A different perspective on military combat aviation

There's a card game for children in which one vehicle, animal or whatever trumps another; it's called Trumpf cards. You win a small victory against the other player if you have the faster, heavier, better motorised or bigger thing on your card, and you choose what metric of the card you want to play.
It's an utterly infantile way of comparing different items - seemingly objective metrics.

Discussions about combat aircraft have a very similar impression on me; they're about range, g limits or turn rates, payload, radars, stealth. Those people who appear to be more knowledgeable do quite the same, just at greater level of detail. They also tend to neglect the importance of fleet efficiency; there's no point in comparing aircraft 1-on-1 if you have the choice between 100 F-15s and 200 F-16s at a given budget.

I'll present a different was of looking at combat aviation, and I'll use the extreme and interesting case of West Germany in the 1970's as the example.

Back in the early 70's we had two kinds of combat aircraft (F-104G Starfighter and G.91), later reinforced by a third kind (Sparrow missile-less F-4F Phantom II).

Now that I've mentioned you can actually pretty much forget about the hardware itself already. 

What was the mission?
The constitutional mission was defence, but the actual primary mission was to help avoid World War 3 by deterring the Warsaw Pact.

Well, how do you deter the Warsaw Pact?
Two ways are possible: To impress them with your ability to fight a nuclear war after having been attacked, and to impress them with your ability to fight a non-nuclear war after having been attacked.

The first West German minister of defence was apparently focused on nuclear warfare. He opted for the F-104G, an aircraft that was good for little but photo recce, lobbing nuclear bombs at targets and surprise kills in ground radar-assisted sneak attacks on enemy aircraft. Many hundred nuclear-capable Starfighters were available to lob nukes on Warsaw Pact mechanised forces, airbases and bridges.

West German F-104G
The G.91 was a budget solution of little importance; a little subsonic fighter-bomber for close air support. It was numerous, but not really prominent in the air war concept of the 70's.

Later on the F-4F Phantom II joined the club, but it was a VERY different aircraft. Bigger, better range, two man crew, much more effort required for purchase and operation per aircraft. The one saving grace was that it had a much more impressive conventional warload than either Starfighter and G.91, none of which exceeded WW2 propeller fighter-bombers' conventional ground attack capabilities. The F-4F carried approx. twice the bombload of a typical medium WW2 bomber when used as a fighter-bomber, but much of its employment would have been in fighter and photo recce roles instead.

The range and payload combination enabled the Phantom IIs to reach even Oder bridges from West German airbases, albeit this was at best at the limit of their practical abilities.

Still, this skill was important because of one fundamental consideration: 
The West German (FRG) government claimed to represent all Germans and did not recognize East Germany as anything but a Soviet-occupied part of the Federal Republic of Germany. War plans that required us or allies to nuke East Germany or even only Warsaw Pact ground forces that invaded West Germany were unacceptable in the event of actual WW3. Thus anyone who considered deterrence no safe bet would naturally be worried about the harm done to the own nation in the event of WW3.
A different equipment strategy (than the Starfighter/Gina force) would make sense -  one that enables the Luftwaffe to deal with Warsaw Pact mechanised forces, airbases and bridges and other targets without nuking our own people. The F-4F provided a little bit of capability in this regard, and the MRCA that became the Tornado IDS offered an approach that seemed realistic and thus deterring:

British Tornado IDS

The Tornado IDS would exploit good range (with droptanks), high subsonic speed at very low level and the terrain following radar to approach the targets very low (avoiding air defences and the ubiquitous MiG-21 fighters), destroy the target with their large conventional payload and try to return unscathed. (The MiG-23's and later MiG-29's look down radars as well as the few Soviet AEW aircraft were the Tornado crews' nightmares.) Additionally, they were capable of the very same things as the Starfighter, minus the rapid climbing.

This was an effective, both deterring and potentially defending, air war component that might have averted nuking German cities on the Oder (bridges tend to be at cities) and small towns (the Soviets built their airbases right next to towns, not spaced by multiple kilometres like NATO).

The downside of this was the susceptibility of the concept to modern pulse doppler look down radars (the approach was highly questionable by the time the Tornado IDS became operational in large numbers) and the immense expenses. A Tornado IDS had two engines with each 40.5 kN dry thrust and 71.2 kN thrust with afterburners. There was a two-man crew and the avionics were very sophisticated for their time, including two radars and commonly carried jamming pods.

The difference between a Tornado IDS and a F-4F or F-104G went well beyond metrics; it was about an altogether different way of risk mitigation. MoD Strauß (F-104G proponent) did not care much about the effects of dropping nukes all over the own country. MoD Schmidt (Tornado IDS proponent) did, and pursued an approach to air war that was meant to first keep the peace by deterring a Warsaw Pact attack and as a backup plan giving the own people a chance to survive by avoiding or at least delaying a nuclear inferno at home.

- - - - -

Meanwhile, the USAF was coined by its experience over North Vietnam where sophisticated strike packages pushed through defences and finally relearned the old lesson that precision guided bombs are extremely effective against fixed target structures. The USAF kept investing in Wild Weasels, anti-radar misisles and finally introduced the F-15E, which was less well-suited for Tornado IDS-like mission profiles but equipped with laser-guided bombs. The USAF thus had yet another concept for air war; one in which strike packages push through air defences and MiGs to knock out targets with PGMs. This concept eventually superseded the terrain following approach that was de facto doomed by look down/shoot down fighter radars and AEW. It also developed the stealth bomber infiltration concept for strategic (B-2) and tactical (F-117) bombers. These two USAF offensive air war concepts are still dominant for conventional warfare, but both of them are extremely expensive and above-average dependent on technological superiority.

- - - - -

Other approaches could have been sensible in the 70's and 80's as well. A focus on fleet efficiency in conventional warfare for maximum deterrence, for example.

The F-5E was available a decade earlier than the Tornados. It had two engines of 15.5/22.2 kN each, was more capable of using grass strips as runways, clearly superior in daylight air combat compared to both Tornado and Starfighter and as a strike fighter he could have provided sterling service in CAS. Its avionics were simple and cheap, and its operation was cheap as well. Its small size served it well in air combat (almost invisible to the eye head-on) and enabled its users to hide the aircraft under foliage and in buildings alongside highways.
The Luftwaffe could have afforded almost a thousand F-5E/F Tiger IIs instead of 212 Tornado IDS. Those Tiger II's would have generated about eight times as many sorties per day (almost exclusively daytime missions).* Five 500 lbs bombs would have been a realistic payload for CAS missions, and a Tornado would struggle to match a daily delivery of 120 500 lbs bombs (F-5E) with its daily delivery of 36 1,000 lbs bombs. The even more crude F-5A version was already known for excellent bomb placement.
Furthermore, it would have been toast almost every time a MiG-23 got a jump on the Tornado, while fivefour Tiger IIs would have been vastly superior in air combat to a single MiG-23.

This approach would have yielded a thousand fighters with air combat characteristics superior to MiG-21s** and with double or triple the ground attack effectiveness of a G.91 at about the same procurement costs of the Tornado IDS; without substantial R&D expenses.

The Soviets would still have been deterred by NATO's (non-FRG) nuclear delivery capabilities (small 1-5 kt TNTeq nukes on precise 1,000 km missiles could have dealt with the difficult bridge and airfield targets that the Tornado IDS inventors were concerned about - the civilian casualties would have been rather limited, particularly if the civilians had 12 hrs time to flee from settlemetns close to such obvious targets).

So there were three ground attack strategy choices;
- to focus on participation in nuclear warfare, effectively planning a genocide on your own people
- to focus on conventional interception (long range ground attack) with sophisticated, specialised and expensive aircraft
- to focus on conventional CAS with many cheaper but more versatile aircraft, without dealing with the far away targets directly (or keeping a couple old Starfighters for that role)

- - - - -

A comparison of F-104G, Tornado IDS and F-5E in a West German 1970's context should thus not be about top speed, range, bombload on a single sortie, avionics or turn rates. It should (have) be(en) about what can be done, what concept for offensive air war is or was behind such choices.
I have observed the Jäger 90 / Eurofighter debates since the 1980's, and I have not seen any detailed tech discussions until the 90's and the public discussions never outgrew that infantile phase. To date we (Germans) have Typhoons with marginal land attack capabilities that are optimised for very high altitude air combat in a modest radius around paved runwyay airbases. Neither the remannts of the Tornado force nor the small Typhoon land attack capabilities would matter much in regard to close air support, and interdiction would de facto be limited to blowing up bridges. It just happens that blowing up bridges isn't all that important to NATO defense in Eastern Europe. The Bundeswehr's Luftwaffe appears to be drifting in regard to its appraoch to alliance defence air war, and there's not even a hint of a public discussion about this.
You can easily find people playing Trumpf cards about Su-35, Typhoon, Rafale, F-22 and F-35 on the internet, though.

somewhat similar non-mainstream thoughts on military aviation:


*: The realistic asumptions here are Tornado IDS three sorties with each 12 x 1,000 lbs bombs for CAS (CAS because of using similar mission radius for a fair comparison), F-5E/F six sorties with each five 500 lbs bombs. Four F-5E/F could be afforded instead of one Tornado IDS taking into account Tornado development costs and assuming F-5 license production in the FRG. Both Tornado and Tiger II were capable of a few more daily sorties for a few days, but not for a week or more.

I shouldn't have mentioned so much hardware while trying to bring across an abstract thought. The main point was how hardware choices reflected fundamentally different approaches to (offensive) air warfare, as well as deterrence. The F-5 thing was meant to be peripheral only - it was meant to make the secondary point about fleet efficiency more forceful.


  1. Do you have an estimate of the expense required to maintain five times as many aircraft? Including flight hours, airbase facilities, etc.?

    1. The price in the early 70's was three F-5E = one F-4. The Tornado IDS was more expensive than an F-4 with VG wing and more advanced avionics. Thus the purchase price ratio was about 1:4.

      Fuel consumption exceeds 1:4, especially taking into account that Tornado training would be for longer range (extra drag from drop tanks) and more often low altitude (higher fuel consumption) missions.

      Maintenance expenses are more tricky. Tornado required more expensive (better trained = smaller share of conscripts) personnel becuase of the F-5's simplicity, but maintenance hours per flight hour was more close to 1:2.

      Avionics spares for F-5 would be extremely less expensive than for Tornado IDS (assuming indigenous license production = 40-60% of expenses return as taxes). The F-5E radar was outright cheap, the RWR was cheap, radio and IFF were standard and there were little other avionics in a F-5E.

      Concerning airbases; the move from Starfighter to Tonrado meant a reduction in numbers. The airbases for a larger fleet were already present due to the many more Starfighters and Ginas. Moreover, a substantial share of the Luftwaffe's combat aircraft should have been on bases in Portugal and on Sardinia anyway (better weather, no need for hardened shelters, out of range of conventional surprise attacks - the downside would have been the personnel boni costs for beign stationed abroad).

      The cost ratio may be 3 or 3.5 instead of 4, but that wouldn't really shake the case, especially considering that a Tornado IDS is inferior in air combat even in a 1-on-1 situation and the Tornado's long range hi-lo-hi or lo-lo-lo interception mission profile was high risk due to radar tech advances during the Tornado's development.

      I could have offered the Jaguar as example as well, the point was the possible orientation towards a less demanding conventional attack mission profile (that requires a less expensive aircraft design).

    2. Just a by the way, but you're speaking about the number of F-104Gs and G-91s vasty exceeding the Tornados that replaced them. If so, you also have to include CAS/BAI tasked Alphajets which replaced the G-91s in the calculation.

    3. Do you think of Alpha Jets as worthy of a hardened aircraft shelter?
      Shilkas arrrived in the 60's already. By the late 70's Alpha Jet and Gina were pretty much useless in combat in my opinion. I've never seen any indication that it had a radar warning receiver, or even only flares.

  2. More airplanes also means more pilots to fly them. Maintaining the skills of these pilots means many more flight hours, which increases the costs.
    Don’t forget that buying an aircraft is only a small part of the whole cost of maintaining the air Warfare capability.
    You also propose an aircraft with less survivability. That means you gonna lose more aircrafts and need many more CSAR missions.

    Overall, your solution will turn out to be extremely more costly.

    1. See above.

      Also, CSAR is small wars bollocks and is of no relevance for alliance defence or deterrence.

      The claim that a F-5E was less survivable than a Tornado IDS is extremely dubious. The ECM pod on the Tornado and the Tornaod's more common employment at night are the only things pointing in that direction.

      The MiG-23 was about equal to a single F-5E in a dogfight, whereas only the best Tornado pilots with prior full time fighter experience would have stood a chance against MiG-23s, and only so by working together (not in 1vs1).

  3. If I recall correctly Chuck Yeager was a big proponent of the F-5. I remember looking through a brochure when I was a kid and thinking what a cool looking jet.

    1. F-20, and he was on Northrop's payroll. It was almost as good as an early F-16, though.

  4. Phew! You certainly know how to choose your subjects! :)

    OK, where to start?

    Context. You are looking at the context of replacing the F-104G fleet with something that would provide the optimal level of conventional deterrence (nuclear is a whole different ball-game and I agree with your opinions on the political and military realities and fantasies surrounding this).

    The aircraft to replace the F-104G would thus be selected in the early to mid 1970s for service entry in the late 70s to early 80s. It would use technology available and allowed by international law at that time. There would be scope for subsequent upgrades as was actually done with the likes of the F-16 and Tornado IDS (particularly by the RAF), but those are really out of scope to the initial selection discussion.

    Role - the aircraft (and I am assuming the F-5E/F was indeed the logical choice here) would be required to establish daytime air superiority, supplementing the F-4F, and to provide CAS/BAI in the role subsequently assigned to the Alpha jet. In addition, it would be good if it could do some of the deep attack, recon and SEAD missions that became possible with the Tornado, but this is not a deal breaker.

    Now remember that part of the concept of Tornado was to keep the enemy air force on the ground so you did not have to fight it in the air. Much was made of the rough field performance of some Soviet designs such as the Mig-27 and Su-25, however, the Warsaw Pact air force would have been, in the main, limited to a relatively small number of airfields which had one runway and a parallel taxiway that could double up as a runway in extremis. This was a relatively easy target for a JP233/MW-1 type of weapon. Yes, Tornadoes would have been vulnerable to Mig-23s and 29s with LDSD capability, but your (bizarrely sparrowless) F-4s and other air superiority fighters were meant to take care of that issue. SAMS and AAA, so the theory went, would have been largely negated by the low level attack profile used.

    Now I have seen period photos of an MW-1 variant on the Tigershark, so something similar could definitely have been made for the F-5E. However, it was known at the time that a new generation of precision long range weapons was due to enter service in the same timeframe as that fighter would have. Would it not have been a far better option to consign the destruction of fixed targets to conventionally armed GLCM variants and to have done away with the nuclear armed GLCM altogether? There was also a plan for Pershing II missiles loaded with Avco BKEP anti runway munitions, although, bizarrely, the plan was to put batteries of them in VLS in concrete shelters that would themselves have been targets. GLCMs with appropriate payloads would have proven a much more cost effective way of shutting down enemy airfields than Tornado. The Russians would obviously have also gone with this approach, and to a certain extent already did with BM targeting of NATO airfields.

    To be continued...

    1. I'll amend the post, it seems to be too ambiguous on what's the point.

      The cratering of airfields is not high on my priority list. There's little historical support for the notion that this would be worthwhile. Moreover, you may not need to attack air power on the ground for air superiority if you add 800+ capable fighters to your team.

      Tornado IDS would not have been escorted by fighters. The fighters would have lacked the terrain following radar and even if they escorted at 200 ft they would have had a terrible energy disadvantage against any interceptor. Moreover, Sparrow and Super 530 were simply not capable of shooting at much higher targets. A MiG-23 at 15,000 ft would have had an insurmountable advantage.

      Conventional cruise missiles were not yet understood as PGMs in the 70's. Their potentially extremely low CEP was understood late in the 70's by the Luftwaffe, but the MRCA program ran since the late 60's and had enough intertia by the late 70's to survive. The F-5E arrived early enough (troops testing in 1973) to have stood a chance as an alternative.

      Personally, I wonder why they didn't look at mounting Mirage F.1 wings and horizontal tails on Starfighters (modifying or replacing the mid and aft fuselage structure would have been quite cheap, little more expensive than a refurbishment), but that's just me.

    2. There are quite a few examples of air forces being hit on the ground. Probably the best example of keeping an air force grounded by hitting the runways was in Bangladesh in the 1971 war where the main form of attack was Mig-21s with air to ground rockets. If you keep the enemy on the ground, you do not have to worry about taking out HAS etc which, even with 1970s tec. would have been very hard targets to hit in a shooting war. I did not mean to imply that the Tornadoes would have been escorted - close escort makes no sense. However, fighters such as the F-4F would surely have been used to engage enemy fighters. The main reason for staying low would have been SAMs and you can see some serious deconfliction issues if the Russians were going to go after Tornado with SAMs and Mig-29s simultaneously.

    3. The Warsaw Pact's air defences extended well west of the Oder and west of most airbases.


      Even F-15s with AIM-7F would not have been able to escort past the (semi)stationary SAM belt, and might indeed have suffered terrribly from forward SA-6 batteries that provided cover for mechanised divisions.
      The Tornado IDS would really have been on their own and that's why even the earlier MiG-23 were such a huge question mark on the entire concept of the Tornado IDS.

      Even during ODS the anti-airfield cmapaign was far from a great success, despite near-perfect conditions. To rely on the idea of attacking WP air power on the ground was super risky IMO. The Luftwaffe should have had more and better fighters. F-5, F-20, F-16 and F.1 (with used J79) were available and continued operation of that many Starfighters was wasteful.

    4. You have to remember that the SAM belt itself would be a target. Nothing operates in isolation. It could be that Tornadoes would take heavy losses to interceptors, but even losing two or three to take an airfield out for a week might well be worthwhile. You also have to remember that Warsaw Pact airfields were far smaller and had far, far less concrete than their Iraqi equivalents. One runway and one parallel taxiway in most cases. Take those out and the aircraft in the shelters are on the ground until they can be fixed. I am not really buying the grass strips argument - we had a hard enough time operating small, piston-engined aircraft out of those. I am not sure how the autobahn network in the East would have served for providing take off and landing opportunities. A lot of Germany provides ample terrain screening from SAMs and even SA-6 would have had trouble engaging Tornado at the altitudes they would have operated at.

    5. In practice you cannot take out an airbase for a week, not even when facing the poor preparations for minesweeping and repair that I saw in the 90's.

      Three days at first, next strike maybe two days (learning effect, civilian assets arrived already) and then it depends on how quickly you can get construction materials because the stored ones will be used up by then.

      The East Germans and Soviets in East Germany drilled their forces to astonishing whole wing sortie and barracks evacuation speeds (minutes each!). I don't know about their repair drills, but all airbase cratering was a waste of time if they paid even only 1/10th as much attention to those.

  5. Next the CAS-BAI role.

    I have always been very dubious of the cost-effectiveness of CAS-BAI in conventional warfare where you do not have total air supremacy against a technologically and tactically inferior opponent. The numbers just do not add up. Even using cheap aircraft like the Alphajet and comparatively effective weapons like BL-755 you are going to lose a lot of your investment very quickly for limited payoff. Instead of the Alpha Jet (which also had a very useful anti Hind role). why not purchase a lot more M270 MLRS and come up with a budget, 6 round, MAN truck mounted version for the Territorials? That would be practically immune to counter battery fire and could be hidden in the complex terrain of Germany cities and suburbs. Targeting could be the role of stay behind teams and a great use could have been made of the AT-2 anti tank mine variant. Once ATACMS became available, it too could have an anti airfield role.

    Air superiority. This is where I feel the F-5 concept has most merit. I don't have a lot to add other than that it would have been good if the long-term fit for the F-5 could have included AMRAAM and a radar capable of cueing it. I am aware of the limitations of small missiles using active radar. Bearing in mind we are talking the mid 70s, night/adverse weather options would have been relatively expensive and inneffective, but it is not hard to imagine some kind of LANTIRN like upgrade coming about, for at least part of the fleet, by the late 80s. The ability to use GPS/INS supplemented by night vision would turn the F-5 into a small, manned cruise missile for deep(ish) intediction. It is possible that it could eventually have been optionally manned and unmanned F-5s expended as decoys once replaced by later airframes.

    Anti Ship. I can't see why the F-5E could not have carried the MBB kormoran 2. Given the confines of the Baltic, I see no great disadvantage to using F-5Es over Tornadoes other than the latter's night/all weather capability.

    Nuclear - OK, I'll discuss this after all. If you are really going to have the capability to drop nuclear bombs on your own soil, would a nuclear tipped MLRS and ATACMS not have been a much better option?

    1. Battlefield interception proved to be very valuable because it made attackers reach the culminmating point sooner. There is indeed a question whether this would really work in a country with a dense road network, of course. Personally, I think we should have had a thousand militia battalions for persistent Raumverteidigung (dispersed stay behind forces) since the 70's, and this would have made battlefield interdiction efforts extremely much more efficient if not even served as such itself.

      Regarding naval Tornados (which are OT); Tornados extended their range with buddy/buddy refuelling and thus achieved ranges that F-5/F-20 would not have reached. The entire role could have been delegated to the Danes, though.

      Regarding nukes; GLCMs with 1 kt TNTeq U239 nukes might have been a good fit against bridges, and 20 kt thermonuclear against airfields. But this would have been pointless for all-conventional warfare, and deterrence/defence needed to suffice for all-conventional warfare as well. You can't publicly dislike the idea of going nuclear first and be unfit for conventional defence at the same time without sabotaging your deterrence.
      Nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were thus a redundancy to conventional interdiction.

    2. I think one thousand battalions of lightly equipped stay-behind forces would pose a significant deterrent in its own right.

    3. I think we're back to the idea that it is essentially ridiculous, in this day and age, to have a defence against a nearby, highly technological enemy that relies on a small number of big ticket items stored in known locations and/or dependent on fixed locations that are themselves extremely vulnerable. Western societies are desperately vulnerable to attacks on power generation and distribution. The obvious answer to that is to disperse power generation and distribution to the lowest level and closest proximity to the consumer possible. Ideally all homes, offices and factories would generate their own electricity. Chemically driven EMP devices and cyber could endanger this strategy and there are limits to what can be achieved, but it is still the best way forward.

  6. "The entire role could have been delegated to the Danes, though".

    That would have predicated, that the RDAF saw that role as a priority mission. Historically they did not. Not all F-100 and F-35 Drakens were Bullpup-qualified and the RDAF lacked an effective air-to-sea missile between 1982 (phaseout of Bullpup)and 1990 (acquisition of AGM-65G). The RDAF saw TASMO as something somebody else should be doing, while they concentrated on air-to-air combat (fighters) and attacking enemy airfields (fighter-bomers).

    1. Yeah, but that was because the Germans did it. We could have transferred the two wings of F-104G with Kormoran missiles as a stop-gap measure.

      I think Germany should have focused attention on land warfare for a more efficient use of resources. The WP's Baltic naval forces were a threat to the Danes, and nobody else. It would have made sense if the Danes had focused on the defence of their islands and delaying actions on the continent north of the Elbe (to have a German division up there was nonsense IMO). Their small population and economy were a poor fit for the geography's challenged, but I'm not generally opposed to cross-subsidies inside of alliances.

  7. Yes and no. The RDAF "promised" to do TASMO in the early 1950s (half a decade before the Bundeswehr even existed) in exchange for the RDN not getting its own fixed-wing aviation. TASMO just ended up way down on the priority list, behind such things as Offensive Counter-Air (hitting WAPA airbases) and Interdiction (primarily by bombing WAPA fixed installations such as railyards, bridges etc.).If the Bundeswehr had gifted a bunch of F-104Gs to the RDAF, they would have said thank you and promptly used or converted them to fighters (the F-104 was used exclusively as a high altitude fighter in the RDAF). Since the RDAF of the mid 1960s operated around 130 combat jets, they might also be hard pressed to man a further 96.

    "to have a German division up there was nonsense IMO"

    Possibly. But look at it this way: The RDA, even at its most optimistic early-1950s maximum build-up goals, was going to be maxed out at 4 US-style foot mobile infantry divisions (2 west of the Great Belt, 2 east of it). In the end it was actually possible to man and equip 3 divisions in the 1950s(1 east, 2 west). 1 of the divisions west of the Great Belt gets slashed by 1960 (not enough funding to mechanize it with APCs, SP-artillery etc.). In order to hold the Jutland peninsula you need at least 3 divisions (2 to hold the front, 1 in reserve). So as you can see, at least one Bundeswehr division and preferably 2 (after 1960) is needed. I have a hypothesis (unproven by sources so far) that the 3. Panzer Div. might also have been on the table for LANDJUT at some point around 1960, but that it had to be assigned to I Korps in order to cover the Netherlands I Corps frontage untill they could mobilize and move tehir forces to W-Germany.

    Coincidentally a Danish precondition for allowing West-German NATO membership was, that parts of the newly built Bundeswehr forces were to be earmarked to work together with the Danish armed forces. So while it is logical from a concentration of effort and logistical point to leave W-Germany north of the Elbe to other NATO partners, it is a no-sell politically :-)

    1. There was a ridiculous amount of nonsense in the NATO posture in Central Europe in general.

      The lack of infantry to make easily defended terrains actually defended or at least observed, the questionable utility of the SAM belt (especially the Patriot batteries with their lack fo 360° capability), the far too forward placement of airbases, German conscripts going home over weekends, way too many different sectors of different nationalities, way too much avoidable language friction (neighbouring sectors should have officers that understand each other better than with broken English only), too high expenditures for hardly relevant navies by Germany/Netherlands/Italy, the French paying little attention to their mechanised forces component, the marginal battlefield air defences save for the Heer in the mid-70's onward, too many paratroops and tactical transport aircraft, too much dependence on jammable SACLOS ATGMs, too weak logistical support, too great dependence on airbases and few auxiliary airfields and much more.
      Politics also caused Germany to have mountian infantry that was of little utility (very few mountians in Germany) and even had to buy some horses instead of mules-only due to Bavarian lobbyism.

      Portugal did little more in the Cold War than wasting its resources on decolonialisation wars. Turkey built and maintained an amphibious force that threatened the ally Greece and was of no use against the WP.

      In hindsight, maybe NATO prevailed because the eeevil commies weren't really aggressive after all.

  8. So proposing to substitute an all weather interdictor with a blue sky dogfighter with bare avionics fit ? How often do we have clear skies in Europe?

  9. Substitute an all weather interdictor with a basic blue sky dogfighter? Try flying in the prevalent european weather with low clouds at 400kn plus, not going above 1500 feet, and try to find a target.. As the US showed with the F111 nd the swedes with the viggen better fly and fight when nobody else dares and hit your enemy 24h a day.
    The F5 was and is a capable machine, but would never have been up to going again some of the densest integrated air defences ever conceived

    1. Tornado IDS was capable of hitting stationary targets all weather, but CAS and battlefield interdiction were possible only with visual contact - same as F-5. I don't think they would have wanted to fly higher than 1,500 ft because they'd have to drop to 100 ft real quick when targeted by SA-6's or Shilka's radar.

      I wonder why you think that Tornado stood a better chance in interdiction than F-5 in battlefield interdiction. It's not enough to have a low opinion of an alternative - one also needs to be able to substantiate the case for the preferred solution - even if it is status quo.

      The only advantage that Luftwaffe Tornado IDS had vs. Shilka and SA-6 over the F-5E were the ECM pod (effective in forward and rearward cones only), 2nd crew member and maybe better RWR. The F-5 had multiple advantages like more agility, smaller size and - taking into account fleets, not individual aircraft - numbers.

      The F-111s would have been even easier targets in Central Europe for MiG-23 than the Tornado IDS were.

  10. BAi in my understanding is most efficient if targeting stationary infrastruture to choke follow up forces, not the forces per se. These are, as you tell to mobile and hard to detect to be viable targets for a fast mover unless they are concentrated.

    Tornado could use 4 tons of MW1 with submunitions or mines,so hit the stationary road, bridge or rail line and then follow up to choke the traffic with mines. In good weather maybe a flight of F5 could compare, in cloudy conditions, fog and rain?

    I dont believe a Mig23 could do a low level conversion very efficiently or that eastern pilots would have been allowed to stray from their control and safe lanes into the sam belt. Tornado was fast, F111 was faster still, above 600 kn. If it would have been fast and elusive enough to counter the waves of red air during daylight ? But at night or in bad weather my money would firmly be on the two Seater with Tf capability.
    Otherwise the F5 is a beautiful plane, sounds gorgeous during a Strafe run

    1. The efficient thing about battlefield interception is abuot hitting the soft rear units and supply columns on the march or if and when they set up camp too carelessly.

      Scatterable mines are too easily cleared for interdiction, especially on roads. You mliterally can clear them with an AKM.

      So again; Tornado was not much good in poor weather or at night save for strikes on structures.

      F-5 added a huge air combat capability. So you can add to the F-5's impact on the ground what impact on the ground the MiG-27, Su-17/22, Su-25, and Su-24 can do less in daytime because of the F-5's presence.

      Here's a weird focus on comparing F-5 to Tornado strengths instead of appraising the point that I tried to make; different approach to air war leads to different aircraft used, which is more efficient in said different appraoch. Instead, you guys appear to stick to teh approach that led to Tornado at all cost, and then compare the F-5 to Tornado on a playing field that the Tornado IDS was designed for.

      Tornado and F-111 low level flight speed matters little if MiG-23 can intercept by flying at medium to high altitude in thinner air with Mach 1+, then dive on the low flying prey. Neither Tornado nor F-111 would have stood much of a chance; a MiG-23 is more close to an early F-16 in air combat capabilities than to them.

      There's very little reason to believe that the WP would often have failed to detect intrusions at 60 m altitude, particularly when the terrain following radar was used. The Russians had AEW as well (2nd generation came into service when Tornado IDS did) and ground troops can report those aircraft easily.

  11. The F5 would have brought no capabilities to Tac air the Nato forces did not already possess and did not have the range at low level with an AG loadout to cross the Feba to do anything worthwhile to the second echelon of WP. Luftwaffe never planned to fight alone but choose a weapon system which best complemented the force mix of the allied air forces and the demands placed on Tacair due to the air land battle doctrine.

    Soviet doctrine was to spread a transport batallion of a MRD during a roadmarch across 20km, this was also the depth of a single MRD deployed tactically and an divisional advance of 50km per day was expected. So were to base the F5 to allow them to reach non-tactically deployed WP forces and achieve anything with low level range of 200 miles with FFAR or low drag mk82s?

    Compared to a F5 with lead computing sight, Tornado had INS, moving map, TOSS bombing, CCIP and CCRP modes and the range and paylod to get to the target with high drag munitions (Cluster bombs). More important it opened new Modi of operandi for Nato Tacair, e.g. OCA, BAI, deep strike and night/adverse weather attack capabilities.

    Most airforces went for the high low mix of capabilities. The russians went for Su27&Su34, introduced the Su24 and not more Mig29 or 23. Even the IAF with heavy emphasis on sortie generation and with targets not to gar away, bought F15i versus more F16. From a WW2 perspective your proposal reminds me of the medium bombers versus long range bomber discussions: Do more of the same, medium bombers negate the need for a new capability, the heavy bomber? The Luftwaffe got a hard lessons on that in WW2.

    1. ~800 F-5s would have brought a lot of quantity, which matters a lot in battlefield interdiction. 800 F-5, 75% battlefield interdiction and CAS missions at 2% attrition rate (per sortie, mostly to 23 mm and some to MiG-23/-29, few other causes) yields about 50 sorties per plane - roughly 10-11 in the first ttwo days. Four Mk82 on a quad MER under the belly + 2 drop tanks + 2 Sidewinders equals enough hi-lo-hi mission radius to reach almost all of West Germany from airfields behind the Rhine-Ems line.
      That's a potential 24k truck kills in the first two days - the equivalent of two divisions worth of motor vehicles. The real kill count may have been in the 6k-12k range, but that, too, would have left a mark and stalled the advance. The average lifetime kills of F-5s not caught on the ground could have been 0.5-1 air kills + ~100 motor vehicles.

      I'm assuming never two truck kills with a single bomb here. The dispersion of convoys protects only to a degree; it reduces the hits per munition. It does on the other hand almost guarantee that the strike fighters will find enough targets for their munitions.

      You may compare that with Tornados doing battlefield interdiction, but then you'd have to add fighters in numbers almost equal to the F-5s to add the air combat capability that the F-5 added on top.

      I think you mixed up Su-24 and Su-34 and I don't quite get your point regarding the Soviets/Russians because they were worried about entirely different theatres than a denseley packed Central Europe in since the 90's.

      Your medium bombers analogy is backfiring badly, btw. The Luftwaffe never lacked heavy bombers. It had one of the best medium bombers early on (Ju88) that had enough range to cover almost all of the UK with a good payload and support the rapid Barbarossa advance. Later on the Luftwaffe could have had the best medium bomber of WW2 (Ju288), but behind the scenes bollocks kept it from entering mass production. The Ju288 could have flown around the British Isles with tons of munitions on convoy-busting missions.
      The Luftwaffe did not lack bomber range, it did not lack bomber payload (a B-17 only barely carried more than a He 111 or Ju 88) - it did lack good escort fighters to enable the bombers to exploit their range/payload combos fully. Everyone did lack such good escorts till 1944, even the Japanese. Moreover, the Tornado IDS lackewd air combat self denfence qualities and a fighter escort concept and tried to make up for it with a terrain following radar - but very low level flight was defeated by pulse doppler radars before the Tornado IDS' introduction already.

      And the Israelis had far away targets in mind with their F-15s; protecting maritime lines of communication, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Saudi-Arabia.


      Last but not least; the point was really that an aircraft with different characteristics would be chosen (or developed) for a different mission set. The Tornado IDS was means for interception mostly against fixed targets day/night at 30-60 m altitude in deep missions. Battlefield interception leads to a different optimum, and frnakly I don't care if that different optimum was a Jaguar, F-16A or a F-5E/F-20A.