Air power advances

I've seen a lot operational research-like texts about the growing capability of air-ground attacks in the past years.
The general assumption is that the dramatically improved dispersion of modern guided munitions increased the air power's effect on the ground war a lot.
Well, there's of course another side of the coin as well; defensive reactions to improvements in the offense.
The camouflage, concealment and deception efforts reduce the visibility of real targets - strike planes carry less precision guided bombs today than they carried 'dumb' bombs twenty years ago (this is also an effect of the trend to base combat aircraft pretty far away from the battlefield, which requires more external fuel tanks).

The necessity to provide air combat and anti-air defense escorts (CAP and SEAD sorties) to strike planes further reduces the efficiency of air power.
Well, the destructive power has still grown, especially against an enemy who needs to expose himself to accomplish his mission.

One very important factor seems to be ignored in most unclassified discussions of the air-to-ground warfare challenge: Soft effects.
Air power is not only effective because it destroys; it's most effective because it threatens with destruction.
The air forces that were Western Allies in WW2 probably never really grasped this.

An army with insufficient defense against air attack is not so much exposed to attrition by air attack as it is hindered in its freedom by the threat of air attack.
German troops movements in the 1944-1945 Western campaign were almost completely limited to nighttime and poor weather - the same applies to logistical movements, including railway train movements.
(The Allied armies were still too slow despite this and their "100% motorization" advantage to exploit the potential of mobile warfare against a fuel-deprived and mostly foot-mobile German army that depended on horses and nighttime railway movements for logistics.)

The operational effects of such a limitation of mobility and logistical capacity were likely more serious than the direct destructive effect of the attacks.

Thousands of fighter-bombers and bombers roamed the skies over France and Benelux in 1944 - during all daytime.
It's very different today. Few hundreds of combat aircraft would be used in offensive air war, the duration over enemy terrain per sortie would be shorter, many aircraft would be needed for SEAD instead of strike missions, patrolling fighters would not strafe targets of opportunity (like marching infantry columns, moving trains) with deadly effect and the overall 'synchronization' of efforts in time would often prohibit a full daytime coverage of an area.

Furthermore, the night attack capability based on thermal sensors and radars takes away the ability of the enemy to seek refuge in the night.
There's almost as much (if not more) aerial threat to ground forces at nighttime as at daytime - a limitation of movements to daytime makes no sense anymore.

This superficial great advantage of the very much increased lethality of nighttime and poor weather attacks is being greeted by air power fans as a great improvement in air power effectiveness.

In fact, night attack capability has likely taken away much of the air power's effectiveness by removing much of its soft (deterrence) influence on the ground operations.

Sven Ortmann

No comments:

Post a Comment