The earliest the finest use of Air Power in army operations at tactical level was seen during Germany's Blitz through Poland and France, where Stukas and twin-engine strikers of Luftwaffe decimated enemy formations and paved easy way for the German Army. CAS/BAI have long been ingnored by the west, but their importance has always come to light in all conflicts. US completely ignored dedicated CAS until the Vietnam war showed up. This war forced the US Forces to use make-shift arrangements like the A-1 Skyraider, Birddog FAC and UH-1 equipped with TOWs and Rockets. Operation Linebacker showed how Air Power could be used to stop the enemy's advances.
As the US President said during a 1968 visit to Vietnam -
"Through the use of air power, a mere handful of
you men --as military forces are really reckoned--are
pinning down several hundred thousand--more than half a
million--North Vietnamese. You are increasing the cost
of infiltration. You are imposing a very high rate of
attrition when the enemy is engaged, and you are giving
him no rest when he withdraws."
In Indo-Pak scenario, the importance of CAS has even more importance because of the following reasons -
Both countries do not have a big contingent of Self-Propelled Artillery, which applies more to Indian Army. While having Mechanized Infantry Formations will allow rapid movement, you need fire support to prevent major losses.
Even a small formation of the army can defeat a larger enemy formation, if properly supported by the Air Force / Army Aviation Corps.
BAI is a vital component of support for amry, because it can render even a huge armoured thrust useless as it cuts off supplies. If conducted properly, it results in minimal aircraft loss, and maximum effect over a period of time. However, its limitation is time-to-effect. Sometimes, direct action is required and BAI is not useful. So CAS does not lose its importance in any way.
These missions require -
Decent Electronic Support - Use of radar-guided weapons by armies has lead to high attrition rates during CAS and BAI. Thus, ECM/EW/ESM are very important.
Dedicated Aircrafts - Known as bomb-trucks. Apart from payload and quick egress, the aircraft needs good armor protection, decent ECM suite and low-level capability.
Intel on enemy location, supply routes, defences has to be provided. Immediate Support Missions violate this rule, and that is why they have lower rates of success.
CAS/BAI Operations in Indian Air Force
IAF has traditionally been oriented towards Strike and Attack roles than offensive air operations. This was partly due to the lack of a true air-superiority fighter with long range and high time-on-station. During the previous conflicts, IAF converted its Hunters for CAS, BAI and Strike roles. Many times the Aden 30mm cannons were stripped to allow longer legs for Interdiction Missions. One of the best performances of the Hunter came during a Pakistani offensive at Longewala, where IAF Hunters destroyed the attacking force with minimal support from the ground troops. However, this has to be viewed in the light that the offensive was made without any air cover from PAF. Other aircrafts employed for this role were Vampires, Mysteres, Marut and Canberra (interdiction).
Since then, IAF has acquired mission-specific aircrafts and therefor it has acquired dedicated ground attack capability. During the Kargil conflict, IAF was faced with the task of supporting the army at places and altitudes which have not seen air support missions ever before, and neither were IAF weapons suited for CAS in this situation. However, IAF was quite successful in conducting Battlefield Air Interdiction by raiding enemy supply routes and command posts at stand-off ranges and high altitudes. After the war, IAF was plastered for not providing accurate fire support for the army. IAF replied by saying that CAS is not suitable to these situations and it should be restricted to BAI. IAF now says that it should focus on BAI more than CAS, because with the available resources, a well planned BAI effort will yield better results than Direct Action, and will also give lower attrition rates.
Aircrafts in IAF marked for CAS and BAI -
Mi-8/17 Hip Armed Helos
Mi-24/35 Helicopters Gunships
ALH Dhruv Armed Variant
Support Aircraft -
MiG-23BN Flogger - Dedicated SEAD/DEAD aircraft for support.
MiG-21Bis - Escort
MiG-21 BISON - Escort/dominance
MiG-29 Fulcrum - Tactical Air Dominance
During a conflict, the availability of the aircrafts, available weapons, proximity of the target area, enemy air defences etc will actually decide the aircraft and weapon package for the mission. In a certain case, we might even see a Mirage-2000 interdicting major supply routes that are heavily defended. This, however, in general is not the case.
Attacking a tank column used to be an easy task some time back when only crude defences were available speeding low-level aircrafts. Over the years, these attack aircrafts have started facing a potent weapon that can be deployed to take out anything that flies over the battlefield - Man Portable Air Defence System (ManPADS). The value of ManPADS was seen for the first time during the Soviet-Afghan conflict, where the Afghan militia was supplied the Stinger shoulder fired IR guided missile, to counter the deadly Mi-24 Hind gunships. It was only after the success of the stinger that the Soviet aircrafts started targetting from a fair distance, which compromised accuracy.
Traditional SAMs also present a grave threat to the aircraft. Modern Air Defence Artillery units are equipped with Radar/IR guided SAMs and fast-firing cannons on mobile launchers, to enable movement with the advancing troops.
Current anti-aircraft threat from Pakistani -
As seen here, Pakistan has a thick cloud of low-level air defence missiles working for it. Inserting ill-equipped aircrafts like MiG-21MF in the area would invite attrition. IAF has already outfitted the MiG-27 with new IR jammer, chaff/flare dispenser, new avionics and guided weapons. Mi-24/35 have been upgraded with fire-forget missiles like Nag IIR, Spike missile. MiG-21 BISON has new avionics and guided weapons, along with excellent ECM suite. Other aircrafts like older MiG-21s, ALF Dhruv and Mi-8/17 are also quite capable for a mid-threat zone.
Still, because of the threat, IAF will have to keep switching between CAS and BAI to avoid being predictable and also to be flexible. By inserting protected aircrafts into CAS missions, and sending other aircrafts into areas with lower defence levels, IAF can make effective use of the resources. The factor working heavily in favour of IAF is the sheer number of aircrafts available solely for CAS. If used properly, they will prove to be devastating for the enemy.
CAS/BAI Operations in Pakistani Air Force
Due to its small size, PAF has traditionally been restricted to Air Defence and selective strikes only. Only on very few occassions has the PAF been able to provide substantial support to the ground forces. This is still the case as IAF enjoys a big numerical advantage over PAF. And with induction of new Air Dominance fighters and Strike fighters, PAF's first objective is to secure the airspace over Pakistan and intercept any incoming raid. For this, PAF relies on a well-knit Air Defence System.
However, a few changes have taken place over the years, which ensure that the Pakistani Army will get its support on most occassions. PAF has only two types of aircrafts that are completely dedicated to strike roles - Mirage-III/V and A-5 Fantan. The Pakistani Army Aviation Corps had acquired AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships from the US, and they have been upgraded with new avionics as well.
PAF Aircrafts capable of conducting CAS and BAI -
Support Aircrafts (Escorts) -
Pakistani Army Aviation -
AH-1 Cobra- highly agile, good avionics and payload. Combat tested TOW missile. Lack of Fire-forget capability in the ATGM makes it vulnerable.
F-16s will not be used for these roles in case of a war and Mirage aircrafts will focus more on strikes. So A-5 will most likely be the only aircraft along with the Cobra that will support the army. Lack of Tactical Air Superiority may hamper operations. Unescorted operations will increase attrition inp presence of enemy fighters and missile cover. K-8 and FT-5 will be converted for attack as well.
Missile Threat from IAF -
Tunguska (9M311-M1 SAM)
The above inventory shows that the battlefield will be infested with not only IR guided ManPADS, but also Radar-guided SAMs. The range of the missiles also varies, from short and low-level, to long and high-level, making it even tougher to formulate the correct package of aircrafts and countermeasures for the job.
Therefore it is evident that PAF needs to modernize not only in the field of Air Defence, but also in terms of support to the ground troops.
The following measures can be taken -
Acquire dedicated multi-band ECM pods, with integrated ESM.
Fitting all aircrafts with RWR, chaff-flare dispenser atleast. Atleast one aircraft in each mission should carry RD/IR jammers.
Better escort capability to be developed with F-7P and F-7PG aircrafts.
A-5 to be upgraded with newer avionics and weapons to enable operation in high
H-2 and H-4 glide bombs be fitted with wide-area munition dispensers to allow deployment from stand-off ranges.
Mirages and F-7s being replaced by newer aircrafts to be overhauled and converted for Close Air Support.
More gunships should be acquired, or other helicopters should be armed with rockets and MGs to work in low threat areas.
Fire-and-Forget ATGMs to be procured.
Recconaissance and Surviellance capability to be increased - by acquiring scout helicopters.
AGM--65 (IR/TV) Maverick to be acquired in large numbers to arm F-16s, Mirage-III and AH-1 Cobra. If possible, A-5 and F-7PG should also be fitted with Mavericks.
Acquire tracked medium-range SAM system (15-20km class), and fast-firing artillery systems like ZSU-23 in mass numbers.
Acquire Wind-Corrected Cluster Bomb Units.
Acquire a decent Anti-raditation missile for SEAD (even the AGM-45 Shrike will do, AGM-88 HARM is essential only in case of DEAD).
The measures that I have mentioned are probably not possible for Pakistan to implement due to financial limitations. However, if not implemented, and if all the modernization is planned for Air Defence, then IAF CAS aircrafts will get more freedom of operation, which could prove to be vital in a short and high-intensity conflict. Pakistan Army will have to take heavy losses in absence of air support from PAF.
Please post any more suggesstions for PAF, that may be cost-effective in nature. If I have missed out on a system or capabolity, or have made any mistake in metioning procedures, please correct me.