10. Planning the Air CampaignThe air campaign may be the primary or supporting effort in a theater. In either event, an air campaign plan is a necessity. The plan should describe air centers of gravity, phasing of operations, and resources required. It must provide general guidelines for division of effort among air superiority, interdiction, and close air support. It should explain how other arms will support or be supported.
Like the overall theater plan, it must carry through to the conclusion of the war. We will address some of these areas in detail, but first let us review some critical concepts.
Enemy's Plans May be AnticipatedThe nature of the enemy is quite important, especially if the air campaign plan envisions anything other than straight attrition. More ways exist to categorize an enemy than can reasonably be integrated and used. For example, he may be rational, irrational, fanatic, rigid, flexible, independent, innovative, determined, or doctrinaire. To the extent that an enemy can be assigned to any of these categories, his plans may be anticipated, and the way he will react to a new situation can be predicted. History will provide some help in assessing the enemy, although it would be foolish to suppose that straight line projections of past behavior are going to be absolutely valid.
The other side of knowing the enemy is knowing oneself.
Making plans requiring a high degree of initiative and independence at every subordinate level may be risky, if peacetime training has emphasized detailed operations orders issued from high staffs. Likewise, if one's military has been thoroughly grounded in attrition warfare and direct attack, selling a maneuver or indirect attack campaign plan may be quite difficult. This observation is not meant to say that such plans should not be proposed; they should, of course, but the author must be prepared for strenuous, honest opposition from above and below. The most important part of assessing one's own side is honesty. New tactics can be learned during the course of a war, but it is unlikely that the same applies to new modes of behavior. Therefore, the commander must accept the fact that he has certain human material with which to work and that everything must be built around the reality of his forces, not on how he would like them to be.
Although preceding chapters have gone into great detail on air superiority, interdiction, and close air support, the commander must decide in the campaign plan how these three elements of air operations are going to be integrated. The right decision can lead to victory, the wrong decision to defeat. Let us start this difficult process by considering air superiority.
We maintain that a war is not winnable if the enemy has air superiority. Indeed, no nation enjoying air superiority has ever lost a war by the force of enemy arms. A commander who tries to win -- or not lose -- without air superiority is trying to do what no one has done before. Thus, the prudent commander will do what is necessary to become superior in the air. (Conceivably, he could even withdraw on the ground to create conditions more favorable for winning air superiority.) The first thing he ought to do is make an assessment of where he stands with respect to his enemy.
Recall from Chapter I the five cases that can confront the commander as he starts his air superiority plan or campaign. Case III, where the enemy's bases cannot be attacked, only allows for defense against enemy onslaughts. The situation is somewhat similar in Case IV where air operations can take place over the front, but not in either contender's rear area. In this case, the commander must decide how he is going to meet the enemy over the lines. Case V with no combat air, is the simplest; only contingency plans against introduction of air need be made.
Statistics Favor the Side that Moves FirstTwo cases remain, and they are the toughest because they offer the most possibilities for good or ill. Of these, Case II is the most benign as it permits action against the enemy's bases while one's own bases are essentially immune to attack. In Case II, the biggest problem facing the commander is what elements of the enemy air system to strike in order to win air superiority. The last case, Case I, by far the toughest, for it has no sanctuaries: What one side can do, the other side also can do. Case I is a chess game, and like a chess game, the statistics favor the side that moves first.
Some observers will maintain that a plan calling for theater air superiority is too ambitious and that it proposes more than is necessary. In its stead, some will recommend local air superiority. "Local air superiority" can have two meanings. Most often, it means establishing cover for a surface operation. In its other sense, it suggests a phase in an air campaign similar to a breakthrough operation on the ground that establishes the base for further similar moves. This second definition merely recognizes the reality that achieving theater air superiority is rarely possible in one battle.160
The first definition proposed local air superiority as an adjunct to a surface campaign. Unless the time needed for local air superiority is very short, it is an unsound concept because it throws air onto the defensive. We have seen rather clearly that the defense is at a distinct disadvantage in air war. Let us examine two illustrative situations.
First, local air superiority could make good sense for a short operation, such as passing a naval fleet through a strait or near a land mass. Attacks can be made on enemy air bases to hinder flight operations, and enough cover can be put over the fleet to protect it while the enemy is trying to organize large scale attacks. Total time required for local air superiority should be on the order of hours and is achievable.
In the second case, the proposal might be to provide local air superiority for a ground counteroffensive or defense. Here, the time required moves from hours to days at a minimum and perhaps even weeks or months. Now the enemy has ample time to concentrate forces against the covering air and can take full advantage of the air attacker's significant ascendancy over the air defender. We have seen example after example of the force ratios needed to defend and the difficulties inherent in reacting rather than initiating.
A kind of compromise exists between local and theater air superiority advocates that favors the theater side. If the overall theater campaign plan envisions winning the war by occupying a piece of territory, as opposed to destroying enemy forces or military production, establishing air superiority over the disputed territory may be accomplished by driving enemy air back to the point where it cannot reach the battle zone. This concept is entirely different from the concept of a covering operation. Such a campaign plan subjects the enemy to attack, while protecting one's own bases (a Case II situation).
In the case where both sides are fully vulnerable to attack (Case I), the commander has the option to operate offensively or defensively. Although he might have reasons to go on the defensive initially, the air commander must be predisposed toward the offensive. He should go on the offense unless he finds compelling reasons for not doing so. If he chooses the offense, he then must decide on targeting priorities.
Center of Gravity May Not be ReachableTargeting priorities will be a function of perceived enemy air centers of gravity. We covered in chapter 3 possible centers of gravity in some detail. We must keep in mind, however, that the real center of gravity may not be reachable initially. Defensive considerations may compel the commander to strike first at something other than the final objective. Suppose the enemy has a dozen airfields that are especially well suited for offensive operations. These fields may not be important in the long term, but could support damaging enemy strikes in the short term. These fields, then, might be the first order of priority, the first phase in the campaign. Likewise, neutralizing a portion of the enemy's ground-based defenses may be necessary for the campaign to develop as planned. In other words, the route to the center of gravity may not be a straight line.
The air superiority campaign (whether an end in itself or a means to an end) should not be waged with air assets alone. Naval and ground forces should play a role wherever possible. The more innovative their actions, the more likely are they and the campaign to succeed.
If theater and component commanders are intrepid and innovative, and if they understand the overriding need for air superiority, they will work together to win it.
We already have seen how the British sent commandos to knock out an effective German bomber unit on Crete, how MacArthur and Kenney used ground forces to seize airfields, and how the Israelis from the 1973 war to the 1983 Lebanon incursions used naval and ground forces to knock holes in ground-based air defense systems. The Israelis even won complete air superiority without use of air weapons at Entebbe.* On that operation, a group of commandos by themselves destroyed the enemy's air force.
In the process of planning or executing an air campaign, three especially thorny issues confront the commander and his planners.
Few things are more disconcerting than a sudden, massive enemy offensive that is either progressing well or seems on the verge of doing so. The tendency is to throw everything against the ground movement and to stop air superiority and interdiction operations until the emergency is over. This tendency (the first thorny issue), although natural, may be deadly -- especially if the enemy's air force is still capable of fighting effectively. When one throws everything against the leading edge of a ground offensive, pressure on enemy air decreases significantly, and perhaps to the point where the enemy can undertake previously impossible counterair operations. If everything is concentrated on a ground objective, the enemy can concentrate his air offensively against the aircraft working in support of ground forces. Or he can take the opportunity to press his own air superiority operations aggressively. In either event, the enemy will realize the advantages accruing to the offense.
- The first is the use of air in emergency situations, such as a last-progressing enemy ground offensive.
- The second is deciding on the relative effort to be assigned interdiction and close air support.
- The third is the desirability of carrying out air superiority, interdiction, and close support simultaneously.
Throw Everything at the GroundGiven all these problems, the commander may be correct in throwing everything at the ground under the following circumstances: If the battle in progress is unquestionably the decisive battle of the war; if withdrawal is militarily impossible; if losing the battle means surrender; if the battle certainly will end within a few days; and if stopping the enemy positively means no further enemy offensive before friendly air and ground forces can be rebuilt.
If all of the above conditions cannot be met, diverting every effort to ground support makes subsequent success problematical, even if the immediate threat is stopped. The prescription is clear, but no one will want to take the medicine.
The second thorny issue is the allocation of air between interdiction and close support. Only for those countries in which one or the other is doctrinally anathema will the decision be easy. Previously noted were the Israeli distaste for close air support and the Soviet full embrace of it in World War II. Where the problem is not doctrinally solved before the fact, commanders and planners must wrestle with it. The easiest way to start is by asking if either is clearly inappropriate. If nothing is at hand to interdict, such as in a low-level guerrilla war, then all can be given to close support. Unfortunately, no immediately obvious example comes to mind of where close support would be pointless. Thus, other approaches must be used to arrive at an answer.
With few exceptions, sorties flown in close support reduce the sorties that can be flown in interdiction, and vice versa. One exception obtains when an air force has aircraft specifically designed for close support that cannot survive in an interdiction environment, at least until air superiority is won. If other things are equal, these planes might as well be used for close air support -- if they don't require protection by other aircraft that could be better used elsewhere.
The interrelationship between close air support and interdiction sorties demands that the commander, the theater commander in this case, decides which one will most benefit his plan. The weight of history, as well as logic, falls on the interdiction side. We covered the history of both in chapters 6 and 7. Materiel and troops are easier to keep away from the battle than to engage at the front. They are easier to destroy when they are in assembly or configured for movement than when they are deployed to do battle. Carrying the thought to the ultimate, one pictures one bomb on one tank factory potentially causing scores or hundreds of tanks not to be built.
Conversely, the best that one bomb can do at the front is knock out one tank that already may have paid for itself in damage done.
Three Categories of InterdictionIf the primary emphasis (after air superiority) is going to be on interdiction, the interdiction can be either distant, intermediate, or close, as described in Chapter 6. The distant is directed at the source of enemy supply; the intermediate at bivouacs, transportation nodes, depots, and theater movement targets; and the close at movement very near the battlefield. The degree of tactical coordination with the ground component commander is very high for close operations, less for intermediate, and conceptual for distant. Close interdiction should have a major effect on the ground battle; thus, the air commander must direct operations that meet the ground commander's explicit needs. This requirement does not mean that air should be subordinated to the ground commander.
The third thorny problem confronting the commander is the likelihood that he will be asked to conduct two or three missions simultaneously. For example, an adverse ground situation may lead to requests for close air support and close interdiction, while air superiority still hangs in the balance. We have discussed the theory of this possibility -- and the theory provides an easy answer. Unfortunately, the real world frequently refuses to bow to even the best theory, so we can't take complete refuge in that answer. To address this problem, the commander might, in desperation, divide his air forces into three equal parts, devoting one to air superiority, one to interdiction, and one to close air support. Except in the most extraordinary circumstances, this division surely would be the wrong answer. Very few situations would be so symmetrical as to indicate such a division. In fact, the chances would be quite high that not a single one of the "thirds" would be capable of carrying out its mission. Consequently, all might fail disastrously. What is the commander to do?
Concentration probably is the most important principle of air war. Therefore, the air commander should make every effort to convince his ground component commander brother, and his theater commander, that they should all choose some mission which a concentrated application of air power could bring to fruition. In this decision process, the commander must remember how dangerous it is to try other missions before air superiority is won. Also worth emphasizing is the fact that air power has been more useful in interdiction than in close support. (We saw earlier that the German army decided too late on the Russian front that it should have asked the Luftwaffe for interdiction rather than close air support.) Given the critical importance of air superiority, and the historical success of interdiction, the possibility exists of proposing a compromise solution to demands that all three missions be carried out simultaneously.
Clearly, air superiority must be the first air priority because so much else -- ground operations, close support, and interdiction -- is heavily dependent on it. Thus, conceptually, an interdiction effort should not commence before the air superiority campaign is obviously on the road to success -- when enemy air is no longer crossing the front and can no longer defend effectively against interdiction operations. As earlier suggested, however, an area exists for logical compromise, an area that will benefit both missions. Systems already support enemy land and air operations. Their precise identity will vary from war to war. But for the foreseeable future, the petroleum net will be a strong candidate, as will the transportation net if it can be hit behind the enemy airfields it is supporting.
Another potential target is the enemy's theater command and control system. Good intelligence and thorough analysis should produce more candidates. To the extent that systems mutually supporting air and ground can be identified and struck, mixing interdiction and air superiority makes good sense.
So far in this chapter, we have looked at how the air commander constructs the air campaign, in terms of air superiority, interdiction, and close support. These three elements are the main elements of air warfare. However, other elements, while less encompassing, cannot be ignored. The remainder of this chapter will deal with the more salient of them.
Mystify, Mislead, SurpriseConfederate Gen T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson once said that the duty of a commander is to "mystify, mislead, and surprise." His injunction applies as much to the air commander as to the ground commander. Indeed, deception can be a powerful weapon. Few things could be better than to make the enemy face the wrong way or drop all his bombs on a useless piece of desert. Deception might lead the enemy to think that an attack would consist of 10 aircraft, when in fact it had 20.
Unfortunately, creating successful deception plans is not easy. Successful plans take into account the nature of the enemy, what he thinks about his enemy, and one's own modus operandi. Deception is a difficult subject, but a few examples from the past may provide some ideas for the future.
One of the most successful of all deceptions was not meant to be a deception, but worked so well that it might work again. As we have already noted,
Supreme commanders shouldn't make decisions based on ego or emotional desire for revenge -- but they have for thousands of years. They will continue to do so. If their egos can be attacked, they might do the most welcome things. On an operational campaign scale, we saw how
At the height of the Battle of Britain, the British bomber command made a militarily useless raid on Berlin that so infuriated Hitler that he allowed the Luftwaffe to turn on London. The turn on London almost certainly was the one German error that most influenced the battle in favor of the British.
Anything the enemy "knows" can't be done is well worth doing. On a still smaller scale.
Gen George Kenney faked construction of two airfields and literally invited the Japanese to attack them. Meanwhile, he was secretly building the real airfield that would allow his fighters to escort his bombers to Wewak -- a field the Japanese "knew" was safe because it was out of range of fighters.
The possibilities of deception are endless, and virtually no rules exist as to foul or fair. As Churchill said, "In war time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."162
Gen Claire Chennault, as head of the American Volunteer Group in China, wanted to make the Japanese think his forces were much larger than the 40 or so fighters that actually existed. To deceive the enemy, he periodically repainted his aircraft so the Japanese would think they came from different units.161
Related to deception is psychological warfare. It has been most effective when the enemy nation was made up of peoples forcibly included in it. When such potential fissures exist, they must be exploited with every possible means. Generally, this kind of psychological warfare will be waged at the strategic and grand strategic levels. Nevertheless, the operational air commander can do some things. He should certainly make it known that he welcomes defectors, that he will reward them, and that they may volunteer to join in the fight. He must devise ways to get the invitation to the enemy, and then must devise ways that allow an enemy pilot to surrender himself and his aircraft. Given enough defectors, he can establish a squadron or wing of defectors, hopefully flying under a banner raised at a higher level. Not only will the existence of the defectors encourage more to follow suit, the units are likely to be quite effective. They and their aircraft may even be used to penetrate enemy defenses for special missions.
In Chapter 8, we discussed reserves. The commander must decide whether he is going to have them and when he is going to commit them. His assessment of the length of the war is important to the decision. If the war will certainly end in one or two days, or with one very short decisive battle, reserves may not be useful. If the war is going to last beyond a couple of days, then the commander probably should opt to hold reserves for reasons previously enumerated. To illustrate the negative case, we saw how
This was an instance where a single battle was decisive; it would have been an error to have reserves or not to commit them if they existed. The 1967 war, however, is the only major war fought in the twentieth century where the whole war was essentially decided by a single battle on a single day.
the Israelis committed their entire air force (minus eight fighters on home combat air patrol and four on runway alert) in a bid for air superiority on the first day of the 1967 war.163
Reserves -- To Have or Have NotThe decision made to maintain reserves, the commander must then adopt a principle for commitment. We discussed the error of piecemeal commitment: If the commander is going to commit the reserves, he should do it in mass to capitalize on shock and surprise. As to where he commits, he has two choices. He can reinforce his own success, or reinforce against an enemy success. In ground war, the general American approach has been the latter, and the Soviet approach the former. The Soviet approach is particularly well suited for fast offensives, while the American approach is more defensive (even as part of an offensive).
In the heat of battle, it is easy to lose perspective, to judge something far more important than it is, or devote more resources to its attainment than it is worth. Let us look at an example.
These losses, because they could not be made good, were of far more consequence than the German 6th Army. The German high command had failed to think the problem through and paid a terrible price for nothing. The moral is clear: Make a cold, rational calculation of risks and rewards before committing to any operation.
At the end of 1942, the German 6th Army was encircled at Stalingrad. Hitler, mesmerized by the concept of holding territory, forbade it to break out to the rear. For a variety of reasons the Luftwaffe undertook the job of supplying an entire encircled army by air. It was manifestly incapable of doing so -- a point made at the time by senior Luftwaffe officers and ignored by Goering -- but tried nevertheless. In the next two months, before Stalingrad fell, the Luftwaffe lost most of its transport fleet, a special unit of bombers crucial to the submarine campaign, its bomber and instrument schools (aircraft and instructors were used at Stalingrad), and its prestige.164
Early in this chapter, we discussed the need to know oneself. That precept also is applicable in the area of training. Throughout this book, we have talked about mass and concentration. Mass and concentration require large formations in the air, formations that are not easy to plan, direct, or fly without extensive practice in peacetime. The idea is simple: If something is going to be done in war, it ought to be practiced in peace. If it has not been practiced, losses are likely to be high and the plan is unlikely to go as expected.
Command and control are necessary to bring the elements of air power together into a coherent fighting organization. The commander can use a system of explicit top down orders, or he can issue broad mission orders. Either system can work, as long as three key requirements are met: Officers and men from top to bottom must know what the systemm is and is not; it must have been practiced extensively in peacetime; and lower echelons must be given at least the minimum information required to carry out their responsibilities.
With this brief thought on command and control, we conclude this chapter. It does not include everything a commander needs to know to produce a winning air campaign, But it does include general principles that will get him started in the right direction.
The rest is up to him.