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Passive Air Defense: A Neglected Concept
CSC 1984
                                 Submitted to
                            Dr. Rudolph V. Wiggins
                    In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
                          for Written Communications
                  The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
                               Qantico, Virginia
                              Major J. Q. Butler
                          United States Marine Corps
                                 April 6, 1984
  Thesis Sentence:  The Marine Corps must exert a determined
                    effort to round out its air defense by
                    placing as much emphasis on passive air
                    detense as it does on active air defense.
I.  Introduction
     A.   Passive air defense defined
     B.   Active air defense defined
II.  Background on American air defense
     A.   American air bases safe since World War II
     B.   Soviet Union now significant threat
III. Description of passive air defense measures
     A.   Hardening
     B.   Deception
     C.   Concealment
     D.   Dispersal
IV.  Conclusion
     A.   Passive air defense:  difficult, costly, necessary
     B.   USMC must improve
     Passive air defense, the term seems to imply inactivity.
Perhaps this explains why the Marine Corps has paid so little
attention to the subject.  It is not an unknown term.  LFM-02,
Doctrine for Landing Forces, defines it as:
     All measures, other than active defense, taken to mini-
     mize the effect of hostile air action.  These include
     the use of cover, concealment, camouflage, dispersion,
     and protective construction.1
FMFM 5-1, Marine Aviation, and FMFM 5-5, Antiair Warfare, give
essentially the same definition although they refer to it as
"Passive Antiair Warfare".  Unfortunately, other than defining
what constitutes passive air defense measures, little else is
written on how to employ it effectively.  The plans and orders
for major Marine exercises routinely ignore passive air defense
measures other than camouflage.
     Active air defense, now that is a different story!
This aspect of air defense receives lots of attention.  Again
referring to LFM-02 we find active air defense defined as:
     Direct defensive action taken to destroy or reduce the
     effectiveness of an enemy air attack.  It includes such
     measures as the use of aircraft, antiaircraft artillery,
     electronic counter-measures, and surface-to-air missile
FMFM 5.1 and FMFM 5-5 considers this type of defense as a
category of "Active Antiair Warfare"  which includes our
attacks against enemy airfields and other air assets.  These
are things every Marine can sink his teeth into:  attacking
enemy air bases, shooting down enemy aircraft, and bombing
radar sites.  Distinguished Flying Crosses and other decora-
tions come from such activities.  Who ever heard of a medal
for properly dispersing aircraft around an air base or
cleverly disguising a fuel farm as something other than a
fuel farm?
     Seriously, a good offense is always better than a good
defense.  Even the most perfectly conceived passive defense
would result in destruction of our aviation units if our
active air defenses were to suffer the same atrophy as our
passive measures.  However, a good defense is also required
if our forces are to survive on today's battlefield.  Several
studies have determined the Soviets could launch a surprise
attack with massive waves of aircraft against most of our
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air bases.  Although
their losses would be heavy, our air forces could be crippled
if not properly dispersed in hardened and concealed sites.
The Marine Corps is working hard to improve its ability to
conduct an active air defense for the Marine Air Ground Task
Force (MAGTF).  The Marines Corps must also exert a determined
effort to round out its air defense by placing as much empha-
sis on passive air defense as it does on active air defense.
	In researching the subject of passive air defense I
discovered two things.  First, there is a paucity of anything
written on the subject in Marine Corps publications.  Second,
the attitude of many Marine aviators is that passive measures
are not worth the effort in today's world of high technology
intelligence gathering equipment.  Perhaps the second finding
explains the first.  The truth is, something can and must be
done.  It is time that we, as professional Marines, learned
how to fool the enemy target analysts.
     The United States enjoyed a period of over thirty years
in which its air bases were considered immune to an air attack.
In our last two conflicts, Korea and Vietnam, our air bases
were never threatened by an enemy air attack.  We felt corn-
fortable basing our aviation units in large air bases with
little dispersion of aircraft at the air field.  No attempt
was made to employ passive measures other than hardening.
Several generations of Marine aviators have now come to expect
to find their aircraft parked a short distance from the main-
tenance control office.  Our maintenance crews have also
enjoyed the luxury of walking a short distance to repair a
malfunction.  Those days are over Marines.  It is time we all
woke up to reality.
     The reality of today is that we are faced with a skilled
and determined enemy, the Soviet Union, whose doctrine calls
for massive, theater-wide attacks against enemy air bases
beginning with the commencement of hostilities.  Soviet
strategy emphasizes the importance of a preemptive first
strike against NATO nuclear forces, command and control
centers, and airfields.  These attacks against NATO have in
the past been planned as nuclear strikes; however, the Soviets
have recently developed an impressive conventional strike
force.  Beginning in the mid-seventies the Soviets began a
modernization of its aviation assets with the emphasis for
the first time on ground attack aircrart.  The Soviets can
now field numerically superior air forces with ground attack
aircraft capable of conducting crippling air attacks using
conventional weapons against most of NATO's air bases.  They
no longer need to cross the nuclear threshold to neutralize
NATO's air forces.
     I suppose, given the extent of the threat and the wide
array of detection methods, the adoption of a passive air
defense program might seem pointless.  Indeed, a study of
passive defense techniques for the U. S. Air Force air bases
in NATO stated that at times the best we can do may not be
good enough and that passive measures may sometimes cost more
than they are worth.3  However, the study went on to agree
with other studies which concluded passive defensive techniques
are an important part of theater air base defense and should
be employed.
     What then are these passive defense techniques which may
be costly but are worth the effort?  The Marine Corps lists
five:  cover, concealment, camouflage, dispersion, and pro-
tective construction.  The U. S. Air Force study mentioned
earlier, expands slightly upon these and I believe presents a
better description of what measures to employ.  Figure 1 is
that study's listing of passive measures along with the
related objective for each measure.
Click here to view image
It should be noted that to be effective these measures must
be considered a "package deal".  Employing only one or two
will not provide the desired effect which is to reduce the
vulnerability of our forces to air attack by enemy air forces
which break through our active air defenses.
     Of the three objectives of passive measures, hardening
requires the least amount of imagination and planning.
Everyone understands the need to place aircraft in protected
revetments.  Much of NATO's aircraft are now sheltered in
hardened shelters which provide overhead as well as lateral
protection.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of these
shelters to go around and Marine aviation units will probably
be required to construct their own revetments.  Construction
of these revetments must be coordinated with the plans for
dispersal and deception.
     Deception measures can be anything from an inflatable
decoy aircraft to an entire dummy airfield.  The key to the
success of the deception is that the deception must be tied
in to actual operations and appear to be the real thing in
every respect.  The use of decoy aircraft alone a section
of highway will not, by itself, convince the enemy you have
based an aircraft unit there.  A redundancy of indicators
must be presented to the enemy intelligence analysts if they
are to be fooled.  Fueling, arming, and billeting areas must
be simulated as well as maintenance sites to present a complete
picture of an operating base.  Simulated communication and
electronic emissions common to air base operations must also
be used.  Realistic activity can be portrayed by having actual
aircraft land and takeoff from the site.  The goal of all this
effort is to direct the enemy's attention away from an actual
     The implementation of a deception such as a dummy air
base such as the one just described requires thorough planning,
increased manpower, and additional equipment.  The Marine
Corps is presently incapable of even attempting such a decep-
tion.  It has neither the equipment nor trained personnel to
plan for and employ a dummy air base.  It has no recent
experience with which to base any plans upon.  Currently,
any attempt at deceptive basing would probably be inadequate
to deceive the enemy.
     A comical example of an unconvincing deception occurred
in North Africa between the British and Italians in World War
II.  The British constructed a fake airfield near Tobruk
hoping to lure the Italians away from the real airfield.  The
attempted deception was poorly done and failed to fool the
Italians who attacked the dummy airfield with dummy bombs!5
Usually an attempted deception is discovered ineffective
when real bombs begin falling on the real airfield.
     The Russians used dummy airfields extensively in World
War II to protect its airfields.  A good description of the
techniques employed was written by Colonel E. Simakov.6  In
true Russian fashion Colonel Simakov spoke glowingly of the
successful deceptions and failed to mention any failures.
Despite this one sided view, he recounts how the use of dummy
airfields was integrated into every construction of real ones.
     Colonel Simakov describes three methods of deceptive
aircraft basing.  The first method was to make an abandoned
airfield appear still active.  This method was useful in
concealing redeployments of aviation units.  The second
method was designed to conceal an operating airfield along
the most likely flightpath of enemy aircraft.  This consisted
of simulating activity at a dummy airfield in close proximity
to a well concealed operating base.  Enemy aircrews were
fooled into dropping their bombs away from the real base.
The third method consisted of setting up false concentrations
of aviation units.  These concentrations were either away
from the real concentration (to divert enemy assets away from
the sector of real activity) or around a real airfield (to
help conceal activity around a generally known airfield).
According to Colonel Simakov these methods were extremely
successful against the Germans.
	Now I realize that it was much easier to construct a
real and a fake airfield in World War II than it is today.
The 8000 feet long by 150 feet wide concrete runways which
most of our modern jet aircraft require cannot be readily
simulated.  However, the Marine Corps has the capability of
constructing an Expeditionary Airfield (EAF) if an existing
airfield is not available.  The Soviets know this and will
probably be watching for the employment of the EAF.  The
Marine Corps must develop plans for employing dummy EAF's
simultaneously with the construction of the real one.
	The Marine Corps is also unique among other American
services in its use of the AV-8 Harrier, a vertical and short
takeoff and landing (VSTOL) aircraft.  This aircraft is
specifically designed to operate from dispersed sites.  Site
preparation is required but a runway is not essential.  What
is needed is a plan to construct fake VSTOL sites with decoy
AV-8's and other equipment to aid in the concealment of the
real sites.
     Basing of helicopter units is another example in which
a runway is not required.  Helicopters will be based rela-
tively close to the battle area, therefore, extremely vul-
nerable to attack by fixed-wing airplanes and armed heli-
copters.  Much more thought must be given to concealing
these assets of the MAGTF if mobility of our ground forces
is to be maintained.
     The deceptive measures can not be effective if there is
not an equally well developed plan to impair the enemy's
target acquisition attempts.  Tonedown, camouflage, and
concealment measures are interrelated and have the obvious
objective of hiding something from the enemy.  Dispersal
causes the enemy to look for more targets.  The combination
of these four measures and the deception measures already
discussed will complicate the enemy's targeting process.
A brief description of each of the target acquisition impair-
ment measures is needed to complete the discussion on passive
air defense measures.
     Tonedown refers to the masking of brightly constrasting
features such as an 8000 feet long concrete runway in the
middle of a green countryside.  Anyone who has flown over the
EAF at 29 Palms, California can also attest to the need for
tonedown in the desert.  Tonedown will not hide the runway
from the target analyst, but it may cause the enemy pilot
conducting a low level, visual attack to spot the airfield
too late to commence an attack on his first pass.  If he is
forced to commence a second attack it doubles our chances to
shoot his down.
     Camouflage is much more difficult today with the various
electronic, infrared and radar sensors which are not as easily
fooled as the camera or naked eye.  Camouflage netting can
hide a squadron command post from an enemy pilot traveling
at 500 miles per hour; however, an infrared photograph will
identify the netting as false vegetation and the electronic
signature of the equipment and communications from the site
will help determine what is under the netting.  Also, radar
imaging can "see" through common netting or vegetation and
locate tanks, trucks, aircraft, and other objects hiding
     Is there anything that can be done to counter these
sensors?  Of course there is!  But, it takes more equipment
and effort.  A squadron at a dispersed site needs enough
camouflage netting to prepare dummy positions around its
area.  Most communications from the site can be made by wire,
commercial telephones, or courier.  Radio transmissions can
be limited to burst transmissions using remoted, directional
antennae to reduce the probability of detection.  Camouflage
nets now exist which absorb and diffuse radar pulses, thereby
masking the radar signature of whatever is beneath it.
     Concealment is the final aspect of hiding from sight.
It may be thought to be synonymous with camouflage, but
camouflge is only one aspect of concealment.  The objective
of concealment is to prevent recognition or to hide from view.
Camouflage is concealment by disguise.  For example, covering
tents, aircraft, andvehicles with netting is concealment
by camouflage.  You are trying to make the area look like
the natural vegetation.  Concealment may also be accomplished
by hiding personnel and equipment in existing buildings or
in caves.  Concealment of an aviation unit can be accomplished
by basing it among structures not normally associated with
the unit's activity.  For instance, a helicopter air group
could base itself away from an airfield and use warehouses
or other large buildings around an urban area to hide the
aviation supply and maintenance vans.  Operating sites for
the aircraft squadrons would be dispersed around the urban
area or nearby countryside.
     This leads to the last passive measure, dispersion.
Dispersion is of two kinds:  on-base and off-base.  On-base
diepersion spreads the aircraft out over a large area of the
air base.  Ideally, each aircraft parking spot is revetted
and camouflaged.  The advantage of this dispersal system is
that no one attack could destroy all of the aircraft as
could be done if they were lined up in a row.  The disadvan-
tage is that a damaged runway traps any aircraft which has
not already taken off.  Off-base dispersal spreads aviation
units out between a main base and several satellite bases.
On-base dispersal is employed at each site but the force as
a whole is not limited to the runways of one air base.
     The Marine Corps needs to do more to improve its ability
to operate from dispersed sites, particularly in the NATO
theater.  It can not afford to place all its aircraft in
just two or three locations.  In the first place, there will
probably not be room.  If the Marine Corps is ever committed
to NATO, the U. S. Air Force will surely be phasing in its
reinforcing squadrons as well.  The helicopter air groups
may find themselves based away from airfields because the
fixed-wing squadrons may need every available runway, and not
because someone thought it to be a good idea.  In the second
place, the existing air bases have already been targeted by
the Soviets.  Placing too many aircraft at one location will
make the air base too lucrative a target to pass up.  Lastly,
dispersal within NATO is becoming an expected mode of operation
and the Marine Corps will need to be able to coordinate its
dispersed assets.
     Dispersal of NATO's air forces, of which the Marine
Corps could be counted, has been a subject of growing concern
in the past several years.  In an excellent research paper,
Wing Commander Peter P. W. Taylor of the Royal Air Force
noted little impetus to improve the dispersal capability of
NATO's aircraft as late as 1977.7  At the time of the paper
NATO was vacillating between hardening the existing air bases
or developing a better dispersal capability.  Taylor contended
that both measures were required.  As I have already stated,
passive measures are a package deal.  One measure complements
the other.  More recently, the U. S. Air Force has sponsored
several studies to reduce the vulnerability of its forces to
air attack.
     One such study considered various technical alternatives
to provide better dispersal in Europe.8  The study analyzed
the effects of various basing concepts and aircraft character-
istics upon survivability in the first ten days of war with
the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  The study concluded
that the most effective concept was that of dispersed sites
using VSTOL aircraft.9  The study, completed in 1980, consid-
ered 1990 as the target date for completion of the dispersal
concept.  The study visualized the concept in the following
     These bases will be located relatively near the parent
     base, in order to ease logistics and control.  To mini-
     mize the signature of the site all operations will use
     vertical take off and landing...
     Concealment of the base is of prime importance in
     selecting suitable locations; such locations may be in
     rural or urban areas, or on existing airfields.  Low
     site signature will be maintained by redeployment at
     two-day intervals to new sites: it is necessary, there-
     fore, that a large number of sites be surveyed and
     allocated to this function.10
The technical improvements in aircraft design, namely VSTOL
capabiliies, have not been pursued and this basing concept
will only be possible for those forces having the AV-8.
     The Swedish Air Forse has an outstanding dispersal plan.11
It consists of more than 100 isolated sites, usually with a
reinforced section of highway for a runway.  Many are stocked
with fuel, ordnance, and spare parts.  These sites are ready
at any time to receive over 500 aircraft.  The Swedish Air
Force constantly exercises the system which increases the
probability it will work if war actually comes.  Such a
dispersal plan is obviously beyond the capabilities of the
Marine Corps; however, it is certainly an excellent model
for NATO in general.
     Passive air defense is a difficult business.  It costs
time, money, and manpower.  It takes constant attention to
details and close coordination between many people.  However,
regardless of the problems involved it must be done.  It is
just as important to the survival of our Marine aviation units
as is the active air defense.  The Marine Corps can no longer
ignore the need to get serious about this aspect of its air
defense.  To do nothing in a war will mean that Marine
aviation will rapidly lose the capability to do anything.
     1MCDEC, USMC, Doctrine for Landing Forces. LFM 02
(Qantico, 1971), p. 123.
     2Ibid, p. 123.
     3Daniel Dunbar and James A. Keller, Study of Passive
Defense Techniques for USAF Theater Air Bases (U) (Albuquer-
que, N. M.:  Falcon Research and Development Co., 1975), p.
35.  (Classified report).
	4Ibid, p.7.
	5Earl J. Boyce, Cover and Deception in World War II -
Its Lessons and Doctrine Implications (Maxwell AFB, AL.:
Air University, 1982), p. 17.
	6Colonel E. Simakov,  "Operational Camouflage of Air
Assets," Tr. Major Robert E. Townsend.  Soviet Awareness
Red Eagle Reader, Special Ed.  1980, pp. 142-145.
	7Peter P. W. Taylor, NATO's Dispersal Capability: A
Fatal Flaw?  (Maxwell AFB, Al.: Air University, 1977), p. 23.
	8Peter Middleton, Technical Alternatives to Provide
Aircraft Dispersion in Europe (England:  Stephen Howe
(Consultants) Ltd, 1080), I, pp.1-3.
	9Middleton, I, p. 20.
	10Middleton, IV, p. 49.
	11Talor, p. 32.
Boyce, Earl J., Major, USAF:  Cover and Deception in World
     War II - Its Lessons and Doctrine Implications.  Maxwell
     AFB, Al.:  Air University, 1982.
Dick, D. J. "Soviet Chemical Warfare Capabilities," Inter-
     national Defense Review, 14 (November 1981), 31-38.
Douglass, Joseph D. Jr. The Soviet Theater Nuclear Offensive.
     Washington;  U. S. Air Force, No date.
Gould, P., et al.  NATO Tac Air Basing Study (U).  Alexandra
     Va.:  Institute for Defense Analysis,1981.  (Classified)
Hartoup, Guy.  Camouflage:  A History of Concealment and
     Deception in War.  New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons,
Middleton, Peter.  Technical Alternatives to Provide Aircraft
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Middleton, Peter.  Technical Alternatives to Provide Aircraft
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     England:  Stephen Howe (Consultants) Ltd, 1980.
Middleton, Peter.  Technical Alternatives to Provide Aircraft
     Dispersion in Europe - Supporting Analysis, III.
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Middleton, Peter.  Technical Alternatives to Provide Aircraft
     Dispersion in Europe - Final Analysis, IV.  England:
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Sidorenko, A. A.  The Offensive (A Soviet View).  Tr. U. S.
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Simakov, E., Colonel, USSR.  "Operational Camouflage of Air
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     Red Eagle Reader, Special Ed. 1980, 142-145.
Sollinger, Jerry M.  Improving U. S. Theater Nuclear Doctrine:
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     University Press, 1983.
Soviet Military Power.  Washington: Department of Defense,
Taylor, Peter P. W., Wing Commander, RAF.  NATO's Dispersal
     Capability:  A Fatal Flaw?. Maxwell AFB Al,:  Air
     University, 1977.
U. S. Army. Headquarters, Department of the Army. Tactical
     Deception, FM 90-2.  Washington, 1978.
U. S. Marine Corps.  Marine Corps Development and Education
     Command.  Marine Aviation. FMFM 5-1.  Quantico, 1979.
U. S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education
     Command.  Antiair Warfare. FMFM 5-5.  Quantico, 1980.
U. S. Marine Corps. Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps.  Doctrine
     for Amphibious Operations. LFM 01.  Washington, 1967.
U. S. Marine Corps, Marine Corps Development and Education
     Command.  Doctrine for Landing Forces. LFM 02.  Quantico,
Whiting, Kenneth R.  Soviet Air Power. 1917 - 1978.  Maxwell
     AFB, Al.:  Air University Library, 1979.

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