Guided standoff weapons a threat to expeditionary air power
Vish, Jeffrey A.
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The Air Base has long been a potential target of attack for enemy planners. An effective way to attack the United States Air Force (USAF) is to avoid its usual dominance in the air and use an asymmetrical approach, attacking air bases with ground forces inserted into the Joint Rear Area. The history of airbase ground attacks from 1942 to 1994, documented in the book Snakes in the Eagles' Nest, shows that the dominant strategy employed by air base attackers has been the standoff attack. Roughly, 75 percent of all airbase attacks have been through the use of rockets or mortar fire from outside the airbase's perimeter defenses. In Vietnam, where the defenses against penetrating ground attacks were emphasized, this percentage rose to 96 percent. Historically, robust main operating bases, with passive defensive measures such as hardened facilities and redundant systems, have been able to withstand standoff attacks. The relative inaccuracy of the attacker's standoff systems and their limited ability to sustain fire on the air base minimized damage. Times have changed and the USAF finds itself operating in an expeditionary mode across the globe. Expeditionary Air Forces cannot depend on the luxury of operating off airfields with the robust infrastructure of main operating bases. In addition, the emergence of man portable, guided munitions for mortars and guided anti-tank missiles has increased the accuracy of potential standoff weapons. Finally, the sophistication of Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and of modern radio-controlled model aircraft suggests the potential for attackers to build their own guided standoff weapons. The potential for a "one shot, one kill" standoff weapon is here today, negating the effectiveness of passive hardening measures. Disrupting these attacks will take new strategies. Understanding current Joint and USAF doctrine is the first step. Areas for further study include disrupting the enemy forces before they launch a standoff attack, intercepting the standoff round in flight and mitigating the damage on impact are discussed.
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