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The Air Campaign

The airplane has evolved as an instrument of military and national power. Today, airpace power is essential for success on and over the modern battle-field. In many instances it will be the most useful form of military power, the military power of choice, or both. Future advances in stealth, precision, and lethality will make airspace power increasingly more effective in all theaters of operations and at all levels of warfare across the range of military operations. Operation DESERT STORM (1991) validated the concept of a campaign in which airpace power, applied simultaneously against strategic and operational centers of gravity (COGs), rendered opposing military forces virtually ineffective. Aerospace power emerged as a dominant form of military might. It was decisive primarily because it achieved paralysis of the enemy at all levels of war with minimal casualties to friendly forces.

A conscious decision to prioritize objectives may drive the phasing of the air campaign plan by dictating a specific mission flow based on strategic and operational considerations. This will translate into assignment of relative values for specific target sets and individual targets. Attacks on target sets may take place in series or in parallel. The priorities may force the selection of either one of these schemes or some combination of the two. Attack in series generally refers to attacking targets in the highest priority target set sequentially, beginning with the highest priority target and continuing to the lowest priority, before initiating attack on the next target set. Attack in series may also refer to a sequential attack based primarily on geographical considerations. Attack in parallel refers to attacking targets across several or more geographically dispersed target sets at the same time.

Most campaign plans are built in phases. A phase represents a period during which a large portion of the forces are involved in similar or mutually supporting activities (deployment, for example). A transition to another phase -- such as a shift from deployment to defensive operations -- indicates a shift in emphasis. Phasing may be sequential or concurrent. Phases may overlap. The point where one phase stops and another begins is often difficult to define in absolute terms. During planning, commanders establish conditions for transitioning from one phase to another. The completion of the phases is determined by accomplishing measures of merit based upon the enemy threat after thorough analysis. Measures of merit help the Commander determine when the next phase of a campaign should commence. A measure of merit is usually an objective measure that is subjectively determined to help indicate how well a campaign is progressing. The commander adjusts the phases to exploit opportunities presented by the enemy or to react to unforeseen situations.

The prudent commander will do what is necessary to become superior in the air. The effort to achieve air superiority (a means to an end) should not be waged with air assets alone. Naval and ground forces should play a role whenever possible.

Air supremacy is defined as the condition when the enemy air force is in-capable of effective interference. Through the complete destruction of the enemy air forces, this condition is the ultimate goal of an air campaign. Yet, this condition may be difficult or even impossible to achieve. It may occur however, through the establishment of a diplomatic "no-fly zone". Under the condition of air supremacy, the air commander employs all of his aircraft at will.

Air superiority is defined as the condition when the conduct of operations is possible at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the enemy. This is a necessary and obligatory condition to attain success in combat and overall victory in a war. The most efficient method of attaining air superiority is to attack enemy aviation assets close to their source at maintenance and launch facilities, early warning and C2 sites, and ground-based air defense sites.

Local air superiority, which is purely geographic in nature, is characterized by well timed air attacks to coincide with enemy aircraft downtime, re-turning sorties, aircraft rearming, or gaps in air defense coverage. This condition may also occur in sectors across the theater of military operations where the the enemy may not have adequate assets available to ensure air superiority. In certain situations or against certain enemies, local air superiority for a specified period of time may be a more realistic goal.

Air parity is defined as the functional equivalency between enemy and friendly air forces in strength and capability to attack and destroy targets. Under the condition of air parity, where neither side has gained superiority, some enemy capabilities affect friendly ground forces at times and places on the battlefield. Air parity manifests itself to the commander primarily in the amount of fixed-wing aircraft used for direct support of ground forces. More aircraft are dedicated to interdiction and strike missions to gain air superiority.

Targeting priorities can be gauged by understanding enemy centers of gravity. The center of gravity is a label that planners and strategists find useful for devising maximum payoff courses of action. Some military theorists hold that any function of vital importance to the enemy is a center of gravity, whether or not it is vulnerable. Those things that are both critical and vulnerable are normally the best candidates for direct attack. Key features of a center of gravity are its importance to the enemy's ability to wage war, its importance to the enemy's motivation and willingness to wage war, its importance to the enemy political body, population, and armed forces, and the enemy's consciousness of these factors.

The daily Air Tasking Order (ATO) is the published order which directs all the air missions. The joint air tasking cycle provides a repetitive process for the planning, coordination, allocation, and tasking of joint air missions/sorties and accommodates changing tactical situations or joint force commander (JFC) guidance as well as requests for support from other component commanders. The joint ATO matches specific targets compiled by the joint force air component commander (JFACC)/JFC staff with the capabilities/forces made available to the JFACC for the given joint ATO day. The full joint air tasking order (ATO) cycle from JFC guidance to the start of ATO execution is dependent on the JFC's procedures, but each ATO period usually covers a 24-hour period. At any given time there will be three ATOs in the works. - the ATO in progress, ATO nearing completion and the ATO that's just beginning. The battle rhythm depends on a number of factors, and will probably be different for each exercise and contingency. Joint Pub 3-56.1 defines a 48 hour ATO battle rhythm.

The master air attack plan (MAAP) assigns available weapons delivery platforms to targets. A target is a geographical area, complex, or installation planned for capture or destruction by military forces. Targets include the wide array of mobile and stationary forces, equipment, capabilities, and functions that an enemy commander can use to conduct operations at any level -- strategic, operational, or tactical. Targeting is the process of selecting targets and matching the appropriate response to them taking into account operational requirements and capabilities. The targeting process has six basic phases/functions:

  1. commander's objectives and guidance,
  2. target development,
  3. weaponeering assessment,
  4. force application,
  5. execution planning/force execution,
  6. combat assessment.

Although commonly referred to as a "cycle," the joint targeting process is really a continuous process of overlapping functions independent of a particular sequence.

Battle damage assessment (BDA) is one of the principal subordinate elements of combat assessment (CA). At the joint force commander (JFC) level, the CA effort should be a joint program, supported at all levels, designed to determine if the required effects on the adversary envisioned in the campaign or operation plan are being achieved by the joint force components to meet the JFC's overall concept. The intent is to analyze what is known about the damage inflicted on the adversary with sound military judgment to try to determine what physical attrition the adversary has suffered; what effect the efforts have on the adversary's plans or capabilities; and what, if any, changes or additional efforts need to take place to meet the objectives of the current major operations or phase of the campaign.

BDA is used to update the enemy order of battle. Accurate BDA is critical to determine if the target should be reattacked. BDA should include information relating BDA to a specific target (e.g., target coordinates, target number, mission number, munitions expended, target description); time of attack; damage actually seen (e.g., secondary explosions or fires, enemy casualties, number and type of vehicles/structures damaged or destroyed); and mission accomplishment (desired effects achieved).

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