Air University Review, November-December 1977
the catalyst for doctrinal change
Lt Col David T. Macmillan, USAF
THE FIRST question that arises in any discussion of doctrine is, "What is doctrine anyway?" In answer to that question the preface to Air Force Manual 1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, 15 January 1975, states: "Aerospace doctrine is an authoritative statement of principles for the employment of United States Air Force resources. . . . Because of the wide range of missions and responsibilities assigned to the Air Force, different categories of doctrine are required." Basic doctrine is comprised of "the fundamental principles for the employment of aerospace forces. . . . " Operational doctrine governs "the organization, direction, and employment of aerospace forces in the accomplishment of the basic combat operational missions of strategic attack, counter air, air interdiction, close air support, aerospace defense, aerospace surveillance and reconnaissance, airlift and special operations. . ."
The United States Air Force Dictionary (1956) expands on the terms as follows: Basic air doctrine is doctrine "concerned with the nature of air power, and with what can be, and what cannot be, done with it. . . . Basic air doctrine deals with the phenomenon of flight, with the new relationships that exist as a result of hitherto unrealized speeds, range, mobility, and flexibility, and their application to the principles of war, such as those of mass, dispersion, and surprise. . . . "
The dictionary shows a second sense that doctrine is "a teaching on how to do something, or on what to do in a given situation, cast in the form of a practical rule, command, or exhortation. . . . " Operational doctrine is defined in this latter sense; it "is evolved to give guidance in particular situations, ranging from how to fight a war, or from what limitations to place upon a command, . . . consideration is given both to currently accepted concepts of air power and war and to the particular plans entertained by the commander to adapt to these concepts." Basic air doctrine "changes only in response to a change in understanding of phenomena"; operational doctrine "may change with each new concept of how to do something."
Perhaps at this point one should ask, "Why be concerned about doctrine? Is not doctrine only the history of lessons learned?" USAF Chief of Staff General David C. Jones, in his preface to AFM 1-1, 15 January 1975, states, "Basic doctrine is derived from knowledge gained through experience, study, analysis and test. It evolves from changing military environments, concepts, and technology; and through continuing analysis of military operations, national objectives and policy." Thus experience is a necessary ingredient in formulating doctrine, but it is not sufficient. How can doctrine be structured to guide the future? We believe that the answer to this question must come by imaginative analysis of our experience in combination with prudent estimates of the nature of the future. A major influence on that future will be the emerging military capabilities represented by infant technologies.
The objective of this article is to describe some advancing technologies that are providing both a new understanding of important phenomena and stimulating some new concepts for tactical air warfare and, further, to encourage thought on the impact these technologies will have on Air Force doctrine.
The basic tasks of warfare have remained relatively unchanged throughout history. We must be able to know where the enemy is, how to destroy or neutralize him, and how to protect ourselves while doing it. The methods for accomplishing those tasks have changed, slowly at first but lately with increasing speed. Fortress walls were an excellent defense against the bow and arrow and served for centuries. In relatively recent history, the advent of the cannon caused defenses to stress maneuverability. The moves and countermoves have continuously accelerated since then, paralleling the exponential growth of technology.
Few would deny that the evolution of technology has had a profound effect on Air Force doctrine. After all, the birth of the Air Force (actually the Aeronautical Division 'of the U.S. Army Signal Corps) was the result of the marriage of two technologies: aerodynamics and the internal combustion engine. Since the recent date (1903) of the first heavier-than-air flight, the rapid technological changes that have influenced and built the Air Force include the atomic bomb, the jet engine, and the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The rapidity of those changes has indeed been awesome.
The effects of accelerating technology have been stated brilliantly by Alvin Tomer, author of Future Shock. He explains that the reason for technological explosion "is that technology feeds on itself. Technologies make more technologies possible. . . The diffusion of technology embodying the new idea, in turn, helps generate new creative ideas. Today there is evidence that the time between each of the steps in this cycle has been shortened."1
Toffler goes on to describe the negative impact on individuals of the accelerating rate of change. He terms the collective impact of this change as "future shock," a condition that leads to an inability to adapt and function on the part of the victim. The victim may also develop one or more symptoms of maladaptation:
Denial--the strategy of blocking out unwelcome reality; the flat refusal to take in new information.
Specialism--narrowing of the slit through which one views the world; an attempt to keep pace with change in only one specific, narrow section of life.
Reversion--a clinging to previously programmed decisions and habits with dogmatic desperation.
Oversimplification--the belief in a single neat equation to explain the complex novelties of a rapidly changing society.2
Toffler stresses that organizations are similarly affected by future shock. He further states that the only way to avoid the disabling effects of shock is to look into the future so that we can understand and cope with the new world today.
If the reader doubts that an organization as large and forward-looking as the Air Force could experience future shock, we invite him mentally to review his circle of acquaintances (as well as himself) and count the number who exhibit at least one of the symptoms cited above.
The task of making Air Force doctrine a sound foundation for the application of U.S. air power is one that demands our best efforts. We must apply the lessons of experience to our vision of the future, despite the fact that this vision is, at best, very dim.
The evolution of tactical air warfare into the missions of counterair, air interdiction, close air support, aerospace surveillance and reconnaissance, airlift, and special operations has been the result of our experience in four major wars. Technological improvements made it possible to develop the specialized equipment and tactics to perform each of those missions. At first, the airplane merely enabled an easier, more accurate assessment of enemy force disposition. As technologies advanced, aircraft were able to fly farther with heavier loads--they could drop bombs to support land forces. The capability for defending against enemy aircraft was developed, and counterair was born. Interdiction became possible with long-range aircraft and more accurate navigation and bombing.
As technology enabled these missions to be performed and as experience was gained, individual and integrated doctrine for their use evolved. Our operational doctrine that separates the classical tactical missions has served us well. However, it must not remain static. Emerging technologies are tending to blur those classical distinctions. In order for doctrine to remain viable, it must keep pace with technology. An examination of some new technologies and their implications for doctrine is a logical first step.
The development of solid state electronics was the major technological breakthrough that spawned many current revolutionary advances. Starting with the discovery of the transistor in 1947, this field has rapidly progressed to today's integrated-circuit technology and large-scale integration (LSI) manufacturing techniques. This breakthrough has been most apparent in computer technology.
The past twenty years have seen orders-of-magnitude increases in computing speed, memory capacity, access time, and reliability. At the same time, the physical size, power consumption, and cost of computers have decreased by several orders of magnitude. Today's integrated circuits the size of a sugar cube have the same computational capacity of early computers weighing thirty tons. Similar advances are forecast for the future.3
Also spurred by solid state advances, electro-optics technology has led to many important developments. These include low-cost, compact television cameras, laser designators, infrared imaging devices, fiber optics, and ring laser gyros. A major advance in sensor technology was achieved through the development of charge-coupled devices (CCDs) used in miniature TV cameras. CCDs provide self-scanning, which eliminates vacuum tubes, electron beams, and filaments. Although only the size of a thumbnail, they contain more than 200,000 detectors and provide greater range and sensitivity to low-light-level viewing. 4
Radio-frequency and microwave technology is continuing to improve radars and communications. Again, solid state devices are fundamental to these developments. For signal generation at frequencies from ultrahigh frequency (UHF) to millimeter wave, low power requirements are now being met by solid state sources rather than klystron vacuum tubes. Low-cost, efficient, high-capacity signal processing is now available by using surface wave acoustic filters and CCD delay lines, together with microprocessors. As a result, highly capable phased-array radars have been developed. In addition, millimeterwave radars are being designed for a variety of applications. These will provide high resolution, jam-resistant tracking. 5
The implications of these and other technologies on our tactical capability are profound. Our ability to conduct surveillance is being transformed by the development of advanced sensors operating from various platforms. Using frequencies across the electromagnetic spectrum, these sensors will detect detailed enemy force disposition and movement. Advanced synthetic aperture radars may permit a significant improvement in cell resolution. An advanced airborne system could remain in friendly airspace and observe enemy activities from several kilometers away with near-photographic clarity at night or in bad weather. Highly complex signal processing and storage functions will take place in small, reliable, and relatively rugged devices. The information provided by such a system could be sent via data link to a fusion center, either on the ground or in an airborne center if survivability is too low on the ground. At the center, information from intercepted enemy communications and other intelligence sources could be correlated and analyzed in near real time to keep the commander continually aware of enemy movements. As sensor capabilities advance, eventually the missions of surveillance (continual observation) and reconnaissance (periodic observation) could merge. Then, when a target is located and the theater commander makes a decision to strike, the same sensor network can be used to guide and monitor the strike.
Some of the same advanced sensor technologies that will enhance the surveillance and reconnaissance missions have already made a drastic impact on strike capabilities in the form of precision-guided munitions (PGMs).
A PGM can be defined as:
A guided munition whose probability of making a direct hit on its target at full range (when unopposed) is greater than a half. According to the type of PGM, the target may be a tank, ship, radar, bridge, airplane or other concentrations of military value. 6
The precision of these munitions can be achieved using a variety of technologies. Some weapons use a beam of laser light to designate the target and a sensor in the weapon for guidance to the target. Others are guided by the target signature in the visual or infrared light spectrum. Advanced systems will be able to guide on the microwave signature of the target. In bad weather or at night, future weapons may be guided to the near vicinity of the targets using signals from the space-based Global Positioning System, accurate to within tens of feet. Alternative technologies will provide accurate guidance systems which correlate "maps" of the target or the route to the target with the signature received by an onboard radar, infrared, visual, or microwave system.
For the myriad transmitting targets the transmission itself can pinpoint target location, and advanced systems such as the Precision Emitter Location Strike System (PELSS) can pinpoint and guide a strike force to an emitting target even if transmissions cease after the strike force is launched.
Advanced technology will also help combat the high risks associated with penetration of heavily defended enemy territory and the high costs associated with the increasingly sophisticated systems required for penetration. The solution can be a force of standoff weapons with various ranges--from a few miles for a glide bomb such as the GBU-15 to several hundred miles for weapons powered by rocket or air-breathing engines. When these weapons are employed against targets that are difficult to locate and acquire, the advantages of man-in-the-loop can be added through a data link from the standoff weapon to a pilot. This weapon now becomes a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV). RPVs can be fairly complex, sophisticated vehicles recovered after each mission and used repeatedly, or they can be relatively unsophisticated, inexpensive expendable devices used on only a single mission. The effectiveness of all these weapons has been improved by the recent developments of highly efficient warheads that have great destructive potential but are lightweight.
S. J. Dudzinsky, Jr., and James Digby, of the Rand Corporation, have described the impact of some of these technologies in conjunction with military hardware. They describe airborne lasers, for example, that use frequencies just below the visible-light spectrum to guide weapons with great accuracy; small, light RPVs guided even during the terminal phase and thus independent of conditions at time and place of launch, so long as the data link is maintained. As Dudzinsky and Digby indicate, a number of these technological applications were used with dramatic success toward the end of the Vietnam war and during the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, and many of them are "relatively inexpensive" and "relatively simple to operate." 7
The outline of the future is discernible if we examine the impact of these technologies. In the face of sophisticated air defenses, traditional rollback tactics to achieve significant air superiority or air supremacy may be obsolete. Even if we can win the air battle, we may have lost the ground battle and, therefore, the war.
On the other hand, in the far term the technologies described above can be developed into an effective force with the following attributes:
A continuous capability to acquire and strike targets regardless of the weather.
A command and control structure fusing target information and strike force status in near real time.
RPVs which are dispersed for survivability and which can react almost instantaneously to a strike order.
Standoff weapons that are relatively immune to air defenses.
The overall impact of such capabilities will be to blur the distinction between classical missions. The traditional air warfare sequence of air superiority, interdiction, and close air support may disappear. Forces will be orchestrated in a complex way to strike targets simultaneously or at an opportune time. "Campaign" may no longer be a useful description of an element of war. Weapon systems will lose their association with particular "missions." Apportionment and allocation of effort will be a continuous rather than a periodic process. Air-delivered weapons will be timed more like artillery but at much greater ranges. Few sorties will be preplanned, and long periods for gathering and correlating information for flight planning will be unnecessary.
In a typical concept of operations the key element will be the orchestration of sensors and electronics which will gather, process, and distribute battle and target information in almost real time and simultaneously produce a common coordinate grid to locate targets and guide weapons. The information will be fed directly into battle centers--either ground or airborne--as will information on the status of friendly forces. Battle center controllers will allocate targets to weapons that will be essentially on alert. Any required flight information as well as target location will automatically be entered into the controlling avionics of the weapons. The weapons will navigate to the target, using the coordinate grid and terminal guidance either by self-contained or external system.
Within such a concept, air-delivered firepower becomes a continuous process. Weapon controllers can respond almost as rapidly as a soldier who sees a threat and immediately shoots at it. With such a rapid response and probability of kill equal to ground-based direct fire weapons, the need for direct and indirect fire weapons on the ground will decrease. Air power will no longer supplement ground power. Rather, air and ground missions will merge and complement each other.
As WE HAVE observed, doctrine is of significant importance to the Air Force, and, hopefully, we have ignited some sparks of thought about the implications of new technologies to our existing doctrine. Those sparks may develop an illuminating fire and inspire a modern thinker to emulate the great Italian theoretician Guilio Douhet, who examined the fledgling aircraft and envisioned a doctrine of strategic air warfare before the existing technology could match his ideas. He applied the elemental truths extracted from his experience to a vision of the future. He forged concepts which the technologists took many years to validate. We need someone like him today.
Andrews AFB, Maryland
1. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Random House, 1970), p. 27.
2. Ibid., pp. 319-22.
3. R. Turn, Air Force Command and Control Information Processing in the 1980s: Trends in Hardware Technology (Santa Monica: Rand Report R-1011-PR, 1972), pp. 1-15.
4. Dr. Malcolm R. Currie, "Electronics--Key Military 'Force Multiplier,'" Air Force Magazine, July 1976, pp. 41-42.
5. Ibid., pp. 42-43.
6. This definition is slightly modified from one given by James Digby in Precision-Guided Weapons, Adelphi Paper No. 112, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), Summer 1975, p. 1.
7. S. J. Dudzinsky, Jr., and James Digby, The Strategic and Tactical Implications of New Weapons Technologies (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 1976), pp. 6-8.
Lieutenant Colonel David Thomas Macmillan (M.S., University of Southern California) is Chief, Analysis Division, AFSC/XR, where he was earlier a staff officer. He has served as an interceptor pilot with the 61st 'Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 32d FIS, Holland, and the 64th FIS, Philippines. Other assignments include tours as a T-33 instructor, assistant flight commander, ground training officer, defensive operations and staff officer, and battle director; with Space and Missile Systems Organization / XR he has been a project officer, chief, studies and analysis, and chief of planning division.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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