Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The never-ending fight over aircraft supporting ground forces in combat: Close air support vs. interdiction

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 ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

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."  

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."  

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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