Air warfare planning

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Air warfare planning is the set of doctrines and procedures for carrying out all types of air warfare, as an integrated whole. The term was reinforced by the book Planning the Air Campaign is by COL (ret) John Warden III, an influential theorist on air warfare. [1] Warden, after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, ran a Pentagon doctrinal research unit called Checkmate. He presented the original concepts to GEN (ret.) Chuck Horner, then commanding air forces (CENTAF) for United States Central Command. Horner, a lieutenant general at the time, found he did not work well with Warden, and three stars beats one eagle.

Historically, air strategists have not necessarily gotten high grades in "plays nicely with others", insisting that proper use of airpower renders the other military services almost irrelevant. Of course, there have been land-based air officers who formed a close team with ground officers:

This voyage strengthened Quesada’s conviction that cooperation between air and ground operations was key to military success. The young officer refined his ideas in a variety of staff positions, then put them into practice in World War II. Promoted to brigadier general in Dec. 1942, Quesada took the First Air Defense Wing to Africa to participate in several campaigns.

Transferred to England to take over the IX Fighter Command, Quesada used new communications technologies to gain control over aircraft in combat. He took Gen. Eisenhower on a battlefield tour in a modified fighter plane to show Ike how radios and radar could affect air-to-ground operations. On D-Day plus one, Quesada established an headquarters on the Normandy beachhead, and directed aerial cover and support for the Allied invasion.

— Gen. Elwood 'Pete' Quesada [2]

A set of propositions from COL Phillip Meininger, a United States Air Force theorist, commander of the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, while recognizing joint operations, still leans in the direction of "Trust Us, We're the Air Force." Nevertheless, it is a point of departure regarding both the process of air planning, and why other services' reluctance to rely on airpower alone.

Ten Propositions Regarding Air Power[3]

  1. Whoever controls the air generally controls the surface.
  2. Air Power is an inherently strategic force.
  3. Air Power is primarily an offensive weapon.
  4. In essence, Air Power is targeting, targeting is intelligence, and intelligence is analyzing the effects of air operations.
  5. Air Power produces physical and psychological shock by dominating the fourth dimension-time.
  6. Air Power can conduct parallel operations at all levels of war, simultaneously .
  7. Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass.
  8. Air Power’s unique characteristics necessitate that it be centrally controlled by airmen.
  9. Technology and air power are integrally and synergistically related.
  10. Air Power includes not only military assets, but an aerospace industry and commercial aviation.

Meininger does reflect the position that air warfare is a single entity, rather than the [4] Cold War position "Prior to 1991 Air Power thinking was generally divided in two. On the one hand Air Power was strategic employment of nuclear weapons and on the other hand Air Power was support to army land operations. After 1989 the nuclear exchange strategy was no longer valid, which only left us the Air-Land Battle doctrine to build upon. The Air-Land Battle doctrine was developed for the European Theater as the US doctrine for opposing the Warsaw Pact offensive army doctrine. The doctrine developed for these operations was a tactical level doctrine designed to facilitate a common language for tactical level joint operations between airmen and the army, and it is this language upon which we develop today’s doctrine."


As air warfare evolves, it considers more dimensions, and, in the dimensions, greater precision. It also deals with information flow, which can be positive, as with food in the Berlin Airlift, or negative, as with bombs. Properly aimed bombs could also be argued as a means of causing information flow to cease.

The First World War: Two-Dimensional

World War I featuring forward trenches, artillery range limits

When First World War aviators began to attack ground targets, they were principally concerned with the two-dimensional ground battlefield. They needed enough precision to know the locations of their own troops, the enemy lines, and, preferably, specific targets. With respect to the third dimension, they did not need to worry about their own artillery if they operated beyond its range. While anti-aircraft artillery was poorly developed, pilots did need to know when they were close enough that they might, by accident as much as design, be hit.

In World War I, the ground batteries were fairly straightforward: one's own front trench line, the enemy's forward trenches, and the "no man's land" in between. If the aircraft were cooperating with an attack, they might need to be aware of their own side moving into no man's land, but, realistically, the ability to coordinate between air and ground was so primitive that close air support could be as dangerous to either side.

In modern terms, the trench line closest to the enemy is the Forward Edge of the Battle Line (FEBA), defined by the U.S. as "[the] foremost limits of a series of areas in which ground combat units are deployed, excluding the areas in which the covering or screening forces are operating, designated to coordinate fire support, the positioning of forces, or the maneuver of units."[5]

The Second World War and mmore dimensions


Early in World War Two, it became common to have reconnaissance and security forces still within range of one's own artillery, but beyond the main body of ground forces.

The FLOT is a line that indicates the most forward positions of friendly forces in any kind of military operation at a specific time. The forward line of own troops (FLOT) normally identifies the forward location of covering and screening forces. The FLOT may be at, beyond, or short of the forward edge of the battle area. An enemy FLOT indicates the forward-most position of hostile forces.

Friendly air operating between the FEBA and FLOT must have positive identification of targets to prevent fratricide.

Land and Air Force Coordination

Before the advent of doctrine for the coexistence of ground troops capable of deep penetration of enemy lines (e.g., air assault, paratroop, special reconnaissance with deep strikes by aircraft, guided missiles, and long-range artillery, it was much easier to understand the dimensions of the battlefield with respect to air missions. [6] The Fire Support Coordinating Line (FSCL) introduces definite three- and four-dimensional aspects.

Adding the FSCL

A variant on three dimensions is the "layer cake", in which there are various altitude zones. For example, it may be a rule that no friendly aircraft will go below 10,000 feet in a given area, with perhaps different rules for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The ground forces will expect to be able to fire on a low-flying aircraft that flies into their zone.

      • Placeholder for altitude bands

Another approach is to allow friendly aircraft to fly lower, but only in designated air corridors. The idea of air corridors and no-fly zones are increasingly common in operations short of war.

"If you pass the FSCL on a deep mission, can you still get CAS? Even though the tactical air employment mission definitions are vague enough to permit this possibility, the Army and Air Force employment tends to support the concept of a linear battle developing where "in depth" means an area still within the range of long-range artillery and the FSCL moves only as the FEBA and forward line of own troops (FLOT) move in a coordinated effort."[6]

The preceding largely defined the battlefield in two dimensions. The FSCL does consider the third dimension, scheduling attacks so an aircraft does not occupy the same space as an artillery shell. Proper scheduling starts to consider the fourth dimension of time.

Meininger cites a remark of Warden's: air power delivers strategic information: some of it is “negative” like bombs, and some is “positive” like food. The Berlin Airlift may well have been one of the most decisive victories of the Cold War, fought almost exclusively with noncombat aircraft.

The Airlift was strategic, in that it directly affected, defensively, a strategic center of gravity: the survival necessities for the Berlin population. Another rethinking of dimensions starts by revisiting the two-dimensional, and extending the depth of the area of operations. Strategic "strike" attacks are beyond both the maximum range of land weapons, and the authority of the Land Component Commander (LCC).

Extending to strike and special operations

In a pure strategic attack situation, when striking deep into enemy territory, there is little danger of attacking one's own regular ground troops or being hit by "friendly" air defense weapons.[7] It is, however, possible for one's air units to interact with one another, such that their operations need to be deconflicted.[8] Deconfliction, for example, might be making sure that electronic warfare resources do not jam the radars of friendly attack aircraft. It may mean that there must be enough separation between multiple attacks on the same target, such that successive attack aircraft do not fly through fragments of the previous wave's bombs.

Complicating matters are the possible presence of special operations forces, which may be inside or outside the limit of the LCC's authority. Deconfliction can be very difficult when the special operation is so sensitive that regular air planners cannot be told about it, as in the Son Tay raid. Typically, a higher headquarters informs an air operations center that they must clear a certain area, without giving reasons.

In other cases, the special operations forces will provide targeting information to the strike aircraft, who must be aware of the special reconnaissance team locations for multiple reasons.

Changing time

Long ago, air forces were largely limited, by human vision, to daylight operations. Today, the more advanced air forces prefer to operate at night, using sensors that let them operate freely but hides them from less sophisticated defenses. In the 1991 war in Iraq, the greatest loss of USAF personnel was on an AC-130 aircraft that continued to operate into day, when it was acquired and shot down by a visually guided missile.

Most aircraft and missiles, however, can also operate in daylight, and the trend is to operate around the clock, perhaps with some platforms better for day or for night. Spreading the time of attack compounds the defensive problem and can exhaust the enemy. An advanced air force tries to dominate the battlefield with "almost complete knowledge of enemy dispositions." ISR comes from satellites, UAVs, and airborne sensors on manned aircraft. GPS position and time information is essential to merging the flow of information into a "single, uninterrupted, decisive operation by merging the tactical, operational and strategic levels of war into a single one. In other words, the U.S. was able to fight more rapid, decisive, continuous operations." [9]

Principles of air warfare

Meininger's 10 Principles are a starting point for discussion. At a deeper and more fundamental level is the idea of how an air force cooperates with other services, given the historic tendency of airmen to claim they can win all wars by themselves...once someone gets them airbases and provides fuel. Global Strike with 36-hour flights from the US can have dramatic effects in specific cases, but they cannot cover every case, especially for cooperation with ground forces, especially ground forces with UAVs and helicopters.

Several theorists have had major effects on modern air warfare concepts, especially the retired colonels John Warden III and John Boyd. Warden and others rethought targeting, where Boyd dealt with a broader general view of warfare, but also was a noted tactician of fighter combat.

Breakthrough technical advances

Technological developments in recent years have led to changes as fundamental as rethinking the need for nuclear weapons, but that is only a start. One of the more revolutionary ideas is distinguishing kinetic from nonkinetic mechanisms. "Kinetic weapons, as defined here, are weapons whose effects are transmitted by the motion of a substance, such as a projectile, a shock wave, or heat. Departing from the conventional definition, nonkinetic weapons include—

  • Sticky foams.
  • Graphite bombs.
  • Cyber weapons.
  • Microwaves.
  • Directed energy.
  • High-energy radio frequency strikes.
  • Calmatives.
  • Acoustic weapons.
  • Stink bombs.
  • Antitraction and antireaction chemicals.[10]

One clear trend was that there is neither role for nuclear weapons on the battlefield, nor are any significant capabilities lost by not having them. New technologies are equal or superior to the potential of tactical nuclear weapons.[11]

Critical mass of new kinds of attacks

Taking nonkinetic as well as kinetic effects into account, are nations limited in their response? If the attacks of September 11, 2001 had caused airliner crashes, financial system shutdowns, and disruption of emergency services, but all through information warfare effects against the controlling computers and networks, would a global war on terrorism have been declared? Remember that a series of terrorist kinetic attacks did not trigger a "global war" response. Only local response, at most, resulted from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia , the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.[10]

There is a need, in this emerging context, to define the concept of critical mass produced by effects. Assume the preceding cyber attacks were spread out over some period of time. Is there a point where the cumulative effects would trigger a response, or is it a matter of the moving average of effects over time? What are some of the roles air power can play in nonkinetic response? ISR is one. Electronic attack, and information warfare from air platforms, are others. Historically, kinetic attacks have been used to assist SIGINT, by disrupting communications cables and forcing the use of more easily intercepted broadcasts.

If foreign internal defense and nonmilitary foreign aid build goodwill, acquiring airfields and overflight rights become easier. "Effects-based operations, incorporating nonkinetic tools" may provide host nations with deniability, avoiding social and economic disruption.[10] When kinetic tools are necessary, using UAVs or low-observability aircraft can minimize visibility, as with the Predator strikes in Yemen.

Precision guided aerial munitions

One of the classic principles of war is mass. Originally, this meant the number of soldiers that could be used in attacking a single point. Later on, it referred to the weight of artillery shells that could be delivered to that target. Precision-guided munitions, however, introduce a new way of regarding mass: many soldiers or shells are not needed, if an adequately destructive munition can be delivered to the exact place where it will do the most damage. Precision is a force multiplier.

Admiral James O. Ellis, former commander, U.S. Strategic Command, said "We've migrated the number of sorties it will take to hit a target to the number of targets that one sortie can strike. [12]

Originally, air-delivered weapons were notably imprecise. Before examining the issue quantitatively, two quotes illustrate the "then" and "now".[13] In 1933, the former chief of the US Army Air Corps, Major General James E. Fechet, wrote:

In the past, wars’ slaughter has been largely confined to armed combatants. Soldier has slain soldier. Unfortunately, in the next, despite all peace time decrees and agreements, the principal effort will be directed at trade and manufacturing centers [sic]. Obviously the airman, riding so high above the earth that cities look like ant hills, cannot aim his deadly cargo at armed males. All below will be his impartial target.[14]

Over sixty years later, COL Phillip Meininger, wrote:

Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass ... The result of the trend towards ‘airshaft accuracy’ in air war is a denigration in the importance of mass. PGMs provide density, mass per unit volume, which is a more efficient measurement of force. In short, targets are no longer massive, and neither are the aerial weapons used to neutralise them. One could argue that all targets are precision targets—even individual tanks, artillery pieces, or infantrymen. There is no logical reason why bullets or bombs should be wasted on empty air or dirt. Ideally, every shot fired should find its mark.[3]

Evolution: dumb bombs, smart delivery

Over time, aircraft navigation and weapon aiming techniques improved.

Technical evolution and "dumb" bomb efficiency
War Number of bombs Number of Aircraft CEP (in feet)
World War II 9,070 3,024 3,300
Korea 1,100 550 1,000
Vietnam 176 44 400

By the Gulf War, accuracy from medium altitude improved somewhat, but the inherent inaccuracies of "dumb" munitions obviated the "smarter" delivery platform. Dumb bombs had reached their limit of utility against point targets. No matter how accurate the release, for example, an unguided bomb, once released, could not compensate for sudden winds over the target.

Revolution: precision guided munition

Precision-guided munitions (PGM) often are considered a recent, or at least Vietnam-era, innovation, but there were isolated examples much earlier. Either due to a lack of additional technology, or a failure of imagination, that PGMs could change the face of warfare was not realized at the time. Any modern air campaign will be designed around PGMs, although "dumb bombs" still have a role for area targets.

World War Two precision-guided munitions were "man-in-the-loop", sometimes literally so, as opposed to today's increasingly autonomous precision guidance using computing, space-based navigation, and new sensors. The first air-launched PGM using machine-assisted guidance may well have been the Mark 24 antisubmarine torpedo. [15] Anti-shipping missile technology first appeared on 9 September 1943, a German Fritz-X radio-guided glide bomb dropped from a Dornier Do 217 bomber sank the modern Italian battleship Roma as it steamed towards Gibraltar. [13]

The potential of large-scale use of PGMs was demonstrated by the many Japanese kamikaze and other weapons guided by a pilot who would die with the weapon. Kamikaze attacks, especially at the Battle of Okinawa, were an example of the potential of anti-ship missiles. "The Kamikaze was the deadliest aerial anti-shipping threat faced by allied surface warfare forces in the war... Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception and attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, a distressing 14 per cent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 per cent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank. As soon as they appeared, then, Kamikazes revealed their power to force significant changes in allied naval planning and operations, despite relatively small numbers. Clearly, like the anti-shipping cruise missile of a later era, the Kamikaze had the potential to influence events all out of proportion to its actual strength.[13]

Evolution & revolution: Information operations

Information operations include a wide range of technologies, but of interest here are electronic warfare and possibly transmission of information that will cause computer systems to fail. Basic electronic attack starts with jamming, and moves to more subtle MIJI (Meaconing, Intrusion, Jamming, and Interference). Jamming can come from ground sources, which may include expendable transmitters delivered by artillery shells, missiles, or cluster bombs. It can come from electronic pods, either self-protection for combat aircraft, or from specialized electronic warfare aircraft such as the EA-6B Prowler and EF-18 Growler.

Specialized carbon filament dispensers, in cruise missiles and bombs, knock out electrical power systems by shorting out power lines, but do little permanent damage to the electrical grid. When air defense is at least somewhat dependent on commercial power rather than its own uninterruptible power supplies, as was the case in Iraq and the Balkans, such weapons can be potent penetration aids for attacking aircraft, and form yet another variant of information operations.

Yet another, largely experimental approach is generating electromagnetic pulse without nuclear explosions. [16]. Several open-literature techniques, requiring only conventional explosives, or, in the case of high power microwave, a large electrical power supply, perhaps one-shot as with capacitors, can generate a significant EMP:

Ground control of PGM in close support

Air-delivered weaponry, in modern combat, became part of an overall system of controlling close support to ground forces. It required new methods of deconfliction; see new brigade-level coordination units.

Low observability

When speaking of low observability, stealth technology is the first technology that comes to mind. It is not the only one that conceals an approaching attack until an exploding target reveals it. In air-to-air combat, low probability of intercept radars (especially the new AESA) and communications have a major role, especially with secure communications, for interaction with pilots and to give guidance information.

PGMs make the actual munitions needed to attack the target far less. Stealth reduces the need for massing support. "A case in point involved the first non-stealthy attack on one target in the Basra area (Shaiba Airfield) with three aim points." To have eight bombers drop bombs, they needed the support of four escort fighters guarding against enemy aircraft, five radar jamming aircraft, four SEAD aircraft targeting one surface-to-air missile (SAM) system and 17 SEAD aircraft against another, and 3 drones to provoke the Iraqis to turn on their radars. [17]

The preceding attack took 41 aircraft. At roughly the same time, 20 F-117 stealth aircraft dropped 38 bombs on 28 distinct targets, less than half the number of aircraft hitting over 1200 percent the target base. Stealth aircraft flew less than 2% of the sorties in Desert Storm, but hit over 40% of the fixed targets.


In US doctrine, counter-air is "A mission that integrates offensive and defensive operations to attain and maintain a desired degree of air superiority. Counterair missions are designed to destroy or negate enemy aircraft and missiles, both before and after launch." [5]

It includes offensive counter-air (OCA), which strikes at enemy forces in their own territory, and defensive counter-air (DCA), which protects targets of one's own side. In either case, C3I, often from AWACS aircraft, is often a critical force multiplier.

Defensive counter-air

Defensive counter-air (DCA), both active and passive, increases an attacker's difficulty in damaging or destroying a target. It includes all defensive measures designed to detect, identify, intercept, and destroy or negate enemy forces attempting to penetrate or attack through friendly airspace, [5] and, in modern militaries, forms an integrated air defense system (IADS).

DCA resources will usually have predelegated rules of engagement authorizing them to attack certain threats. Identification friend or foe is highly important here, to avoid attacking one's own aircraft (i.e., fratricide).

Passive DCA includes measures intended to prevent the enemy from finding, or at least accurately targeting, one's own installations. It also includes measures to limit the damage of attacks once the resource can be targeted. Camouflage, concealment(e.g., inside a innocent-looking structure or underground), and the use of deception help interfere with targeting. Hardening, dispersal, and electronic warfare interfere with the attack's potential to cause damage.

Strategic strike

"Strike", or attacks deep into enemy territory, have sometimes carried the connotation of using nuclear weapons, but, especially since the development of precision guided munitions, are not necessarily nuclear attacks. Strikes may use combinations of aircraft and missiles. The aircraft may drop free-falling bombs, perhaps with guidance, or launch missiles. Missiles can also be launched from ground and sea platforms, often to help clear defenses that could interfere with strike aircraft. Air, sea, and land based electronic warfare assets can help the strikers penetrate.

Strategic bombing is a subset of strike, and is more of a term from the Second World War and before it, such as in the writings of Giulio Douhet. Douhet's motto "the bomber will always get through" certainly was not true in WWII, as early as the Battle of Britain. Allied daylight bombers needed fighter escort to avoid catastrophic loss rates against Germany. Unescorted bombers operated against Japan, but only after Japanese industry and defenses had suffered from severe shortages caused by submarine operations against supply lines.

During the Vietnam War, there were a variety of strike operations against North Vietnam. Operation ROLLING THUNDER was essentially futile. With less restrictive rules of engagement, Operation LINEBACKER I was effective at the operational level. Operation LINEBACKER II was decisive in achieving a specific short-term strategic goal.

Perhaps the most complex operation using conventional bombs, the British "BLACK BUCK" raids during the Falklands War were effective, again for a specific objective. The most effective large-scale strike campaign, considering both the results and the strategic goals, was Operation DESERT STORM. Subsequent strike operations in the Balkans and Iraq War were more limited, in part due to a lack of suitable targets.

A less obvious form of strike warfare deploys special operations forces in the enemy's rear areas, either to destroy critical targets by direct action, or as special reconnaissance to guide long-range weapons precisely on target. The role of air operations may be not to attack the target, but to deliver special operators to it.

The formal US definition is generic: "An attack to damage or destroy an objective or a capability".[5] By targeting beyond the FEBA, strike provided the ability to weaken an enemy’s capacity to fight by degrading that enemy’s command and control, key production facilities, infrastructure, logistic support capability and, ultimately, combat effectiveness.[18] It can be directed at ground or maritime targets.

Before the introduction of large-scale use of precision-guided munitions, even during World War II, there was significant debate about the effectiveness of the conventional strategic bombing of the time. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was analyzing the effects of the attacks on Germany even while the Pacific war bombings were taking place. [19], and the analysis of the German attack contained the prophetic prediction

The combination of the atomic bomb with remote-control projectiles of ocean-spanning range stands as a possibility which is awesome and frightful to contemplate.

Nuclear weapons, with their massive destructive power, presented an alternative to increasing the precision of munition delivery. This became less attractive as the Soviets developed their own nuclear capability, with the survivable second-strike capability that led to the joint strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). [20] With the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the availability of precision-guided munitions, there is still a nuclear threat that needs to be deterred, but even past commanders of United States Strategic Command have questioned if nuclear weapons are necessary to deter it. [21]

Without going through the long history of different theories of nuclear warfare, the reality is that for a number of missions, precision-guided munitions and information operations may provide equivalent effectiveness to nuclear weapons, but with far less collateral damage and political risk.

The traditional triad

When nuclear weapons dominated strategic warfare after World War II, the initial delivery vehicles were manned bombers. While there were assorted tactical and short-range submarine-launched weapons, there was a fundamental change around 1960, when the United States and Soviet Union began to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). These three delivery systems, each presenting a different defensive problem, formed what theorists called the Triad.

For United States planning process and plan alternatives, see Single Integrated Operational Plan

While there were additional strategic delivery methods, such as cruise missiles launched from air, ground, and subsurface platforms, and while there were aids to attack (e.g., multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), low-altitude penetrating bombers) as well as defense (e.g., ballistic missile defense and mobile missiles), the Triad remains the basic strategic model among major powers. It may, however, be growing obsolete.

In particular, the ICBM leg of the Triad is relatively inflexible, and precision guided nuclear and possibly convention munitions may threaten the fixed missile silos. Submarines and bombers are mobile. Submariners claim credit for having the original stealth platform, while the only strategic bombers seriously expected to penetrate air defenses are the stealthy B-2s.

A new triad?

"A strong case can be made that the United States should take steps to create a new strategic-strike triad, relying on its precision- and electronic-strike capabilities to form two of the three legs, with a smaller residual nuclear force comprising the third leg."[20]

Naval aviation

Individual U.S. aircraft carriers can carry more combat aircraft than many nations can deploy. When carrier operations are involved, the distinction between land- and sea-based aviation becomes less. Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Land-based aircraft operating from the U.S., or selected forward bases, are invulnerable to most nations, but they cannot project power as can a carrier strike group, possibly operating with amphibious warfare units. Carriers in the open ocean are relatively invulnerable to plausible opponents, but, when they move into the "green water" of the littoral, they become more vulnerable to asymmetric attacks.

Other countries that operate full-sized aircraft carriers have fewer home-based, long-ranged assets. Nevertheless, any large carrier is a significant presence, and, as the British demonstrated in the Falklands War, carriers that only handle STOVL aircraft can be formidable.

Helicopters are used on a wide variety of ships other than carriers, with maritime-specific missions including anti-submarine warfare and anti-shipping missile delivery, as well as CSAR, airborne early warning (AEW), transport, and a wide range of other missions. They do not, however, have the power of a large carrier-based group — which includes helicopters for appropriate specialized roles.

Maritime patrol and maritime strike may well be assigned to land-based marine aircraft. Some of the first attacks against warships were demonstrated by Billy Mitchell in 1921, but land-based aircraft were rarely decisive against ships until the German introduction of the Fritz-X guided bomb. One significant exception was the sinking of the British ships, HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, by Japanese land-based aircraft.

Support to ground operations

The basic missions are close air support (CAS) and battlefield air interdiction (BAI). "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." Air planners tend to favor BAI while ground commanders prefer to control CAS.[22] In 1990, Hallion argued that BAI is the more important mission, but there may have been changes, given the new generation of airstrike direction techniques.[23]

It is also necessary to deconflict aircraft, artillery and missiles operating in the same airspace; it is also necessary to make sure that air operations do not interfere with one another, requiring complex air tasking orders. Controlling close support to ground forces is a real-time activity involving air and artillery.

Defensive counter-air resources protect ground forces from enemy CAS and BAI. Since roughly the 1960s, modern ground forces have enjoyed air superiority, and have rarely used air defense weapons. Significant exceptions include the Afghan resistance's use of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles against Soviet helicopters, British use in the Falklands War, conventional wars of Israel, and theater-level ballistic missile defense in Operation DESERT STORM and the Iraq War. A new mission is tactical counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM).

Close air support

Close air support (CAS), in the U.S. definition, is "Air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and that require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces. [5] Loosely speaking, BAI is older than CAS, as in the First World War, there was a lack of the mechanisms to direct airstrikes that are "danger close" to friendly forces. "Danger close" distance varies with the technology of the aircraft, weapons, and fire direction: "In close air support, artillery, mortar, and naval gunfire support fires, it is the term included in the method of engagement segment of a call for fire which indicates that friendly forces are within close proximity of the target. The close proximity distance is determined by the weapon and munition fired."[5] Nevertheless, the 1917, when the British tactics of "trench strafing" and "ground strafing" (BAI) corresponded, respectively, to CAS and BAI. Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag

A-10 that survived heavy battle damage and still came home; flown by Kim Campbell, one of the first USAF female combat pilots

In 1979, British CAS doctrine emphasized low-level (and ultrarapid turnaround) operations, as opposed to the tactical air control system (TACS), air defense suppression assets, and guided munitions of the USAF. At this time, British forces also had fewer forward air controllers, so troops had to understand the details of calling for air support. As compared to the USAF, RAF operations are less susceptible to disruption, the RAF can generate higher sortie rates, and RAF operations are more closely meshed with ground forces. These doctrinal gaps have been closing with the far wider use of guided munitions, including specialized air defense weapons such as the British BaE Systems ALARM anti-radiation missile and the less successful JP233 runway denial cluster munition dispenser.[24]

There is a continuing debate between ground and air forces on control of CAS, and, indeed, the type of aircraft used for CAS. Armed helicopters for CAS usually belong to the ground forces. For fixed-wing aircraft, there is an inherent conflict between the qualities that make for the best CAS, and those that make the CAS aircraft survivable against a modern air defense system.

The U.S. A-10 was originally designed as an antitank aircraft, but other systems have replaced it in that role. Its low speed, heavy armament, and survivability measures including armor and engines positioned to avoid SAMs make it highly effective for CAS. Its low speed, large size, and minimal electronic countermeasures mean that it cannot safely operate until most or all air defense has been suppressed by SEAD.


Perhaps one of the best things learned about the limitations of independent attack helicopters in the 2003 Battle of Karbala raid on Iraqi tanks in Karbala, Iraq, was that the AH-64 is, indeed, highly survivable even when damaged. One of the worst things learned is that attack helicopters, without coordinated SEAD, cannot penetrate an alerted defense.


ISTAR stands for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance. In its macroscopic sense, ISTAR is a practice that links several battlefield functions together to assist a combat force in employing its sensors and managing the information they gather.

Information is collected on the battlefield through systematic observation by deployed soldiers and a variety of electronic sensors. Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance are methods of obtaining this information. The information is then passed to intelligence personnel for analysis, and then to the commander and his staff for the formulation of battle plans. Intelligence is processed information that is relevant and contributes to an understanding of the ground, and of enemy dispositions and intents.

Satellites, aircraft and UAVs are the principal collection platforms for IMINT. They also can collect MASINT and SIGINT, supplemented by ground and naval platforms.

ISTAR is the process of integrating the intelligence process with surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks in order to improve a commander’s situational awareness and consequently their decision making. The inclusion of the "I" is important as it recognizes the importance of taking the information from all of the sensors and processing it into useful knowledge.


See also: Transport aircraft
See also: Air mobility

Logistics include airlift and tankers, using transport aircraft, and, with industrial powers, uses additional modes; see United States Transportation Command Airlift may have a direct strategic role, as in the successful Berlin Airlift. Part of the reason for the defeats at the Battle of Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu was the inability to maintain airlift in the face of enemy DCA. Airlift has played a strategically significant role with humanitarian and peace operations.

Airlift provides a military commander with the capacity to deploy forces quickly and over considerable distances. It also assists those deployed forces in applying their military effort effectively and affords the capacity to sustain effort. Airlift involves more than just transport aircraft and must be considered as a system which comprises several types of aircraft (both military and civil) used in a variety of tasks, supported by a range of ground elements.[25]

Historically, airlift has been classified as either tactical or strategic to reflect both the operating environment and level of command and control. Air assets are often required to combine what were traditional strategic and tactical airlift roles into the roles of Airborne Operations and Air Logistics Support. The distinguishing characteristic now is whether the destination will be under or potentially under hostile fire.

Acquiring airfields

Before any aircraft can operate in an area, there must be appropriate airfields, C3I, and logistics. There may be enemy airfields in the desired area, and a number of nations have units intended to capture, defend, and possibly operate airfields. One mark of a country that has global power projection capability is that it will have units capable of creating (or repairing) airfields in undeveloped area.

Airfield Capture
Bare-field Construction

"Land-based airpower, deployed far forward, more often than not surpasses carrier aviation for sheer combat punch and staying power. The Air Force has a long history of identifying, building, and sustaining such airfields to help the US make the most of all forms of airpower.

"And these forward airfields are more important than ever. Modern mobility assets, pre-positioned equipment and supplies, and rapidly deployable engineering units have made it possible to operate from bare bases. Agreements permitting Washington to use foreign bases reduce the need to start from scratch. Forces are trained and equipped to fill craters, remove mines, and build up facilities, making it possible to use captured facilities.[26]

In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, military engineers developed methods for building airfields close to the combat area. In Vietnam, Air Force Prime BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Forces) and RED HORSE (Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron, Engineers) units mastered the art of quickly building and repairing combat airfields. [27]. Royal Australian Air Force Airfield Construction Squadrons operated between 1942 and 1974.[28]

There are a variety prepackaged bare-base equipment packages, under the Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources (BEAR) name. [29] These have been used in humanitarian as well as military operations, such as Hurricane Katrina relief. [30]

Airborne Operations

Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division jump from a C-17 Globemaster III

Airborne operations include all aspects of the airlift capacity needed to insert combat-ready troops into an area close to enemy-held territory. The forces and their support may be delivered by air landing or air drop from either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. The delivery may be overt, escorted, and supported with air interdiction to isolate the drop/landing zone.

While airborne soldiers are lightly armed, parachuting is the only way by which a ground force can be attack anywhere in the world, assuming their transports are equipped for air refueling, and they are flying into an area where there is no air defense threat.

Special operations forces will need covert insertion, resupply, and extraction. whose mission is covert or highly specialised. This may include inserting troops into enemy occupied territory without detection to conduct hit and run raids or clandestine operations deep inside enemy territory.

These tasks are usually carried out at night, usually by specialized crews (e.g., 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment) and aircraft (e.g., MH-47, MH-6). Special operations helicopters have much more extensive avionics and night vision devices than the general-purpose variety, and, given that they may operate deep in enemy territory and fly from out-of-the-way bases, often are equipped for in-flight refueling.

While fixed-wing aircraft for special operations are usually under the control of a nation's air force, helicopter and tilt-rotor aircraft can belong to any service. The longer the range, the more likely it is to be an Air Force helicopter, such as the US MH-53 PAVE LOW.

On exiting the transport aircraft, forces may be required to engage in combat immediately or they may develop operations against the enemy in a nearby objective area. Combat forces, once delivered into an objective area, normally require subsequent air logistics support until a surface link-up is achieved or withdrawal is accomplished. Recovery of combat forces after insertion may be carried out under fire.

Air Logistics Support (ALS)

U.S. Navy helicopter carrying vertical replenishment cargo

Air Logistic Support are those airlift operations conducted to deploy or recover troops, equipment and supplies but does not encompass the carriage of troops ready for immediate battle, which is the mission of airborne and air assault transports. These operations may be within a theater, or going outside it.

One specialized type of logistics support is vertical replenishment of ships. In the illustration, the helicopter carries its cargo as an external sling load, which allows oversize and heavy carriage but reduces range.

When there is air supremacy in the theater of operations, commercial air transport companies commonly are contracted for freight and personnel movement. Using contracted airlift frees the specialized military transport aircraft, with features such as air refueling, short/rough field capability, etc., for purely military roles.

Long-range military transports, for example, may be the only aircraft that can bring in heavy construction equipment for the late phases of bare-field construction. Occasionally, Russian-built aircraft with exceptional capacity are chartered from civilian companies.

The line between civilian and military operations is increasingly blurred. In late 2003, an Airbus A300, operated by DHL Express, survived a missile hit while operating at Baghdad International Airport. [31] There is a strong trend to equip even civilian airliners with countermeasures against man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) missiles used by terrorists.

Rescue and Medical Evacuation

Air medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), from both the battlefield and successively more advanced medical facilities going back to the home country, "can be a great combat multiplier. Air MEDEVAC eases the burden on already-scarce evacuation assets and speeds the flow of critically wounded patients to the rear."[32]

Battlefield MEDEVAC is likely to use helicopters, although there ground ambulances may be appropriate in many situations. Movement from the first definitive surgical facility back to more capable hospitals will use fixed-wing aircraft, either dedicated to MEDEVAC or modified to hold stretchers and provide in-flight medical support (e.g., oxygen).

Battlefield evacuation is associated with ground units. Combat search and rescue is related, but usually involves recovering individuals or small crews, with much less accurate information on their positions.


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