Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Arab Air Forces


The modern air forces built by autocratic Arab monarchies are designed primarily for self-defense, not attack. For Saudi Arabia, for example, the bogeyman is Iran. Saudi Arabia has bought scores of Eurofighter Typhoons from Britain, the front line equipment of many European powers. However, the Typhoon was designed in the 1980s for Cold War combat that envisaged Top Gun style dogfights between fighters, not close air support and ground attacks.

The Saudi Arabian Typhoons are of a later model that has been adapted to carry air-to-ground missiles for use on a battlefield, but it is not an ideal platform for that role. (After finding the limitations of Typhoons in the Libyan conflict the Europeans are only now making them more effective for precision attacks on ground forces.) The Saudi military is still essentially locked in a defensive mindset. Nonetheless it does have the region’s most sophisticated systems for managing air power, including the ability to refuel fighters in the air. They have carried out small strikes against terrorists in the Yemen, but a sustained campaign against ISIS would call for a far more public commitment and strength of will than any Saudi regime has so far exhibited.

Other Gulf powers have the same mindset. The UAE is buying the latest Predator drones, but is far from ready to use them. Tiny Qatar is shopping for 72 advanced fighters like the Typhoon but will not have an effective air force for years

Turkey is the closest of all countries to the conflict but is inhibited not by a lack of resources – it has a large force of U.S.-supplied F-16s and even an intelligence satellite – but by its tricky position in the region, with military links to NATO, Europe and the U.S., a delicate internal balance of secular and Islamic allegiances, and an evolving relationship with the Kurds after years of mutual hostility.

Jordan is in an even more delicate position, and a country that ISIS would dearly like to swallow. It also has a large force of U.S.-supplied F-16s. But Jordan’s highest priority seems to be a fear of insurgency and this year it is equipping its special forces with two highly lethal gunships, based on an Airbus supplied military airplane but armed by ATK, a U.S. supplier. Gunships are fearsome but they operate at low altitudes where they are vulnerable to the kind of shoulder-fired weaponry that ISIS most certainly has. Jordan doesn’t want to get into this air war any more than Turkey.

But if the Arab states mustered the will, they could demolish ISIS, as history has shown.

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 23 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of the D-Day landings, went to inspect a battlefield in northern France. His forces had finally broken out of Normandy and were pursuing the remnants of a once-mighty Nazi battle group who were in full retreat.

The Germans were annihilated. They had no air cover and their exposed columns were like a fish in a barrel. The Allies had mastered a military equation that the Germans invented: the blitzkrieg, which combined air and land forces into one rapidly-moving killing machine. From that moment on it was obvious that any army without air cover would be fatally vulnerable – as long as there was air power to deal with it.


HMS Defiant said...

To be honest, the Russians were eating the Germans alive on the eastern front. They took blitzkrieg to the ultimate level and ground the German armies into dust.