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Cold War Attack Aircraft

Attack Aircraft


Attack Aircraft

Cold WarCurrent
  • AD
  • A2D
  • A3D
  • A4D
  • AF
  • A2F
  • AJ
  • A2J
  • A3J
  • AM
  • AU
  • A-1 Skyraider
  • A-2 Savage
  • A-3 Skywarrior
  • A-4 Skyhawk
  • A-5 Vigilante
  • A-6 Intruder
  • EA-6 Prowler
  • A-7 Corsair II
  • AV-8 Harrier
  • A-X 1966-73
  • A-9
  • A-12 Avenger II
  • A-X 1992-93
  • A-26 Counter Invader
  • A-37 Dragonfly
  • AU-23 Peacemaker
  • AU-24 Stallion
  • F-111 Aardvark
  • F-117 Nighthawk
  • A-10 Thunderbolt II
  • The United States Armys relationship with the Air Force has been complicatedsince before World War II. Since its independence in 1947, USAF support to the Armyhas come in a variety of forms, primarily: Strategic and intra-theater airlift, Interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, and CAS [Closre Air Support]. Army-Air Force integration has a long and sometimesc onflicted history. Though the balance of support and relative priorities between the services continuously ebbed and flowed since the 1940s, Air Force control of all fixed-wing (FW) attack aircraft remained constant. The first major point of disagreement concerned the relative priority between Interdiction and CAS. While both services agreed that subsequent ground or air operations first required Air Superiority, the Air Force based on a unitary view of air power exhibited by service culture, history, and doctrine prioritizes Interdiction.

    According to USAF doctrine, Interdiction inhibits disrupts or degrades the enemys military potential before it can be brought to bear effectively against friendly forces. CAS is relatively messy by comparison and certainly lacks the supposed precision of Interdiction. Moreover, CAS is in service to the ground forces mission, as opposed the air forces goal. Consequently, the Air Force has undervalued the importance of CAS from the outset. The Army, on the other hand, sees CAS as more effectivebecause it directly supports ground operations.

    Second, the Armys need to respond to changing tactical situations means ground commanders want control over CAS. Historically, the Army has desired operational control of aircraft, while the USAF sought to act as commander for all air assets. This is both an institutional and functional division; ground commanders inevitably want support at their tactical command, while the air commanders have a broader view. Differing priorities, based on fundamentally different viewpoints, created significant differences between Army and Air Force viewpoints and prevented common understanding.

    Lastly, the Army and Air Force consistently disagreed on the characteristics required for an effective CAS aircraft. The Army wantrf a forward-deployable, austere runway capable, aircraft that had the following characteristics: long loiter time, effective weapons load, and air-ground communications equipment. The Air Force acknowledged the preferred traits of a CAS aircraft, but generally sought multi-purpose jets that could operate across the broad spectrum of USAF operations, from Interdiction and air-to-aircombat, to CAS.

    Because of this broader view of operations and a service culture that viewed CAS as the most inefficient method of employing air power, the Air Force sought multi-role aircraft they believed provided greater flexibility, and capability. Since the Air Force believed Air Superiority and Interdiction were more effective uses of air power than CAS, its aircraft were designed accordingly. In defiance of history and common sense, the Air Force wanted aircraft that were properly conceived for Air Superiority and Interdiction, believing the result will have the minimum acceptable attributes for CAS.

    In Korea and Vietnam, USAF jets performed CAS poorly; eventually the USAF largely replaced jets with legacy propeller aircraft. In Desert Storm and the War on Terror, Army helicopters performed a significant CAS role, alleviating the need for Air Force adaptation. The development of Army Aviation somewhat hid Army-Air Force disagreements over CAS, as Army helicopters supplied much of the Armys CAS under a different name. Multi-role jet aircraft such as the F-4 and F-111 were ill suited to CAS, while aircraft such as the F-18 and F-15 were over-equipped for CAS. Given the low priority the Air Force places on CAS, it designed aircraft for air-to-air combat and Interdiction, fielding no CAS-specific aircraft in large numbers. Whereas CAS is the lowest USAF tactical priority, it is a primary concern for the Army. The role of the Army is to Conduct prompt and sustained combined arms combat operations on land in order to defeat enemy ground forces, and seize, occupy, and defend land areas. Critical to this role is the employment of combined arms teams, "Two or more arms mutually supporting one another, usually consisting of a mixture of infantry, armor, aviation, field artillery, air defense artillery, and engineers.

    Since Vietnam, Army Aviation, consisting nearly entirely of helicopters, has been critical to Army operations. While CAS is not an Army function, the Army employs attack in over the shoulder fire support and Interdiction roles. Though Army helicopters may utilize CAS procedures, they primarily use less formal methods not requiring terminal control, instead relying on close integration with Army units. Regardless, Army doctrine acknowledges the importance of FW CAS. ADRP 3-0 Unified Land Operations and ADRP 3-90 Tactics describe CAS as a requirement for successful Army operations. Most importantly, FM 3-90.6, which describes employment of Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), the Armys primary warfighting unit, states CAS is a requirement for BCT operations: BCTs accomplishtheir missions by integrating the actions of maneuver battalions, field artillery, aviation,engineer, air and missile defense, close air support, and naval gunfire.

    While integrating helicopters into operations, the Army needs CAS to perform its primary role. While the Army views CAS as a vital component of combined arms, the Air Force views it as a high risk, low payoff mission. This risk often makes a dubious trade-off for the damage inflicted, all of which makes Interdiction more effective from the Air Forces perspective. Air Force CAS ambivalence turns on concerns the efficacy of using precious aircraft sorties on dispersed targets close to, or intermingled with, friendly troops where the risk of fratricide is great. Given the Air Forces historic aversion to CAS and the significant capabilities of Army Aviation, one might wonder: does the Army even need CAS? Could the Army provide the same capabilities with helicopters and artillery? Some Air Force officers argue that an effective combined arms team should not need CAS at all, or that CAS is a type of emergency support.

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