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Operation Allied Force - Air Order of Battle Comparisons

Operation Allied Force was the largest American air campaign since Operation Desert Storm, but as of mid-April 1999 only a small fraction of available combatant air forces had joined the battle. During Desert Storm, nearly one-quarter of combat aircraft in inventory, roughly 1,300 out of 5,800 aircraft, were committed to the operation. With the post-Cold War drawdown, the total aircraft inventory (TAI) declined to approximately 4,100 fixed-wing combat aircraft, of which some 2,600 were combat-ready primary aircraft authorization (PAA) units.

Despite claims that American forces were stretched thin or unable to muster adequate combat power due to budget cuts, the roughly 270 combat aircraft currently committed to Operation Allied Force constituted only about 10 percent of all available combat-coded fixed wing aircraft. Forces committed to operations against Iraq as of 5 April 1999, supporting Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch included nearly 300 aircraft of all types, of which nearly half were combat aircraft.

While the Defense Department had not released detailed figures for air forces committed to Operation Allied Force by April 1998, and there was no single readily available authoritative source for existing combat aircraft inventories, analysis of published reports provided some insight into additional forces that could be deployed if needed.

In a few instances, largely confined to specialized aircraft which existed in small numbers, a significant fraction of available forces had already been committed to operations against Serbia by April 1998:

  • The 24 F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters represent two-thirds of the 36 combat-ready aircraft, while another 17 aircraft were in inventory, but not combat-coded.
  • Of the 21 B-2 stealth bombers that have been delivered to the Air Force, most were in various stages of overhaul or conversion, and only a handful (between 6 and 8) were presently available for combat service.
  • Reflecting the requirements for coping with robust Serbian air defenses, as many as 30 of the roughly 120 radar-jamming EA-6B Prowler aircraft had been pressed into service for Operation Allied Force.

Apart from these exceptional instances, deployed combat aircraft as of April 1998 otherwise constituted on average about 10 percent of readily available forces.

  • Some 50 F-15 fighters had been deployed, from a total combat ready force of about 475 aircraft.
  • The roughly 60 F-16 fighters committed to date were but a small fraction of the nearly 1,000 such aircraft that were available for combat.
  • The 24 tank-killing A-10 Wathogs committed to date were backed up by over 10 times as many combat-ready Warthogs in the active Air Force, the Reserve, and the Air National Guard.
  • The 24 AH-64 Apache helicopters newly arrived in-theater were only a small fraction of the roughly 750 Apaches operated by the Army.

While the weather also played havoc with the air campaign against Serbia, and Italian airfields were becoming crowded with newly deployed combat aircraft, there was no shortage of American combat airpower. Overall, deployed forces as of April 1998 were but a small fraction of the total force that could be deployed against Serbia without depleting American combat potential against other global trouble spots.

TAIDesert StormDeliberate ForceAllied ForcePAATAI
TAI = Total Aircraft Inventory
PAA = Primary Aircraft Authorization

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Page last modified: 16-10-2013 13:35:20 ZULU