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Saturday, November 30, 2019, 13:05 (GMT+7)
On the operational tactics of stealth aircraft in a war to protect the Fatherland

In a war to protect the Fatherland (if happened), the enemy is likely to use high-tech weapons, including stealth aircraft to conduct air strikes. Therefore, it is necessary to study and thoroughly understand the characteristics, features and tactics of this type of aircraft as an important basis for determining the combat tactics of the Air Defence - Air Force to defeat the enemy’s invasion.

The advent of stealth technology in the last years of the twentieth century marked a significant turning point in the field of military aviation. Thanks to its low observable features and ability to fly at high altitudes with a high speed, secret and surprised manners and the ability to conduct reconnaissance, cover a large airspace, and stage lightning strikes, etc., stealth aircraft is invisible to many air defence systems, therefore creating a huge advantage in operational tactics, force size and combat performance. In the aspect of air strike power, stealth aircraft has become a useful weapon capable of performing many different missions from tactical to operational and strategic levels simultaneously. In recent wars, the U.S. and its allies have considered stealth aircraft as an indispensable "trump card" weapon in order to launch the “decisive strike" in air operations.

Though, there remain different opinions on the position and role of stealth aircraft; in general, this is a modern combat tool with a number of significant advantages, especially the ability to "deeply penetrate into," "decisively attack," and hit almost all targets anywhere in the world. The combat result is effective while the rate of being detected and destroyed is very low. The first time a stealth aircraft was used was in the military intervention in Panama (December 1989). Up to now, there has been an increasing tendency in the use of this type of weapon in air strikes. In the Gulf War in 1991, the number of sorties of stealth aircraft that the United States and its allies deployed accounted for only 2%, but they managed to destroy 40% of Iraq’s strategic targets without being detected or attacked. So what are the characteristics and features of this aircraft and how does it operate?

Basic features of stealth aircraft: (1) Operating independently with a few (mainly only one) aircraft deployed at a time, in order to ensure the secret and surprise elements, reduce noise, and avoid being detected by the enemy’s air defence and air forces. (2) Stable flight path, attacking selective targets. With the programmed automatic system of navigation and flight path, stealth aircraft is able to stably and safely approach and attack a target while avoiding the risk of being detected by enemy’s reconnaissance and air defence systems. Stealth aircraft do not carry out widespread strikes and they only attack the selective and securely protected key targets of strategic importance in terms of politics, military, and economy. (3) Operating mainly in good weather conditions. Stealth aircraft are equipped with a variety of high-tech weapons, controlled and guided by infrared or laser rays or by the global positioning system (GPS). Therefore, in order to keep secrecy and achieve high accuracy and effective combat performance, stealth aircraft are often used in favorable weather, meteorological and hydrological conditions. (4) Mainly operating at night at the average height or above. At night, stealth aircraft avoid being detected and attacked by the enemy’s reconnaissance equipment and air-defence systems and promote their own infrared reconnaissance and fire control systems due to the greater degree of thermal contrast between the ground and the targets. Stealth aircraft usually operate independently at an average altitude or above (about 6,000 metres to 10,000 metres), at the flight speed from 0.7M to 0.9M.

The main operations of stealth aircraft in combat

Targets: stealth aircraft is often used to attack important targets in terms of politics, military and economy. These targets are often fixed or relatively fixed, difficult to conceal and maneuver, such as: headquarters of all levels; airports, air defence battlefields, and the areas where forces, vehicles are gathered, etc. Stealth aircraft would attack a target for one time or several times.
On attacking direction: It can take off from the host country's airport or military bases of allies, aircraft carriers, and islands, etc. For our country, if the war occurred, on the North battlefield, stealth aircraft would carry out strikes from the Southeast and Southwest directions; from the East and the West directions on the Central Coast; and from the East, Southeast and Northwest directions in Southern Vietnam. It is also possible that the enemy will approach and destroy the targets from several other directions.

The use: stealth aircraft always ensure secret and surprised elements and the use of this type of aircraft depends on the nature and importance of the target, the weather condition and the protection capability of the enemy’s air defence systems. In fact, stealth aircraft is used quite flexibly from the first attack of the initial operation to attack selective and important targets or key targets during an operation.

On the force used: based on the goal of the war, the combat capability of the enemy’s air defence force, the geographical and weather conditions, and target characteristics, the number of stealth aircraft deployed in each stage of operation varies. According to the lessons learned from wars and specialized analyses, if a large-scale air strike is planned to launch against our country, the enemy would mobilize about 50% of its stealth aircraft.

The tactics of stealth aircraft

First, diversion of direction and time. To assure the secret and surprise elements and take the initiative in combat, the enemy often applies flexibly the combination of diversionary tactics at strategic, operational and tactical levels. At strategic level, diversionary activities are carried out in terms of the goal, method, and means, aiming at deceiving the time of the air strike and the direction of attack, etc. At operational and tactical levels, diversionary activities focus on concealing the opportunity, time, and approaching direction of stealth aircraft, aiming at leading us to misjudge the approaching direction, targets of the raid, and the force mobilized.

Second, choosing the optimal flight path and avoiding air defence fire. Based on the reconnaissance information, stealth aircraft would select the most optimal flight route and ensure fast access, accurate raid and safe escape. In the operation, a number of high-tech weapons could be used to strike targets from the distance that is out of the air defence fire range, minimizing the flying time over the area of protected target. In order to avoid being detected by reconnaissance and fire control optical equipment and low-level anti-aircraft fire, stealth aircraft often operate at night and at high altitudes.

Third, conducting secret and surprised attacks on important targets. In operation, stealth aircraft apply "non-radio communication," "self-approach, self-attack, and self-return." They do not collect data or respond to commanding and navigating means. They do not conduct electronic warfare and they operate independently. In the flight corridor of stealth aircraft, before and during a strike, there is basically no operation of other aircraft. Stealth strategic bombers are often used in major operations, opening strike or key operations, hitting strategic targets defended by a strong air defence system. Between major operations, tactical stealth aircraft can be used on a small scale to attack airfields, air defence battlefields and newly discovered targets.

Fourth, focusing on destroying targets at night. Stealth aircraft is covered with different specialized paints, enabling them to be invisible in the sky and to optic reconnaissance equipment and naked eyes. However, due to their relatively large geometric size, if operating during the day, in conditions of high air humidity, the engine's exhaust would create a long, clear steam stream, which makes stealth aircraft easily detected and attacked by the enemy. In contrast, operating at night, the infrared devices can identify the target, and the control of the weapons is less affected by light and temperature factors, so that it can provide accurate and good performance.

Fifth, using mainly high-tech weapons. This is a tactic that the U.S. and its allies tend to apply increasingly in recent wars. Most of the weapons fixed in stealth aircraft are modern with high destructive power and accuracy. With the ability to carry a variety of weapons and advanced control systems, the attacks of stealth aircraft can be conducted from the outside of the air defence fire, but still achieve high accuracy.

Sixth, both attacking targets and suppressing air defence system. In air strikes, stealth aircraft both attack the targets and suppress air defence fire. In this regard, attacking the target is the end while suppressing the air defence system is a way to reach that end. In operation, the target attack of stealth aircraft is often associated with the search, detection, and strike of radar stations and air defence spots. These operations can take place simultaneously from outside of the air defence system, causing difficulties for the air defence systems.

To conclude, with high operational efficiency and low possibility of being shot down, there is an increase in the use of stealth aircraft instead of non-stealth fighters to attack important and complex targets. In the war to defend the Fatherland, the enemy is likely to launch air strikes; they would also use stealth aircraft to attack our “decisive and strategic” targets as an optimal plan in order to destroy our economic and military potential, and cause political turmoil. Therefore, it is imperative that we have to devote efforts to finding out measures to avoid and counter-attack this type of aircraft.

Above are some initial results of the study aiming at clarifying the characteristics, features and tactics of stealth aircraft, laying a solid foundation for the development of air defence - air force combat art in particular and Vietnam’s military art in general, making contributions to defeating all enemies and firmly protecting the Fatherland in all situations.

Maj. Gen. Ha Xuan Truong, PhD

Rector of the Air Defence - Air Force Academy

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