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The Air Threat

Prior to the mid-1960s, Threat air forces were equipped mainly to provide air defense. Threat aircraft were limited in range and payload, being primarily designed as interceptors. In recent years the mission of the Threat air force has been expanded. Missions now include destroying friendly nuclear reserves and tactical air forces and providing tactical air support of ground forces. Through the 1960s, and with increasing tempo through the 1970s, Threat air forces have been receiving new aircraft and munitions with greatly improved offensive capabilities. Older aircraft have been modified to support new missions.

This chapter describes that portion of the air threat that Stinger is designed to neutralize and destroy.


Threat forces recognize that part of their air effort will be initially required to obtain local air superiority. Fighter units of the air army have the dual mission of providing air defense and close support for their ground forces. Attack and bomber units are used to engage targets beyond the range of artillery and to reinforce artillery fires on selected targets and targets of opportunity. A combined bombardment by bombers and ground attack aircraft is coordinated with artillery preparatory fires. After the ground attack has begun, tactical air flies close support missions for ground elements.

Priority tasks for tactical air are the destruction/neutralization of hostile nuclear delivery means and other targets beyond artillery range.


Threat forces consider air strikes an extension of field artillery. They have begun to place great emphasis on tactical air support of ground operations. Attacks are made against preplanned targets to neutralize support and reserves within the tactical operational area. Threat air forces usually do not use high-performance aircraft to provide close air support along the line of contact where artillery can be employed. Armed helicopters are the primary air threat along the forward line of own troops (FLOT).


Concept of Air Support

Aircraft and Capabilities


Attack Techniques -- Fixed-Wing Aircraft

Attack Techniques -- Attack Helicopters

Tactical Limitations of Attack Aircraft

Heliborne Assaults

Airborne Assaults


Tactical aerial reconnaissance is a method of gathering intelligence concerning the enemy. It employs airborne collection devices ranging from aircrew eyes to the most advanced sensory devices. The Threat will use reconnaissance aircraft equipped with sensors capable of monitoring US operations in daylight, darkness, and inclement weather. Reconnaissance aircraft can operate singly or in pairs.


The Threat considers tactical airlift operations to be critical both in the conventional and nuclear area. Tactical airlift operations include logistics operations, airborne drops, and assault landings.


Threat forces have been particularly effective in integrating older aircraft and newer. more modern aircraft into a formidable fighting force. Four new aircraft in particular have greatly increased the ground attack capability of Threat forces. Older MiG-21s (FISHBED) are being phased out and replaced with the MiG-23 (FLOGGER B). FLOGGER B is a multirole aircraft with a secondary ground attack capability greater than either the MiG-21 or the Su-7 (FITTER A).

The MiG-27 (FLOGGER D) is the second important new aircraft. Derived from the FLOGGER B, it is designed specifically for ground attack. It is able to carry most new ordnance currently under development.

Another new addition is the Su-25 (FROGFOOT). The FROGFOOT with its 10 hardpoints for externally stored munitions and Gatling-type gun, has the same long-loiter, close support mission as the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

To supplement this threat, the Su-24 (FENCER) has been fielded. The FENCER is a deep penetration strike aircraft believed equivalent to our F-111. It may be able to underfly friendly radar defenses while conducting deep penetrations.

The early MiG-series aircraft (MiGs-15, -17, -19, and -21) were all designed primarily as interceptors to perform an air-to-air combat mission. Early MiGs could only carry two bombs or rocket pods on wing pylons normally used to carry external fuel. Because of this limited ordnance carrying capability, their ability to attack ground targets was limited. Although initial designs of these aircraft go back over a period of 20 years, MiGs-19 and -21 are still being used in large numbers, and the latest models of the MiG-21 are still being produced. Improvements were made to MiG-series aircraft to increase their ground mission capability. As long as an aircraft has utility for combat, it is not scrapped because of obsolescence. In many cases, when replaced in the active threat air force, older equipment is transferred to reserve elements or passed on to Allies.

A review of the Threat's air inventories shows that his air forces can and will employ a wide range of aircraft. Aircraft expected to operate in the forward area can be divided into four categories: multirole aircraft, ground attack aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, and helicopters.


Multirole aircraft are designed to perform both air-to-air combat missions and ground attack missions. Threat assets within this category include the early MiG-series of aircraft (MiGs-17, -19, and -21), MiG-23/27, and the Su-24.


Threat aircraft with a primary ground attack capability are the Su-7B FITTER A, Su-17/20/22 FITTER C/D, MiG-27 FLOGGER D, and Su-25 FROGFOOT.


The Threat uses reconnaissance aircraft equipped with photographic and electronic sensors. This equipment is capable of detecting our operations in daylight, darkness, and inclement weather. Reconnaissance aircraft may operate alone, but probably will operate jointly with ground attack aircraft. Used in this manner, reconnaissance aircraft detect targets of opportunity for the ground attack aircraft. Reconnaissance versions of MiG-21, -23, and -25 aircraft perform deep penetration missions and also provide reconnaissance coverage nearer the forward edge of the battle area. Other aircraft available for reconnaissance missions include the YAK-28 BREWER D and the IL-28R BEAGLE. Reconnaissance missions will often be flown at relatively low altitude, well within Stinger's engagement capability.


Threat forces have some of the most heavily armed helicopters in the world. These helicopters may be employed near the forward edge of the battle area/line of communications, in the "overmatch," and in "air assaults" against rear areas.

Helicopters have advantages over fixed-wing aircraft which enable the helicopters to be deployed in large numbers in forward areas. They do not require large airfields or costly runways. They are very suitable for conducting reconnaissance of the enemy's forward forces. They are highly mobile and can fly in weather that grounds fixed-wing aircraft. Finally, they can carry a wide variety of weapons. These include cannons, machine guns, antitank guided missiles (ATGM), free-flight rockets, and grenade launchers.

These valuable characteristics are offset by helicopters' vulnerability to short-range AD weapons. The attack helicopter achieves maximum utility in a war of movement when employed in an ambush or assault action. Using speed, mobility, surprise, and an impressive array of weapons, it can harass, delay, and destroy advancing columns and armor thrusts while supporting the ground attack with firepower.

The Mi-8 HIP is the main utility helicopter for Threat forces and is replacing the Mi-4 HOUND as the standard troop carrier for air assault operations. A new version of the Mi-8 HIP, called HIP E, has been introduced as being equipped with "the heaviest firepower seen on any helicopter in the world." Rocket and missile launching racks are now included on most 28-passenger Mi-8 transport helicopters.

The Mi-24 HIND is the first Threat helicopter specifically designed for attack missions. However, it is also capable of landing a squad behind enemy lines. The HIND presents a significant threat to maneuver units. There are currently five versions of the HIND. The first three, HIND A, B, and C, differ basically in the ordnance they carry. The fourth version, the HIND D, features a completely redesigned front fuselage. The HIND D's armament capabilities exceed those of the HIND A. Included is a radar-directed nose gun. Another later version is the HIND E which is equipped with triple instead of double missile launch racks under each of its outboard stub wings.

Other helicopters likely to be encountered by Stinger personnel include the Mi-2 HOPLITE, Mi-6 HOOK and Mi-28 HAVOC.


Concurrent with the development of aircraft with improved ground attack capabilities has been the development of improved types of ordnance to support this mission. The Threat now has an array of ordnance suited to just about any type of mission or target.

Perhaps most important has been the introduction of effective cluster bomb units (CBU). A CBU consists of many small bomblets in one package. These can be carried in large numbers on any aircraft. CBUs are dropped at high speeds and low altitudes to cover a wide area.

To improve capabilities against point targets, such as bridges. Threat forces have developed new air-to-surface missiles (ASM) with vastly improved guidance systems.

Guided free-fall bombs, similar to those developed by the West, are also new additions to the Threat's ordnance inventory. Equipped with these new munitions, a single aircraft can now destroy a target that only a few years ago would have defied attacks by large formations.

In addition to employing specialized munitions. Threat aircraft are equipped with cannons for use in strafing targets. They also can employ unguided bombs of various sizes and 57-mm unguided rockets. These rockets are loaded into a pod which allows a high rate of fire against targets. The table lists the likely targets and characteristics of aircraft ordnance used in attacking ground targets.


Three decades of experience have changed the concept of close air support (CAS). Aircraft are now dedicated to the support of maneuver forces in both Threat and Allied air forces. This is in recognition of the fact that the modern battlefield will provide a number of targets which CAS aircraft can destroy. Threat forces view CAS air strikes as an extension of their artillery capability.

High-performance aircraft rely on speed for surprise and survival. Because of their high speed, they will strike along the longest axis of the target --this gives them more time on target. They will attack out of the sun to give surprise.

To avoid medium-and high-altitude air defense systems, Threat aircraft operating in the ground attack role will probably approach the target area by flying as low as practical. Most attacks on ground targets near the FEBA will be at altitudes of less than 5,000 feet and at speeds of less than 550 knots.

The air defense gunner should always expect an enemy pilot to do the unexpected. Enemy pilots will deliver ordnance on a target the best way they can. They have several delivery techniques and many variations of these attack techniques at their disposal. The ground attack techniques of most interest to Stinger personnel include lay-down, pop-up, pop-up/lay-down, and standoff.


In the lay-down ordnance delivery technique, the pilot uses high speed and low altitude to increase the probability of mission success. He flies the aircraft over the target area about 300 feet above ground level and at a speed of 450-600 knots.

The ability to release ordnance at low altitude is made possible by advances in the development of bomb retardation devices and aircraft avionics. The speed of ordnance fall is reduced by drogue chutes or retarding fins. This allows the aircraft to get out of the way before detonation occurs.


The pop-up technique offers the pilot several advantages. By using a low-altitude approach and escape, he minimizes his exposure to air defenses, especially radar-directed air defense systems. He also gains some degree of deception surprise.

However, offsetting these advantages are several disadvantages. Aircraft consume more fuel at low altitudes, so the pilot has reduced his range. He also has less time to acquire the target than he would at a higher and tactical altitude on a clear day. The technique also increases his vulnerability to ground fire.

The pop-up technique generally consists of a run at low level from an intitial point (IP) about 10-20 kilometers from the target. The IP is usually a significant terrain feature in the area. The aircraft then flies to a pull-up point (PUP) about 3-8 kilometers from the target where it begins a rapid climb. Once the aircraft reaches attack height, it dives to an ordnance release point. This point will vary according to the type of ordnance being delivered. It is generally located 500-1,500 meters from the target. After delivering ordnance, the aircraft will attempt to escape at high speed.

More specific figures for the pop-up attack technique are:

  • The attack altitude of the aircraft will be from 1,000-5,000 feet, depending on the type of ordnance to be released.
  • When the aircraft begins its dive from attack altitude to the ordnance release point, it will usually turn left or right to a new heading which is 20o-90o from the original heading.
  • Airspeed during the attack is more a function of the type ordnance being delivered rather than the aircraft's maximum capabilities. For most ordnance, the normal speed varies from 400-500 knots.

    An attack may be made on a convoy by a flight of four aircraft armed with various munitions and initially flying low to avoid ADA radar detection. The lead aircraft spots the convoy and notifies the others. They will probably separate into two elements of two aircraft each. (With a flight of only one or two aircraft, the maneuver and attack techniques would be similar to those of the lead element in the scenario. The aircraft would spot the column, execute a turn, and attack using either the pop-up or lay-down technique.) The presence of ADA guns will normally limit the attack to one pass. The probability of aircraft survival decreases as the time and opportunities available for ADA engagement increase.


    In the standoff ordnance delivery technique, ordnance is released from aircraft at a considerable distance from the intended target. "Smart" bombs (with electronic steering) and guided missiles are used to achieve a high probability of hit and kill. These bombs and missiles are equipped with advanced homing guidance systems, such as active and passive infrared (ir), TV-command, and laser.





    Attack helicopters (AH) move on the battlefield at the lowest possible altitude, often flying among trees and buildings. Because they are more agile and maneuverable than fixed-wing aircraft, AH can use ground cover to hide behind while engaging from standoff positions. They stay relatively close to the ground, especially when firing. Therefore, attack helicopters are difficult to acquire and, because they are seen as part of the ground clutter by radar-directed air defense systems, are hard to lock onto and engage. Many Threat helicopters are equipped with ATGMs.

    The attack helicopter, using nap-of-the-earth and sneak-and-peek techniques, will survey the battlefield for targets. Finding a tank for example, the helicopter will use some sort of natural terrain like a forested area or hill to hide behind and, when the opportunity presents itself, will pop up over the terrain feature and launch its ATGM(s) at the target.

    Because it has to visually guide the ATGM to the target, the helicopter is vulnerable to short-range air defense (SHORAD)-type weapons as the helicopter hovers. However, Threat advances in ordnance may eliminate this vulnerability in the near future.

    Since helicopters can illuminate ground targets through use of a flare system, there is also a possibility that they may attack our forces at night. The principal advantage of using flares is that they reduce aircraft vulnerability by adding an element of surprise.




    All weapon systems have their limitations, and Threat attack aircraft are no exception. These factors not only limit aircraft effectiveness, but can be used against the Threat by our forces. Attack aircraft have a number of tactical limitations.

    Aircraft speed, maneuverability, and range decrease as the aircraft's ordnance load increases.

    Aircraft control requires some type of formation flying, at least at the start of an attack. This increases the chance of aircraft detection and reduces the possibility of surprise.

    Electronic countermeasures (ECM), active infrared countermeasures (IRCM), and the use of other tactics to degrade ADA effectiveness reveal the presence of the enemy. This eliminates an important part of an aircraft attack --the element of surprise.

    Darkness and inclement weather pose navigation and target acquisition problems for pilots, even with aircraft having an all-weather capability. Under these conditions, aircraft will have to fly higher, increasing their vulnerability to ADA fires.

    Low-altitude approaches increase aircraft vulnerability to SHORAD and small arms fire.

    High-speed and low-altitude approaches may reduce the chance of aircraft detection and engagement, but they also reduce the accuracy of aircraft weapon delivery. These techniques also make it very difficult for the pilot to locate the target, sometimes necessitating a second pass.

    Air weapon delivery must be extremely precise to be accurate. The slightest fault in weapons delivery can cause the pilot to miss his target and fail in his mission. When fired on, even a near miss may cause the pilot to lose concentration for that split second necessary to accurately deliver ordnance.


    Threat forces have placed increasing emphasis on air assault operations in recent years. The mobility of helicopters allows Threat commanders to:

    • Assist attacking forces by rapidly surmounting obstacles and large areas of NBC contamination.
    • Prevent enemy forces from closing gaps created by nuclear strikes.
    • Seize and hold important objectives in the enemy rear until the arrival of advancing troops.
    • Raid to destroy control points, radar posts, and signal centers.
    • Assist maneuver units by providing a highly mobile antitank capability.

    Threat doctrine stresses maintaining the momentum of the attack. Heavy use of an air assault mission is one way to do this. Threat leadership believes that air assault missions are especially useful after a nuclear strike. Using this type of assault as soon as possible after a nuclear strike maximizes the gains made with the strike and minimizes the risk to air assault forces. Tactical air support, to include assault helicopters, is often used to create a fly-through zone in enemy lines. Tactical air support generally continues until the air assault forces have landed and deployed.

    In the past, Threat forces used helicopters to transport small numbers of specially trained airborne troops on air assault missions. Recently, however, emphasis has been placed on using motorized rifle battalions for these missions. Threat leadership believes that these forces can be used with a minimum of training. The threat presented by units with the extensive combat capabilities of a motorized rifle battalion being airlifted behind our lines should not be underestimated.



    Airborne assaults are conducted with aircraft from military air transport forces. The mission of airborne forces can be strategic, operational, or tactical.

    Strategic missions are usually conducted in division strength. The purpose of this type of mission is to establish a new battle front within a theater of operations. Operational missions are conducted in support of armies or fronts. Units conducting these operations are usually of regimental size or smaller and are dropped from 200 to 400 kilometers in the rear. Tactical missions are conducted up to 200 kilometers in the rear. Normal objectives are seizing bridgeheads and critical road or rail junctions, destroying airfields, and disrupting rear areas. In a nuclear environment, tactical missions are most often used to exploit a nuclear strike.

    Although airborne operations can be conducted at almost any time, Threat forces generally conduct them at night. Airborne drops are generally preceded by an increase in reconnaissance of the drop area. Reconnaissance can be conducted by air, clandestine agents, long-range patrols, or air-dropped reconnaissance teams.

    Recently, Threat emphasis on tactical airborne missions has decreased. Helicopter assaults are taking their place; however, airborne forces will still be used for operational and strategic missions.

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