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21st-century air combat operations are complex, integrated activities. The closest analogy is probably that of a carrier group and the full accompaniment of support units required to place it close enough to its target while maintaining maximum protection and intelligence cover.

Air combat is about SA (situation awareness), not high-agility manoeuvring or aircraft performance (although these help). Stealth and counter-stealth is important, as this directly deprives SA to the enemy and allows friendly forces to gain advantage.

Combat aircraft are now more agile, presenting a more difficult target in a 'dog fight' - aircraft turning, rolling, looping and stalling to shake off an attacker, and the attacking aircraft following these manoeuvres to gain a good shooting position. But this is not the fundamental basis of 21st-century air warfare.

Air power is now an equal military partner used in strategic depth and campaign depth. It encompasses more special fields - reconnaissance, warning, electronic warfare, aerial mining, artillery, ATK, road blockades and direct target bombing with stand-off over-the-horizon missiles.

Before Vietnam, visual coordination was the main type of strike, but this qualitatively changed during the war. In order to cope with integrated anti-air defence systems, units such as airborne early warning and command, escort and protective formations and air refuelling were developed. The fundamental air combat task is the harassing of the enemy's air defence rhythm with stealth before they can detect the incoming aircraft. This makes it impossible for them to organise effective resistance and was the strategy adopted in both the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq.

"Air power is now an equal military partner used in strategic depth and campaign depth."

Advanced technology now makes bad-visibility operations possible and highly successful; enemy air-defence systems must be attacked and neutralised by stealth planes before the main force is within radar range. At basic operational mode, joint aircraft strikes totally transform air combat scenarios; any target on any part of the world is now within range of air striking forces. This is global reach. In the Gulf War, the Allies destroyed more aircraft beyond the horizon than within visual air combat.

Airborne fire control radars can survey more than 100km, thus ensuring great success from stand-off weaponry. This is normal and deep strike missions, such as those carried out by the Israelis, are now normal. In the Gulf War and later, US stealth fighters flew behind Iraqi air defences, an example of a nonlinear operation; against this strategy, the enemy cannot organise effective air defences.

Air combat is largely the art and science of 'situation awareness'. This can be defined as knowing what the enemy is doing and denying the enemy similar information. 75% of air combat is decided because the target did not see what shot them down. Targets must be detected, the information passed to fighters, the intercept made and weapons fired. This is now the realm of cyberspace and is used increasingly by all major air forces. During most recent missions, upwards of 30 GPS satellites are integrated into the operational plan.

Заняття № 12

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