The Air War : Simply stated the air war is about destroying/defuntionalising selected targets. As has been summed up so succinctly – “Air power is targeting and targeting is Intelligence”. That is the targets must be clearly defined, their location known and preferably fixed, their size large enough for acquisition by pilot or concerned sensor system and their characteristics vulnerable to weapons delivered from air.
Many early air power prophets and theorist also considered enemy ‘WILL’ as a target for air power. If and when the WILL is chosen as a target, the route to defeating the ‘WILL’ is indirect. It is the result of physical destruction or threat of destruction of certain selected targets. The bombing of centre of Rotterdam on 14 May 40 by Luftwaffe is one historical example to prove the above point which forced Belgium to capitulate. More recent is the case of Milosevic in Serbia in 1999.
For a pilot in a fast moving jet, it is nearly impossible to distinguish friendly tank from hostile tank, even if identification SOPs have been devised. Fratricidal casualties in 1991 Gulf War were close to 35 percent of the total.
Fixed or static targets, once detected are easily attacked. On the other hand mobile targets cannot be easily attacked due to their mobility and generally small size. First of all small mobile targets are extremely difficult to acquire visually by a pilot. Secondly, even after visual acquisition, hitting a small moving target is still in its infancy. It will remain so for many years for almost all the Air Forces. “Whatever the merits of the target imagery produced by spy satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles, without the support of a ground observer’s ‘eyes on target’ air power can still be singularly ineffective in reducing an enemy’s ground combat power if not his will.”10
The Land War
Land War basically deals with destroying hostile army first. Traditionally, in normal conditions, attacker requires a ‘three to one’ superiority over the defender for success. This ratio increases in difficult terrain and conditions. In hills and mountains it may go up to ‘ten to one’.
Opposing armies seldom have such disparity in numbers. But it is by clever manoeuvre and deception that attacker hopes to create the desired numerical superiority at the point of his choosing. Napolean perfected the art of manoeuvre combined with deception and was its most leading practitioner. And not yet surpassed by any other General since. Hence the series of spectacular victories of Napoleon’s France.
The movement of large body of troops and equipment is monitarable, with increasing transparency in modern battlespace. So how does then the attacking Commander create the numerical superiority at his chosen place of attack?
What does this reveal to us about land warfare? That till the very last moment an army commander cannot decide his exact place of attack. His likely avenue of attack is subject to many factors. The terrain has major bearing on avenues of attack; so does the required logistics build up and subsequent support. What one Commander can analyse, the same is also analysable by the opposing Commander. This allows the defender to plan his defences. The movement of large body of troops and equipment is monitarable, with increasing transparency in modern battlespace. So how does then the attacking Commander create the numerical superiority at his chosen place of attack? Naturally through subterfuge, and deception right till the last moment and adapting to opposing Commander’s defensive plans. That is till the last moment it is difficult for the land Commander to firm up his plan of attack.
This poses a dilemma for joint planning between the army and the air force. The air war mandates firming up of plans as early as possible. To be able to decide on targets and, thereafter, gather intelligence on the target, i.e. very precise intelligence to match the highly accurate PGMs, requires a lot of lead-time. Lead time is precisely what the army commander cannot give with respect to his plans. So, then, how can the two plan jointly? If the joint planning lacks thoroughness the execution definitely will be sub-optimal.
The Way Out
If both the army and air commanders understand this dilemma and agree to adapt, then thoroughness in joint planning leading to smooth joint execution is possible. The following factors therefore must be kept in mind:
By Army Planners. An airman can plan best against following:
- Static and large targets;
- Targets with precise and updated intelligence.
- An orchestrated attack plan (to take care of enemy fighters and ground based anti-aircraft weapons) requires a lead-time of 48 to 72 hours. Reacting at shorter notice will be sub optimal especially when adequate command of air has not been obtained both against hostile fighters and ground based anti aircraft weapons.
- Mobile targets destruction probability remains low because it can continue to change its location till the last moment. This is not like to change in near future. This is true of small elusive mobile targets and not the massed armour in open.
- Most of the mobile targets within the tactical battle area, like tanks, APCs, artillery guns, mortars and troops appear very small to the pilot in a fast moving jet. They are most difficult to acquire visually from 4-6 Km distance due to limitations of the human eye. Yet to attack a tank safely, it must be picked up by the pilot from a distance of 4-6 Kms. At that distance a tank subtends a very small arc indiscernible to the average human eye. Moreover, if these targets are camouflaged, then the chances of missing them are far more than the chances of hitting.
Tanks are mobile, but once committed in a battle are of no use to any other formation, at least for quite a while, whereas strike aircraft after delivering devastating firepower in few sorties can be easily switched to another formation in few hours.
- It is easier to pick up tanks when they are moving by their tell tale signs like dust plume. So ask air strikes in a dynamic situation.
- For a pilot in a fast moving jet, it is nearly impossible to distinguish friendly tank from hostile tank, even if identification SOPs have been devised. Fratricidal casualties in 1991 Gulf War were close to 35 percent of the total. In spite of many technological solutions, fratricide fear is one of the main worries in USA.
- To support the land battle, there are many other associated support systems like ammo dumps, trucks, refuellers, Vehicle Waiting Areas, roads and railway lines and bridges which a pilot finds easier to acquire and attack. Also, these have lesser lethal air defenses, and most are stationary.
- To engage mobile targets in real time requires phenomenal amount of resources in terms of sensors to detect and on-call orbiting aircraft to attack. The pay-off is just not worth it unless there are no other targets and tasks whatsoever for the air force.
- Air resources are far too few for the increasing number of tasks. So they cannot be blindly allotted formation wise. Moreover, the flexibility of air power and increasingly rapid communications make it possible to control air power centrally while looking after needs at many fronts.
- Centralised planning and decentralised execution is the principal for air power utilisation. Therefore, to allot air effort to individual formations as a SOP militates against the above principal. Moreover, human nature seldom permits any commander to forego his allotment (air effort or any other effort) to a needier Commander. For two reasons, first, the commander will not know in real time the needs of others who may need air effort in larger amount. Second the commander will always find some justification to use the allotted effort. Only the commander in overall picture of a theatre can prioritise the needs of various commanders under him and direct the air effort to appropriate place. And of course he can switch the entire effort to large distance, upto 400-800 Kms within a matter of hours. He can direct the use of armament, from PGMs to others, as per need, in real time. Some historical examples are listed below in proof.
In Gulf War-91, Marines seldom permitted Marine Harriers to be used elsewhere even during the 38 days of pure air war. The Commander of VII Corps General Fred Franks Jr, remained convinced that JFACC, Gen Charles Horner was not giving VII Corps adequate air support.11 This inspite of the CENTCOM C in C Gen SchwarzKopf, an army General, directing the entire war and having hourly contact with Charles Horner. During 1971 Indo-Pak War, on the Western front, HQ 11 and HQ 1 Corps continuing to utilise allotted air effort, even in the absence of worthwhile targets. This was even when at Chammb an adverse situation had begun to assume alarming proportion.12 And in 15 Corp, 26 Div, 162 Inf Bde, where even without demanding air strikes, the Corp HQ was pushing Hunter sorties with rather late intimation to Brigade HQ. As a result the air effort went waste.
Indeed factors like uncertainty of war, need for high assurance level, fear of enemy, competition with other formations, the feeling of my kingdom etc tend to adversely affect human nature. That is why Americans failed at Kasserine Pass in 1943 to a numerically inferior Luftwaffe.
- While most of the surface based resources have to be under command, this is not always so. The reserves at higher level like Corps HQ, Command HQ and Army HQ are released only after battle is joined. They could be placed under the command of any one, basically dictated by unfolding battle/campaign. Compare a Regiment of tanks with a squadron of strike aircraft. Tanks are mobile, but once committed in a battle are of no use to any other formation, at least for quite a while, whereas strike aircraft after delivering devastating firepower in few sorties can be easily switched to another formation in few hours. That is why, aircraft are not put under command lower HQ except at Command level.
Perforce, more time needs to be spent on grasping air warfare since it has multiple routes to victory. For this the notion of aircraft as a “˜flying artillery piece will have to be discarded.
- Related to this point is the misperception in some minds that strike aircraft are flying artillery. While one may grant this (mis) understanding to very rigid minds, the same cannot be true of the modern, flexible and adaptive minds that have started appreciating the multiple routes opened by air dimension to defeat enemy. And wars since 1991 have repeatedly proven it.
- It must be appreciated that as modern aircraft and weapons have improved manifold, their costs have sky rocketed. That while the tasks for air power are continuing to increase, the numbers of aircraft are continuing to reduce. As an example, USAAF at the end of World War II had 68000 aircraft. Today it has 5000. So as numbers reduce, one needs to employ the fewer numbers innovatively to maximise their impact. Like the Israeli AF, which in 1967 War, on 5th June flew about 1000, strike sorties by mere 200 strike aircraft within 6-8 hours. All this can be done only when all aircraft are controlled centrally.
By Air Planner
- The army commander has multiple contingencies planned. His final plan emerges only at the last moment. Even then it is flexible to cater for enemy land commanders emerging reaction. So army planner cannot give a firm detailed plan in advance to the air planner.
- Army Commander needs a lot of assurance from air commander in terms of fire support. Psychological assurance is very important before the battle begins. He needs to be convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that air support will be available for unexpected critical situations, no matter what the state of air war is. But this will happen only during emergent situations and not as a SOP.
Professional approach will pay far greater dividends than an approach, which emphasises physical togetherness as higher priority for enhancing jointmanship between air warriors and others.
- Often army commanders are pre-occupied by direct threats from the enemy. So he needs to be goaded towards selection of targets, which have indirect bearing. Dumps, lines of communication, POL stores, supply vehicles and even Reserves at Army/Corps level can be considered in the indirect category. If army commander is cajoled to share the air commander’s wide view, typically within 300-500 Km radius, he will be able to specify these indirect targets more easily. These indirect targets will not change much with newer contingencies that the army commander may face. Which means that air planner can do necessary planning work on identified ‘indirect’ targets before the battle is joined. This will allow more efficient, rapid and effective air power response.
Jointness or Jointmanship indeed is an inescapable necessity for modern wars. To win quickly, precisely with least casualties to own side as well as the civilians on the other side. Understanding the characteristics of each Service’s way of warfare and factoring it in joint planning can enhance Jointmanship.
In the modern warfare air and space have come to occupy the dominating position. Moreover, air power opens up multiple routes to victory in comparison to only a single route, which existed, in pure land warfare and in naval warfare. This single route was often through the path of heavy attrition and protracted struggle barring few exceptions heralded by Napoleonic way of manoeuvre and deception warfare.
To understand characteristics of Services, time devoted by practitioners of warfare cannot be mathematically divided in to three equal parts. While this may seem impartial, it does not cater to the reality. Perforce, more time needs to be spent on grasping air warfare since it has multiple routes to victory. For this the notion of aircraft as a ‘flying artillery piece’ will have to be discarded. Similarly, air warrior will need to understand the land war and naval war and dilemmas of land commander in firming up his plans or the need to have continued flexibility even during the battle.
Professional approach will pay far greater dividends than an approach, which emphasises physical togetherness as higher priority for enhancing jointmanship between air warriors and others. Increasing joint syllabus by only joint training will not promote jointmanship. Sometimes it may even defeat the objective when professionalism is given back bench in preference to pure camaraderie. Seen in this light, NDA and DSSC create a false and exaggerated impression of jointmanship. At one time we were five course-mates at DSSC, One Rear Adm, three Brigadiers and one Air Cmde. We were great friends and still are, had wonderful time socially. But faced with war, I am sure each one of us would put professionalism above friendship. Nobody will compromise in attaining war aims and objectives by sacrificing professionalism to friendship or ‘coursemateship’. So do I hope.
Greater benefits would accrue from practical joint training under warlike simulated conditions. This facet needs greater thought, time and effort than presently is the case.
In USA a Joint Force Command has been established in 1999 to enhance Jointness. It is recommending the creation of a national training ‘capability’, which would combine live, virtual and constructive simulations to create a joint training environment.13 Recently USAF has newly created the position of deputy chief of staff for war fighting integration to emphasise seamless C2 ISR against fleeting targets.14
- US Doctrine on Jointness, Appendix A, A-1
- Joint Force Quarterly, Autumn, USA, 1995.
- Cropsey Seth, “The Limits of Jointness” Joint Force Quarterly Summer 1993 National Defence University USA pp 72-79. Seth has served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.
- Defence News 3-9 Jun 02, p 18
- Jane’s International Defence Review Jun 02, p 58.
- Kaufman Daniel J, “National Security: Organising the Armed Forces”, Armed Forces and Society. USA p 102.
- Kent A Gleen, “Defining the Role of Air Power in Joint Mission” RAND-USAF, Washington DC 1998 p 9.
- Air Force (USAF) Magazine, Sep 01, p 74.
- Jane’s International Defence Review Jun 02, p 58.
- Clancy Tom with Fred Franks, “Into the Storm - A study in command” Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1997 p 256.
- Refer “Air War in West - History of 1971 Indo-Pak War” Official History by MOD India - on Internet.
- Kent Ibid p 11
- Jane’s Defence Weekly, 29 May 02, p 8.
- Aviation Week & Space Technology 6 May 02, p 56.