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Aircraft Hardening:  The Archilles Heel Of The MAGTF
AUTHOR Major Arthur L. Deal, USMC
CSC 1990
		    Maj. A. Lewis Deal
THESIS:   The Marine Corps in an attempt to solve the problem
of rear area security in particular the air base, left out a
critical element of the equation--that of hardening aircraft,
equipment, and critical installation facilities.
BACKGROUND:  American forces are and will continue to be involved
in Third World conflicts. Third World country insurgents are
being trained in numerous communist countries on the correct
tactics to counter US forces. Because of this growing threat
the Marine Corps is vigorously pursuing the problem of rear
area security with special concerns for the expeditionary air
AIRCRAFT HARDENING: The Marine Corps has neglected the threat
posed by surface to surface weapons in its air base defense
doctrine. The lessons learned in the Vietnam War are an ideal
case study in how to counter this threat. There are a variety
of technical/equipment solutions, however, they do not meet
the criteria of being expeditionary.
RECOMMENDATIONS: By learning from the Vietnam War experience
and combining these lessons with existing engineering techniques
in a vigorous training program, the problem can be solved. The
Marine Corps must realize that there will not be any money
available to develop any state of the art expeditious aircraft
shelters. There are materials organic to the MAGTF that can
be utilized to construct effective shelters.
CONCLUSIONS: If the Marine Corps continues to neglect this
critical area of vulnerability, in the next conflict our air
assets could be seriously threatened by an enemy who recognizes
and exploits this weakness.
THESIS STATEMENT.  The Marine Corps in an attempt to solve the
problem of rear area security in particular the air base, has
left out a critical element of the equation--that of hardening
aircraft, equipment, and critical installation facilities.
     We obviously stand a better chance of success by
concentrating strength against enemy weakness rather than against
strength. So we seek to strike the enemy where, when, and how
he is most vulnerable...
     Of all the vulnerabilities we might choose to exploit,
some are more critical to the enemy than others. It follows
that the most effective way to defeat our enemy is to destroy
that which is the most critical to him. We should focus our
efforts on the one thing which, if eliminated, will do the most
decisive damage to his ability to resist us...
     Therefore, we should focus our efforts against a critical
enemy vulnerability...
     Reduced to its simplest terms, we should strike our enemy
were and when we can hurt him most.
				    (Warfighting  FMFM-1)
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			 The Attack!
     The commander nervously looked at his watch for the third
time in five minutes. The time was 0315, in fifteen more minutes
the 122mm rocket attack would begin on the U.S. Marine helicopter
base in the valley below. The American forces had been in El
Salvador for nearly six weeks and their constant attacks had
taken their toll on the FMLN forces. But know it was his turn
to apply his combat power to the enemy.
     Like most FMLN commanders he had been sent to a guerrilla
training camp in Vietnam and now it was time to see if the
tactics he had been taught worked.
     Reconnoitering had shown that the American forces employed
an extensive air base defense to include day/night security
patrols; armed perimeter defense; limited access points with
armed checkpoints and all were in order with existing American
air base defense doctrine. But there was one area the American
defenders had failed to adequately plan for. All the patrolling
in the world could not stop the 122mm rocket attack that was
about to start. The rocket attack would utilize surprise and
stand-off range afforded by the weapon. But most of all the
Americans had neglected to harden the aircraft from such an
     From five separate launch sites the attack began, each
site firing ten rockets. The firing sequence took less then
two minutes. The commander watched with joy as the rockets began
to impact on the air base. Seconds later he could see the flash
of numerous secondary explosions as unprotected helicopters
began to explode and burn. The commander had accomplished his
mission. . .he had destroyed or damaged the bulk of the American
helicopters and he did so without losing a single man!
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     The preceding scenario is fictitious; however, certain
elements are plausible:
     1. American forces are and will continue to be involved
in Third World conflicts.
     2. Third World insurgents are being trained in numerous
communist countries (e.g. Vietnam, Bulgaria, East Germany, and
the Soviet Union).(3:71-78)
     3. The U.S. Marine Corps is vigorously pursuing the problem
of air base defense (as part of rear area defense).
     The Marine Corps in an attempt to solve the problem of
rear area security in particular the air base, left out a
critical element of the equation--that of hardening aircraft,
equipment, and critical installation facilities.
     In understanding the "art of war," we have been taught
to look for a "critical enemy vulnerability" and "strike our
enemy where and when we can hurt him the most." Have our future
enemies found a critical vulnerability in our air base defense
doctrine? For example, the U.S. Marine Corps OH 2-6 MAGTF Rear
Area Security, addresses in depth the perceived future threat
capabilities. They include: terrorism; raids; helicopter
operations; sabotage, and unconventional warfare missions. (10)
   But no where is the threat from surface to surface weapons
     An airfield is a center for offensive operations; however,
the paradox is it is in itself a static defensive operation.
What is most critical to continuing offensive air operations
is the preservation of the air assets.
     There are few potential adversaries that possess the air
force striking power to challenge the U.S. for air superiority.
They will have to challenge our air forces on the ground. Even
then an adversary may find himself "out-gunned" by our combined
arms MAGTF. The logical step would be to attack our air assets
at our most vulnerable point with the most effective weapon-
surface to surface munitions.
     The proliferation of surface to surface weapons (munitions)
in the Third World has been dramatic since the end of the Vietnam
War. In fact, the number of countries possessing surface to
surface weapons of at least 150-mile range has increased 50
percent since the Vietnam War. (2:61)
     Two widely distributed Soviet-Warsaw Pact weapon systems
that the MAGTF might face are the: 120mm mortar and 122mm rocket.
These two weapon systems are found throughout the Third World
(most places the U.S. may find its forces deployed to). Both
weapon systems are man portable, easy to conceal, and do not
need sophisticated fire control direction systems (the NVA used
the water tower at Marble Mountain as an "aiming stake" for
their 122mm rockets for years. That is why they never destroyed
the water tower!)
     Because of the maximum effective range of these two common
weapon systems the rocket/mortar belt around a MAGTF airfield
is extensive. Such a large square area is extremely difficult,
if not impossible to constantly  patrol for and sanitize from
these types of surface to surface weapon systems.
     For example, the maximum effective ranges for the two
example weapon systems: 120mm mortar---5700m
			122mm rocket---20,000m
This equates to a rocket/mortar belt of potentially:
			98sq. km for the 120mm mortar
			1256sq. km for the 122mm rocket
			(see TABLE 1.)
     For a recent and definitive case study of aircraft hardening
in an expeditionary airfield mode, the U.S. involvement in the
Vietnam War is an excellent source.
     Early involvement in Vietnam found our air bases subjected
to attacks from ground assault forces only. The deployment of
U.S. Marine combat units was at first to protect the Da Nang
air base complex. (1:20) It was due to the increased
perimeter/area defense which caused the NVA to switch their
tactics from primarily ground (sapper) attacks to the utilization
of surface to surface fires.
     How effective were these new tactics? During this conflict
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U.S. forces had to defend 10 key air bases. These bases were
subjected to 475 attacks with over 6200 rounds of various surface
to surface munitions impacting on the air base proper. These
attacks resulted in the loss of over 900 aircraft! (1:204)
     The loss of aircraft became so critical that in 1968 the
highest priority was given to construction of protective cover
for tactical aircraft at the various military bases. (11:273)
     How valid is citing data from a war that took place over
20 years ago? First, it illustrates the vulnerability of
unprotected aircraft (such as our expeditionary airfields offer).
Second, the lethality and effectiveness of surface to surface
weapons. Third, this is the most likely form (LIC) of war we
will encounter in the near future.
     Have we done anything to make provisions for hardening
our expeditionary airfields? Has the lethality and the
effectiveness of surface to surface weapons improved from 20
years ago? Has the proliferation of these types of weapons
increased in Third World countries?
     To further illustrate the significants of the Vietnam case
study, examine the accompanying photographs and read the
following interviews.
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		  Col. C.T. Crews, U.S.M.C.
		   HMM-263 1966-1967 CH-34
		   HMA-169 1970-1971 AH-1
     "During my first tour we did not come under any type of
rocket or mortar attack. Our biggest problem was from sapper
attack. We were at Marble Mountain and had no perimeter defense
at all. In fact there was no bunkers, aircraft revetments, or
any type of overhead protection. Our main concern was from sapper
attack. In fact Da Nang was hit, I believe in July, by a large
sapper attack. (This attack took place on 1 July, 1965. The
sapper force destroyed: 3 C-130s, 3 F-102s, and damaged three
more F-102s. In all there was over 15 million dollars worth
of damage done with the loss of only one sapper.) (1:51)
     During my second tour we had solved the sapper problem
for the most part, but we now had to face the rocket and mortar
attacks. At least once a month we would receive what I would
call random H and I fires. They had shifted their tactics."
(Exploiting vulnerability and opportunity--FMFM 1)
     "The mortars were the most accurate of the two. The rockets
were fired at a random pattern and often hit buildings and
facilities outside of the airfield. I think the NVA gunners
suffered from `buckfever', they knew we were looking for them
and their haste to fire and get to hell out of there affected
their aiming"
     "We did not have any type of revetments my first tour.
However since they had changed their tactics we had hardened
all the aircraft. Most of the revetments at Marble Mountain
were very simple. We had taken airfield matting to form walls
with sand in the middle. The few concrete revetments we had
did have overhead cover but we stored our ammo and other vital
supplies in them. The main concern of protecting the parked
Cobras, was the fact that they were armed, you didn't want them
getting hit and causing alot of secondary explosions and damage.
We even had bunkers and sandbagged work and living spaces."
     "We knew what kind of weapons they were using so we drew
up rocket/mortar belts around Marble Mountain and Da Nang
airfields. They had over the years used the same general areas
to launch their attacks. We would patrol (air patrol) every
day looking for signs of them preparing a launch site. You could
tell by the disturbance of the grass or a muddied rice patty
that there had been some kind of activity. You see once a rice
patty has been planted the farmers don't walk through them,
they use the dikes around the edges. The NVA would walk through
them at night but the muddy footprints would stay up to six
hours or so. We also had most of the suspected launch sites
registered with counter artillery/mortar fire. We also had a
Cobra sitting on the hot pad all ready to go. If we thought
an attack was coming we would try to disperse our aircraft to
other fields. They almost always attacked at night unless it
was part of a big overall attack. The best place to be during
a rocket attack is in the air!"
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		  Lt. Col. P.B. Pratt Jr.
		 VMO-2   1969-1970  OV-10
     "I would say along the lines of once a month for rockets
and less frequency for mortars. I was at Marble Mountain and
we had less attacks than Da Nang. Da Nang was a much bigger
base and an easier to hit."
     "The mortars were much more accurate than the rockets.
They did walk mortars in one night while I was the duty officer
and they hit the troops hootches. They also got the fuel dump
with rockets one night. There was an U.S. Army unit, the 80th
Support Group, I think, which was camped near our perimeter.
They got hit one night by rockets that were meant for us.
     It wasn't the accuracy of the attacks that was the
mainconcern. It was the mental game they played with you. The
attacks were more of a terror weapon. The indiscriminate nature
of the attacks is what got to you, there was no protection from
them. I found the fear of a rocket or mortar attack more of
a concern than flying in combat. They did not do the attacks
to often so we would get use to them. Plus there was always
people rotating in/out so you always had new personnel."
     "Most of our revetments were from materials we had at hand.
We used 55 gallon drums filled with sand, two deep to form some
of the revetments. Some were airfield matting panels two feet
apart with sand between them. These were much higher than the
drums, only the rotors of the helos were exposed and most of
the OV-10 was protected. There was some damage to aircraft but
mostly to facilities. Da Nang had the concrete revetments which
also provided overhead protection.
     We parked one Cobra or OV-10 per revetment, but other types
of helos we put two per revetment.
     There was no type of revetment or protection at the forward
bases, you really were exposed there. Not a good feeling!"
     "The rocket belt was known after years of fighting, it
was 3-5km deep. The belt was under constant observation. We
had OPS, some of which were towers. Many areas were registered
with artillery. We also had night vision devices. These were
something new and we were quite amazed by them. There was even
a 106 recoiless rifle with a zeon tank light. The 106 gun crew
using the night vision devices found Charlie setting up a mortar
one night. They shot .50 Cal. and the 106 with the zeon light
spotting for them--very effective!
     There was also high threat periods, like during a VIP visit
or a holiday like Tet. We would step up our air patrols.
     Sometimes 5-2 would hear about units moving in or toward
our area and the troops were carrying rocket parts. This tipped
us off several times of impending attacks.
     The bottom line is it kept you on edge, you just didn't
know when one would fall on you head!"
     As the Marine Corps enters into a new decade in a world
radically changing, it must continue to adapt it's doctrine
to meet new enemy threats. (note: much like the situation the
Marine Corps found itself during the 1930's) This means taking
a hard and critical look at our warfighting doctrine.
     The attention to rear area security was born from this
concern and subsequent recognition of a "critical vulnerability"
in our expeditionary MAGTF doctrine.
     The Marine Corps has done a superb job in resolving (at
least in doctrinal theory) the rear area security problem for
the bulk of the MAGTF. There is one major element of security
left unresolved----the protection of the MAGTF air assets
deployed at an expeditionary air base!
     Combining the lessons of the past with the realities of
today the Marine Corps can begin to fill this glaring hole in
our rear area security doctrine.
     One of the first problems the Marine Corps faces is the
uniqueness of our expeditionary air bases. No other service
utilizes a purely expeditionary air base concept.
     The U.S. Navy will maintain its air at sea, the U.S. Air
Force operates from fixed bases or semi-permanent forward bases.
     The U.S. Air Force learned its lessons well in the Vietnam
War and now has an extensive aircraft hardening program. The
U.S. Air Force is deeply concerned with forward air
base/installation defending from attacks and continuing to
conduct offensive operations. The Assistant Secretary of the
Air Force for Readiness Support, Tidal W. McCay, gave this
problem an "urgent" to "critical" rating.(11:52) The Marine
Corps should follow suit.
     Unfortunately, the U.S. Air Force solutions in aircraft
protective structures are not compatible with the expeditionary
nature of the MAGTF.
     For example, one expedient aircraft structure (will
withstand mortar/rocket attacks, non-nuclear capable) is composed
of 324 steel panels and weighs 31 tons! It takes 100 workers
24 hours a day for 7 days to complete.(12:273-274) This type
of "expedient" aircraft structure is unacceptable to the Marine
Corps concept of "expeditionary" equipment.
     (note: Maj. John J Busca,USMC, from the Naval Civil
Engineering Laboratory, Port Huenene, Ca., stated in a letter
on passive protection for forward based aircraft [dated 7
March,1990]. "The Defense Technical Information Center studies
were found to be to costly for the Marine Corps to implement
by virtue of the initial purchase price and the cost of shipping
the materials to forward areas.
     The U.S. Air Force also holds all the purse strings for
these studies and programs.")
     So where does the Marine Corps turn to solve the technical
problem of aircraft protective structures? The answer lies in
studying what Marines did in similar circumstances---the Vietnam
     In the interviews with Col. Crews and Lt. Col. Pratt there
was reference to the use of "organic" materials to solve the
shortage of aircraft protective structures. They were airfield
matting sheets and 55 gallon drums used to construct revetments.
The use of steel airfield matting (type M8A1) constructed
five feet tall and one foot apart or in an "A" frame shape
provided the following shielding:
		Percent Fragments Stopped at Cited Ranges
		Weapon 		5ft.	10ft.		20ft.		30ft.
		120mm mortar 	98	98-100	98-100	98-100
		122mm rocket	--	--		 70		 78
							(4:4-30, 4-40)
     This simple design could help meet our requirements for
realistic construction time, less than 3 hours and a weight
of approximately 15,000lbs. (6:28-30)
     If soil is added between the one foot of separation between
the steal matting panels all fragments were defeated (120mm
mortar/122mm rocket) at an impact distance of five feet! (5:VI-
     How readily available are these airfield matting panels?
Each expeditionary airfield has 15,000-150,000 matting panels
allocated. (8:96) Plus there few areas in the world that will
not have a ready supply of soil/sand/dirt for filler.
     Another simple and expedient design is the use of 55 gallon
drums filled with soil and set two deep around the aircraft.
     The best design is the incorporation of the airfield matting
panels with the filled 55 gallon drums in between.
     All these designs do not require any special tools or
external support. They will provide substantial protection from
most surface to surface fires. But most of all the materials
needed are already available.
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     The Marine Corps has done an excellent job of defining
its role in future conflicts (LIC-MIC-HIC). Part of the new
doctrine which has grown from this new mission defining is the
concept of rear area security. The doctrine published so far
goes a long way to solve the myriad of problems associated with
expeditionary MAGTF operations.
     However, there is a critical element missing in the total
equation of protecting the air assets in the forward deployed
MAGTF. There has been little if any consideration given in the
established doctrine of rear area security to the uniqueness
of air field protection from surface to surface weapons.
     In OH 2-6 MAGTF Rear Area Security, there are 17 threat
capabilities listed and not one deals with enemy surface to
surface weapons.( A Soviet made SCUD B rocket has the range
of 300km.) We have neglected to address this threat.
     The Marine Corps can correct this missing element by:
a. Looking to the lessons learned the hard way in the Vietnam
War. There is a wealth of knowledge available in numerous
military manuals (FM 5-103 Survivability), military journals
(The Military Engineer), books (Air Base Defense in the Republic
of Vietnam), and the veterans themselves.
b. As we rewrite the present doctrine, we must begin to teach
these new changes in our formal schools. It must be incorporated
in the curriculums and played as part of the war gaming
c. The Marine Corps must realize that in the world of the
shrinking defense dollar there won't be room in the budget to
allow new R&D for suitable development of state of the art
expeditionary quality aircraft protective sheltersd.
d. With the materials already available and with a vigorous
training program for Fleet Marine Force units (e.g. Marine Wing
Support Squadrons and Groups), all incorporated into training
exercises (CAX) the problem can be solved.
     The solution will take imagination, determination, boldness,
a lot of sweat but most of all leadership Marine style!
1. Fox, Roger P.   Air Base Defense in the Republic of Vietnam.
		   Office of Air Force History, Washington,
		   D.C., 1979
2. Blair, Lt.Col. Carl N. "The Air Threat to the MAGTF in the
		 Third World." Marine Corps Gazette, September
		 1989 (58-63)
3. Rosello, Maj. Victor M. "Vietnam's Support to El Salvador's
		 FMLN: Successful Tactics in Central America."
		 Military Review, January 1990, (71-78)
4. FM 5-103 Survivability. Department of the Army, Washington,
		 D.C., 1985
5. Sues, Robert H. "Expedient Hardening Methods for Structures
		 Subjected to the Effects of Non-Nuclear
		 Munitions." Applied Research Associates,Inc.,
		 Raleigh, N.C. 1989
6. Passive Protection Concepts for Forward-Based Aircraft.
		   Engineering and Services Laboratory,
		   Air Force Engineering and Services Center,
		   Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, 1980
7. Draft Concept of Employment for Marine Wing Support Squadron.
		   Marine Corps Air Station New River,
		   North Carolina, 1989
8. Final Report on the Operational Concept for the Marine Corps
		   Expeditionary Airfield (AEF) System 1985-
		   1995. United States Marine Corps, Development
		   and Education Command, Quantico, Virginia
9. MWSG-27 Group Operational Handbook (GOH) on Rear Area Security
		   (RAS). Marine Wing Support Group-27, MCAS
		   Cherry Point, North Carolina  1989
10. OH 2-6  MAGTF Rear Area Security. Commanding General, Marine
		   Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico
		   Virginia  1989
11. Correl, John T., "Fighting Under Attack." Air Force Magazine,
		   October 1989 (50-55)
12. Thomspon, Capt. Paul,USAF; "Aircraft Shelters in Vietnam."
		   Military Engineer, July 1969 (273-274)

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