Aerial Fire Support Weapons:

How Useful Would They Be in a European Conflict?

PSAD-79-65: Published: Jun 11, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 1979.

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In a possible European conflict, the effectiveness and survivability of aerial fire support weapons assisting ground forces could be seriously limited by adverse battlefield conditions. More than $8 billion is to be spent for these systems over the next several years. For close air support, the Air Force is producing the A-10 attack aircraft, equipped with the 30-millimeter GAU-8 cannon and the Maverick missile. For its aerial antiarmor role, the Army is producing the AH-15 Cobra attack helicopter, using the TOW missile. The Army also has under development the AH-64 advanced attack helicopter, with the laser-guided HELLFIRE missile. Major contributions are expected from all these aircraft in supporting ground combat operations, since they incorporate advanced technology and formidable firepower with good antitank potential.

The services agree that in intense European combat, aircraft should fly at low altitudes and be based as far from targets as possible, although these conditions will reduce the effectiveness of the weapons systems. The Army has proposed the use of scout helicopters designating targets by laser for AH-64 attack helicopters, but this would expose both aircraft long enough to draw enemy fire. Use of an onboard target designator by the AH-64 would be even more risky because of frequent poor visibility in Europe, and this practice would force aircraft to maneuver rather close to targets. The A-10 attack aircraft can also operate only with good visibility. Its Maverick missile comes in three versions (equipped with television, laser, or imaging infrared), but the laser Maverick failed to demonstrate its effectiveness and was removed from the Air Force's fiscal year 1980 budget. The imaging infrared Maverick is the version preferred by the Air Force, but it would require the addition of costly supplemental terrain avoidance and forward-looking infrared systems to the A-10 aircraft carrying it, degrading the A-10's performance by increases in maintenance. The A-10 and AH-64 warrant a reassessment because of their limitations regarding the support of ground operations.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should hold hearings to consider whether to fund the development of an improved A-10 to provide close air support in bad weather, to continue development of the A-10 in its present configuration, or to discontinue all A-10 procurement.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reassess the relative possible contributions of the HELLFIRE and TOW missiles in an intense European conflict towards the support of ground combat operations in terms of operational and cost-effectiveness and consider the results of such an assessment in future decisions affecting these programs. The Secretary should also confirm, through testing under simulated conditions, the operational utility of scout and forward air controller aircraft and determine whether a common configuration could serve the needs of both the Army and the Air Force.

    Agency Affected:


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