Close Air Support and the Soviet Threat

Report Europe

Close Air Support and the Soviet Threat

August 11, 1982 24 min read Download Report
Jeffrey G.
Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

(Archived document, may contain errors)

I 203 August 11,.1982 CLOCSE AIR SUPPORT AND THE SOVIET THREAT INTRODUCTION Close air support CAS) is defined by the Joint Chiefs of staff as !lair attacks against hostile targets which are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces Thus, for an air mission to qualify as close air support, it must be in d irect support of engaged troops and be coordinated with the ground commander. Although known by a number of different names over the decades, the CAS mission has officially existed for some sixty years.l For much of its existence, however, it has been neg l ected by airpower proponents, in favor of air missions that have promised to provide a more decisive application of military force the Army), but it is a mission which is the responsibility of another service (the Air Force) with vastly different prioriti e s and strategic conceptions. In a very real sense, then, it is a mission destined by circumstances to be neglected except in times of most immediate need It is a mission in direct support of one service Following its experiences with tactical airpower in S outheast force disparities in Central Europe, the Air Force, to its credit broke with tradition and procured an.aircraft designed specifical i Asia and its subsequent analysis of the emerging conventional The term "mission" as it is used. in this case and as it is most often used throughout this paper means Any particular business, service, or duty assigned to be accomplished by a person, organization, office detachment, or the like with the object of contributing functionally to Force Dictionaq (Maxwell A ir Force Base, Alabama 1956 p. 329 Air University Press 2 ly for close air support. This aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt I1 immediately nicknamed the Warthog), has been operational in Europe since 19

79. Moreover, the Air Force has perfected a series of low -level flying tactics that will help the A-10 perform its tank-killing mission during a Central Front war, even in the face of the Soviet-Army's formidable air defenses straints are prompting the Air Force to weaken its commitment to CAS and concentrate o n ce again almost exclusively on air superior ity and interdiction as the roles for tactical airpowerO2 This could be a serious mistake, since effective CAS could well make the difference in allowing NATO to maintain a viable defense on the Central Front in the first, crucial days of a Warsaw Pact invasion. The Air Force now has an A-10 force that will peak in strength at just over 700 aircraft in 19

84. With peacetime attrition, this specially designed CAS force will begin declining in fighting effectivenes s just when it is needed more than ever Now, however, there are disturbing signs that budget con CLOSE AIR SUPPORT: A DOCTRINAL HISTORY During America's participation in the First World War, air warfare was completely controlled by ground commanders, and t he support of,ground forces was seen as the predominant offensive mission for military aviation, once air superiority had been achieved. The close air support mission began in October 1918 Brigadier General William Mitchell, commander of the Air Service, A rmy Group, AEF, recognized the important role that Army pursuit aircraft were playing in keeping the German forces contin ually off balance during the.offensive (at one point disrupting German reserves poised for a counterattack) by bombing and straf ing e nemy troop concentrations in the battle planning for a number of designated ground attack squadrons I during the latter stages of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, when I Accordingly just before the hostilities ended, the Air Service, AEF, began I Between the W ars, the fate of the close air support missioh was very much intertwined with the attempts by the Air Service to carve out an independent role for itself. During the early Air superiority refers to obtaining control of contested airspace For example, the F irst Army Air Service's Battle Order No. 44 of November 3, 1918, noted 1. The Allied Armies have forced the enemy into a precipitate retreat The aviation of the enemy has been destroyed or driven back wherever found, his balloons have been burned, and our air planes continually harry and demoralize his ground troops with bombs-and machine guns I emphasis added 48. Battle Orders Air Service First Army September-November 1918,"An The U.S. Air Service in World War I Volume 11 hurcr Maurer (Washington, D.C qua r ters USAF, 1978 p. 249 Early Concepts of Military Aviation, edited and compiled by The Office of Air Force History, Head3 inter-war period, the theory of General Guilio Douhet (Command of the Air), Lord Trenchard and Count Gianni Caproni-that strategic bo m bardment of enemy industrial centers would prove to be the decisive factor in future wars--gained increasing credence from American airpower enthusiasts. The doctrine of strategic bombard ment not only offered a belief in the decisive role of airpower but , in light of this belief, lent the Air Corps as a whole a significant argument to use in favor of its eventual autonomy from the Army merely enhanced the Air Corps' existing subordinance to the ground army.4 and other tactical aviation in doctrine and pla n ning. As one author remarked in connection with the Air Corps Tactical School Attachment to this commitment [strategic bombardment] was however so inflexible that it inhibited the development of tactics for escort, for air defense, for support of ground f o rces and for reconnaissance and transport aviation.115 The first attack group was formed in 1921 and this was followed by the formation of only one additional attack group more than a decade later.6 Thus, where in 1922 there had been four attack and seven bombardment squadrons, by 1932 there were still only four attack squadrons, but the number of bombardment squadrons had increased to twelve On the other hand, the ground attack mission The result was a diminution of the role of attack The mission of these attack squadrons, as defined at the time, was To assist the ground troops in their action against enemy positions; to attack hostile front line troops, supports reserves, troop concentrations, road traffic of whatever nature tanks, airdromes, and hostile batteries.

During the Second World War, the close air support mission continued to suffer relative to the strategic bombardment and interdiction missions.. Wartime Army Air Forces trends in doctri nal support of "independence of control and operationsll re ached their zenith in mid-1943, with the publication of Field Manual 100-20--Command and Employment of Ah Power--which set forth the new doctrine that "Land power and air power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other.I l8 This document noted Perry McCoy Smith, The Air Force Plans for Peace 1943-1945 (Baltimore Johns Hopkins Press, 1970 p. 27.

Quoted in ibid p. 33.

Maurer Maurer, ed Air Force Combat Units of World War 11 and Insignia (Washington, D.C Zenger Publishing Company, Inc reprint ed 1980 pp. 29-30, 61 32.

Department of Tactics, The Calvary School, 1923-1924 copy of a mimeo graphed document, p. 27.

Quoted in James A. Huston Tactical Use of Air Power in World War 11 The Army Experience Military Affairs, Vol. 14 (Winter 1950 p. 167 Histoq 7 Attack aviation in Other Arms Air Service (Fort Riley, Kansas: 4 Massed air action on the immediate front will p a ve the way for an advance. However, in the zone of contact missions against hostile units are most difficult to control, are most expensive, and are, in general, least effective Only at critical times are contact zone missions profitable 9 In operational p ractice, Army Air Force units in the Mediter ranean, European, and Pacific Theaters flew thousands of direct support missions for Allied troops and with some spectacular results-witness the XIX Tactical Air Command's success in protect ing the exposed rig ht flank of Patton's Third Army along the Loire River in 19

44. In looking back, however, it becomes apparent that the AAF's primary interest lay in strategic bombardment and secondarily in interdiction missions.

The Army Air Force's principal interest in strategic airpower continued to dominate the postwar Air Force, garnering the bulk of the attention and most of the available funding. Though the Korean and Vietnam Wars demonstrated the need for adequate tacti cal air support, particularly CAS, in neith e r situation was the Air Force prepared at the outset with the proper mix of aircraft for tactical missions involving close support of ground forces.1 In fact, the Air Force was forced, at the start of its combat deployment in South Vietnam, to use World W a r 11-design Navy A-1E and A-1H Skyraider aircraft in order to provide reliable close air support to the south Vietnamese troops.ll was to change by the time that the war in Vietnam was winding down for'the United States air needs on the NATO Central Front The Air Force's general lack of interest in the CAS mission One reason'was.perception of tactical Quoted in ibid., p. 168 Perry McCoy Smith noted ment at the expense of close air support and interdiction led to difficul ties, among them lack of adequate s u pport for ground forces during the Korean conflict, deemphasis of tactical training, and lack of development of tactical weapons systems and tactical munitions (much of the develop ment in these areas was done by the Navy in the two decades following Worl d War 11 Smith, Air Force Plans for Peace, p. 28.

The AD/A-l Douglas Skyraider was first produced in 1945 for the Navy, as a replacement for the SB2C and TBM torpedo bombers version of the A-1 was retired in April 1968 Appendix IV. U.S. Navy Airplanes, 191 1-1969," in Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Volume 5 (Washington, D.C Naval History Division, Navy Department 1970), p. 5

46. For comments on the Air Force's procurement of A-ls, see General William W. Momyer, USAF (Ret Air Power in Three Wars (WW 11 Korea, Vietnam) (Washington, D.C U.S. Government Printing Office 1978 pp. 263-264 lo "The doctrinal dedication to strategic bombard l1 The last attack 5 THE THREAT TO NATO's CENTRAL FRONT The Central Front The forward edge of NATO's Central Front s tretches south from the Elbe-Trave Canal in the West German State of Lower Saxony to Germany's southern border with Austria-a line about 650 miles long. Some twenty-six NATO divisions are deployed in this area. Adding in the in-country European forces ear m arked for the Central Front (including those in Great Britain) brings the total to thirty-two divisions, equipped with 7,150 tanks and about 3,470 artillery pieces and rnortars.l* The aircraft deployed with these NATO forces number 1,869 fixed-wing planes , including fighterhombers, interceptors, and reconnaissance types The bulk of NATO's forces on the Central Front are deployed close to the intra-German border because of political necessity.

Such forward defense" serves to reassure Bonn that, if war break s out, NATO forces will endeavor to protect against the loss of any West German territory by forming a coherent defense line as far forward as possible, holding back the Warsaw Pact forces while awaiting the release of tactical nuclear weapons, and confin ing collateral damage to a minimum. NATO's supply lines of necessity, run near and parallel to the intra-German border, making it likely that initial Warsaw Pact penetrations of NATO's defense will disrupt or even sever the supply lines.

Warsaw Pact Streng th Of the four groups of Soviet forces deployed in Eastern These are the Group of Soviet Forces Europe, two are oriented directly toward operations against the NATO Central Front.13 Germany (GSFG headquartered in Zossen-Wtinsdorf, near Berlin and the Sovi e t Central Group of Forces (CGF headquartered in Milovice, Czechoslovakia, northeast of Prague. Together, they have twenty-six Soviet Category I divisions, twelve of them tank l2 The totals are derived from subtracting the (approximately) two Danish divisi o ns and the German VI Armored Infantry Division assigned to Allied Forces Northern Europe (AFNORTH) for the defense of Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland from the combined AFNORTH/AFCENT totals given in NATO and the Warsaw Pact: Force Comparisons (Brussels: No rth Atlantic Treaty Organiza tion, 1982), figure six, p. 29.

The four are the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany, the Soviet Northern Group of Forces (based in Poland), the Soviet Central Group of Forces based in Czechoslovakia), and the Soviet Southern Group of Forces (based in Hungary Although the Northern Group and Southern Group could support offensive operations on NATO's Central Front, it is apparent that their primary responsibilities would be to the Baltic area and Southern Europe respectively l3 6 di v isions.14 If the Soviet armies deployed within the USSR which would be used in direct support of Central Front operations and the available Eastern European forces are included, NATO faces on the Central Front a formidable Warsaw Pact military force of ab o ut ninety divisions, about half of which are capable of an unreinforced, standing-start attack. The tanks alone in this unreinforced offensive force number over 13,000,15 while an additional 7,000 tanks are readily available in Soviet Central deployed in E astern Europe and over one-half deployed in the USSR's Western Military Districts are modern design T-62s and T-64/T-72s, while the rest are obsolescent T-54s and T-55s Front-committed Military Districts. Over two-thirds of the tanks The Offensive The Sov i et Army practices three primary forms of offensive action-the meeting engagement, the breakthrough attack (now primarily the breakthrough attack from the march, in contrast to the World War II-derived steamroller breakthrough attack from contact), and the pursuit. The meeting engagement, which occurs when both the attacking and defending forces are on the move, is considered by the Soviets to be the most important form of.offen sive action. As David Isby describes it The advance guard of a Soviet unit will attack upon encountering the enemy, seize the initiative, penetrate the enemy covering forces, and pin down the enemy main body while simultaneously covering the deployment of the Soviet main body, which will attempt to envelop or outflank the enemy cr0s. s -country mobility of their vehicles and their willingness to take advantage of any path or track to carry out their outflanking or enveloping At the operational level, it is expected that Soviet commanders would launch a series of thrusts acr o ss the length of the Central Front The Soviets will fully exploit.the NATO military responses to these thrusts would determine 14 15 16 Soviet Army order of battle," in David C. Isby, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army (London 24; and Friedrich Weiner and William J. Lewis, The Warsaw Pact Armies Vienna Total derived by comparing and adding tank figures (for GSFG, CGF, East German Army and first-line Czech units) from "Estimated Soviet tank inventory (mid-1979 in Isby, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Amy p 30 Weiner and Lewis, Warsaw Pact Armies, pp. 25 and 31; and Military Balance 1981-1982, pp. 18-

19. NATO's most recent published estimate for the Warsaw Pact forces--lumping together the first and follow-on echelon divisions together and including so me forces that would be deployed against the southern portion of AFNORTH's territory--is ninety-five divisions and 25,500 tanks.

Isby, op. cit., p. 35 Jane's Publishing Company Limited, 1981), p.

Carl Ueberreuter Publishers, 1977), pp. 62-63.

NATO and t he Warsaw Pact, figure six, p 29. 7 how each effort would be followed up. Those attacks successfully contained by NATO troops would be converted into holding actions by the Soviets, keeping just enough pressure on the engaged NATO forces to prevent their being readily shifted to other positions.

However, those attacks that pushed through the initial defenses would be augmented by reinforcements as rapidly as p0ssib1e.l for a short war. Soviet mi litary commanders estimate that under 70-100 kilometers a day in nuclear conditions and 25-35 kilometers a day in conventional warfare.18 breach the NATO defenses, wedging open gaps sufficient for Soviet second echelon tank formations to penetrate deep in to NATO rear areas.lg Thus, tanks are the key to the successful exploitation of the offensive penetration and the Warsaw Pact's maintenance of rapid rates of advance.

Warsaw Pact's offensive timetable and for giving the overextended and maldeployed NATO fo rces additional time to respond to the enfolding Soviet offensive would be early employment of NATO's tactical airpower.20 In the short-war-structured offensive given the NATO Central Front's numerical inferiority and the linear nature of its defensive pr e parations, close air support Rapid rates of advance would be essential to the Soviet plan such circumstances their forces would need to make advances of The aim would be to quickly Clearly then, one of the essential tactics for delaying the 17 18 19 20 Se e Steven L. Canby, A Comparative Assessment of the NATO Corps Battle Potomac, Maryland: C&L Associates ?I, November 24, 1978), copy of a typescript document, pp. 19-22.

Isby, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, p 33. John Erickson commented The duratio n of these [Soviet high-speed] operations depends critically on early initial success and the reduction of NATO as an effective military entity before the arrival and deployment of reserve forces, a requirement which necessitates striking to a depth of 60 0 km within 10 to 14 days."

Concept," Strategic Review, Vol. 5 (Winter 1977), p. 46.

Soviet tactics are tank tactics writ large Their mission is to outflank, envelop and pursue, defeating the enemy through manoeuvre rather than by frontal attack Isby, ibid., p. 71.

As Air Force General William Momyer noted is a deficiency in the NATO armored forces to counter the anticipated massive ground thrust. The application of air power is the only possible military action that could constrain or reduce the Communis t ground forces to a level that the NATO ground forces could contain Statement of General William W. Momyer, USAF, Commander, Tactical Air Command, U.S.

Air Force," in Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Special Subcommittee on Close Air Suppor t of the Preparedness Investigating John Erickson, "Trends in the Soviet Combined-Arms As David Isby remarked: we recognize that there Subcomittee, Close Air Support: Hearings, 92nd Congress, 1st session October 22, 26, 28, 29; November 1, 3, 8, 1971, USG PO, 1972; p. 180. and battlefield air interdiction (BAI) would be crucial to a successful NATO defense.

By picking off the tanks in large numbers and by creating bottlenecks that canalize Soviet movement, these close support aircraft could impede the offen sive, perhaps giving NATO Comman ders the time to patch together a coherent defense until reinforce ments arrive THE A-10 AND CLOSE AIR SUPPORT A-10 Proqram Development The U.S. air effort in Vietnam was in full swing in 1966 when Air Force Chief of Staff John McConnell proposed that his service procure a specialized close air support aircraft, which would embody the best characteristics of the A-1 Skyraider and the soon-to-be-flown A-7D Corsair 11. In March 1967, the Air Force sent out Request for Proposa l s (RFP) for design studies to twenty-one companies; in May, it awarded study contracts to four of these companies for the aircraft then designated A-X.22 years later RFPs for competitive prototype development were issued to twelve companies. By August 197 0, six companies including Boeing and Lockheed, had responded with proposals.

This number, in turn, was whittled down to a final two-Northrop and Fairchild-by that December Three The fact that by 1970 the Air Force leadership was on the verge of contractin g for a specialized close air support aircraft illustrated the pronounced change that had overtaken earlier attitudes. As General William Momyer, commander of the Tactical Air Command, explained to the members of the Senate subcommittee in October 1971 In the past, the Air Force has developed its aircraft on the principle of multipurpose systems. As a result all current fighter and attack aircraft have varying capabilities for close air support. However, several factors have developed which impinge signifi c antly on the force structure of tactical air forces. These factors establish a requirement for a large number of airframes and tend to emphasize spe~ialization 21 The purpose of battlefield air interdiction is "to bring airpower to bear on those enemy for c es not yet engaged but positioned to directly effect the land battle second echelon regiments and divisions ATP) 27 (B Offensive Air Support," quoted in Lieutenant Colonel Donald J. Alberts An Alternate View of Air Interdiction," Air University Review Vol 32 (July-August 1981 p. 40.

Lou Drendel, A-10 Warthog in Action (Carrolton, Texas Squadron/Signal Publications, 1981), p. 4 Statement of General William Momyer, USAF in Senate Armed Services Committee, Close Air Support: Hearings, p. 179 Thus BAI missions would be directed against enemy Allied Tactical Publication 22 23 Among the.factors were the high cost of the technology required to overcome the enemy's defenses and the requirement for the Air Force to employ its tactical fighter forces in widely diver gent missions simultaneously.

Northrop and Fairchild each built two prototypes of their version of the A-X, designated by the Air Force the A-9 and the A-10, respectively. Service testing began in October 1972 and was completed two months later, with Fairc hild's A-10 emerging as the winner. As both the Department of Defense and the Air Force saw it, tanks were to be the CAS aircraft's primary target, and the A-10 had been shown to be almost twice as effective attank killing as Northrop's A-

9. In March 1973, Fairchild Republic Company was awarded a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for con tinued prototype testing and for the pre-production aircraft.

Earlier, the Air Force had settled upon 733 aircraft as the total A-10 buy.

General Electric and Philco-Ford competed for the contract for the A-10's principal armament, designed especially for tank killing, the GAU-30mm gun. In June 1973, the Air Force awarded the contract to General Electric.

Following the six pre-production aircraft funded in fiscal year 1974, fifty-two production models were contracted for FY 1975 and 1976A 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Arizona--was completed in March 19

76. Air Force follow-on opera tional testing (FOT&E) of the prod uction A-10s began in August of that year and lasted through the following February showed that despite deficiencies noted in system components--such as the head-up display, the stability augmentation system, and the fuel system--the A-10 was superior to o ther USAF aircraft for the close air support mission Equipping the first training wing with A-10s--the Test results The tests, among other things, judged the aircraft's capabil Troops in Contact The A-1OA can provide effective accurate, and timely support to ground forces in direct contact with the enemy ity in nine CAS mission subareas. Some of the Evaulations noted I Armed Escort: It of a ground column/convoy is a mission well-suited for the A-1OA. The maneuverability firepower, and escort time offered b y the A-1OA is unmatched by any other aircraft in the inventory I Low Visibility Op erations A-1OA to operate in low ceiling/visibility is unmatched If The capability of the by any other aircraft in the inventory today 24 A-1OA FOTsrE Phase I Final Report ( Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico Air Force Test and Evaluation Center, May 1977), copy of a typescript document, pp. 13 15 and 19, respectively. 10 The first operational squadron was activated in June 1977 and achieved operational status that October. I n August 1978 the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base South Carolina, became the Air Force's first fully combat-ready A-10 wing. Five months later, a squadron of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, based at RAF Bentwatersfloodbridge, Gr e at Britain hecame the first European stationed A-10 squadron, followed eight months later by the first delivery of A-10s to the Air National Guard In the FY 1981 Five Year Defense Program, the Department of Defense increased the number of A-10s to be proc u red from the original 733 to 825 to provide for peacetime attrition and to maintain the aircraft's required force-level life.25 At the beginning of 1981, however, the Carter Administration's outgoing FY 1982 defense budget, because of fiscal consideration s, reduced the number to 6

87. The Reagan Administration's FY 1982 defense budget restored the original procurement level of 733 A-1OAs and added fourteen two-seat A-lOBs, for a total of 747 aircraft.26 This later was reduced during Pentagon budget cuts to 7

27. The FY 1983 budget originally requested funding for the last twenty of these 727 aircraft of the program, but in May the Pentagon suddenly claiming that it did not need any additional A-lOs acquiesced to the Senate's decision to cut the funding for these last twenty. As it now stands, the total A-10 production will remain at 707 aircraft THE A-10 AND THE CENTRAL FRONT When the last of the A-10 production aircraft have entered Air Force inventory in February 1984, the Service will have fully equippe d six CAS wings.27 Only the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwatersfloodbridge, with it six squadrons and 108 aircraft is forward deployed in Europe. In wartime, these A-10s will fly into West Germany to operate out of German airbases, designated Forw a rd Operating Locations, close to the battle area. Eight aircraft CAS detachments from the 81st are familiarizing themselves with the operational technique by operating for short periods of time alternately out of each of the four Forward Operating Locatio ns that are active in peacetime-Ahlhorn, Noervenich, Sembach, and Leipheim 25 26 Ibid.

A-10 Force Life (Fairchild Republic Company, March 24, 1981), p 4 27 Theelivery date for the 707th aircraft comes from A-10 Program Status Fairchild Republic Company, [1 982 copy of a printed document, graph Statement of Brigadier General Perry M. Smith, Deputy Director of Plans Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, Plans and Readiness," in Congress Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Department of Defense Authorization for A ppropriations for Fiscal Year 1982 fare, 97th Congress, 1st Session, February 19, 23, 27, March 3, 5, 10 12, 1981, USGPO, 1981, p. 1247 would be available in wartime P. [41. 28 Hearings, Part 3 Tactical War Two additional forward operating locations 11 On ce in combat, the A-10s should prove themselves extremely capable close air support aircraft. The foremost characteristics of a good CAS aircraft are lethality, survivability,, reliability and responsiveness. The A-10 meets all four.

The A-10's high lethal ity against the whole variety of armored vehicles and soft targets derives from a number of fac tors-its deadly accurate GAU-8/A, seven-barrel, 30mm gun; its heavy payload-carrying capacity, which enables it to carry a large (up to 16,000 pounds), mixed-o rdnance payload of optimized CAS munitions; and, because of its relatively slow-speed approach its ability to deliver its free fall munitions with reasonably small mean miss distances.

The 30mm gun is the key to its superior lethality against armored vehicles compared to weapons fired by faster and more sophisticated aircraft such as the F-15 and F-

16. The GAU-8/A is mounted internally, along the centerline of the aircraft, which gives the gun excellent stability. Armed with 1,174 rounds of depleted urani um penetrator ammunition-each penetrator weighing 66 pounds-the gun has muzzle velocities of 3,280 feet per second and is capable of firing at rates of 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute. The 30mm gun produces bursts capable of killing tanks now in the Sovi et arsenal at a slant range of 4,000 feet.

Lightly armored vehicles can be destroyed as far away as two miles.

The A-10's high survivability rating is due to the aircraft's design and the low-level penetration tactics employed in flying it. The plane carr ies 3,177 pounds of survival provisions including armor plate and foam for' the fuel tanks. The pilot is protected by a titanium armor plate tlbathtubtl weighing over 1,400 pounds, which can stop direct hits from Soviet 23mm and 57mm shells. 30 The A-10's low altitude tactics were developed primarily by the 66th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base Nevada. Their characteristics include: very low altitude ingress to the'target (100 feet above ground level); short exposure above terrain masking w hile jinking (three seconds or less exposure while flying at 300-400 feet above ground level) to locate the target; short attack exposure while linking; and very low altitude egress and maneuver for reattack.31 Because of its slower approach 29 30 31 A-1O A (Fairchild Republic Company, [198l pp lo] and [27 and Drendel A-10 Warthog, pp. 14 and 20.

Weights obtained by converting from kilograms to pounds 59-601; and Drendel, ibid., p. 14.

Testimony of General Alton D. Slay, Commander, Air Force Systems Comman d in Congress, House, Committee on Armed Services, Hearings on Military Pos ture and H.R. 5068 [H.R. 59701, Part 2: Procurement of Aircraft, Missiles Tracked Combat Vehicles, Torpedoes, and Other Weapons Title I, 95th A-lOA, pp. 12 speed, the A-10 can tur n faster than a higher-performance aircraft making it easier for it to reacquire the target and reattack.

Using these low altitude tactics, the A-10 is able to counteract and defeat formidable anti-aircraft missile defenses and ma jor low-level, anti-aircraft gun threats, such as the Soviet ZSU-23-4 system, with its radar-controlled, quadruple 23mm guns.32 The short exposure times prevent radar lock-on, necessitating the use of manual aiming In addition, the A-10's GAU-8/A gun outr a nges the ZSU-23-4 The A-10 is designed for easy maintenance, including such things as the large doors and panels provided for ready access to aircraft equipment and the onboard auxiliary power unit with its short scramble time and its low ceiling and visi b ility flying capability, the A-10 can operate from short fields, close to the forward edge of the battle area And THE NEED FOR MORE CAS AIRCRAFT In sum, the A-10 is an extremely capable CAS aircraft well-suited to the vital role of engaging and killing So v iet first and second echelon armored vehicles there are not nearly enough aircraft available to NATO, which like the A-10, are dedicated to the close air support and battle field air interdiction missions and can be used in the early stages of a possible W arsaw Pact offensive to blunt the armored onslaught The problem is that The planned size of the force currently envisioned by the Once that point is reached, such attrition will begin I Air Force will see peacetime attrition decrease before 1987 the avail a ble aircraft below the Service's reduced Required Force eating away at the aircraft in the operational inventory at a gradual rate. The planned procurement level of 825 aircraft called for in the Carter FY 1981 Five Year Defense Program would have kept th e A-10 force above the Required Force Level until 1993, given the continuance of the present attrition rate.34 The Air Force's response to this situation recalls its earlier, pre-Vietnam views of the value of the CAS mission Congress, 1st Session, February 3, 7, 8, 9, 18, 23, March 17, 21, 22, 23 and 24, 1977, USGPO, 1977, pp. 778-784; and Tactical Aircraft Survivability Fairchild Aircraft Company, [1982 p 25 In jinbing, the aircraft makes use of frequent and random maneuvering to throw off the accurate pre diction of the aircraft's future position by enemy anti-aircraft guns.

For detailed information on the ZSU-23-4's capabilities and tactical 32 employment, see Isby, Weapons'and Tactics of ;he Soviet Army, pp. 237-241 33 A-10 Program Status, graph, p 14 The A-10's current rate of attrition is 5.9 aircraft per 100,000 flying hours 34 -9 Ibid p. [14].

Ibid P gl. 13 Having decided that it has enough A-10 aircraft (given the tight budget situation), commanders have begun looking to the possibili ty of convertin g models of the more complex and much faster F-16 and F-15 into true multi-role aircraft, by equipping them for the long-range interdiction mission. The lure of F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16Es or XLs seems hard for senior Air Force generals to resist.

Although such aircraft would undoubtedly be capable of handling a variety of air superiority and interdiction missions they could not handle the close air support mission nearly so well as could the A-

10. For example, lethality studies conducted during the C arter Administration, comparing the A-10 with such aircraft as the A-7 and F-16, showed that the A-10 achieved almost three times the armored vehicle kill rate of the A-7 and F-16.35 And, it should be noted, neither the F-15 nor the F-16 has the level of armor protection in the A-

10. Of equal import the CAS and BAI missions will have a more significant impact in the early stages of a short-war-structured, Soviet combined-arms offensive.

CONCLUSION In the short term, the Air Force should increase procurem ent of A-10s to the 825 level called for in 1980, even at the expense of additional fighter assets. This increase at least would provide a stable A-10 force until the mid-1990s. Fulfilling requirements for additional close air support squadrons or for bri nging National Guard and,Reserve squadrons up to full strength would necessitate increases above this minimum benchmark. Over the longer term, however, it is clear that a new CAS aircraft will be needed.

The A-10 simply has become too expensive for the Air Force to afford in the large quantities needed for augmenting NATO's ground force strength on the Central Front. Since FY 1978, the A-10's flyway unit cost has climbed from 5 to $12 million (in FY 1982).36 reaches or surpasses that of a first-line fighte r such as the F-16, the Air Force will always choose to spend the money on the Ifmore capable plane. Of course, much of the A-10's cost increase has had to do with the low and uneconomical rates of the aircraft's recent procurement, the cost of equipment a d d-ons, and the in creases caused by inflation. A good portion of the increased costs, however, are related to the aircraft's size: the A-10 is too big. Larger, heavier aircraft, over time, tend to become And once the cost of a close air support aircraft 3 5 36 A-10 Program Status, p. [lo The estimates for FY 1983 are between $14 Information from International Defense Review, 2/1979; quoted in A-1OA P. 1261 and $16 million per aircraft. 14 more costly to procure than smaller, lighter aircraft. A big aircraft , moreover, presents larger targets. In this case admittedly, Fairchild was 'following the Air Force's lead--it wanted a heavily-armored aircraft capable of carrying a large ordnance payload.37 Exactly what the follow-on CAS aircraft should look like is st i ll an issue of intense debate. However, several design aspects appear to be relevant It should be smaller than the A-10, with a maximum external payload only a quarter to a third that of the A-10 consumption in low-level cruising internally-mounted 30mm g u n that has proved so successful in the A-10, although, if judged necessary, the GAU-8/A1s 4,000 pound weight penalty could be reduced by going with the lighter, four barreled GAU-l3/A It should be powered by engines designed for low fuel And it should ret a in the The Air National Guard came out with its proposal for a combined forces fighter" to eventually take the place of the A-10, in its March 1982 report. Paralleling many of the design concepts espoused by TacAir consultant Pierre Sprey, the Air Nationa l Guard called, among other things, for a smaller aircraft than the A-10, which would have better maximum Gs (the gravita tional pull on the pilot), much better acceleration, and better roll/pitch transients (particularly in the 150 to 350 knots region) an d which could operate from roads and grass field Precisely because such a new development project will be very prolonged, if past history is any judge, the Air Force should immediately begin increasing its procurement of A-10s to ensure an adequate close a ir support force until the mid-1990s.

The A-1OA is still the best CAS aircraft in the inventory and one that can have a major role in the event of a Soviet invasion of Europe during the next decade.

From the early days of its existence as a component elem ent of the Army to times as recent as a decade ago, the U.S. Air Force has almost continually ignored the value of the close air support mission as a decisive factor in the land battle. Prefer ring to concentrate its efforts on loftier missions, such as s t rategic bombardment and deep interdiction, which,promise an early end to wars, Air Force leaders have slighted those aspects of tactical aviation that hearken back to their Service's earlier subservience to the Army rationale to the lessons of Vietnam and the emerging reality of The changed Air Force thinking of the 1970s, which owed its 37 See the testimony of General Mower, in Senate Armed Services Committee, 15 the dangers facing NATO's Central Front and produced service support for the A-10, seems now t o be reverting to traditional channels of thought. At a time when the gap between NATO's and the Warsaw Pact's deployed military power is growing larger it is vital to maintain sufficient close air support assets to help reduce the disparities in the mili tary capability now favoring the Soviets. This can be done only if the leadership of the Air Force reaffirms the essential nature of this long disparaged mission.

Jeffrey G. Barlow, Ph.D.

Policy Analyst


Jeffrey G.

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs