabilities of individual systems and enemy resistance. Unlike ground firepower platforms, which can only be relocated slowly and over short distances, air can be massed and directed against target systems quickly and over long distances. It is this flexibility that gives air its potency from the perspective of the theater commander. Air is a "strategic reserve" that can be shifted to any area of the theater that is being threatened. It can always be used offensively, even if the ground forces are forced on the defensive. While it may not always be wise to do so, air can always be sent against the enemy to confound him, whereas ground forces cannot be that easily turned.

It is this train of thought that causes my objection to Luttwak's critique of U.S. operational style in NATO. His main concern relates to the inadequacy of a style of combat dedicated to attrition under conditions of numerical inferiority. Luttwak holds that a maneuver strategy would be far more appropriate to the times. I do not necessarily disagree with this thrust, but I most certainly take exception to the implication that is drawn with reference to the application of air power. Luttwak maintains:

To do its work, which is to help in the land battle, the US Air Force (USAF) plans to defeat the array of Soviet antiaircraft guns and missiles by attrition and sheer weight of materiel: special "defense suppression" aircraft are deployed to attack Soviet radars directly, while other special aircraft are to neutralize Soviet radars with electronic countermeasures. . . . In the first few days of a NATO war, when air power would be needed most to give time for the ground forces to deploy, the USAF would, in fact, be busy protecting its own ability to operate at all.

It is interesting to note that others have reacted differently. The Royal Air Force (RAF) simply cannot afford to fight it out with Soviet air defenses; its plan is to evade rather than defeat them. The RAF has decided to use its aircraft in the immediate rear of the battlefield, to attack Soviet reinforcement echelons rather than the first wave of Soviet forces on the battlefield itself-where defenses are thickest. . . .The RAF approach is "relational" maneuver; that of the USAF a form of attrition.24

There are many points of disagreement in just these two short paragraphs, some of which relate to the same disagreements generated by Canby's exposition. First, and perhaps foremost, air power's role is not just to help in the land battle, rather it is to help Win the war--the total battle--and achieve the military environment necessary for the attainment of NATO political goals. As pointed out earlier, efficient use of scarce resources may indicate that the optimum use of air assets, depending on the tactical and strategic situation existing at the outset of hostilities, may have nothing to do with the land battle-or, it may have all to do with it. The assumption is made that NATO ground forces would still be deploying at the initiation of hostilities. This may be true but is only one scenario of possibility, one contingency of many which must be planned for and thought through. More than this, it is also an implicit assumption that NATO ground forces would be universally deploying, which is not the realistic case. We might expect, for example only, that the U.S. V and VII Corps and the German I and II Corps to be "on line," with the other corps still deploying; in short, a differential rate that would indicate a needed flexibility in the application of air to reduce that threat created by the differential deployment rate. The tactical situational possibilities are myriad. The form of possible and available responses in the use of air is also myriad. The selection of response is a function of NATO commanders (not solely USAF) and, most important, that response desired by SACEUR and his subordinate commanders, most probably CINCENT and COMAAFCE.25

The response would, in the first place, constitute some mix of air, ranging from (theoretically) all effort dedicated to defensive counterair to all effort dedicated to offensive counterair. The point to be made is that the theater commander decides how best to meet these priorities, and, eventually, forces are applied against each priority in the weights of effort indicated.26 The process by which this is accomplished in NATO is termed "apportionment and allocation."

The procedures for doing this exist and have been agreed on by all NATO nations. These procedures are based on the principle of centralized control at the highest practical level and decentralized execution, a principle favored by the USAF and RAF since 1943. To think of tactical air as being applied solely to one category or another creates false dilemmas, which is what Luttwak has done here. But, if the appropriate commander, at a certain time, decides that all effort should be dedicated to stopping tanks at the front opposite the Belgian I Corps through the air operation of CAS, it could theoretically be done and would be done. The procedures exist and have been agreed to by all NATO air forces (and, as a matter of administrative fact, by all NATO armies as well).

Of all the air support operations envisaged, CAS is the only one that is inherently attritive in the sense of that word as used by Luttwak. In fact, a primary reason that one performs CAS is in order to attrit an immediate threat to ground units. But here the analogy to the dilemma of attrition versus maneuver that is seen by both Luttwak and Canby as plaguing U.S. ground tactical style breaks down. For air, it is not a question of attrition versus maneuver, but rather a question of a targeting scheme designed to produce primarily attrition or primarily disruption through selective destruction. Air power is maneuver. The concept of maneuver that applies to ground forces is inherent in the application of tactical air, power. The great debate within air power circles is how best to take advantage of this inherent flexibility--the ability to be wherever the friendly commander desires--in light of the enormity of the enemy threat posed to ground forces. Should we go after supply lines and transshipment points, or does the Soviet logistic practice render this approach ineffective in a short, intense war? Must we kill tanks, or can destruction of a certain percentage of enemy vehicles force logistic and mutual support breakdowns in his plan of attack? Or, is the most optimum use of limited air assets to be found in a mixed destruction/ disruption targeting strategy directed against the enemy's mobility--his ability to move forces forward or laterally?

The concern over USAF attritive efforts against the Soviet air defense system as contrasted to the RAF approach of evading the system is ill-founded for several reasons. The examples cited are taken from two very different types of operations, offensive counter air in the cited case of the USAF and BAI in the case of the RAF. Of more import is that fact already alluded to: both the USAF and the RAF forces lose their national identity functionally when NATO goes to war. Rationalization, standardization, and interoperability is directed toward the possibility of that reality. If the theater commander decides that air can be used to gain control of the air, both the RAF and USAF assets can, and probably will, be used to perform the counter air tasks. The USAF specialized SEAD assets are not reserved to support U.S. forces only--these assets can be employed wherever the SEAD support is most needed in light of the priority of the air operations being conducted. The specialized assets will be used as needed.

In terms of commonly agreed NATO doctrine, an air campaign undertaken against the enemy ground-based air defense net is made up of offensive counter air operations. It is pursued in one of two ways: attacking known targets (acquisition radar sites, control centers, or SAM sites, for example) or by a fighter sweep, using specialized aircraft to find mobile targets and targets of opportunity--mobile SAMs or airborne aircraft with some priority indicated--based on the threat posed to friendly forces. The tactics of how one gets to the target to perform offensive counterair have not been completely agreed on, nor are they likely to be, given the differing aircraft characteristics.

In the larger perspective, both Luttwak and Canby miss the point in the application of SEAD assets. These assets are limited in number and thus must be used selectively in support of air operations. Which operation or series of operations these assets are dedicated to support on any given day is a command decision that is bound to be very scenario-oriented. If CAS is the order of the day, and SEAD area support is available and required, it will and should be used. There is no disagreement on this point among the NATO allies. If BAI, AI, or offensive counterair are ordered and defense suppression support is available, it will and should be used to disrupt and deceive or destroy the enemy by suppressing the defenses so that other friendly force elements (allied as well as USAF) are not destroyed. What Luttwak forgets is that targets are defended, be these targets in the first enemy wave, the second echelon, or the enemy's rear areas. The RAF cannot evade all defenses; it too must deal with those in the second echelon and around point targets. There is nothing "relational" in Luttwak's sense of the word about a one-on-one confrontation between a SAM site and a fighter. A more careful investigation would show that the USAF and the RAF have very similar approaches when it comes to attacking the second echelon, which is the real world application of Luttwak's RAF example.27

The rest of my objection to Luttwak's criticism relates to Canby's discussion of operational style and, to an extent, tactics. Control of the air is a critical thing to the attainment of victory, at least in conventional war.28 Modern Soviet air defense, particularly SAMs, has made the ability to gain even local air superiority quickly over any portion of the battle zone a far more difficult task. Any application of air in any portion of the battle zone--at the front or behind it--will be subject to the enemy's attempt to control the air. The question that must be asked on the level of warfare is what degree of risk and threat to friendly air's ability to continue fighting can be accepted in order to stem a more immediate threat. Time is a big factor again. If the tanks are pouring through open gaps and the theater commander is faced with disaster if those particular tanks are not stopped, air will be used to attempt to stem the tide, regardless of losses.29 But, if a critical situation does not exist, a more economical and longer-term decisive Use of air is indicated: counter air and interdiction.

Securing control of the air, which now entails defeat of the ground-based portion of the air defense net as well as the defeat of enemy interceptors, removes resistance (and lowers attrition suffered by friendlies) to all friendly offensive air efforts. In the NATO context, two facets of this problem need to be addressed.

When the Israelis failed to suppress enemy air defenses in the first days of the 1973 October War, ". . . Israel lost almost a quarter of her air force in three days."30 Israeli air doctrine is quite clear: they should have and would have (if left up to air persons to decide) gained control of the air first. But a greater threat to the total defense was perceived, and the emphasis was shifted. The Syrian tanks in particular needed to be stopped. When that threat was dealt with, the Israelis did indeed try to gain control of the air, and the loss rates decreased. What is unknown--and cannot be known with certainty--is whether the overall losses (both ground and air) would have been less if the Israelis had indeed created an air situation similar to that of 1967 by the second day, wherein the Israeli Air Force could roam over the front at will, bringing unopposed firepower to bear on hostile ground formations wherever they were found. Every aircraft lost to a SAM on its first sortie represents a very great magnitude of lost effectiveness of subsequent sorties. This added difficulty--defeat of the ground-based portion of the enemy's air defenses--is only one aspect of the overall problem. While I do not want to take time here to further develop this idea, there are those of us in the Air Force who still do not feel that even the USAF has taken sufficient steps to guard prudently against this threat to our operations. Beyond this, the USAF, for better or worse, is the only NATO air force to have faced SAMs and a sophisticated air defense net based on multiple and redundant radars and command and control sites. While we may not be right, we were not totally ineffective in the face of such defenses, and our thinking on specialized assets to defeat such things is based on empirical evidence.

The other portion of this problem is the air-to-air threat. Put simply, many forget that one of the purposes of gaining air superiority is to keep the enemy air off the backs of friendly ground forces. The U.S. Army has not had to worry about enemy air since 1942, and at that time the army commanders found the situation intolerable. Gaining air superiority does not just allow the air forces of NATO to fight the air portion of the war, it removes hostile air from interfering with friendly ground and allows friendly air to interfere with hostile ground forces. That is the relevant purpose of counter air , both counter-SAM and air-to-air in the land/ air context. It is also a principle well recognized by the NATO air forces collectively.31

IN summary, I think that the Europeans, should their approach not work, will not have the ability to operate as we, the USAF, desire to operate. The converse is not true. If the "U.S. approach," as Canby calls it, does not work, the adjustment to the RAF tactical style (as seen by Canby) is a relatively easy one to make, provided one's pilots are in fact trained at low-level flying. (Even if they are not, can one say the attrition rates would be higher after making the switch? Probably not, although effectiveness would suffer.) No new equipment needs to be bought. If, on the other hand, the RAF approach proves highly attritive and additional SEAD is needed, where does it come from? Specialized assets, more complex self-protection jamming pods, and warning equipment must be ordered, procured, shipped, and installed. This cannot be done overnight. But, as it stands now, the enemy must plan on both approaches' being used if he is to commit aggression against NATO and must arrange his air defenses accordingly to protect himself against counter action. Both the RAF and the USAF believe in air power.32

In addition, if it were known that all NATO air forces were committed to low-level penetrations, a very effective physical and psychological counter is fairly easily available--balloons. Likewise, Canby's discussion of the USAF "task-force" approach is misleading.33 A more correct formulation would be that while the USAF might prefer sending large numbers of aircraft (24-40) at medium altitudes to deep targets at the same time and in formation, we realize that such is not overly practical until the SAM defenses are overcome. But there are other ways to achieve the same effect desired (the concentration of force). This alternate method is to time-sequence small groups of aircraft so that they arrive, via different routes, over the target area at nearly the same time, thereby saturating the defenses, lowering attrition, and hopefully maintaining tactical surprise. If one were a believer in the most difficult needing the most work, the USAF or someone in NATO should practice leading and coordinating both means of getting large numbers of aircraft to a target. Almost anybody with a knowledge of low-level flying and of the specific aircraft being flown can take a two-ship to a target. But it takes considerable planning, thought, and leadership to do the same thing with a 24-ship flight, even if they do not all occupy the same air space at the same time.34 Again, the enemy must be prepared for both.

Of course, both Canby and I could be correct. NATO doctrine is probably converging on one level and diverging on others. The situation may be very similar to World War II. Both the United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force agreed on the doctrinal principle and decisive importance of strategic bombardment. But they violently disagreed on the tactic of whether to do it by area or precision bombardment. This fortunate disagreement led to both daylight and night operations against Hitler's Germany, forcing around-the-clock defense and degradation of the defenses against each individual air force. Likewise, what we are seeing in NATO is the development of commonly agreed on doctrine on how best to apply air power in the defense of NATO. The force structure we see today is the result of doctrine held eight to ten years ago. The tactics we see today are the result of attempting to maximize the efficiency and survivability of the force structure that we possess now and with which we must fight, if called on to do so.

The bottom line is not that "the result has been a breakdown in common alliance procedures and much controversy."35 Rather, since no common alliance-wide procedures existed, we are finally arriving at some common doctrine and procedures, explicitly thought out, discussed, and adopted. The issues are starting to break along lines quite familiar to Americans: air views versus ground views. Controversy will remain, but, hopefully, such controversy will lead to increased awareness of commonly held air doctrine, common efforts to solve the problems of modern warfare, continued convergence pf doctrinal views within NA TO, and, most important, an improved capability of NA TO air to resist and defeat aggression.

Washington, D.C.


1. Dr. Steven L. Canby, "Tactical Air Power in Armored Warfare: The Divergence within NATO," Air University Review, May-June 1979, pp. 2-22.

2. Edward N. Luttwak, "The American Style of Warfare and the Military Balance," Air Force Magazine, August 1979, pp. 86-88.

3. Irritatingly, some errors are of level of analysis; some are of fact. A minor example: F-4 fighter aircraft can be employed in elements, of two, but Canby implies that they cannot, and will not, be so employed. See Canby, p. 16.

4. Luttwak, p. 88.

5. The author has dealt with both Canby and Luttwak professionally. Nothing in this article should be taken as a personal attack on the m. I respect their expertise, academic standing, and training as military land force personnel. I just do not agree with their views. For a more obvious misunderstanding or disagreement with an air viewpoint, see Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Canby (USAR), "The Interdiction Mission--An Overview," Military Review, July 1979.

6. Canby, p. 12.

7. Hq USAF/XOXL letter, dated 10 Sep 79, subject: "Service Subscription, STANAGs 3700TA, 3703TA, and 3736TA."

8. These initiatives are conducted under the auspices of the Military Agency for Standardization (MAS) Air Board. The ATP 44, Electronic Warfare in Air Operations, drafting committee was unusual in that the committee was made up of national delegations and NATO command representatives. Drafting committees to deal with A TPs are normally composed solely of national delegations. See A TP 44 Drafting Committee Report, 7 Sep 79. Copies on file at Hq NATO, MAS Air Board, and in Hq USAF/XOXLD.

9. Canby, pp. 13-14

10. SEAD is the agreed on NATO term for "defense suppression." There are slight variations in the definitions at present, but the definition submitted for inclusion in AAP-6, NA TO Glossary of Terms and Definitions for Military Use is: "that activity which neutralizes, destroys, or temporarily degrades enemy air defense systems in a specific area by using physical attack and/or electronic warfare." See also Hq NATO, ATP 42, Counter Air Operations, Ratification Draft, n.d., p. 5-2.

11. One suspects that a technical factor may have more effect on survivability in this regime than going lower--the amount of smoke produced by jet engines makes, for Some, a very great task of maintaining tactical surprise. If the enemy can see the aircraft, the enemy gunner can normally get the line of fire in front of it.

12. Canby, p. 20, note 5.

13. Not that this historical fact is without benefit, for there are several important factors to be considered. NATO still works on the principle of national resupply. The logistics system is thus more efficient, given the lack of standardization among air forces and armies. Language problems are lessened, and the geographical proximity of bases allows for the joint solution of many personnel problems. The level at which one views the problem becomes tremendously important when considering these things. The principle stands, however. NATO is now striving to find ways to fight as a true combined command.

14. See Hq NATO, ATP 27(B), Offensive Air Support Operations, Annex F, "Detailed Procedures for Forward Air Controllers" for details. These procedures were drafted by a drafting committee with American, British, and German air and land representation and, subsequently, confirmed by a panel composed of representatives from all NATO nations. The U.S. has ratified the document and agreed to incorporate all of the procedures into national use.

15. Canby, p. 19. Canby is inconsistent here, as cross reference to the article cited in note 5 will show. In that article, he places airfields into the interdiction category.

16. That is, the destruction does not enter in except in the negative sense of making it easier for the friendly force to win, harder to lose. The ground commander cannot verify this except in hindsight, subject to subjective rather than objective evaluation.

17. Steven L. Canby, A Comparative Assessment of the NATO Corps Battle (Washington, D.C.: C & L Associates, Inc., 24 November 1978); Luttwak, op. cit.; see also Canby's critique of "forward defense" in "The Alliance and Europe: Part IV: Military Doctrine and Technology," Adelphi Papers, No. 109 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Winter 1974/1975).

18. Ground commanders always Seem to Want control of all assets bearing on their battle, which is a natural tendency. It is difficult to get enough assets, let alone all that one wants. This fundamental difference in perception between land trained and air trained does not Seem to go away with nationality or rank--until one is responsible, perhaps, for an "echelon above the corps" when the flexibility of air as an independent arm becomes more obvious and useful. See General William W. Momyer, Air Power in Three Wars (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978), pp. 39-62. The problems have not been solved within the U.S. or British structure nor, does one suspect, within the German structure. Peacetime accommodations have been arranged, however. In A TP 33 and its successor, A TP 33(A), NATO with the national agreement of all members, has Opted for the air view, that is, centralized control at the highest practical level and decentralized execution of tasks. Part of the problem is, of Course, that we study and think in terms of the corps commander's battle or the division commander's battles--but air is really to be applied against the theater commander's war. The two are not necessarily synonymous in time or place.

19. For an early modern view of BAI and its immediate "father," see Major General Leslie W. Bray, Jr., USAF (Ret), "Tactical Counterforce, " Air Force Magazine, June 1974, pp. 36-40.

20. Colonel Bruce L. Brown, USAF, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Cardwell III, USAF, and Major D. J. Alberts, USAF, "Battlefield Air Interdiction," Doctrine Information Publication (DIP) No.7 (Washington, D.C.: Hq USAF/XOXLD, 11 June 1979), p. 1.

21. The Vietnam perspective, i.e., which is not the same as the classic formulation of interdiction. Many army officers in particular have come away from Vietnam with the perception that interdiction operates hundreds of miles from their battle and has little relevance to the day-to-day functioning of the soldier in the field- This mind-set must also be reckoned with, for it interferes with communication. The air efforts against North Vietnam that properly can be called interdiction were those directed against the supply lines, but one must remember that the pace of using the supplies was up to the enemy, as it normally is in a guerrilla strategy. Conventional war with heavy use of armor and other mechanized machines is a different form of warfare, and the effects of interdiction are likewise to be evaluated and planned differently.

22. It is difficult to put a number on this time period, for it depends on the enemy's pace and rate of advance as much as anything else. If air is completely successful, of course, the contribution will never be seen in that the enemy forces concerned (as targets) will never enter into the battle.

23. Actually, air power is applicable as firepower on the friendly side of the FLOT as well, particularly if the enemy breaks through. FLOT is used rather than forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) simply because it is a more distinct separation of where the friendlies are versus where the enemy forces are. The thing that separates BAI from CAS in the area of the immediate battle zone is the proximity of friendly troopS, the relationship between the enemy's spatial position and the ongoing battle, and the degree of coordination and control necessary to prevent "friendly fire" casualties. The dividing line is not the fire support coordination line (FSCL), as many mistakenly believe. See ATP 27(B), Offensive Air Support Operations, Chapter 2.

24. Luttwak, p. 88. Emphasis in original.

25. CINCENT is the Commander in Chief, Central Europe.

COMAAFCE is the Commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. In U.S. terms, COMAAFCE is the air component commander for the Central Region. There is no ground component commander, as such. Rather, the chain of command passes directly from CINCENT to two army group commanders, COMNORTHAG is Commander, Northern Army Group and COMCENT or Commander Central Army Group. The eight national/NATO corps in the Central Region are divided into, and thus part of, these two army groups.

26. Admittedly, the Allied Tactical Air Force (ATAF) headquarters do not like this very much. But, under the thrust of rationalization, standardization, and interoperability, these headquarters are losing their national identities and becoming NATO organizations. Canby's presentation of the command and control problems involved is terribly simplistic and often misses what are nuances in the use of the word control.

27. What Luttwak has done is ascribe the intent of the RAF attack to that of the USAF in his examples. In reality, the USAF example is dedicated to counterair, only a part of the total effort. The question really is, how much SEAD is necessary to allow effective BAI across the front?

28. The case of 1967 can be used as proof that it is important to wage counterair in its own right for the psychological effect on the losing side. For the doubters, one might ask how many allied troops occupied the home islands of Japan before the Japanese unconditionally surrendered.

29. Not necessarily because it is "right" or efficient but rather because the duly constituted authority, the theater commander, ordered it after receiving the advice of his subordinate commanders {and probably political direction as well).

30. Luttwak, p. 88.

31. See ATP 33(A), Tactical Air Doctrine, and ATP 42, Counter Air Operations.

32. Canby gives one the impression that the RAF does not believe in the use of electromagnetic assets to defeat the SAM threat. Nothing could be further from the truth. The British are heavy into self-protection aircraft jamming and radar warning. The real difference occurs on what might be termed the "macro" level, that is, the degree of specialization necessary to defeat the threat and the degree to which the threat must be defeated in order to operate successfully. To be somewhat chauvinistic, the empirical data would seem to be on the USAF side, as the only NATO force to have faced SAMs in combat.

33. Canby, pp. 16-17. Canby describes what the fighter pilots like to call a "mass gaggle." He points out that this type of formation approach is perhaps suitable only for "deep penetration," but implies that it is the USAF approach for all air operations. Again, the implication is simply incorrect. The alternate approach is more sophisticated and requires extensive preflight planning and coordination. It also needs central direction to ensure sufficient assets are dedicated to the task. The British face the same problem of ensuring sufficient resource application. The foreseen needs between 2ATAF and 4ATAF are not necessarily the same, if the tactical situation obtaining in the two general areas is different. We suspect that the tactical situations will be different.

34. The First Preliminary Draft of ATP 44, Electronic Warfare in Air Operations shows: "Tactics will include high-speed, low-level flight, routing to avoid enemy air defense concentrations and saturation of enemy defenses by time compression of air activity. Attack aircraft operating at medium altitude will probably require support jamming by specialist EW aircraft or escort by Wild Weasel aircraft." Saturation and time compression require more than two aircraft.

35. Canby, p. 5.


Major Donald J. Alberts (USAFA; M.A., Georgetown University; M.S., University of Southern California) is Planning and Programming Officer, Doctrine and Concepts Division, Hq USAF. Previously he served in PACAF as a Wild Weasel pilot. Major Alberts taught political science at the Air Force Academy from 1971 to 1975. He is coauthor and coeditor of Political Violence and Insurgency: A Comparative Approach and Insurgency in the Modern World (forthcoming). Major Alberts was author of the outstanding Review article published 1977.


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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