Air Operations During The 1973 Arab-Israeli War And The Implications
For Marine Aviation
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
Air Operations During the 1973 Arab-Israeli
War and the Implications for Marine Aviation
Major Martin L. Musella, USMC
1 April 1985
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
Author : MUSELLA, Martin L. , Major U. S. Marine Corps
Title : Air Operations During The 1973 Arab-Israeli War And
The Implications For Marine Aviation
Date : 1 April 1985
The prominence of the missile in modern warfare was brought home with
a terrifying vengenance by the events during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
Many conventional ideas were either shattered or challenged by this first
of the "high intensity wars ". One of the ideas challenged was the
applicability of aviation in support of the ground forces. The intent,
therefore, is to draw the correct implications for Marine aviation by
examining selected aspects of the belligerents' air and air defense opera-
To accomplish this task, this study is divided into two main parts.
The first part covers the air war in the areas of close air support, air
defense, and command/control of the three major belligerents; Egypt, Syria,
and Israel. Chapter one provides political and military background in-
cluding order of battle information. Chapter two addresses the aviation
war from a chronological standpoint. Chapter three then briefly analyses
the performance of the three major combatants in the three previously
Part two of this study draws implications for Marine aviation but
limiting the scope to the three selected areas. Because of the similarities
of the Israelis in doctrine, weapons, and philosophy; chapter four holds
special interest for Marines and Marine Aviation. All of this leads to
chapter five which focuses on three principle conclusions. These are:
close air support is still an effective tactic and can be accomplished
without prohibitive losses: Marine air defense is inadequate today and
needs additional weapons, training, and thought: and Marine air command
and control is adequate for the modern battlefield.
A large amount of information has been published concerning this war
to include books from Egyptian, Indian, British, American, Lebanses, and
Israeli perspectives. Also, a considerable amount of material remains
classified, but the differences between classified and unclassified in-
formation is in many cases minimal. While there were significant numbers
of articles published in periodicals immediately after the war, most of the
information is lacking in specifics.
Chapter I Intoduction and Background 1
Political Background 4
Military Background 7
Chapter II Combatant's Air Operations 17
Egyptian Air Operations 17
Egyptian Air Defense Operations 24
Syrian Air Operations 29
Syrian Air Defense Operations 32
Israeli Air Operations 34
Israeli Air Defense Operations 42
Chapter III Analysis of Combatant Air Operations 48
Egyptian Operations 48
Syrian Operations 50
Israeli Operations 52
Chapter IV Implications for Selected Aspects of Marine Aviation 56
Close Air Support 56
Air Defense 61
Air Command and Control 67
Chapter V Conclusions 74
Chapter I Introduction and Background
A veritable revolution has occurred over the last five years in the
Marine Corps concerning the study and evaluation of military history. This
re-awakening affects the curriculum of Marine educational institutions as
well as books and articles by both retired and active duty personnel. An
analysis of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War fits very nicely into this pattern for
a number of reasons. Any historical review which searches for trends or im-
plications applicable to the modern warrior, can stimulate creative thoughts
and ideas as well as prevent the repetition of bloody tactical errors or
foolhardy strategies. The appearance of the rifle, machine gun, tank, and
airplane all produced radical changes in the nature of modern warfare. I
believe the surface-to-air missile is another such weapon that promises to
produce significant changes in warfare. The classic struggle of tank versus
anti-tank weapons at the start of World War I continues today. It overshad-
ows the confrontation between airplane and anti-aircraft weaponry. The sur-
face-to-air missile's impact on tactics and doctrine compels interested mil-
itary officers to examine recent conflicts.
A review of the aviation portion of the 1973 war stimulates professional
interest. As a Marine air defense control officer, this review permits me to
examine a topic that is both rewarding and intellectually challenging. My
overall curiosity about this particular war joins a general interest in mil-
itary history. Therefore, the reader can easily grasp motivation for em-
barking on such a course.
The 1973 aviation and air defense actions have not been reviewed in their
entirety in past historical presentations, as far as I can ascertain. While
there have been a large number of books from different perspectives written
about the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, almost all either ignore aviation forces;
weave some pertinent aviation events into an overall land campaign; or in-
adequately address aviation in a single floating chapter. Therefore, my
purpose is to present a blow-by-blow account of air activity in the 1973 war.
The foremost impressions and flavor of the air war will be described since
a sortie-by-sortie and individual air defense engagement report could not be
accommodated in the space allowed and much material remains classified.
The second half of this paper attempts to relate the events of the 1973
war to current Marine Corps perceptions, practices, and procedures. I maintain,
based on my unscientific research and limited operational experiences over ten
years, that many Marines have drawn incorrect conclusions or overlooked critical
lessons regarding the 1973 war. These specifically involve the areas of close
air support and air defense. While every Marine acknowledges the vital impor-
tance of close air support, Marine officers, as a group, seem to possess a
certain fatalism in attitude concerning close air support.
Aviators generally signal their own demise in tone and conversation when
the topic entails flying close air support against a Soviet styled air defense
system. Ground officers doubt the successful intervention of Marine aviation
in performing close air support because aircraft losses suffered at the hands
of enemy air defenses will be too high. These perceptions, in my opinion, are
based on incorrect conclusions drawn from the 1973 war which I hope to dispel.
In addition, the Marine Corps seems to have overestimated the efficiency of
its air defense forces. By examining some of the events of the war and com-
paring the air defense practices of the combatants with Marine Corps doctrine,
I intend to show that Marine air defense forces are inadequate to protect
Marines on the modern battlefield because significant lessons of the 1973 war
have been missed. Measures to correct these inadequacies are described.
Lastly, some of the Marine Corps command control practices are
discussed to determine if they are adequate or need modification in view of
actual rigors of combat, 1973 style. Therefore, this paper should be of
value not only as a brief review of air activity in the 1973 war, but also
as a limited analysis reqarding specific Marine Corps issues following
from events of the air war. My ultimate objective is improvement in Marine
Corps ability to fight and win.
To place the 1973 Arab-Israeli War in proper perspective it is necessary
to present a quick overview of the political and military events that proceed-
ed this war. The period from June 1967 until October 1973 can be conveniently
broken dawn into four periods: Defiance, from June 1967 to August 1968; Ac-
tive Defense, from September 1968 to February 1969; War of Attrition, from
March 1969 to August 1970; and No War - No Peace, from August 1970 to October
1973.1 Each one of these periods indicated variations in policy or tactics
by the combatants which came about because of changes in outside support,
leadership, or military necessity. However, before we review these periods,
the Six Day War in June 1967 deserves consideration.
This war, or the Third Round in Arab parlence, was the root cause of the
1973 war.2 The Israeli Air Force's pre-emptive strike on the morning of 5
June against the Egyptian Air Force destroyed 309 out of 340 combat aircraft,
and by the end of the day the Jordanian Air Force had been destroyed and two-
thirds of the Syrian Air Force was gone.3 This spectacular victory not only
aided the blitzkreig on the ground, but also shaped Israeli thoughts and
strategy concerning the next war. The Arabs suffered a huge defeat in the
equipment destroyed and captured, territory occupied, and loss of Arab pres-
tige. However, as has happened so many times in the past, the bitter taste
of defeat planted seeds of resolve and revenge in the minds of the defeated,
and the sweetness of victory allowed overconfidence and poor judgement to
creep into the victors' thoughts. The real issues between the Arabs and
Israelis were not solved by the 1967 war.
The period from mid-June 1967 until August 1968 can be termed "Defiance"
by the Arabs. Duriug this period, the Arab nations sought to replace the
military equipment they had lost in combat, and aid from the Soviet Union
commenced.4 Small scale combats occurred, and a significant event was the
sinking of the Israeli destroyer, Eilat, on 21 October 1967 by Egyptian
After the re-armament and modernization of Egyptian forces was com-
pleted in September 1968, an "Active Defense" phase began which lasted
until February 1969. Major artillery battles erupted along the Suez Canal
in an attempt to disrupt Israeli construction of the Bar Lev fortifications.
Some air battles and cross canal raids also occurred.
Then in March 1969, Egyptian President Nassar announced the "War of
Attrition" phase in the Sinai. Major aircraft battles and deep Israeli
air strikes into Egypt occurred. The Egyptians continued to pound the Bar
Lev fortifications with artillery and major commando raids occurred as well
as supporting naval activity. Significant portions of the Russian supplied
SA-2 air defense missile system was destroyed by Israeli aircraft and this
opened the skies over Egypt for attack.6 The active involvement of Soviet
personnel in Egyptian air defense and the mounting losses of both sides
resulted in the acceptance of a cease fire in August 1970. Fighting stopped
in the Suez Canal region and relative calm prevailed during this last period,
"No War - No Peace" until October 1973.
From the Israeli point of view the entire period from July 1967 until
October 1973 was a war of attrition. An unrelenting campaign of raid and
counter raid occurred along the new border with Jordan, in Lebanon, and from
Syria. Until September 1970, substantial Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) attacks emanated from Jordan. King Hussein's military eviction of the
PLO from Jordan in September 1970 forced them to move to Lebanon and resulted
in a series of raids, air strikes, air battles, and incursions into Lebanon
and over Syria throughout 1972 and early 1973.7 The one unalterable fact
throughout the six year period, even with Egyptian President Sadat's
expulsion of the Russians in 1972, was the utter determination of the
Arabs in preparing for the next round of combat. The state that the major
combatants reached by 6 October 1973 with regards to their aviation arsenals
will be examined next.
Combatants are unwilling to disclose accurate figures for obvious
security reasons either before or after combat. A great amount of useful
intelligence can be obtained concerning sortie rates, maintenance pro-
ficiency, losses, tactical organization, and even strategic policy if these
numbers can be obtained and analyzed. This matter becomes even more
complicated, especially in dealing with the 1973 war, when the practice
of employing trainer aircraft in combat is considered. The importance of
sorties flown grows since this more accurately portrays what is actually
flying instead of numbers of airframes just sitting on the ground. Another
point of confusion arises over the number of surface-to-air missiles and
whether they are grouped by launchers, batteries, battalions, or brigades.
In this case the battery seems the best organization for counting and com-
parisons. The main purpose in this excursion into the approximate and the
estimated is to provide a basis for later claims, estimates, and comparisons.
The Egyptian aviation forces that began the war on 6 October 1973 had
increased steadily in numbers and obtained newer aircraft types from the
Soviets throughout the 1967-1973 time frame. At the outbreak of war the
Egyptian Air Force commander, then Vice Marshal Hosny Mubarak, had at his
disposal 770 combat aircraft. About 150 of these were in storage, which
left approximately 620 aircraft and over 100 helicopters broken down as
220 MIG-21 Fighters
200 MIG-17 Fighter bombers
120 SU-7 Fighter bombers
18 TU-16 Bombers
10 IL-28 Bombers
40-50 IL-14 and AN-12 Transports
100-140 MI-1,4,6,8 Helicopters
In addition to these were approximately 150 MIG, YAK, and L-29 trainers,
some of which could be armed.9 The MIG-21 fighters were armed with the
ATOLL air-to-air missile and with a 23mm cannon. The MIG-17 and SU-7
fighter bombers were used by the Egyptians for ground attack. Both carried
cannons and could carry 1100 and 5500 pounds of ordnance respectively. The
Egyptian TU-16 bombers were equipped to carry the KELT air-to-surface missile.
These aircraft were distributed to over 35 military airfields in Egypt which
had been specially prepared for wartime operations. (Map 1) These prepara-
tions included protective hangarettes for aircraft, additional runways, and
special repair teams for runway repair.
The Egyptians and Syrians both organized their air defense forces into
separate air defense commands. Lieutenant General Mohamed Ali Fahmy commanded
the Egyptian forces which included approximately 40 SA-2 and 85 SA-3 missile
batteries as well as about 40 mobile SA-6 batteries.10 The majority of these
batteries were deployed in a 23 kilometer wide belt along the Suez Canal
with some batteries providing point defense of the Aswan Dam, Alexandria,
and Cairo West air base.11 These batteries were supplemented by 50 control
centers and 180 radar sites. The total number of early warning, acquisition,
and fire control radars was said to have been over 400.12 There was also
an integrated network of visual observers to provide low altitude detection.13
An additional element of this command was 6 to 9 squadrons of MIG-21 fighters
dedicated to the air defense role and under the air defense commander's
The low altitude spectrum of this air defense system and the Egyptian
front line forces was covered by in excess of 1300 pieces of anti-aircraft
artillery divided into about 800 ZSU-23 and SU-23 rapid fire cannons and
approximately 500 57mm guns.14 More 85mm and 100mm anti-aircraft guns were
also present. Lastly, hundreds of SA-7 shoulder fired heat seeking missiles
went into battle to supplement these already formidable defenses. The E-
gyptians, moreover, mounted these SA-7 missiles in banks of eight on military
vehicles to increase their mobility and rate of fire.15
The Syrian Air Force commanded by Major General Najr Jamil, comprised
about 275 to 360 combat aircraft and 30 to 40 helicopters broken down as
200 MIG-21 Fighters
80 MIG-17 Fighter bombers
80 SU-7 Fighter bombers
36 MI-4,6,8 Helicopters
Also, a squadron of new SU-20 fighter bombers were also available in Syria.16
These aircraft had armament similar to the Egyptians. The uncertainty of
these figures can be attributed to the large scale increases acquired from
the Soviet Union between April and October 1973. Most aircraft were dis-
tributed to 8 major airfields in Syria, and these airfields had been prepared
for war with one and two plane hangarettes, additional runways, and repair
crews.(Map 2) Sections of highway had also been surveyed for emergency
Like Egypt, Syria also organized its surface-to-air missile batteries
and anti-aircraft artillery into a separate air defense command under the
control of Colonel Ali Saleh. This command was built around approximately
32 SA-6 batteries and 12 to 20 SA-2 and SA-3 batteries.17 In addition,
anti-aircraft artillery pieces numbering about 900 guns broken down into
160 ZSU-23, 260 SU-23, and 300 57mm guns provided low altitude defense.
These guns were supplemented gain by hundreds of SA-7 shoulder fired
missiles. An estimated 100 radars supported this system along with neces-
sary control and command sites.
Added to the arsenals of these major Arab combatants were aircraft
from Iraq and Libya. Libya during the war contributed about 48 newly ac-
quired Mirage fighter bombers which were flown by Egyptian pilots in strikes.
Iraq operated approximately 25 of its MIG-21 fighters in Egypt starting about
one year prior to the war and deployed MIG-21, SU-7, and MIG-17 aircraft to
the Syrian front in support of its ground forces. Immediately prior to the
outbreak of war Iraq also received a squadron of supersonic TU-22 bombers.
The Jordanian Air Force, two squadrons of F-104 fighters and two squadrons
of Hawker Hunters, did not participate in the war against Israel.18
Facing this numerically impressive array of aviation power was the
Israeli Air Force. This elite arm of the Israeli Defense Forces had markedly
improved its capabilities between the 1967 and 1973 wars. The United States
had replaced France as the principle supplier of aviation equipment to
Israel. By October 1973 the Israeli Air Force numbered between 470 and 500
combat aircraft broken down as follows:
130 F-4 Phantom Fighter bombers
160 A-4 Skyhawk Attack aircraft
60 Mirage III Interceptors (re-engined models = BARAK)
50 Super Mystere B.2 Fighter bombers
50-60 Mystere IV and Ouragan Fighter bombers
10 Vautour Light bombers
6 RF-4 Reconnaissance aircraft
40-50 C-97, C-130, C-47, and Noratalas Transports
85 Magister Trainers
12 Super Frelon Helicopters
8 CH-53 Helicopters
25 AB-205 Helicopters
20 Alouette Helicopters19
The Israeli Air Force grouped aircraft into mission categories based
on their armament, speed, and equipment. Generally the A-4 Skyhawks were
designated to provide close air support, while the F-4 Phantoms were used
as deep strike, interdiction, and some air defense missions. The Mirage III
aircraft were employed mainly in combat air patrol, strike cover, and national
air defense missions. The Super Mystere B. 2 was used both as a ground attack
and fighter aircraft. The older Mystere IV and Ouragan aircraft provided
additional ground attack capability. The weapons employed by these aircraft
included 20 and 30 mm cannons, Sidewinder and Shafrir air-to-air missiles,
general purpose bombs, television and optically guided bombs, some napalm,
and Shrike anti-radiation missiles to mention a few. These aircraft were
deployed throughout Israel and the Sinai on about 20 airfields.
Augmenting these aircraft were surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft
artillery. By October 1973, the Israeli Air Force had acquired approximately
8 to 12 batteries of HAWK missiles which were employed in both Israel and
the Sinai with an estimated 5 to 6 needed to provide coverage over the Suez
front. Protecting these batteries and other valuable military targets
immediately behind the fronts were emplaced 20, 30, and 40 millimeter guns.
The same caliber guns were mounted on half-tracks to provide low altitude
air defense of the front line units of the Israeli Army. The total number
of these guns approached one thousand.20 There were also captured Arab anti-
aircraft guns deployed in far rear areas.
This conglomeration of modern weaponry was poised for combat in early
October 1973. The events that transpired involving these combatants and
this equipment produced far reaching ramifications worth studying today.
Before these lessons can be argued, a day by day account of the air activity
will solidify our understanding of the air war as well as explore the facts
from which implications and conclusions can be drawn.
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1Major General Hassan el Badri, Major General Taha el Magdoub, and
Major General Mohammed Dia el Din Zohdy, The Ramadan War, 1973 (Dunn Loring:
T. N. Dupuy Associates, Inc., 1978), p. 10.
2Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars (New York: Random House, Inc.,
1982), p. 247.
3Ibid., p. 161.
4Chaim Herzog, The War of Atonement, October 1973 (Boston: Little,
Brown and Company, 1975), p. 15.
5Herzog, Arab-Israeli Wars, p. 212.
6Ibid., p. 230.
7Major General D. K. Palit, Return to Sinai (New Delhi: Palit and Palit
Publishers, 1974), p. 28; Herzog, Arab-Israeli Wars, p. 241.
8Edgar O'Ballance, No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (San
Rafael: The Presidio Press, 1978 ,p. 280.
9 The Military Balence, 1971-1972 (London: The Institute for Strategic
Studies, 1971 ,p.32.
10O'Ballance, p. 281.
11Palit, p. 69.
12O'Ballance, p. 282.
13Badri et al., p. 146.
14Clarence E. Olschner, The Air Superiority Battle in the Middle East,
1967-1973 (Fort Leavenworth: U. S. Army Command and General Staff College,
1978,) p. 34.
15Riad N. El-Rayyes and Dunia Nahas, eds., The October War (Beirut: An-
Nahar Press Services, 1973), p. 5.
16Palit, p. 91.
17O'Ballance, p. 285.
18Ibid., p. 286.
19The Military Ballence, 1971-1974 (London: Institute for Strategic Studies,
1973), p. 34; O'Ballance, p. 287.
20Olschner, p. 34.
Chapter II Combatants Air Operations
Egyptian Air Operations
The Egyptian Air Force opened Operation BADR at 1405 on 6 October 1973
with a massive coordinated air strike with 150 to 250 aircraft. These air
strikes were directed at the airfields of Bir Gifgafa, Bir el Thamada, Ras
Nasrani, Ophira, El Arish, Akaba, and Ras Sedr. Also, the forward command
post at Tasa and the command post at Bir Gifgafa were struck along with 8
to 10 HAWK battery and command positions plus radar sites defending these
targets. In addition, two long range artillery positions at Budapest and
10 kilometers east of Port Tewfik, three administrative areas, and the area
east of Port Faud, near Romani, underwent aerial attack. Egyptian FROG
surface-to-surface missiles were fired at the command posts and airfields
at Tasa and Bir Gifgafa.1 Additional FROG missile attacks and air attacks
were directed at electronic monitoring and jamming stations located at Om
Khushaib and Om Morgan. Separate air attacks were flown against Sharm el
Sheik, El Sir, and El Tur.2
In conjunction with these air and rocket attacks, large numbers of
Egyptian rangers were lifted by MI-8 helicopters at approximately 1800 to
locations deep in the Sinai attempting to disrupt Israeli communications
and reinforcement efforts. Insertions were made at Bir Gifgafa, east of
the Mitla and Giddi passes, in the Sudar Valley (in the southern part of
the Sinai), near Baluza, and at Subha Hill (in the central sector-see Maps
3, 4, and 5). Lastly, a KELT air-to-surface missile was fired at Tel Aviv
by a TU-16 but it was intercepted and shot down by an Israeli fighter.3
Naturally the claims and any admission of aircraft lost differed dramatically
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between the combatants. The Egyptian Air Force admitted the loss of 10 air-
craft and an unspecified number of heliocopters this first day in wartime
communiques while the Israelis claimed 16 Egyptian aircraft and 20 helicopters
The Egyptian Air Force continued with its limited air attacks and ad-
ditional helicopter raids on 7 October. At 1200, the Egyptians claimed to
have raided targets in the Sinai and there was another attack near Bir
Gifgafa in the evening. At 1400, large numbers of air strikes were directed
at the fortification at Budapest, with napalm, and at various targets near
Baluza with 40 SU-7, MIG-17, and MIG-21 aircraft.5 Additionally during this
day, six helicopters from Port Fuad landed more rangers six kilometers north-
west of Baluza while 44 other helicopters attempted deep insertions near
Sharm el Sheik and again east of the Mitla and Giddi passes. Twelve MI-8
helicopters were lost near Sharm el Sheik to the alerted Israeli forces.6
Egyptian attacks on ground targets continued on 8 October. Several
sorties were flown that included as targets the air bases at Melize and
Thamada and the oil wells at Abu Rudeis; additional strikes were directed
at defending HAWK batteries; and the radar stations at Beluza, Thamada, Um
Morgan, and Khaseiba received special attention. These strikes were followed
by attacks at 0900 on 9 October again aimed at the airfields at Melize and
Very limited air attacks continued between the ninth and thirteenth,
and these were confined to low level attacks by small numbers of aircraft
which remained under the protection of the Air Defense Barrier. The following
account from an Israeli officer exemplifies this period:
A painful event occurred that day in my sector. In a
show of daring, the Egyptians dispatched planes that
carried out short, low-altitude sorties over our lines.
Two of these planes hit a point on the Ma'adim Road
where four tanks from one of Nate's battalions were
reloading with ammunition; two platoon leaders were
killed and crewmen were wounded. At 1400 hours two
other enemy aircraft bombed a point that was some 15
kilometers east of the front line, on the Ma'adim Road.
This was a working site for one of our forward ordnance
companies, repairing tanks. Fuel tanks were there also,
as well as vehicles loaded with ammunition and nearly
two hundred men. The dunes made it difficult to disperse
vehicles, so that the company was crowded in an area
close to the road. The men overconfidently thought
that our air force was in control of the skies and that
the Egyptians would not dare send their planes into our
territory. This was a serious miscalculation, and we
paid dearly for it: fuel trucks caught fire, ammunition
began exploding all around, and eighty of our men were
wounded. At 1415, helicopters were called in to evacuate
the wounded but it was rough going.8
Moreover, on the 14th in support of the attempt to expand the Sinai bridge-
heads, significant Egyptian air strikes were launched into the Sinai and
as close air support. The deeper attacks were once again directed at HAWK
missile batteries and electronic jamming stations to the rear of the front
lines commencing at 0615.9 The ground support sorties began at 0620 with
Egyptian aircraft carrying out attacks to support the divergent drives of
the armored forces, while heliborne rangers also attempted to intervene.
These were generally brief attacks with no appreciable impact on the battle-
field, and the rangers were countered by Israeli paratroopers. Libyan Mirages
were included among the attacking aircraft.10
There followed another period of relative inactivity until three major
efforts were attempted by the Egyptian Air Force against the Israeli forces
around the Chinese Farm on the 16th and 17th, and against the Israeli bridges
on the eighteenth.
Two events on the 17th mark Egyptian air activity. The first was a
strike by Libyan Mirages against the air base at El Arish. Six Mirages
flying low attempted to attack the base approaching from the sea. Four of
the aircraft were shot down. Then at 1500, Egyptian MIG-17 fighter bombers
swooped down on the Israeli canal crossings to attack the pontoon barges
ferrying tanks across the canal. In the most concentrated attack so far
rockets and bombs holed one of the ferries making it inoperable.11 In ad-
dition, the following account by an Israeli general described the events on
For two days now, there had been intensive air activity
above us. The Egyptian Air Force had gone into action
about noon on the 16th, and this had enabled our planes
to operate, since when the Egyptian aircraft were in the
skies the surface-to-air missiles were not fired. A sub-
stantial part of our air strikes were aimed against enemy
ground forces in the Chinese Farm and Missouri areas, but
they had not had much effect. Some sorties were directed
at radar and missile battery sites. But most of the air
activity took the form of air battles above us. On the 16th
and 17th, twenty enemy aircraft were shot down while we lost
six planes. Now, on the 18th, the Egyptian Air Force sought
to hit our bridges in a concerted and brave, though largely
senseless, effort. A wave of twenty fighter planes came over
to attack our bridges. Many were shot down by anti-aircraft
fire while others were downed in dogfights. The air combat
took place right over our heads, and we watched it with great
interest. Every time a burning torch spiraled earthward, we
literally held our breath until we received verification that
it was Egyptian. The air activity had its climax when sud-
denly, from our rear, two slow low flying MI-8 helicopters
passed overhead from the direction of Bitter Lake. One of
them dropped a barrel, which fell about 60 meters from my
Zelda and about 20 meters from Dayan, who was wandering about
the area, scrapping at the ground looking for antique shards.
The barrels, witch were meant to act as napalm bombs, failed
to work, but our ears were deafened by the sound of the auto-
matic weapons fire that burst out all around us. All the
machine gunners on the tanks and Zeldas, all the soldiers -
including those of the forward command group - who had mach-
ine guns or rifles were firing like madmen. And the two giant
helicopters were hit, plummeting to the earth and exploing
among Gabi's tanks. It was an unbelieveable spectacle. From
this act of suicide we could only conclude that the Egyptians
were in desperate straits. We were witness to many of the
sixteen planes and seven helicopters downed that day. We
lost six aircraft.12
These attacks came in three separate waves. Each wave was made up of jets
and helicopters attempting to bomb the bridges. By the last attack late
in the afternoon, despite crippling losses, damage had been inflicted upon
the bridge.13 By 19 October, because of the serious threat posed by the
Israeli bridgehead across the canal, the Egyptian Supreme Command committed
most of the air reserve to the breach. As in previous days, Egyptian air-
craft attacked in large waves with SU-7 and MIG-17 fighter bombers protected
from above by MIG-21 fighters.14 Also, large numbers of fighters attempted
to interfere throughout the 19-24 October period with the ground support
being flown by the Israeli Air Force. Air defense efforts by the Egyptian
forces did interfere with this support to some extent, but Egyptian air to
air losses were severe.15
Egyptian Air Defense Operations
Egyptian air defense operations can also be characterized by an initial
period of intense activity by the Air Defense Barrier during the period 6-9
October, followed by a period of sustained activity until the Barrier's
partial withdrawal and destruction in the south around 19 October. The MIG-
21 fighters in the Air Defense Command encountered sustained operations
throughout the war in response to the repeated attacks of Israeli aircraft
against Egyptian airfields, Moreover, the separate air defense forces in
the Port Said area withstood sustained Israeli attacks until their eventual
destruction or suppression. The construction before the war of 20 additional
airfields with two runways each and approximately 650 launcher sites and as
many dummy sites for the surface-to-air missile batteries provided redundancy,
deception, and defense in depth to the Egyptian air defense forces.16 These
sites were hardened with concrete and the control vans and radars were buried
or fortified to the maximum extent practicable. The engineers also constructed
special one and two plane hangerettes at the airfields to protect Egyptian
aircraft from destruction, and each airfield had specially trained crews to
repair bomb damage to runways.
Air defense response by the Egyptians to the initial Israeli air strikes
on the 6th was to fill the sky with missiles and lead as the Israelis tried
to strike troop concentrations on each side of the canal and the all important
bridges being constructed. The shock associated with the losses caused by
this vicious defense caused General Peled, the Israeli Air Force commander, to
order no flying within fifteen kilometers of the canal.17 On the 7th of Octo-
ber both elements of the Air Defense Barrier, grand defenses and MIG-21
fighters, came into action. Early morning air strikes at major Egyptian air-
fields, in an attempt to re-create the pre-emptive attacks of the 1967 war,
were met by MIG-21 aircraft and concentrated missile fire. The result was
that the great air success of the 1967 war was not repeated. The extensive
electronic and visual early warning systems had deprived the Israelis of the
important element of surprise, and the massive engineering preparations on
runways, camoflage, dispersion, and hangers negated Israeli efforts. Also,
efforts were made once again against the bridges over the canal and the
ferries in operation, but the defenses did not enable the Israelis to press
home their attacks to ensure total destruction of any of the bridges. With
the shifting of emphasis by the Israeli Air Force to the Golan front, the
intensity of the air defense battle slackened somewhat except in the Port Said
area. Air strikes against the military installations including the four
surface-to-air missile batteries occurred on 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and finally
the 13th of October. The following account starting at 1100, 8 October
describes the battle:
Soon the main enemy attack was detected, approaching Port
Said from the south. The planes were in two groups one
heading toward the northeast to attack the missile positions
there, the other one northwestward to attack the other de-
Some small SA-7 personnel- borne weapons were positioned
in the line of approach of the attacking aircraft. As these
missiles were launched, the planes were forced to zoom up
quickly, exactly as we planned. Thus they were in the most
convenient positions for our SA-2 and SA-3 batteries to
The air battle lasted until 1700. The Israelis sent
over a total of 94 planes. Defending against such a num-
ber was beyond the capacity of our four batteries, which
could face only one apiece at any one time. Any planes in
addition to the four being engaged could thus bombard the
missile positions and evoke no counteraction. Using these
tactics, the Israelis were able to silence all four missile
batteries. But in return they lost 12 planes.
Under cover of night, the Israelis started the second
phase of their air attack, lighting their target with flares.
Their aim was to prevent the Egyptians from erecting new
missile batteries at night. The planes desperately hammered
at their targets to assure the total destruction of all missile
equipment. Later they intensified the bombing in order to
destroy the missile positions themselves. They wanted to make
sure that even if new missiles were brought in to replace the
ones that had been knocked out there would be no positions from
which they could operate. Israeli planes blocked the posi-
tions and the approaches to them by dropping time bombs, mines,
and specially designed booby traps, so as to prevent the en-
gineers from approaching them. Finally they cut the road leading
to Port Said to prevent reinforcements from reaching the town.
This operation was repeated monotonously throughout the
9th and 10th of October. Whenever Israeli planes found them-
selves facing anti-aircraft artillery or small portable missiles,
they nosed up a little and then dropped various kinds of bombs
and rockets. During those two days, 214 planes dropped approx-
imately 1,500 tons of explosives on the town and the naval base.
At 0938 hours on the 11th of October, sixteen Israeli
planes again approached Port Said. Their mission was to sow
fear in the hearts of the inhabitants who had refused to leave
town. The planes did not have to fly at low altitude for there
were no more important air defense elements. Suddenly SA-2 and
SA-3 missiles darted out again. How had this happened? When
were the missiles brought back to these positions? This appeared
almost impossible; yet it happened. Despite all the pounding
they had received, missile batteries in Port Said resumed
action in greater strength and effectiveness than before,
thanks to clever preplanning, organization, total cooperation,
and stubborn determination. The credit was due to the mil-
itary engineers of the air defense forces and to the heroic
inhabitants of Port Said. By 11 October, Port Said had
downed 21 Israeli planes and damaged many others. The struggle
between the Port Said air defense forces and the Israeli air
forces went on. It was a bitter and unequal struggle between
hundreds of planes of the latest models and four missile bat-
teries. The Israelis used thermal rocket which are guided to
sources of heat. To counter them, Egyptian soldiers set fire
to empty barrelsfilled with fuel and trash and successfully
attracted the thermal rockets. The Israelis also used tel-
evision-guided missiles. The Egyptian air defense men set up
a dense smoke screen around the missile positions, which led
the missiles astray and created bad visibility for the pilots.
On 13 October, the air defense batteries found themselves in
an awkward position for three had been disabled, leaving
only one operative.18
Throughout the first week of the war the expenditure of air defense
missiles had been prodigious and in the first three days of hostilities the
number fired on the combined Syrian and Egyptian fronts reportedly totalled
over 1,000. This reflected a deployment density surpassing that of any
known SAM system in the world. On the 10th, the first Soviet supplies of
SAM ammunition and spares arrived.19 By the 14th, the Egyptians had moved
6 to 7 batteries of SA-6 missiles and 8 other batteries across the canal to
extend the air defense coverage during the ground offensive.20
However, the repulse of that attack opened the way for an Israeli cros-
sing of the canal and brought the Egyptian air defense batteries under ground
attack and long range artillery fire. The first Israeli tanks and armored
personnel carriers across the canal on the 16th, struck out in a controversial
move and knocked out 4 to 7 surface-to-air missile complexes by shooting up
antennas. This crack in the Egyptian air defense umbrella soon became a
gap and then a chasm as the bulging Israeli ground forces advanced with a
top priority going to the destruction of air defense positions.21 The ground
columns continued to overun air defense elements until the Egyptian chief
of staff, General Shazli, in conjunction with General Ismail, ordered the
withdrawal of all SAM sites on 18 October in the vicinity of the Israeli
bridgehead.22 With the missile defenses removed, air defense in the prin-
ciple arena of combat south from Ismailia fell to Egyptian aircraft which
could not totally defend Egyptian ground forces until combat stopped on the 24th.
Before a discussion of the Egyptian air activity can be closed, mention
must be made of the number of sorties flown and losses sustained. The
Egyptian Air Force flew about 6,900 sorties during the war, with about one-
half of these claimed to have been air support.23 However, this figure seems
high if the term air support is interpreted as ground attack. In the later
stages of the war, the Egyptian Air Force flew nearly 2,500 sorties of which
1,800 were fighter sorties and 300 were fighter bomber sorties.24 From this
ratio it can be seen that the large majority of missions were fighter sorties
so that the 3,400 sorties claimed as air support probably included the MIG-21
sorties flying as cover, and a more accurate figure of 1,000 actual ground
attack sorties can be projected. The Egyptians admitted losing only 50 air-
craft in their wartime communiques but later on President Sadat admitted the
loss of 120 planes. Department of Defense officials estimated the Egyptians
lost 182 while Israel claimed it downed 223 aircraft and 42 helicopters. The
Egyptian air defense forces claimed that their missiles and guns shot down
about two-thirds of the total Israeli losses.25
Syrian Air Operations
The Syrian Air Force started the Ramadan War exactly like the Egyptians
with a large coordinated air strike. Very close to 100 Syrian aircraft took
part in these initial strikes which were directed at Israeli command posts,
observation points, artillery positions, armor, and fortifications. Princi-
ple targets were the observation position on Mount Hermon and the command
center at Naffak. The SU-7 and MIG-17 fighter bombers came in very low
while MIG-21 fighters provided top cover. Some of these aircraft tried to
penetrate into the Huleh Valley but were reportedly driven off by Israeli
HAWK fire.26 The conjunction with these operations, Syrian helicopters at
1455 transported commandos to Mount Herion and conducted a successful assault
on this important observation post. Medium range FROG surface-to-surface
missile fire was also directed toward Israeli targets with the airfield at
Mahanayim undergoing bombardment around 1500.27 Israeli interceptors in-
terfered with these initial strikes very little. However, on the 7th the
concentration of Israeli airpower against the Syrian offensive denied the
airspace for the most part to Syrian aircraft.
During the period 8 and 9 October, Syrian aircraft attempted to support
their embattled ground forces. Of note was an effort on 8 October to con-
duct a heliborne assault to seize an Israeli position at Tal Al Faras in
the Rafid area (See Map 6). Following a low altitude air strike of the
intended landing zone by two MIG-17 fighter bombers, an airmobile force of
eight MI-8 troop carrying helicopters appeared and attempted to land near
an Israeli task force. The ensuing action resulted in the destruction of
two helicopters in the air and two on the ground, and the attack was a-
borted.28 On the same day two squadrons of Iraqi MIG-21 fighters arrived
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and went into action almost immediately. However, four of the aircraft
were shot down by the Syrian Air Defense Barrier because of improper
identification, friend or foe (IFF) codes.29
While the Israeli ground counterattack slowly slugged its way forward,
Syrian aircraft attempted to interfere. At dawn on the 10th as the morning
mists lifted, Syrian MIG-17 fighter bombers zoomed low over the battlefield
and discharged their bombs. Seven helicopters flew in over the Israeli
positions to Bukata (North of Kuneitra) and four of them discharged their
commando forces there.30 These events were part of major Syrian efforts on
the 10th which continued on the 11th, 12th, and 13th as the following relate:
Thursday, 11 October - Avi and Amos's forces advanced on
Mozrat Beit Jan, but were held up by a counterattack of
some 40 Syan tanks supported by aircraft...
Friday, 12 October - Israeli forces broke into the
village but Syrian forces counterattacked with artillery
Friday, 12 October - In the morning Yossi's battalion
occupied the Moatz crossroads, where they came under
heavy Syrian air attack.31
The stabilization of the front lines during the period 13 to 23 Octo-
ber saw efforts by the Syrians and Iraqis to provide air support for their
attacks. These attacks were uncoordinated and resulted in Iraqi aircraft
attacking Syrian positions and Syrian aircraft mistaking the Jordanians
for Israelis.32 Syrian planes on the 17th and 18th struck at Ramat
Mozshimim and Gadat in upper Galilee and at positions near the Druze vil-
lage of Majdal Shams on the Golan.33 Large scale air battles erupted on
21 and 22 October when the Israelis counterattacked to recapture Mount
Hermon. Syrian support missions and helicopter reinforcements were flown
on both days but could not prevent the Israeli recapture of this important
summit by the 22nd.34 The only attempt by Syrian SU-20 aircraft to strike
deep into Israel at Hafia on 20 October was apparently unsuccessful.
Syrian Air Defense Operations
The Syrians, like the Egyptians, also had a strong Air Defense Barrier
that ran just to the west of the road that ran from Damascus through Kiswe
to Sheikh Meskin.35 Backing up this barrier were the fighters of the Syrian
Air Force dispersed on several airfields in combat hangers (See Map 2).
Syrian air defense forces experienced heavy combat from the first Israeli
reactions on the sixth until the cessation of hostilities. The extremely
heavy Israeli air attacks during the period of 6 to 9 October were not only
directed at the Syrian ground penetrations, but also at the surface-to-air
missile batteries and supporting anti-aircraft artillery positions themselves.
Initially, the air defense forces were very successful against the Israeli
attacks extracting a high toll of Israeli aircraft. As was the case with
the Egyptians, when the Syrian ground forces advanced away from their Air
Defense Barrier, the level of protection fell.36
Starting with the Israeli raids on 9 October, the air defense forces
fought a continuing battle to protect both strategic targets in Syria and the
Syrian military airfields. The 9th of October was particularly important
for events that day caused serious repercussions for the Syrian air defense
forces. First, the Israelis conducted their initial deep strikes into Syria
directed at strategic and economic targets. Second, the Israeli efforts to
destroy the Air Defense Barrier resulted in the destruction of the computerized
control center that provided coordination over the entire Syrian surface-to-
air missile system. Third, the direct air attacks on the missile units them-
selves were causing significant casualties.37 Lastly, as previously noted
the prolific expenditure of SA-6 missiles was beginning to be felt. Whether
as a result of one of these events or a combination of them, the remaining
SA-6 batteries were withdrawn towards Damascus on the ninth.38 This defi-
nitely reduced the effectiveness of the air defense effort. Also, the use
of Jordanian and Lebanese airspace allowed for different approach paths,
and the use of a Syrian aerial observer network was never mentioned.
However, despite repeated airfield strikes by the Israelis, Syrian air
defense and other aircraft were not presented from maintaining a presence
over the battlefield.
In wartime communiques the Syriana confessed to losing no aircraft and
claimed to have shot down 304 Israeli aircraft. In addition, the following
engagement times were recorded on the days indicated to show the frequency
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Israeli Air Operations
The Israeli Air Force's actions during the Yom Kippur War can best be
understood if the Suez Canal and Golan Heights are examined separately. In
general, most of the Israeli Air Force was on a war footing regarding manning
levels and aircraft at the outbreak of the war, but it was still unable to
counter the initial Arab air strikes on 6 October. Whether this inability
was due to a last minute decision not to preempt the Arab air forces, or be-
cause the Israelis were taken by surprize can be debated.40 However, at
1426, within 20 minutes of the initial attacks, Israeli aircraft in the Sinai
were conducting sporadic ground attacks on the Egyptians crossing the canal.
At 1430, General Peled, the Israeli Air Force commander, ordered many air-
craft from defense to attack the Egyptian front. In the next two hours, some
200 sorties were flown along the Suez and in the area of Adabieh and Zarfama
on the gulf of the Suez concentrating on troop concentrations and the
Appalled by the unexpected and staggering losses, General Elazar, Israeli
Chief of Staff, suspended all air operations just after 1600. About an hour
later Elazar ordered operations to be resumed with new tactics being employed.
The Israelis did fly some support missions at 1600 which halted an Egyptian
advance on Fort Budapest, but the main effort continued against the crossings.
The Israelis claimed hitting 9 of 11 bridges on the 7th that crossed the canal,
but the Egyptians employed dummy bridges to cause confusion. Also, the
Egyptian bridges were built in sections so damaged portions could be replaced.
Therefore, the claims by the combatants of both hitting bridges but keeping
bridges operational were correct.42
At dawn on 7 October, the Israelis struck Egyptian airfields and air
defense positions in an attempt to gain air superiority. Seven Egyptian
bases at Bent Suef, Bir Arida, Qattamia, Mamsourah, Gianaclis, Shabraweet,
and Tanta were attacked by seven waves of 8 to 12 Phantoms and Skyhawks each.
These raids did not achieve surprise as MIG-21 fighters were scrambled and
intercepted the attackers causing some of them to jettison their ordnance.43
At 0645, the Israeli aircraft made a number of preparatory strikes against
the missile system before coming in for close air support, but because of
the deteriorating situation on the Golan front, the priority of effort was
directed there.44 At 1400, in another shift of command direction, a consider-
able number of sorties were launched against the bridges. They were not
easy targets because the aircraft had to approach some from the west side
which was packed with guns and missiles, because of the high berm on the
east bank. The results presented in the preceding paragraph about the bridges
hit did not relate the scores of SA-7 missiles, intense anti-aircraft fire,
and two Skyhawks lost.45 Additional missions were directed in support of
the Bar Lev fortifications still holding out along the canal.46
From 8 October through 13 October, the Israeli Air Force continued
significant air activity on the Sinai front. Raids struck at the Egyptian
canal bridges again on the eighth which damaged several, and air strikes
were started against military targets in the Port Said area.47 Also on the
eighth, aircraft missions were flown in support of ground attacks in the
northern sectors with about 24 sorties carried out around the Fridan bridges
but the air-ground coordination was weak and some Israeli aircraft attacked
their own Natke brigade.48 On the ninth, Israeli aircraft struck the
Egyptian airfields at Mansourah and Khatmiya. These raids were character-
ized by larger numbers of aircraft then the raids on the seventh. Also,
an Egyptian armored advance in the south towards Ras Sudar, beyond the
covering Egyptian air defenses, was severely mauled by Israeli aircraft in
support of the defending paratroopers. However, the top leaders in Israel
on this day again directed the priority of effort towards the Golan front
in support of an Israeli offensive to vanquish Syria.49
For the next few days up to the 13th of October, Israeli air efforts
centered on Port Said and continuing sporadic attacks on the canal bridges.
The rationale behind these determined attacks on Port Said and the equally
determined defense, as related in the previous section, possibly revolved
around two area. First, the Israelis may have attacked there in an attempt
to neutralize the Egyptian Air Defense Barrier's exposed northern flank.
Second, Port Said was the closest spot to Israel proper, and the Israelis
may have feared the Egyptians would position SCUD surface-to-surface missiles
there.50 Whatever the reason, both sides admitted to heavy combat in this
area. Another event was the Israeli heliborne raid on the night of 11 Octo-
ber to strike the electronic listening and detection station on Mount Ataka,
a hill mass southwest of Suez City. Apparently, the paratroopers also brought
along two artillery pieces which they used to shell a nearby Egyptian head-
quarters for 25 minutes.51
On the 14th of October, Israeli air power reacted powerfully to the
Egyptian offensive as it attempted to move outside the established air
defenses. One Egyptian tank column penetrated 12 miles to the Milta-Ras
Sudan road where they were held up by Israeli paratroopers. Israeli air-
craft attacked and severly damaged the column. Within two hours of the
opening of the offensive, Israeli aircraft had accounted for sixty Egyptian
tanks and a large quantity of armored personnel carriers along with artillery.52
Also by this time aircraft replacements of Phantoms and Skyhawks had begun
to arrive from the United States and re-supply of ammunition and ordnance
had begun. The Egyptian repulse sealed Israeli plans to cross the canal
and for the next three days in a confusing series of costly battles around
the Chinese Farm, they finally succeeded in establishing forces on the west
bank of the canal. The Israeli Air Force vigorously supported this crossing
effort. On the evening of the 16th, reinforcements arrived near the Chinese
Farm including a battalion of paratroopers brougt in by helicopter. More-
over, on the morning of the 17th, frequent air attacks were delivered against
the Egyptian units of the 25th Armored Brigade which were moving north on
the artillery road againt the Israeli corridor separating the Egyptian
armies. Additional air support was delivered as the Israelis methodically
pounded the Egyptian positions around and to the north of the Chinese Farm.53
As the forces on the west bank of the canal fanned out and destroyed missile
batteries tearing a fifteen mile wide hole, Israeli pilots swiftly adopted
new tactics. The Israeli ground attack aircraft approached very low over
the Sinai, swooped up to gain height in the cone of airspace now cleared
of surface-to-air missiles, then dove to put down a curtain of rocket and
cannon fire for the Israeli forces around the perimeter of the bridgehead
and the corridor to it. For the first time, Israeli tank commanders could
call down air strikes to clear positions ahead of them. The Egyptians on
the west bank once more faced the classic Israeli combination of armor and
air. Slowly, the Egyptians were overrun or retreated and the bridgehead
The withdrawal and air or ground destruction of the Egyptian missile
batteries really opened up the skies for the Israelis during the final days
of the war. Starting the 19th, armored forces advancing to the south to
encircle the Egyptian Third Army received the best support of the war. The
airfield of Fayid fell and this afforded the Israelis an important airhead.
Also on the morning of the 22nd, as one example, Israeli aircraft knocked
out Third Army tanks that were blocking the advance of Bren Adan's Natke
and Arich brigades along the Asu and Saraq routes which lead to Suez City.55
The rapid gains and light losses associated with these concluding drives
highlighted a professional display of combined arms tactics.
The necessity to conduct simultaneous air combat operations on the
Golan front while combat raged in the Sinai leveled additional demands on
the Israeli Air Force. On a number of occasions these critical demands were
met by shifting the emphasis of air operations from one front to another.
This did not mean that a particular front was denuded of aircraft, but rather
a prioritization of sorties available went to the hottest front. Because
of the initial ground gains of the Syrians and lack of terrain in which to
defend, the Israeli priority after the confusion and surprise of the 6th
was initially directed toward Syria.
Israeli action on the Golan to the Syrian advance mirrored that in
the Sinai. And as on the Sinai front, initial air strikes ran into the
surprising SA-6 and intense anti-aircraft artillery fire. Losses quickly
resulted in the already recounted suspension of air strikes, and upon their
renewal the Israeli aircraft adopted the tactic of low altitude, high speed
approach to the north over Jordanian territory with a quick pop up over the
Golan plateau to strike the Syrian armor from the flank and curve away west
of Mount Hermon. This was partially successful and the losses dropped.56
With the all night advance of the Syrian armor, the situation was again
critical on the morning of the 7th of October. The airborne pounding began
at dawn with successive waves of Phantoms and Skyhawks streaking across the
heights in rocket, cannon, and bomb attacks against the Syrian columns. The
missiles and dense anti-aircraft fire wreaked havoc. For example, in the
area of Juheder, an Israeli battalion commander asked for air support at
first light. As the sun rose, four Skyhawks penetrated on bomb the Syrians,
but as they approached their targets the tell-tale signs of surface-to-air
missiles were seen. All four planes exploded in the air in full view of the
hard-pressed troops of the battalion. Undeterred, a second flight of four
attacked. Two exploded.57 The intermingling of forces made identification
of ground targets difficult. At the same time additional strikes were di-
rected specifically at Syrian air defenses. By 1500, the Syrian thrust was
halted despite heavy aircraft losses. On 8 October, Israeli Phantoms raided
the Omer, Halhul, Nasseriya, and Seikal air bases around Damascus while in-
tensive efforts continued against the Syrian ground forces on the Golan.
From the 9th to the 13th of October, the Israelis executed a counter-
offensive featuring several notable air actions. In preparation for the
offensive, the air force attempted to clear the area north of Hushnizal of
surface-to-air missile batteries. The Israelis concentrated their efforts
into one of the heaviest raids against the Syrian Air Defense Barrier.
Ninety-five aircraft attacked and by the end of the day heavy smoke billowed
over fifteen batteries.58 In addition, on the 9th and 10th a series of deep
strikes penetrated into Syria. In one raid six Phantoms appeared over
Damascus and bomber a half dozen buildings including the Ministry of Defense,
Syrian Air Force headquarters, a radio station, the city's power station,
and some foreign embassies. Other raids struck oil storage tanks and elec-
tric power generators at Homs. The fuel tanks and loading facilities at
Adra, Tartous, and Lalakia were bombed as well as the Mediterranean terminal
for Iraqi crude oil at Baniyas. Additionally, raids destroyed the computer-
ized control center for the Syrian Air Defense Barrier, and two Phantoms
attacked the radar station on the 7000 foot high Barouch Ridge in Lebanon.59
On the 10th, Israeli aircraft struck deep into Syria again aiming at Syrian
airbases including those at Habeb and Damir. These attacks on airbases
continued on the 11th as well as more strikes against other economic targets.60
Large air battles occurred during these strikes and also during the incessant
Israeli ground support missions which experienced less and less interference
from Syrian ground air defenses.
From the 13th on, faced with stiffening Syrian ground resistance, in-
tervention of other Arab forces, and Sinai front priorities, the battle
line stabilized. Israeli air efforts continued to interdict Soviet supplies
landing at the Syrian ports and airfields. However, two other operations
deserve special attention. The first of these deals with an ambush and is
On the morning of 12 October the IDF commander on the Golan
front received intelligence that a Iraqi troop and
equipment convoy would move that night from Bagdad to Damascus.
At 1000 hours on 12 October the decision was made to execute
a contingency plan to interdict the Iraqi convoy by helicopter
transported paratroopers and fighter bombers.
At approximately 2300 hours a lone Israeli Air Force CH-53G
lifted off from Israel with 12 paratroopers an internally
loaded, jeep mounted, 106mm recoilless rifle. To avoid detec-
tion by Syrian radar and air defense artillery sites the heli-
copter flew low level north along the coast of Lebanon and
inland to the ambush site, which was located 100 kilometers
northeast of the Golan front on the Bagdad-Damascus highway.
The landing zone was reached by 2400 hours.
After the paratroopers off-loaded, the helicopter was
parked several hundred meters from the highway in a covered
position. Demolitions were emplaced on the bridge, and mines
were employed forward of the Israeli ambush position. Shortly
after 0100 hours on 13 October the Iraqi convoy arrived. Ex-
pecting no threat at night over 100 kilometers behind the
battle lines, the Iraqis had their tracked vehicles on carriers
and their troops in buses. The attack was initiated when the
bridge was blown, and the convoy was further blocked front and
rear by the 106mm recoilless rifle. The Israelis disengaged
and withdrew concurrent with the arrival of Israeli Phantoms
that chewed up the immobilized Iraqi convoy.61
The second event was the Israeli re-capture of Mount Hermon on 21 and 22
October. At 1400, paratroopers were lifted by helicopter with fighter
planes covering them while other aircraft conducted a raid on Damascus to
further divert the Syrian Air Force.
Making maximum use of terrain, the Israeli airmobile force
flew low level into southeastern Lebanon utilizing the cover
of numerous wadis. By planning their flight route on the west
side of Mount Hermon, the helicopters were shielded from Syrian
radar and avoided heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft sites
In order to accomplish a safe landing on the high altitude
ridges of Mount Hermon, each helicopters was only loaded to half
of its normal capacity. The landing was made without benefit
of a landing zone preparation to achieve surprise. Additionally,
the Israelis selected a landing zone on the ridge north of the
northern most peak rather than landing directly on the Syrian
positions. These tactics were successful, and the landing was
upopposed. While Phantoms continued to provide air support,
the remaining elements of the paratrooper brigade were shuttled
of the Israeli foothold on Mount Hermon. These additional
single ship sorties landed slightly to the northeast of the
original landing zone. This was essential to avoid interfering
with the original assaul elements, which were now attacking
southwest towards the Syrian positions with fire support from
organic motars and five batteries of IDF artillery firing from
the Golan Heights below. Israeli aircraft blocked by fire any
attempts by Syrian reinforcements to use the road east of Mount
Hermon leading up towards the Israeli landing zone.
Realizing the grave threat to its vital positions on Mount
Hermon, the Syrian air and ground forces reacted violently to
the IDF's landing behind its lines. The Syrians responded with
artillery, fighters, and a conterattacking airmobile assault
of their own. Shortly after 1600 hours five MI-8 helicopters
were observed flying low over the Damascus skyline. The Syrian
airmobile assault was neutralized when the Israelis destroyed
six escorting Syrian fighters and three infantry laden helos.
Syrian elements on Mount Hermon fought valiently through-
out the night, but the superior Israeli firepower and aggressive
ground attacks from two directions eventually conquered the massif.62
Israeli Air Defense Operations
Most of the written unclassified information concerning Israeli air
defense operations emphasized the role of the Israeli Mirage III interceptors.
Use of the Israeli HAWK was, therefore, limited by operational decisions
which restricted firing occasions. The number of Arab aircraft destroyed
in air-to-air combat on the first day of the war was very small considering
the number of potential targets with only five Israeli kills on the Golan
front and eighteen aircraft and helicopters claimed on the Sinai front.63
The situation rapidly changed after this rather inauspicious start with
the Israeli Air Force maintaining a very formidable combat air patrol
barrier for air defense. An estimation of about one-third of the total
sorties flown, which will be touched upon later, would not have been un-
realistic. The Israelis seriously hampered Arab efforts at close air sup-
port and interdiction, all but prevented deep strikes on Israel proper, and
extracted very favorable tolls in air-to-air combat, the Arab nations maintained
they shot down considerably more and have at least 22 gun camera confirmed
kills to prove it. A possible explanation of this inconsistency could be
that while the air-to-air battle were in progress, with Arab surface-to-
air missiles being fired into the mass of aircraft, some of those Israeli
aircraft that claimed to have been downed by surface missiles were in fact
downed by Egyptian fighters.64
Of the estimated eight to twelve HAWK missile batteries possessed by
Israel before the 1973 war, five or six batteries would be a reasonable number
deployed based on facilities to be protected and frontages to be covered
with two on the Golan front and three or four batteries in the Sinai. The
initial reports by the Egyptians of striking eight or ten battery positions
can be accounted for by the dual firing sections of each battery, separate
acquisition and command facilities of the batteries, and the dispersal and
hardening of the equipment. The accepted tactic of firing two missiles at
a target to increase the probability of a kill was practiced by the Israelis
and in twenty-five engagements they claim to have killed twenty-two
targets.65 When the rearward location of the batteries, the comparatively
small number of Arab air attacks, the restrictions on HAWK firings, and
Israeli inability to detect low altitude targets were all considered, this
figure represented a reasonable number of engagements.
The Israeli anti-aircraft artillery units and organic firepower of
ground units provided the last air defense protection. Egyptian low level
tactics and small number of air attacks did not present a large number of
opportunities for engagements with only seventeen aircraft claimed, but
the Egyptian attacks on the Israeli canal bridges and troop concentrations
and the Syrian attacks during the aunt Hermon battle of 21-22 October
presented multiple targets.66 During these evolutions the Arab helicopters
were especially vulnerable. Next, the problem posed by the Egyptian KELT
air-to-surface missiles seemed to have been sufficiently countered by the
Israelis using good detection techniques and all available weapons. Some
damage was admitted, but the Israelis claimed that twenty out of twenty-
five missiles were downed.
Admittedly, the question raised by the combatants concerning aircraft
losses and enemy aircraft destroyed may never be resolved. During wartime
communiques, Israel claimed to have destroyed 127 Egyptian and 100 Syrian
aircraft, while not losing a single one. Later post war figures from
different sources claimed that between 368 and 550 Arab aircraft were de-
stroyed with about 400 the most widely published figure.67 Whatever the
real figure, the Israelis maintained that most of these were destroyed in
air-to-air combat with only about 22 aircraft being destroyed on the
ground. Israeli losses, depending on the figures selected, ranged between
102 and 289.68 Generally, 103 aircraft and six helicopters were the most
widely published figures.
While these figures are certainly very interesting, the number of
sorties flown could be a topic for research itself. Estimates of Israeli
sorties for the war ranged from a low of 10,500 to a high of 18,000. A
figure of 12,000 would mean that the Israelis averaged about 650 to 700
sorties a day which is not an unreasonable amount considering the number
of aircraft.69 By considering the number of Mirage III and Super Mystere
aircraft available, the threat posed by Arab aircraft, and the home defense
policy, an estimate of the number of air defense sorties would range from
160 to 240 a day or between 25% to 37% of available sorties. This would
leave between 400 to 500 sorties for close air support and interdiction.
Most Arab sources generally credit the Israelis with a larger number of
total sorties with about 20,000 a projected figure. This would be a tre-
mendous output of sorties and cast doubt on the real number of Israeli
aircraft available or the maintenance and pilot fatigue factors. In any
air conflict the difficulty in accurately reporting both sorties and
especially losses remains. In this conflict, the accuracy was hampered
further by multiple radar and visual observations of the same event, secrecy
of the combatants, and intense political and military motivations to portray
events in the best possible light. Accuracy of figures, while important, is
clearly secondary as far as what implications can be garnered for the Marine
1Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 151; Badri et al., pp. 62 and 225.
2O'Ballance, pp. 70 and 72.
3Ibid., p. 291.
4Palit, p. 82.
5Avraham Adan, On the Banks of the Suez (San Rafael: Presidio Press,
1980), pp. 21 and 23; Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 180.
6Zeev Schiff, October Earthquake (Tel Aviv: University Publishing
Projects, Ltd., 1974,) p. 24; Reference Book 100-2. The 1973 Middle East
War, Volume I (Fort Leavenworth: U. S. Army Command and General Staff
College, 1976), p. 5-7.
7O'Ballance, pp. 294-295; Schiff, pp. 113 and 116; El-Rayyes et al.,
8Adan, p. 225.
9O'Ballance, p. 159.
10Peter Allen, The Yom Kippur War (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
1982), p. 164; Adan, p. 237; Schiff, p. 212.
11Schiff, p. 248.
12Adan, pp. 324-325.
13O'Ballance, pp. 235 and 244; Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 239;
Schiff, p. 254.
14Schiff, p. 265.
15Colonel T. N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory (New York: Harper and Row
Publishers, 1978), p. 552.
16O'Ballance, p. 281.
17Badri et al., p. 64.
18Ibid., pp. 149-151.
19O'Ballance, pp. 152 and 295.
20Adan, p. 236; Allen, p. 163.
21The Insight Team of the London Sunday Times, The Yom Kippur War
(Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974), p. 343.
22Dupuy, p. 518.
23O'Ballance, p. 304.
24Badri et al., p. 112.
25Dupuy, p. 609; O'Ballance, p. 302.
26Olschner, p. 46; Dupuy, p. 450.
27Schiff, p. 63.
28Olschner, pp. 3-8.
29O'Ballance, p. 294.
30Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 109.
31Ibid., p. 132.
32Allen, p. 220; O'Ballance, p. 207; Dupuy, p. 534.
33Dupuy, p. 534.
34Ibid., p. 535; Olschner, p. 3-13.
35O'Ballance, p. 123.
36Dupuy, p. 450.
37Olschner, p. 3-10.
38Ibid., p. 5-4; O'Ballance, p. 295.
39El-Rayyes et al., pp. 222-238.
40Adan, p. 81; Badre et al., p. 61; Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 256.
41Schiff, p. 60.
42Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 156; O'Ballance, pp.82 and 296.
43Israeli Air Force in the Yom Kippur War (Israel Ministry of Defense,
1975), p. 16; Badri et al., pp. 144-145; Schiff, p. 102.
44Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 158; O'Ballance, p. 86.
45Schiff, pp. 80 and 113.
46Herzog, War of Atonement, pp. 173, 175, 179.
47O'Ballance, p. 292; Schiff, p. 114.
48Adan, pp. 119.and 160.
49Ibid., pp. 172 and 188; O'Ballance, p. 134; Schiff, pp. 159 and 165.
50Schiff, p. 200.
51Dupuy, p. 553; Olschner, p. 5-7; Schiff, p. 181.
52Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 206; Schiff, p. 213.
53O'Ballance, p. 233; Schiff, p. 247.
54Insight Team, p. 343.
55Herzog, War of Atonement, pp. 243 and 246.
56Insight Team, p. 161.
57Allen, p. 82; Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 87; Schiff, p. 66.
58Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 125; Schiff, pp. 152-153.
59Insight Team, p. 465; Olschner, p. 3-10.
60Insight Team, p. 467; Schiff, p. 167.
61Reference Book 100-2, p. 5-9.
62Ibid., p. 5-10; Herzog, War of Atonement, p. 143.
63Adan, p. 81.
64Robert B. Hotz, ed., Both Sides of the Suez. Airpower in the Middle
East (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1975), pp. 33-34.
65O'Ballance, p. 304.
66Insight Team, p. 609.
67International Symposium on the 1973 October War (Cairo: Egyptian
Ministry of War, 1976), p. 103.
68Ibid., p. 93; O'Ballance, p. 301.
69Ibid., p. 104.
Chapter III Analysis of Combatant Air Operations
By reviewing Egyptian Air Force and Air Defense Command operations
during the Ramdan War, general impressions of effectiveness can be garnered.
As with the Syrians, the Egyptian commanders withheld the bulk of their air
forces so as to deny a decisive engagement by the Israeli Air Force in air-
to-air combat. The Air Defense Barrier along the canal was entrusted with
denying Israeli air superiority and preventing crippling attacks on
Egyptian Army formations and facilities. By examining either certain
functional areas or specific actions, very general measures of effective-
ness can be portrayed.
Close air support activity by the Egyptian Air Force was limited in
scope and duration, and the results were fair. During the initial crossings
on 6 October, Egyptian sorties were directed against some of the fortified
positions along the canal, and these assisted the Egyptians in both the
crossing operations and the fortifications subsequent capture. Also, a
sizeable effort was made by the Egyptians on 14 October to support their
army's attempt to expand the cross canal bridgeheads. The Israeli Air
Force interfered with these close air support missions, and the results
were not impressive.
The initial deep air strikes of the Egyptians throughout the Sinai on
6 October were well executed and achieved good results. The precise planning
and actual practice of these strikes on dummy installations in the interior
of Egypt accounted for these results. Other Egyptian Air Force attempts,
once gain limited in number, were not as successful. The formidable
Israeli defensive combat air patrols seriously hampered these efforts.
Consequently, the Egyptians employed two other methods to interdict Israeli
forces in the Sinai. The first of these, employing the KELT air-to-surface
missile, achieved only fair results. Missile inaccuracies, Israeli detection
and counter measures, and lack of sufficient numbers account for these re-
sults. The ability of the Egyptians to use these modern weapons highlighted
an increasing maturity on the part of their personnel to effectively inte-
grate new technology into their armed forces. The other method the Egyptians
used to interdict Israeli forces and make up for a lack of aircraft strikes
consisted of deep helicopter insertions of Egyptian rangers. These extensive
operations conducted throughout the Sinai were costly in both the number
of helicopters lost and the elite ranger's casualties. The results of these
high risk operations were mixed with some successes recorded as well as
some unmitigated disasters. In general, the two methods described above
did not adequately compensate for a lack of Egyptian air interdiction strikes.
The air strikes against the Israeli canal bridges during 18 and 19 October
describe in a microcosim the Egyptian Air Force's bombing efforts. Despite
serious losses, raw courage, innovative tactical ideas, and repetitious
attacks, these critical bridges were damaged but not destroyed. The Israelis
were able to effectively mobilize, employ, and resupply their ground forces
with minor disruptions.
In the realm of air defense, Egyptian measures were which better. The
Air Defense Barrier effectively prevented damaging attacks on Egyptian
ground forces for the first week of the war by diverting Israeli efforts
towards the missile batteries themselves. Also, these air defenses caused
a change in Israeli close air support tactics rich lessened the accuracy
and duration of these attacks. The necessary coordination between the Air
Defense Barrier and aloft aircraft was only adequate, as estimates range
of up to forty Egyptian aircraft being downed by their own forces. The
air defense of strategic Egyptian targets can only be measured by the
effectiveness of Egyptian Air Force efforts in protecting their own bases.
Despite the large number of aircraft committed, the Egyptians were generally
unable to prevent Israeli strikes from reaching the target bases. However,
the airborne defenders disrupted some of the Israeli strikes and required
the Israelis to expend significant assets to cover the larger strikes. In
conjunction with the well prepared runny repair crews and aircraft
hangerettes, the Egyptian Air Force was successful in both presenting a
repetition of the 1967 preemptive strikes as well as maintainng an air force
presence throughout the war.
A simlar short analysis of the Syrian Air Force and air defense op-
erations during the Ramadan War point out several interesting facts. The
Syrian Air Force commanders, like the Egyptians, accurately gauged their
pilots' limitations and capabilities, and they assigned missions that were
for the most part within acceptable limits with achievable goals. Under-
standing the disparity in pilot training, these commanders reserved their
aircraft and crews coupled with some surface-to-air missile units and anti-
aircraft artillery to maintain a strategic defense of the Syrian capital,
airfields, industry, and routes of communication.
Defense of the front line force depended upon the Air Defense Barrier
of missiles and guns in close proximity to the front. Limited close air
support missions were executed with the results being between fair to poor.
The initial series of strikes on 6 October succeeded in surprising and
disrupting Israeli front line positions. Subsequent close air support
missions inflicted limited casualties on the Israelis and complicated the
Israeli air defense problem, but they did not prevent or cripple Israeli
military activity. Syrian deep strikes and interdiction missions were al-
most nonexistent and very ineffective when attempted. Possibly the over-
whelming air defense patrol shield implemented by the Israelis dissuaded
any concerted efforts by the Syrians after they considered the pilot
expertise required, anticipated damage, and resultant losses. The mere
possession of a deep strike capability required the Israelis to expend
considerable assets in the air defense role. Syrian helicopter activity
can be characterized as daring, aggressive, and innovative despite heavy
losses. Better coordination and protection of these assets when used in
assault operations would have prevented some losses and perhaps brought
Syrian air defense activities can be judged to have been fair to good.
The Air Defense Barrier initially produced significant Israeli losses and
required a drastic change in Israeli close air support tactical delivery
methods. In addition, large numbers of sorties were required to be directed
at Syrian missile defenses either to suppress of destroy them. The Syrian
Air Defense Barrier basically denied air superiority to the Israelis on the
first three days of the war and contested that superiority for the remain-
der of the war. Syrian air defense aircraft can be rated fair in their
success in defending Syria proper. The Israelis were not prevented from
striking critical targets in the interior of Syria and only occasionally
did the Syrian interceptors disrupt Israeli deep air forays. The exchange
ratio of aircraft losses in this situation was not in Syria's favor. However,
the ability of the Syrian Air Force to maintain their airfields and selected
roadways in operational condition despite repeated Israeli airfield strikes
was quite exemplary. Despite heavy losses of aircraft, large expenditures
of material, and losses of trained personnel, the Syrian Air Force and Air
Defense Command gave a creditable performance. This resulted from the courage
and determination of the Syrian personnel involved.
Israeli Air Operations
As one of the elite segments of the Israeli armed forces, the Israeli
Air Force accomplished its assigned missions in good to excellent fashion.
Its use as a swing force between the Syrian and Egyptian fronts critically
aided Israel's strategic application of combat power. Concurrently, the
air defense of the country was superbly conducted. The high priority of
this task from both political and military viewpoints resulted in a large
allocation of sorties and expenditure of resources. This coupled with the
low priority given by the Arab nations to deep strategic aircraft strikes
kept the skies over Israel all but empty of other nation's aircraft and
prevented any bombing damage. The use of FROG surface-to-surface missiles
by the Arabs did result in some bombardment of northern Israel and the
Sinai. The Israeli Air Force was unable to defend against these missiles
unlike the KELT air-to-surface missiles launched by the Egyptians.
In the area of close air support, Israeli efforts were good. The
Israeli Air Force pressed the attack in support of its ground forces
throughout the Yom Kippur War despite heavy surface-to-air missile op-
position and serious losses initially. The necessary close coordination
between ground forces and the aircraft was not completely adequate during
the first days of the conflict, but it worked very well the last six days,
especially on the Sinai front. The presence of air defense barriers on each
front, in conjunction with the mass proliferation of anti-aircraft artillery,
caused high losses in the beginning. But the Israeli pilots very rapidly
adjusted tactics to low level, high speed, single pass runs. These new
tactics, while somewhat reducing aircraft losses, also reduced bombing
accuracy and the time spent over the target. Therefore, the destructiveness
rained down on each close air support target fell accordingly, while the
required sorties for target destruction or neutralization rose. In the final
days of the war with the destruction, exhaustion, or removal of the air
defense barriers; the effectiveness of Israeli close air support missions
reached the levels they believed appropriate.
Interdiction efforts by the Israeli Air Force demonstrated some serious
weaknesses as well as some significant highlights. Even with repeated attacks,
and much resultant damage, the Israelis were unable to totally cut the bridges
across the canal by air power. The Egyptian air defenses, replacement and
repair capability, and the use of dummy bridges obstructed this Israeli goal.
In addition, air power was unable to prevent a large scale buildup of
Egyptian armor and material on the east bank in preparation for the Egyptain's
14 October breakout attempt. This occurred since there existed almost no
night interdiction capability in the Israeli Air Force. The Israeli efforts
throughout 7 October on the Golan Heights against the Syrian armor signifi-
cantly contributed to the halting of that threat. Also, the Israeli strikes
against the oil storage tanks, pipelines, refinery facilities, power plants,
harbors, and bridges seriously disrupted the Syrians and the Soviet Union's
resupply effort. Lastly, the use of air power to interject a force deep
into Syria to ambush an Iraqi armored column best exemplified a combination
of raid and interdiction tactics.
The attainment of air superiority by the Israeli Air Force required a
much greater effort than anticipated and the intervention of the ground
forces was necessary. In the air-to-air battle, Israeli supremacy was
clearly evident not only in the comparative loss figures, but also in the
obvious reluctance on the part of the Arab nations to hazard their air
forces in this method of combat. The Israeli advantage in pilot training,
tactics, experience, and aircraft could not be overcome by sheer weight of
numbers or courage. However, the battle for air superiority waged by the
Israeli Air Force against the Arab air defense forces more closely resembled
a knock down, dragged out fist fight. While the Israelis finally prevailed,
they experienced heavy losses and abridgement of their accustomed freedom
of action in the air that at times was almost prohibitive. The destruction
of the surface-to-air missile batteries was more difficult than expected,
the effectiveness of the SA-6 system surprised the Israelis, and the course
of events on the ground negated Israeli scheduled plans to destroy or
neutralize the surface-to-air threat. The priority of effort and explicit
directions from the high command to all Israeli ground units that crossed
the canal to destroy surface-to-air missile sites succinctly portrays the
significant impact these Arab forces had on Israeli air superiority even
as late as 16-17 October.
Israeli air defense of their ground forces was generally good. The
HAWK missile units, demonstrating its wartime capabilities for the first
time, effectively engaged assigned targets. The Israelis coordinated better
than the Arabs so as to prevent the engagement of frendly aircraft. But
the Israeli HAWK units and assigned air defense aircraft neither disrupted
nor prevented the initial Arab air attacks on 6 October. Also, the Arab
air forces were successful in reaching those targets they deemed necessary
to strike by using low altitude tactics and covering fighters. The defending
Israeli aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, or small arms could not prevent these
attacks though they did exact a heavy toll of the attackers. In addition,
Egyptian helicopters successfully penetrated the Sinai on a number of
occasions with raiding parties, but Syrian operations of this nature were
not as successful. Israeli use of small arms fire, organic machine guns,
limited anti-aircraft artillery, and HAWK missiles did not dissuade the
Arab air forces from launching aircraft strikes. These assets produced
only limited losses to the Arab forces. The interference from Israeli
fighters produced hesitancy on the part of the Arabs unless the target was
of a critical nature.
Chapter IV Implications for Selected Aspects of Marine Aviation
Close Air Support
Having reviewed some of the air activities during the period 6 October
to 24 October 1973, what implications for Marine aviation can be gleaned
from these events? A large slice of the spectrum of modern tactical avia-
tion occurred throughout this war. Considering the equipment suites, tactics,
aircraft types, training, and weapon systems employed, this war came closer
to portraying an American versus Soviet conflict in style and philosophy
than any other up to that time. Many intriguing and pertinent topics
resulted from this war. The issues of guns versus missiles in air-to-air
combat; sortie generation and allocation; helicopter employment; and
pilot training are only a few. These few are confined to the aviation
community. Some of these have already been examined or analyzed and the
necessary corrections had been implemented. Others such as the execution
of close air support in the face of concentrated air defenses, air defense
of committed ground forces with limited assets, and air control on the
modern battlefield have been examined to a lesser degree. Since these areas
so heavily impact Marine aviation and the inferences and conclusions that
currently exist suffer from distortions and inaccuracies; additional review
of these areas will be of definite benefit.
Marine aviators bemoan the present and projected Soviet air defense
weaponry arrayed against close air support missions. Ground officers sense
this trepidation and wonder if this necessary element of combat power will
be so formidable in the next war. Supported by some well publicized media
accounts, quick interpretation of aircraft loss statistics, and popular
disclaimers that close air support is no longer possible, both groups are
wont to hesitate before the prospect of waging war on the modern battle-
field gainst a Soviet or Soviet style opponent. As in any historical
review, an interpretation is presented that is supported by only those facts
that lend credence to the interpretation. Israeli aircraft losses on the
first three days of the Yom Kippur War routinely appear to support the new
fearful view of a totally lethal air defense umbrella. But a closer exam-
ination of available facts will show that the concentration of air defense
weapons on the Sinai and Golan fronts was an anomaly that Marine aviators
should not expect to encounter. In addition,Arab missile expenditure rates
were extremely high resulting in more Israeli aircraft being downed, yet
exposing serious problems to prosecuting extended combat. Moreover, the
Israeli overestimation of pilot capabilities, poor intelligence on the SA-6
missile, and underestimation of the Arab air defense systems in general
increased their losses. It is evident that when the discussion centers on
Soviet air defense weapons and tactics, concerned Marine officers possess
a high level of awareness and want to be fully informed. All of these factors
will be discussed, but first let us begin with some thoughts on the Marine
Corps' need to rethink the term "air superiority".
JCS Pub. 1, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines "air
That degree of dominance in the air battle of one
force over another that permits the conduct of
operations by the former and its related land, sea,
and air forces at a given time and place without
prohibitive interference by the opposing force.
The Arab air defense barriers on both fronts significantly interfered with
Israeli air activity and their close air support effort. It can be argued
whether or not this interference was "prohibitive", but the fact remains
that the full combat power of the Israeli Air Force could not be manifested
until the air defense barriers were removed or destroyed. The fact that
around based air defense weapons can produce prohibitive interference in
air operations, and thereby affect air superiority, is a recent idea and
one that most Marine do not like to admit. But recognition must take place
as these serious implications produce consequences that extend into many
areas. The destruction of air defense weapons assumes greater importance
in pre-assault operations and may even precede the traditional concept of
sweeping the skies clean of enemy aircraft or destroying enemy airbases.
In the area of close air support, the assumption of air superiority in
numerous command post exercises, field exercises, or school problems is
invalid, especially when the Soviet or Soviet-styled forces possess a full
complement of air defense weaponry. The same principles of attaining air
superiority by reducing the number of enemy aircraft, operational airfields,
and supporting facilities to a level that prevents enemy air power from
interfering with Marine operations must be expanded to include the destruc-
tion or neutralization of sufficient air defense weapons so that these too
cannot produce prohibitive interference. Unfortunately, the large majority
of these weapons today are not tied to fixed bases or prepared sites, are
easy to conceal and are very mobile.
Whereas the resurgence of enemy air power from the position of a residual
air threat can be monitored and countered, the replacement of air defense
weapons or the introduction of new enemy formations will produce a threat
that could continually reappear and threaten Marine air superiority. The
presence of Arab air defense barriers definitely impacted Israeli close air
support operations and represented the first time ground air defense systems
infringed on an air force's ability to achieve air superiority. This fact
should be acknowledged by every Marine campaign planner.
Since ground based defense systems can exert a devastating impact on
air superiority and, hence, close air support operations, what hope is
there for Marine aviation to accomplish the support function in light of
the 1973 Arab-Israeli War? An examination of the Arab ground based air
defense forces involved reveals an interesting series of facts. On the
Golan front, the Syrians possessed between 50 to 60 surface-to-air missile
batteries, approximately 160 ZSU-23 systems and a large number of SA-7
shoulder fired missiles. The missile batteries and some of the ZSU-23 guns
were integrated into an air defense barrier. Examining the air defense
assets available to five typical Soviet divisions from U. S. Army FM 100-2-1,
The Soviet Army, Operations and Tactics, the number of missile batteries
would number from 20, if only divisional assets are considered; up to 44,
if army and frontal assets are included. These five divisions would nor-
mally field 60 ZSU-23 systems. Therefore, the number of Syrian missile
batteries equalled what five Soviet divisions, supplemented by army and
frontal assets, would field. The Israelis faced over 2 1/2 times the concen-
tration of ZSU-23 weapons that Marine aviation could expect to encounter
when confronting five Soviet divisions.
On the Sinai front, the facts are even more startling! The Egyptians
massed between 145 to 170 surface-to-air missile batteries in support of
its seven divisions. These batteries were augmented by approximately 800
ZSU-23 and ZU-23 guns, 500 57 millimeter guns, and large numbers of SA-7
missiles. The integration of these weapons into an air defense barrier
was even more thorough then the Syrians. Marine aviation facing seven
Soviet style divisions would normally expect to encounter between 28 to 53
missile batteries, depending on army and frontal assistance. These would
be complemented by 72 ZSU-23 gun systems and a similar number of SA-9 or
SA-13 missile systems. Therefore, the missile battery density approximated
3 to 1 and the anti-aircraft gun density surpassed 10 to 1. This does not
suggest that comparable densities could not be achieved by Soviet forces
in selected areas or around critical targets, but what it does emphatically
show is that on the Sinai front and to a lesser degree on the Golan front,
there existed concentrations of air defense weapons that were unusually
high. This matter of weapon density must be considered by Marine when
they are opposed by a Soviet or Soviet-styled force.
Related to weapon system density was missile expenditure rates. Liter-
ally hundreds of surface-to-air missiles were launched during the conflict,
especially in the first few days. The Arab defenders' normal tactic of
firing multiple missiles at a single attacking aircraft, while increasing
the probability of kill and degrading Israeli evasive maneuerrs, did consume
missiles at extraordinarily high rates. The North Vietnamese air defenders
exhibited this same tactic during the American B-52 air strikes against Hanoi
and Haiphong in December 1972.1 While Soviet missilemen may not be quite as
eager, the resupply and even the availability of missiles becomes a key factor
especially if a conflict lasts long. High priority resupply of SA-6 missiles
by the Russians and periodic decreases of missile firings were noted by the
Israelis. Many tactical options reappear if enemy missile batteries run
out of missiles or must restrict their engagement opportunities because of
meager supplies. The prosecution of close air support by Marine aviators
depends on a multitude of other topics and lessons relavent to the 1973 war
as well as those already discussed. The necessity of electronic counter-
measures, chaff, infrared decoys, and innovative tactics literally jump
out of the pages of any account of this particular conflict. More recently,
the use of remotely piloted vehicles, radar inhibiting aircraft construction,
and advanced stand-off weaponry continues the nip and tuck battle for an
edge in the close air support battle. Unlike the Israelis, Marines must
not fall into the trap of underestimating the enemy, overestimating friendly
weapons and tactics, or failing to anticipate technical innovations. The
implications of not responding to either the tactical lessons of the 1973
Arab-Israeli conflict or recent innovations spell high losses or de facto
impotence for Marine aviation. Furthermore, because the Marine Corps is
so dependent on its air arm to compensate for its lighter ground component
in comparison to almost all other armed forces, impotence of Marine aviation
spells defeat for the Corps.
The second topic considered in this review concerns Israeli air
defense on behalf of its ground forces in the 1973 conflict. In several
ways there exist similarities between Israeli doctrine, practices, or
tactics and those of the Marine Corps. Both armed forces employ the HAWK
surface-to-air missile system, and each relys heavily on maintaining air
superiority to execute missions. Moreover, the doctrinal approach to air
defense of both forces coincides. Air defense protection is in a layered,
integrated construct featuring interceptor aircraft then drawing on HAWK
missile defenses. Point defense consists of short range missiles, guns,
or small arms fire as a last resort. The Israelis and Marine Corps expect
the closest integration of interceptor aircraft with defending missile
units; consequently, rather stringent identification and firing criteria
are applied to the missile units. In addition, point defense weapons
available to each combat force are comparatively limited. Twenty, thirty,
and forty millimeter guns provided Israeli short range defense, while in
the Marine Corps structure, Stinger shoulder fired missiles fulfill the
short range requirments. Also, the Israelis exercised, and Marines
recognize the requirement for, organic machine guns and small arms fire
to provide basic self-defense and limited protection from hostile air
attacks. Lastly, the threat types employed against the Israelis involving
air-to-surface missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, coordinated air
strikes, and helicopter-borne commando raids describe exactly the threat
against Marine forces today with appropriate technological updates.
Added to this array must be the potent threat posed by armored attack
helicopters. Despite the hiatus of almost twelve years, these many
similarities provide a useful backdrop in examining what trends or lessons
of the Israelis in combat are applicable to the air defense of Marine ground
On a number of occasions, Israeli air defenders could not prevent
Arab air forces from gaining limited air superiority or conducting air
attacks of great intensity on Israeli ground forces. In the initial
air strikes on 6 October, Syrian attacks in support of their Golan defense
from 9 to 13 October, Egyptian attacks to assist the 14 October offensive
in the Sinai, and Egyptian air attacks on the Israeli canal bridges all
demonstrated the ability of the Arabs to penetrate Israeli air defenses
and strike ground targets despite harrowing losses in air-to-air combat.
By incorporating factors that have changed since the 1975 war, possibly
a prevention of this occurrence could be achieved by Marine forces. Certain-
ly superiority in aircraft types exists when the Israeli Mirage/Phantom duo
is compared to the American F-18 Hornet with its superb radar and missile
combinations. The tactical ability of Marine fighter pilots probably
approaches equality with Israeli pilots but may slightly favor the latter
due to combat experience. The Stinger missile exhibits better capabilities
then the 20 millimeter cannon, and the HAWK missile has been improved since
the 1973 version. However, the sophistication of Soviet aircraft has also
notably increased with dedicated ground attack and dual mission capable
aircraft now available. This new generation of aircraft will provide greater
weapons delivery and navigation accuracy, longer range, and improved de-
fensive and penetration equipment. Pilot skill of Soviet aviation in both
air-to-air combat and ground attack tactics can be considered to be better
than that exhibited by the Arab pilots in 1973. The Arab command decision
limiting their air forces to specific strikes and critical targets will
not be adopted by more confident Soviet commanders. Marines can expect a
greater frequency of attacks and more aggressive application of hostile
air power on the battlefield. Also, the sheer operating area of a
division or larger MAGTF with the requirement to defend combat service
support and wing facilities in addition to protecting the combat forces,
dilutes existing air defense assets to a point that either their effec-
tiveness is impaired or elements are left undefended. All of these con-
flicting factors point to a situation in which a Soviet or Soviet-style
adversary will find lucrative targets and rich opportunities for attacking
exposed Marine ground forces. Air defense forces assigned will be unable
to prevent this intrusion and Marines should be aware of the situation.
Another threat to Marine ground forces centers on hostile air-to-
surface missiles. The Egyptians employed the KELT air-to-surface missile
launched from TU-16 bombers in the interior of Egypt against targets
throughout the Sinai. Some were detected and intercepted by Israeli
interceptors. Israeli anti-aircraft artillery succeeded in destroying
others. But, enough got through to prove that even this relatively slow
and inaccurate large missile could inflict damage on Israeli forces. The
threat from weapons of this type has increased with the missile's higher
speeds, longer ranges, greater accuracies, and smaller sizes. The ability
of Marine fighters to "reach out and touch" the missile carrying bombers
prior to launch cannot be assured, nor can the missile's detection or
destruction be assured after launch with the present air defense sensors
or weapons . Once gain the Marine air defense forces face a challenge
that will be extremely difficult to counter, and one that exposes Marine
ground forces to attack from the air.
The threat posed by FROGS, SCUDS, and more advanced surface-to-surface
rockets supercedes the capability of Marine air defense forces to combat.
Marine aviator's ability to interfere with this threat rests on striking
these weapons prior to launch. Therefore, even though the Arabs employed
FROG rockets during the 1973 war, they will not be addressed as an air
An equally sinister, but potentially much more harmful weapon system
that did not present itself during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, is the
attack helicopter. The 1973 war did show the tremendous vulnerability
of helicopters to anti-aircraft weapons and small arms fire. This was
especially true when attempting combat assaults into actively defended
areas, as the Syrians learned, or when overflying heavily defended targets,
as the Egyptians displayed when they tried to bomb Israeli canal bridges.
While the disasterous losses of these mis-applications of helicopters seem
to vindicate current air defense postures, the modern attack helicopter
represents a much more formidable threat than realized. Operating on the
forward edge of the battle area, but over its own territory, these air-
craft possess advantages of maneuverability, concealment, surprise, and
firepower that virtually gaurantee they will only be engaged by a unit's
organic weapons. Present and projected Marine air defense forces are
inadequate in detection capability as well as the numbers and types of
weapon systems to combat this formidable threat. Even when Marine fighters
add weight to the battle, a successful conclusion cannot always be projected
since tactics, weapons, enemy air defenses, and control of friendly fires
all add significant variables. Marine forces engaging a Soviet attack
helicopter equipped adversary can expect to be attacked without warning
and with little or no protection from available Marine air defense forces.
Many of the vulnerabilities so far addressed have at their genesis a
lack of early detection. The limited close air support strikes, bridge
attacks, and shallow interdiction operations conducted by the Egyptians
and Syrians show indications that most were detected either immediately
before or as the strike was executed. Many accounts portray the sequence
of events to be a rocket, bomb, or strafing pass by an Arab aircraft fol-
lowed by visual pursuit of the Arab by Israeli Mirage fighters which were
on combat air patrol. Also, the large number of covering MIG-21 fighters
shot down in comparison to the losses suffered by the attacking MIG-17 and
SU-7 fighter bombers from Israeli fighters clearly indicates the inability
of the Israelis to detect the approaching raid in sufficient time to repo-
sition fighters to either low altitude or into an approaching attacker's
path. For example, during one Egyptian raid against the Israeli canal
bridges on 18 October, eight MIG-21 covering fighters and one MIG-17
attack aircraft were downed by Israeli fighters, while in Syria over
Mount Hermon on 20 October, the Israeli fighters downed six covering
MIG-21 fighters while the Syrian close air support aircraft and heli-
copters suffered only three losses. Almost all visual accounts by
Israeli ground forces confirm the low altitude attack pattern by the
Arabs. Moreover, these accounts do not mention any kind of air raid
warning to the attacked unit prior to the air strike. The Israeli radar
detection network as previously discussed consisted of AN/TPS-43 radars
plus those short range acquisition radars associated with the HAWK system.
An improved model of the AN/TPS-43 radar is the same radar used by the U. S.
Air Force today, and the brine AN/TPS-32 and AN/TPS-59 radars possess
basically the same capabilities as the Israeli and Air Force radars. The
situation results more from physics applications including line of sight
and earth curvature, than the particularity of a radar set. The important
point is that low altitude aircraft and helicopters were able to avoid
detection from Israeli radars. Visual detection on both sides by airborne
aircraft and ground observers did not adequately resolve this problem.
The position of Marine air defense forces regarding this weakness
has not markedly improved. Newer radars are better in maintainability
and reliability, but the same restrictions on line of sight and earth
curvature exist. Therefore, low altitude target detection and early
warning are compromised. The Navy E-2C Hawkeye or Air Force E-3A Sentry
(AWACS) aircraft address these low altitude detection end early warning
problems very nicely. However, such questions as availability of these
assets for Marine training or operations, and the capability to effectively
integrated them into Marine air defense forces need to be answered.
Because of the similarities between the Israeli and Marine air defense
forces much can be learned from careful analysis of the 1973 war. In
many cases the same or greater problems and challenges face the Marine
Corps. Solutions and improvements are necessary end previous history
can be used to support them.
Air Command and Control
Examination of command and control experiences during the 1973 war
reveals several interesting characteristics end concludes this review of
items which make the 1973 Arab-Israeli War significant for Marines. The
command practices and capabilities of the belligerents were markedly
different. The application of air power to influence the strategic posi-
tion in the battle deserves careful attention. The exercise of air control
by the combatants also is worthy of note. Arab surface-to-air missile and
aircraft coordination produced clearly different results than Israeli air
defense and aircraft coordination. The ability to control the fire of air
defense systems and to warn those air defenders manning short range guns
and missiles needs to be scarmed. The effectiveness of forward air
controllers and air liaison officers, especially Israeli, to bring air
support to bear at the desired moment demands utmost examination. Many
valid assumptions and implications can be made about these few command and
control problems that have direct applicability to present day Marine air
command and control practices.
Israeli command of air assets displayed remarkable flexibility and
adaptability. The ability of the Israeli command to strategically in-
fluence the war by the application of air power from the Egyptian front
on 6 October, to the Syrian front between 7 and 13 October, and back to
the Egyptian front from 14 to 24 October clearly demonstrated both the
mobility of air power and their effectiveness in controlling such transfer.
During this struggle, the changing tactical situations were accomodated
so that close air support in both offensive and defensive applications,
interdiction, deep strikes, or surface-to-air defense suppression could
Fortunately, the Marine Corps possesses the apparatus and organization
necessary to achieve this same flexibility. The capability to allocate air
assets between sectors and to switch modes in support of varying ground
operations can be achieved. Also, the power to modify operations depending
on the air threat does exist. Finally, the air combat element commander has the
tools necessary to recognize these changing situations and communicate his
intentions to the aircraft or units that will execute.
The Arab air commands correctly recognized the advantages of main-
taining a defensive posture for the most part with their air forces. The
commands of both Arab countries emphasized the air defense mission and
the prevention of Israeli preemptive strikes. The formation of separate
air defense commands simplified the command problems, but hampered air
force and missile coordination. While the Egyptians reacted slowly to
the Israeli canal crossing on 16 October and the Syrians did not fully support
their Golan offensive on 7 October, both commands did recognize the
strategic situation and attempt to influence the actions by the appli-
cation of air power. The less than satisfactory strategic coordination
of the Arab air forces once the conflict began holds some interest for
Marines in regards to joint and combined air operations. The importance
of these other facts to Marines rests mainly in the pitfalls and advan-
tages to a combined fighter and ground system air defense command, and
the differences which centralized command and de-centralized control would
The control of aircraft and surface-to-air missiles operating in the
same airspace simultaneously requires the utmost in planning and attention
to detail. When the confusion of actual combat is added, a situation
occurs which often becomes unmanageable. Unless a combatant is willing
to accept destruction of friendly aircraft by one's own missile firings,
either the aircraft or missile units must operate under restrictions.
Israeli practice during the 1973 war closely parallels Marine Corps pro-
cedures in this problem of coordination. The Israelis kept tight rein on
HAWK units and allowed them to fire only at targets positively identified
as hostile. This prented them from shooting down any of their own air-
craft. Also, it meant that Israeli HAWK units achieved a favorable ratio,
as already mentioned, of missiles fired to aircraft killed. However,
because of time delays associated with this more restrictive identification
policy, Arab aircraft exercised some extra latitude in relation to the
potential HAWK threat.
If the gauge of success in aircrart and surface-to-air missile
coordination is the number of friendly aircraft downed by friendly fire,
then the Arab control procedures were not entirely successful. Both Arab
countries admit to shooting down some of their own aircraft even though
actual numbers are in contention. The Syrians shot down several Iraqi
aircraft because of improper identification, friend or foe (IFF) codes.
The Egyptians employed control tactics of switching on and off rapidly
either the entire air defense barrier or portions of it. The impression
given, though, is that this tactic was employed very selectively since the
air defense barrier represented the preferred method of protection against
the Israeli Air Force. Obviously, Marines should be careful in applying
their standard and practices to an enemy. The simultaneous attack by both
aircraft and missiles on Marine aircraft seriously complicates the defensive
tactics and options available to the pilot. Russian practice during World
War II, allowing infantry to advance without clearing minefields and
continuing artillery preparation fires while troops actually advanced
through the bombarded area, was always dubious from the German point of
view.2 However, results desired may justify any peculiar or wasteful
Control of short range air defense weapons to include the SA-7 missiles,
ZSU-23 and ZU-23 guns, 20 and 40 millimeter guns, and organic small arms
fire can be divided into two types. When the anti-aircraft guns were in
defense of either Israeli HAWK or Arab surface-to-air missile batteries,
they received warning and control information from radar and control facil-
ities associated with that missile unit. Being tied into an organized
system provided these guns with better reaction time and loved identi-
fication ability. Control of those air defense weapons assigned to or
in support of ground combat elements relied to a much greater degree on
air observation and aircraft recognition. In this particular conflict,
this seemed adequate because of the limited appearances by the Arab air
forces. The presence of Israeli aircraft overhead was the "normal"
operating situation, so Arab gunners and SA-7 operators possessed a degree
of freedom to fire that comparable Israeli air defense forces lacked.
The importance of aircraft silouette recognition in this regard cannot
be overemphasized. The clear skies and noticeable differences in aircraft
types between the Arab and Israeli air forces assisted in these recogni-
tion problems. Even the introduction of Libyan Mirages on the Sinai front
did not significantly disturb the Israeli air defense forces. An important
fact to note was that the ability to distinguish between friendly and enemy
aircraft permeated throughout the ground forces of every combatant. The
significance to Marines of aircraft recognition must not be lost. As has
already been pointed out, the appearance over Marine ground units of both
enemy helicopters and fixed winged aircraft will occur, and the engagement
of these enemy forces will fall to those ground units in addition to what
limited air defense forces may be available.
The necessity that Marine aviation assist in the application of fire
power in support of Marine ground forces needs no elaboration. Since the
coordination of Israeli aviation and ground forces was important in the
1973 war, any difficulties they experienced in this arena demands closest
scrutiny by Marines. As has been discussed, close air support as taught
by Marines was not of the highest priority at the outset of this war.
Conflicting demands of missile suppression, air defense, airfield strikes,
and interdiction had all assumed greater priorities then close air support.
The result was rather high level direction of most ground attack missions.
Added to this was the radio electronic combat practiced by the Egyptians
and the close packed confused battlefield on the Golan front. The
destruction of the air defense barriers lifted a prime constraint on
Israeli close air support missions while the relaxation of other pri-
orities helped considerably. But, the difficulties associated with
ground target acquisition in close air support situations was still
evident. Marines should note well this conflict of priorities because
as soon as Marine ground forces become engaged, the requirement for
close air support will arise. If serious conflicts in the priorities of
the application of Marine aviation on the modern battlefield become
evident, then the consequences for Marine ground forces will be more
serious then those experienced by the Israelis.
The preceding few pages have highlighted just a few of the events or
practices of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War that hold significance for the Marine
Corps today. These selected topics in close air support, air defense, and
air control were selected because of incorrect perceptions or overlooked
themes that resulted from the 1973 war. An appreciation of events in this
war, as is the case in any historical analysis, is of little value to mil-
itary tacticians or strategists unless some benefits to today's Marine
Corps can be realized. That is the purpose of the conclusions in the next
1Colonel Dewey Waddell and Major Norm Wood, eds., Air War-Vietnam
(New York: Arno Press, Inc., 1978), p. 286.
2Georgi Zhukov, Marshal Zhukov's Greatest Battles, trans. Theodore
Shabad (New York: Pocket Books, 1970), p. 8.
Chapter V Conclusions
I have projected several conclusions in the following pages regarding
Marine operations in the areas of close air support, air defense, and
air control. My conclusions rest on a review of some of the events during
the 1973 Arab-Israeli War just described. Many of my conclusions are
not new; some statements do challenge existing ideas; and a few approach
the problem from a different aspect.
I feel Marine aviators and ground combat officers view, with a certain
fatalism, the possible execution and combat availability of close air
support given Soviet style air defenses. I maintain that these feelings
are incorrect and are based on a misinterpretation of the 1973 conflict.
So, I hope to offer some additional ideas that will assist in the execution
of close air support. Likewise, I want to advance several ideas to improve
air defense in front line Marine units. As a professional air defense
control officer, I am deeply worried about the inadequacy of Marine air
defense forces in this regard. My conclusions in this area are based on
the review of Israeli actions which I feel have been largely overlooked by
Marine Corps planners. I will also make three points in the area of air
command and control which I feel are supported by the 1973 war.
As Marines, we pride ourselves on the ability of Marine aircraft to
provide close air support. In fact, the necessity for close air support
to compensate on the modern battlefield for our lighter ground combat is
acknowledged. Several ideas have already been considered and implemented
to assist in the execution and survivability of close air support. These include
suppression of enemy air defenses by artillery, electronic counter measures
directed against missile systems, special air-to-ground ordnance, and
innovative tactical delivery methods. The important point I want to
emphasize is that a current Soviet style air defense system is an inte-
grated array of separate but overlapping missile and gun systems. If you
neutralize, destroy, or suppress one element of this integrated system
(what I call a "horizontal corridor") then the layer of airspace covered
by that element opens up for use by Marine aviation. I believe the Is-
raelis practiced this during the 1973 war against the SA-2 missile system
by the use of electronic counter measures and tactical maneuver. The
other tactical approach is what I term a "vertical corridor". This entails
the elimination, suppression, or neutralization of all systems along a
specific frontage or in a specific area. The Israelis demonstrated this
technique when they crossed the canal and pierced the Egyptian air defense
barrier. This destroyed, captured, or forced the withdrawal of all Egyptian
air defense weapons and created a "vertical corridor" from the deck to 80,000
feet. The flanks and rear of the air defense barrier were also exposed as
well as Egyptian ground forces. Each type of corridor can be created today
and in the near future by any combination of electronic counter measures,
suppression, air attack, or ground attack. However, the expanding missile
envelopes of new Soviet systems and the well known propensity for mass in
Soviet doctrine will continually challenge each and every Marine concerned
with close air support.
I am certain we have tactics other then those already mentioned which
can contribute to success in Marine close air support operations. Even if
the densities of surface-to-air missile batteries and guns, in combination,
are considerably less then those the Israelis faced in 1973, multiple air
defense systems will still oppose us. Coupled with the electronic counter
measures, nifty tactics, and self defense mechanisms, suppressive fires
offer additional opportunities. Now the real reason suppressive forces appeal
to me is that while most other tactics will frustrate and confuse an enemy
air defender, suppression damages equipment, kills people, and produces
fear. I readily acknowledge the role of aircraft and artillery to suppress,
yet while these are valuable and should be continued, they do have weaknesses.
Suppression by artillery requires a considerable amount of communications
and planning. I seriously doubt that split second timing and coordination
necessary can always be achieved in the gross confusion affiliated with
modern combat. Also, I think the 1973 struggle supports the contention
that while suppression or destruction of air defenses by aircraft is possible,
substantial aircraft losses will result. Consequently, to increase the
suppressive fires available to be employed against enemy air defenses, I
believe attack helicopters should be added to other options available to us.
I can foresee several significant advantages if this tactic
were adopted. First, since these suppression attacks would be limited to
close air support operations, the helicopters would not have to penetrate
enemy territory and could remain over somewhat safer, friendly territory.
Next, the simultaneous applications of firepower would not require extensive
safety coordination since the helicopters firepower would be applied as
direct fire from very low altitude and not interfere with the aircraft
delivered ordnance. Also, the extensive communications and safety criteria
necessary when artillery is performing suppression in close proximity to
aircraft is eliminated. Variations in tactics, the preplanning sequence,
and on-scene corrections could be more easily implemented since the
requirement for multi-agency/unit coordination is reduced and the partici-
pants are all (hopefully) quick thinking intelligent aviators. Most
important, the addition of attack helicopters to the suppression role places
enemy air defenders on the horns of a real dilemma. I'm certain that the
fire directed by helicopters will disrupt enemy air defensemen engaging the
close air support aircraft. Concern for self-preservation will cause them
to direct considerable attention and counter fires toward the helicopters.
Many of the same stalking, ambushing, and self-preservation tactics and,
all of the weapons used by the attack helicopter when attacking tanks, are
applicable. I feel this additional method of suppression is necessary
because the mobility of the missile and gun systems means they will have
to be dealt with when the close air support is delivered.
Many of the air attacks on the Israelis were possible because they
did not detect approaching aircraft early enough. I am deeply concerned
about the air defense protection afforded our front line Marines since our
detection capabilities and air defense weapon types and densities so closely
resemble those of the Israelis in 1973. I am confident that this early
detection weakness can easily be corrected by an airborne early warning
platform. I personally believe that the Marine Corps should have its own
dedicated platform since I have grave doubts about the continuous avail-
ability of either Navy E-2 or Air Force E-3 assets in a combat situation.
Moveover, I know integration problems associated with these assets are often
due to inadequate training opportunities and technical difficulties which
will seriously impact combat effectiveness. A most interesting sidelight
to this question involved the immediate desire by Israel to acquire
Grumman E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warnirg aircraft immediately after the
1973 war to cover just this vulnerability. What type of aircraft or what
method of detection is to be adopted falls well beyond the scope of this
paper. The important point I want to stress is that without early detection
of low level enemy aircraft, Marine front line forces are gravely vulnerable.
Exacerbating this vulnerability is the porous, flimsy, and shallow
status of present air defense weaponry. I grudgingly acknowledge that the
recent increase in the number of Stinger platoons in each battery and the
activation of additional batteries of Stinger missiles in the Fleet Marine
Forces are certainly beneficial. But, the extensive requirements for short
range air defense of airfields, command posts, command and control sites,
HAWK batteries, combat service support facilities, and vehicle columns
surpass the Stinger assets available. When you add the requirements for air
defense of the front line infantry units, artillery positions, and mechanized
assets, clearly the situation becomes critical. Additional air defense
assets can be stripped from uncommitted Marine forces or requested from the
Army, but what a state of affairs! These options handicap the employment
of these uncommitted units or open up questions concerning the integration
and control of the Army air defense assets. Therefore, I propose that the
preferred solution is the addition of an air defense gun to Marine air
The advantages of an air defense gun, I believe, are many. In the first
place, if the Soviets develop a flare that can defeat the heat seeking tracker
of the Stinger, then the Marine Corps principle and only dedicated short
range air defense system is negated. Also, the new generation of Soviet
ground attack aircraft, to include the formidable MI-24 HIND helicopter,
pose a significantly greater threat regarding accuracy and payload then
those aircraft used by the Arab nations against the Israelis in 1973. Coupled
with the Marine Corps obvious lack of low level detection and inadequate
number of Stinger teams, the addition of an air defense gun seems necessary.
Next, the Marines who mann these air defense guns would be thoroughly more
proficient and effective in engaging enemy aircraft then a unit's organic
weapon operators, since their training would be dedicated to both aircraft
recognition and the accurate employment of their guns. In reality though,
the chief selling point, which should appeal to any ground commander, is
the tremendous versatility of a gun. Unlike a Stinger missile, an air
defense gun can be used to augment ground firepower when the air threat is
not present. The tremendous rate of fire and accuracy associated with an
air defense gun will put a gleam in the eye of any ground combat commander
in a firefight. The dual purpose capability of a gun magificently adds
to the defensive power of any installation especially those rear areas which
are extremely vulnerable to paratroopers, commandos, and infiltrators.
Even Soviet armored personnel carriers are placed at risk. The Marine Corps
traditional propensity to adapt weapons for varied uses, can easily be
accomodated by an air defense gun. Likewise, all of those questions relating
to towed versus self-propelled, wheeled versus tracked, large caliber versus
small caliber, radar directed or electo-optically aimed, and wing or
division control deserve careful scrutiny. However, the addition of one
air defense platoon or company to each new light armored vehicle (LAV)
battalion, while a good start, insufficiently addresses Marine Corps needs.
The result I want to achieve with an air defense gun is that wherever an
enemy aviator approaches Marine forces, he will encounter a fully alert,
all encompassing, increasingly deadly air defense force.
I believe the Israeli command and control practices during the 1973
war fully support Marine doctrine and concepts today. Specifically, the
three areas of air defense doctrine, command allocation of aircraft, and
fire control by visual recognition were vindicated. The Marine doctrine
of a layered and integrated air defense based on initial interception by
fighters, engagement by medium range missiles, and finally engagement by
short range system proved effective when employed by the Israelis. This
doctrinal approach allowed the Israelis to engage the Arab air forces with
their best weapon system first, and it allows the Marine Corps to engage
an enemy air threat with its longest ranged and most numerous weapon system
also. While this doctrine places restrictions on the freedom of the
missiles and guns to fire, it gives more protection from friendly fire
and allows greater freedom for all types of friendly air activity over the
front lines. However, the Arab's use of an air defense barrier backed up
by interceptor aircraft was not disproved and can be usefully employed as
an alternate tactic when the situation so dictates.
The second point which the Israelis practiced involved the skillful
allocation of aircraft sorties. The ability of the Marine air commander
to successfully apply air resources and firepower to the most critical
sector already exists. The necessary expertise present in the aviation and
control personnel combined with equipment resident in the Marine Air
Command and Control System provides the capability to use aviation as a
"hammer" when and where it is needed. This command tool not only acts
as an aviation force multiplier, but also serves to extend the MAGTF
commander's influence in the high level execution of the battle.
The last point concerning command and control involves the role of
visual recognition in the control of short range air defense weapons.
All major combatants during the 1973 war displayed thorough knowledge
in air recognition which permeated down to the lowest levels in the
combat units. While control of Stinger missiles continues to be a sticky
doctrinal and communications problem in the Marine Corps, a partial
solution involves aircraft recognition. Aircraft recognition is ex-
tensively practiced by naval aviators and air defense personnel, but
woefully inadequate on the part of ground combat forces. In combat, any
aircraft can be engaged if it has been positively identified as hostile,
and the principle method used by short range air defense weapons is
visual recognition. An expansion in the abilities of ground combat
personnel to recognize enemy aircraft not only decreases the control
problems since more personnel could positively identify a hostile, but
also increase the overall warning abilities of the ground unit. A cor-
ollary to the increase in aircraft recognition would be a greater capa-
bility of the ground unit to apply its own organic weapons in the air
defense role. Consequently, I propose that ground units increase training
in the area of aircraft recognition as this combat skill will increase unit
air defense warning; assist the supporting air defense personnel; provide
a quicker application of organic firepower against enemy aircraft; and
protect friendly aircraft from friendly fire.
Any and every war has significance for the professional military offi-
cer. No matter if the subject concerns logistics, leadership, tactics,
strategy, coalition warfare, or arms integration, some war at some time has
had that topic as a critical factor. Naturally, the most recent wars grab
the lion's share of attention because of publicity and the employment of
current weaponry. However, the 16th century commander undoubtedly faced
problems in the integration and control of his pikemen, cavalry, arquebus,
and artillery that the modern Marine commander would find similar as he
attempts to control his artillery, armor, aircraft, and infantry weapons.
As the 1973 Arab-Israeli War fades into the past, its impact will lessen
and its lessons will be forgotten. Time will never diminish, though, the
wartime accomplishments of the major combatants.
Marine Corps study and analysis of the 1973 war must continue since the
areas of combined arms employment and aviation were so important during that
war and are critical in the Marine Corps today. By simply correlating some of
the historical events with current Marine Corps weapons and tactics, some
conclusions and ideas have been forwarded. These conclusions center on the
use of attack helicopters to assist fixed wing aircraft in executing close
air support, the need to increase short range air defense with a gun system,
and the requirment to provide for low altitude detection by an airborne early
warning platform. Whether or not these ideas are implemented depends on many
complicated factors and priorities, but the fact remains that these ideas
address weaknesses drawn from combat events. Success and survival in combat
remains the ultimate test. By thoroughly examining past combat, the Marine
Corps will be better prepared to face the challenges of combat and emerge
victorious over the enemy.
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