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Random Thoughts on the Mighty Hog - Part 2

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  • Random Thoughts on the Mighty Hog - Part 2

    Part One here

  • #2
    Document created: 1 June 03
    Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2003

    Neglected Air Force Combat Missions
    Maj Collin Ireton, USAF*

    *Major Ireton is the A-10 chief pilot and A-10/F-16 developmental test pilot with the 40th Flight Test Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

    In Operation Desert Storm, the US Air Force showed the world how to kick down the front door of a Soviet-designed and -equipped advanced integrated air defense system (IADS). Stealth technology and tactics neutralized command and control (C2) centers, early warning radars, and ground control intercept (GCI) sites, blinding the Iraqis and forcing uncoordinated operations. Effective use of air superiority fighters led to a complete rout of Iraq’s fixed-wing air force. The IADS broke down, leaving only an air defense effort with neither systematic approach nor integration and allowing the effective use of suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) operations by F-4G and F-16C aircraft against the remaining pockets of activity.(1) With the destruction of C2 nodes and the Iraqi air force, as well as the moderately successful suppression of ground-to-air defenses, a high-threat arena became a medium-threat arena. These actions opened the way for the destruction of large numbers of strategic and tactical targets through interdiction and close air support (CAS), as well as other required missions such as combat search and rescue (CSAR).

    Perhaps such success as this partially justifies the tremendous fiscal outlays for a “kick down the door” force. The acquisition of specialized aircraft such as the B-1, F-117, B-2, and F-15E, although costly, ensures our ability to penetrate and destroy both C2 centers and a host of other strategic targets. The new joint family of inertially aided munitions (IAM) gives these aircraft the tools to do the mission, day or night, in almost any type of weather. Surely this ability to destroy fixed targets represents one of the Air Force’s greatest strengths.

    Another strength, although it is slowly eroding, lies in our counterair capability. Development of the AIM-9X and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System; incorporation of the advanced identification, friend or foe (IFF) in the F-16; and continued superb performance of the AIM-120 will slow the erosion of our lead. The F-22 will reverse the trend and clearly define air dominance over hostile aircraft as another Air Force strength (at about $92 million a copy, it should).(2)

    The ability to destroy or suppress the plethora of ground-to-air threats constitutes another strength. Since the Vietnam War, the concept behind the F-100 Wild Weasel has evolved considerably. Today’s F-16C, equipped with the high-speed antiradiation missile (HARM) Targeting System and a family of joint weapons, increases our ability to destroy and suppress ground-to-air threats. Acquisition of the unmanned combat aerial vehicle ensures the Air Force’s ability to kick down the door of any advanced IADS.

    We are spending sizeable amounts of money and devoting much effort to forcibly enter an enemy’s territory and then gain and maintain air dominance. But what resources are being outlaid to do what we came to do: step through the door and systematically destroy the enemy’s centers of gravity? The Air Force tends to take the assets that enabled entry and use them to deliver body blows. The B-2 is great at what it was designed for; but it cannot hit moving targets, roll into a CAS line, or go down below the clouds and find, identify, and kill Scud missiles. Neither F-117s nor AC-130s fly around during the day looking for artillery tubes that are pounding friendly ground troops. If an F-15E attempts to provide CAS, more than likely it will be doing as ineffective a job as it did at Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan.(3) An F-16 might do these things, but almost as soon as it begins killing, it has to leave for more weapons and fuel—and the same will hold true for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

    The money the Air Force is spending on support roles such as counterair and SEAD is out of proportion to the money it invests in the ability to find, identify, and destroy large numbers of tactical (mobile and fixed) and strategic targets at a tempo the enemy cannot withstand. Our service must continue to support its commitment to US ground forces by providing ample and decisive CAS; it must also support CSAR operations with a suitable platform. The lack of fiscal planning to these ends threatens the Air Force’s future ability to dominate the battlefield. Air superiority and SEAD do not, by themselves, bend an enemy to our will. They are only support roles; the ability to put bombs on target impels the enemy to see things our way.

    Close Air Support

    Because CAS directly supports our ground troops in contact with the enemy, it is extremely important. Conducting CAS without inflicting casualties with friendly fire requires a high degree of teamwork between the ground forward air controllers (FAC) and the CAS aircrews—a skill that takes aircrews years to perfect and that requires constant honing. A typical fighter swinging to a CAS role may do a passable job when the enemy is several miles from friendlies. But a troops-in-contact situation requires professional CAS providers. One need only consider the recent situation in Afghanistan in which the force attempting to rescue Navy SEAL Neil Roberts found itself in need of CAS. After an hour’s wait (apparently no CAS assets were in orbit or on ground alert, standing by for just such an occasion), F-15E Strike Eagles arrived. Not designed for CAS and flown by aircrews not trained for troops-in-contact CAS, the F-15Es made only ineffective strafing runs.(4) Our troops deserve better.

    As long as the United States possesses the initiative, can choose the time and place of the conflict, and decide whether or not it will commit ground troops, CAS may seem a secondary concern. But when we cannot predict the time and place of combat or do not have the luxury of months of setup before committing troops, CAS becomes critical. More than likely, the next conflict will not be like the last, so we must be prepared to fight without the initiative.

    In the Korean conflict, we quickly learned that slow, propeller-driven aircraft performed CAS better than the fast, jet-driven aircraft. For this reason, ground forces valued Marine F4Us above F-80s and F-84s. The success of the Douglas series of A-1/AD Skyraiders in Vietnam made it obvious that a heavily armed, survivable, long-range, high-loiter-time, slow aircraft was ideally suited for CAS. Today’s F-16s and tomorrow’s F-35s are akin to the F-80s and F-84s of yesteryear.

    Combat Search and Rescue

    The Air Force has a long history of keeping the faith with downed aviators. Aircrews take comfort in knowing that the Air Force will do what it takes to rescue them. It’s also comforting for the civilian leadership as it denies aircrew exploitation—and for the public, who takes no joy in seeing its finest dragged through the streets of an enemy capital.

    Traditionally, a good CAS asset has proven a good asset for CSAR, which involves escorting helicopters moderate distances at slow speed, finding the aircrew, and loitering while the choppers attempt the rescue. It may require large amounts of well-placed, timely ordnance. Again the slow, long-range, high-loiter-time, large-payload Skyraiders of the Vietnam era were the weapons of choice to fly “Sandy” missions.

    CSAR keeps aviator morale high. The rescue of Capt Scott O’Grady from Bosnia in 1995 lifted the spirits of his comrades as well as those of the nation. It also kept him from being exploited by the enemy, which could have had serious political implications. The abuse of a US serviceman’s remains by hostile Somalis certainly played a role in demoralizing the American public and pushing political objectives aside. Like CAS, CSAR is a critical Air Force mission that requires teamwork and skill; coordination, complexity, and flexibility on par with those for CAS; and a dedicated cadre of aircraft and crews.

    Heavy Interdiction and the Arsenal Aircraft

    An arsenal aircraft would prove useful in any low- to medium-threat theater with numerous mobile and fixed tactical or strategic targets. Such an aircraft would act as a force multiplier by freeing up more dedicated and expensive platforms for specialized missions and would use a large, varied payload and increased staying power to pound numerous targets. It would also act as a “dollar multiplier” by performing the jobs of several more expensive aircraft, carrying perhaps three or four times the payload of a traditional fighter.

    Bridging the gap between fighter and bomber, an arsenal aircraft, like a bomber, would exceed the traditional fighter’s firepower, range, and loiter time, thus reducing dependence on tankers. It would employ ordnance in the manner of a fighter through level or diving bomb, cannon, and missile attacks. The aircraft’s robustness would allow it to operate from forward operating bases and roam extensive areas to locate, identify (sort decoys from real targets), and destroy fixed and mobile tactical targets as well as strategic targets, using the correct weapon for each one. It could acquire targets visually with a targeting pod or through handoff from a Rivet Joint aircraft. An arsenal aircraft also would have the maneuverability and survivability to operate either day or night in a medium-threat environment.

    Such an aircraft could take off, release a partial payload on fixed targets, and then enter a kill box to look for movers or report to a FAC for a CAS mission. Ideally, it would have great range and loiter time to perform a variety of somewhat unspecialized ordnance-delivery missions; it would not perform SEAD or employ extreme standoff precision weapons. It would carry many weapons, allowing it to attack 12 to 15 targets, yet be maneuverable enough to survive all but the high-threat arenas. In this way, an arsenal aircraft could fulfill the mission of several traditional fighters that have sacrificed payload and loiter time for stealth and supersonic capability.

    The A-10A

    The only US fixed-wing aircraft stationed in Afghanistan and ready to provide responsive CAS is the Fairchild A-10A Warthog. Its minimal runway requirements and robust systems made it the ideal choice for deployment to Bagram Air Base (AB), a forward operating location. In Afghanistan’s extensive and scattered battlefield, the “Hogs” have shown their worth against an enemy without traditional centers of gravity. For example, on 20 September 2002 the enemy attacked Bagram AB with rocket fire. The US response included mortar and small-arms fire, together with two A-10s on CAS alert. The Hog pilots located the rocket position, destroying it quickly and decisively.(5)

    The Hog’s extensive arsenal of weapons allows it to fix and destroy large numbers of targets. During Desert Storm’s ground offensive, a two-ship formation of A-10s performing CAS destroyed 23 tanks and damaged another 10 over three sorties in a single day, often while under nearly continuous antiaircraft artillery (AAA) fire.(6) Because of the A-10’s extensive loiter time and weapons capacity, the air leadership tasked the aircraft with the problematic mission of roaming the desert to find, identify, and destroy Iraqi Scud launchers. Hogs destroyed several Scuds and launchers, but in the absence of secondary explosions (often the case when launchers did not have missiles), their pilots found it difficult to determine whether they had hit a decoy or the real weapon.(7) Visual searches and battle damage assessments often proved inadequate.

    If properly upgraded, the A-10 has the potential to provide hard-hitting CAS and effective CSAR. It is also poised to provide the Air Force an extensive ability to survey the battlefield and then identify and destroy both mobile and fixed targets in quantity as an arsenal aircraft. Although the Hog has been scraping by on the skill of its pilots in these roles, it is now staring obsolescence and ineffectiveness in the face.

    The strengths of the A-10, specifically designed as a CAS platform, include loiter time, payload, ability to destroy large numbers of targets per weapons load, speed range compatible with that of escorted helicopters, and ability to search for and find targets at low altitudes. Since the aircraft costs only about $9.8 million, leaders envisioned it as a cheap way to counter the immense deficit in tanks we faced in the German theater.(8) As an inexpensive, low-tech aircraft in a high-tech Air Force, the A-10 found itself at the end of the line for improvement programs and first in line for phaseout. Since its inception, the Hog has received only one major improvement—low-altitude safety and targeting enhancement (LASTE). Sold to the Air Force in the early 1990s as a safety improvement, LASTE gives the A-10 a continuously computed impact-point capability, thus dragging its weapon-delivery system from the World War II era to the Vietnam era.

    The A-10’s greatest traditionally perceived weakness is its lack of speed. Fighter pilots equate speed with life: the faster they can go, the more survivable they are. Many commentators suspected that the plodding A-10 would be driven from the skies over Iraq during the medium threat representative of Desert Storm. Three A-10s were shot down in enemy territory during the war, and another was damaged beyond repair. Evidently, infrared (IR) surface-to-air missiles (SAM) downed them, often during diving-attack recoveries. The loss rate of 0.5 aircraft per 1,000 sorties (9) (not including OA-10 data) is far better than the coalition average of 0.9 losses per 1,000 sorties.(10) Damage to 13 other A-10s yielded a damage rate of 1.6 per 1,000 sorties.(11) Compared to the loss rates of 2.6 to 3.0 aircraft per 1,000 sorties during intense air operations such as 1972’s Linebacker III and 1967’s Route Package 6 in Vietnam, these are excellent numbers and more than likely represent the wisdom of conducting a medium-altitude war.(12) Still, a large discrepancy remains between the A-10’s loss and damage rate and that of its nemesis, the F-16C, which—in keeping with the mission creep that has characterized its existence—has assumed many of the A-10’s roles, such as CAS, FAC(A), and even CSAR.

    The loss and damage rates for F-16s during Desert Storm were 0.2 and 0.3, respectively—far lower than those of the A-10.(13) However, a more telling statistic would be loss and damage rate per 1,000 weapons passes. Although we have no figures detailing how many passes each aircraft made, we can estimate the number. Of the nine weapon stations on the F-16, four are for air-to-air missiles only; two are occupied by external wing tanks; and another hosts an electronic countermeasures pod for combat missions. The remaining two stations are for air-to-ground weapons. Typically, the aircraft carried two Mk-84s or six Mk-82s on triple ejector racks, or two to four cluster bombs of various types during Desert Storm. These munitions were usually expended in one pass. Undoubtedly, the F-16s performed multiple passes a number of times, but the vast majority delivered their munitions in a single delivery. An average of 1.5 weapons passes per sortie is probably generous for the F-16.

    By way of comparison, the A-10 has 11 weapon stations and a cannon designed for air-to-ground attack. One station typically carries air-to-air missiles, another an electronic countermeasures pod, and another station is not usable when the adjacent stations are occupied. Thus, eight stations can carry air-to-ground ordnance. Firsthand accounts indicate that a typical combat load consisted of two AGM-65s (A, B, D, and G models); six Mk-82s; and 1,150 rounds of 30 mm cannon ammunition consisting of a combat mix of five armor-piercing incendiary (API) rounds to one high-explosive incendiary (HEI) round. One pilot describes how he shot two AGM-65 Maverick missiles in two passes at GCI and troposcatter radar sites, dropped six Mk-82s on support buildings during another pass, and then began multiple strafing passes firing 900 rounds for a total of eight weapon-delivery passes (allowing five passes to fire the 900 rounds).(14) An estimate of four weapons passes per sortie is probably on the conservative side for the A-10. These averages generate loss and damage rates of 0.125 and 0.4 per 1,000 weapons passes for the A-10 and 0.133 and 0.2 for the F-16. Therefore, in all probability, the A-10’s loss rate per 1,000 weapons passes was no different than that of the F-16.

    One may account for the fact that the A-10’s damage rate is higher than the F-16’s by pointing out that, because reattacks forfeit the element of surprise, the attacking aircraft is more likely to suffer combat damage. For example, consider an account of the shootdown of a wingman and flight lead after three and five weapons passes, respectively. The flight elected to attack an area that had already launched several IR SAMs at them, and both attacking aircraft were shot down by IR SAMs in the ensuing melee.(15)

    Another account tells of an A-10 shot down while recovering from what was apparently its fifth weapons pass.(16) Most such instances of damage to A-10s show them being hit on their third or fourth pass. All shootdowns and damage occurred after the Hogs dropped ordnance and often during the recovery to medium altitude. Evidently, all were hit by IR SAMs, suspected man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and SA-13s.(17) In summary, the A-10 is just as survivable as the faster aircraft that one finds in medium- and low-threat environments, but it is susceptible to hits by IR missiles.


    Today the A-10 is on the verge of receiving its second major improvement—Suite 2, a hardware and software upgrade that will incorporate a passive method of determining target altitude (previously, the pilot had to input estimated target altitude), a searchable database of steer points, and modern aiming symbologies. When Suite 2 is implemented, the A-10 will attain the capabilities of other Air Force aircraft of the late 1980s.

    Furthermore, a small alteration in the GAU-8 cannon’s symbology promises great changes in its employment. Typically, the cannon’s combat mix has consisted of five API rounds to one HEI round. Because each round has slightly different ballistics, HEI shot from high slant ranges, such as four or five nautical miles (NM), would hit short of the API-tuned sight. Suite 2 provides a ballistic solution for HEI as well as API so that pilots have two sights when combat mix is loaded, and they can choose to put either the API or the HEI on target when shooting from high slant ranges. The HEI will explode and throw significant amounts of shrapnel even when fired from a 5 NM slant range, thus giving A-10 pilots 1,150 grenades that they can deliver with precision—extremely effective on small bodies of enemy troops.

    A third planned update, Suite 3, will incorporate two multifunction displays, improved hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, data-link capability, the ability to use IAMs, and an IR/charge-coupled device (CCD) laser designator (targeting pod). Although the A-10 has always had the ability to employ precision-guided munitions such as the AGM-65 Maverick and its 30 mm cannon, these improvements will allow it to engage a greater variety of targets with precision and near-precision weapons. The AGM-65 and GAU-8 are quite capable of destroying most tactical targets but are limited in their ability to engage many strategic targets. Having the flexibility to choose between AGM-65s, the cannon, IAMs, or Paveway-series laser-guided weapons will allow the A-10 to destroy any tactical and most strategic targets.

    The IR/CCD laser-designator capability is especially important. The pilot can slave this device to a point of interest on the ground—usually by referencing target coordinates—and magnify it, as if by a telephoto lens. Because this can occur in either the IR or visual spectrum, allowing day, night, or diurnal crossover usage, the pilot can identify many targets at standoff ranges or altitudes. Something that looks like a truck to the naked eye from 15,000 feet will clearly be seen as a mobile launcher for a missile such as a Scud. The IR targeting pod would also allow identification of an inflatable decoy since it does not have the same black-body radiation characteristics as a metal target. Incorporating this targeting pod on the A-10 is key to successful target identification from survivable ranges and altitudes.

    Laser-guided Paveway weapons are uniquely suited for CAS. The GBU-12, a 500-pound weapon with excellent accuracy, reliability, and maneuverability, can be dropped like a conventional Mk-82 and hit fairly close to the ballistic Mk-82 solution. This capability is important in the event the kit fails to seek the laser or the laser fails with the bomb in flight. In this case, the weapon does not glide or go “haywire” and will hit close to, if not on, the intended target. Typically, after the bomb is dropped and falls toward the target for 10 or 20 seconds, the laser fires for the last 10 seconds of flight, guiding the bomb directly into the target. It is capable of destroying tanks, armored personnel carriers (APC), light bridges, small buildings, and troops—both sheltered and in the open since the fuse can be set for slight delays. Another feature of this relatively light weapon is its maneuverability. It can easily be “moved” about 500 feet from its ballistic solution with the laser.(18) The A-10 can drop the bomb on poor target coordinates or on a mobile target. The lasing aircraft (not necessarily the dropping aircraft) turns its laser on and either moves the bomb from the poor ballistic solution to the target or follows the moving target. The bomb adjusts its ballistic profile and flies into the target—something an IAM cannot do.

    The data-link capability will enhance the Hog driver’s situational awareness. Ground and air threats, targets, and positions of friendly troops will display on one of two large, multifunctional color displays. A significant advantage of the data link is its compatibility with US Army systems and the fact that it can provide a tactical air control party (TACP) with the relative location of the A-10’s aiming point. If the A-10 is at 20,000 feet and out of sight of the troops providing positive control, the jet can data-link the position of its pipper (point of intended weapon impact) to the FAC or TACP with respect to the location of the friendly troops. This allows the TACPs to exercise positive control by always knowing the Hog’s axis of attack and where it is aiming.

    The Problem

    The problem, simply stated, is that the Hog is a pig. Each TF-34 motor has only 8,900 pounds of thrust. Even at production, people thought the engines were inadequate, and now that they have aged and been detuned, they are unsatisfactory, keeping the A-10 in the threat envelope for unreasonable amounts of time. Weapon-delivery passes take the A-10 from the relatively safe 15–20,000-feet arena down into the AAA and MANPADS arena. After delivering ordnance, the jet turns skyward and begins clawing for altitude. It is quite alarming to see how long it takes the A-10 to climb out of the threat envelope. On recovery from a 2 NM slant-range gunshot, pulling through the horizon at 7,000 feet at 400 knots with the throttles in maximum power, the aircraft can take four minutes and 45 seconds to reach 20,000 feet—out of most IR SAM threat envelopes.(19) One should note that all A-10s lost in Desert Storm were assessed to have been taken by IR SAMs. Such poor performance will certainly decrease the A-10’s survivability in the next conflict. The poor motors also compel Hogs in hot-weather locations to take off with partial fuel loads, thus reducing range, loiter time, and war-fighting effectiveness if the aircraft does not go to a tanker to top off. Also, it is difficult to scramble and provide timely CAS if the jet has to tank first.

    The Competition

    The Air Force has begun acquiring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a replacement for the F-16C and intends to replace the A-10 with it as well.(20) The answer for long-term CAS, CSAR, and arsenal aircraft does not lie with the F-35. Neither its speed range nor weapons load is compatible with CAS and CSAR missions. The F-35 will allow carriage of two air-to-ground weapons routinely, and its single-barrel 25 mm cannon will hardly prove capable in the air-to-ground role. If push comes to shove, seven air-to-ground weapon stations (with no stealth capability) could be made available, which still does not match the A-10’s 10 stations and GAU-8 Avenger. Although it is certainly a suitable replacement for the F-16C, at almost three times the cost of the A-10 and with less weapons capability, the F-35 is no bargain.(21) Upgrading the A-10, however, is a bargain.

    What We Need

    The Air Force must outlay funding for CAS and CSAR commensurate with its spending on air dominance and SEAD. Any aircraft that meets the requirements of an excellent CAS or CSAR platform can fulfill the heavy-interdiction mission of the arsenal aircraft. The A-10 appears suitable for these tasks today. However, at the rate high-technology weapons are proliferating and at the rate the venerable Hog is deteriorating, attrition will become unacceptable in the near future, leaving no aircraft in the Air Force inventory designed for CAS—one of our most important missions. This failure, which represents a break in faith with our ground forces, must be remedied. To make the A-10 minimally acceptable for combat operations in the near to mid future, the Air Force must take action.

    Continue to Fund Suite 3

    This improvement includes a pod that will enable target identification and effective weapon employment at standoff altitudes and ranges. Furthermore, it will allow the A-10 to communicate effectively in the positive-control CAS environment and will permit the use of IAMs for flexibility in striking both tactical and strategic targets.

    Upgrade the A-10’s Engines

    Without such an upgrade, the excessive time to climb to safe altitudes will continue to plague the A-10. The increase in payload resulting from the variety of weapons allowed by Suite 3, coupled with current engine deterioration and the increasing use of the aircraft in hot-weather environments, makes the current power plant unsatisfactory. More powerful engines will allow more efficient and quicker deployments, higher standoff altitudes, greater payloads, acceptable hot-weather operations, and—most importantly—increased survivability. To cite one example, General Electric’s proposed TF34-GE-100B engine for the A-10 would provide 15 percent more sea-level thrust and about 30 percent more thrust at altitude with improved thrust-specific fuel consumption. Cost for the fleet of about 370 A-10s with flight-testing would come to about $1 billion—the equivalent of 12 F-22s or 33 F-35s.

    Add a Missile Warning System

    Short-range IR missiles such as MANPADS, SA-9s, and -13s have extremely short fly-out times, are difficult to pick up visually, trigger no radar-warning receivers, and are lethal. As mentioned previously, A-10s have a history of trouble with IR SAMs. A missile warning system can detect the plume of an inbound missile and trigger the aircraft to begin dispensing flares while telling the pilot to maneuver. Such a system would greatly enhance A-10 survivability. The Hog’s susceptibility to tail shots by IR missiles and its small IR signature from the front calls for a system that would cover only the six-o’clock area of the aircraft—perhaps a 60–90 degree cone around the longitudinal axis. Such a limited system would be relatively cheap and greatly increase the A-10’s chances in the next war.

    Add a Towed Decoy

    A towed decoy trails the aircraft and is designed to attract radar-guided weapons, thus affording some measure of protection. Such systems are widely fielded—but not on the A-10. The Hog’s dual-rail adapter, which carries two AIM-9 air-to-air missiles, could accommodate such a system, allowing use of the AIM-9s at the same time that the towed decoys are either stored in a housing in the adapter or deployed and working. This configuration would have the double advantage of retaining the weapon station and increasing survivability.

    Develop a New API Round and HEI Heavy Combat Mix

    The extremely useful GAU-8 30 mm cannon is flexible enough to defeat a main battle tank and strafe enemy troops. The Hog driver can make more than 10 lethal passes to expend the weapon’s 1,150 rounds. Currently, A-10s carry either combat mixes (one HEI round to five API rounds) or loads of all-HEI rounds. But political and environmental issues associated with depleted-uranium API may not allow employment of this round in all arenas, perhaps limiting A-10s to all-HEI loads. We need to acquire new API rounds. Less penetration is an acceptable consequence of being allowed to use the weapon in all theaters. On the one hand, in a theater where main battle tanks are expected in large numbers, A-10s could use depleted-uranium API rounds. On the other hand, targets such as trucks, troops, APCs, and the occasional tank call for a more useful general-purpose load of two HEI rounds to one environmentally friendly API round, giving Hog drivers great flexibility. If the target is soft, they can shoot from 5 NM slant range and 18,000 feet above the ground into as close as they like, use the HEI pipper, and expect excellent results. If the target is a truck, they can do the same and expect good incendiary effects and penetration. An APC or a tank, however, would require a Maverick, laser-guided bomb, or a closer-range shot. In situations encountered in Afghanistan, where targets often consisted of small groups of men, this surgical tool would shine. The HEI heavy load would be especially effective against troops, laying down a grouping of hand-grenade-like munitions. With a five-mil radian dispersion, a 2 NM shot would produce a 30-foot-radius impact area (assuming a vertical projection). Skilled pipper placement and the localized effects of the HEI would allow the strafing of targets to within perhaps 150 feet of a parallel line of “hunkered down” friendly troops. The gun would provide an excellent range of destructive ability against a variety of targets with an improved HEI heavy load.

    Acquire a Helmet-Mounted Display for Air-to-Ground Operations

    A helmet-mounted display (HMD), which projects information onto the pilot’s helmet visor, would allow the pilot to look at a visually acquired target, overlay a designation point displayed on the HMD, command the system to derive approximate coordinates and elevation via HOTAS, and slave the IR/CCD laser designator to the target—all in a matter of seconds. Immediate attack with precision weapons could follow, or, if the Hog is acting as a FAC, the pilot could catalog the point for a later CAS strike. Moderate testing of the Viper IV helmet and associated helmet-tracking system confirms their usability in such a role.(22) An HMD would allow for quick and efficient collection of target data and subsequent target destruction.


    With these improvements, the A-10 would become a viable CAS, CSAR, and heavy-interdiction arsenal aircraft until the end of its predicted service life in 2028 or until it is replaced by what the Air Force really needs—the next-generation attack aircraft. In the meantime, improvements to the Hog would dramatically increase the Air Force’s firepower at relatively low cost and with little financial risk. The arsenal aircraft would become both a force multiplier and a dollar multiplier, producing significantly more “bang for the buck” than the F-35 in this role. For these reasons, the Air Force should expend resources for CAS, CSAR, and heavy-interdiction arsenal aircraft commensurate with those for its other programs.

    Eglin AFB, Florida


    1. Norman Friedman, Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 148–53.

    2. Federation of American Scientists, “F-22 Raptor,” 25 April 2000, on-line, Internet, 26 December 2002, available from

    3. David L. Grange et al., “The Close-Air-Support Imperative,” Armed Forces Journal, December 2002, 14.

    4. Ibid.

    5. CNN. com, “U.S. Base Attacked in Afghanistan,” 20 September 2002, on-line, Internet, 20 September 2002, available from ""

    6. William L. Smallwood, Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1993), 195–96.

    7. Ibid., 94.

    8. “A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II,” USAF Fact Sheet, June 2000, on-line, Internet, 15 December 2002, available from ""

    9. Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. 5, A Statistical Compendium and Chronology (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993), 641.

    10. Friedman, 166–67.

    11. Keaney and Cohen, 651.

    12. Friedman, 166–67.

    13. Keaney and Cohen, 641, 651.

    14. Smallwood, 84.

    15. Ibid., 177–78.

    16. Ibid., 140.

    17. Ibid., 84–190.

    18. Personal observation by the author.

    19. Ibid.

    20. Jeff Rhodes, “JSF System Development and Demonstration,” Code One, second quarter 2002, 5, on-line, Internet, 26 February 2003, available from " articles/arp_02/jsf/index.html".

    21. The Web site of the Federation of American Scientists quotes the price for the Air Force variant of the F-35 at $28 million. See “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF),” 20 December 2001, on-line, Internet, 10 December 2002, available from "".

    22. Kevin Gibbons et al., “Flight Test Evaluation of the Non-Distributed Flight Reference Off-Boresight Helmet-Mounted Display Symbology,” X Cockpit, April-June 2002, 16-18.



    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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    Last edited by Shipwreck; 03 Jan 07,, 14:19.


    • #3
      The Journal of Conflict Studies
      Vol. XIX No. 2, Fall 1999

      The Limits of Soviet Airpower: The Failure of Military Coercion in Afghanistan, 1979-89
      by Edward B. Westermann

      "I hold it a principle in Asia that the duration of peace is in direct proportion to the slaughter you inflict upon the enemy."
      General M.O. Skobelev
      Conqueror of Turkestan, 1881


      It is ironic that the words of a nineteenth-century Russian general should form an appropriate epitaph for Soviet military operations in Afghanistan from December 1979 until February 1989. The nine-year occupation of Afghanistan included the employment of the full spectrum of Soviet conventional weapons and a diverse range of their chemical weapons inventory in an attempt to defeat the mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters). In pursuit of this objective, Soviet military strategy underwent a process of increasing radicalization that eventually resulted in a sanctioned policy of punitive coercion by Soviet air and land forces. Airpower played a critical role in the Soviet occupation by providing the platforms for bombardment, chemical attack, aerial mining, troop insertion, fire support and resupply. The failure of the Russian-trained and supplied Afghan Army to eliminate the growing Muslim insurgency led Soviet operational planners to embrace airpower as a punitive instrument with which to bludgeon the insurgents as well as the Afghan populace. In fact, during the course of the conflict, airpower constituted the single most important means for separating the mujahideen from the population while attempting to coerce the insurgents into abandoning their fight.

      The Soviet experience in Afghanistan provides an instructive case study for examining the impact and effect of airpower in an insurgency environment. The ability of a relatively ill-equipped and technologically inferior opponent to force the eventual withdrawal of one of the world's most vaunted military powers has broader implications for contemporary political and military leaders. The Israeli historian Martin van Creveld argues that the end of the Cold War and the American victory against Iraq may signal the end of the conventional war paradigm.1 Whether the nature of war will change from largely conventional to irregular warfare is still unclear. The success of American airpower in the Gulf War, however, led some to embrace it as the panacea for contemporary conflict resolution.2 The apparent effective use of airpower in Bosnia, and the 78-day air campaign over Kosovo, may strengthen this perception in the minds of policy makers and military professionals. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan, however, provides a caution to this view, and clearly indicates some of the limits of airpower as a successful coercive instrument in the insurgency environment.

      The Soviet Air Force (VVS) entered the war in Afghanistan as a capable, well-equipped force focused on providing aerial assistance for combined arms operations to Soviet tank and mechanized forces. The three main components of the VVS in 1979 included: Frontal Aviation, largely concerned with the support of theater warfare in Europe; Long Range Aviation, the Soviet strategic bombardment force, equivalent to the former US Strategic Air Command bomber force; and Military Transport Aviation, the Soviet airlift force. In 1977, Long Range Aviation consisted of 794 aircraft, Military Transport Aviation operated 1,500 fixed-wing aircraft and 320 helicopters, and Frontal Aviation included 4,600 fixed-wing aircraft and 3,000 helicopters.3 In Afghanistan, Long Range Aviation played a limited role, while Military Transport Aviation proved at times invaluable. However, Frontal Aviation fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters ultimately constituted the key assets for the conduct of the war against the mujahideen. According to Soviet doctrine, Frontal Aviation constituted a critical force adjunct for the support of ground operations. However, in a relatively short period the VVS, and especially the forces of Frontal Aviation, experienced a fundamental transformation in character from "force adjunct" to "force substitute." As the war in Afghanistan became a prolonged conflict, the VVS became increasingly important as a force substitute employed to minimize Soviet casualties and to compensate for the comparatively small Soviet ground force. In addition, VVS operations in Afghanistan rapidly expanded from a primarily combined arms emphasis to encompass the routine employment of Soviet aviation assets as instruments for punishment and terror. During the nine-year occupation, the Soviets embarked upon a strategy centering on the use of airpower as a, if not the, primary instrument with which to eradicate the growing Muslim insurgency and cow the indigenous population through a lethal campaign of aerial bombardment.

      The Road to Intervention and Escalation

      The initial conduct of military operations in Afghanistan was reminiscent of the earlier Soviet success in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. British historian Mark Galeotti speculates that the Czechoslovakian experience framed the military and political expectations of the Soviet leadership for the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.4 The similarities between the two operations are striking. The Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia included an initial nighttime assault on the Prague airport.5 Meanwhile, a largely mechanized force of 175,000 men from various Warsaw Pact countries crossed the border and began to occupy the major urban centers throughout the country.6 The Russian plan in Afghanistan was essentially the same as that used in Czechoslovakia in 1968, including the seizure of key airfields, government buildings, and command and control centers.7 There was, however, a significant difference in the size of the forces employed, with the Afghan operation initially employing slightly less than 50,000 Soviet troops.8 The belief among the Soviet leadership that its forces could quickly stabilize the government and then withdraw from Afghanistan, as they had done in Czechoslovakia, proved overly optimistic.9

      In the first phase of the occupation, Soviet forces concentrated on securing the lines of communication (LOCs) within Afghanistan. The unimpeded use of the Afghan highway system was absolutely essential for supplying Soviet forces in the country. The Soviets, however, experienced a number of problems due to the weather, the poor road conditions, lack of rail lines, and the limited number and carrying capacity of the available routes. One Soviet account provided the following description of the Kabul-Termez highway, the main highway between the USSR and the Afghan capital: "The road winds there in steep and narrow hairpin turns, with a perpendicular cliff on one side and an abyss on the other. The ice-covered route is terrible, and the thousands of trucks which cross the pass every day polish it to a mirror-like shine."10 The importance of the road routes for resupply efforts forced the Soviets to devote significant manpower and resources to their security and protection.11 In addition, the poor roads and the vulnerability of truck convoys to ambush forced the Soviets to move large quantities of supplies by helicopters to isolated garrisons and remote outposts -- a time consuming and often inefficient use of limited aerial resources.12

      While maintaining their own LOCs, the Soviet forces in Afghanistan also attempted to interdict the flow of supplies and manpower from Pakistan to the mujahideen. However, these efforts proved to be one of the most signal failures of Soviet and Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (hereafter DRA) forces during the war. The initial Soviet attempts at closing the border focused on the employment of massive firepower from aircraft (both fixed-wing and helicopter) and artillery to support advances by mechanized and armored forces. French journalist GŽrard Chaliand visited several Afghan provinces along the Pakistani border in 1980. He stated that "During the first six months of 1980, the Russians were concerned above all to control the Pakistani border region, particularly Kunar and Paktia, and, to a lesser degree, Ghazni provinces."13 In the push toward the Pakistani border, fixed-wing aircraft extensively supported these initial operations by providing massive firepower in the form of pre-attack bombardment and punitive bombing strikes with napalm and gas, while helicopters provided close air support including the strafing of civilians.14 In July 1980 alone, Soviet and DRA forces destroyed no fewer than 60 villages south of Kabul during a two-week operation.15

      Soviet attempts to intimidate the civil population involved a joint air-land effort. The intensive bombardment of villages by aircraft and artillery served as the prelude for the entry of mechanized and armored forces into the area. These forces then proceeded to conduct a "scorched earth" campaign by destroying the local dwellings, food supplies, crops in the field, irrigation systems, livestock and wells. One Swedish official, after visiting several villages destroyed by the Soviets noted, "Russian soldiers shot at anything alive in six villages -- people, hens, donkeys - and then they plundered what remained of value."16 These Soviet operations aimed at driving the villagers out of these areas in an effort to create a cordon sanitaire in which the insurgents would find no support.

      Soviet efforts to create a barrier aimed at cutting-off the insurgents' logistic lifeline also extended to the employment of chemical agents. Already in 1980, there was considerable circumstantial evidence to support mujahideen claims of Soviet chemical weapons employment. US satellite imagery identified Soviet TMS-65 decontamination vehicles and AGV-3 detox chambers in the vicinity of combat areas. The eyewitness account of a Dutch journalist, who filmed Mi-24 Hind helicopters in two attacks dropping canisters that released a yellow cloud that killed at least one person, offered additional evidence of chemical use. In a public report of 22 March 1982, the US State Department accused the Soviets of using phosgene, nerve agents and other incapacitants in Afghanistan.17 The report stated:

      For the period from the summer of 1979 to the summer of 1981, the US Government received claims of 47 separate chemical attacks with a claimed death toll of more than 3,000. . . . The reports indicated that fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters usually were employed to disseminate chemical warfare agents by rockets, bombs, and sprays. Chemical-filled land mines were also reportedly used by the Soviets. The chemical clouds were usually gray or blue-black, yellow, or a combination of the colors.18

      In fairness to the Soviets, several investigators questioned the conclusions of the State Department report with respect to the use of chemical agents in Southeast Asia; however, the use of chemical agents in Afghanistan received independent verification as in the case cited above.

      The Soviet use of chemical agents in Afghanistan should not have been a surprise. The Soviets had invested heavily in chemical munitions.19 In fact, Soviet doctrine called for the use of chemical agents in both offensive and defensive roles. In short, chemical operations were part and parcel of standard Soviet doctrine for conventional operations. Chemical weapons employment in the battle against the mujahideen not only followed from Soviet doctrine, but also provided the military with an opportunity to test these agents in actual combined arms operations on a scale not previously possible. In addition, figure 1 shows the distribution of Soviet chemical attacks in Afghanistan. The map indicates the concentration of these areas along the eastern border with Pakistan as well as near the insurgent hotbed of Herat. The majority of attacks occurred in the spring and summer of 1980 and 1981 at the high seasons of mujahideen manpower and supply infiltration into the country.20 The pattern of chemical weapons employment clearly indicates an effort to interdict these movements.

      Village "pacification" and the creation of chemically contaminated "dead zones" were but two tools in the campaign aimed at the destruction of the insurgents' supply infrastructure. The Soviets also extensively employed air delivered mines in a further attempt to interdict the major caravan routes along the border. The use of mines became routine among Soviet forces in Afghanistan, both as a method for interdicting mujahideen supply routes and for protecting their bases and large urban areas such as Kabul.21 Soviet Major General Oleg Sarin and Colonel Lev Dvoretsky estimate that between 1980 and 1985, Soviet engineers laid 91,000 anti-personnel mines. Helicopters alone dropped over a million mines, and, in 1983 and 1984, aircraft using the Vilyui system laid an additional 1.7 million mines.22 Mines served two purposes. On the one hand, the Soviets used them to maim or disable mujahideen who would then require the help of their comrades to reach an aid station thus decreasing the size of the operational insurgent force in the field at any given time. On the other hand, mines laid along the resupply routes crippled mules and camels thereby decreasing the volume of provisions flowing to the resistance.23

      By the end of 1980, the Soviet and DRA forces only could lay claim to controlling an estimated 25 percent of Afghanistan, despite the extensive employment of almost all the weapons in the Soviet conventional arsenal.24 The emphasis on the use of conventional mechanized and armored forces in conjunction with massive artillery and airpower support allowed Soviet forces to physically occupy terrain, but not to maintain control of it after their withdrawal. The mujahideen refused to fight the Russians in fixed battles, and instead followed Mao's dictum: "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."25 Despite an overwhelming preponderance of firepower and complete air supremacy, the Soviets could not eliminate the threat posed by a small, fractionalized and poorly armed insurgency. The limited number of ground combat forces and the nature of the problems they experienced made airpower all the more essential as an instrument for achieving Soviet military objectives. These objectives focused on the defeat of the mujahideen and the "pacification" of the Afghan population.

      The Soviets' reluctance to change their emphasis on the use of massed conventional mechanized and armored sweeps continued throughout 1981 despite the limited effectiveness of these operations. The unwillingness of Soviet troops to dismount from their vehicles increased their vulnerability to ambush and practically eliminated their ability to conduct pursuit operations. The Soviet aversion to dismounted operations reflected a desire by these forces to avoid close combat in favor of a reliance on air and artillery strikes.26 Anthony Arnold, an American intelligence analyst, argued that Soviet forces were slow to adapt to the nature of unconventional operations in Afghanistan. He noted, "The original armored sweep evolved into a hammer-and-anvil type of operation, intended to crush resistance forces between the advancing armor and a blocking force deployed ahead of it; so slow, cumbersome, and unimaginative were these attacks that the resistance could either avoid contact or exploit the situation operationally."27 In addition to doctrinal inflexibility, the severity of the Afghan winters further complicated major military operations and limited the campaigning season for ground forces.28

      By the end of 1981, it was becoming apparent that the use of large mechanized and armor forces did not constitute a strategy for victory. As a result of the poor results in combating the mujahideen, General Ivan Pavlovski was relieved of his command of the 40th Army in December 1981 and returned to the Soviet Union.29 During this period, airpower began to play an increasing role as a "force substitute" in Soviet efforts to eliminate the mujahideen insurgency while minimizing their own casualties. At the beginning of 1981, the VVS air order of battle included approximately 130 jet fighters, predominantly MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-23 Floggers, and Su-17 Fitters among a total of 300 fighter aircraft and transports.30 In addition, the Soviets maintained a force of about 600 helicopters in Afghanistan. Helicopters, including Mi-6 Hook and Mi-8 Hip transports and, especially, Mi-24 Hind gunships proved invaluable to the Soviet strategy, and became the single most significant weapon in the Russian arsenal. The diverse range of helicopter missions in Afghanistan included close air support, forward air control spotting for fixed-wing aircraft and artillery, troop transport and resupply, medevac, chemical weapons delivery and reconnaissance.31 The importance of attack and transport helicopters in combating the insurgency cannot be overstated. Former Afghan General Mohammed Y. Nawroz and American intelligence analyst Lester W. Grau argued that "Without the helicopter gunship, the Soviets may have withdrawn years earlier. Its firepower and mobility and initial invulnerability put the guerrillas on the defensive. The Soviets used helicopters extensively and ruthlessly against the unprotected guerrillas."32

      In the rugged mountains of Afghanistan and along the border caravan routes, the Mi-24 Hind essentially became a "flying tank," capable of providing massive firepower in support of ground operations or acting as a lethal instrument for aerial interdiction. During the first three years of the occupation, helicopters conducted regular patrols along the caravan routes in the hope of spotting mujahideen supply movements.33 The 1,400-mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the mountainous nature of the terrain made caravan detection from the air an extremely difficult task. In addition, the mujahideen, upon hearing the approach of a helicopter, would fall to the ground and cover themselves with their patou (earth-colored cloaks). This tactic was both low tech and astoundingly effective in making the insurgents invisible from the air. Kurt Lohbeck, a journalist who traveled extensively with the mujahideen, described his own experience as Soviet helicopters twice flew over his group's position at an altitude of only one hundred feet without detecting them. Lohbeck states that "a man standing still or squatting just ten yards away was nearly invisible."34 Indeed, invisibility was a necessary virtue as evidenced by Soviet General Boris Gromov's, commander of the 40th Army, remark that upon locating a caravan if people ran they were shot.35 Mike Martin, a British journalist who traveled with the mujahideen, noted that the insurgents, lacking the weapons with which to combat the heavily armed Mi-24 Hind effectively, "feared them more than anything else."36 The armored Mi-24 was indeed a formidable weapons system with its 12.7-mm machine gun, guided missiles and 128 57-mm rockets. Despite this lethal array of armaments, however, the pilot still had to find his target in the mountains or high plains of Afghanistan in order to be effective.

      Despite the extensive employment of helicopter assets, Soviet operations in 1981 proved disappointing. In July, Soviet forces launched an inconclusive attack into the Sarobi valley employing air strikes and air-landed troops.37 In September, mujahideen attacks forced Soviet and DRA forces to withdraw from positions in the Panjshir valley and north of Kabul. In the provincial capital of Kandahar, Soviet aircraft conducted strikes against a section of the city in a successful attempt to dislodge mujahideen forces.38 The bombing of urban centers provided a short, albeit brutal, respite against mujahideen operations within the major Afghan cities. In one example, the Soviets achieved a limited tactical victory by killing a reported 600 mujahideen in a battle to retake the city of Herat in October.39 During renewed fighting in the cities of Herat and Kandahar in January and February 1982, the Soviets again displayed an apparent willingness to employ both airpower and artillery in urban centers despite the risk of high collateral casualties. US Deputy Secretary of State Walter Stoessel testified that, "Soviet troops surrounded Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, and subjected it to a savage artillery and air bombardment in which hundreds of innocent civilians lost their lives." In addition, he remarked that a rebellion in Herat, Afghanistan's fourth largest city, was crushed "with similar ruthlessness, causing great suffering among its population."40 In the end, Soviet operations in Herat and Kandahar were qualified successes. The use of indiscriminate terror within Afghanistan's urban centers illustrated the intrinsic bankruptcy of Soviet strategy, as the identity and affiliation of those killed became less important than the total "body count." However, striking at major urban centers in the hope of killing some mujahideen with the certainty of killing many noncombatants presents an unambiguous example of punitive coercion in its purest form. The policy of targeting urban centers was also politically counterproductive, as the majority of support for the DRA came from various ethnic groups within the urban minorities.41

      The VVS operations against Afghan urban centers offer a clear lesson as to the limited utility of airpower when faced with large groups of insurgents operating in close proximity to, or among, the civilian population. In densely populated city centers, operational planners face a formidable challenge. Separating the insurgents from the noncombatants requires first-rate intelligence, precision-guided munitions and discrete payloads. In fact, all three of these elements must come together within a limited time horizon. Real time intelligence offers a targeting window while PGMs and discrete payloads can help lessen, but not completely eliminate, collateral damage among the civilian population. Although the Soviet use of an airpower sledgehammer more closely reflected the iron bomb attacks of 1945 versus the microchip technology of 1999, the recent campaign in the Balkans once again demonstrated that the difficulties and dangers inherent in striking urban targets remain very real.

      By 1982, the Afghan civilian population whether in the insurgent controlled countryside or within the Soviet and DRA occupied cities, now constituted an open target for massed firepower. Airpower also played a substantial role in striking at the insurgents directly. A combined arms operation into the Panjshir valley in the spring included the commitment of 12,000 Soviet and DRA troops and more than 200 sorties by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.42 The objective of the joint Soviet and DRA thrust centered on destroying the 3,000-man force of Ahmad Shah Massud, thereby securing the northern approach to the Kabul-Termez highway. The initial stages of the offensive into the Panjshir valley relied heavily on airpower. The Soviets also demonstrated increasing ingenuity in the use of their aviation assets. The offensive began on 10 May with converted An-12 Cub transports serving as aerial reconnaissance and target designation platforms. In addition, the Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft made its debut in the theater, and proved effective in the close air support role. Prior to the commitment of ground forces, Soviet jets conducted a week-long bombing of suspected insurgent positions using conventional high explosive loads. On 17 May, a large-scale heliborne insertion of the 103rd Air Assault Division began. In support of the 103rd, the 108th Motor Rifle Division began pushing up the valley in a classic hammer-and-anvil maneuver. Soviet and DRA forces soon ran into trouble as land mines and insurgent ambushes from tributary valleys inflicted heavy losses and destroyed at least six BTR-60 armored personnel carriers (APCs) and at least six T-62 tanks.43

      The mechanized forces, unable to maneuver or elevate their guns to fire at the surrounding heights, requested close air support. Groups of six Mi-24s arrived at the requested points and loitered overhead in the so-called "circle of death." Forward air controllers with the ground units vectored the helicopters onto suspected mujahideen positions that were then attacked with cannon fire and rockets. Despite their success against the mechanized forces, the exposed mujahideen forces had little chance against Soviet airpower, and they were forced to withdraw back into the tributary valleys. The offensive did eventually succeed in reestablishing DRA control over the floor of the Panjshir valley, for the first time since 1978, at the cost of between 300 and 400 Soviet casualties. However, the campaign was only a partial success, as the besieged mujahideen simply disappeared into the surrounding hills to await the inevitable Soviet withdrawal. After a few weeks the Soviet forces did leave, making the victory decidedly pyrrhic for the Russians and their DRA allies. However, still hoping for a set-piece battle, the Soviets repeated the offensive into Panjshir in late August with the same result. In this offensive, the Soviets lost approximately 300 men in occupying the valley floor, and again withdrew after several weeks, leaving the valley once more in the hands of the mujahideen.44

      The Panjshir valley campaigns of the spring and summer of 1982 illustrated the essential nature of Soviet strategy, writ small. The Panjshir offensives highlighted the Soviet emphasis on using airpower in a number of roles including aerial fire direction, observation, troop transport, and close air support (CAS) in support of the combined arms offensive. The weeklong aerial bombardment prior to the start of the ground offensive demonstrated a "Somme-like" reliance on intensive bombardment in preparation for the attack. The campaigns also illustrated the importance of helicopters in combined arms operations. On the one hand, rotary-wing aircraft provided the key platform for rapidly delivering air assault troops to their blocking positions. The use of blokirovkas (blocking maneuvers) usually involved a coordinated thrust between mechanized forces pushing toward the objective with a helicopter insertion of VDV (airborne) or DShB (air assault) troops behind the objective in order to prevent the escape of encircled enemy forces.45 On the other hand, the reliance on the Mi-24 Hind for CAS also indicated its effectiveness in this role. The low threat environment experienced by the helicopters was evident in the Soviet tactic of establishing a high orbit over the target area. Indeed, the lack of effective anti-aircraft defenses was a glaring weakness among the insurgents in 1982. In contrast, the mujahideen success against personnel carriers and tanks highlighted the vulnerability of mechanized forces in mountainous terrain. Finally, operations in Afghanistan illustrated the importance of having forward air controllers to direct CAS.46

      In the final analysis, the offensives into Panjshir failed despite the Soviets' ability to organize their forces into a powerful combined arms team. Soviet commanders were learning a bitter and frustrating lesson, much as their American counterparts had 15 years earlier in Vietnam. This lesson was that insurgents, based on their tactics and their use of terrain, might prove relatively invulnerable to conventional operations even when these operations were supported by massive firepower. In an unconventional warfare environment "owning the air" offers a number of very real advantages; however, the American experience in Vietnam and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan showed that control of the air might be a necessary, but certainly not a sufficient, condition for victory.

      By August 1982, the Soviet and DRA forces still controlled only the country's main cities and major roads.47 By the end of the year, Soviet frustration with the situation in Afghanistan was apparent as well. The death of Leonid Brezhnev in November and his replacement by Yuri Andropov did little to change the tactical or strategic situation for members of the 40th Army. Soviet Politburo minutes indicate that Andropov's "model for the war against the Afghan mujaheddin [sic] was the brutal campaign to establish Soviet rule in Central Asia following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution." Andropov's guidance provided a renewed impetus for a strategy of terror and reprisal against the Afghan population. The Soviets revealed the nature of this strategy in an attack on the city of Pagman in September. According to Western diplomats, Soviet jets and helicopters bombed and strafed the main marketplace for over two hours, killing and wounding several dozen people.48 Soviet forces, unable to corner the insurgents, increasingly resorted to reprisals in order to punish the civilian population for mujahideen actions. In April 1983, the Soviets responded to a general uprising in the ever-volatile hot bed of Herat by conducting an indiscriminate "carpet bombing" campaign against the city of 150,000. The campaign, described by US officials as "extremely heavy, brutal, and prolonged," resulted in the destruction of half the city and the deaths of an estimated 3,000 noncombatants.49 In addition, Soviet and DRA forces began a reprisal policy of targeting villages in the vicinity of mujahideen attacks against convoys or outposts.

      Mike Martin discussed the Russian policy of targeting nearby villages in retaliation for insurgent attacks by stating that the Soviets were "reduced to deliberately killing civilians in the vain hope they would abandon their fighting men."50 Soviet and DRA aircraft or artillery bombarded the selected villages, and in some cases destroyed cultivated fields. The destruction of crops constituted a continuing element in an ongoing Soviet "starvation policy."51 Martin argued that "By the middle of 1983 the Russians seemed bankrupt of military ideas and had resorted to the widespread use of terror." Martin witnessed the use of jets for reprisal attacks on at least four occasions during his stay in Afghanistan. In one case, the Russians bombed a village for two weeks in retaliation for an attack on the outpost at Tagob. He described the Soviet attack as follows: "For days the jets flew low over the valley bombing the houses to dust. The worst destruction left you with a feeling that there had been no life there anyway: just mounds of rubble"52

      In almost every respect, Soviet air and ground operations underwent an increasing radicalization in the years between 1981 and 1983, with the significant exception, however, of evidence of chemical weapons employment in 1983.53 Soviet military planners increasingly employed airpower as both a "force substitute" and an instrument of terror and reprisal against Afghanistan's civilian population. The inability to fix the mujahideen, the desire to avoid casualties and the resulting Soviet frustration with the status quo combined in the adoption of a seemingly simple and effective method for lowering personnel losses. It soon became apparent, however, that a new strategy was needed.

      Air Assault Comes to Afghanistan

      In 1984, the Soviets began to modify their air and ground strategy in an effort to more effectively employ their assets against the insurgents. Stephen Blank described this shift in strategy and tactics as "moving in the direction of greater reliance upon mobility, long-range ordnance from air power, vertical rather than tank-led encirclement, [and the] use of specially assigned forces."54 The Soviet lessons drawn from the first three years of the war involving the necessity for rapid mobility and massive, responsive fire support in essence constituted a restatement of traditional Soviet doctrinal precepts. The focus on "vertical envelopment," however, established a new emphasis for Soviet operations involving the massed use of heliborne operations by specially trained airborne and air assault forces.

      Soviet airborne operations involving actual parachute drops were relatively rare in Afghanistan. Still, airborne forces (VDV) had proved vital in conducting operations to secure key installations throughout the country during the initial invasion. As the war progressed, VDV forces pioneered many of the Soviet irregular warfare tactics, and, in turn, these forces became a primary element for conducting counterinsurgency operations either as dismounted infantry or by helicopter insertion.55 The following eyewitness account by a former mujahid aptly described the special capabilities of VDV forces in unconventional warfare:

      We had taken positions close to the top of a mountain overlooking a valley and were shooting at the Soviets with BM-12s [rockets] and mortars. . . . Then all of a sudden a VDV company of about 90 men appeared and attacked us from behind. They had climbed straight up the mountain during the night. . . . We fought for two days there, and many people were killed. Before that I had thought that the Soviet soldiers are not worth anything . . . These were really tough guys.56

      This story not only illustrates the capabilities of the VDV, but it also points to a shift in Soviet strategy toward night operations during this period. As late as November 1982, one senior Soviet military leader, Guards Major General F. Kuz'min, had criticized the performance of Soviet forces in night operations.57 Soviet planners responded to the need for a more effective night fighting capability, and by 1984 VDV (airborne), DShB (air assault), and specially trained reconnaissance troops constituted the primary forces for conducting night attacks and ambushes.58 Still, the lack of an effective night-capable aircraft restricted support to these ambushes and limited other aerial operations during the hours of darkness.

      By 1984, helicopters, and the mobility they provided, began to play a much-expanded role in the war against the insurgents. Both VDV and DShB forces counted on helicopters to provide them with increased mobility and firepower support in contrast to the vulnerable and slow-moving mechanized convoys. One veteran of the desant forces, Vladislav Tamarov, stated "It was a lot easier on us when the helicopters took us into the mountains: you went to the airfield, boarded the copter, and in an hour you were there." Desant forces conducted four major types of military actions in Afghanistan, including: large-scale operations using artillery and aviation support to destroy concentrated pockets of mujahideen; small-scale operations by regiments with artillery and aviation support aimed at destroying a specific group of mujahideen; the "combing" of villages to identify weapons stores and field hospitals; and company-sized ambushes near roads, major trails or villages. Tamarov remarked that the Soviet counterinsurgency forces relied heavily on dismounted operations in contrast to their motorized rifle counterparts. His description of Soviet operations also illustrated the desant forces' reliance on air support as well as the routine use of these forces in counterinsurgency roles. In fact, DShB forces began to conduct surprise heliborne attacks against both villages and suspected mujahideen way stations (chaikhana, literally "tea house"). In one example, two helicopters landed approximately two dozen troops at a chaikhana. They surprised and, in about ten minutes, killed 30 insurgents before departing by helicopter.59

      An operation in October 1984 in the area of the Pizgoran ravine demonstrated the increasing Soviet reliance on large-scale air landings involving motorized rifle and counterinsurgency forces. On 25 October, 24 Mi-8 Hip helicopters airlifted 1,280 men into the area. During the operation, Mi-24 Hinds, MiG-23 Floggers, and Su-25s provided fire support for the landing force. Sarin and Dvoretsky stated that this type of operation allowed Soviet forces to inflict losses on insurgents holding defensive positions while projecting "concentrated fire at distant operational locations beyond the front line."60 Main force units subsequently accomplished a link-up with the airhead forces in this operation prior to a further advance against the insurgent positions. In this instance, the air assault landing had essentially acted as the force with which first to outflank, and then to crack the mujahideen defensive line.

      The relative success of this new combined arms strategy employing air assault techniques led to a growing optimism among the Soviet leadership concerning their ability to eventually defeat the insurgency. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail S. Kapitsa stated in 1986 that the war would be over in five years.61 Kapitsa's assertion proved prophetic, but not in the intended sense of a Soviet victory. Prior to 1984, Soviet control of the skies was largely uncontested. The mujahideen lacked the armaments with which to construct an effective air defense system, and achieved their greatest successes against Soviet air units in mortar and rocket attacks against their airfields. However, this situation began to change as the insurgents acquired a greater number of heavy machine guns and manportable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

      Prior to 1986, the mujahideen's most effective anti-aircraft weapon proved to be the "Dashka" 12.7 mm and the "Zigriat" 14.5 mm heavy machine-guns. A Soviet defector, Alexander Zuyev, noted that the mujahideen air defense tactics were "relatively primitive" in 1984, "[but] their 12.7 mm and 14.5 mm antiaircraft guns could be dangerous below an altitude of about 4,500 feet."62
      These heavy machine-guns began arriving in greater numbers as a result of increasing Chinese deliveries. For example, there were only 13 mujahideen heavy machine-guns in the Panjshir Valley in 1982, but, by the end of 1984, there were almost 250.63 The mujahideen became quite proficient in the use of these weapons to conduct "lateral ambushes." They situated gun sites at positions along opposing ridgelines in order to provide enfilade fire of Soviet aircraft operating in the area below the ridge or along the valley floor.64 A chagrined Soviet veteran described his unit's capture of several "Dashka" heavy machine-guns which had found their way from the Soviet Union to China, and on to Afghanistan, where they were now being used to kill Russian soldiers.65

      Mujahideen air defense initiatives were not only confined to the battlefield. In fact, the insurgents achieved some dramatic results by infiltrating areas in the vicinity of Soviet airfields in order to attack Russian aircraft. Military Transport Aviation (VTA) continued to play a key role in resupplying Russian forces in Afghanistan.66 According to one analyst, from the early stages of the war the Soviets relied "heavily on the VTA for the routine introduction of military materiel ordinarily transported by road. . . . [and] helicopters were being used extensively to move supplies within the country."67 However, the VTA was not able to escape the effects associated with the mujahideen's increased number of SA-7s. On 28 October 1984, the insurgents shot down a Soviet An-22 **** heavy transport using a SA-7 as it took off from the Kabul airport. In another example, an Afghan Airline DC-10 with 300 passengers aboard was hit by a SA-7, but managed to land safely.68 Surrounded by a series of low hills, the airport at Kabul remained particularly vulnerable to the SAM threat throughout the remainder of the war. Kabul was not the only airfield put at risk by the mujahideen's manportable SAMs. In September 1984, the insurgents shot down a Bakhtar Airlines aircraft with a SA-7 just after it took off from the Kandahar airfield.69 The Soviets countered the growing SAM threat with on-board decoy flare systems as well as helicopter flare ships orbiting the airport prior to take-offs and landings.70 The increasing SAM threat throughout the theater resulted in the redeployment of Soviet electronic intelligence (ELINT) aircraft and long-range bombers based at Shindand back to the Soviet Union.71 Bases inside the Soviet Union, such as Termez, provided greater security for these assets, and still allowed for their effective employment within Afghanistan.

      The acquisition of SA-7s allowed the mujahideen to achieve limited success in blunting the Soviet aerial advantage. The impact of the weapon should not be measured in the numbers of aircraft shot down alone. The missiles forced Soviet and DRA aircraft and helicopters to adjust their mission profiles and tactical procedures. The introduction of the SA-7 not only increased the threat experienced by the aircrews, but it also demonstrated the disproportionate impact that can occur when insurgencies obtain modest technological upgrades to their weapons arsenals. In the unconventional warfare environment, insurgents do not need to control the air, but only to dictate the way in which airpower can be employed by a technologically advanced adversary.

      By the end of 1984, Soviet airpower, in all its various forms, carried the lion's share of the burden in prosecuting the war against the mujahideen. Operations ranged from the use of 36 Tu-16 Badger bombers in a mini "ARC LIGHT"72 campaign against the Panjshir Valley in April 1984 to the employment of VTA An-12 Cubs and An-26 Curls as master bombers.73 Transport aircraft acting as flare ships for battlefield illumination also played an important role in discouraging or combating mujahideen night attacks.74 In addition, the use of helicopters in support of air assault, CAS and interdiction operations formed a crucial element in the Soviet air strategy to defeat the insurgents. Stephen Blank correctly argued that "Between 1980 and 1986 Soviet strategy in Afghanistan gradually came to rely almost exclusively on airpower, staking everything on airpower's capabilities to deliver ordnance, interdict supplies and reserves, isolate the battlefield from the rear, destroy the agricultural basis . . . and rapidly move troops from point to point."75

      By 1985, barring a massive influx of Soviet forces, it was clear that Soviet airpower would have to play an even greater role in order to win the battle against the mujahideen. The relatively small size of the Soviet contingent, estimated at 115,000 troops by early 1985, precluded a ground solution to the campaign.76 By the end of the year, Soviet strategy mirrored the proverb "live by the sword, die by the sword." A survey in 1985 by Swedish relief workers illustrated the continued willingness of the Russians to employ the sword of airpower as a punitive weapon. The survey indicated that the fields of over half the farmers who remained in Afghanistan were bombed, and over a quarter of these same farmers had their irrigation systems destroyed and livestock shot by Soviet and DRA forces.77 The Soviets were in fact living to a great degree by the airpower sword, but the mujahideen were becoming increasingly adept at blunting the blows of the Soviet aerial cutlass.

      By the beginning of 1986, the mujahideen had clearly demonstrated an increased ability to combat Soviet airpower, and had forced Russian jets to operate at higher altitudes thereby decreasing their accuracy. The greater number of heavy machine-guns among the insurgents also led to an increasing capability to threaten the mainstay of Soviet aviation in Afghanistan, their helicopters. The Mi-24 Hind, almost impervious to small arms fire, was vulnerable to concentrated fire from both heavy machine-guns and the SA-7. In the end, the numbers tell the story. One Afghan defector estimated DRA aircraft losses between December 1979 and early 1984 at 164 aircraft (both fixed-wing and helicopter).78 Joseph J. Collins, a former US army officer, estimated that by the end of 1984 Soviet losses totaled 600 aircraft.79 The balance of power began to shift in favor of the insurgents as the mujahideen achieved their first successes in contesting Soviet dominance of the skies over Afghanistan in 1984 and 1985.

      Mujahideen Ascendant

      The offensives of 1984 and 1985 had proved costly to Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Western intelligence reports estimated that 2,343 Soviet personnel were killed in action (KIA) in 1984 and another 1,868 KIA in 1985.80 The ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the spring of 1985 coincided with what would become the third costliest year of the war for the Soviets.81 Soviet frustration with the war was becoming increasingly apparent. From the platform of the 27th Party Congress in February 1986, Gorbachev described Afghanistan as a "bloody stump."82 In addition to the cost in lives, the Soviet Union was spending an estimated 5 billion dollars a year in prosecuting the war.83 In fact, 1986 was destined to be the year of decision for Soviet policy makers concerning their continued involvement in the Afghan quagmire.

      British defense correspondent Mark Urban stated that "From early 1986 the Soviet Army switched to a more defensive strategy. Rural operations were reduced and defences around towns increased . . ." Urban estimated that there were six offensives involving more than 5,000 Soviet troops each in 1984-85 while there was only one such operation during the last three years of the war.84 Urban's argument is correct with respect to the involvement of Soviet ground forces, as the burden of large-scale ground fighting began to shift to DRA forces. In fact, Soviet casualties in 1986 dropped to their lowest levels since 1981. The Soviets did not, however, completely abandon offensive operations. In February 1986, Soviet forces conducted a large-scale operation into the Charikar valley, approximately 40 miles north of Kabul, which demonstrated the increasing proficiency of Soviet forces in the conduct of desant-type combined arms operations. For example, on the first day alone, helicopters conducted a tactical insertion of three airborne battalions and three motor rifle companies. Later, an additional 17 battalions were landed in support of the operation.85 The Charikar valley operation illustrated the increased proficiency achieved by Soviet forces in massed air assault operations by 1986.

      In early April, Soviet and DRA forces launched a joint operation aimed at capturing the major mujahideen stronghold at Zhawar, a mere three kilometers from the Pakistani border. The attacking force consisted of 12,000 troops of which only 2,200 were Soviet. Soviet airpower played a critical role in assembling forces for the attack by airlifting 4,200 DRA and Russian troops into the airport at Khost just prior to the start of the operation. During the initial stages of the operation, DRA mechanized and ground forces pushing south from Khost encountered heavy resistance that slowed their advance to between two and three kilometers per day. In attempting to break the mujahideen resistance, the offensive on the road to Zhawar relied heavily on large-scale heliborne operations in order to provide the anvil for the hammer of the advancing mechanized forces. Brigadier Abdol Gafur, the DRA commander for the operation, employed elite Soviet and DRA battalions in air assault landings behind the mujahideen lines. Soviet aircraft also supported the DRA forces by conducting strikes on mujahideen positions. For example, Soviet Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft with laser-guided bombs successfully struck the insurgents' cave/storage complex at Zhawar.86 After almost three weeks of fighting, Zhawar fell to the DRA and Soviet forces. Although modest in terms of Soviet ground participation, the campaign clearly indicated the continuing importance of Soviet airpower in all its forms. The Zhawar campaign provided an example of Soviet airpower's effectiveness when the mujahideen chose to stand and fight a fixed battle.

      During this period, the Soviets also adapted their tactics to better suit the nature of unconventional warfare by employing small groups of specially trained commando forces (spetsnaz) to conduct hit-and-run raids against the mujahideen. Edward Girardet, a journalist with extensive experience traveling with the mujahideen, stated "The special troops are swift, silent and deadly. Swooping down in a single December [1985] raid, they slaughtered 82 guerrillas and wounded 60 more."87 A mujahideen commander, Amin Wardak described the ambush: "They attacked at night in a narrow gorge. At first, we didn't know we were being shot at because of the silencers. Then our people began falling."88 These ambushes were effective, but relied on small numbers of specially trained forces. In addition, these forces relied largely on the mobility provided by helicopters for insertion and exfiltration.89 Still, these isolated successes could not break the mujahideen's hold on the countryside.

      If Soviet ground operations were reduced in 1986, the nature of Soviet air operations remained essentially the same. One estimate of Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan in 1986 included 80 MiG-21 Fishbeds, 40 MiG-23 Floggers, 80 Su-17 Fitters, 30 Su-25s, and 27 reconnaissance aircraft.90 However, the number of helicopters in the country dramatically declined between 1985 and 1988. Compared to a high of approximately 600 aircraft in 1982, the number of helicopters fell from 350 in 1985 to 325 in 1986, and, finally to 275 by February 1988.91 The greatly reduced number of helicopters was in part tied to the restricted size and nature of Soviet ground operations. More importantly, the growing vulnerability of rotary-wing assets to the increasing missile threat undoubtedly played a role in the decision to reduce these forces.

      After a period of prolonged deliberation, the US government decided to supply the mujahideen with heat-seeking Stinger surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in 1986. In hindsight, it is clear that both the psychological and physical impact of the Stinger proved enormous. The very presence of the missile, whether used to full effect or not, forced a fundamental alteration in the nature of Soviet air tactics throughout Afghanistan. The Stinger, however, constituted the second phase in attempts by the West to improve the organic air defense capabilities of the insurgents. Already in the beginning of 1986, the mujahideen received the first shipments of the British- manufactured Blowpipe manportable SAM.92 The optically guided Blowpipe proved large and unwieldy in the eyes of the insurgents. The Blowpipe required the operator to guide the missile with a thumb-controlled joystick while tracking the target with a monocular sight.93 Paul Overby, an American who traveled with the mujahideen in 1988, described the reaction of one insurgent when comparing the fire-and-forget Stinger with the Blowpipe: "Gulaly asked me if the Stinger was American. I told him it was. 'Stinger . . . klak! Blowpipe . . . kherab!' Stinger tough, Blowpipe bad, he repeated over and over, like an incantation."94 It is important to note that klak, or toughness, was a trait valued by the mujahideen and indicated admiration for the weapon, and not the fact that it was difficult to use. In fact, the Stinger was not a user-friendly missile. The most difficult step in firing the missile involved its complicated IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) process.95 However, the Afghan insurgents had no need for this step. The elimination of IFF did not make Stinger a "point and shoot weapon," but it did greatly facilitate its use by the mujahideen. In any event, the Stinger was by all indications a great improvement over the Blowpipe. Daoud Rams, a former MiG-21 pilot with the Afghan air force, stated that "The Blowpipe missile didn't present as serious a problem to fighter aircraft as Stinger. Both Stinger and Blowpipe were real problems for helicopters, but we were more concerned with Stinger."96 The Blowpipe did not prove the answer to the insurgents' prayers, but the introduction of the Stinger in mid-1986 fundamentally weakened a major Soviet advantage -- the ability to exert coercive force through aerial attacks.

      By October 1986, the mujahideen had received approximately 200 Stinger missiles.97 The Stinger, with its maximum speed of 2.2 Mach and maximum effective range of 5.5 kilometers, provided a quantum leap in performance over the SA-7 with a maximum speed of 1.4 Mach and maximum effective range of 3 kilometers.98 More importantly, the Stinger was an all-aspect missile while the infrared passive homing SA-7 could only be launched from the rear quadrant of aircraft moving away from the missile operator. The physical impact of Stinger found expression in a variety of ways. For example, a Soviet doctor discussed the missile's impact, stating "Until 1987 all of the wounded were evacuated by helicopter . . . But the arrival of Stinger missiles put an end to the massive use of choppers."99 Not only were medevac missions affected, but also the essential nature of air tactics changed with the arrival of the Stinger. Daoud Rams remarked that "Before Stinger, we were free to do almost anything we wanted. After Stinger was introduced, we changed all our tactics, altitudes and speed -- everything. We did not like to fly down low, and when we had to, we flew very fast, and even at high altitudes, we flew as fast as we could . . .. We were no longer able to operate at will whenever and wherever we wanted to."100 Sarin and Dvoretsky supported this view with their statement that the Stingers "inflicted heavy losses on Soviet pilots." They also observed that "the combat effectiveness of Soviet air operations was lessened greatly when the Stinger was introduced into Afghanistan."101

      Without a doubt, the Stinger forced a change in flight profiles for both fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft. Driving helicopters and attack aircraft down to the deck now exposed them to increased danger from small arms fire even in areas where the Stinger was not deployed. The psychological impact of the Stinger was almost as profound as the physical results achieved by the missile. By the end of 1986, both Soviet and DRA pilots had to assume that the missile was operational throughout the entire country. One member of the mujahideen succinctly described the behavior change among attacking pilots in the following words: "They don't like suffering casualties, so they drop their bombs and fly home as quickly as they can." John Gunston, a former British army officer and journalist for Aviation Week & Space Technology, after observing a six-ship Soviet jet strike in the beginning of 1988, remarked on the poor results of the bombing. "It appeared," he said "that the pilots involved were putting survival before accuracy."102

      The interdiction of supplies and manpower along the border had formed one of the cornerstones of Soviet strategy from the outset of the war. By 1986, the Soviets came increasingly to rely on airpower rather than ground forces to enforce a literal no man's land in the Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan. By the end of 1984, the majority of supply caravans moved at night in order to avoid the threat of Soviet air attack. In the period from November 1983 to March 1984, the Soviets used specially trained reconnaissance troops to monitor 13 points along the major infiltration routes from Pakistan. These forces detected 579 movements out of Pakistan of which 463, or, 80 percent, were conducted at night. By the beginning of 1988, Gunston observed that "The fear of air attack that had prevailed among the mujahideen in 1985 and 1986 has disappeared and supply caravans now travel with ease during the day, something they were loathe to do two years ago."103 The introduction of the Stinger not only allowed supply caravans to travel during the day, but it also allowed mujahideen forces to mass in preparation for offensive operations.

      Anthony Tucker argued that "The introduction of Stinger ended the Soviets' ability to conduct heliborne operations and airborne operations with impunity. This over-reliance on helicopters meant they had no other options when it came to interdicting the insurgents' operations, making the war once and for all unwinable [sic], contributing to their decision to withdraw."104 An analysis of the chronology of Russian decision-making only partially supports Tucker's argument. Gorbachev had already ordered a partial troop withdrawal in the summer of 1986. The decision to "get out" of Afghanistan, however, did not occur until a Politburo meeting of 13 November 1986. During this seminal meeting Gorbachev argued "We have been fighting in Afghanistan for six years now. If we don't change approaches we will be fighting for another 20 or 30 years . . .. We must finish this process in the swiftest time possible."105 In a tone distinctly reminiscent of American military leaders after Vietnam, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev stated:

      There is not a single piece of land [in Afghanistan] that the Soviet soldier has not conquered. Despite this, a large chunk of territory is in the hands of the rebels. We control Kabul and the provincial centers, but we have been unable to establish authority over the seized territory. We have lost the struggle for the Afghan people.106

      The appearance of the Stinger, in addition to the increased number of SA-7s and Blowpipes, may have played some role in the Politburo's decision based on the missile's early success. It appears, however, that Gorbachev was reacting to a prolonged and costly struggle that offered the Soviets no real advantage besides the opportunity to increase the roll call of fraternal socialist states -- domestic political and economic considerations apparently outweighed protocol victories.

      By the end of 1986, a little over two years of fighting still remained. It was clear, however, that the center of gravity of Soviet operations in Afghanistan revolved around the ability of the VVS to quickly and accurately deliver both fire support and forces throughout the country.107 The introduction of the Stinger missile effectively reduced the Soviets' greatest advantage. The Soviets no longer "owned" the air, and, in turn, the loss of air supremacy essentially precluded any chance for a Russian victory in the near future.


      At the outset of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, military and political pundits were nearly unanimous in their predictions of a rapid Soviet victory. Few believed that a fractionalized and ill-equipped insurgency could long stand against the armed might of one the greatest military powers in the world. However, the pundits were proven wrong, and the mujahideen did triumph. Afghanistan should serve as a caution to both US military strategists and to an American public inebriated by the overwhelming success of coalition arms in the Gulf War and the apparent NATO success in the Balkans. Today, the armed forces of the United States enjoy a position of preeminence among the world's militaries. Paradoxically, the current US position of military preeminence may be threatened less by budget cuts than by a changing paradigm in warfare. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan demonstrates the dangers inherent in equating conventional military strength with the capability to achieve victory in the environment of unconventional war.

      Former US ambassador Edwin Corr and American political scientist Stephen Sloan, in Low-Intensity Conflict: Old Threats in a New World, present a convincing argument concerning the changing paradigm from conventional to irregular warfare.108 The post-Cold War era has, indeed, initiated a period in which US political and military efforts must focus on the exigencies of low-intensity conflict. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 provides numerous insights and cautions for today's military planners, who contemplate the employment of force in "non-trinitarian" conflict.109 The Soviet failure clearly demonstrates the potential danger in relying on airpower as a primary instrument for coercion. The war in Afghanistan showed that air supremacy alone does not constitute a panacea for guaranteeing success in contemporary military operations. The Soviets' inability to achieve their political objectives in Afghanistan also illustrated the limits of conventional military power in the low-intensity environment. Despite an overwhelming advantage in firepower and complete mastery of the air, Soviet and DRA forces failed to coerce the mujahideen into ceasing their attacks against the Russian occupation forces and the DRA regime.

      Airpower as Force Substitute

      The conflict in Afghanistan witnessed a definitive shift in the standard Soviet employment of airpower in the conduct of military operations. Soviet doctrine in 1979 emphasized the use of airpower as a force adjunct for the direct support of ground forces. This doctrinal disposition relied heavily on the historical legacy of the Soviet experience against the Germans in World War II. In the initial period of the Afghan war, Soviet airpower conformed to this existing paradigm of ground support operations. However, the unwillingness of DRA forces to fight, Moscow's reluctance to increase Soviet troop levels, and the desire to minimize casualties led to the employment of airpower as both a "force multiplier" and a "force substitute" in the battle against the mujahideen. The Soviet use of airpower as a force substitute extended to both attacks on the insurgents and their military infrastructure as well as strikes aimed at punishing the civilian population. Indeed, the employment of airpower as a punitive instrument found its most brutal expression in a deliberate VVS campaign of aerial terror. In the end, barring a massive additional commitment of Soviet ground forces, airpower constituted the single remaining viable option with which to combat the Muslim insurgency. Airpower clearly became the Soviet "force of choice" in Afghanistan.

      Assessing the Soviet Failure

      Soviet operations aimed at achieving coercion through punishment failed because of the following factors:

      (1) Punishment operations could not overcome the mujahideen determination to resist the Soviet occupation based on the insurgents' religious and nationalistic beliefs.

      (2) Punishment operations proved counterproductive. Instead of pacifying the population these actions incited even greater resistance.

      (3) Punishment operations could not generate subservience to a regime viewed as illegitimate by the majority of the Afghan population.

      These factors, acting in combination, frustrated Soviet attempts at achieving coercion through punitive bombardment.

      The determination of the mujahideen to resist the Soviet occupation rested in large part on their belief in Islam. The call for a jihad against the regime of Nur Taraki was a powerful force in initially mobilizing the resistance. The Soviet invasion galvanized the Muslim insurgency in terms of an apocalyptic battle between the defenders of the true faith and the kafir (infidel). The Russian occupation also stimulated Afghan nationalism, and revived the Afghans' historical antipathy to foreign domination. One mujahideen commander clearly expressed these sentiments by stating, "We are fighting for Islam but we should be fighting for Afghanistan as well."110 The twin ideologies of Islam and nationalism provided the metaphysical sustenance to the insurgency, and both proved nearly impervious to Soviet bullets and bombs.

      In terms of casualties inflicted, the Soviet campaign to punish the Afghan population was a decided success. Lester Grau and former Afghan General Mohammed Nawroz estimate the number of Afghan civilian casualties at 1.3 million.111 Vincent Cannistraro, Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, testified before a Congressional committee that Soviet operations resulted in "one million casualties to innocent civilians bombed by Soviet air power, dismembered by indiscriminate use of landmines, and shelled by Soviet artillery."112 In total, civilian deaths represented between 6 and 8 percent of the pre-war Afghan population.113 In addition, the number of Afghans affected by the Soviet use of "scorched earth" tactics and the prosecution of a policy of "migratory genocide" is equally staggering. Cannistraro estimated that the war produced over five million refugees with over three million sheltered in Pakistan alone.114 Despite the severity of these efforts, Soviet attempts to break the will of the Afghan people through punishment still failed to produce the desired strategic results. Muhammed Sadeqi, a mujahideen commander, stated, "We cannot be defeated . . .. Although we are short of arms, ammunition and food, and they are well equipped, we have determination on our side. They [the Russians] have no heart for the struggle."115 The rugged and fiercely independent Afghan character combined with religious faith to make the insurgents and the populace largely immune to Soviet terror and intimidation.

      The final factor involved in the failure of Soviet punishment operations centered on the perceived illegitimacy of the Soviet sponsored DRA regime, whether under the leadership of Babrak Karmal or Najibullah Ahmadzai. Trevor Fishlock, a journalist for The Times of London, aptly described the acceptance of the Karmal regime among the populace in the following words:

      The Karmal regime, weak and detested, is held up only by a framework of Russian arms and administration. Mr. Karmal, once known as a champion of people's causes, is a pariah in his own land. He keeps to his palace, presiding over a crumbling economy, a ramshackle and untrustworthy army, a dispirited civil service, a fleeing middle class and a truculent population.116
      The mass desertions within the DRA armed forces provided one indication of the illegitimacy of the DRA regime. The DRA desertion rate averaged at least 10,000 men per year, leading one mujahideen commander to remark that "the [DRA] army is becoming like a room with two doors. You go in through one and leave through the other."117 The government's inability to prevent members of the armed forces from deserting led to the introduction of "press gangs" to provide sufficient manpower for the DRA military. These press gangs, much like their eighteenth-century predecessors, kidnapped and impressed young men into military service during sweeps of urban centers and rural villages.118 The periodic mutinies of Afghan army garrisons provided yet another indicator of the inherent illegitimacy of the Soviet-sponsored DRA regime.119 One of the most dramatic examples involved a revolt on 12 June 1985, by Afghan pilots at Shindand airbase during which they destroyed 20 jets.120

      Soviet efforts aimed at the military infrastructure of the mujahideen proved as disappointing as their efforts to punish the Afghan population. The major factors contributing to the failure of these efforts included:

      (1) The availability of insurgent sanctuaries.

      (2) The failure of Soviet interdiction efforts.

      (3) The logistical parsimony of the mujahideen.

      (4) The small size of Soviet forces, especially counterinsurgency forces.

      (5) The lack of appropriate counterinsurgency doctrine.

      (6) The introduction of effective manportable SAM technology, thus negating Soviet air supremacy.

      First, the Soviets never succeeded in preventing the mujahideen from using Pakistan as a sanctuary, or in halting the flow of supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Despite numerous Soviet diplomatic warnings and repeated air and artillery attacks, the Pakistani leadership refused to comply with Russian demands to close the border to the insurgents. The nature of the mujahideen logistics system and the insurgents' minimal requirements constituted two additional difficulties for Soviet military planners. The inability to successfully sever the mujahideen supply lines within Afghanistan constituted a major failure of the Soviet strategy. At the same time, the third element of Soviet failure, their underestimation of their adversary and a corresponding overestimation of the frangibility of his logistics infrastructure, also played a key role in contributing to the failure of the Soviet interdiction campaign. Arthur Bonner, an American journalist who traveled with the mujahideen in 1985, described the insurgents' use of small groups of men and animals for resupply. In one example, prior to crossing an exposed plain, a caravan consisting of 700 men and hundreds of animals was divided "into groups of ten and sent forward at ten-minute intervals as a precaution in case of an air attack."121 Edward Cody, a journalist with The Washington Post, accompanied the mujahideen during an 11-day trek along one caravan route. During this trek, his party fluctuated between as few as two and as many as fifty members.122 The ability of the mujahideen to parcel-out their resupply columns complicated Soviet detection efforts, and prevented the Russians from finding lucrative or decisive interdiction targets.

      Furthermore, the Soviets seriously overestimated the insurgents' supply requirements. During the Korean War, the ability of a Communist Chinese division to operate on 50 tons of supplies per day astounded American commanders and greatly complicated United Nations interdiction efforts.123 Later, during the war in Vietnam, the ability of over 200,000 Communist forces to operate on 380 tons per day practically doomed the American Rolling Thunder interdiction campaign to failure from its inception.124 In Afghanistan, the frugality of the mujahideen logistical requirements appears even greater than those of the Chinese and Vietnamese communists. The evidence concerning the parsimony of the mujahideen with respect to logistical requirements is anecdotal, as no written record of shipments and exact tonnage exists. The experience of numerous foreign observers with the insurgents is, however, instructive and convincing. Paul Overby discussed a typical dinner as consisting of flatbread, boiled beef, and potatoes cooked in a communal bowl with water being shared from a communal pitcher. In another example, Overby describes a breakfast of "stale" pieces of flatbread and oranges.125 In one case, a group of mujahideen existed on tur**** and flatbread alone for six days.126 Numerous other accounts by Western observers indicate the ability of the mujahideen to operate on a diet centered on flatbread, lard and heavily sweetened tea.127 These same observers also indicate the routine ability of the mujahideen to march for 12 or 13 hours without a break through the rugged mountainous terrain.128 In the end, it was clear that the Soviets had greatly overestimated the logistical needs of their adversary.

      The fourth factor involved in the failure of Soviet military strategy centered on the small size of available regular and counterinsurgency forces. The small size of Soviet ground forces and the unwillingness of the Afghan army to fight greatly handicapped Soviet pacification efforts. Soviet forces, totaling between 118,000 and 120,000 men at the high point of the occupation, were clearly insufficient for gaining control over a largely mountainous country the size of Texas.129 The fact that only 20 percent of these forces were specially trained for counterinsurgency operations further limited the usefulness of the available manpower for this mission. Former US chargé d'affaires to Afghanistan, Charles Dunbar, stated that "the Soviets would have to bring in something in the order of a half-million men if they were to hope to do a great deal more than they are now [1983] in the way of suppressing the resistance."130 According to Dunbar, the Soviet leadership's failure to increase the size of the occupation force was based on their unwillingness to incur casualties, and a desire not to provoke renewed diplomatic protests. In practical terms, however, it is also doubtful that the Soviet logistical system could have sustained such a dramatic increase in personnel in Afghanistan.131

      Fifth, the absence of an appropriate counterinsurgency doctrine severely handicapped Soviet operations during the first three years of the war.132 Improvements in Soviet tactics for dealing with the insurgency included the increased use of helicopters and air assault techniques, the expanded employment of spetsnaz forces, and improved training and equipment for all forces. The Soviet army validated the usefulness of air assault techniques employing heliborne VDV and DShB forces. In fact, Soviet Major General Grekov, Chief of Staff of the 40th Army, identified the perfection of heliborne desant operations as the major lesson of the war.133 Spetsnaz forces successfully conducted a number of raids and ambushes in the course of the occupation. In addition, the war witnessed the introduction of new Soviet weapons systems including infantry fighting vehicles (BMP-2), mortars (Vasilek 82 mm), grenade launchers (AGS-17), aircraft (Su-25 Frogfoot) and automatic weapons (ASU-74 assault rifle).134 In the end, however, improved Soviet counterinsurgency forces, techniques and equipment proved too little and too late.

      Finally, it was the mujahideen's acquisition of reliable and effective manportable surface-to- air missiles that administered the coup de grace to Soviet military strategy in Afghanistan. The introduction of the Stinger missile clearly raised the ante beyond the Soviet ability to pay, although it did not significantly impact the Soviet decision to leave. Stinger's ability to neutralize the major source of Soviet military strength crippled the Russian interdiction efforts and allowed the mujahideen to mass their forces for the conduct of large-scale operations. Stinger clearly eroded the efficacy and accuracy of fixed-wing operations, and, in turn, it sounded the deathknell for heliborne attack, either in the form of air assault landings or attack aviation.135 The Stinger was equally decisive in its psychological impact among Soviet and DRA pilots. Stinger clearly achieved a high level of respect among Afghan and Soviet pilots, who became increasingly unwilling to expose themselves or their aircraft to its lethal envelope. The accuracy and effectiveness of subsequent air operations suffered even more from the exaggerated belief in both the availability and capabilities of this missile among Soviet and DRA pilots. The mujahideen played on Soviet fears by discussing their possession of Stinger missiles in radio communications, even if their group did not have the missile. The Soviets intercepted these communications and received an exaggerated picture of the availability of Stinger among the insurgent groups.136

      Implications for Contemporary Military Planners

      The failure of Soviet air and ground forces in the battle against the mujahideen provides a caution for contemporary military planners with respect to the employment of airpower in unconventional war. The Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, in his magnum opus On War, wrote:

      The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.137

      Clausewitz's advice is as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. Political and military strategists must understand that unconventional warfare presents a multitude of unique difficulties and challenges concerning the employment of airpower. These difficulties are compounded by a decided penchant among modern armed forces for conventional military operations. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan clearly demonstrates that airpower can play a major role in unconventional operations. However, it alone does not constitute the instrument for achieving victory. Air and space assets can facilitate the attainment of superior firepower, adequate logistical sustainment, and improved intelligence and communication services, but the nature of the conflict and the determination of one's adversary form the crucial elements determining the success or failure of military operations.
      The mujahideen willingness to endure an enormous degree of punishment illustrates not only the limits of airpower, but the limits of military power as well. The mujahideen example demonstrates that there are situations when nothing short of the annihilation of one's adversary can lead to victory. However, genocide, whether conducted from the air or the ground, is morally indefensible and does not constitute a viable alternative for the contemporary Western military strategist. Not only the problem of direct, but also, indirect targeting is problematic in unconventional warfare. Soviet airpower could not strike "vital centers" that did not exist, nor could it create a vulnerability in a supply system designed to be invulnerable. American military planners experienced this same problem in their repeated efforts to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war in Vietnam.138 If air and ground forces cannot effectively isolate the insurgents from their sources of supply, then only limited success in interdiction efforts may constitute a misallocation of resources. It may be possible to eliminate 80 percent of the insurgents' supply, but this is a pyrrhic victory if they require less than 20 percent to operate effectively.

      The advanced technology involved with contemporary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems offers an improved ability to view the modern battlespace. The increased "transparency" of the battlefield does not, however, necessarily translate into greater success in unconventional warfare. Unconventional warfare is in large part a political struggle aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the target state's population. Technology cannot determine which person or persons, in a household of five or fifteen, are sympathetic to the insurgents' cause. Nor can technology accurately predict the impact of a given military operation, or bombing strike, in either catalyzing increased opposition or breaking the enemy's will to fight. In the unconventional arena, technology remains a tool, and not a guarantee for success.

      Airpower, like technology, is but one of a number of tools for conducting unconventional operations. The mobility, intelligence and firepower provided by modern air assets can be decisive in attaining success at the tactical or operational level. These successes must, however, ultimately be translated into strategic victory. Soviet military planners in Afghanistan, like their American counterparts in Vietnam, learned that triumph on the battlefield does not necessarily result in political victory. In an insurgency environment, airpower is not a panacea, and it cannot compensate for a deficient political or military strategy. Experiences in Afghanistan and Vietnam demonstrate that neither unconventional warfare nor airpower are exempt from the Clausewitzian paradigm. The successful employment of military force in unconventional war requires both a clear understanding of the nature of the conflict as well as the limitations of airpower as an instrument for achieving limited political objectives--it is a lesson well worth noting.


      The author would like to thank Lester W. Grau, Karl Mueller, and Mark Conversino for their comments and suggestions in the preparation of an earlier version of this manuscript.

      1. Martin van Creveld, Kenneth S. Brower and Steven L. Canby, Air Power and Maneuver Warfare (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1994), p. xiii.

      2. Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Revolution in Warfare? Air Power in the Persian Gulf (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995), p. 213.

      3. Robert P. Berman, Soviet Air Power in Transition (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1978), pp. 13-14.

      4. Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan. The Soviet Union's Last War (London: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. 12-13.

      5. Mikhail Heller and Aleksandr M. Nekrich, Utopia in Power: The History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Present (New York: Summit Books, 1982), p. 625

      6. "Tanks are not Enough," Newsweek, 2 September 1968, p. 10.

      7. Jiri Valenta, "From Prague to Kabul," International Security 5, no. 2 (Fall 1980), p. 134. Valenta provides a detailed and insightful comparison between the two invasions.

      8. Galeotti, Last War, p. 15. The difference in the sizes of the two forces most probably reflected the Soviet fear of open combat with well-equipped Czechoslovakian forces as had occurred in Hungary in 1956. The threat posed by DRA forces was substantially lower as was the expected level of opposition.

      9. Vladimir Kuzichkin, "Coups and Killings in Kabul," Time, 22 November 1982, p. 34.

      10. Graham H. Turbiville, Jr., Ambush! The Road War in Afghanistan (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Soviet Army Studies Office, 1988), p. 2.

      11. Oleg Sarin and Lev Dvoretsky, The Afghan Syndrome: The Soviet Union's Vietnam (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1993), p. 92. Sarin, and Dvoretsky estimate that fully 35 percent of all troops in Afghanistan were dedicated to protecting LOCs and manning outposts. In recognition of the dangerous nature of motor convoy duties, Soviet drivers received pennants inscribed with "For Valor and Courage" for every 20, 40, 60, or 80 trips. See also Lester W. Grau, Road Warriors of the Hindu Kush: The Battle for the Lines of Communication in the Soviet Afghan War (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, 1991), p. iii. Grau states that the Soviets employed 26 battalions in patrolling the eastern routes, escorting convoys and garrisoning 199 outposts along the road network.

      12. Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau, The Other Side of the Mountain: mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, 1999), p. 400.

      13. GŽrard Chaliand, Report from Afghanistan, trans. Tamar Jacoby (New York: Viking Press, 1982), p. 63. Large-scale Soviet ground operations into Paktia, Laghman and Nangrahar provinces in February, and the six-week occupation of the Kunar valley in March provide examples of the initial Soviet interdiction campaign. See Richard Wigg, "Kabul Clashes Between Troops and Crowds Leave 20 Reported Dead," The Times (London), 2 May 1980, p. 10; and Nancy P. Newell and Richard S. Newell, The Struggle for Afghanistan (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), pp. 135-36.

      14. Newell and Newell, Struggle, p. 136.

      15. Edward Girardet, Afghanistan: The Soviet War (New York: St. Martin's, 1985), p. 39.

      16. J. Bruce Amstutz, Afghanistan: The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1986), p. 145.

      17. Ibid., pp. 173-74.

      18. US Department of State, Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Special Report No. 98 (Washington, DC: 22 March 1982), pp. 14-15. Only seven of these 47 documented chemical attacks occurred prior to the 1979 invasion; however, the attacks before the invasion accounted for over 2,300 of the verified 3,000 casualties.

      19. Joachim Krause and Charles K. Mallory, Chemical Weapons in Soviet Military Doctrine. Military and Historical Experience, 1915-1991 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992), p. 155. In July 1988, Foreign Minister Edward Shevardnadze criticized the enormous amounts spent on these armaments.

      20. US Department of State, Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Special Report No. 98 (Washington, DC: 22 March 1982), p. 14.

      21. Jan Goodwin, Caught in the Crossfire (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987), p. 123. Goodwin interviewed Dr. Shahrukh Gran, a resistance leader in Kabul, who stated, ". . . they [the Soviets] built a ten-kilometer belt. They've destroyed all the villages around the city [Kabul], and they've put anti-personnel mines everywhere."

      22. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, p. 120. See also Robert D. Kaplan, Soldiers of God. With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), p. 3. A US State Department official estimated that Soviet and DRA forces laid between 10 and 30 million mines by the summer of 1988.

      23. Jalali and Grau, Other Side, pp. 403-04.

      24. Amstutz, First Five, p. 132.

      25. Mao Tse-Tung, Six Essays on Military Affairs (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1972), p. 61.

      26. Mohammed Y. Nawroz and Lester W. Grau, The Soviet War in Afghanistan: History and Harbinger of Future War (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, 1991), p. 9. Grau attributes this "mobile bunker" mentality primarily to the regular, and, not, the counterinsurgency forces.

      27. Anthony Arnold, The Fateful Pebble: Afghanistan's Role in the Fall of the Soviet Empire (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1993), p. 128. Arnold served at one time as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

      28. The Times (London), 21 April 1982, p. 7; and Mark Urban, War in Afghanistan (New York: St. Martin's, 1988), p. 75. Urban discusses the impact of the weather on delaying operations in 1981. See also Kurt Lohbeck, Holy War, Unholy Victory. Eyewitness to the CIA's Secret War in Afghanistan (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1993), p. 177.

      29. Galeotti, Last War, p. 16.

      30. Urban, War in Afghanistan, p. 68.

      31. Amstutz, First Five, p. 170.

      32. Nawroz and Grau, Harbinger, p. 10.

      33. Girardet, Soviet War, pp. 36-38.

      34. Lohbeck, Holy War, p. 210. Lohbeck is regarded as one of the journalists who spent the most time among the mujahideen during the period of the Soviet occupation. See also Goodwin, Crossfire, p. 3.

      35. Boris V. Gromov and Sergey Bogdanov, Ogranichennyy kontingent (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1994), p. 202. Translation excerpts of this material generously provided by Lester W. Grau.

      36. Mike Martin, Afghanistan: Inside a Rebel Stronghold (Poole, UK: Blandford Press, 1984), p. 74.

      37. Urban, War in Afghanistan, p. 84.

      38. The Times (London), 23 September 1981, p. 6.

      39. Michael Binyon, "600 Rebel Afghans Killed," The Times (London), 17 October 1981, p. 5.

      40. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Situation in Afghanistan, 97th Cong., 2d sess., 8 March 1982, p. 3.

      41. M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), p. 126.

      42. Girardet, Soviet War, p. 35.

      43. Urban, War in Afghanistan, pp. 102-04.

      44. Urban, War in Afghanistan, pp. 104, 107-09.

      45. Alexander Alexiev, Inside the Soviet Army in Afghanistan (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1988), pp. 23-24.

      46. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, p. 119. See also Scott R. McMichael, Stumbling Bear: Soviet Military Performance in Afghanistan (London: Brassey's, 1991), pp. 87-88. See also Benjamin S. Lambeth, Russia's Air Power at the Crossroads (Santa Monica: CA: RAND, 1996), p. 206. It is worth noting, however, that these forward air controllers were predominantly army members without flying experience, while the best FACs in the war proved to be former pilots and navigators disqualified from flying duties.

      47. Richard Owen, "Russia Worried over Kabul Split," The Times (London), 20 August 1982, p. 4.

      48. The Times (London), 30 September 1982, p. 5.

      49. Jeff Trimble, "Update: Russia's 'Hidden War' in Afghanistan," US News and World Report, 1 August 1983, p. 22.

      50. Martin, Inside, p. 137. See also Kakar, Afghan Response, pp. 215-16.

      51. Edgar O'Ballance, Afghan Wars 1839-1992: What Britain Gave Up and the Soviet Union Lost (London: Brassey's, 1993), p. 121. See also Jean-Francois Revel, "The Awful Logic of Genocide," National Review, XXXVII, no. 19, p. 27. Revel states that according to Doctors without Borders, the starvation policy resulted in infant mortality rates to 85 percent during the winter of 1984-85.

      52. Martin, Inside, pp. 72, 85-86, 141, 144-45, 212, 220, 234. See also Anthony A. Cardoza, "Soviet Aviation in Afghanistan," Proceedings 113, no. 2 (February 1987), p. 87.

      53. "Battle Study: The Soviet War in Afghanistan," Marine Corps Gazette 70, no. 7 (July 1986), p. 61.

      54. Stephen Blank, "Imagining Afghanistan: Lessons of a 'Small' War," The Journal of Soviet Military Studies 3, no. 3 (September 1990), p. 474.

      55. Alexiev, Soviet Army, pp. 26-27. Alexiev verified only three parachute drops in his interviews with the mujahideen. See also Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam, trans. Naomi Marcus, Marianne Clarke Trangen and Vladislav Tamarov (San Francisco, CA: Mercury House, 1992), p. 28.

      56. Alexiev, Soviet Army, p. 27.

      57. David C. Isby, "Soviet Tactics in the War in Afghanistan," Jane's Defence Review 4, no. 7 (1983), p. 689.

      58. McMichael, Stumbling Bear, p. 139. See footnote 5. Also Galeotti, Last War, p. 38. In this period, night actions received increased attention and included operations from in Herat, Kabul, Kapisa, Farah and Parwan between December 1983 and November 1984.

      59. Tamarov, Soviet Vietnam, pp. 20, 28.

      60. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, pp. 102-03.

      61. Blank, "Imagining Afghanistan," p. 474.

      62. Alexander Zuyev and Malcolm McConnell, Fulcrum: A Top Gun Pilot's Escape from the Soviet Empire (New York: Warner Books, 1992), pp. 127-28.

      63. "Battle Study," p. 60.

      64. Jalali and Grau, Other Side, p. 405.

      65. Tamarov, Soviet Vietnam, p. 102.

      66. Anthony Arnold, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion in Perspective (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1985), p. 100. mujahideen attacks on the Kabul-Termez highway just prior to the 1984 Soviet offensive in Panjshir disrupted overland fuel supplies and forced the VTA to airlift the necessary fuel for the planned operation into Kabul.

      67. Turbiville, Ambush, p. 2.

      68. Urban, War in Afghanistan, p. 156.

      69. O'Ballance, Afghan Wars, p. 145.

      70. Goodwin, Crossfire, pp. 111, 123, 153.

      71. O'Ballance, Afghan Wars, p. 145. See also Peter Arnett, Live from the Battlefield. From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zones (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 426.

      72. The term "ARC LIGHT" refers to aerial bombardment operations conducted against suspected concentrations of North Vietnamese Army and/or Viet Cong forces by B-52s during the war in Vietnam.

      73. Anthony R. Tucker, "The Soviet War Over Afghanistan," Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review 1, no. 6 (June 1989), pp. 270-71.

      74. Robert D. Kaplan, Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 59.

      75. Stephen J. Blank, Operational and Strategic Lessons of the War in Afghanistan, 1979-1990 (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 1991), p. 73.

      76. Girardet, Soviet War, p. 33.

      77. Kaplan, Soldiers of God, 11.

      78. John Gunston, "Stingers Used by Afghan Rebels Stymie Soviet Air Force Tactics," Aviation Week & Space Technology 128, (4 April 1988), p. 43.

      79. Joseph J. Collins, "The Soviet Military Experience in Afghanistan," Military Review (May 1985), p. 21. A great percentage of these numbers might be attributed to flying mishaps due to weather, maintenance problems or poor flying skills. Nevertheless, it is clear that the increased introduction of SA-7s and heavy machine-guns played a key role in raising aircraft losses in 1984 and 1985.

      80. Mark Urban, "Soviet Operations in Afghanistan--Some Conclusions," Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review 2, no. 8 (August 1990), p. 366.

      81. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, p. 187.

      82. Urban, War in Afghanistan, p. 189.

      83. Michael Dobbs, "Dramatic Politburo Meeting Led to the End of War," The Washington Post, 16 November 1992, p. A16. See also Arnold, Fateful Pebble, pp. 185-87. Arnold provides an extensive discussion of the various cost estimates for the Soviet occupation. These estimates range from 3 to 8.2 billion dollars a year, depending on the source and the method of calculation.

      84. Urban, "Some Conclusions," pp. 366-67.

      85. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, p. 187.

      86. Urban, War in Afghanistan, pp. 191, 193.

      87. Edward Girardet, "Behind New Soviet Tactics in Afghanistan," US News & World Report, 20 January 1986, p. 30. See also Lohbeck, Holy War, p. 200.

      88. Girardet, "Tactics," p. 30.

      89. Alexiev, Soviet Army, p. 33.

      90. Dov S. Zakheim, "New Technologies & Third World Conflicts," Defense 86 (July/August 1986), p. 16.

      91. Tucker, "War Over Afghanistan," p. 270. See also Zakheim, "Technologies," p. 16. Zakheim states that in 1986, the Soviet helicopter inventory in Afghanistan included 140 Mi-24 Hinds, 105 Mi-8 Hips, 40 Mi-6 Hooks and 40 Mi-2 Hoplites.

      92. Urban, "Soviet Operations," p. 367.

      93. Tony Cullen and Christopher F. Foss, eds., Jane's Battlefield Air Defence (Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group, 1988), p. 19.

      94. Paul Overby, Holy Blood: An Inside View of the Afghan War (Westport, CT.: Praeger, 1993), p. 108.

      95. Larry Grossman, "Stinger Success," Military Forum 4, (April 1988), p. 54. Tests conducted with trained US Army operators indicated that only 45 percent achieved a kill.

      96. George A. Neranchi and Floyd C. Painter, "An Exclusive Defense Electronics Interview with Daoud Rams," Defense Electronics 20, no. 11 (October 1988), p. 148. Daoud Rams received his pilot training in the Soviet Union, but later defected to Pakistan in a MiG-21 during a combat mission near the border.

      97. Tucker, "War Over Afghanistan," p. 271.

      98. Cullen and Foss, Jane's, pp. 13, 23. The Blowpipe had a maximum speed of Mach 1 and a maximum effective range of 3.5 kilometers.

      99. Artyom Borovik, The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), p. 135.

      100. Neranchi and Painter, "Exclusive," p. 148.

      101. Sarin and Dvoretsky, Afghan Syndrome, p. 101. See also Alexiev, Soviet Army, p. 33. Alexiev offers a "conservative estimate" that credits the Stinger with a kill rate between 30 and 40 percent for a total of 270 aircraft destroyed between October 1986 and September 1987.

      102. Gunston, "Stingers," p. 47.

      103. Ibid., p. 46.

      104. Tucker, "War Over Afghanistan," p. 271.

      105. Douglas A. Borer, "The Afghan War: Communism's First Domino," War & Society 12, no. 2 (October 1994), p. 133.

      106. Dobbs, "Politburo," p. A16.

      107. William McManaway, "Stinger in Afghanistan," Air Defense Artillery (January/February 1990), p. 7.

      108. See Edwin G. Corr and Stephen Sloan, eds., Low-Intensity Conflict: Old Threats in a New World (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992).

      109. Non-trinitarian warfare refers to non-traditional or unconventional warfare. It rejects the Clausewitzian paradigm centering on the government, the population and the armed forces.

      110. Arthur Bonner, Among the Afghans (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987), p. 160.

      111. Nawroz and Grau, Harbinger, p. 4.

      112. Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Developments in Afghanistan, February 1988, 100th Cong., 2d sess., 17 and 25 February 1988, p. 98.

      113. M. Jamil Hanfi, Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Afghanistan (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1976), p. 2.

      114. Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Developments in Afghanistan, February 1988, 100th Cong., 2d sess., 17 and 25 February 1988, p. 99.

      115. Trevor Fishlock, "Tribesmen Exult at Killing of Russians," The Times (London), 17 November 1980, p. 9.

      116. Trevor Fishlock, "Discredited Afghan Leader Reports to his Kremlin Masters," The Times (London), 13 October 1980, p. 6.

      117. Amstutz, First Five, p. 162.

      118. Jeff Trimble, "Update: Russia's 'Hidden War' in Afghanistan," US News & World Report, 1 August 1983, p. 23. See also Trevor Fishlock, "Press Gangs Are Out on the Streets of Kabul," The Times (London), 4 August 1982, p. 5.

      119. Kakar, Afghanistan, pp. 47, 136.

      120. O'Ballance, Afghan Wars, p. 145.

      121. Bonner, Among the Afghans, p. 106.

      122. Edward Cody, "An Arduous Trek along the 'Jihad Trail,'" The Washington Post, 17 October 1983, p. A20.

      123. Robert Frank Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, 1950-1953 (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), p. 153.

      124. Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 192.

      125. Overby, Holy Blood, pp. 67, 70.

      126. Lohbeck, Holy War, p. 108.

      127. See Jere Van Dyk, In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey (New York: Coward-McCann Inc., 1983), passim. Martin, Inside, passim. See also Overby, Holy Blood; and Bonner, Among the Afghans, passim. The description by Western observers on the nature of the mujahideen diet is overwhelmingly consistent on this point.

      128. Overby, Holy Blood, p. 85. This is again but one example among many present in the various first-hand accounts.

      129. Hanfi, Dictionary, p. 2. For maximum troop strengths, see Arnold, Fateful Pebble, p. 137; and Joseph J. Collins, A Case Study in the Use of Force in Soviet Foreign Policy (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms,1984), p. 268.

      130. Jeff Trimble, "Update: Russia's 'Hidden War' in Afghanistan," US News & World Report, 1 August 1983, p. 24. Interview with Charles Dunbar.

      131. Nawroz and Grau, Harbinger, p. 10. Nawroz and Grau state that "logistically, they [the Soviets] were hard-pressed to maintain a larger force."

      132. McMichael, Stumbling Bear, p. 38.

      133. Blank, "Imagining Afghanistan," p. 475.

      134. Nawroz and Grau, Harbinger, p. 13.

      135. Michael Mecham, "US Credits Afghan Resistance with Thwarting Soviet Air Power," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 13 July 1987, p. 26. Mecham states that the mujahideen SAM threat led to a decreased use of helicopter transport, and forced the Soviets to employ between 300 and 500 armored personnel carriers during a 1987 offensive into Paktia province.

      136. Kaplan, Soldiers of God, p. 126.

      137. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 88.

      138. Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of Vietnam (New York: The Free Press, 1989), pp. 132-34.


      Link =


      • #4
        Originally posted by sukhoi View Post
        The Su25 was a good apable attack, close air support, and anti-tank aircraft designed which is comparable to the A-10 Thunderbolt II
        Anti-tank capabilities (Su-25T, T = Tankovy) are a relatively recent feature on the Su-25.

        The first prototype of the Su-25T (T8M-1) made its maiden flight in August 1984.

        The first series production Su-25T (T8M-6) was test flown in July 1990.

        The State trials of the Su-25T were completed in 1993.

        The first stage of field evaluation of the Su-25T was completed in 2001.


        • #5
          Originally posted by avon1944 View Post
          The fact that the A-10 is the ONLY western designed aircraft in which the pilot sits in an 'armored bathtub' designed to withstand 23mm cannon shells without penetration!
          During the static testing at Wright-Patterson AFB, the bathtub was tested against 23mm x 152B and 37mm x 250R HE rounds, and the windshield was tested against 7.62mm x 54R AP bullets.

          I have yet to see evidence that the bathtub on the A-10 was ever hit by 14.5mm x 114 or bigger AP projectiles.
          Last edited by Shipwreck; 03 Jan 07,, 16:39.


          • #6
            Next generation: A-10C arrives at Davis-Monthan

            by 2nd Lt. Mary Pekas
            355th Wing Public Affairs

            DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFPN) -- The A-10C Thunderbolt II made its official roll-out debut here Nov. 29, revealing its transformation and its enhanced capabilities under the Precision Engagement program.

            The Precision Engagement program will offer the A-10 the most significant modifications it has ever received in its 30-year history, making it a more capable and survivable attack fighter, according to Maj. Dan Walls, 355th Training Squadron director of conversion training unit operations.

            "Precision Engagement increases the lethality, survivability and standoff of one of the most respected and recognized attack aircraft in the world and ushers in a new era in the A-10 story," Major Walls said.

            Under this program, the A-10 will receive numerous enhancements including the full integration of sensors, including data link and a targeting pod, allowing the A-10C to identify and strike targets from higher altitudes and greater distances without sacrificing accuracy. This integration also will enhance the aircraft's communication capabilities.

            The cockpit will undergo modifications under the program with the introduction of two new multi-functional color displays and a new hands-on-throttle-and-stick interface. These enhancements translate into increased situational awareness for the pilot and the ability to perform most tasks without removing his or her hands from the throttle or stick.

            As a result of this upgrade, the A-10C is projected to remain operational into the end of the 2020s, well beyond its initial expected lifespan, Major Walls said.

            At the roll-out ceremony, Col. Kent Laughbaum, 355th Wing commander, introduced the arrival of the upgraded jet with reminiscent words on the history of the A-10. He ended by citing several of the technological advancements made to the A-10C and the possibilities for it in the future.

            Guests and media later took the opportunity to see the newest modifications up close as A-10C pilots and maintainers showed them around the aircraft and the cockpit. A desktop simulator also was provided for visitors to experience virtual flight in the modified jet.

            "We're going to see at least another generation of the A-10 at (Davis-Monthan)," said Colonel Laughbaum. "It is an exciting day for Davis-Monthan and the A-10 community."

            Link =


            • #7

              Originally posted by zraver View Post
              When the USAF trie dot get rid of it after GW1 the Army said it would break the inter-service agreement on fixed wing aircraft if it did.
              There was a competition for the replacement of the Hog in the late 1980s, between the A-7F (Corsair II with F-100 engine and new avionics) and the A-16 (*CAS-configured* F-16 variant).

              The A-16 was declared the winner but was plagued by numerous deficiencies among which :

              * the relatively poor payload-range performance,
              * the cruise speed at low altitude not appreciably higher than that of the A-10 when heavily loaded, even in burner (barely 50% more than the A-10),
              * the problematic integration of the 30mm GPU-5/A gun pod,
              * the relative expense of the aircraft

              The A-16 was effectively a dead program before ODS and its mediocre performance during ODS merely sealed its fate.

              Originally posted by zraver View Post
              The A-10 may be an airforce bird, but its the armies baby.
              As far as I can tell, the USAF has shown a solid commitment to the A-10 over the past 15 years.


              • #8
                Originally posted by M21Sniper View Post
                The A10 (...) operates much closer to the front because of it's rough field capabilities
                In theory, the Hog is able to operate from *unimproved surfaces* and using this capability was apparently considered during ODS.

                In practice, with the exception of some very limited tests carried out during its development, the Hog was rarely (if ever) operated from such austere locations and forward operating locations for the A-10 in Europe tended to have long runways.


                • #9
                  Shipwreck, excellent posts!
                  Karmani Vyapurutham Dhanuhu


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Archer View Post
                    Shipwreck, excellent posts!
                    My pleasure, Mate. :)


                    • #11
                      Cajun Sunet: New Orleans bids farewell to 926th Fighter Wing

                      by Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin
                      Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command

                      12/6/2006 - ROBINS AFB, Ga. -- In 1755, British troops, with the help of New England militia, forcibly removed 8,000 Acadians from their land and homes in what was known as the Great Expulsion, le Grand Dérangement. The area in Canada, once known as Acadia, became Nova Scotia. Their homes burned and their lands confiscated, the French-speaking Acadians were forced to pick up their lives and families and start anew elsewhere. A resilient group, the Acadians established new lives, predominantly in south Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.

                      Some 251 years later, members of the 926th Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La., a unit known as the "Fighting Cajuns," faced their own version of expulsion, this time at the hands of the latest Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In September, the 926th became the first Air Force Reserve Command unit to be closed by the lastest BRAC.

                      Although not as tragic as the Great Expulsion, the closure is nevertheless forcing people, who proudly embody the spirit of the Cajuns, to once again pick up their lives and start anew. For many, their lives were just getting back to normal after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

                      While the original Cajuns brought their skills for farming and fishing to Louisiana, 926th FW Airmen will bring their vast skills and experiences, along with a piece of the unit's rich heritage -- a heritage that stretched from World War II to the Global War on Terrorism, with a presence in New Orleans since 1958 -- to other Reserve units throughout the country.

                      To commemorate the closing of the unit, in the true spirit of New Orleans, the 926th FW hosted a farewell banquet and deactivation party Aug. 12, 2006, at the downtown Sheraton. The party, held a month before the unit's official closure, was named Operation Cajun Sunset.

                      A distinguished aspect of New Orleans culture is the jazz funeral. In 1819, architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe said New Orleans jazz funerals were "peculiar to New Orleans alone among all American cities." In his book "Bourbon Street Black," the late jazzman Danny Barker noted the funeral is seen as "a major celebration." The roots of the jazz funeral date back to Africa.

                      And it was with a similar approach that the Cajuns bid farewell. Although the unit was closing, the Reservists treated the occasion as a celebration of the past as well as the present.

                      "This party is a way to bring closure," said Col. Larry Merington, 926th FW commander. "It's a celebration, not a funeral, that goes back to the people we've worked with and for, who helped make a difference on this planet; a celebration of members who served over the last 50 years in this wing. We are closing a chapter of this book, so someone else will open a new chapter in our history."

                      "The significance really for tonight is to relish the relationships and friendships we've made over the years and to highlight the history of this unit, which goes a long way back," said Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, AFRC commander. "We've got a lot of folks from many decades ago who are here with us tonight. This unit has had a long and proud history, and I'm just glad we've put together a first-class event so that people currently in the unit and those who were in the unit before can come together and celebrate the 926th Fighter Wing."

                      A year ago, far from being in a celebratory mood, members of the 926th were trying to get through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, all the while dealing with the upcoming BRAC.

                      Of the slightly more than 1,000 people in the wing, 66 percent were negatively impacted by Katrina, with 34 percent either completely losing or being displaced from their homes, Colonel Merington said. While recovering from that terrible blow to their personal lives, they were faced with turmoil in their professional lives created by the wing's closure.

                      "All of these life-changing events in 12 months," Colonel Merington said. "Most people don't go through that much in 20 years. These are some resilient people, as courageous as any people I've seen."

                      No matter how resilient or courageous the folks of the 926th FW appeared to be on the outside, Colonel Merington said the wing's leadership was concerned about the members' mental state. The unit was recommended for closure before Katrina, but after the natural disaster, the process was expedited, causing increased stress.

                      "After Katrina hit, we went from (a closure timeline of) 2 1/2 years to nine months," Colonel Merington said. "It was a unique situation. People suffered disparaging harm from the hurricane, and then they had to go through BRAC. We became very concerned about what to do."

                      Wing leadership tapped into available Air Force and AFRC programs and brought in some counselors to help members cope with all the issues going on in their lives.

                      "We decided to go above and beyond to conduct what many called 'feel-good sessions,'" Colonel Merington said. "It was to let people know we cared about them deeply, never forgetting our obligation to take care of the physical and mental health of our people. We wanted them to know there was a lifeline."

                      Part of the stress came from the fact that the unit closure was sped up due to the hurricane. There are varying opinions of whether this was a good or bad thing. For Col. Steve Arthur, who was 926th FW commander at the time of the BRAC announcement and during Hurricane Katrina, speeding up the closure was a good thing. The colonel knows something about base closures as he was at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, when it was closed in the early 1990s.

                      "Having been through one before, you know where the pitfalls are," Colonel Arthur said. "I knew two of the things that would be good about closing sooner rather than later would be the availability of lots of jobs and lots of money. These really helped us out and proved to be an advantage."

                      Once the A-10s left New Orleans for Whiteman AFB, Mo., and Barksdale AFB, La., Colonel Arthur moved on to Whiteman as commander, and Colonel Merington took the reigns in July for the wing's final months.

                      "There will be debates about how fast you should close a unit under BRAC," Colonel Merington said. "From my seat, the faster the better. No lingering death, and no hacking off bits and pieces. The acceleration was a blessing as far as helping our people out was concerned."

                      Not everyone shares the two commanders' opinions about closing the wing early.

                      "Had we closed a year later, it would have been easier on everybody because so many people's houses were not back in order from Katrina, which made BRAC much harder," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Smith. "Everyone was just getting their lives back in order, and then they had to sell their houses due to BRAC."

                      Sergeant Smith, an air reserve technician and New Orleans native, took a job at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.

                      "I'm glad to have a job," Sergeant Smith said, "but I hate leaving my family and friends and uprooting my kids from their school, friends and family. But we are in the Air Force, and we know situations like this can happen. We make the best of it. It's not the end of the world, just a major inconvenience."

                      For units on the closure list, AFRC set up several programs, including a BRAC guide, member tracking codes, two clearinghouses, e-mail boxes and an archive, all designed to assist those affected.

                      "For me being a DOD (Department of Defense) civilian employee, placement was good," said Master Sgt. Norman Bailey, a member of the 926th Security Forces Squadron. "I was glad we were the first ones in the system. I applied the first week we could and had a hit in the first week.

                      "As far as my Reserve job was concerned, I wasn't as fortunate. I went through the clearinghouse, which showed me some hits, but there were some problems. We were told the units had to take us, but they said they didn't."

                      Another person who experienced some difficulties with the clearinghouse was Chief Master Sgt. Gary Hornosky, 926th FW command chief master sergeant. He ended up retiring in August.

                      "They made it sound like the clearinghouse was the answer, which was not the case for everyone," Chief Hornosky said. "I put my name in the clearinghouse and got no response whatsoever. I don't know if they received it or not. We started having supervisors call other units to help find jobs. That proved to be the most effective way."

                      Despite the problems, Colonel Merington said AFRC should maintain the clearinghouse.

                      "We are the first unit to use the traditional Reservist clearinghouse," Colonel Merington said. "With all new programs, there are always glitches, but it is a valuable tool, and we need to continue using it."

                      Although it's now closed, the wing's history book includes a stellar record during wartime. Dating back to the D-Day invasion of Normandy and continuing through the peacekeeping mission over Bosnia, Desert Storm and now the Global War on Terrorism, the unit has carved out an impressive record.

                      "This wing has always risen to the challenge of war and peacekeeping," Colonel Merington said. "I'd rather go to war with them than anyone else. The Cajun mentality is if there is no danger, let's party; but if there's danger, they are warriors and do their job very well."

                      As the first Reserve fighter unit recalled to active duty during Operation Desert Storm, the Cajuns became the most decorated unit during the war.

                      "They (active-duty people) were looking at us as if to say, 'What are you doing here?' We proved to them that we belonged," said Master Sgt. Ron Steib, an aircraft hydraulic technician, who recently retired. "All of our training paid off, and we rose to the occasion.

                      "After that it was like a drug to me. Anytime the unit deployed, I needed to go. They were my family."

                      In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Cajuns were once again called to duty, as the unit deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

                      "I was a little nervous because everyone's emotions were real high right after 9/11, and I'm thinking, 'Geez, am I up to the task here? Can we go over and do what needs to be done?'" said retired Lt. Col. Neil McAskill, former commander of the 706th Fighter Squadron. The colonel led the Cajuns in Bagram during Operation Enduring Freedom.

                      "The team was so fantastic," he said. "The guys were so motivated. We flew an enormous amount of sorties and didn't lose any to maintenance or logistics problems. They pretty much put the Air Force A-10 community on track for doing night operations with NVGs (night-vision goggles). For me it was the most special time in my military career, those four months at Bagram."

                      A lasting memory of the Cajuns is on display for the entire world to see. An A-10 Thunderbolt II known as "Chopper Popper" lives on at the Air Force Academy. The "Warthog," flown by then Capt. Bob Swain, now a colonel, was part of the first air-to-air kill during Operation Desert Storm.

                      Colonel Swain, an academy graduate and former 926th FW commander, is currently 22nd Air Force vice commander. And although he has moved on to bigger and better things, he will always be linked to the 926th FW.

                      "I owe a lot to New Orleans," he said. "I showed up as a captain and learned a lot about core values and got to work with some great personalities there."

                      But it was during Desert Storm in 1991 that the Cajuns made their mark by setting the bar for total-force integration. Colonel Swain's shooting down of an Iraqi helicopter was just lagniappe, a Cajun term that means something extra.

                      "It was just another mission, but the first is always a good thing," Colonel Swain said. "That airplane will be there long after we leave the Earth. It reinforces total force and is a great honor for the unit to have it on display at a great institution where we train future leaders."

                      For all members past and present who have served in the 926th FW, the colonel said the aircraft serves as a reminder that "when called, we served."

                      (Sergeant Babin is a traditional Reservist who served in the public affairs office of the 926th FW. He wrote this article while on a temporary duty assignment with Citizen Airman.)



                      • #12
                        Haven't we been talking about getting rid of the A-10 for years? I really don't see it happening. And HOPEfully not, considering that's all I wanna fly.
                        Flectere Si Nequeo Superos, Acheronta Movebo


                        • #13
                          So long as we are involved in the ME you can almost be certain you will see the A10. It is well suited for its missions there.;)
                          Fortitude.....The strength to persist...The courage to endure.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Blackjack View Post
                            Haven't we been talking about getting rid of the A-10 for years? I really don't see it happening. And HOPEfully not, considering that's all I wanna fly.
                            No, on the contrary, it's been years since we have talked about getting rid of the A-10.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by B.Smitty View Post
                              No, on the contrary, it's been years since we have talked about getting rid of the A-10.
                              It seems all i've been hearing lately is that by the time I'm flying, the A-10 is going to be heading out...and that's only in a couple years. MY guess is that NObody knows what's really goin on...
                              Flectere Si Nequeo Superos, Acheronta Movebo