Close air support


Close air support (CAS) is an inherently controversial subject since the latest phase of the Afghanistan Civil War began.

It depends on the point of view, though:

It's a great thing according to RMA fans.

It's a demonstration of our inability (to wage 3GW) for 3GW fans.

It's a (near-)criminal civilians killing thing for journalists and peace activists.

It's a necessity in face of a minimum casualties policy and lack of armour support for soldiers in theater.

My opinion: It's just a misleading experience.

Air attacks are usually coupled with ground combat; air attack based on aerial sensors alone is rather an exception and no CAS.
The ground forces usually encounter an enemy, fix him or get fixed themselves and call in an air strike to hit the enemy when their organic weapons and their ability to maneuver don't bring a decisive success. Units as small as a squad or platoon get air support or even count on it as the primary means of combat support.

This has several conditions, few of which would be given in combat against strong adversaries:
* The enemy's position is known.
* The enemy wasn't lethal enough to win before the air strike arrives.
* The enemy wasn't survivable enough to move decisively.
* The enemy can be fixed due to a lack of organic smoke capability and lack of enemy fire support.
* The enemy lacks effective battlefield air defences to prevent CAS aircraft loitering.
* The enemy lacks effective air combat capabilities to prevent CAS aircraft loitering.
* The ratio of air support to ground forces in combat looks like one combat aircraft on station per platoon in combat or better.
* Radio/satellite communications are possible, no bandwidth or jamming problem prevents communication.

The availability of air support as enjoyed by Western ground forces in small wars is an exception.
It was bought with extreme effort on part of air forces and naval aviation - especially in terms of midair-refueling. It was only possible because only few platoons are in combat at once - and the enemy isn't more than a lightly armed ragtag militia.

The German manuals for infantry clearly state that the infantry cannot expect to get artillery support and would likely be limited to their mortars as fire support. Air support is correctly being treated as exception in these manuals.

That's why I sometimes side with the 3GW people when they complain that tactical problems should be solved without much material support.
German officers had a rather despising opinion about the massive artillery support used by American and Russian divisions on the attack, as they tended to have much more limited artillery support and had still achieved much. I recall one post-WW2 opinion of a former German officer who argued against that attitude; he saw material as a substitute for blood; a favourable trade. He was certainly right, but with a caveat:

Material support can be and will be scarce in future conflicts - that's when our forces need to achieve their missions without it. We must not fall prey to the impression that the current wars with their extremely rich air support are a look into the future of high intensity conflict.



  1. Why not train with swords, since ammo will be in short supply?

    I think that instead of taking the lesson of the need to fight without good logistics, they should of taken the lesson of the importance of good logistics.

  2. It's a matter of relations.

    Much of the air support in conventional warfare would focus on the main effort(s) of the corps, not on sectors held by infantry (which is more defensive than armour and thus mostly not in the main effort).

    A combat aircraft can fly about three sorties a day on average, with let's say one hour in the battle zone each (if they survive).

    That means only about 1 in 8 aircraft assigned to CAS would be available for a mission somewhere at the 'front' on average.

    Now count one CAS aircraft on station per company in combat - that sums up to hundreds of CAS aircraft in major conventional war.
    Keep in mind; it's for secondary purposes only, not to assist the army's main effort.

    Air forces don't fly CAS only, though. Even the strike packages themselves often have often less than 50% real ground attack aircraft, all others being support aircraft (air combat, SEAD).

    Then add interdiction and air superiority-related strike packages.

    There are simply not enough resources to supply a 10-20 division front in major conventional war with CAS for everyone, no matter how good logistics are.

    CAS is a great main effort and crisis firefighter force. Air power can shift its effects by hundreds of kilometers faster than anything else (effectively in about an hour).
    CAS will happen to support spearheads and to hammer on enemy spearheads (or their columns).

    It's similar with artillery, which can move its fires by about 50 or more kilometer in minutes.

    Only mortars are a really reliable fire support for infantry (if they survive) because of their limited effective radius. They cannot be ordered to help 10-1000 km away, so they will be available in their few km wide sector (again; if they survive).

    I also mentioned plenty other reasons for why CAS won't always work as in Afghanistan in the article.

  3. Fighting dirty is fighting smart. You gotta do what you gotta do in order to win. And if it works, it works. The United States has NEVER lost a conventional war. Especially against other countries such as Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan, or Iraq. We did perfectly fine against them. The thing is, we are having problems with unconventional warfighters such as the Taliban.

  4. And that is related to the topic ... how!?