The policies of the American government toward proliferation of combat aircraft have varied greatly over time.(1) Through the 1960's American policy was generally to discourage acquisition of advanced aircraft, since such expenditures were held to detract from economic and counterinsurgency priorities. Efforts in the early 1970s by the Nixon Administration to increase sales to oil-producing countries were tempered by Carter Administration policies intended to discourage sales of sophisticated weapons, which were in turn quickly abandoned when the Reagan Administration took office.

Suggestions of unilateral American restraint in exporting advanced combat aircraft have been a continuing source of domestic political controversy.(2) The proposed sale of E-3 AWACS to Iran in 1977, the sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia (and F-5Es to Egypt as well as F-15s and F-16s to Israel) in 1978, the sale of E-3 AWACS and F-15 enhancements to Saudi Arabia in 1981, the aborted sale of aircraft to Taiwan in 1982, and the sale of F-16s to Pakistan in 1983 were all occasions of intense conflict between the President and the Congress.

And unilateral American refusals to sell combat aircraft have as often as not simply led to the purchase of similar aircraft from another supplier. In 1965 the US declined a Peruvian request for F-5s to replace its aging F-86s, leading Peru to turn to the French Mirage 5.(3) And in the early 1980s, opposition in the American Congress to sales of F-15s to Saudi Arabia led to Saudi purchase of the pan-European Tornado.(4)

Efforts to encourage purchase of less sophisticated aircraft have also had mixed results. The British Aerospace Hawk has emerged as a lower-cost alternative to the Tornado for several countries, But many potential purchasers have difficulty resisting the higher prestige and combat potential of top-of-the-line aircraft.

An unsuccessful entrant in the econo-fighter field was Northrop's F-20 (F-5G) Tigershark. The gyrations in American policy can be charted in the fate of this project.(5) Development of an improved version of the F-5 Freedom Fighter was initiated in 1970 under the International Fighter Aircraft program, which was intended to provide a "non-provocative" air defense export aircraft.(6) The project languished under the Carter Administration, which prohibited foreign sales of advanced aircraft such as the F-20, until it reversed this policy in 1980.

The Reagan Administration's 8 July 1981 National Security Decision Directive on Conventional Arms Transfer Policy (NSDD 5) reduced but did not eliminate these restrictions. The subsequent F-X (Fighter Export) initiative encompassed the F-20, and a version of the F-16 using a less powerful J-79 engine, as the top combat aircraft offered for export to countries such as Turkey, as well as Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.(7) Sales to Taiwan were blocked in 1982, and a plan for Egyptian production that included sales to other Arab countries also came to naught.(8) And other potential customers had little interest in accepting what was viewed as a second-rate aircraft that the American Air Force had no interest in.(9) Northrop finally terminated the project in 1986, with three prototypes and no sales to show for its $1.2 billion investment.(10)

Multilateral restrictions on combat aircraft sales have had even less success. The Carter Administration also held Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Talks with the Soviet Union during 1977 and 1978, which had not led to significant results when they were terminated in December 1978. One of the aims of these negotiations was bi-lateral restrictions on the export of offensive delivery systems, including ballistic missiles and aircraft.(11)

Don Fuqua, President of the Aerospace Industries Association has suggested that

"the U.S. might well couple an affirmative defense export policy with strong encouragement for regional agreements limiting arms purchases... Such agreements, however, must be the initiative of countries in the region. Time and again we have found that unilaterally denying arms exports to specific countries or regions does three things: shifts their source of supply to our competitors, encourages establishment of their own defense industries, and reduces U.S. influence."(12)

While Carter Administration's CAT initiative eventually led to the Reagan Administration's Missile Technology Control Regime, attack aircraft remained uncontrolled. The interrelationship between missile and attack aircraft proliferation is even closer than might be imagined. Prior to the early 1980's the Soviet Union considered the Su-24 Fencer to be too sophisticated for export to client states. Libya reportedly sought Chinese CSS-2 missiles following Soviet refusal to export Su-24s and MiG-29s.(13) But ultimately, pressure from Iraq, Libya and Syria for exports of the SS-12 and SS-23 ballistic missiles may have been one factor in reversing this policy.(14) And it is reported that the United States offered to acquire Pampa 1A 63 trainers from Argentina in return for cessation of work on the Condor missile project.(15) In response to this gap, in February 1989, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced a proposed Missile Technology Control Act that also applied to other delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction, including attack aircraft, but the Congress has not acted on these provisions.

Following the Gulf War, the Bush Administration has embraced arms exports in general, and aircraft exports in particular with a passion. US diplomats have been reminded that part of their jobs is to actively assist US companies hawk their wares abroad. The US military is also taking an active role in the marketing of US manufactured military hardware. US aircrews were on hand at the Paris and Singapore airshows to give testimonials and convince prospective customers of the merits of the aircraft they flew in Operation Desert Storm.(16) Reportedly, this tactic has suffered from poor planning and a lack of funds.(17)


The continuing military utility of attack aircraft, coupled with their widespread availability, suggest the difficulties of limiting their further spread. The overwhelming success of airpower in Operation Desert Storm will further whet the international appetite for increasingly sophisticated attack aircraft. Because of the effectiveness, de-stabilizing nature, and geometric spread of attack aircraft, however, this craving must be denied, and developing and developed countries alike must go on an attack aircraft diet.

As detailed earlier in this study, combat aircraft offer awesome destructive firepower. Using computerized mapping radars and aiming systems, aircraft deliver conventional ordnance 100 times more accurately than the ballistic missiles currently proliferating. Aircraft are the most effective deliverer of unconventional weapons. President Bush, for example, recently announced that the United States would withdraw all ground-based tactical nuclear weapons from Western Europe. That same class of air delivered weaponry, however, was considered too central to deterrence in Europe to remove.(18) Although the aircraft in developing countries' arsenals are at least a generation behind aircraft owned by developed countries, the stellar performance of the A-10 "Warthog" in operation Desert Storm illustrates the destructive capacity of relatively simple aircraft. The 20 year old A-10 reportedly destroyed twice as many Iraqi tanks as the Army's hi-tech Apache attack helicopter.(19) "Lo-tech" weapons should be of concern because certain scenarios actually favor them over more sophisticated aircraft. For example, in adverse weather conditions, propeller-driven North Vietnamese ground-attack aircraft were often much more effective than the faster aircraft flown by the United States.(20) The proliferation of relatively lo-tech trainers/light fighters is predicted to increase substantially in the near future, primarily due to their low cost and flexibility. While these aircraft may seem benign compared to top-of-the-line attack aircraft such as the F-15E, several analysts claim that future aircraft capabilities will be determined much more by the ordnance than by the delivery platform.(21) Thus, a squadron of technologically unimpressive aircraft become much more militarily significant when mated with stand-off precision guided munitions.

Aircraft add to crisis instability because of their inherent capabilities, namely speed, firepower, and range. Especially in regional theaters, aircraft lend themselves well to surprise attack. Combat aircraft can be compared to MIRVed (multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicle) missiles. One aircraft can destroy several, or ground several, if an airfield is destroyed. Therefore, a strong pre-emptive motive exists to initiate counter air operations. In a crisis, there is a compelling incentive to "use 'em or lose 'em." One must wonder, for example, how effective Operation Desert Storm would have been if Iraq had destroyed allied airfields first.

Perhaps the most forceful argument for acting now to limit the spread of combat aircraft is that their spread has taken on geometric proportions. Not only is the number of aircraft increasing at an alarming rate, but the number of attack aircraft producers is increasing as well. Between 1981 and 1988, the United States, the Soviet Union and major West European countries transferred 3,731 combat aircraft to the developing world.(22) Little has been done to coordinate the proliferation policies of these three suppliers to reduce this flow. How will the proliferation problem be managed when other actors, such as India, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, and others begin to transfer attack aircraft on just a fraction of this scale?

These developments suggest that the United States is at a crossroads. Controlling the proliferation of attack aircraft clearly represents a high priority challenge to policy makers. To address this growing threat to US national security, there are four broad avenues from which to choose. First, understanding that proliferation is indeed a problem, policy makers could choose to continue the present US policy, deeming that it is adequate to address proliferation concerns. Second, policy-makers could create multilateral supplier control regimes. Third, an air defense system for the continental United States could be created. Finally, the United States could focus on building regional arms control regimes to resolve the problems associated with proliferation.


Although there have been fits and starts at coming to grips with aircraft proliferation, the current US policy outlined in the previous section could be characterized as "peace through superior firepower." Proponents of this policy option would point out that the United States is the leader in aerospace technology. While developing countries are clearly acquiring and building more effective aircraft, the United States will always maintain a significant edge. Thus, the United States will always be able to overpower emerging foes. Another facet of this argument is that arms transfers are useful because the buyer becomes dependent on the vendor, and thus can be pressured to some degree on use. If other countries do the selling, US influence is reduced. While some see merit in this course of action (or inaction) there are also several arguments for revising this policy.

Arguments for continuing this "7-11" approach to aircraft transfers are both economic and political. The traditional political argument is that weapons transfers facilitates our allies' self-defense, and increases US influence by building strategic relationships. As US defense budgets decrease, continuing the current rate of aircraft transfers takes on an increased economic dimension. The price per aircraft depends significantly on the number produced. Selling aircraft abroad is one way to decrease the cost of those produced for the US military. The lowest bid gets the procurement contract, and aerospace companies depend on recouping expensive R&D costs through production. One study suggests that $1 billion in foreign military sales generates 35,000 manyears of direct employment in the United States.(23) Furthermore, as the number of aircraft and the number of types of aircraft are reduced via defense cuts, several policy-makers advocate increasing aircraft sales as one way of keeping production lines "warm." (24)

It is also unclear that the United States will always dominate the aerospace field at the present level. The Japanese, for example, are becoming world leaders in composite materials, an increasingly important aerospace technology. Other countries have competitive aerospace industries, and the United States has little control over their aircraft transfers.

But even if the United States does maintain this edge for the foreseeable future, it is less clear that our allies will keep a step ahead of determined developing powers. Furthermore, just because US aircraft will be "better" than potential opponent's does not mean that those aircraft are not threatening. The A-10 is a prime example of a very effective aircraft of limited sophistication.

The United States is a global power, and its security interests include stability at the regional level. While it may be implausible to suggest that increasingly sophisticated developing world aircraft would directly threaten the continental United States in the foreseeable future, it would certainly serve US interests to limit the sophistication of the weaponry that we and our allies might face in regional conflicts. It can be argued, furthermore, that by limiting the scope of de-stabilizing armaments, the United States can reduce the likelihood of regional conflicts that might require superpower intervention.

When it comes to exerting influence through arms transfers, it appears that the arms market is increasingly becoming a buyers market. Most industrialized countries' embattled defense industries are scrambling to increase exports as a means of softening the harsh realities of budget cuts. This means that arms importers increasingly enjoy the ability to pick and choose from supplier, thus exercising true power. In January 1991, for example, Saudi officials told McDonnell Douglas executives that they would purchase aircraft from British Aerospace if the US Congress blocked the sale of 75 F-15s. While Saudi officials later denied this threat, the message was clear enough. The Saudis would get their aircraft, and the US Government could do nothing about it. Congress could only decide if they wanted McDonnell or some other country to profit from the sale.

Another argument for revising the concept of "peace through superior firepower" is the effect it has on the overall US defense capability. While staying a generation ahead of developing countries in attack aircraft is probably feasible, significant increases in the quality and quantity of foreign aircraft would require improvements in other US assets. Tanks; ships; air defenses; command, control, and communication networks; personnel; and other military assets, are all subject to aerial attack.

There are also significant economic arguments against continuing the unregulated transfer of combat aircraft. The general definition of global power and influence is increasingly economic, not military. The bankruptcy of the Soviet Union, and the rise of Japan illustrate the two poles of this trend. The United States will increasingly be solicited for economic aid and investment, not just from the developing world, but from our impoverished military rival as well. If America is to shape the "new world order," it will be determined by our ability to funnel aid and investment, not armaments, to a particular party.

The negative relationship between excessive defense expenditures in general and economic health is well documented. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, recently suggested that "if the Soviets shift from...excessive military spending toward peaceful activities, you will find a great part of what is needed to transform their economy."(25) Furthermore, the World Bank and IMF recently declared that they would begin pressuring borrowers to curb defense spending by withholding loans from countries that spend an inordinate amount of their budgets on weapons.(26)

The reduction in the transfer of attack aircraft should be part of the larger trend in reducing US defense expenditures. It would seem incongruous that while the United States is reducing its defense budget by 22 percent over the next six years,(27) it should continue the unabated transfer of sophisticated armaments to generally less prosperous countries.


A second path the United States could pursue to stem the tide of attack aircraft would be to coordinate a multilateral control regime, similar to the MTCR, among suppler countries. There are several potential variations of this option. The AACR (Attack Aircraft Control Regime) could coordinate all aspects of aircraft transfers, or focus on supporting technology; such as spare parts, for example. The AACR members could attempt to control the spread of all types of aircraft, or limit the spread of "offensive" aircraft while even encouraging the transfer of "defensive" platforms. The pros and cons of these various options will be analyzed below.

At the most basic level, the birth of an AACR would be an important political event. It would signify that the proliferation of attack aircraft is recognized as an international problem that merits concerted action. An AACR could serve as a focal point for primary suppliers to coordinate their proliferation policies. An AACR could also provide the mechanism required to address "hot spots" such as the Middle East. Furthermore, proponents of an AACR would say that it would be a foundation for further action.

By working in concert, suppliers would avoid concerns that if one country unilaterally limited aircraft transfers another would profit from its restraint. Control regime advocates might base their enthusiasm for multilateral regimes on the perceived success of the MTCR. Recently, for example, several analysts have credited the MTCR's restrictions with raising the costs so high, that Argentina canceled its "Condor" ballistic missile program.(28) Proponents of an AACR would argue that it could accomplish similar results against indigenous attack aircraft programs. Even if not completely airtight, slowing down proliferation is better than allowing it to continue unchecked.

There are, however, several potential shortcomings inherent in an attack aircraft suppliers control regime.

Detractors would argue that, unlike ballistic missiles, aircraft and aircraft technology are so widely available that cutting transfers now would not be feasible. Compared to ballistic missiles, the aircraft industry is quite large and represents significant technological and financial investment in the developed world. Achieving consensus on aircraft proliferation policies would be a Herculean task. Furthermore, supplier control regimes have a limited effect on indigenous production. Detractors of control regimes would argue that developing countries could still produce their own aircraft while supplier countries forgo profits from aircraft sales.

While supplier control regimes might slow the proliferation of new types of aircraft, it would do nothing to address the impressive inventories that already exist. Some might argue that control regimes do not go far enough. An AACR would do nothing to stop the upgrade of aircraft technology already existing in developing world arsenals, for example.

If an AACR could not completely shut down the aircraft proliferation pipeline, proponents would suggest that it could be tailored to encourage the development of defensive aircraft and to discourage the spread of the most destructive and offensively oriented aircraft. Controls on ground attack aircraft, for example, could be very strict while those on interceptors could be relatively lax. Or, taken a step further, supplier countries could agree to enter into co-production agreements only for defensive aircraft. This type of control would be less traumatic to the aircraft industries in supplier countries than simply shutting off all transfers of attack aircraft.

The weak link in this proposal is the inherent adaptability found in aircraft. Almost any aircraft can drop a bomb, and if something can fly fast and fire ordnance, it would not take much to adapt it to offensive use. In fact, the majority of combat aircraft are dual-role. Few countries outside the United States have sufficient financial resources to produce specialized aircraft. Furthermore, developing countries fostering their own aerospace technology base would benefit from the transfer of sophisticated aircraft of any kind. These countries could take apart sophisticated interceptors, and through reverse engineering gain insights into aircraft design and production and then apply this new knowledge to producing attack aircraft.

Another spin on the technology control regime concept would be to continue present aircraft transfer policies but to limit the spread of supporting technologies, such as spare parts or ordnance. At first blush, there appear to be some benefits to this approach. Continuing present transfers, it could be argued, would represent the continued support of allies' self-defense efforts. Similar to the control regime that would allow only the sale of defensive aircraft, this policy would not be as traumatic to US aircraft companies as shutting down sales of a whole class of weapons. If a particular recipient became unruly, or if an ally suddenly became an enemy, such Iran in the late 1970s and Iraq in 1990, the United States could shut off the support for those aircraft and thus limit their effectiveness. It appears that some developing countries suffer chronic shortfalls of spare parts. Only a small fraction of Iran's F-14 Tomcats, for example, are now operational, largely because of the lack of support and spare parts caused by the rift in US/Iran relations. In 1978 it was reported that Egypt's aging airforce was suffering from an acute shortage of spare parts; especially engines.(29) Fifteen years and $ billions of US aid later the Egyptians are seeking surplus military gear. Why? Because the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Yugoslavian civil war has cut off Egypt's primary supply of spare parts.(30)

The most effective subsystems to control would be avionics and engines. These technologies are the most challenging for a developing country to indigenously produce. The sophistication and capabilities of an indigenously produced aircraft can be most effectively influenced by closely controlling the spread of these technologies. Although it has the third largest airforce in the world, India has been unable to produce a first-rate engine for its LCA, and has had to depend on a General Electric model. Even Pacific Rim countries, currently experiencing rapid technological growth, will continue to depend on Western radar and avionics technologies for at least another 10 years. Among other things, Asian countries lack the ability to produce the computer software key to advanced weapon systems.(31) Controlling the development of advanced software skills would be effective in limiting system growth because software is constantly reprogrammed and upgraded to address new threats. The original avionics hardware, remains static for a longer period of time. If the producing country cannot reprogram its avionics systems, it is limited to the original characteristics. General Dynamics is supplying the flight control and mission computer software for the Taiwan Indigenous Defense Fighter.(32) (The IDF will also depend on engines from the West.(33))

The most obvious problem with supplying aircraft but cutting off spare parts in a crisis that the weapon could be used before the flow of supporting technology was stemmed. Aircraft can do a lot of damage with just one attack. Furthermore, recipients may learn to produce their own supporting technology through reverse engineering, or acquire it elsewhere.

Another variation on this theme would be to export aircraft with certain technical controls. For example, by incorporating a "virus" or "logic bomb" in a flight computer's or avionics computer's software, the supplying country could control the use of the aircraft by ensuring that it failed to execute under certain circumstances, or could be switched off or destroyed. During Operation Desert Storm, for example, US intelligence agents reportedly infected an Iraqi computer network tied to Baghdad's air defense system. The virus was introduced via a microchip in a computer printer.(34) Unlike other means of control, a virus program would need to be surreptitious. Although making this type of control a "black program" could effectively shield it from the scrutiny of the press, once the program did become known, or even rumored, it would be virtually impossible for the supplying country to sell its wares in the future, since no one wants a multimillion dollar system that is not under their control. Thus, the consequences of countries discovering the existence of this control scheme might outweigh its potential benefits.

Another way to limit the effectiveness of attack aircraft through suppliers control would be to limit the proliferation of supporting aircraft. As noted earlier, aerial tankers and AEW aircraft in particular considerably increase the range and operational effectiveness of attack aircraft. Even without aerial refueling, most existing attack aircraft have ranges well in excess of the ballistic missiles currently found in developing countries. Syria's Su-24 aircraft, for instance, have a combat radius of approximately 1084kms, while its Scud-B ballistic missiles travel only about 304km. This three-to-one ratio in terms of range is not uncommon.

As noted earlier, with aerial refueling Israeli aircraft were able to strike a target 2,500km distant. Even the Indian "Agni", the most ambitious missile in terms of range currently under development, would have fallen short of this distance. Thus, due to aerial refueling, no target, no matter how distant from an enemy's border, is safe from air attack.

US foreign policy officials have already noted the contribution these aircraft make to the military capabilities of a given airforce, and have taken measures to deny the proliferation of aerial refueling aircraft. Aerial refueling would have improved the operational flexibility of Libyan Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft to the extent that they could have achieved low-altitude strikes against Israel. The United States persuaded the Soviet Union not to convert a Libyan Il-76 Mainstay to a tanker configuration. But Libya has successfully tested aerial refueling of its Mirage F-1 by a specially outfitted C-130 transport, and with German assistance has developed a refueling system for its MiG-23s.(35)

Thus, controlling the spread of aerial tankers will be difficult. While one action did deny the technology to a particular country, with the assistance of another industrialized country, Libya worked its way around the ban. To obtain a very large tanker, all one needs is a commercial airliner and some smart engineers. To further this control problem, the price, and of used airliners has dropped significantly in recent years.(36) The Congressional Research Service estimates that by the year 2000 there will be 40 to 50 percent excess capacity in the aerospace industry, with commercial airlines suffering the worst of the glut.(37) These economic factors will encourage aviation-minded decision makers to get the most out of their aircraft; including conversion to aerial refuelers.

Controlling the spread of airborne early warning aircraft should prove somewhat less difficult; if only because these aircraft represent a level of technology currently beyond the grasp of most countries. Great Britain, for instance, struggled for years to produce a viable AEW indigenously, but decided that it was more cost-effective to purchase the American Hawkeye than continue the Nimrod program. Nonetheless, the value of AEW aircraft is recognized, and enterprising firms will try to carve-out their niche in this area. The Israeli firm Elta Electronics claims that their innovative "Phalcon" AEW aircraft will be ready for export in late 1993. Most of the Phalcon's advanced technology is reportedly indigenous, and based on commercial technologies to reduce cost. If true, this project suggests the difficulty in controlling AEW aircraft proliferation by denying export of relevant military technologies.(38) Ameliorating the fierce economic pressures on American manufactures of AEW aircraft would also be useful in slowing the spread of these aircraft.

Limiting the export of the most advanced and accurate aircraft munitions would also make an invaluable contribution to reducing the military capabilities of countries dependent on imports. As the earlier chapter on cruise missiles, and the subchapter on accurate munitions described, attack aircraft's destructiveness is increasingly measured more in the ordnance than in the launch platform. One could argue that the munitions dropped on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm made a greater contribution to the victory than the aircraft from which they originated. The most sensitive early warning, C3, and air defense targets were destroyed at the beginning of the conflict by cruise missiles and F-117s. One can bet with a high degree of confidence, that the Stealth Bombers -- equipped to drop only two weapons -- weren't dropping Mk-87 "dumb bombs." Rather, they were most likely sophisticated, computer and laser assisted weapons costing $.25 to $.75 million apiece.

Miniaturized and very lethal munitions also contribute to mission success by reducing the need for supporting aircraft, reducing losses of personnel and lessening logistical burdens, since the weapons are smaller, and fewer are required. If the PK (probability of kill) is high -- as it usually is -- firing a $.5 million dollar missile at a target from 50 miles away is a wise strategy since it greatly increases the chances a $40 million aircraft and its expansive pilot can fly subsequent missions. Thus, advanced, stand-off munitions contribute to force effectiveness, not just system, or mission effectiveness. In future conflicts, the United States should ensure that its adversaries need to risk their necks against our air defenses rather than "stand-off" 50 miles. If it proves too difficult to eliminate the "archer" US policy should focus on destroying the "arrows," and thus significantly bound the problems we face on the next battlefield. Relative to the ability to produce aircraft, the ability to produce sophisticated stand-off weapons is concentrated in the hands a few countries. Limiting the spread of these technologies through supplier control has promise.

Beating developing countries over the head by trying to deny them the aviation technology already existing in the developed world creates a political environment ill suited for diplomacy and persuasion. It creates an aura of double standard, and haves versus have nots. A balanced regime analogous to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would be more effective. In return for developing nations foregoing the acquisition of certain aircraft or aircraft subsystems, the more militarily advanced nations could agree not to pursue the next generation of aircraft. Thus, the high end of technology would not get any higher, and mid-level technology would not proliferate any wider. There are certain strengths to this approach. In addition to allowing the more advanced nations leverage in their attempts to limit proliferation, it could make a virtue of necessity. Several of the West's most advanced aircraft programs, such as the B-2, ATF and EFA are experiencing financial difficulty. While some (B-2) are on the verge of being canceled, others are losing support (EFA) or are becoming too costly in light of the threat they are designed to face (ATF). Rather than just suffer the fiscal and military consequences of canceling a program unilaterally, why not reduce the level of technology in other inventories at the same time?


Another way to address the spread of sophisticated attack aircraft would be to build new air defenses. While this option would do nothing to slow down proliferation, it could very well shield the United States and allies from the harsh effects proliferation might engender.

As the first section of this paper illustrated, the effectiveness of air defenses against combat aircraft depends on several factors: surprise, aircraft flight path, number of attackers, the effectiveness of low observable technology, and countermeasures to air defenses, to name a few. In general, one can assert that the odds are with the determined attacker.

Some analysts might see utility in building an air defense network for CONUS (CONtinental United States). Presently, no air defense exists, and the consequences of an aircraft bombing New York City with unconventional weapons would be of tragic proportions. Such a policy might continue the unabated transfer of combat aircraft in the hopes that US combat aircraft would always remain a generation ahead. Air defenses would provide a national insurance policy if our enemies' aircraft ever became a real threat to CONUS.

The problem with an extensive CONUS air defense is the incredible cost expended for uncertain effectiveness. In addition to the engagement difficulties outlined in this paper's first section, the primary obstacle to such a large air defense is the identification of potential threats.

The rules of engagement in a democracy like the United States is such that one cannot just shoot down what appears to be a threat. To be reasonably sure that an aircraft is a threat instead of some lost businessman in his Piper Cub, this entails a pilot intercepting the aircraft and visually identifying it. By the time an aircraft has been detected, and the decision has been made that it requires positive identification, and the assets to identify the aircraft have been set in motion, the response time is very limited.

There are electronic transponders with which to determine if an aircraft is friend or foe, but considering the consequences of killing a group of children returning from Disneyland, shooting down aircraft requires a higher degree of certainty. To guard against the contingency that the unidentified aircraft is a threat, it must be engaged at a safe distance from CONUS. Considering the immensity of US borders, this type of defense requires a great deal of personnel and equipment on alert status 24 hours a day. This in turn, represents a huge expenditure in money and manpower. Furthermore, this type of defense would do nothing to protect US allies who are more likely to suffer the consequences of unbridled aircraft proliferation. Point defenses, on the other hand, are more effective because by definition they are designed to protect a small perimeter. Since they are also usually employed during hostilities, the rules of engagement are more favorable to the defender.

If the systems are effective, encouraging the proliferation of point air defenses like the Hawk or Patriot could have a tangible impact on the effects of aircraft proliferation. As the previous section on suppliers control illustrated, "defensive" aircraft are never exclusively defensive. It is a relatively simple procedure to convert air-to-air fighters to a ground attack mode. Interceptors achieve air superiority so offensive aircraft can strike ground targets. Thus "defensive" aircraft are usually one layer of offensive operations.

Air defenses on the other hand, are designed to defend only a small area from offensive aircraft. They do not have offensive capabilities, nor do they directly contribute to the offensive operations of other systems. In theory, air defenses deprive the aggressor the ability to attack, without giving the defender offensive capabilities. In reality, air defenses only complicate, or degrade the enemy's ability to attack, but erecting a robust air defense would be one of a multiplicity of things one could do to discourage and air attack or lessen its consequences. Air defenses are not mutually vulnerable, like aircraft, and therefore no pre-emptive motives exist. Littering point defenses around airfields, C3I, and other strategic targets in two potentially hostile countries would deter an aggressor without giving the "defender" greater ability to attack. One potential downfall to this strategy would be that it could spur regional arms competition. By introducing advanced defenses to a particular region, one might encourage an adversary to build-up offensive capabilities to overcome the defenses.(39)

At this point, a key distinction between air and tactical missile defenses. The cost exchange ratio between an aircraft and the weapon designed to defend against it is small. Although its effectiveness can be questioned, a man-portable SAM can shoot down a $40 million aircraft. Even longer range systems SAMs with a higher PK cost less than the aircraft they are shooting down. Therefore, it is less expensive to shoot down aircraft than to build them. Assuming similar levels of technology and the same amount of money to spend on defense, if country A builds aircraft and attacks country B, which spent its money on air defense, country B should come out ahead.

In contrast, the cost exchange ratios between ballistic and cruise missiles and anti-tactical ballistic missile defenses is large, and in favor of the attacker. Depending on the hardware involved and the overall volume of the sale, Patriot ATBMS can be purchased for between $8 million and $104 million per launcher.(40) As documented in earlier sections, a Scud-B ballistic missile costs approximately $1 million, and cruise missiles generally cost considerably less. Therefore, it is much cheaper to build ballistic and cruise missiles then it to shoot them down. The low PKs demonstrated by operational ATBMs to date only underscore this ratio. Thus, in a given conflict, the missile/defense dynamic encourages offense since it is much more cost effective.


The final path the United States might follow to move toward the control of aircraft proliferation would be to focus on fostering regional arms control agreements and confidence and security building measures (CSBMs).

Proponents of this track would assert that conspicuous military build ups and imbalanced regional military arsenals create or exacerbate political tensions and foster hostility. By negotiating reductions in aircraft arsenals, or at least freezes, one would reduce the demand for the commodity, which is more effective than reducing the supply. CSBMs such as data sharing, reciprocal visits to military sites, and notification and observation of military exercises would fertilize this process, and reduce the demand for advanced aerial technology. Recipient states must become involved in the process because proliferation will be brought under control only when these states feel secure enough to propose initiatives themselves. Diplomacy is also cheap, and the means to pursue it (the State Department) already exist.

Other parties pooh-pooh diplomacy as a means to reduce the demand for military technology. This body of thought represents the contrary view in a long-standing "chicken or egg" debate. These analysts suggest that political tensions and rivalries create the demand for weapons, not the converse. Reductions in armaments between two or more rivals only occur when the political tensions have decreased sufficiently to be palatable. In other words: arms control only happens when it no longer matters. Furthermore, several areas of conflict, such as the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, and Korea exhibit deep-seated and historical animosity (often with a dash of religious fervor for spice). These conflicts will not be solved overnight, if ever.


1. Klare, Michael, American Arms Supermarket, (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1984).

2. U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, "Executive-Legislative Consultation on U.S. Arms Sales," Committee Print # 7, December 1982.

3. Klare, Michael, American Arms Supermarket, (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1984), page 89.

4. Pletka, Danielle, "Arab Payoff for the British Soft Sell," Insight, 8 August 1988, pages 34-36.

5. Pike, John, "The F-20 -- Tigershark or Turkey," Multinational Monitor, May 1983.

6. Hessman, James, "Decision Imminent on International Fighter Aircraft," Armed Forces Journal International, 2 November 1970, page 28-30.

7. Mossberg, Walter, "U.S. to Push Less Capable F-X Jet Fighters For Sale to 11 Major Third-World Allies," Wall Street Journal, 10 August 1982, page 6.

8. Wilson, George, "Saudis Urged to Finance Egypt as Warplane Maker," The Washington Post, 5 October 1982, page A1, A14.

9. Schemmer, Benjamin, "Northrop May Have to Cancel F-20, Washington Officials Now Speculate," Armed Forces Journal International, October 1983, page 29, 108.

10. "Northrop Terminates F-20 Investments," Aerospace Daily, 18 November 1986, page 258.

11. Documents on Disarmament 1976, (Washington, ACDA, 1978), page 500.

12. Fuqua, Don, "Detente and Defense Exports," AIA Newsletter, July 1990, page 3.

13. "Libya wants CSS-2," Flight International, 14 May 1988, page 6.

14. Zaloga, Steven, "The Sukhoi Su-24 'Fencer' Strike Aircraft," Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review, July 1990, page 300.

15. Navias, Martin, "Ballistic Missile Proliferation in the Third World," Adelphi Papers, #252, Summer 1990.

16. Fulghum, David, "Lack of Firm Bush Administration Policy On Arms Exports Hurts Sales Efforts," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 2 March 1992, p.20.

17. Fulghum, David, "Lack of Firm Bush Administration Policy On Arms Exports Hurts Sales Efforts," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 2 March 1992, p.20.

18. George Bush, Presidential Address, 3 October 1991, see also the Cheney and Powell Press Conference the next day. Articles in file at SAIC.

19. Zakheim, Dov, "Top Gun: Rating Weapons Systems in the Gulf War," Policy Review, Summer 1991, p.18.

20. Myers, Charles, "Littoral Warfare: Back to the Future," Proceedings, November 1990, p.48.

21. Silverberg, David, "Military Aviation Market Enters Turbulent Era," Defense News, 9 December 1991, p.8.

22. Grimmitt, Richard, "Arms Transfers to the Developing World 19xx-19xx" CRS Report For Congress, Washington, DC p. (look up complete citation).

23. Statement of Joseph E. Kelley, Director of the National Security and International Affairs Division, General Accounting Office, Before the Subcommittee on Arms Control, International Security and Science, Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, 1 August 1991, p.8.

24. xxx Stone, Secretary of the Army, sometime last Spring. Steve Bowman should have citation, or check statement of purpose for ACA job.

25. Rowen, Hobart, "IMF Backs Soviet Defense Cuts," Washington Post, 30 September 1991, p.A1.

26. Blustein, Paul, "World Bank, IMF to Press Defense Cuts," The Washington Post, 18 October 1991, p.B1.

27. "The Pentagon goes on the Defensive," The Economist, 28 September 1991, p.25.

28. Find citation if big GPALS report, Lora's part on proliferation probably contains it.

29. Pierre, Andrew, "Beyond the Plane Package: Arms and Politics in the Middle East," International Security, Volume 3, Number 1, Summer 1978, p.155.

30. Finnegan, Philip, "Egypt Seeks Surplus Gear," Defense News, 9 March 1992, p.28.

31. Leopold, George, "Asia Continues To Rely On Western Technology," Defense News, 28 October 1991, p.18.

32. Leopold, George, "Asia Continues To Rely On Western Technology," Defense News, 28 October 1991, p.18.

33. Sweetman, Bill, "GE aims engine at Taiwan's IDF," Jane's Defense Weekly, 2 November 1991, p.803.

34. "Iraq Computers Reportedly Got American Bug," The Washington Post, 12 January 1991.

35. Gordon, Michael, "Libya Takes Key Step to Extend Range of Bombers," The New York Times, 29 March 1990, page A15.

36. Bradsher, Kieth, "Used-Jet Prices Are Beginning to Fall," The New York Times, 14 April 1990.

37. Pearlstein, Steven, "McDonnell Douglas-Taiwan Jetliner Venture Draws Fire From Many Sides," The Washington Post, 27 February 1992, p.A7.

38. Leopold, George, "Competition Rises for Early Warning Gear Makers," Defense News, sometime in 1991, p.?

39. In "The Global Arms Market After the Gulf: Prospects for Control," The Washington Quarterly, Summer 1991, p.130, Janne Nolan suggests this dynamic in arguing against the transfer of ATBMs. One must conclude that it applies to air defenses as well.

40. "Japan's Defense Agency Eyes Large Patriot Buy," Aerospace Daily, 24 August 1984, p.306. Spinelli, Andea, "Italy finds Patriot funding," Flight International, 25 June 1991, p.26. "Japan Buys More Patriots," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 29 April 1991, p.13.