Air University Review, March-April 1985
Phillip A. Petersen
Major John R. Clark
SINCE the ouster of Khrushchev in October 1964, the Soviets have accepted the possibility of a conventional war in central Europe.1 Before this change, which resulted from the October 1964 Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Soviets planned to shift the correlation of military forces dramatically in their favor by means of a nuclear attack against NATO's air and nuclear forces should war occur. Having overcome "certain incorrect views within military-scientific circles connected with the overevaluation of the potential of the atomic weapon, its influence on the character of war and on the further development of the Armed Forces,"2 the Soviets realized that in a conventional war they would face the possibility that NATO air power might survive and neutralize the Soviet superiority in conventional ground forces. Further complicating the Soviet problem was the enemy's potential for escalation to nuclear warfare at some point in a conflict. Thus, any plan for conventional warfare had to include the destruction of enough of NATO's nuclear assets to discourage the West from escalating to nuclear warfare should a deteriorating military situation so warrant.
An analysis of Warsaw Pact professional military literature indicates that a conventional war would begin with a Warsaw Pact strike deep into Western Europe to cripple NATO air and nuclear assets. Unfortunately, Western efforts to understand how the Soviets might conduct such an operation have been hindered by an inadequate understanding of key Soviet air power concepts. Such terms as air operation, independent air operation, air defense operation, and air offensive are often used interchangeably and incorrectly, frequently with little appreciation that each has a very precise meaning in the Soviet military lexicon. The misuse of such terms contributes to confusion among those struggling to comprehend the Soviet military thought processes.
Some intelligence analysts have stumbled over the term protivovozdushnaya operatsiya, particularly when it was translated as air defense operation. American analysts were clearly confused by the differences between their own and Soviet military cultures. The American interpretation of air defense did not adequately reflect the very offensive nature of the Soviet planwhich would probably be translated more accurately as antiair operation. It is also important to understand that for the Soviet military an air operation involves much more than just aviation, an independent air operation is not the same as an air operation, and an air offensive is a front-level activity rather than a theater-level activity. These terms are crucial to understanding Soviet military art, and once grasped conceptually, they will lead to a more complete understanding of how the Soviets would probably wage a conventional war in Europe.
Definitional problems, particularly when two very different languages are involved, should not be surprising. People generally tend to make judgments in terms of their own cultural biases or frames of reference, thereby imposing their concepts and views on what they are attempting to understand. Fortunately, in preparing this article, we have been allowed to use a number of Warsaw Pact documents that may help resolve the semantic difficulties associated with understanding Soviet air power thinking. Referring to this literature, we shall review the Soviet's own assessment of their historical experience with aviation in support of strategic nonnuclear operations, examine contemporary Soviet concepts of operational-strategic-scale air and antiair operations, and discuss Soviet perceptions of the probability for success in such undertakings. Although air and air defense activities are interrelated, readers should note that they are distinct operational components of a Soviet combined-arms operation at the strategic level and therefore will be presented here as the Soviets view them, i.e., independently. Readers may find that a chart on terminology associated with Soviet operational concepts (Figure 1), a graph depicting the distances that these terms represent (Figure 2), and a glossary of key Soviet terms may clarify many of these aspects.
When the Soviets accepted the possibility of a conventional local war, especially in central Europe, they were faced with the awesome task of finding an adequate substitute for the initial mass nuclear strike. If a Soviet strategic offensive operation would not commence with a massive nuclear strike, NATO's aviation would be available for combat actions that could possibly neutralize the Soviet superiority in conventional ground forces. A high probability of NATO nuclear escalation would also exist.
Thus, in addition to neutralizing NATO's aviation, the conventional fire plan for a strategic operation would have to destroy sufficient nuclear assets to dissuade NATO from escalating to nuclear use. To achieve this end, the Soviets looked to their historical experience with the operational-strategic employment of their air forces.
Not surprisingly, the Soviets based their analysis of the potential of air power on their experience in World War II. An article by Colonel Yu. Bryukhanov in the June 1969 issue of Soviet Voyennaya mysl' provides insight into the early, internal Soviet military-theoretical discussions.3 Colonel Bryukhanov argued that military operations employing only conventional weapons increased the requirement for the massed employment of aviation.
If the ground forces launch the main attack primarily against the weak spot in the enemy's operational formation, air power must be brought to bear not only against the enemy force in that area but also against enemy nuclear-capable aircraft and nuclear missiles. Neutralization of such aircraft and missiles will constitute the major task, requiring a large number of aircraft. Therefore, only limited air power can be assigned to support ground operations. The requisite degree of massed air power employed in the area of the main ground thrust is achieved primarily by reducing the width and depth of combat operations. This in turn conditions the character of the process of overwhelming the opposing ground force, based on sequential thrusts aimed at deep penetration.4
More than six years later in the same journal, Lieutenant General of Aviation N. N. Ostroumov drew attention to "the wealth of experience in employing the Air Force in the strategic operations of the Great Patriotic War" and noted that "many points of the art of warfare formulated before and during the war are of current significance under present-day conditions and must be taken into consideration in the further development of military theory."5 This assessment by Ostroumov of the operational-strategic employment of the Soviet Air Forces in the Second World War indicates
... that principal air force efforts in a strategic operation were concentrated primarily on performing the following basic missions: (1) air supremacy; (2) close air support of ground troops in front and army operations; and (3) independent actions against operational reserves, lines of communication, and other important targets in the enemy's rear areas.6
According to Ostroumov, the effort to gain air supremacy would take two forms:
the (1) air operation and (2) local combat actions as an inseparable component of front operations. The former was employed on the scale of an entire strategic operation throughout the entire area covered by the operation and was conducted on the basis of the decision and plan of Headquarters, Supreme High Command with the participation of long-range bombers and front-controlled aviation, as a rule prior to the beginning of the strategic operation. The second form was employed by the front command within the framework and according to the plans of front operations, employing front-controlled aviation forces. In the former case, preference was given to such a method of operational employment of air forces as massive attacks on enemy aircraft on the ground, while in the latter, aerial engagements and battles constituted the principal method.7
Ostroumov also found that combat experience in the strategic operations of the Great Patriotic War indicated that the following were required to gain air supremacy:
Ostroumov concluded that in World War II the development of well-coordinated massive air actions on the main axes of ground advance became an extremely important operational mission of the Soviet Air Forces. These massive actions consisted of air preparation (involving preliminary and immediate air bombardment) conducted as part of the front plan and close support of advancing troops to the entire depth of front operations (conducted in support of the plans of the maneuver armies). "During close air support, weapons, centers of resistance, tanks and personnel, tactical reserves, and enemy troop control systems on the battlefield and in the immediate rear would be destroyed and neutralized."9 The combat actions of the ground troops and aviation were, in some instances, mutually supportive. "When tank armies moved to operational depth, the air armies continued to deliver airstrikes in support of the mobile troops. During the offensive the latter seized enemy airfields and thus assisted in ensuring continuous support and cover of the tank combined units."10
Independent air operations were also conducted in support of a strategic operation. Such operations were aimed at destroying enemy forces and important military installations in the enemy's rear areas. They usually involved the employment of long-range bombers and some front-controlled aviation, which for the most part provided cover for the bombers.11
Although written years ago, an article by Lieutenant Colonel Jan Blumenstein in the August 1975 issue of the Czechoslovak version of Voyennaya mysl' remains an excellent summary of what Warsaw Pact military scientists mean when they write about conducting an air operation. Blumenstein noted that "an air operation ... is a component of a strategic operation which is initiated and fought without nuclear weapons. Its purpose is to destroy or weaken the enemy air forces and nuclear missile forces of an operational and operational-tactical range, to win supremacy in the air and to gain superiority in nuclear forces."12
However, Colonel Aleksander Musial, in a March 1982 Polish article, did allow for the conceptual possibility of an air operation, still nonnuclear in character, occurring in the context of a nuclear war. He argued that " depending on the situation and the quantity of aviation still viable, air operations can be conducted after the belligerents have used their basic stocks of nuclear weapons"i.e., even if an air operation occurred in a nuclear conflict, the operation itself would be nonnuclear.13 Confusion in the United States on this point may be due, in part, to the way deistvii aviatsiya (the activity of aviation) has been confused with vozdushnaya operatsiya (air operation).14 Clearly, aircraft could be employed to deliver nuclear ordnance, but such activity by aviation would be as a part of the execution of nuclear strike plans and not a part of an air operation which by definition does not involve the use of nuclear weapons.
Colonel Musial described the target set of an air operation more specifically but completely consistent with the earlier works by Ostroumov and Blumenstein. An air operation would involve the following:
As part of a strategic offensive operation, an air operation is a joint operation comprising the aggregate combat activities of strategic aviation in coordination with other branches of aviation, as well as other services of the armed forces on an operational-strategic scale.16 Colonel Musial explains that, consequently, its component parts include:
Thus, an air operation could include not only aviation strikes but also strikes by artillery and missiles, as well as assaults by airborne, heliborne, andspecial-purpose troops. Commencing simultaneously with the initiation of front offensive operations, an air operation might last several days.18
According to the lecture materials used at the Voroshilov General Staff Academy in Moscow during the mid-1970s, "the scale of the air operation is determined generally by the scale of the strategic operation, the disposition of enemy air forces, and the capabilities, force, and means employed for their destruction"which would mean that, in the western theater of military action (shown in Figure 3), "the area where missions are accomplished for the destruction of the enemy's air forces can reach 800-1,000 km in width and l,200 km in depth."19 Colonel Musial confirmed in 1982 that "the air operation will be conducted simultaneously on all or several strategic axes over the whole depth of the strategic operation conducted in the theater of military action." However, he also pointed out that "in some cases it can be conducted within one front acting on an independent axis."20 For example, in the northwestern theater of military action (against Scandinavia) an air operation would be conducted in support of a strategic offensive comprised of a single front operating on the only strategic direction with the theater of military action.
An air operation conducted against as sophisticated an air defense system as that of NATO in central Europe would employ penetration corridors to reduce aircraft losses.21 Soviet planners envision a typical initial penetration corridor as about 40-50 kilometers wide and 150-200 kilometers deep.22 With one or two air penetration corridors established over each first-echelon front, there might be as many as six corridors created over the inter-German and FRG-Czech borders.
In developing their specific plans for air operations, Soviet planners use a model of the NATO air defense system that resembles a pyramid: surveillance radars at the top, initial and final acquisition radars below, and finally air defense weapon radars at the bottom. The Soviets plan to attack the NATO air defense system from the top down. The air operation phase of the strategic operation would focus electronic countermeasures initially at the air defense radars. Time delays induced at the top would be passed on down through the pyramid. Additional delays would be accomplished by physically attacking key nodes in the air defense structure. Countermeasures introduced at other levels in the pyramid would add to the overall delay. If sufficient degradation can be achieved at the top of the pyramid, there will be fewer requirements for countermeasures at the bottom.23 This progression offers a considerable advantage for the offense, since the bottom elements are the most difficult to degrade or defeat. Also, in stressing countermeasures against the top of the pyramid, the Soviets place the highest priority in the areas requiring the lowest-order technological solutions.
Prior to and during the initial phase of the air operation, ground-based signal intelligence (SIGINT) collection units along the various fronts would be monitoring and locating NATO electronic emissions continually and forwarding these data to filter centers and command headquarters for targeting purposes.24 Additionally, airborne reconnaissance units would fly SIGINT, photoreconnaissance, and radarmapping missions along the border area. At this time, concentrated intelligence collection efforts would be directed at the areas where the air corridors were to be established.25 Airborne platforms would support these effortsprobably with near real-time data links. Unknown emitters could be assigned to frontal aviation reconnaissance platforms or ground-based direction-finding sites for specific collection requirements.
As explained by Blumenstein, an air operation involves two or three massed strikes on the first day of the operation and one or two massed strikes on subsequent days. "The first massed strike is the most massive, and its aim is to cause decisive losses to the air and the nuclear rocket forces of the enemy and to lower his strength and ability to conduct effective retaliatory strikes."26 Thus, success does not require the total annihilation of the enemy's air and nuclear assets. Instead, its quantitative nature is determined in terms of time and the capability of the enemy to restore the combat capabilities of its forces and to reorganize its ability to counter the actions of friendly forces. "In order to destroy the capabilities of enemy air forces for organized resistance against friendly forces, it is required that up to 60 percent of the aircraft in the theater of action be totally annihilated."27
As the first massed strike of the air operation began, Warsaw Pact electronic jamming systems would be used to "blind" enemy air defense radars and associated communications to facilitate the subsequent destruction of enemy air defense systems by missiles and aircraft.28 Specific targets would be designated for jamming or for destruction, based on the priority or the characteristics of the target. Targets that could not be accurately located because of their mobility (e.g., tactical air communications between aircraft and controller) would be jammed.29 Other targets, because of their priority, would be assigned both jamming and destructionexamples being the Hawk and other air defense batteries, which would be attacked by massive jamming and firepower simultaneously.30
Ground communications jammers subordinate to the front's general support communications jamming battalion would be targeted against high-frequency command communications of the army group, corps, surface-to-surface missile units, tactical air control centers, and air defense control centers.31 These jammers probably would be targeted primarily against American high-frequency (HF) nuclear release nets, such as the "Cemetery Net."32
The army's direct-support communications jamming battalion would probably be targeted against tactical communications of the NATO battalion, brigade, division; corps command communications assets; missile units, such as the lance; and artillery units. The direct-support communications jamming battalion has HF, VHF, and UHF (including radio-relay) communications jamming capability.33 This unit also has its own organic SIGINT resources for identifying and locating jamming targets.
Helicopter jamming units would be used to jam by "periodically disrupting" radio-relay command nets of the brigade, division, and corps. NATO radio-relay communications of tactical aviation and air command forces would also be targeted.34 Although these directional communications are the hardest to jam because of their highly directional antennas, the Soviets believe that they are vulnerable because relatively low power is required to jam the closest relay points.
Artillery, coupled with operational-tactical and tactical rockets and missiles armed with improved conventional munitions, would initiate the air operation with strikes to suppress time-critical air and air defense activities.35 It is important to recognize that to the extent that weapons inventories would allow, the Soviets would strike an enemy's air defenses and airfields initially with means other than aircraft. For example, it is now estimated that the SS-21 with a new conventional warhead incorporating submunitions with highly accurate guidance could attack Hawk sites effectively.36
Throughout the theater of military action, special-purpose troops (spetsnaz) of the General Staff's Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU) would attempt to neutralize NATO's nuclear delivery systems, nuclear storage facilities, and associated command, control, and communications (C3) facilities. GRU spetsnaz brigades familiarize their personnel on NATO nuclear sites; Hawk, Pershing, Lance, and Honest John missiles; nuclear-capable artillery; and nuclear-associated airstrips. The Defense Communications Agency's European communications sites, POMCUS (prepositioned overseas material configured in unit sets) sites, and NATO's early warning capability also provide potential targets for GRU spetsnaz teams. Although individual acts of sabotage, by themselves, would not be decisive, their cumulative effect could contribute greatly to the success of a Soviet theater offensive. GRU spetsnaz teams operating in the western theater of military action would be prepared to destroy nuclear weapons being unloaded in staging areas. Ideally, the Soviet planner would want to destroy NATO's nuclear weapons before they were dispersed to field positions. In subsequent operations to neutralize or destroy NATO's nuclear assets, spetsnaz teams would simultaneously engage in combat, using small arms and antitank rocket launchers to destroy command posts, control centers, firing positions, and equipment in order to prevent NATO's launching of nuclear-armed aircraft or missiles. If the team commander deemed it impossible to neutralize or destroy the target directly, its type and location would be reported for destruction by other means.37 Some of these spetsnaz actions would be integrated into the air operation plan and others would occur as part of the various front offensive operations.38 Like some of the spetsnaz actions, some airborne, airmobile, and amphibious assault activity would be integrated directly into the air operation plan. In Soviet thinking, such assaults would represent the selective use of troop strikes (udary voysk) in lieu of nuclear strikes (yadernye udary) against critical targets.39 Airborne and airmobile assaults conducted as part of the air operation would most often focus on objectives such as airfields, nuclear storage facilities, and associated C3.40 In the case of airfields, the Soviets would sometimes try to seize them for their own use rather than destroy them.
Although reinforcement is possible, in the western theater of military action the first massed strike by Soviet aviation probably would number some 1200 aircraft, out of a total of more than 2800 aircraft available. (See Table I.)
It is quite unlikely that the Soviets would be willing to compromise surprise or to put frontal aviation aircraft at risk by forward-deploying aircraft that cannot be sheltered. If evenly distributed, air penetration corridor use in central Europe could average 200 to 410 aircraft per corridor during the first massed strike without forward deploying additional aircraft.
Nuclear-capable aircraft withheld during the first massed strike of an air operation in the western theater of military action would likely be about 7.5 percent of the available fighter and fighter-bomber aviation and about 30 percent of the available bombers. Assuming that approximately 20 percent of the bombers would not be available for maintenance and other reasons, the bombers could provide strike squadrons of 7 to 8 aircraft each for the air operation while still withholding an aircraft from each squadron for nuclear missions. Out of its total of 45 combat aircraft, each frontal aviation fighter and fighter-bomber regiment has the responsibility of providing 39 aircraft for combat. These regiments could use 36 aircraft in meeting their regimental targeting obligations during the first massed strike, leaving 3 aircraft in each regiment for immediate nuclear response. Soviet fighter and fighter-bomber aviation in the German Democratic Republic, Poland, and Czechoslovakia could provide a 57 aircraft nuclear immediate-response force. Bomber aviation could provide an additional 147 aircraft. Therefore, the air operation could be conducted in the western theater of military action with an aviation nuclear withhold of approximately 200 aircraft. (See Table II.)
With each of the Soviet fighter and fighter-bomber regiments in the forward area providing 36 aircraft on the first massed strike of the air operation, the Soviets could undertake nineteen regimental-size missions (capable of attacking nineteen main operating bases). The non-Soviet Warsaw Pact air assets of the three northern tier states could be reserved for air defense and direct support of their national armies. The potential for their participation in an air operation, of course, will increase as these northern tier states receive greater numbers of Flogger aircraft. Bombers of frontal aviation and reserve air armies of the Supreme High Command, working in squadrons of about 7 to 8 aircraft each, could strike forty-seven main operating bases or the equivalent.
Standoff jamming to suppress NATO's air defense radars by An-12/Cub C/D aircraft would probably begin before the first wave of strike aircraft penetrates the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA). This airborne jamming would be in coordination with Soviet ground-based jamming of vulnerable communication nets. The Cubs would primarily jam early warning/ground-control intercept (EW/GCI) radars and would lay chaff corridors. (See Figure 4.) By overlapping chaff corridors to form a blanket, the Soviets could help mask attack formations from early detection. Initially, standoff jamming aircraft would be positioned behind the FEBA, and their jamming would help screen the penetration corridor as aircraft attacked defenses within the corridor. Escort jamming aircraft would be stationed initially near the beginning of the penetration corridor in a standoff jamming role outside the lethal range of air defenses. In addition, each aircraft in an attack element can be equipped with an electronic countermeasures pod if it does not already have internal equipment for self-protection jamming of terminal air defense radars.
Fighter-bomber aircraft would undertake defense suppression missions within the penetration corridor. Primary targets for destruction would be air defenses-surface-to-air missile systems, antiaircraft artillery, and command and control facilities. The tactic for attacking an air defense battery, such as a Hawk site, calls for two flights of four fighter-bombers. Two of these aircraft would be equipped with antiradiation missiles and would penetrate at low altitude. They would pop up and fire their antiradiation missiles, which would home on the Hawk radar emissions and presumably force the Hawk radar to disengage or be destroyed. The remaining 6 aircraft, in pairs, would then pop up, roll in, and deliver conventional ordnance on single passes from three different headings. The Soviets appear to believe that the destruction of radar stations supporting missile air defense would lead to a breakdown of command posts and fire batteries of Hawk and other air defense units and to the disruption of their automated control support units.41
Fighter aircraft, too, would be assigned to the first wave of the mass strike and committed to help clear the corridors. These fighters would be tasked with preventing NATO interceptors from operating in the corridors to substitute for the loss of the destroyed ground-based air defenses. Fighters and fighter-bombers would be directed also against selected airfields, nuclear storage facilities, and key command-and-control points throughout the depth of frontal aviation activity (about 300 kilometers). Although Blumenstein stated in 1975 that as many as 50 percent of frontal aviation fighter aircraft might conduct ground attack, modernization of Soviet fighter-bombers and bombers has probably reduced the number of fighters allocated to conduct ground attack on the first mass strike of an air operation to between 10-20 percent. This frontal aviation activity would be supported by Yak-28/Brewer Es moving into the penetration corridor to provide escort jamming and to extend the chaff corridor.42 Simultaneously, reconnaissance aircraft would accompany the attack force to provide continuous reconnaissance and near real-time damage assessment for follow-on attacks.
Badger H aircraft following the deeper penetrating aircraft in the first wave of the first mass strike would extend the chaff corridor as air defenses were neutralized. 43 Standoff jamming would be continued by Cubs and, as the air penetration corridor became more secure, Cubs could move into the corridor to resow chaff. As strike aircraft in the chaff corridor approached their targets, they would exit, strike their targets, and subsequently egress from enemy airspace via the chaff corridor. During the invasion of Czechoslovakia, for example, a 200-nm chaff corridor and electronic jamming were used for more than six hours against Czechoslovakian ground radars. Since then, the Soviets have continued to demonstrate their capability to reseed chaff corridors used to screen penetrating aircraft. This reseeding capability attests to the priority the Soviets place on chaff application as a penetration aid. Not only does the corridor screen the strike aircraft, but it masks the standoff jamming platforms as well. In addition, the Soviets equip many of their aircraft with a self-protection chaff capability.
The final wave of the first massed strike probably would follow the previous wave by minutes and consist largely of aviation reserves of the Supreme High Command. The mission of this main strike force would be to deny the enemy the ability to restore the combat power of its air forces through reconstitution at rear airfields out of range of frontal aviation.44 Thus, penetration by the final wave of strike aircraft might well be 300 kilometers or more. Badger Js would provide escort jamming support for these strike aircraft.45 Brewer E and CubC/D standoff jamming probably would be moved over NATO territory to support the strike aircraft of this final wave of the first mass strike.
Blumenstein notes that long-range aviation probably would fly no more than two strikes on the first day of the air operation. Between the two mass strikes, frontal aviation could conduct an additional mass strike alone. According to Voroshilov General Staff Academy lecture materials, this second long-range strike and all subsequent mass strikes against enemy airfields would be "organized and carried out on the basis of reconnaissance information about the results of the initial mass strike." Furthermore, "subsequent massed strikes must be brought to bear on the enemy after the shortest of intervals following the initial mass strikes, so the enemy is denied the chance of restoring his airfields and regrouping his air forces."46
Between mass strikes, frontal aviation would concentrate its efforts on newly detected and reconstituted targets to a depth of 300 kilometers. Musial makes the point that even
the completion of an air operation does not mean that the struggle for air supremacy has ended. An important role in [the struggle for air supremacy] is played by determined action by ground troops and especially operational maneuver groups [OMGs] as well as airborne assault forces.47
While an initial air operation in the contemporary period would have as a principal goal the attainment of overall fire superiority, an antiair operation would be focused on defending friendly forces and contributing to achieving air superiority. However, although the air and antiair operations have different objectives, they have an overlapping target set (i.e., aircraft, surface-to-air missile systems, and associated C3 facilities), which both makes them mutually supportive and requires careful coordination.
The Soviets intend to unify air defense assets in any given theater of operations under a single concept and plan within the context of the strategic action.48 If the Soviets do not hold the initiative in the air, then their immediate priority would be to conduct an antiair operation to provide friendly forces freedom of movement while simultaneously causing maximum attrition of enemy air and air defense assets. The Soviets would attempt to gain the initiative through combined offensive and defensive actions of frontal aviation, the National Air Defense Forces, missile troops and artillery, and the antiaircraft defense elements of other branches of the armed forces.49 If the Soviets seized the initiative in the air through the preemptive execution of an air operation or have been able to wrest the initiative from the enemy, the major focus of the antiair operation would be on defensive actions to protect friendly forces and installations from NATO's remaining offensive air capability.
On their own side of the forward edge of the battle area, the Soviets would have to limit the passage of aircraft carefully by time and altitude. Given the Soviets' respect for NATO air power, plus their view that frontal aviation regiments constitute assets no less expendable than ground force divisions, it is likely that returning Soviet aviation not on the specified altitude and time schedule would run a high risk of being brought down by their own ground-based air defenses.
Although the loss of 175 aircraft over the course of the air operation would exceed historical attrition-rate experience, even the loss of 1000 aircraft might be considered acceptable by the Soviets if the operation succeeded in suppressing NATO's air and nuclear assets.50 Within the framework of such losses, frontal aviation fighter aircraft will have to assume increased responsibility for ground attack. Some fighter-interceptors which, in fact, may have played some part in supporting aviation reserves of the Supreme High Command during the air operation might need to be moved forward to supplement those frontal aviation fighters still performing the air-to-air mission.
While the Soviets might move a limited number of fighter and ground attack aircraft to airfields seized by operational maneuver groups in the first days of a strategic offensive, within a day or two of the conclusion of a successful air operation, the Soviets probably would seek to move entire fighter regiments from the German Democratic Republic to captured and repaired NATO airfields. Frontal aviation fighter-bombers or bombers could then be moved forward to these vacated airfields in order to facilitate meeting ground force requirements. In these ways, the aviation air defense zone of activity would be moved forward over captured NATO territory early on. Subsequently, independent air defense formationsas large as a front for each strategic directionwould be created to ensure continuity of the air defense effort from the rear of the first echelon fronts back to Soviet or Soviet-allied territory.51 Such air defense formations would incorporate both ground-based air defense assets and fighter aircraft. In addition, by the time the first-echelon fronts should have accomplished their initial objectives (likely to include the Kiel Canal, the Ems-Rhine riverline, and the isolation of U.S. forces in the south), the Soviets could move twenty-three additional regiments of fighters and fighter-bombers from the Soviet interior. This action would be sufficient to create two new air armies to support maneuver fronts of the second operational echelon of the first strategic echelon.
The Soviets would also use radioelectronic warfare resources to protect key installations from enemy air attack. The unit that is assigned this mission is the air defense jamming battalion. One unit is allocated to protect front assets while another ensures that army-level assets are not destroyed.52
Soviet military scientists have given much thought to the use of air power in a conventional local war. According to their analysis, "in the 1950's through the 1970's, no local war involving modern (for that period) combat aircraft and air defense weapons was carried out without air strikes against enemy airfields."53 The objective in these local wars was seen to have been as in earlier warsi.e., to catch the enemy aircraft unsheltered. However, "particular attention was given to knocking out the operating area of the airfield, the concrete landing strip (for a certain time). Concrete-penetrating bombs were used for sealing off the airfield, and the resulting craters prevented takeoffs and landings." Except for "attacks made against the entrance doors of aircraft shelters using guided missiles," modern precision-guided weapons were not employed.54
Despite the reaffirmation of operational lessons learned, the experience of local wars of the 1950s through the 1970s also introduced new factors that had to be considered in the elaboration of tactics: "the increased fire power of the aircraft, the equipping of them with sight and navigation systems and electronic countermeasures equipment; the defending of the airfields by surface-to-air missile complexes (in cooperation with antiaircraft artillery); the building of reinforced concrete aircraft shelters; [and] the creation of a tactical air defense zone equipped with organic antiaircraft weapons which had to be crossed by the aircraft on the way to the objective (the airfield)."55
Of particular interest, however, is how the Soviets concluded that modern weapons could contribute to making older weapons more effective. In describing the Soviet assessment in 1980, Colonel E. Tomilin wrote: "Despite the defense of airfields by surface-to-air missile complexes, the attacking side suffered a majority of losses from conventional antiaircraft artillery. This was explained by the fact that in fearing to be spotted by the detection and guidance radars of the surface-to-air missiles, the pilots in the strike groups used low altitudes. Avoiding danger from the modern defensive weapons, they fell under intensive firing by obsolete weapons which had been quickly readied for use."56
From this experience, the Soviets drew lessons concerning both "the importance of avoidance maneuvers" for the conduct of various aviation actions and the utility of traditional antiaircraft guns.57
The plausibility of a successful Soviet air operation has significantly increased as a result of the deployment of more capable aircraft and more accurate tactical (Frog and SS-21) and operational-tactical (Scud and SS-23) missiles. Thus, more accurate delivery systems have allowed the Soviets to obtain a greater potential for suppressing NATO's air and nuclear assets without nuclear means, while still having the ability to complete the task with nuclear means if that should be necessary. In addition, supporting both nuclear arid nonnuclear options, Soviet radioelectronic combat activity is designed to introduce critical delays or confusion into the NATO command, control, and communications systems through a combination of radioelectronic warfare and physical destruction. The Soviets have studied the NATO command and control structure in detail and believe that the high degree of NATO dependence on electronic control systems constitutes a significant vulnerability that can be exploited.
As was noted in the Voroshilov General Staff Academy lecture materials, "success in air operations is ensured by delivering surprise mass initial strikes on enemy airfields, where the main body of enemy aircraft is concentrated, with first priority on enemy nuclear-armed aircraft." Such surprise massed blows on the enemy's air forces "create favorable conditions for effective actions of friendly air forces, ensure better results of actions against the enemy airfields, contain and limit the deployment or redeployment of the enemy air forces, neutralize its activity, and deprive it of the initiative and the capability to support ground forces."58
The results of historical assessment and the experience of training exercises have led the Soviets to conclude that "despite the difficulties, the destruction of enemy air assets in the theater of action can be achieved in a short time by wise and clever actions."59 In addition to citing the Israeli destruction of the Arab air forces in the 1967 Middle East War as a practical example of the successful execution of an air operation in the contemporary period, the Voroshilov General Staff Academy lecture materials cite the following example:
During one training exercise, where strikes were delivered against 313 aircraft positioned on ten dummy airfields, 45 percent of the aircraft, all runways, and 51 percent of command posts were destroyed. In addition 43 percent of radar posts, 45 percent of SAM control points, and 43 percent of antiaircraft artillery batteries were knocked out.60
Over the last twenty years, the Soviets have given much serious thought to how the Warsaw Pact might best pursue victory in a European war initiated and perhaps limited to the use of conventional weapons alone. As a result, NATO's strategy of deterrence demands careful consideration of such Soviet plans. While Western analysts and strategic thinkers continue to argue over whether Soviet military thought suggests a preference for nuclear use if war should occur, the evidence indicates that the Soviets seek to avoid having to fight at all and especially with nuclear weapons. At the same time, the evidence also suggests that the Soviets remain hostile to the principles of Western democracy and that they have not deemphasized the necessity of being prepared to fight with the use of nuclear weapons as the best means of restraining NATO from employing such weapons. As a result, NATO must be prepared to deter conventional war independent of its effort to deter Soviet nuclear use.
As the credibility of the NATO nuclear deterrent has weakened with the West's loss of an obvious global and theater nuclear superiority, the balance of conventional forces has come to be ever more crucial. Because NATO has accepted a conventional force numerical imbalance, it is critical that NATO exploit its advantage in air power, where approximately 50 percent of NATO's firepower lies. If the Soviets are convinced that NATO air power cannot be neutralized, their confidence in their ability to win a conflict against NATO and especially their confidence about being able to keep any such conflict nonnuclear will be affected significantly. Thus, if the Soviets perceive that NATO can quickly break the back of a Soviet air operation in the Western theater of military action, deterrence will be substantially enhanced at the conventional level.
The air operation plan is the linchpin for a Soviet strategic offensive against NATO. Given NATO's defensive nature, the first priority for NATO is to be able to survive an initial attack on NATO air bases. Two areas could improve NATO's chances to survive a Soviet air operationmodernized and more numerous ground-based air defenses, plus a surface-to-surface missile capability to suppress Warsaw Pact airfields. If our air assets are made more survivable and if the Warsaw Pact main operating bases are threatened with immediate response, then the entire Soviet strategic offensive in the theater of military action will be placed at considerable risk.
1. S. A. Tyushkevich, Sovetskiye Vooruzhenny Sily: istoriya stroitel'stva (The Soviet Armed Forces: The History of Their Development)(Moskva: Voyenizdat, 1978), p. 476.
3. Voyennaya mysl' (Military Thought) is the basic military-theoretical organ of the Soviet Ministry of Defense. The journal is published monthly, and access to it is restricted. In addition to this restricted-access edition, classified issues have at times been published. Each of the Warsaw Pact countries publishes its own version of the journal, occasionally reprinting particularly useful articles from versions published elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact.
4. Colonel Yu. Bryukhanov, "The Massed Employment of Aircraft," FBIS translation of Voyennaya mysl'', Number 6, June 1969, Foreign Press Digest No. 0008/70, p. 45.
5. Lieutenant General of Aviation N. N. Ostroumov, "Employment of Air Forces in Strategic Operations," Voyennaya mysl' (Moskva, September 1975).
12. Lieutenant Colonel Jan Blumenstein, "Frontal Aviation in an Air Operation," Vojenska mysl (Military Thought) (Prague, August 1975). Also see Kh. Dzhelaukhov, "The Augmentation of Strategic Efforts in Modern Armed Conflict" Military Thought, Number 1, 1964, in U.S. Air Force, Selected Readings from Military Thought, 1963-1973, Studies in Communist Affairs, Volume 5, Part I (Washington: GPO, 1982) (hereafter, Selected Readings, Part I), pp. 36-37; N. Ostroumov, "War Experiences and Aviation Exercises," Voyenno-istoricheskiyzhurnal (Military-Historical Journalhereafter, Vizh), Number 8, 1977, pp. 47-51; and M. N. Kozlevnikov, Komandovanie i shtab VVS Sovetskoi armii v velikoi otechestvennoi voine, 1941-1945 (Command and Staff of the Air Forces of the Soviet Army in the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945) (Moskva: Izdatel'stov "Nauka," 1978), pp. 253-365.
13. Colonel Aleksander Musial, "Charakter i znaczenie operacji powietrznych we wspolczesnych wojennych" (The Character and the Importance of Air Operations in Modern Warfare), Przeglad wojsk lotniczych i wojsk obrony powietrznej kraju (Polish Air and Air Defense Reviewhereafter, Polish Air Review), 1982, p. 12.
14. Those who work frequently with translations can attest to how significantly a mistranslation can lead us all astray. For example, a February 1980 Voyennyy vestnik (Military Herald) article titled "Vnezapnost' v deistviyakh taktichskoi aviatsii" (Surprise in the Actions of Tactical Aviation) was translated by a U.S. government translation contractor as "Surprise in Tactical Air Operations." The difference between "actions" and "operations" is significant for Americans and certainly for the Soviets. See FSTC translation L-0016.
15. Musial, pp. 11-12. The destruction of a NATO aircraft carrier at sea would be undertaken by two squadrons of strike aircraft totaling about fourteen aircraft. See, for example, "Soviet Naval Aviation Bomber Force Modernization," Jane's Defense Review, vol. 4, no. 7, 1983, p. 619. The notion of mining airfields, mentioned also by Ostroumov, must be given greater reflection as a result of the extensive Soviet mining effort conducted by air in Afghanistan. See, for example, "PFM-1 Anti-personnel Mine/Bomblet," Jane's Defense Journal, vol. 4, no. 9, 1983, p. 809.
16. An "independent" air operation (samostoyatel'naya vozdushnaya operatsiya), in contrast, is on an operational-tactical scale and employs only assets of the air forces. As a smaller-scale operation, an "independent" air operation would probably occur only subsequent to an air operation in the course of a relatively protracted conflict. See P. S. Kutakhov, "The Conduct of Air Operations," Vizh., Number 6, 1971, as translated in Selected Soviet Military Writings, 1970-75, edited by William F. Scott (Washington: GPO, 1976), Soviet Military Thought Series, Number 11; V. Resnichenko and I. Suddenok, "Sistema obshchevoyskovykh i sovemestnykh opereatsii" (The System of Combined-Arms and Joint Operations), Vizh., Number 4, 1981; and Ostroumov. Musial
argues that "an air operation today cannot be conducted independentlyby the resources of the air forces alone. To achieve its set objectives it must employ, for example, missile and artillery forces, airborne assaults, naval forces, diversionary groups, reconnaissance resources." Musial, p. 13.
17. Musial, p. 12.
18. Blumenstein notes that "the air operation may last 2-3 or more days." However, the expected duration of the air operation may have increased in length by the early 1980s. A 1981 article in Vizh. cites a five-day air operation as a historical example. Lieutenant Colonel Ye. Belov and Lieutenant Colonel A. Pervov, "From the Experience of the Employment of Long-Range Aviation in the Third Period of the War," as translated in USSR Report: Military Affairs, No. 1660, JPRS 80390, 24 March 1982, p. 32.
19. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings," lecture material from the Voroshilov General Staff Academy.
20. Musial, p. 13.
21. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
22. General Charles A Gabriel during an interview with Benjamin F. Schemmer, "We can Count on Our Allies, I'm Not Sure the Warsaw Pact Can Count on Theirs," Armed Forces Journal International, January 1982, pp. 80-95; and "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
24. The Soviets maintain an estimate of the enemy's radioelectronic situation, which they use to assess critical links and nodes and their respective vulnerabilities. Such vulnerability analysis is conducted in close coordination with Soviet plans for offensive operations and their direction. The enemy radioelectronic situation consists of the enemy's command and control systems, front jamming troops and equipment, and terrain conditions. The Chief of Radioelectronic Warfare and the Chief of Reconnaissance jointly determine the most important and dangerous elements of the enemy electronic systems so that they are targeted for jamming or destruction. They consecutively analyze and evaluate information on each enemy system of command and control with their different elements and differing levels down to battalions. "Organization and Conduct of Radioelectronic Warfare in Front Offensive Operations," lecture material from the Voroshilov General Staff Academy.
27. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
28. The Soviets place heavy emphasis on disruption of the enemy's command, control, and communications (C3), which they would accomplish mainly through the use of radioelectronic combat. The Soviets feel that if they could introduce critical delays into the control process by either electronically interfering or physically destroying portions of the C3 system, the system would become overloaded and NATO would lose its ability to respond in a time-sensitive manner. This is the essence of the Soviet concept of radioelectronic combat. Colonel L. Kuleszynski, "Some Problems of Surprise in Warfare," Military Thought, Number 5, 1971, in U.S. Air Force, Selected Readings from Soviet Military Thought, 1963-1973, Studies in Communist Affairs, Volume 5, Part II (hereafter, Selected Readings, Part II) (Washington: GPO, 1982), p. 87; A. I. Paliy, "Radioelektronnaya bor'ba" (Radioelectronic Combat), S.V.E., Volume 7, pp. 29-30; and "Radioelectronnoye podavleniye" (Radioelectronic Suppression), S.V.E., Volume 7, p. 30; A. I. Paliy, Radioelektronnaya bor'ba (Sredstva i sposoby podavleniya i zashchity radioelektronnykh sistem) (Electronic Warfare [Means and Methods of Disrupting and Protecting Electronic Systems] ) (Moscow: Military Publishing House, 1981), p. 190.
29. "Soviet Radioelectronic Warfare," lecture material from the Voroshilov General Staff Academy.
30. "Organization and Conduct of Radioelectronic Warfare in Front Offensive Operations," lecture material from the Voroshilov General Staff Academy.
32. "The top-level NATO C3 system is not just vulnerable; elements of it are so insecure that during the last major NATO exercise under Alexander Haig's tenure as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, even the highly encoded traffic sent over a special communications net to NATO's nuclear units was intercepted so quickly by Soviet communications intelligence posts that the Russians broadcast a message in the clear on an open broadcast channel to the effect that, 'NATO's going nuke.'" Benjamin F. Schemmer, "No NATO C3I 'Check-out Counter,'" Armed Forces Journal International, December 1982, p. 92.
33. "Organization and Conduct of Radioelectronic Warfare in Front Offensive Operations."
35. Musial notes that one of the component parts of an air operation is "attacks by missile troops involving the use of cluster charges with conventional weapons upon air base targets, antiaircraft defense, and enemy command and control systems." He also talks about "action by the forces of the front to neutralize the enemy AA defense and protect air force strike groups en route to their objectives." Musial, p. 12. Another source notes that "aviation operating in one region immediately following attacks by rocket troops can considerably weaken the enemy air defense system." Musial, p. 12. See also, M. Skovordkin, "Some Questions on Coordination of Branches of Armed Forces in Major Operations," Military Thought, Number 2, 1967, in Selected Readings, Part I, p. 113.
36. Benjamin F. Schemmer, "Soviet Technological Parity in Europe Undermines NATO's Flexible Response Strategy," Armed Forces Journal International, May 1984, pp. 80-95. The Soviets have approximately 730 tactical and operational-tactical rocket and missile launchers in the western theater of military action.
37. Soviet Military Power (Washington: GPO, 1984), pp. 69-70.
38. "Experience shows that detachments even consisting of several men which are landed from submarines or dropped from aircraft can destroy or put out of commission for a long time radar stations, control towers, long-range and short-range homing airport stations, glide-path and approach beacons, equipment for instrument landing, etc." N. Semenov, "Gaining Supremacy in the Air," Military Thought, Number 4, l968, in Selected Readings, Part I, p. 206.
39. The term udar voysk (troop strike) was introduced in January 1982. See Major General I. Vorobyev, "Oruzhiye i taktika: Kommdir i sovremennyy boy" (Weapons and Tactics: The Commander and Modern Combat), Krasnaya zvezda (Red Star), 12 January 1982, p. 2.
40. An exercise in which a special weapons storage area is attacked by a battalion-size airmobile force is discussed in I. Zuyev, "BMD Ensures Maneuver (Experience of a Battalion Exercise)," Voyennyy vestnik (Military Herald, hereafter, V.V.), Number 2, 1976, pp. 28-31. The destruction of a special weapons storage facility by an airborne battalion is the subject of a later article in the same journal. See I. Koronov, "Batal'ion v nochnom reyde" (Battalion in a Night Raid), V.V., Number 8, 1980, pp. 37-39.
41. Recent discussion in the press suggests that in forward bases in the German Democratic Republic, Poland, and Czechoslovakia there has been an increase in inventory levels of precision-guided air-to-surface missiles such as the AS-12 antiradiation missile. Western observers also have noted that live missile firings have been conducted with ground emitters operating within U.S. frequency bands that the Soviets would encounter during any conflict in central Europe. The AS-12 can be carried by Flogger, Fitter, and Fencer aircraft. "Soviets Reequip Forward Air Forces," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 21 May 1984, pp. 65-72.
42. Lieutenant Colonel D. B. Lawrence, "Soviet Radioelectronic Combat," Air Force Magazine, March 1982, p. 90.
43. Jane's Defense Weekly, Volume I, 14 January 1984.
44. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
45. Jane's Defense Weekly, Volume I, 14 January 1984.
46. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
47. Musial, p. 11.
48. Marshal of the Soviet Union and then Chief of the General Staff N. V. Ogarkov, "Strategiya voyennaya" (Military Strategy), S.V.E., Volume 6, pp. 564; "Protivo-vozdushnaya operatsiya" (Antiair Operation), S.V.E., Volume 6, pp. 589-90; and P. Batistskiy, "The Second Duty," Vestnik protivo-vozduchnoy oborony (Air Defense Herald), Number 11, l977, p. 11, as translated in FSTC-HT-810-78, p. 21.
49. Witold Pokruszynski, "Operacjo przeciwpowietrzna wojsk opk" (The National Air Defense Force Antiair Operation), Polish Air Review, Number 5, 1982, pp. 5-7.
50. The loss figure of 175 aircraft constitutes the maximum Soviet losses at a rate of 2 percent (i.e., twenty losses per 1000 sorties) for an air operation involving seven massed strikes. This rate compares to a U.S. attrition rate of 9/1000 in World War II, 4.4/1000 in the Korean conflict, and 3/1000 in Vietnam. In the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli Air Force attrition rate was 8/1000, while the loss rate for the A-4, used primarily for close air support, was between 10 and 15 aircraft lost per 1000 sorties. The U.S. Air Force is said to consider an overall 2 percent loss rate as high. Peter Bogart, "The Vulnerability of the Manned Airborne Weapon Systems, Part 3: Influence on Tactics and Strategy," International Defense Review, December 1977, p. 1065.
51. In World War II, the Soviets found the gap between the air defense of the fronts and national territory air defense grew to 300 kilometers on occasion. See Gorbienov, "The Great Patriotic War Trends in the Development of the Organizational Structure of Air Defense Troops," Vizh, Number 11, 1980, as translated in USSR Report: Military Affairs, JPRS 77325, 5 February 1981, p. 29.
52. "Organization and Conduct of Radioelectronic Warfare in Front Offensive Operations."
53. Colonel E. Tomilin, "Chto vzyat' iz boyevogo opyta" (What to Take from Combat Experience), Number 12, 1980, p. 27; translated in USSR Report: Military Affairs, Number 1567, JPRS 77371, 11 February 1981, p. 33.
54. Ibid., original p. 27 and translation p. 34.
55. Ibid., original p. 27 and translation p. 33.
56. Ibid., original p. 27 and translation p. 34.
58. "Air Operations to Destroy Enemy Air Groupings."
60. A U.S. government study prepared in 1979 concluded that such an operation conducted by the Soviets would fail to accomplish its objectives. However, the study also concluded that the replacement of Badgers by Backfires could increase Warsaw Pact capability substantially. By 1985 such a modernized force, it was predicted, "in three sorties could destroy about 1,000 aircraft (or approximately 45 percent of NATO's aircraft in Central Europe)." Furthermore, "this same 15-regiment [twelve with Backfires and three with fighter-bombers] attack force also could attack 30 runways and close over 80 percent of them. Three sorties in two days would close the runways for a period of days."
Phillip A. Petersen (B.S., Central Michigan University; M.S., Western Michigan University) is Assistnt for Europe in the Policy Support Program of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He has served as a research analyst for both the Library of Congress and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he has been an instructor at the University of Illinois. Petersen has appeared before U.S. congressional committees as an expert witness on Soviet air power and has briefed the NATO Military Committee, SHAPEX, major subordinate NATO commands, and the defense ministries of several West European nations. His articles have appeared in Military Review, The Wall Street Journal, International Defense Review, and a variety of other publications.
Major John R. Clark (B.S., Central Missouri State University) is Deputy Chief, Foreign Materiel Program, Hq USAF/Intelligence. He has extensive worldwide operational experience as an electronic warfare officer in EB-66, B-52, and RC-135 aircraft. Major Clark has also served as a section chief in the Soviet/Warsaw Pact Division of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Major Clark is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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