Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Shifting the Air Force's Support Ideology to Exploit Combined Arms in the Close Fight

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Shifting the Air Force's Support Ideology to Exploit Combined Arms in the Close Fight

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:

Today's war on terror requires the Air Force to employ all of its varied weapons effects for engaging in this fight. To do so, the author suggests that the service must make the support of US ground forces its tactical thrust by ensuring availability of the effects of combined arms. He proposes that the Air Force can realize that goal by fielding mission-specialized equipment, using the appropriate aerial platform, properly organizing core units, and integrating training.

THE NORMANDY INVASION lost momentum in June 1944 as Allied troops encountered hedgerow country. Here, German soldiers made each hedgerow a fortified line, every encircled pasture a killing field. With machine-gun pits in each corner, entrenched riflemen armed with Panzerfaust antitank weapons and presighted artillery waited for Allied troops to make the mistake of a haphazard advance.

Those troops had arrived with no training on how to assault these barriers successfully but quickly learned that a combined-arms approach was the answer. Attack teams capitalized on the inherent strengths of coordinated and varied weapons effects. First, engineers blew a hole in the hedgerow, allowing a Sherman tank to poke dirough and put a white-phosphorus round into the corners of the opposite hedgerow, engulfing German machine-gun pits in the burning chemical. While a slowly advancing tank covered the top of the hedgerow with .50-caliber machine-gun fire, the mortar team worked the area behind the berm to neutralize the entrenched enemy. Infantry advanced behind the tank and, after reaching the far side, used grenades and rifle fire to destroy the remaining Germans.1 Even an entrenched, skilled, and dedicated enemy had no means to resist a determined advance that used the multiple weapons effects intrinsic to combined arms.

Later, forward artillery observers (and, eventually, tank crews) were linked via radio with P-47 fighter-bombers and Piper Cub aircraft, providing additional options to frontline troops in need of support. Not only were the heavy machine guns and rockets of the P-47s at their disposal, but also the Piper Cubs could spot for long-range artillery or, when needed, relay requests to higher headquarters.2 These tactics, born of necessity and engendered on the batdefield, fueled the Normandy breakout. For the first time, US ground and air forces communicated direcdy to achieve real-time batdefield effects through close air support (CAS).

On many levels, today's global war on terror (GWOT) differs from the US experience in World War II. There are, however, parallels that lead to lessons of value for today's conflict. In this article, I posit that the US Air Force should accept as its main tactical mission the provision of varied weapons effects associated with classic combined arms on all US battlefields. Additionally, I point out current barriers to assembling combined arms, gaps in current CAS capabilities, and a possible solution.

Roots of Success with Combined Arms

What is the root cause of the synergistic effects of combined arms? Clearly, an enemy can devise a defense or counter any one threat relatively quickly. If rifle fire is the predominant danger, he can dig a trench; if the other side releases gas, he can wear a mask; if attacked by massed and unescorted bombers, he can employ fighters-and so forth. For the defense, multiple methods of attack and varied weapons effects cause defensive integrity to fail.

Not entirely obvious is the fact that varied weapons effects are more important than multiple methods of attack. A single, survivable platform that can continue to deliver a variety of weapons, despite environmental conditions, will generate the synergistic effects of combined arms. The individual effects of classic combined arms (armor, artillery, mortar fire, etc.) do not derive from their being generated individually from different platforms; rather, they result from each munition's having its own strength. …

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