2010/07/09

The 24/7 air attack paradox

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I could swear I wrote about this a long time ago, but I never find the article whenever I search for the post with my search function.

Well, here's it (again?), in short:


I see a problem in modern air/ground attack technology, and it takes a long look back to the prime time of air power to explain this.

The German army was almost completely unable to move in daylight on the Western Front from June 1944 till the end of WW2. Few exceptions proved the rule, and all of them were tied to poor weather phases.
The Western Allies achieved this with several thousand tactical aircraft that roamed the skies during daylight (very, very few were on non-strategic missions during the night). Every move in daylight even by small units was possible only along certain roads - especially roads that offered concealment (trees) in short intervals. The troops were then able to sprint into concealment once aircrafts were spotted. Even that was pointless if hostile aircraft were overhead all the time, of course.

The result was a huge problem on the tactical level, but it was an unmitigated disaster on the operational level. Reserves moved extremely slow and counter-attacks were much delayed. German operational art died the death of lags and slowness.

The critical component in this historical case was the Allies' inability to achieve a similar effect at night. There would have been no reason to restrict necessary marches to poor visibility phases if that had not offered effective concealment.

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This is where I see a problem in today's air/ground attack avionics. We turned the night into day, supposedly because this was an improvement. The avionics and training costs for the night attack ability were quite high - were they worth it?

Our enemies would not be motivated to restrict themselves to night marches. They would be willing to march 24/7. The extremely valuable slowness and lag factors would not be in effect (at least not as much as back then). Instead, we could expend a limited quantity of expensive precision munitions against a much larger quantity of mobile targets.

Maybe that would suffice to compensate for the lack of the slowness & lag factors. I tend to believe that it would not if we really fought against a peer instead of against a 4th rate developing country military equipped with 'monkey model' hardware.

In short; I don't consider air/ground night attack capability as a desirable feature for a large share of NATO air/ground capable combat aircraft. It's also very questionable for attack helicopters, mostly for fratricide concerns.

The night air/ground capability looks like a prime candidate for luxury spending and gold-plating awards to me. It was very fashionable during the 80's and 90's and has become quite self-evident since then, but somehow I doubt that the operational consequences are really understood.


Sven Ortmann
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2 comments:

  1. One of my biggest complaints about NATO aircraft has been the tremendous (and very slow to produce) cost per unit insured that we could never afford enough to make a difference on a wide front, nor could we afford to see them shot down. Most of the avionics/electronics installed on these air craft were never done on an assembly line as most assume. For all practical purposes they are hand built and irreplaceable in a timely manner. Although we have ample to fight insurgents armed with infantry weapons it's doubtful we would have had enough aircraft for much of anything after 10 days of fighting the Warsaw Pact.

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  2. One of the "problems" of your blog is that you pack together lots of info in a very clear way… which is excellent, save that it leaves not much room for discussion.
    Just a way to tell you kudos! once more…

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