The never-ending fight over aircraft supporting ground forces in combat: Close air support vs. interdiction
- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
There seems to me to be a never-ending fight between close air support (that is, against the enemy’s frontline forces) and interdiction (that is, on the lines of supply to those forces). Why do the twain never meet?
I suspect the answer is that both sides are totally right — from their own perspectives. Air commanders want to be able to boast that they blew up 90 percent of the mortar shells that were being shipped to the enemy’s front. But if you are on the receiving end of the remaining 10 percent, that means nothing. What you wanted stopped is the 100 percent of the shells aiming to kill you at that moment.
How to resolve this? I suspect it is to drop the other shoe and give the Army its own fixed-wing close air support aircraft, to go along with the helicopters. Back when the Army Air Corps failed to provide enough spotting aircraft, the Army’s artillery branch bought its own aircraft, Edgar Raines tells us (via the estimable Eugenia Kiesling). If I were sec def, I’d say to the Air Force, "Dudes, it’s like drones: By handling the mission so poorly, you’ve forfeited the right to sole ownership."
John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.| The Complex |