Offensive counter-air

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Offensive counter-air takes a military initiative in degrading or destroying the enemy's aircraft, missiles, launch platforms, and their supporting structures and systems both before and after they take to the air, but as close to their bases as possible. It can be intended to have immediate effects on operational aircraft and airfields, or a more indirect role, such as on aircraft manufacturing or aviation fuel supplies.

The Philippines Air Force systematically described the requirements for its OCA aircraft. First, the geography requires that OCA missions may be of very long range. "With the likely distances to be traversed and the weight and number of weapons to be carried, sufficient built-in range and endurance will be almost impossible to attain. The need for operational air-to-air refueling (AAR) capability is compelling and must be featured in all planning." A related need is that the OCA aircraft must be able to operate from forward bases.

"The significance of the principle of surprise in an OCA context is that aircraft surprised on the ground are, unless they are heavily sheltered, more vulnerable and more easily targeted than when they are airborne. A graphic illustration is the success of the Israeli raids in 1967 (Operation Focus) when 196 combat aircraft destroyed 400 Arab aircraft on the ground in two days.[1] In December 1941, American air power in the Philippines was caught on the ground at Clark Field and was effectively written off as a fighting force by Japanese air attacks.[2] "The ability to change roles quickly, [from OCA attack, offensive sweep, SEAD, and DCA.] even while airborne on a mission, can compensate for low numbers of aircraft and represents a key requirement for the PAF’s force structure. [3]

Suppression of enemy air defense

Suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), or the variant, destruction of enemy air defense (DEAD), with a sophisticated opponents, can be a prerequisite for other air attacks, whether offensive counter-air, BAI, strike, or CAS. SEAD can be electronic "soft kill" or kinetic "hard kill", while DEAD is definitely hard kill. Much of the initial effort in Operation DESERT STORM was SEAD; the Germans lost the Battle of Britain through failure to understand SEAD against an early integrated air defense system (IADS).

Runways are remarkably easy to patch for the needs of military aircraft, so they need deep destruction, a continuing hazard, or both. The French-made BLU-107 Durandal munition, after drop, slows and stabilizes with a parachute, and then fires a rocket to drive the warhead through and under the runway before it explodes. A variety of cluster munitions both cover wide areas with many small blasts, and the property of current units to leave unexploded submunitionsi.e., bomblets) are desirable for airfield denial but unacceptable in civilian areas. British JP233 and US CBU-87 are gravity bombs containing cluster submunitions. The US Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser and AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon all can deliver a cluster load with much greater precision.

Fighter escort

While fighter escort directly defends the aircraft being protected, aggressive escort techniques inflict significant damage on the enemy defensive counter-air fighters. In the Second World War, bombers became more, not less, effective when their escorts did not only stay in close protective fight, but extended their coverage to engage enemy fighters before they came close to the bombers.[4] Fighter sweeps, where there are no protected aircraft but simply a formation intended to invite combat from enemy aircraft, is a logical extension.

Historically, fighter escort was necessary for heavy bombers operating against a serious air defense, including Operation LINEBACKER II above North Vietnam. In a role reversal, however, heavy bombers such as the B-52 are used extensively for BAI and even CAS. The only heavy bombers expected to penetrate air defenses are low-observability, particularly the B-2.

The classic fighter escort mission to bombers may be disappearing, although electronic escort definitely was used to support F-117 light stealth bomber operations against Baghdad. Electronic warfare aircraft, cruise missile-carrying bombers and High-value assets (HVA) such as C3I-ISR aircraft, and tankers, are still likely to need fighter protection if there is any threat from enemy fighters. Soviet air-to-air missile designers have spent considerable effort on long-range weapons, such as the Novator R-172, optimized as HVA killers.

Fighter sweeps

A fighter sweep sends a force of aircraft, optimized for air-to-air combat, into enemy airspace, with the intention of fighting enemy aircraft on terms locally favorable to the OCA force. A variety of means are used to achieve local advantage. "For offensive sweep operations, knowledge of likely enemy Rules of Engagement (ROE) would be crucial if attrition is to be avoided when positive identification of possible targets is required."Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag while Rodeo operations used large formations intended to draw attacks.

Operation Bolo was a Vietnam War evolution of the Rodeo, in that it appeared, to North Vietnamese electronic sensors, to be a force of F-105 fighter-bombers with a modest Phantom escort. The F-4's even had borrowed AN/QRC-160 ECM pods, only used previously by F-105s. Only when North Vietnamese fighters were in visual range, did they realize the presumably bomb-laden F-105s were actually F-4s flying an F-105 profile, and optimized for air-to-air combat.[5]

In its analysis of OCA requirements, the Philippines Air Force observed "Offensive sweeps require suitable air-to-air weapons, in terms of both quality and quantity. Effective all-aspect short range missiles, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, as well as a gun comprise a generally accepted package. Since air-to-air engagements can be short and intense, the ability to carry an adequate quantity of missiles will be important in such operations. For the same reason, base stockpiling and resupply must be carefully managed in a prolonged conflict."[3]


  1. Operation Focus, The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel
  2. Wesley Frank Craven & James Lea Cate, ed., Chapter 6: Pearl Harbor and Clark Field, Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. Vol. I: Plans & Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942, pp. 201-218
  3. 3.0 3.1 , Chapter V, Counter Air Operations"[Philippines Air Force] PAF Air Power Manual Draft interim", OSS Digest, OCT - DEC 1999, Volume 4.3
  4. Skip C. Pribyl (June 2006), Coevolution in Air Warfare: the Struggle for Superiority through Complexity's Lens, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air University, U.S. Air Force, pp. 18-36
  5. Boyne, Walter J. (November 1998), "MiG Sweep", Air Force Magazine Online