Attack Operations: First Layer of an Integrated Missile Defense

By Krause, Merrick E. | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Attack Operations: First Layer of an Integrated Missile Defense


Krause, Merrick E., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: US forces have a long history of conducting attach operations. The proliferation of theater and long-range ballistic missiles suggests that the concept should be adapted to support missile-defense operations. To do so, we must include missile-defense capabilities in air and space expeditionary force packages, mature technology and doctrine to accommodate such capabilities, and connect Air Force capabilities to joint doctrine and employment concepts. Colonel Krause argues that, although current structures contain pieces of the puzzle, we must fully integrate those pieces within an overall theater missile-defense architecture that includes offensive capabilities.

The gravest danger to freedom lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology-when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail the U.S., or to harm the U.S., or to harm our friends-and we will oppose them with all our power.

-President George W. Bush West Point, New York 1 June 2002

TO MANY AIRMEN, "Attack!" is the nature of the business. Air Force operations and perhaps even Air Force culture are historically geared toward the offensive application of air and space power to execute combat operations in war. However, the joint community-particularly those members engaged in high-priority missile-defense programs-perceives "attack operations" differently. This article introduces the concept of attack operations in the context of missile defense and similar time-sensitive targets, asserting that such operations provide the critical first layer of an integrated missile defense. It also presents key themes, issues, and proposals to increase the capabilities of integrated missile defense.

Attack Operations: A Critical Capability

In a joint environment, attack operations are essentially offensive actions that seek to destroy or disrupt enemy missile systems and support structures, preferably before missiles are fired.1 Aircraft, special operations forces (SOF), information operations, or uninhabited aerial vehicles can perform attack operations today. Although they represent both a joint capability and a multiservice "organize, train, and equip" issue, attack operations are one mission with which the Air Force has considerable practical experience, particularly in the realm of time-sensitive targeting and threats intended to limit US access to a region.

The United States has a long history of conducting attack operations. In World War II, Operation Crossbow attempted to destroy German V-1 and V-2 missile sites, which were terrorizing the British through disruptive and deadly attacks on cities. Between August 1943 and March 1945, the US Army Air Forces and Royal Air Force flew 68,913 sorties and expended 122,133 tons of ordnance in the campaign to destroy German missiles.2 Indeed, Crossbow was a large-scale counterair and strategic-attack operation that expended substantial effort to delay V-weapon attacks and then limit their effectiveness once Germany began to employ the missiles.3

Although the Cold War produced intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and a variety of specialized missile-defense systems, theater ballistic missiles (TBM) captured the imagination of third world nations as a relatively cheap supplement to bolster both their status and their anemic air forces. Deterrence by a robust American nuclear capability was the counter to the Soviet ICBM threat.4 Because of the Cold War legacy, however, US missile-defense systems were divided between theater and intercontinental systems, with testing and deployment of the latter severely restricted by provisions in the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the Soviet Union. …

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