In the article "Soviet aviation in the era of the digital revolution: rise and fall ”(hereinafter - the previous article), we focused on the painful defeat of Soviet aircraft and air defense systems in the First Lebanese War (hereinafter - the Lebanese War) in 1982. One of the main reasons for the failure was the Israeli E-2C. And this article will describe in more detail why, by the beginning of the 80s, AWACS aircraft became a serious threat and changed the methods of warfare.
The capabilities of the new means of detection and control will be shown on the example of a scenario of a conflict between NATO and ATS in the Central European theater of operations. The ratio of forces will be set as of 1989, when the USSR had the maximum possible number of 4th generation fighters. By this time, the OVD and the USSR were on the verge of collapse, and a military conflict with NATO was impossible. But we are considering a hypothetical scenario (without the use of nuclear and chemical weapons, and other "unconventional" things).
Being determines consciousness, and personal experience shapes the views of the military on the methods of warfare. This is fully applicable to the military thought of both NATO and the ATS. American theorists, of course, understood the advantages of "digitalization" of combat aviation back in the 70s, but they could not clearly shape the image of the future war. The military in general is not prone to deep analysis. Churchill's catchphrase that
"Generals are always preparing for the last war",
is completely true. That is why the United States (as well as the USSR) underestimated the contribution of UAVs to the Lebanese War and realized the advantages of this weapon only after Desert Storm. Israeli UAVs were initially perceived as "local exotic" ("model").
At the same time, the demonstration of the capabilities of AWACS aircraft and 4th generation fighters was so convincing that it was impossible to ignore this new experience. The Americans realized what a serious advantage they had over the USSR. The mosaic has developed: air defense systems can no longer resist modern aviation and limit its ability to maneuver on the battlefield.
From that moment on, the rules of the "game" changed. In August 1982, only a couple of months after the air battle in Lebanon, the AirLand battle doctrine was hastily adopted in the United States. The role of aviation is being revised, and now it is the main striking force, albeit in close cooperation with the ground forces.
For the first time since 1939, the role of the "ram" crushing the enemy's orders is played not by the Panzer-Division, but by the "air divisions" consisting of 60 to 100 aircraft. The difference is that aviation is tasked with striking the enemy to the full depth of his order. The defeat is inflicted not only on the first echelon, but also the reserves and rear infrastructure are destroyed. The principle of "see and attack to the full depth" is implemented.
This doctrine will develop further until after the "Desert Storm" it takes the final form of "total offensive in the air" only by air forces. Reduction of "livestock" tanks in Europe after the end of the Cold War is associated not only with budget cuts, but also with a revision of priorities in favor of aviation within the framework of the new doctrine. The recent example of the purchase of F-35 fighters by Poland while ignoring the outdated tank fleet is characteristic.
In the USSR in the 80s, military thought froze at the level of WWII, and tank "wedges" were still considered the main striking force, and aviation was assigned a secondary role. Soviet theorists were still working on a tank "Blitzkrieg" with a throw to the English Channel, and the air defense system was seen as the main means of fighting enemy aircraft. The collapse of air defense systems and tanks in the Lebanon war seemed to them only an annoying accident.
In Europe, the OVD had an overwhelming superiority in the ground forces, which NATO countries planned to oppose with their air superiority. Aviation was considered as the main means of warfare, which was supposed to seize air supremacy and destroy the tank armies of the ATS. Soviet aviation had the main task of disrupting this plan by destroying enemy aircraft on the ground, as well as disabling air bases, ground radar stations, air defense systems and AWACS aircraft.
The USSR Air Force and Air Defense were based on the doctrine that was last effective in the Yom Kippur War, and assumed that air defense systems, supported by fighters, should hold down enemy air forces, and tactical bombers should make low-altitude breakthroughs from under the air defense umbrella.
Forces and technique of the parties
In the USSR, military aviation was distributed between the Air Force, Air Defense and the Navy. A scenario of a battle on a ground theater of operations is being considered, and the Navy's Air Force will not be taken into account, as will NATO's naval aviation. To analyze the capabilities of the sides in a confrontation in the air, an assessment of the balance of forces in AWACS aircraft, fighters and bombers capable of low-altitude breakthroughs will be given. (The number of aircraft will be given with rounding, since an accurate count would be a separate large-scale study, and will not fundamentally affect the overall picture).
In 1972, the United States created a prototype of the first AWACS aircraft capable of "looking down" (with the ability to detect low-altitude targets - see the previous article): EZ Sentry based on Boeing-707. In 1976, the first production car will be assembled. And a little later, the modernization of the propeller-driven E-2C began, which will also receive a new-generation radar.
The appearance of these aircraft completely changed the tactics of warfare in the air. The effectiveness of AWACS aircraft, which were used before, was incomparable with the new systems. E-2 and E-3 were complex complexes with the main multifunctional radar, auxiliary radar identification "friend or foe" (hereinafter IFF, Identification friend or foe), RTR and communication systems (voice and data exchange). The United States Air Force received a powerful tool for both defense and seizure of the initiative.
In the previous article, we dwelt in detail on the problems of ground-based air defense in the fight against low-altitude penetrations of enemy aircraft, "invisible" beyond the radio horizon for ground-based radars. The average ground-based radar can detect an aircraft flying at an altitude of 30 m only at a distance of less than 21 km. And this is provided that this radar is capable of filtering out interference from the ground. It is enough for the attacking aircraft to gain an altitude of 150+ m in order to use air-to-ground weapons, after which it descends again and “leaves” at low altitude (the detection range of a radar or radar missile with a target ZPS is greatly reduced).
That is why AWACS aircraft with radar with the ability to “look down” are becoming the basis of air defense for the United States. They form an "umbrella" over the covered area: they detect enemy aircraft in advance and direct their fighters to destroy them. They are much more resistant to enemy attacks than ground-based radars, as they are moving targets. In the new conditions, long-range air defense systems have lost their former importance. And the US ground air defense was represented mainly by short-range complexes to combat low-flying targets. They made up the first echelon of air defense, and long-range air defense systems were the second in the depth of defense.
AWACS aircraft are also used in offensive operations. The radar of fighters of the 1980s had the ability to scan only in a limited sector (fighters received any capabilities comparable to the E-3 only in our time with the introduction of AFAR) and the passport detection range in fact was reduced significantly. AWACS aircraft now followed the fighters and guided them to their targets. Having received a vector on the target, the fighter could detect it much further (when scanning in a narrow sector) and be the first to launch missiles either from a long distance on a collision course, or come from the side, like the Israelis in the Lebanon war. Combat distances begin to grow.
AWACS aircraft also increase the ability to destroy ground targets. From the radar and the RTR station, their on-board computers receive, and then display on the map, information about the targets detected in the air and on the ground. Computers identify targets identified by RTR by comparing their signals with those available in libraries. This information allows you to plot safe routes for scouts and bombers (for example, avoiding ZSU positions). Identified targets (if necessary) are destroyed by aircraft or artillery.
These capabilities were first tested in 1981. When Israeli aviation destroyed the nuclear reactor in Osirak (Iraq) with the support of E-2C, flying at low altitude through Jordan, Syria and Iraq for more than 800 km (Iraqi air defense was mobilized: there was a war with Iran). A more vivid and well-known example is the Lebanese war, which was discussed in the previous article.
A-50 vs E-3
The USSR was faced with the task of finding an antidote against E-2 and E-3, and work in this direction was carried out. The prototype A-50 (a new AWACS aircraft based on the Il-76) made its first flight in 1978. And in the USSR, the construction of these machines began at an accelerated pace. More than 40 units were built in total. A-50, according to official data, could detect a target with an EPR of 3 sq. m at a distance of 220-240 km (in the "look up" mode), simultaneously accompany up to 50-60 targets and control up to 10-12 aircraft.
Information on E-3 in the public domain is presented extremely contradictory. The situation is facilitated by the fact that (when the issue of adopting it into service) was formed a powerful lobby of opponents of this project. As a result, large-scale tests were carried out to confirm its characteristics, and information on them has already been declassified. There were two types of tests: one for countering electronic warfare systems and the second for the capabilities of the AWACS itself, where E-3 simultaneously accompanied 274 "enemy" aircraft and pointed 134 "own" aircraft at the targets.
Immediately striking are the limited capabilities of target tracking and aviation control of the A-50. In battle, the AWACS aircraft receives information about hundreds of targets that need to be monitored and saved history their movements. This process requires high automation and software. The gap between digital and analog electronics is here at its best. The A-50 had a performance many times lower than that of the E-3.
In the event of a large-scale conflict, the USSR needed much more AWACS aircraft. If we assume that the USSR could concentrate in Germany half of its A-50 and half of them, up to ten units, would be simultaneously on duty in the air, then this makes it possible to control 100-120 aircraft and track up to 600 targets. In conditions when the enemy has deployed thousands of aircraft, UAVs and missile launchers, this is not enough.
In the "look up" mode, the E-3 could detect a target with an RCS of 3 sq. m at a distance of at least 300 km. This data is for E-3 on Block 20/25, before the modernization of the late 80s (Block 30/35). Here we see the advantage of the American aircraft. The lag of Soviet technology is observed when solving not the most difficult task: scanning in a pulsed mode at medium and high altitudes. This is much easier than scanning the lower hemisphere. The long detection range gave the E-3 a serious advantage: it could move farther from the front line than the A-50. NATO had 18 E-3 units permanently based in Germany. And in the event of a threat, the United States had to additionally redeploy most of its fleet of 34 vehicles.
There is no reliable public information on the “look down” mode for the E-3 and A-50. For this, the pulse-Doppler mode was used and advanced computers were needed to filter targets from the ground. It is logical to assume that here the lag of Soviet technology was even greater. This is hinted at by the presence of a separate surveillance radar on the A-50 for scanning the earth's surface in a fairing under the nose. Why do you need a separate radar if there is a more powerful main one? However (in the absence of accurate information), we will not "get hung up" on this nuance and will try to conduct an analysis based on the available data.
MiG-31 vs E-3
An important issue in relation to AWACS aircraft is their survivability on the battlefield, that is, stability during enemy attacks aimed at destroying them. One American general once said:
"E-3 has a high survival rate, but it is not immortal."
Experiments (which the Americans carried out in the 70s) showed that in order to destroy the E-3, the enemy would have to sacrifice up to 60-100 aircraft in some scenarios. What these experiments were has not yet been declassified. And it is not clear what forces of the parties were included in the scenario. How the Americans were going to cover the E-3 in Europe is also unknown. But in the declassified documents, the senator mentioned "an armada of fighters to protect the E-3." Whatever he means, it doesn't seem like the task of destroying E-3 is trivial. There was something to cover.
If you believe the information of the NATO military, received privately from our pilots in the early 90s, it was planned to use entire IAPs to strike the E-3. The information was published in an interview. And there they talked about the attack by the MiG-29 with R-33 missiles. The Soviet pilots estimated their own losses at one squadron for one E-3. Obviously, there is some inaccuracy: the MiG-29 could not use the P-33. Here we are either talking about the attack of the MiG-31 with R-33, or the MiG-29 with melee missiles.
Why they could have used the MiG-31 to attack is understandable: it was equipped with a powerful radar and carried long-range R-33 missiles (range up to 160 km). A powerful radar was needed to fire from a maximum distance at the E-3, which was on duty far from the front line. To fly up to it at a distance of visual contact meant to be exposed to the attacks of air defense systems and enemy fighters. And it was logical to use the "long arm".
On paper, everything is fine, but in practice problems began due to the lag in electronics. The MiG-31 was equipped with the best Soviet Zaslon radar. An analog system weighing 1 ton, which had to match the AWG-9 parameters, the analog F-14 radar. But in fact, before the modernization, it was inferior to it and was heavier by 350 kg.
For comparison, the digital radar F-15E, APG-70, weighed 4 times less than the "Zaslon". With a similar detection range in the "look up" mode (in the "look down" mode, the APG-70 had a range of 135 km, unattainable for analog electronics). The Su-27 was originally supposed to receive an airborne radar similar in parameters to the Zaslon, only in a more compact version. But in the USSR, the necessary miniaturization was not achieved. The analog system could not overcome the serious electronic warfare.
In 1986, during an exercise in the presence of the MiG-31 Minister of Defense, it was not possible to outplay even the primitive electronic warfare station of the Tu-95MS bomber, and he had to be "shot down" from a cannon. As for the R-33 missile, there is an opinion that it was a clone of the American AIM-54 Phoenix (transferred to the USSR by the Iranians). The guidance system parameters, dimensions and weight are completely identical. Phoenix had protection against interference - it went into protection mode and flew to the signal source. The R-33, apparently, did not have such a mode of operation.
This rocket, rooted in the 1960s, could hardly have shot down the E-3. It is no coincidence that the Americans removed the Phoenix from service and replaced it with the less long-range, but more "smart" AIM-120. In the USSR, a version with an analog seeker was reproduced, which had a shorter launch range compared to the digital version of the original: 160 versus 190 km.
There are two wills in the field
There are two wills in the field, and since we are studying the possibility of destroying American AWACS, then it is worth assessing the possibility of retaliatory actions. The Americans could attract F-50 fighters with Phoenix missiles to fight the A-14. It is clear that the maximum launch ranges do not correlate at all with the real ones, but the Americans had the advantage in the "brains" of the missiles and radar systems of fighters.
Also, the E-3 had a detection range of 70 km more than the A-50. If we add here the 30 km difference in firing range, then we get a serious advantage for NATO. This means for the MiG-31 the need to enter the zone of action of enemy aircraft and air defense systems, and for the enemy more comfortable missile launches.
The R-33 is equipped with a combined seeker, and the MiG-31 had to illuminate the target for a long time until the missile approaches it by 18 km to launch the ARLGSN. In the last article, I talked about the nuances of this technology. The contrast (EPR at the bomber level) and non-maneuverable MiG-31 had little chance of surviving in a counterattack by cover fighters (if only to interrupt guidance and fly away).
The MiG-31 itself is an ideal target for the same Phoenix, which can be fired at it from maximum range. But for the F-14, with a lower EPR, the R-33 could only be used from a distance of up to 100 km. In addition, AWACS aircraft are mobile targets. Both E-3 and A-50 are maneuverable enough at speeds up to 850 km / h to have time to retreat. The detection range of the radar for catch-up targets drops. For a successful missile launch, you need to get as close as possible. To hit a target of this type from a long distance, you need a “fire and forget” missile - an air-to-air missile system. Neither the ATS nor NATO had such weapons.
If we consider the scenario with the breakthrough of the MiG-29 or Su-27 at a distance of visual contact with the E-3, then the losses would be great. Here you can really talk about dozens of downed aircraft. The E-3 was covered by ground-based air defense, and it must have been accompanied by an electronic warfare aircraft (in addition, the F-15 had built-in electronic warfare capabilities, and the F-16 carried the electronic warfare system). Under these conditions, only the P-73 with IKGSN (analogue of AIM-9L) with a launch range of several kilometers could provide guaranteed defeat from the Soviet arsenal.
NATO for an attack on the A-50, in addition to Phoenix, could use Sparrow AIM-7M missiles with a launch range of up to 70 km and an efficiency of 0.68 (the radar of the newest F-15E was able to overcome the Soviet electronic warfare). The AIM-120 missiles could also be used: they went into production in 1987. And they were kept secret "until a special occasion." They could be integrated very quickly on aircraft with PSP. In addition, both numerically and in terms of performance, NATO had a large advantage in AWACS aircraft and could sacrifice a significant number of them without prejudice to the combat potential (three E-3s covered the entire Central European theater of operations).
4th generation fighters
The fighters of the 3rd generation, both ATS and NATO, were essentially daytime (due to the weak capabilities of the radar and outdated communication systems). At night, when the 4 th generation all-weather aviation "woke up", they "fell asleep". In NATO countries, old fighters were used as daytime interceptors or bombers. In the USSR, they were predominantly daytime interceptors. Aircraft of the 3rd generation could naturally fly at night: they were just much less effective in the dark. For example, they had limited opportunities to identify “friend or foe”.
Outdated fighters of the 3rd generation made seemingly insignificant differences from the 4th generation: digital communication (data transmission "computer-computer") and display. Analog communication made it possible only for voice communication in real time, and with digital modulation, information could be displayed on the display in front of the pilot's eyes. In a short-term air battle, it is extremely difficult to explain with the help of an analog transmitter where our own and where others are. And in a fighter of the 4th generation equipped with digital communication, information about aircraft in the air is promptly received on the display (own and enemy aircraft are marked) and a vector is displayed to the next target. The pilot is not required, as in the Vietnam War, to identify "friend or foe" visually, he can immediately attack. With digital modulation, all information (voice or data) is transmitted much more reliably. Higher protection against interference and noise, more difficult to intercept messages and detect the operation of the transmitter (even voice messages are transmitted in encrypted digital stream).
NATO has a digital communication system called Datalink, and in the USSR there was a telecode communication (TCS). The TKS was installed only on the MiG-31, MiG-29 and Su-27. 1 MiG-900 units (in the Air Force and Air Defense) did not have it. It was impossible to fully use them in hostilities. At the same time, "Tornado" with worse (than the MiG-23) maneuverability, thanks to Datalink, could be used in aerial combat.
How this could happen is known from the experience of Desert Storm: due to a mistake by the AWACS operator, the MiG-25 was able to fly up to American aircraft unnoticed and shoot down the F-15. This was an isolated episode. But, in the presence of digital communications and AWACS aircraft, such tactics are put on the conveyor belt.
Both the MiG-25 and the Tornado had no chance against the F-18 in maneuvering combat. And only with modern aviation control, using the effect of surprise, they could be an effective weapon. This tactic was first tested by the IDF in 1982 and boiled down to attacking Arab aircraft suddenly, remaining "invisible." Analogue radar and communication systems were jammed, and the Arab planes were "blinded". It was absolutely unimportant how many "blind" enemy aircraft were flying over the battlefield: not all targets were shot down, but only those that could be destroyed with minimal risk. There was a gradual but inevitable grinding of the enemy's forces. In the Gulf War, the Americans shot down 38 (out of 41) Iraqi aircraft in aerial battles in a similar scenario using AWACS aircraft.
NATO aviation in Europe was supposed to act in the same vein. The plan was to (thanks to better awareness and quality of control) create a local superiority in forces and destroy enemy aircraft. No more knightly duels and duels: just "hit from behind with a bat". This approach has remained unchanged to this day.
When in the late 70s in the United States it became known about the work on the MiG-29, research began there on the formation of the appearance of a new generation aircraft. The task was to create an aircraft that could remain as "invisible" to the 4th generation aircraft as they were "invisible" to the 3rd generation. As a result, this led to the creation of the F-22, designed to maintain the advantage of NATO after the USSR completely re-equips aviation with 4th generation aircraft.
One of the important tools for the "invisibility" technology was the covert operation of the radar. It allows you to attack enemy aircraft suddenly without activating their PDF. The LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) mode known to us today for AFAR radars is just a new generation of this technology. In LPI mode, the target is scanned with weak pulses at different frequencies. And in the early stages of the development of this technology, scanning was carried out at only one frequency (or several, but in a narrow range). The efficiency was much lower, but against the aircraft of the 3rd (and possibly not only) generation it was quite enough.
It was a secret technology. Its existence became known only after the Islamic Revolution, when specialists from the USSR managed to get acquainted with the F-14. The secrecy has not gone anywhere today: in the "west" the LPI regime has been criticized for some time, including in scientific articles, as part of a disinformation operation. In the USSR, work was also underway on this technology, and it was implemented at least in some air defense systems.
Correlation of forces
In the IAP of the Air Force and Air Defense of the USSR, there were more than 4 fighters in service, including slightly less than 500 fighters of the 1th generation: 000 MiG-4, 500 MiG-29 and 200 Su-31. Fighters of the 250rd generation were represented by a large number of types, of which the MiG-27bis and, to some extent, the MiG-3 could participate in maneuvering combat. Also, the Air Defense Forces had a large number of obsolete highly specialized interceptors to combat strategic aviation.
These aircraft (most of them the Su-15 and its "classmate" MiG-25) were gradually replaced by the Su-27 and MiG-31. As well as the MiG-23 on the MiG-29 in the Air Force. This is despite the fact that all MiG-23, MiG-25 and most of the Su-15 were manufactured in the 70s and early 80s. These were "new" cars. In the 70s, they were replaced by quite combat-ready MiG-21s, which were cheaper to operate and had the best characteristics in most indicators. Fighters of the 3rd generation were changed to ... the same generation. Astronomical sums were wasted.
How many aircraft of the 4th generation of the USSR could concentrate on the Central European theater of operations is a difficult question. If the United States planned to send all the Air Force fighter aircraft there (without the National Guard) and could afford it, then the USSR had several more ground theaters (including Afghanistan) and the need to deter the enemy's strategic aviation and AUG. In the German Democratic Republic, Poland and Czechoslovakia, approx. 700 Soviet fighters (of which about 280 MiG-29 and several dozen Su-27). There were also to transfer forces from the western districts. Probably, as a result, 280 MiG-29, 150 Su-27 and 60 MiG-31 could be assembled in Germany. A total of 500 4th generation units (plus an undefined number of old cars).
The USA planned to deploy 2 Air Force fighters in Europe, including more than 500 2th generation units, the F-000 and F-4. The Allies could add another 16 F-15s, 500 Tornadoes (IDS fighter-bombers and ADV interceptors) and 16 Canadian F-800s. France could provide 100 Mirage 18 aircraft. A total of 200 2000th generation aircraft and a significant number of older aircraft. MiG-4 and "Tornado" do not fully correspond to the parameters of the 000th generation (no high maneuverability), but they are equipped with digital communication systems and can be used against modern aviation. Therefore, we also take them into account.
As a result, we observe in the Central European theater of operations the ratio of forces in modern fighters: 500 to 4. Aviation of the ATS countries can be disregarded - except for a few dozen MiG-000 (without TKS), the rest of the fighters were outdated. Let's take them out of the brackets together with the Swedish Air Force, which, of course, would have taken part in the battle with a significant number of 29th generation aircraft.
Here it is necessary to make a reservation right away that almost all of NATO's 4th generation fighters were "universal soldiers": "fighter-bombers". "Tornado" IDS could participate, if necessary, in air combat, and the aircraft (gaining air superiority) F-15 could be involved in "strike missions". Soviet fighters of the 4th generation could not effectively “work on the ground” due to the lack of SAR (radar scanning of the earth's surface) mode at their radar. All 4th generation Soviet vehicles were clean fighters. As well as some early modifications of "western" 4th generation fighters, for example, the F-16A. They could be used as daytime tactical bombers, but nothing more.
In the USSR, mainly highly specialized aircraft were used as tactical bombers, of which there were more than 1989 units by 2. Including Su-700 bombers, Su-24 attack aircraft and MiG-25 and Su-27 fighter-bombers. The word "fighters" should not be misleading here: they were light bombers. For example, the MiG-17 (27 units), were not equipped with radar, had a minimum thrust-to-weight ratio and could not be effectively used in air battles.
A classmate of the MiG-27 - "Tornado", also with a variable sweep wing (to reduce resistance when flying at low altitudes), was equipped with an airborne radar and could participate in aerial combat. In the west, the opposite approach prevailed: the newest fighters went into production, and the old machines were re-profiled for auxiliary roles of day fighter-bombers. In the Lebanon War, the IDF Air Force's 4th generation aircraft fought for air supremacy, and the 3rd generation took part in the suppression of air defense. But if needed, both the F-4 and Kfir could make up a reserve for air battles. Soviet tactical bombers were not suitable for this.
The USSR's striving for a narrow specialization of aviation technology ran counter to the global trend towards universalization. And at times reduced the ability to fight for air supremacy. NATO also had highly specialized aircraft. For example, the F-117 low-visibility night bomber, but in his case it was justified. He had an optical sighting system that (not without glitches) could work at night. In Iraq, F-117s made 2% of the total number of sorties, but hit 40% of key targets. The United States had more than 60 F-117 units and (invisible at low altitudes even for AWACS radar) they could cause huge damage.
The USSR did not have night bombers due to the lack of SAR radars and effective night vision devices. On the most massive NATO night bomber "Tornado" IDS was an on-board radar with SAR. And he could fly on autopilot in the terrain enveloping mode (its direct analogue is the Su-34, only without the ability to work on air targets). That is, to fly "at the level of trees" and bomb at night, while remaining invulnerable to air defense systems. Its radar could detect targets in any weather and time of day, and the MiG-27 optical system, even during the day and at a minimum distance to the target, did not provide guidance at altitudes of more than 5 m. In Afghanistan, its "high-tech" optical sighting system failed. And for him the work was done by the Su-000 (with the help of aircraft controllers).
The advantage of night bombers was that at night they were practically not threatened by MANPADS, the main scourge of low-flying aircraft (ZSU and SAM are not so numerous and can not always effectively respond to targets of this type). NATO night bombers could operate in relatively comfortable conditions, while Soviet "strikers" in the daytime in the FRG were waiting for hundreds of MANPADS. If the single "Stingers" in Afghanistan delivered a lot of problems to the Soviet aviation, then what to say about NATO air defense.
But most of all, the appearance of AWACS aircraft conducting interceptors with the ability to “look down” reduced the survivability of Soviet tactical bombers. Now, in order to carry out low-altitude breakthroughs, E-3 had to be neutralized first. And for this, tactical bombers were unsuitable. Yes, they could have been thrown against NATO airfields in Europe, but Soviet bombers would have ended much earlier than NATO airfields and aircraft. It was impossible to organize raids on the rear with impunity, as in 1973.
In turn, the enemy could deploy more than 500 IDS Tornado units, 70 F-111F and 60 F-117 in the FRG. More than 600 units of specialized night bombers alone, plus a reserve of several thousand fighters that can replace them. Here you need to add at least 400 night attack helicopters and several hundred A-10 attack aircraft. In this aspect, NATO aircraft had a serious advantage.
A similar situation was observed with the ground forces. The lack of modern night vision devices was the Achilles heel of the USSR Armed Forces and significantly reduced their combat effectiveness. NATO was preparing to take full advantage of this weakness. How this could happen, we know from the example of the Falklands War, where the British purposefully attacked the islands at night, using night vision devices that the Argentines did not have. In addition to night bombers, the alliance had a large number of aircraft that were used as day bombers: Alphajet, F-4, Jaguar, various old Mirage modifications, etc. In the afternoon, they sent them to bomb "which is not a pity."
ATS tactics and capabilities
After analyzing the equipment of the parties, it can be concluded that the capabilities of the ATS air forces did not correspond to the tasks set.
They could not destroy NATO aircraft on the ground. At the airfields, it was necessary to destroy shelters with planes hidden in them, hangars or at least runways so that the planes could not take off. Hangars were the lightest and largest target, but there were not a large number of aircraft and it was possible only to disable technical personnel and equipment.
Destroying the runway (despite the fact that many countries were developing ammunition to destroy them) was unrealistic. Ground personnel could quickly restore them, and additional lanes were built at the air bases in Germany to provide insurance. A lot of closed shelters for aircraft were built, and they were well camouflaged. They did not protect against direct hits, but this was not required against Soviet technology. Soviet daytime tactical bombers did not have sufficient survivability and sighting equipment for such operations.
To hit the shelters with conventional bombs was a very difficult task: the IDF Air Force in 1973 did not succeed. The Soviet KAB could not improve the situation in any way, since they had a short range of use. Aircraft carriers had to enter the area of operation of the object air defense, and before that survive when meeting with AWACS and fighters. Heavy and medium bombers could strike shelters from a long distance with cruise missiles, but for analog guidance systems they were not sufficiently contrasting targets (like a bridge, for example).
The range of the Soviet MLRS and TRK did not exceed 70 km (a small number of airfields fell into the affected area), and their accuracy was low. OTRK also did not have sufficient accuracy. The American Tomahawk CD, which had no counterpart in the USSR, could stably hit the shelters. NATO's capabilities to destroy ATS aircraft at airfields were much higher.
It was not possible to destroy the enemy AWACS aircraft without unacceptable losses, and accordingly it was impossible to suppress NATO air defense. At the same time, the A-50s were vulnerable.
In the light of all of the above, there is only one scenario for the ATS aviation: defensive (possibly forcedly defensive, after the loss of a large number of aircraft). This is the provision of air defense and direct support of ground forces in the frontline zone by tactical bombers during daylight hours. It was required to reproduce the best moments of the Yom Kippur War and ensure the advance of the armored columns. The problem is that by 1989, a lot had changed.
NATO tactics and capabilities
The alliance's possible tactics in Desert Storm are clear and transparent. Suppression of air defense would be the primary task. And therefore the first act of the Pentagon's play called "Air-Ground Battle" was supposed to begin with the launch of the "armada" of the BQM-74C UAV (speeds up to 970 km / h made it possible to fairly reliably simulate "fighter" targets for analog radars). In the second act (after turning on the Soviet radars), the launch of the HARM radars, which, if they did not destroy the radar, then forced them to turn off. In the third act (at night, when the Soviet MANPADS were useless), the F-117 and Tomahawk missile launchers struck the entire depth of the ATS units. With preliminary reconnaissance of E-3 targets, RTR aircraft, satellites and reconnaissance aircraft.
Enveloping in low-altitude flight relief of the KR, A-50 theoretically could still detect, but there was no effective means to destroy them. He could not find the F-117 at low altitude. The radars of that era were simply not designed to detect such subtle targets. Even the E-3 received the ability to work on inconspicuous targets only after upgrading to Block 30/35. Both Tomahawks and F-117 could be shot down, but by coincidence.
PRLR, KR and F-117 were supposed to suppress air defense in order to facilitate the work of aviation. Ground-based air defense did not so much threaten tactical bombers as prevented NATO fighters from covering them. It would be important for NATO forces to push the air defense system further from the front line with air and artillery strikes, where they no longer defended anything but themselves. This cleared the way for the safe night raids of the Tornado, F-111F, A-10, Cobra and Apache. All these "locusts" were intended for night attacks of the forward formations and columns of the ATS reserves.
Back in 1967, it became clear that this could not end well: without air cover, tanks burn like candles. Even taking into account the superiority in tanks (6 versus 000), the ATS troops could not advance in such conditions for a long time. Air supremacy makes it possible to destroy numerically superior enemy forces in parts, creating a local overwhelming superiority in certain sectors of the front. Aviation can quickly maneuver on the battlefield, while air defense systems and tank columns need days or even weeks to redeploy. NATO did not need to immediately suppress the entire air defense system of the ATS: it was enough to neutralize it in the most tank-hazardous areas.
The disastrous outcome of the battle for the Internal Affairs Directorate, it would seem, was inevitable, but there was still a scenario of a "war of attrition". After 1973, there were fears in NATO that the Soviet aviation could "throw pilots" the alliance forces in the air, namely, throw "hordes" of MiGs into battle. The fears were related to the outcome of the Yom Kippur War, after which Israel was left without fighters. Due to the high intensity of aviation work, almost all combat aircraft were worn out and required retirement.
This scenario seems unlikely. Here there is even no point in counting all the aircraft in the reserve of the sides (although it is clear that the ATS did not even have a numerical superiority in fighters in Europe). It is enough to understand that the outcome of the battle in the air was decided in the confrontation of modern machines, controlled by AWACS aircraft. Neither Soviet nor "NATO" "antiques" could be effective against this combination. This was understood both in the USSR and in the USA.
The Lebanese war became an all too obvious example: 100 4th generation aircraft, supported by E-2C, “scrapped” 24 3rd generation aircraft a day. High losses were associated with an attempt to seize the initiative in the air. And in passive defense they would have been much less (Iraqi actions in the Gulf War). But winning the battle by passively defending itself is impossible.
NATO faced serious losses in the first days, perhaps weeks, while the Soviet 4th generation aircraft and the "under-suppressed" air defense systems were in service. As they were eliminated, the losses would almost disappear. Here the possibility is rather visible for NATO aviation to "crush the numbers" of the Soviet.
If we consider the war in the air separately, then the victory of the NATO air force is beyond doubt. The seizure of the initiative by enemy aircraft meant that the advanced Soviet formations, even without being surrounded in the classical version, would in fact fall into the "aviation boilers". That is, they would be blocked by air forces.
When attempting an offensive or other maneuvers, NATO aircraft would bomb the convoys and inflict serious damage, gradually reducing the combat effectiveness of the ATS units. They would bomb "everything that moves." Unlike reconnaissance aircraft that appear in the air sporadically, AWACS aircraft, like an "all-seeing eye", allow you to receive real-time information about the movements of equipment in the front line. Not missing anything, 24x7 and whatever the weather.
The SAR image in the late 80s did not yet allow identification of targets. And NATO did not have a UAV capable of providing a video image (like the IDF in the Lebanese war), so there was a need to send reconnaissance aircraft for additional reconnaissance of targets. And this wasted time. But the scouts could also carry out bomb and missile strikes, and the advantages over the old means of detection were still colossal. It was impossible to "chase after every lorry" without drone UAVs, but group targets would be destroyed regularly.
The USSR could only defeat if it could neutralize NATO aircraft, but this was prevented serious mistakes in planning.
Wrong prioritization... It was necessary to reduce the production of air defense systems and tanks and invest heavily in the main means of warfare - in aviation. Hence the need to rethink the role of aviation in general.
Low level of expertise of military equipment... A large number of ineffective aircraft, fighters and bombers were built. The money spent could be used for the production of really necessary aircraft, the development of the radio-electronic industry and R&D.
Failure to shape the airplane of the future... There was a blind copying of American aircraft. The success story of the MiG-21 in Vietnam was not developed and was put into production under the Phantom MiG-23. Then the USSR rushed to create analogues of the maneuverable American aircraft of the 4th generation, the Su-27 and MiG-29. Was it necessary to do this? Great question.
There were also alternative (easy) ways of developing fighter aircraft: French and Swedish. For the layman, light fighters look undignified. But in an era when the means of communication and control "reign", everything is not so obvious. It was no coincidence that the USA abandoned the F-22 in favor of the less maneuverable F-35. The Wunderwaffe preferred the cheaper and more widespread aircraft. The Americans came to this in the 90s, and the Swedes brought it to life back in the 70s, creating the Yak-37 (JA 37 Viggen). This is a big topic that will be covered in a separate article.
The OVD could not get a "Blitzkrieg". NATO had every opportunity to repel tank attacks. This lost battle, however, does not amount to automatic defeat in a war. Even having lost a large number of tanks in unsuccessful attacks, during the transition to the defense it was possible to "stop the bleeding" and try to stabilize the situation.
NATO was able to deplete and probably partially defeat the ATS forces in the GDR, but it was not able to maintain a high intensity of hostilities for a long time. There were no human and material resources to "go to Moscow" in the scenario without the use of nuclear weapons. That is why all NATO plans for the defense of the FRG included the mandatory use of nuclear weapons in order to avoid the meat grinder, as in the Korean War.
The USSR, having a numerical superiority in the ground forces, also considered "non-nuclear" offensive options.
As in the Korean War, the result of the clash would probably be a transition to trench warfare.
And then peace negotiations.