III - AIR DEFENSE EFFECTIVENESS

Most recent analyses of the significance of missile proliferation have stressed that missiles can be launched in confidence that they will reach their targets, in contrast to aircraft, which face attrition due to air defenses. There are at least three reasons for questioning the power of this observation. First, although air defenses do pose challenges for attack aircraft, more often than not in actual combat the per-sortie attrition rate is rather low, typically on the order of only a few percent. Second, at least 10% of missiles launched experience post-launch failures due to mechanical unreliability prior to reaching the vicinity of their target. Thus the probability of an attack aircraft not reaching its target due to air defenses is of the same order as the probability of a missile not reaching its target due to mechanical failure. Third, improvements to air defense systems such as the Patriot surface-to-air missile offer the prospect of intercepting medium range missiles such as the Scud.

Operational considerations such as attrition may go a long way toward accounting for the uses of ballistic missiles in recent years. During the War of the Cities, both Iran and Iraq sought to harass their enemy's urban populations over a protracted campaigns of many months. Given the duration of the campaign, even relatively ineffective air defenses would have imposed unacceptable aircraft losses. Following their withdrawal, the Soviet Union undertook large-scale use of Scuds in Afghanistan. This surely responded to concerns about the fate of pilots who might be captured flying close-air support missions. But the paucity of other combat uses of ballistic missiles suggests that in most cases, attack aircraft remain the weapon of choice.



AIR DEFENSE ATTRITION

Assessments of the prospective effectiveness of air defenses against attacking aircraft are complicated by the wide range of historical experience, both with individual anti-aircraft weapons as well as with air defense systems as a whole. Over the past half century air defenses have ranged from essentially ineffective to virtually impenetrable, and there is little a priori basis for anticipating either outcome. Indeed, such assumptions seem as often as not to be based on political convenience, as when estimates of attrition rates for Close Air Support aircraft against heavily defended areas are as low as 3%, while estimates of the effectiveness of the Forward Area Air Defense System run as high as 30%.

The growing complexity of air defense systems has increased the extent to which the effectiveness of the defense is heavily influenced by tactical innovations and surprise, aimed at disrupting the functioning of the system as a whole, rather than simply altering attrition rates.(1) Tactical responses to air defenses vary, with European air forces favoring low altitude penetration, in contrast to the preference of the American Air Force for medium altitude penetration facilitated by air superiority and jamming.(2) Against stealthy aircraft, the radars on Russian SAMs would have to increase by a thousand-fold to restore the relative capabilities they enjoy versus present US aircraft.(3)

It appears that as a general rule, the US Air Force is pursuing programs that will allow greater reliance on stealthy systems rather than reliance on jamming to penetrate air defenses.(4) American air forces have a wide variety of programs for air defense suppression.(5) The F-4 Wild Weasel is dedicated to the defense suppression mission, carrying special sensors to detect hostile air defense radars, as well as a variety of anti-radiation missiles (ARM) for attack. This was most recently demonstrated by the Israeli campaign against Syrian anti-aircraft defenses of Soviet origin in the Bekaa Valley in 1982, which incorporated imaginative use of stand-off AEW aircraft and Remotely-Piloted-Vehicles against aerial and ground defenses.(6)

There are certainly numerous accounts of highly effective anti-air operations. American-made Hawk surface to air missiles reportedly achieved single-shot kill probabilities of better than 50% when used by Israel in 1973, and the American AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile achieved a 70 to 90% kill probability when used by the British in the Falklands.(7) The British Seawolf surface to air missile downed three of four attacking aircraft during its first trial by combat in the Falklands.(8) One analysis of the effectiveness of the Stinger missile in Afghanistan concluded that of 340 Soviet aircraft fired at, 269 (almost 80%) were destroyed,(9) although other estimates placed the kill rate at closer to 40%.(10)

In the American raid on the Ploesti oil refineries in 1942, 52 of the 163 B-24 Liberator bombers (32%) were shot down.(11) During the later stages of the War, German FW190 fighter attrition rates were approaching 30% per sortie.(12) The defenses of some very heavily protected airfields in Germany were capable of inflicting 50% loss rates by 1945.(13) During the later part of the Second World War, British air defenses were successfully destroying about 60% of the German V-1s before they reached their targets.(14) Defenses against the V-1 improved to the point that on one day, 28 August 1944, 97 of the 101 launched were shot down.(15)

The effectiveness of American continental air defenses against Soviet strategic bomber attack during the 1950's was estimated at about 30%.(16) And the effectiveness of Soviet strategic air defenses against penetration by the B-52 during the mid-1980's was estimated at less than 25%.(17)

Between 30% and 40% of Israeli ground-attack aircraft were lost during the first three days of the 1973 war, before systematic attacks were mounted against Egyptian air defenses.(18) During this conflict, Arab aircraft were largely ineffective in attacking Israel itself, and Israeli air defenses shot down 20 of the 25 Kelt air-to-surface cruise missiles. In the course of the war, more than half of the 900 Egyptian and Syrian aircraft were shot down, with two-thirds of these over 500 losses in air-to-air combat. Of the 350 Israeli aircraft at the outset of the war, 100 were shot down, almost all by ground fire.(19) And Israeli air-to-air combat with Syrian air forces during the 1982 Bekaa Valley campaign inflicted 30% attrition in an hour-long melee, shooting down 29 aircraft without a single Israeli loss.(20)

However, even highly effective defenses have suffered embarrassing failures. Despite the vaunted abilities of Israeli air defenses, in October 1989 a lone Syrian MiG-23 successfully evaded interception by flying at low altitude and landed at an Israeli airfield.(21) Both Korean airliner incidents [1978 and 1983] show the kind of troubles suggest that Soviet air defenses had serious problems. And Soviet air defenses were further embarrassed by the ability of a lone German Cessna aircraft to land in the middle of Red Square.(22) That this was not an isolated failing was demonstrated on 9 June 1990, when the unidentified pilot of another Cessna landed at the airport at Batumi on the Black Sea, placed two bouquets of carnations on the runway, and then took off.(23)

And there is certainly ample precedent for discounting the effectiveness of air defenses. Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missiles achieved a single-shot kill probability of about 1% during the Viet Nam war, the American AIM-9E Sidewinder air-to-air missile achieved a 8% to 10% kill probability in Viet Nam, while the AIM-7E Sparrow achieved a disappointing 12% to 15% kill probability, versus the 70% demonstrated in tests.(24) During the Falklands the elderly British Seacat surface-to-air missile achieved only a 10% kill probability.(25)

During World War II British air defense averaged only a 7% attrition rate overall.(26) German air defense inflicted attrition rates that ranged from 4% to 8%, compared to the 4% attrition rates averaged by Japan.(27) Attrition rates averaged about 2% during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.(28) Overall Israeli attrition rates during the 1967 war averaged 1.4% with ground attack aircraft suffering 4% attrition,(29) while during the 1973 war daily attrition rates ranged from 2% to 4%.(30) During the December 1972 Operation Linebacker II, 740 B-52 sorties against Hanoi led to 15 aircraft being shot down, with over 1000 SA-2s fired. This 2% attrition rate is ten time higher than the overall rate during the Viet Nam War, which declined from 0.35% in 1966 to 0.15% by 1968.(31) Of the 55 combat aircraft that penetrated Libyan airspace during the American raid in 1986, only a single F-111 was downed by Libya defenses, suggesting a 1.8% attrition rate.(32)

Even seemingly low attrition rates can produce significant military results over time. The Luftwaffe's defeat in the Battle of Britain during the fall of 1940 was the result of a per-sortie attrition rate of less than 5%.(33) Attrition by Iraqi air defenses led to a virtual cessation of attacks by Iran after 1985.(34) A 1% attrition rate implies that over 60% of aircraft will remain after 50 sorties, and that 90% will survive the first 10 sorties. But increasing the attrition rate to 5% reduces the number of aircraft surviving the initial ten missions to only 60% of the initial force (and 20% attrition implies nearly 90% of the initial force will be shot down before completing ten missions).

These per-sortie attrition rates indicate the potential duration of an un-replenished air campaign when the number of sorties flown each day is factored in. Estimates for the daily sortie rates for Russian aircraft range from 1 per day for the Tu-16 or Tu-22 bombers, 1.45 per day for the Su-27 Fencer, 2.5 per day for the MiG-27, up to 2.65 for the MiG-29.(35) During the Viet Nam war, F-4 sortie rates varied from about 2 per day on a sustained basis to as many as 4 per day for short periods.(36) This suggests that while air forces can sustain operations in the face of attrition rates in the range of a few percent for many weeks, attrition rates in the range of 20% would bring an end to aerial combat within a few days.



MISSILE RELIABILITY

Analysis of the comparative military utility of missiles and aircraft must also take into account their operational reliability. The frequent claim of assured mission success by ballistic missiles overlooks the problem of mechanical failures, which can account for losses of missiles of the same magnitude as losses of aircraft to defenses.

In practice, at least 10% of ballistic missiles must be assumed to fail prior to reaching their targets. American strategic missile systems such as the Poseidon and Minuteman are reported to suffer failure rates of at least 5% to 10%.(37) The American Harpoon medium range cruise missile has demonstrated a reliability approaching 90%, following almost 50 test flights which initially demonstrated a 50% reliability.(38) And strategic nuclear exchange calculations use failure rates as high as 20%(39)

Space launch vehicles, many of which are derived from strategic rockets, also provide an indication of probable ballistic missile failure rates. These systems typically suffer approximately 10% failure rates, with 5% failure rates being unusually good, and 20% certainly not being unusually bad.(40)

Mechanical unreliability is not limited to missiles, of course. The probability that an aircraft will successfully attack a target is a function of both the probability of penetrating air defenses, as well as the reliability of the aircraft itself. While this later factor is poorly documented, the American raid on Libya provides some indication of the magnitude of aircraft reliability. Of the total of 83 aircraft participating in the raid (including 28 KC-10s and KC-135s, 24 F-111s, 5 EF-111s, 14 A-6Es, 6 A-7s and 6 F/A-18s), all but 7 completed their assigned missions, suggesting an 8% failure rate.(41) But 2 of the 14 A-6Es and 5 of the 18 F-111s that attacked Libya (the other 6 were unused spares) suffered mechanical problems that led to mission aborts, suggesting failure rates of between 14% and 28%.



AIR DEFENSE MISSILES

While overall air defense attrition is low, defenses can complicate or discourage an attack. Since they are defensive, an air defense system doesn't have to destroy aircraft to be effective. Deterring an attack all together would be an unmitigated success. Short of deterrence, forcing an attacker to choreograph an attack in a less efficient way, or forcing him to employ extensive assets to defeat radars and interceptors would also be measures of air defense success.

Modern air defense systems rely primarily on high velocity surface to air (SAM) interceptor missiles to destroy attacking enemy aircraft. At the small end of the scale are man-portable, short-range SAMs such as the British Javelin, the Russian A-7 Grail, the US Stinger and Redeye. All are about 1.5 meters long and weigh less than 16 kg. These systems have ranges against aircraft typically less than 4km. The emergent British Starstreak man-portable SAM boasts a Mach 6 interceptor that should increase performance over Javelin considerably.(42) Although limited by their short range, these class of weapons have proved effective against aircraft, most notably by the Afghans versus the Soviets. Since these systems are so small, aircraft often are surprised, and thus, the advantage swings to the SAM.

While accuracy, speed and invulnerability to counter-measures is obviously important, the primary measure of merit for air defenses is range. The longer the range of the defensive system, the larger the "foot print" attacking aircraft need to defeat or avoid. While the 4 km radius of a man-portable system may seem quite large -- most of Washington, DC for example, would fit within an 8 km diameter circle -- it really amounts only to point defense against aircraft. Attack aircraft are free to maneuver at will outside the 4 km range and pick the most advantageous direction and angle of attack. An aircraft attacking at Mach 1 would travel the 4km from the weapon's range to the defender in 11.6 seconds.(43) A Stinger or Javelin operator would have 11.6 seconds to survey, identify, and fire at an attacking aircraft dropping a standard "dumb-bomb." In a best case scenario -- the aircraft ignoring the defender and bisecting the weapon's interception diameter -- the defender would have 22.2 seconds to engage the aircraft at Mach 1. By contrast, a system with a 100km range -- such as the A-10 Grumble or the Nike-Hercules -- would have almost 10 minutes to engage an incoming target in a best case scenario.

In addition to increasing range, air defense effectiveness can be increased by layering and integrating systems to provide supporting fire. The US Forward-Area Air Defense System (FAADS), for instance, will combine vehicle-mounted short range SAMs for terminal defense and longer range systems for maximum line-of-sight engagement with the Fiber-Optic Guided Missile (FOG-M) form beyond line-of-sight intercepts. The missile's infrared or TV camera will transmit images to a concealed operator via a trailing fiber-optic cable.

The advent of longer-range air-to-surface weapons allows aircraft to attack SAMs and air defense radars with either brief or no exposure to the interceptors envelope. Thus, another means of increasing the effectiveness of air defenses is to enhance their survivability to attack. To reduce vulnerability to anti-radiation munitions (ARM), air defense systems are turning toward infrared target acquisition sensors and making use of improved electronic countermeasures.



PROLIFERATION OF SAMs

Producing air defense missiles is beyond the technological capability of most countries. The United States, Former Soviet Union and the industrialized West European countries a responsible for the bulk of SAMs. Nevertheless, surface-to-air missiles are found in the inventories of at least 94 countries. The USSR and former Warsaw Pact countries (including the former GDR) boasted at least 7,000 air defense systems. Data on these countries is sketchy and inconsistent, and the number could be up to 9,000. These systems ranged from the hand-held 4km SA-7 to the SA-5/10 and 12. These latter systems have ranges between 100 and 300km and some capability against tactical ballistic missiles.

NATO countries, not including the United States, field at least 2,900 air defense systems. Of this figure, however, at least 2,148 are "short"range.(44) While only the Soviets produced the air defense systems for the former Warsaw Pact, several countries -- France, Great Britain and the United States, and international concerns -- produce these weapons in the West. Other European countries -- Albania, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia -- own more than 100 air defense systems. In 1991, only Sweden fielded an American system (the Improved Hawk), French and Soviet systems make up the inventories of the remaining countries. At the very least, there are 4,500 air defense systems in the Middle East and North Africa. More than half have a range of less than 11km. Sub-Saharan African countries have at least 435 air defense systems. Over 100 of these systems are of the shortest range. Australia and Asian countries own more than 3,500 air defense systems. Approximately 2,000 of these weapons are short range. In addition to the ubiquitous French, American and Russian systems, the Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese all have their own systems. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to approximately 1,000 surface to air systems, very few of these systems have ranges over 50km and the vast majority are of the shortest range.

Between 1985 and 1989 22,282 SAMs were delivered to the developing world. Of this total, 17,055 were delivered by the USSR, 110 by other Warsaw Pact countries, 1,176 by the United States, 930 by France, 81 by the United Kingdom, 145 by other NATO countries, 705 by China, 580 by other developed countries, and 1,500 by other developing countries.(45)

ANTI-TACTICAL MISSILE DEFENSES

While even short range systems have illustrated utility in defending against aircraft, very long range SAMs have the potential to alter the shape of the battlefield. Some air defense SAMs with the requisite range have reached a level of sophistication such that they have some capability against both cruise and ballistic missiles. They are, for this reason, distinct from previously mentioned systems. Both the US and USSR have focused attention on programs to upgrade air defense systems to make them capable of destroying ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. Current systems include the U.S. Patriot, and the Russian SA-5, SA-10 and SA-12, and the American Strategic Defense Initiative is currently developing a number of additional systems.

Hawk Phase III - Improved versions of the Hawk anti-aircraft missile have been tested against missile targets in conjunction with the Patriot fire control radar, leading to a successful intercept of a target missile on 5 April 1988.(46)

Patriot PAC-1 - The first phase of the Army Missile Command's Patriot Anti-tactical missile Capability consisted of software upgrades to enable the Patriot fire control system to engage missile targets. Following a series of tests from 1984 through 1987 that included intercepting a Lance target missile, this system was declared operational and entered service in 1988, providing a limited self-defense capability. PAC-1 Patriot is widely deployed with American and European land forces.

Patriot PAC-2 - The second phase of the Patriot Anti-tactical missile Capability provided the Patriot missile with a larger more lethal warhead and an improved fuse to increase the interceptor's lethality against ballistic missile. A test program of 8 flights in 1988 and 1989 included several intercepts of missile targets. The system entered field service in 1990, providing a capability to intercept Scud-class targets. The PAC-2 Patriot was reportedly deployed with American forces in Saudi Arabia.

ERINT - The Extended Range Interceptor project is being conducted for the Strategic Defense Initiative by the Army Strategic Defense Command. As with the earlier SR-HIT (Short Range Homing Intercept Technology) and FLAG (Flexible Lightweight Agile Guided) Experiments, ERINT uses an on-board millimeter-wave radar in the nose of the interceptor itself for guidance, in contrast to systems such as Patriot which rely on a ground-based radar for guidance. The smaller ERINT (a Patriot launcher could carry 167 ERINT in place of 4 Patriots(47)) will offer improved performance against the Scud and longer range missiles. But since it is not part of the Phase One initial deployment plans for SDI, initiation of the ERINT test program has been delayed from 1991 to 1993.(48)

THAAD - The Theater High Altitude Air Defense system is a $300 million SDI effort to develop an integrated two-layer wide-area defense against aircraft and missile threats.(49) Selection of a development contractor is anticipated by late 1991, with tests continuing through 1996. The first-layer interceptor missile chosen would be larger than Patriot or ERINT (which would be the second layer interceptor(50)), though smaller than the Arrow.

Arrow - The Arrow (Hetz) is a medium range anti-missile interceptor developed by Israel Aircraft Industries. The American SDI program is paying 80% of the initial $200 million cost of the project, which received high priority after the cancellation of the Lavi fighter.(51) The Mach 10 interceptor has a maximum range of 70 Km at an altitude of 30 Km.(52) This large interceptor is intended for defense against ballistic missiles with ranges up to 1000 Km. Four tests are planned through the Summer of 1991. A follow-on 3 year contract for $200 million was approved in 1990, with development and production costs through the rest of the decade are estimated at nearly $2 billion.(53) Given technical problems with the systems radar and command system,(54) coupled with its high development cost, the Arrow program may soon fall by the wayside.

The Soviet Union also developed a range of anti-aircraft interceptors with some anti-tactical missile capability.(55)

SA-5 Griffon and Gammon - The SA-5 Griffon was originally developed as part of the `Tallinn' strategic anti-missile system in the early 1960's, and was judged to have both an anti-aircraft and anti-missile capability. But the Soviets were apparently un-impressed with its ABM potential, as it has actually been deployed in the heavily modified Gammon version in the anti-aircraft role. The missile has a comparatively modest acceleration rate, and relies on its small wings for maneuverability. Both characteristics reduce its ABM potential. Furthermore, the mechanically steered radars used by the SA-5 are vulnerable to saturation by decoys.

SA-10 Grumble - The SA-10 is a new Russian SAM that is more capable than the rough American equivalent, the Hawk, which is credited with a limited tactical ABM potential. This system has primarily intended to counter very low altitude targets such as cruise missiles.

SA-12 Gladiator/Giant - The SA-12 anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) system is the most recent addition to the Russian's air defense arsenal, achieving operational status in 1984. Both the missile and its associated phased array radars are transported on a large tracked vehicles. There are two versions of the SA-12, the smaller Gladiator which is designed to intercept aircraft, and a much larger Giant version designed to intercept tactical or theater ballistic missiles.

PROLIFERATION OF ATBMs

It is only during the last decade that such anti-missile systems have been introduced into Third World countries. The anti-aircraft version of the Soviet SA-5 was deployed in Syria in 1983 following the Bekaa Valley debacle,(56) and exports to North Korea, Libya followed within a few years. Exports of the SA-10 to Syria, Jordon and Libya have been suggested, but such reports are probably in error.(57)

Although the Russians seem ready to sell any military hardware at the fire sale at the end of history, there is some debate whether they will export their most advanced SAMs. In June 1991 it was reported that Russians had offered the S-300 -- an upgraded SA-10 Grumble -- to Israel,(58) and had plans to market the Patriot-rival aggressively. The Russians, however, categorically denied the cruise missile-capable system was for sale, and no exports have yet to be reported.(59)

Although the American Hawk interceptor has been widely exported, under normal conditions its anti-missile capabilities are quite modest. The Patriot is a more meaningful ATBM.

Following its perceived success in the Gulf, the Patriot has been sought by several countries. As of June 1991, at least seven countries had purchased or agreed to purchase Patriots. Turkey and Israel were given fire units during the Gulf war. Turkey is negotiating a $1 billion/10 missile battery deal.(60) The Israelis reportedly want to retain additional Patriots loaned by Germany.(61) The German's began their acquisition of over 1,600 Patriot missiles in 1989, and licensed production of some Patriot components has been approved. The Dutch and Italians had also operated, or agreed to purchase Patriots prior to Desert Shield/Desert Storm and are interested in more. Outside of NATO, Saudi Arabia purchased 300 Patriot PAC-2 missiles as part of a larger multi-billion dollar deal. The Japanese are licensed co-producers of the Patriot, and intend to acquire 26 fire units. Other countries interested in purchasing the Patriot include Britain, Egypt, Greece, ROK, Singapore, Spain and the UAE.(62) In March 1992, the Department of Defense notified Congress its intent to sell Kuwait $2.5 billion worth of both Patriot and Hawk systems. The transaction would include six Patriot launchers with 450 missiles, and six Hawk Phase 2 tactical equipment sets and 342 interceptors.(63)

Iraq claimed to have tested fired a domestically designed anti-tactical missile in 1989. The FAW-1, Baghdad claims, was developed indigenously, but it bears a strong likeness to the Chinese HQ-61 SAM.(64) The touted weapon is probably more a bargaining chip at this point, as Iraq has called for a regional ban on anti-missile systems, such as the Arrow.(65)

The case for heavy investment in ATBM systems is not clear. Given prospective deficiencies in air defense systems, initiatives to build defenses against ballistic missiles simply distract attention from more immediate matters. Not only are the less glamorous tasks more important; they also offer a much higher payoff. If an improved air defenses caused one quarter of attacking pilots fail to return from their missions, the pilots may soon refuse to fly. But the destruction of 25 percent of a missile attack will not have the same impact, since missiles are infinitely brave. When military professionals talk about ways to counter Russian tactical missiles, they do not talk primarily about shooting incoming missiles out of the sky.

More practical and effective measures are also available to protect against missiles. Passive defenses include the ability to disperse, conceal, and harden the targets that missiles might attack. For a fraction of the cost of high-tech anti-missile weapons, vast amounts of concrete could be poured to make command bunkers and aircraft far less vulnerable to attack by both aircraft and missiles. Such measures would have a vastly greater positive impact on the credibility of a country's deterrent posture than missile defenses.


References

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2. Clements, John, "Air Defense Mythology," RUSI, September 1982, page 27-32.

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5. General Accounting Office, "Review of Tactical Air Defense Suppression Programs," PSAD-77-81, 3 March 1977, SECRET (sanitized 13 November 1985).

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27. Greene, Terrell, "Surviving Modern Air Defenses," Aerospace America, August 1986, page 14-16.

28. Clements, John, "Air Defense Mythology," RUSI, September 1982, page 27-32.

29. Clements, John, "Air Defense Mythology," RUSI, September 1982, page 27-32.

30. Greene, Terrell, "Surviving Modern Air Defenses," Aerospace America, August 1986, page 14-16.

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43. Mach 1 = 1238.4 km\hr. 1238.4 km\hr x 1\4km = 309.6\hr = .0032 hrs x 60 min = .193 min. = 11.6 sec.

44. Chaparell, Redeye, Stinger, Blowpipe, Javelin, Rapier, Roland, RBS-70.

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65. Amouyal, Barbara, "Iraqis Insists Including U.S.-Israeli Arrow in Middle East Arms Ban," Defense News, 30 April 1990, page 25.