Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Adapting Navy Medicine for Future Warfighting: Scenario Thinking for Combat Casualty Care

By Art Valeri, Jay Yelon, Juanita Hopkins, and Seamus Markey

In May 2018, the Chief of Naval Operations directed a comprehensive review of Navy Medicine’s ability to support Distributed Maritime Operations and Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations across all warfighting domains.1 An effective strategy must anticipate the future environment. Although history shows that accurate forecasting is nearly impossible, scenario thinking can help prepare for multiple alternative futures.1, 4, Medical planning for future conflicts is a vital component of support of the National Security Strategy. Using lessons learned from past conflicts and predicting the needs of injured or ill service members are vital for planning. Although attention to conflict in the Pacific appears to be a priority, as it aligns with the national strategy, the Navy and Joint medical leadership must also prepare for various possibilities. Within our discussion, we will use scenario thinking as a framework to identify key questions for analysis.

We will approach our scenario thinking through a four-step process:

  • Identifying the driving forces
  • Identifying the critical uncertainties
  • Development of plausible scenarios
  • Discussion of implications and ways forward

Our discussion will focus on Navy Medicine fully understanding the limitations of this approach as the move towards a more joint approach is more effective and realistic. However, this same approach can serve equally effectively in joint discussions. In discussing implications and paths forward, we will utilize a framework of manning, training, and equipping our medical teams.

Identifying the Driving Forces

A common business approach to understanding the driving forces in a changing environment surveys political, economic, sociocultural, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE) factors.5 It also applies to military healthcare and specifically to combat casualty care. Identification of legal and environmental forces is likely beyond the scope of this discussion, and as such will proceed with a PEST analysis.

Political: The National Security Strategy orients politics for military leaders in developing approaches for potential future conflict. Although this provides the framework, many factors influence the direction of leadership as contingencies and plans are made. The major focus revolves around the complex relationship with China and the potential conflict with Russia. Additionally, there is always the threat of terrorism, non-state actors, the impact of pandemic diseases, cyber threats and other concerns. All these issues will frame strategy and medical planning, as will the formation of the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and the implications for individual services’ medical services. The issues of joint medical forces operating in environments that are not native to the service can potentially cause points of friction if DHA sees this as an imperative.

Economic: Although financial solvency is not typically discussed within the military healthcare framework, discussions regarding supply chain, procurement, and sustainment costs at military treatment facilities and Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities is a significant burden. Procuring medical materials, drugs, and technology in potentially austere environments will be a significant logistics evolution. Supply will be directly impacted by supply chain issues for products produced outside the United States. Demand for new maritime platforms to support the medical mission will need to be addressed and budgeted.

Sociocultural Issues: These can have an impact depending upon the area of operation in which medical care is being provided. Understanding cultural norms for land-based operations will be essential. Additionally, within the Navy medical community, it may be necessary to broaden one’s job description and skillset. Understanding how that will be socialized within the Navy will be vital to providing individuals with the appropriate support for optimal patient outcomes. Recruitment and retention of highly skilled service members is an ongoing issue in our all-volunteer military. Competition with civilian positions, especially within the medical corps, will need to be addressed in some meaningful way.

Technology: Improvements in medical technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will have a deep impact in allowing us to address far-forward resuscitative and surgical care. Improvements in blood banking technology and the advent of shelf-storable blood substitutes will probably have the biggest impact on providing resuscitative care close to the point of injury. Cybersecurity will be a limiting factor in utilizing advanced technology for medical care. Mitigation strategies will be necessary for both cybersecurity and, in the situation where communication is lost, for sustainability of ongoing patient care. Demand for technological development will originate from the requirements incurred by operating from atypical platforms and environments requiring advanced medical care. The other impact of technology would include the evolution of new weaponry with effects still to be understood.

Critical Uncertainties

Many variables can influence the direction of combat casualty care for the next conflict. Over the past twenty years, the U.S. military has provided state-of-the-art trauma care in a land-based conflict, resulting in the development of a highly functioning trauma system. The mandate from the Secretary of Defense requiring access to surgical care within 60 minutes (the Golden Hour) nurtured an environment requiring high numbers of tactically distributed medical providers and the necessary support to achieve this benchmark. The patient outcomes demonstrate the effectiveness in which there was an unprecedented 94 percent survival rate if a wounded service member made it to surgical care within an hour of injury. Limiting the U.S. strategy to similar scenarios would be shortsighted. The top two trends that would likely have the biggest impact would be location of conflict (land vs. sea-based) and illness type (trauma vs non-trauma). Graphically, this might be represented as follows:

Quad chart depicting types of combat casualty care: Trauma vs. Non-Trauma, and Land-Based vs. Sea-Based
Figure 1: Quad chart depicting types of combat casualty care.

Non-Trauma illness would include all pathologies that would not require initial surgical care as a life-saving measure. This could include infectious diseases, including pandemics, chemical and radiation exposures, and other illness that would impact the war-fighting effort. Trauma, including burns, are injuries caused by kinetic activity. Beyond the current thinking this would include injury caused by new weaponry including directed energy weapons and other advanced technologies. As for location, a sea-based conflict would be burdened by time and space, what is now termed distributed maritime operations. In these situations, there may be access to land-based resources but these may be limited by control of sea lanes and cooperation from foreign governments. As one moves from one quadrant to the next, the demands for medical care can change drastically. It will be necessary in the future to incorporate non-traditional approaches to providing medical care while maintain the highest standards for quality. This will require leaders to think strategically and outside-the-box to develop solutions for complex patient care and environmental issues.

Plausible Scenarios

Land-Based/Non-trauma: The illness complex in this scenario is potentially vast and has the potential to deal with illnesses that we know little or nothing about. A pandemic or other highly communicative disease intersecting with a land-based war would be challenging. In highly contagious diseases, the transmission rate could produce hundreds of patients in a short time. Additionally, if this is an unknown pathogen issue related to treatments and protection of healthcare providers is amplified. High patient volumes would preclude evacuation and would require prolonged care at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Similarly, in a chemical or radiation event, issues related to healthcare provider access and evacuation concerns would be paramount. In any disease state that would require critical care treatments, including mechanical ventilation, continuous infusion medications, or organ support technology (i.e., dialysis), equipment and supply issues would pose a logistics concern. Finally, ethical decisions regarding withholding care would be required to do the greatest good for the greatest number.

Land-Based/Trauma: This scenario is the most familiar to healthcare providers and leaders, as this represents a situation we have effectively dealt with over the past two decades in Afghanistan and Iraq. In that conflict, Navy Medicine was able to participate in a highly functional joint services trauma system that resembles CONUS civilian trauma system. Patient care was driven by evidence-based medicine, outcomes were tracked, and performance improvement was incorporated. The variable that permitted such a highly functioning system was air superiority. What if there was no control of the air? How would our approach to similar injuries differ? Evacuation times would be prolonged, and demands for prolonged care would be required at both role-2 and 3 facilities. The resupply of materials, including medications and blood, would be challenging. Specialized care, typically provided CONUS during the last conflict, would not be readily available because of extended evacuation times.

Sea-Based/Non-trauma: In a sea-based scenario, the issues of space and time become major influences in decision-making. Furthermore, if the disease process originates on a naval vessel, all levels of care are determined by the type of vessel and the organic medical capabilities. In the case of a carrier, the medical resources are limited for the population it serves. Although the carrier strike group has a more robust capability, evacuating critically ill patients may not be possible. In fact, evacuation may not be wise, as this may spread the disease across vessels. If the United States and its Allies are not in control of the sea lanes, then evacuation becomes even more complicated. The issues of patient volume, equipment, and ethics, as in the land-based scenario, are mirrored here but become complicated by time/space and control of the air and sea.

Sea-Based/Trauma: The U.S. Navy has not had to confront sustained mass casualties at sea since WWII. The complexity of dealing with a large volume of severely injured patients in a maritime setting is unique and amplified by the issues of time and distance. Shipboard capabilities vary by platform, and medical expertise may be limited or nonexistent. The challenges of limited supply, medications, and blood further complicate the care of the injured. The organic medical capabilities of the ship may be destroyed by the attack. The damage to the ship will influence holding and evacuation capabilities. Finally, control of sea line and air will greatly influence the delivery of care and the evacuation of the injured.

Implications and Paths

On review of the possible scenarios, several unifying themes start to emerge to address some of the current limitations for the United States. The recommendations allow leaders and front-line workers to consider the way forward for innovation. First, if one considers the issues of the inability to evacuate patients several nodes can be addressed to impact both. The U.S. military medical community needs to utilize providers, beyond physicians, outside their usual job descriptions. This would allow force multiplication to impact many patients in a wide geographic space. The magnitude and effectiveness of enlisted personnel provide a powerful, often under-utilized, workforce that would allow for the delivery of time sensitive, lifesaving interventions in a dispersed environment.

This can only be possible by leveraging technology to improve patient care. Technological innovation can address many of the areas of concern in this discussion. Specifically, telehealth capabilities need to be expanded and applied across the continuum of patient care. Integral to the exploitation of telehealth is to assure adequate cyber security. Although technology may allow the force multiplication is a dispersed environment, consideration for the potential negative effects must be considered. Issues related to the technology itself, such as latency or disconnect must be considered; and the potential issues with the end users, such as failure to recognize complications or the inability to continually monitor a patient following intervention. Some of these negative effects may be mitigated by investment in innovative diagnostic and therapeutic modalities will permit far-forward advanced patient care. These innovations must include artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist caregivers with diagnoses and decision-making. To address issues of resupply, investment in unmanned vehicles, both land, and sea-based, for the specific purpose of resupply and equipment delivery needs to be made. Exploring more capabilities of 3-D and advanced printing can also address some of the resupply concerns.

The issue of prolonged field care touches on all four quadrants of our scenario. Again, leveraging technology for telehealth, innovation in diagnostics and therapeutics, and artificial intelligence to assist caregivers are vital in assuring optimal outcomes. Congruently, novel ideas for patient transport will need to be addressed. New concepts of maritime-based vehicles allowing for transport while advanced and critical care is provided to patients will be necessary. Medically, we will need to explore ideas of “suspended animation” to allow time to be effectively slowed for the patient thereby mitigating the effects of delayed access to specialty care.

Finally, all the scenarios presented pose ethical concerns if we use the experience from our last conflict as our benchmark. For the past two decades, we achieved an unparalleled survival rate. This success may not be achieved in our next conflict. As such, we believe it will be necessary to address the ethics of these potential scenarios. We will need thought leaders to address concerns and provide guidance in limiting medical care. We will need to understand the “breakpoint” between patient salvage and provider safety and redefine the concepts of futility with large-scale illness or injury.


Navy Medicine is likely to face numerous challenges in future conflicts. The framework provided here should enable further discussion of planning for medical care for future conflicts beyond that of a near peer confrontation in the USINDOPACOM area of operations. Although many of the unifying features of all the scenarios are applicable to this focus, more opportunities arise from the discussion of non-trauma scenarios and conflicts without control of the air or sea. Benefits of exploring in this way include addressing potential blind spots by listening to and incorporating critical thinking and input from expertise outside medicine (engineering, economics, education, industrial psychology); this will be the necessary for the successful response of Navy Medicine and Joint Medical Forces to future conflicts.

Authors’ note: This article resulted from a group project for Naval Postgraduate School course GB3400: Critical Thinking for Strategic Leadership. The course is centered on students developing their critical and strategic thinking skills, and to better understand how to use critical thinking as a tool for strategic leadership in and of organizations and its importance for national security.

Commander (Dr.) Art Valeri is an Operative Dentist stationed at NMRTC Great Lakes serving as the Department Head/Chief, Dental Service of the Veterans and Military Staff Hospital Dental Clinic, Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, North Chicago, IL.

Commander (Dr.) Jay Yelon is a US Navy Trauma Surgeon stationed at the Military-Civilian Partnership at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Professor of Surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine.

Lieutenant Commander Juanita Hopkins is Registered Nurse and resident student at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.

Lieutenant Seamus Markey is a US Navy Human Resources Officer serving as the Human Performance Program Officer at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, IL.


1. Gillingham B, Dagher K. Letter in response to Joint Integrative Solutions for Combat Casualty Care in a Pacific War at Sea. JFQ 96, 1st Quarter; 2020.
2. National Defense Strategy 2022. Accessed September 14, 2022.
3. Kahn H. In Defense of Thinking. 2020.
4. Augier M, Barrett S. Cultivating Critical and Strategic Thinkers. Marine Corps Gazette. July 2019.
5. Walsh K, Bhagavatheeswaran L, Roma E. E-learning in healthcare professional education: an analysis of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE) factors. MedEdPublish; 2018, p 97.

Featured Image: PHILLIPINE SEA (April 20, 2022) Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Anthony Castro, from Kissimmee, Fla., assigned to amphibious transport dock ship USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) stabilizes the head and neck of a simulated casualty during a Mass Casualty Drill. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Curtis D. Spencer)

From Eyes Above: Information Architectures for Striking Maritime Targets

By Richard Mosier

One of the six force design imperatives in the CNO’s NAVPLAN 2022 is, “Expand Distance: Long-range precision fires across all domains and platforms with greater reach to enable naval forces to strike hostile targets while increasing our own survivability.”1 This design imperative has been partially achieved with the fielding of LRASM, Naval Strike Missile (NSM), Harpoon, SM-6, and forthcoming Maritime Strike Tomahawk, all designed to strike maritime targets at long ranges. However, the effective employment of these weapons against moving ships depends upon timely target location data for targeting, strike mission planning, and target location updates to strike aircraft and missiles enroute to the target. As the Navy expands the scope of its anti-ship arsenal, it needs to consider a concurrent expansion of the information architecture that is needed to employ these weapons at range.

Maritime Targeting Factors

Ships are moving targets, though only at the relatively slow speed of 30 knots. Even at that speed, the area of uncertainty of a target location expands rapidly as time accrues from the original launch of the weapon to the missile’s terminal acquisition of the target. A target location circle estimate of probability (CEP) of three square nautical miles at time of launch increases dramatically, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Growing area of probability based on 30knot speed of target. (Author graphic)

The size of the target location probability area is a function of the potential speed of the moving target and the time accrued from sensor data collect, to the tactical decision to launch the strike mission, and the availability of target location updates to the in-flight weapons and launch platforms. As with all engagements of moving targets, the attacking platform or weapon has to arrive in a target probability area that is small enough for their organic sensors to successfully acquire the target. Maintaining timely target location data is the critical factor in effectively cueing missiles and launch aircraft toward a point where they can then acquire the target with organic sensors. The acceptable target probability area varies based on the performance characteristics of the launch aircraft and missiles with respect to range, velocity, terminal target acquisition sensor performance, and capability for in-flight updates. The launch platforms and missile themselves often lack the organic sensor capability to secure much of this information themselves, especially when striking targets that could be hundreds of miles away. This creates a dependence on nonorganic sources for targeting and cueing information, which often take the form of highly specialized sensing platforms and capability architectures.

The time from last sensing to receipt of the target location update by the launch platform or the in-flight missile is the key determinant in the size of the target probability area, and the probability of striking the intended target. But this time can be considerable given the steps involved. The maritime strike process involves the following sequential steps: search, detect, locate, classify/identify, target (assign mission), track, plan mission, satisfy ROE, launch missile, provide target location updates, acquire intended target, strike target, and assess damage. The time it takes to satisfy the needs of this process increases the demand for timely information as the steps are being executed.

Rules of Engagement are promulgated to tactical echelons by the operational commander. One of the key constraints is to not strike non-belligerents. This constraint is a major driver of the anti-ship missile launch decision, and the launch decision-maker is responsible for assuring the missile strikes the target and not a non-belligerent. In-flight target updates provided by the decision-maker have to address not only the target ship, but also nearby non-belligerent shipping, which can substantially congest the area of uncertainty around a target. Multi-modal seeker capabilities, such as electro-optical, infrared, and passive receiver capabilities can also be used by the missile itself to help discriminate and validate targets.

Maritime Strike Targeting Alternatives 

The capabilities required to track and satisfy ROE are unique for striking moving warships. Airborne assets are often considered to bring considerable information capability for facilitating maritime strike. Yet airborne assets have vulnerabilities in a contest with a peer such as China or Russia. Both countries have operational counter-air and fleet air defense capabilities that constitute a formidable threat to non-stealthy airborne surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. While these capabilities can make a substantial contribution prior to the first missile exchanges, they will be high-priority targets whose endurance in conflict is questionable. This suggests these legacy platforms will have to operate from protected airspace, and the calculation of risk will have to be balanced between survivability versus collecting information through greater proximity to the adversary. It also suggests the need to consider a transition from these legacy systems to stealthy airborne platforms or to relying more on space-based assets.

Satellites have their vulnerabilities as well. China and Russia surely have electronic and kinetic capabilities to attack satellites in orbit and threaten their complex worldwide ground infrastructure. The threat to satellites in orbit appears to be partially offset by the rapid proliferation of commercial satellites and the DoD strategy of orbiting hundreds of small, interlinked satellites that will be more resilient to wartime disruption. Yet the satellite, land, and undersea cable communications infrastructure that support satellite operations are also vulnerable to disruption from physical, cyber, and electronic attack.2

The architecture for providing airborne or satellite support to maritime strike in a great power conflict has to be designed for wartime resilience and assured minimum essential support for the effective employment of anti-ship weapons. This suggests some level of sensor system autonomy so they can provide support when their infrastructures are disrupted. It also suggests a link from the air and space sensor systems directly to the operational and tactical echelons that perform the maritime strike targeting functions.

To achieve the required track continuity, one option is a multi-mode sensor system that combines on the same platform the near-continuous wide-area search capability with another capability or mode for classifying detected contacts. Airborne systems such as JSTARS, U2, GLOBAL HAWK, P-8, and TRITON are examples. They provide integrated multi-sensor capabilities on a single platform, thereby avoiding the complexities and time delays inherent in coordinating various elements of collection by separate platforms. In most cases, they also provide datalinks for the dissemination of data directly to operational and tactical echelons. Yet these airborne systems may have challenges with survivability and endurance in a heavily contested battlespace, which encourages the development of ISR architecture in other domains.

One option for providing the critical data is a constellation of a large number of reconnaissance satellites that can provide the wartime resilience, frequency of coverage, and multiple sensor types that combine wide-area search with target classification capability. Ideally they would be able to pass this information directly to in-flight missiles and warfighters with launch authorities. But so far as these capabilities cannot currently be integrated onto a single satellite, the next best solution is a tightly integrated cluster of different types of satellites in the same orbital plane. This integration into clusters is required to avoid the complexities, vulnerabilities, and large time delays associated with orchestrating multiple, separately managed space systems.

The technology for satellite clusters exists, including onboard data processing, satellite-to-satellite crosslinks, and direct downlink of information and data to deployed land and ship tactical systems. As an example, BAE is developing an integrated cluster of reconnaissance satellites that has been described as:

“Azalea is planned as a cluster of three multi-sensor satellites from BAE Systems and one satellite with Iceye synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology. Together, the satellites will collect optical, radar, and radio frequency (RF) data. The satellites will also be equipped with edge processors to analyze data while in orbit. BAE Systems announced the cluster on Sept. 7, with intent to launch in 2024.”3

If fielded in sufficient numbers, integrated clusters of reconnaissance satellites such as these offer the prospect of reduced dependence on vulnerable supporting infrastructures, minimal dependence on a cumbersome requirements and collection management structure, and the near real-time direct reporting of target information to tactical forces that can satisfy maritime strike requirements.

The Space Force and Space Development Agency’s seven-layered National Defense Space Architecture has been renamed the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA), a decision taken to more clearly reflect the mission, and to avoid confusion with other DoD satellite constellations in orbit or planned.4 From the tactical perspective, the architecture will have to provide target location updates from offboard air and space ISR systems via LINK 16, the Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS), or the direct downlink of sensor data to systems in direct support of the strike and in pursuit of moving targets.

A representation of what the National Defense Space Architecture will look like. (Space Development Agency graphic)

The PWSA, which addresses these interfaces, is more than a vision. The first 24 satellites in the transport layer are scheduled for launch in March 2023; an additional 128 in 2024; leading to a planned constellation of 300 to 500 satellites in low earth orbit. This architecture includes optical satellite-to-satellite cross links, satellite-to-aircraft cross links, satellite downlinks to air, land, and ship entities, and LINK 16 and Integrated Broadcast Service message interfaces with tactical terminals. Although not confirmed, logic would suggest this architecture also applies to satellite reconnaissance capabilities required for targeting ships, and could stand to substantially increase maritime strike capability.

A breakdown of commercial satellite capability and numbers. (Author graphic)

The Way Ahead

From the technical perspective, satellite solutions are feasible and uniquely capable of offering the performance required for the employment of long-range anti-ship missiles against moving targets. The next step is for the Navy and Air Force to define the performance requirements and conduct the analysis of space and non-space alternatives. If the analysis supports a decision for a satellite reconnaissance solution for this mission need, JROC approval would force, or at least speed, the resolution of any remaining policy issues regarding the architecture, the acquisition, and in particular, the tasking and operation of satellite reconnaissance capabilities that are integral components of the force structure upon which maritime strike depends.

Progress is being made in the realization of the CNO’s imperative of expanding long-range strike capability. Long-range anti-ship weapons are being fielded in increasing numbers. The Navy has demonstrated and fully funded the fielding of Maritime Targeting Cells for installations ashore, afloat, and for expeditionary forces. DoD and commercial satellite technologies are advancing at a rapid pace, and the commercial sector is evolving large satellite constellations. The combined capabilities of airborne and space capabilities open the possibility of near-continuous ISR coverage and could provide forces with the targeting capability that is the lynchpin for successful attack against maritime targets.

Richard Mosier is a retired defense contractor systems engineer; Naval Flight Officer; OPNAV N2 civilian analyst; and OSD SES 4 responsible for oversight of tactical intelligence systems and leadership of major defense analyses on UAVs, signals intelligence, and C4ISR.



2. The Threat to World’s Communications Backbone – the Vulnerability of Undersea cables 

3. Rachel Jewett, BAE Systems Announces Multi-Sensor Azalea Satellite Cluster, Via Satellite, September 7, 2022 Link:

4. Hitchens, T. (2023 01 23) Space Development Agency’s satellite plan gets new name, but focus on speed stays, Breaking Defense

Featured Image: GULF OF ADEN (Oct. 8, 2012) An E-2C Hawkeye assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 sits on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) at night. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

Kamikazes: The Legacy of Soviet Naval Aviation, Pt. 2

The following selections are derived from an article originally published in the Naval War College Review under the title, “Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy.” Read it in its original form here.

Read Part One here.

By Maksim Y. Tokarev

As it was, the crews of the field-parked Backfires, in the best aviation tradition, had to accept the primary flight data during briefings in the regiments’ ready rooms. Of course, they had the preliminary plans and knew roughly the location of the incoming air-sea battle and the abilities of the enemy—the task force’s air defenses. In fact, the sorties were carefully planned, going in. But planning was very general for the way out. The following conversation in the ready room of the MRA ’s 183rd Air Regiment, Pacific Fleet NAF, which occurred in the mid-1980s, shows this very honestly. A young second lieutenant, a Backfire WSO fresh from the air college, asked the senior navigator of the regiment, an old major: “Sir, tell me why we have a detailed flight plan to the target over the vast ocean, but only a rough dot-and-dash line across Hokkaido Island on way back?” “Son,” answered the major calmly, “if your crew manages to get the plane back out of the sky over the carrier by any means, on half a wing broken by a Phoenix and a screaming prayer, no matter whether it’s somewhere over Hokkaido or directly through the moon, it’ll be the greatest possible thing in your entire life!” There may have been silent laughter from the shade of a kamikaze in the corner of the room at that moment.

The home fields of MRA units were usually no more than 300 kilometers from the nearest shoreline (usually much less). Each air regiment had at least two airstrips, each no less than 2,000 meters long, preferably concrete ones, and the Engineering Airfield Service could support three fully loaded sorties of the entire regiment in 36 hours. The efforts of shore maintenance were important, as all the missiles, routinely stored in ordnance installations, had to be quickly fueled and prepared for attachment to the planes before takeoff.

The takeoff of the regiment usually took about half an hour. While in the air, the planes established the cruise formation, maintaining strict radio silence. Each crew had the targeting data that had been available at the moment of takeoff and kept the receivers of the targeting apparatus ready to get detailed targeting, either from the air reconnaissance by voice radio or from surface ships or submarines. The latter targeting came by high-frequency (HF) radio, a channel known as KTS Chayka (the Seagull short-message targeting communication system) that was usually filled with targeting data from the MRSC Uspekh (the Success maritime reconnaissance targeting system), built around the efforts of Tu-95RC reconnaissance planes. The Legenda (Legend) satellite targeting system receiver was turned on also, though not all planes had this device. The Backfire’s own ECM equipment and radar-warning receivers had to be in service too. With two to four targeting channels on each plane, none of them radiating on electromagnetic wave bands, the crowd of the Backfires ran through the dark skies to the carrier task force.

Where Are Those Mad Russians?

Generally, detailed data concerning the U.S. air defense organization were not available to Soviet naval planners. What they knew was that F-4, and later F-14 planes could be directed from three kinds of control points: the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center on the carrier itself, an E-2 aloft, or the Air Defense Combat Center of one of the Aegis cruisers in formation. Eavesdropping on the fighter-direction VHF and ultra high-frequency radio circuits by reconnaissance vessels and planes gave Soviet analysts in 1973–74 roughly the same results as were subsequently noted by late Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski: “Exercise data indicated that sometimes a squadron of F-14s operating without a central air controller was more effective in intercepting and destroying attackers than what the algorithms said centralized control could provide.”

SNAF planners found that interceptor crews were quite dependent on the opinions of air controllers or FDOs, even in essence psychologically subordinate to them. So the task of the attackers could be boiled down to finding a way to fool those officers—either to overload their sensors or, to some degree, relax their sense of danger by posing what were to their minds easily recognizable decoys, which were in reality full, combat-ready strikes. By doing so the planners expected to slow the reactions of the whole air defense system, directly producing the “golden time” needed to launch the missiles. Contrary to widespread opinion, no considerable belief was placed in the ability of launched missiles to resist ECM efforts, but the solid and partially armored airframe of the Kh-22 could sustain a significant number of the 20mm shells of Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) guns. (Given the even more rigid airframe of the submarine-launched missiles of the Granit family —what NATO called the SS-N-19 Shipwreck—it would have been much better for the U.S. Navy to use a CIWS of at least 30mm caliber.)

1984 – A U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat of Fighter Squadron VF-1 “Wolfpack” escorting two Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 aircraft (NATO reporting “Badger”). (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Things could become even worse for the carriers. In some plans, a whole VVS fighter air regiment of Su-15TM long-range interceptors would have escorted the MRA division, so that the F-14s over the task force might have been overwhelmed and crowded out by similar Soviet birds. Though the main targets for the Sukhois, which as pure interceptors were barely capable of dogfighting, were the E-2 Hawkeyes, it is possible that some F-14s could have become targets for their long-range air-to-air missiles with active radar seeker (such as R-33, similar to the AIM-54). Sure enough, no Sukhoi crews had been expected to return, mainly because of their relatively limited range and the fact that they, mostly unfamiliar with long flights over the high seas, depended on the bomber crews’ navigation skills.

Long before reaching the target, at a “split” position approximately 500 kilometers from the carrier task force, and if the target’s current position had been somehow roughly confirmed, the air division’s two regimental formations would divide into two or three parts each. The WSO of each plane adopted his own battle course and altitude and a flight plan for each of his missiles. As we have seen, the early versions of Kh-22 had to acquire the target while on the plane’s hardpoints, making this a terrible job very close to that of a World War II kamikaze, because between initial targeting of the carrier by the plane’s radar and missile launch the Backfire itself was no more than a supersonic target for AIM-54s.

The more Phoenixes that could be carried by a single interceptor, the more Backfires that could be smashed from the sky prior to the launch of their Kh-22s. So if the Backfires were the only real danger to U.S. carriers up to the fall of the USSR , it would have been much better for the U.S. Navy to use the F-111B [carrier-based interceptor], a realization of the TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental) concept, than the F-14. A Tomcat could evidently carry the same six Phoenixes as an F-111B, but there were the data that the “Turkey” could not bring all six back to the carrier, owing to landing-weight limitations. Imagine a fully loaded Tomcat with six AIM-54s reaching its “bingo point” (limit of fuel endurance) while on barrier CAP station, with air refueling unavailable. The plane has to land on the carrier, and two of its six missiles have to be jettisoned. Given the alternating sorts of approaches by Backfire waves, reducing the overall number of long-range missiles by dropping them into the sea to land F-14s safely seems silly. Admiral Thomas Connolly’s claims in the 1960s that killed the F-111B in favor of the F-14 (“There isn’t enough power in all Christendom to make that airplane what we want!”) could quite possibly have cost the U.S. Navy a pair of carriers sunk.

A General Dynamics F-111B (BuNo 151970) in flight over Long Island, New York (USA), in 1965. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The transition of the U.S. Navy from the F-14 to the F/A-18 made the anti-Backfire matter worse. Yes, the Hornet, at least the “legacy” (early) Hornet, is very pleasant to fly and easy to maintain, but from the point of view of range and payload it is a far cry from the F-111B. How could it be otherwise for a jet fighter that grew directly from the lightweight F-5? Flying and maintaining naval airplanes are not always just for fun; sometimes it takes long hours of hard work to achieve good results, and it had always been at least to some degree harder for naval flyers than for their shore-based air force brethren doing the same thing. Enjoying the Hornet’s flying qualities at the expense of the Phoenix’s long-range kill abilities is not a good tradeoff. Also, the Hornet (strike fighter) community evidently has generally replaced its old fighter ethos with something similar to the “light attack,” “earthmover” philosophy of the Vietnam-era A-4 (and later A-7) “day attack” squadrons; all the wars and battle operations since 1990 seem to prove it. It is really good for the present situation that the ethos of F/A-18 strike fighter pilots is not the self-confident bravado of the F-14 crews but comes out of more realistic views. Yet for the defense of carrier task forces, it was not clever to abandon the fast, heavy interceptor, able to launch long-range air-to-air missiles—at least to abandon it completely.

To fool the FDOs, the incoming Backfires had to be able to saturate the air with chaff. Moreover, knowing the position of the carrier task force is not the same as knowing the position of the carrier itself. There were at least two cases when in the center of the formation there was, instead of the carrier, a large fleet oiler or replenishment vessel with an enhanced radar signature (making it look as large on the Backfires’ radar screens as a carrier) and a radiating tactical air navigation system. The carrier itself, contrary to routine procedures, was steaming completely alone, not even trailing the formation.

To know for sure the carrier’s position, it was desirable to observe it visually. To do that, a special recce-attack group (razvedyvatel’no-udarnaya gruppa, RUG) could be detached from the MRA division formation. The RUG consisted of a pair of the Tu-16R reconnaissance Badgers and a squadron of Tu-22M Backfires. The former flew ahead of the latter and extremely low (not higher than 200 meters, for as long as 300–350 kilometers) to penetrate the radar screen field of the carrier task force, while the latter were as high as possible, launching several missiles from maximum range, even without proper targeting, just to catch the attention of AEW crews and barrier CAP fighters. Meanwhile, those two reconnaissance Badgers, presumably undetected, made the dash into the center of the task force formation and found the carrier visually, their only task to send its exact position to the entire division by radio. Of course, nobody in those Badgers’ crews (six or seven officers and men per plane) counted on returning; it was 100 percent a suicide job.

After the RUG sent the position of the carrier and was shattered to debris, the main attack group (UG, udarnaya gruppa) launched the main missile salvo. The UG consisted of a demonstration group, an ECM group armed with anti-radar missiles of the K-11 model, two to three strike groups, and a post-strike reconnaissance group. Different groups approached from different directions and at different altitudes, but the main salvo had to be made simultaneously by all of the strike groups’ planes. The prescribed time slot for the entire salvo was just one minute for best results, no more than two minutes for satisfactory ones. If the timing became wider in an exercise, the entire main attack was considered unsuccessful.

 An aerial view of the U.S. Navy Battle Group Echo underway in formation in the northern Arabian Sea on 1 November 1987. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

Moreover, in plans, three to five planes in each regimental strike had to carry missiles with nuclear warheads. It was calculated that up to twelve hits by missiles with regular warheads would be needed to sink a carrier; by contrast, a single nuclear-armed missile hit could produce the same result. In any case, almost all Soviet anti-carrier submarine assets had nuclear-armed anti-carrier missiles and torpedoes on board for routine patrols.

Having launched their missiles, it was up to the crews, as has been noted above, to find their way back. Because of the possibility of heavy battle damage, it was reasonable to consider the use of intermediate airfields and strips for emergency or crash landings, mainly on the distant islands, even inhabited ones, in the Soviet or Warsaw Pact exclusive economic zones. The concept of using the Arctic ice fields for this purpose was adopted, by not only the MRA but the VVS (interceptors of the Su-15, Tu-128, and MiG-25/31 varieties) too. Though the concept of maintaining such temporary icing strips had been accepted, with the thought that planes could be refueled, rearmed, and even moderately repaired in such a setting, it was not a big feature of war plans. The VVS as a whole was eager to use captured airfields, particularly ones in northern Norway, but the MRA paid little attention to this possibility, because the complexity of aerodrome maintenance of its large planes, with their intricate weapons and systems, was considered unrealistic at hostile bases, which would quite possibly be severely damaged before or during their capture.

All in all, the expected loss rate was 50 percent of a full strike—meaning that the equivalent of an entire MRA air regiment could be lost in action to a carrier task force’s air defenses, independent of the strike’s outcome.

An Umi Yukaba for the Surface and Submarine Communities

Although the first massive missile strikes on carrier task forces had to be performed by SNAF/DA forces, there were at least two other kinds of missile carriers in the Soviet Navy. The first were guided-missile ships, mostly in the form of cruisers (CGs), those of Project 58 (the NATO Kynda class), Project 1144 (Kirov class), and Project 1164 (Slava class). Moreover, all the “aircraft-carrying cruisers” of Project 1143 (the Kiev class, generally thought of as aircraft carriers in the West) had the same anti-ship cruise missiles as the CGs of Project 1164. Also, the destroyers of Project 956 (Sovremenny class) could be used in this role, as well as all the ships (the NATO Kresta and Kara classes) armed with ASW missiles of the Type 85R/RU/RUS (Rastrub/Metel, or Socket/Snowstorm) family, which could be used in an anti-ship mode. The main form of employment of guided missile ships was the task force (operativnoye soedinenie, in Russian), as well as the above-noted direct-tracking ship or small tactical groups of ships with the same job (KNS or GKNS, respectively, in Russian).

The other anti-carrier missile carriers were nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines (SSGNs), in a vast number of projects and types, using either surface or submerged launch. The most deadly of these were the Project 949A boats (NATO Oscar IIs), with P-700 Granit missiles. (The SSGN Kursk, recently lost to uncertain causes, was one of them.) The operational organization for the submarine forces performing the anti-carrier mission was the PAD (protivo-avianosnaya divisiya, anticarrier division), which included the SSGNs, two for each target carrier, and nuclear-powered attack submarines for support. In sum, up to fifteen nuclear submarines would deploy into the deep oceans to attack carrier task forces. One PAD was ready to be formed from the submarine units of the Northern Fleet, and one, similarly, was ready to assemble in the Pacific Fleet.

1986 – An elevated port side view of the forward section of a Soviet Oscar-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

A detailed description of the tactics and technologies of all those various assets is beyond the aim of this article, but one needs an idea of how it worked as a whole. The core of national anti-carrier doctrine was cooperative usage of all those reconnaissance and launch platforms. While they understood this fact, the staffs of the Soviet Navy had no definite order, manual, or handbook for planning anti-carrier actions except the “Tactical Guidance for Task Forces” (known as TR OS-79), issued in 1979 and devoted mainly to operational questions of surface actions, until 1993, when “Tactical Guidance for Joint Multitype Forces” entered staff service. The latter document was the first and ultimate guidance for the combined efforts of the MRA , surface task forces, and submerged PADs, stating as the overall goal the sinking of the designated target carriers at sea with a probability of 85 percent.

It is no secret that the officers of the surface community who served on the guided-missile ships counted on surviving a battle against a U.S. Navy carrier air wing for twenty or thirty minutes and no more. In reality, the abilities of the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) installed on the ships were far less impressive than the fear they drew from U.S. experts. For example, the bow launcher of the Storm SAM on the Kresta– and Kara-class ASW destroyers shared a fire-control system with the Metel ASW missile. It would be quite possible for U.S. aircraft to drop a false sound target (imitating a submarine) ahead of the Soviet formation to be sure that the bow fire-control radars would be busy with the guidance of ASW missiles for a while. The bow SAM launchers of the destroyers of these classes would be useless all this time, allowing air attacks from ahead. Even “iron” bombs could mark the targets.

SSGNs were evidently considered in the West to be the safest asset of the Soviet Navy during an attack, but it was not the case. The problem was hiding in the radio communications required: two hours prior to the launch, all the submarines of the PAD were forced to hold periscope depth and lift their high frequency-radio and satellite communication antennas up into the air, just to get the detailed targeting data from reconnaissance assets directly (not via the staffs ashore or afloat); targeting via low- or very-low-frequency cable antennas took too much time and necessarily involved shore transmitting installations, which could be destroyed at any moment. There was little attention paid to buoy communication systems (because of the considerable time under Arctic ice usual for Soviet submarines). Thus the telescoping antennas in a row with the periscopes at the top of the conning tower were the submarine’s only communication means with the proper radio bandwidth. Having all ten or fifteen boats in a PAD at shallow depth long before the salvo was not the best way to keep them secure. Also, the salvo itself had to be carried out in close coordination with the surface fleet and MRA divisions.

However, the main problem was not the intricacy of coordination but targeting —that is, how to find the carrier task forces at sea and to maintain a solid, constant track of their current positions. Despite the existence of air reconnaissance systems such as Uspekh, satellite systems like Legenda, and other forms of intelligence and observation, the most reliable source of targeting of carriers at sea was the direct-tracking ship. Indeed, if you see a carrier in plain sight, the only problem to solve is how to radio reliably the reports and targeting data against the U.S. electronic countermeasures. Ironically, since the time lag of Soviet military communication systems compared to the NATO ones is quite clear, the old Morse wireless telegraph used by the Soviet ships was the long-established way to solve that problem. With properly trained operators, Morse keying is the only method able to resist active jamming in the HF band. For example, the Soviet diesel-electric, Whiskey-class submarine S-363, aground in the vicinity of the Swedish naval base at Karlskrona in 1981, managed to communicate with its staff solely by Morse, despite a Swedish ECM station in the line of sight. All the other radio channels were effectively jammed and suppressed. While obsolete, strictly speaking, and very limited in information flow, Morse wireless communication was long the most serviceable for the Soviet Navy, owing to its simplicity and reliability.

But the direct tracker was definitely no more than another kind of kamikaze. It was extremely clear that if a war started, these ships would be sent to the bottom immediately. Given that, the commanding officer of each had orders to behave like a rat caught in a corner: at the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier’s position by radio, he would shell the carrier’s flight deck with gunfire, just to break up the takeoff of prepared strikes, fresh CAP patrols, or anything else. Being usually within the arming zone of his own anti-ship missiles and having no time to prepare a proper torpedo salvo, the “D-tracker’s” captain had to consider his ship’s guns and rocket-propelled depth charges to be the best possible ways to interfere with flight deck activity. He could even ram the carrier, and some trained their ship’s companies to do so; the image of a “near miss,” of the bow of a Soviet destroyer passing just clear of their own ship’s quarter is deeply impressed in the memory of some people who served on board U.S. aircraft carriers in those years.

Lieutenant Commander Tokarev joined the Soviet Navy in 1988, graduating from the Kaliningrad Naval College as a communications officer. In 1994 he transferred to the Russian Coast Guard. His last active-duty service was on the staff of the 4th Coast Guard Division, in the Baltic Sea. He was qualified as (in U.S. equivalents) a Surface Warfare Officer/Cutterman and a Naval Information Warfare/Cryptologic Security Officer. After retirement in 1998 he established several logistics companies, working in the transport and logistics areas in both Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Featured Image: March 3, 1986 – A left underside view of a Soviet Tu-22 Backfire aircraft in flight. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

Kamikazes: The Legacy of Soviet Naval Aviation, Pt. 1

The following selections are derived from an article originally published in the Naval War College Review under the title, “Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy.” Read it in its original form here.

By Maksim Y. Tokarev

The Naval Air Force of the Soviet Navy: The Admirals’ Stepchild

Despite the fact that Russian military aviation was born within the navy, since 1922—when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, was created— until today the Naval Air Force has been essentially the representative office of the Soviet/Russian Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnie Sily, or VVS ) in the navy realm. Russian naval aviation has not possessed two features that distinguish naval air forces from those of the army or “big” national air force counterparts:

  • A system of development, design, and purchase of aircraft and weapons
  • A system of education and training of flying personnel (from 1956 onward).

All such systems were and are still mostly in the hands of the air force (during World War II, an army air force, known as the VVS -RKKA).

Technically, the Soviet Naval Air Force (SNAF) was part of the navy. But in fact, SNAF fixed-wing planes, with a handful of exceptions—such as the vertical/ short-takeoff-and-landing (VSTOL ) light-attack Yak-38 and a small family of seaplanes of the Beriev Aircraft Company (the Be-6, Be-12, Be-200)—were, as they still are, ordered by and developed for the air force. All the huge long-range, heavy bombers, such as the Tu-16 (NATO Badger family), the Tu-95 (Bear), and the Tu-22 (Backfire), were developed under the orders and specifications of the Soviet Air Force’s bomber command, the DA (Dal’naya Aviatsiya, or Long-Range Aviation). Moreover, the DA’s heavy bomber units constituted an integral part of the anti-carrier doctrine, representing nearly a third of the forces that would be involved in strikes. Those units could temporarily fall under operational control of the SNAF. Two-thirds of the rest were organized as the MRA (Morskaya Raketonosnaya Aviatsiya, or Naval Guided-Missile Aviation), permanently under the operational and administrative control of the navy.

But this administrative interconnection did not remove the curtain between the navy’s philosophy and ethos and those of the VVS. Soviet naval aviators, all commissioned officers, held field rank instead of deck (naval) rank and were completely out of the chain of command of naval surface ships, units, and staffs, let alone submarines. Their areas of responsibility and service were almost exclusively aviation matters. Each of the four fleet staffs, typically headed by a full admiral (three stars) or a vice admiral (two stars), had a subordinate Staff of Naval Aviation of the X Fleet (where X would be Baltic, Northern, Black Sea, or Pacific), which commanded all the fleet’s air units. For each fleet’s commanding general of aviation, typically a major general or lieutenant general, to whom this staff reported, there was only one possible next career step within the navy: to become commanding general of Naval Aviation of the Soviet Navy in the Naval Main Staff in Moscow, as a colonel general.

Needless to say then, almost all naval aviators and naval air navigators (roughly similar to American naval flight officers) from the beginning of their careers kept their eyes the other way—toward an interservice transfer to the VVS, where they could reach much higher command assignments, as air marshals. Moreover, all of them had friends in the VVS, because the navy did not have its own system of pilot and navigator training courses, schools, or academies. All naval aviators, navigators, and aviation engineers were (and still are) graduates of VVS air military colleges or air military engineering colleges. So not only were they aware that they represented a marginal part of the annual alumni pool, having chosen the restricted SNAF path instead of the wide-open VVS, but their early military and flying experience, the four or five years spent in an air college, had filled them with VVS ethos and traditions instead of the navy’s. It is worth noting that, contrary to U.S. military aviation training practice, Soviet/Russian VVS air colleges inserted cadets into the flying pipeline roughly in the middle of the course, two years before graduation and commissioning. All Soviet military pilots could fly the modern military aircraft in almost all circumstances months before the little stars of a second lieutenant were on their shoulders. There are close parallels to British Royal Air Force (RAF ) practice and ethos, and to those of the World War II Luftwaffe as well…

…This semi-separation of the SNAF from the navy created, without doubt, neglect on the part of the “true” naval officer communities, surface and submarine. Given the rule that no naval aviator or navigator could attain flag rank in any of the fleet staffs and that the admirals and deck-grade officers of the Soviet Navy only occasionally flew on board naval aircraft, and then as passengers only, there was no serious trust in the SNAF in general or its anti-carrier role in particular. The SNAF, though its actions were coordinated with surface and submarine units in war plans and staff training, would attack on its own, whereas missile-firing surface units and submarines had to complement each other, depending on overall results.

The actual training of SNAF units had no significant connection with surface or submarine units below the level of “type” staffs of the fleet. Communications between SNAF aircraft aloft and guided-missile cruisers at sea or even with shore radio stations maintaining submarine circuits often failed because of mistakes in frequencies or call signs. So the “real” admirals’ common attitude toward the MRA was essentially the same as that toward shore-based missiles: order them to take off, heading for the current target position, and forget them. No wonder that the kamikaze spirit was often remembered in the ready rooms of MRA units ashore.

The Soviet Navy had itself experienced the real thing once, in 1945, in the last month of the war. While supporting an amphibious landing on the Kurile Islands, a small group of Soviet ships was attacked by several B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers from the Kurile-based Hokuto Kokutai, an outfit normally devoted to patrol and ASW over the surrounding sea. According to Japanese records, at the time of the attacks only five Kates from that unit were flyable, and four of them participated in kamikaze attacks against the Soviet amphibious assaults, armed with 200-kilogram depth charges or 60-kilogram general-purpose bombs. On 12 August two of these planes were shot down by AA fire from the minesweeper T-525 (a U.S.-built AM type), and one crashed directly into the small motor minesweeper KT-152 (a mobilized fishing boat), which immediately sank with all hands. This was the only successful kamikaze encounter in Soviet naval history.

Why Should We Attack the U.S. Carriers— and for God’s Sake, How?

Unable to create a symmetrical aircraft carrier fleet, for both economic and political reasons, the Soviet Navy had to create some system that could at least deter the U.S. Navy carrier task forces from conducting strikes against the naval, military, and civilian infrastructure and installations on the Kola and Kamchatka Peninsulas, Sakhalin Island, and the shoreline around the city of Vladivostok. The only reasonable way to do so was as old as carrier aviation doctrine itself: conduct the earliest possible strike to inflict such damage that the carrier will be unable to launch its air group, or at least the nuclear-armed bombers. There was also an important inclination to keep the SLOCs in Mediterranean under the threat of massive missile strikes. These plans, given the absence of a Soviet carrier fleet, definitely rode on the wings of land-based aviation. Riding also on the shoulders of air-minded military leaders, they reached out farther than the typical 500-mile combat radius of regular medium bombers, by means of something much more clever than the iron, unguided bombs that had been the main weapon of Soviet bombers for a long time.

The origins of guided anti-ship missiles in military aviation are German. Hs293 missiles and FX1400 guided bombs were successfully employed in 1943–44 by Luftwaffe bomber units; one of only five battleships sunk at sea solely by aviation, the Italian battleship Roma, was sunk by FX1400s dropped and guided by Do-217 crews of Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Squadron) 100. But those weapons, being radio controlled, could have been easily disabled by relatively simple ECM measures, such as jamming, had the ECM operator known the guidance frequency. A more promising method of guidance was active radar seekers, which made such weapons independent of the carrying platform after launch. The first air-to-surface missile with such guidance and targeting was created in Sweden in the early 1950s and entered service with the Swedish air force as the Rb04 family.

Regardless of whether it had the help of intelligence information, the Soviet weapons industry managed to develop its own device at roughly the same time, but using semiactive targeting. The first such missile, the KS-1 Kometa (Comet), started development in 1951 and entered service two years later. From the beginning, and in contrast to all other such systems, Soviet anti-ship missiles were designed to kill carriers and other big ships by hitting pairs. The warhead of the KS-1 contained more than 800 kilograms of explosive, and the missile generally resembled a little unmanned MiG-15 fighter plane. The old Japanese Okha concept had clearly been adopted entirely, with the exception of a sacrificial pilot.

KS-1 Kometa (Kennel) anti-ship missile mounted on a Tu-16KS (BADGER B) formerly of the Indonesian Air Force, on display at the Air Force Museum, Yogyakarta. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

It is worth noting that the nuclear strike/deterrent role was exclusive to U.S. aircraft carriers for less than a single year, from the first assembly of a nuclear bomb on board a carrier in December 1951 to the successful trial launch of a Regulus nuclear cruise missile from a submarine in 1952. The carriers’ shared (i.e., with submarines) nuclear role lasted up to 1964, when George Washington– class ballistic-missile submarines went on patrol on a regular basis.

From that time onward, as Adm. James Stockdale recalls, the primary role of the carrier air groups, even fighter squadrons, became the close support of land combat, as well as land interdiction. The beginning of the Vietnam War featured this mode of employment. SNAF staffs found that the main skills of the carriers’ attack squadrons (medium and light) changed twice. From 1964 to 1974, during the Vietnam War, it was mostly land targets that attack squadrons were intended to strike; from 1975 to the Desert Storm operation in 1990 the carrier attack community shifted its focus to readiness to engage Soviet surface fleets at sea, developing the Harpoon guided-missile family. During the first Iraq war the main effort switched again, to close air support and battlefield interdiction ashore. While it was not going to deal with the carrier attack planes directly, the SNAF was watching with interest the fluctuation in the U.S. Navy’s fleet air-defense inventory and tactics, driven by changes in the targets between the open sea and continental landscapes. It was important to find the difference between the typical CAP tactics at sea and barrier CAP duty offshore, calculating the average times that F-4 and F-14 interceptors remained on station between aerial refueling and rotation of patrols….

…The U.S. carrier task force had first been considered a real threat to Soviet shore targets in 1954, when intelligence confirmed the presence of nuclear weapons (both bombs and Regulus missiles) on board the carriers, as well as planes that could deliver them (AJ-1s and A3Ds). The first anti-carrier asset tested in the air at sea was of American origin—the Tu-4 heavy bomber, a detailed replica of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The missile-carrying model, the Tu-4KS, was introduced with the Black Sea Fleet Air Force in 1953. The plane was able to carry two KS missiles and was equipped with a K-1M targeting radar. Because of the need to guide the missile almost manually from the bomber, the aircraft had to penetrate the anti-air warfare killing zone of the task force to as close as 40 kilometers from the carrier or even less. The kamikaze-like fate was abruptly switched from the single pilot of an Okha to the entire crew of a Tu-4KS. Subsequent efforts to develop autonomous active-radar missiles (the K-10, K-16, KSR-2, and finally KSR -5) were more or less unsuccessful. Though the semiactive KS placed the carrying plane under serious threat, it was considerably more reliable than the active-radar missiles.

March 1, 1983 – A left underside view of a Soviet Badger G aircraft in-flight with an KSR-5 (AS-6 Kingfisher) missile attached to the left wing. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

The next generation of planes was represented by the series known to NATO as the Badger (the Tu-16KS, Tu-16K-10/16, Tu-16KSR, with reconnaissance performed by the Tu-16R, or Badger E). This plane was not the best choice for the job, but it was the only model available at the beginning of the 1960s. The service story of the Badger family is beyond the scope of this article, but it is noteworthy that the overall development of anti-carrier strike doctrine grew on its wings. The first and foremost issue that had to be considered by SNAF staffs was the approach to the target, which involved not only the best possible tactics but the weapon’s abilities too. For a long time, prior to the adoption of antiradiation missiles, and given the torpedo-attack background of MRA units, there was a strong inclination toward low-level attack. Such a tactic comported with the characteristics of the missiles’ jet engines and the poor high-altitude (and low temperature) capabilities of their electronic equipment. The typical altitude for launch was as low as 2,000 meters; that altitude needed to accommodate the missile’s 400-600-meter drop after launch, which in turn was needed to achieve a proper start for its engine and systems. Although the SNAF experimented with high-altitude (up to 10,000 meters) and moderate altitude approaches—and until it had been confirmed that the carrier’s airborne early-warning (AEW) aircraft, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, could detect the sea-skimming bombers at twice the missile’s range—the low-level approach was considered the main tactic, at least for half the strike strength.

Flying the Backfire in Distant-Ocean Combat: A One-Way Ticket

The MRA ’s aircraft, such as the Tu-16 missile-launching aircraft and the Tu-95 reconnaissance and targeting aircraft, were relatively slow, and they were evidently not difficult targets for U.S. fighters. They were large targets for the AIM-7 Sparrows shot from F-4 Phantoms. The problem for the aircraft was detection by AEW assets. If E-2 (or U.S. Air Force E-3) crews did their job well, even surface ships, such as the numerous Oliver Hazard Perry–class guided-missile frigates, could contribute to shattering a Soviet air raid. Despite the supersonic speed of the KSR -5 missiles, it was not a big problem to catch the bombers before they reached the launch point….

….The picture changed with the Tu-22M, Tu-22M-2, and Tu-22M-3—the Backfire family—which could reach almost Mach 2…The bird has a crew of just four: pilot, copilot, and two navigators—the first shturman (the destination navigator) and second shturman (the weapons-system operator, or WSO). All of them are commissioned officers, males only, the crew commander (a pilot in the left seat, age twenty-six to thirty) being not less in rank than captain. All the seats eject upward, and the overall survivability of the plane in combat is increased, thanks not only to greater speed but also to chaff launchers, warning receivers, active ECM equipment, and a paired tail gun that is remotely controlled by the second navigator with the help of optical and radar targeting systems. This plane significantly improved the combat effectiveness of the MRA.

March 25, 1983 – A rear view of a Soviet Tu-22 Backfire aircraft in flight. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

In theory and in occasional training, the plane could carry up to three Kh22MA (or the MA-1 and MA-2 versions) anti-ship missiles, one under the belly and two more under the wings. But in anticipated real battle conditions, seasoned crews always insisted on just one missile per plane (at belly position), as the wing mounts caused an enormous increase in drag and significantly reduced speed and range.

The Kh-22 missile is not a sea skimmer. Moreover, it was designed from the outset as a dual-targeted missile, able to strike radar-significant shore targets, and the latest version can also be employed as an antiradar missile. The first and most numerous model of this missile, the Kh-22MA, had to see the target with its own active radar seeker while still positioned under the bomber’s belly. But the speed, reliability, and power of its warhead are quite similar to those of the Soviet submarine-launched sea skimmers. The price for those capabilities is the usual one for a Soviet weapon—huge weight and dimensions. The Kh-22 is more than 11 meters long and weighs almost six tons, combat ready. The missile can travel at Mach 3 for 400 kilometers. Usually it contains more than a ton of an explosive, but it could carry a 20-200-kiloton nuclear warhead instead.

May 23 1984 – A Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) anti-ship missile under a Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

There is a pool of jokes within the Backfire community about the matter of who is more important in the Tu-22M’s cockpit, pilots or navigators. The backseaters (both the navigators’ compartments are behind the pilots’) often claim that in a real flight the “front men” are usually doing nothing between takeoff and landing, while the shturmans are working hard, maintaining communications, navigating, and targeting the weapon. In reality, the most important jobs are in the hands of the WSO, who runs the communication equipment and ECM sets as well.

The doctrine for direct attacks on the carrier task force (carrier battle group or carrier strike group) originally included one or two air regiments for each aircraft carrier—up to 70 Tu-16s. However, in the early 1980s a new, improved doctrine was developed to concentrate an entire MRA air division (two or three regiments) to attack the task force centered around one carrier. This time there would be a 100 Backfires and Badgers per carrier, between 70 and 80 of them carrying missiles. As the Northern Wedding and Team Spirit exercises usually involved up to three carrier battle groups, it was definitely necessary to have three combat-ready divisions both in northern Russia and on the Pacific coast of Siberia. But at the time, the MRA could provide only two-thirds of that strength—the 5th and 57th MR Air Divisions of the Northern Fleet and the 25th and 143rd MR Air Divisions of the Pacific Fleet. The rest of the divisions needed—that is, one for each region—were to be provided by the VVS DA. The two air force divisions had the same planes and roughly the same training, though according to memoirs of an experienced MRA flyer, Lieutenant General Victor Sokerin, during joint training DA crews were quite reluctant to fly as far out over the open ocean as the MRA crews did, not trusting enough in their own navigators’ skills, and tried to stay in the relative vicinity of the shore. Given the complexity of a coordinated strike at up to 2,000 miles from the home airfield, navigation and communication had become the most important problems to solve.

Being latent admirers of the VVS ethos, MRA officers and generals always tried to use reconnaissance and targeting data provided by air assets, which was also most desired by their own command structure. Targeting data on the current position of the carrier sent by surface ships performing “direct tracking” (a ship, typically a destroyer or frigate, sailing within sight of the carrier formation to send targeting data to attack assets—what the Americans called a “tattletale”), were a secondary and less preferable source. No great trust was placed in reports from other sources (naval radio reconnaissance, satellites, etc.). Lieutenant General Sokerin, once an operational officer on the Northern Fleet NAF staff, always asked the fleet staff ’s admirals just to assign him a target, not to define the time of the attack force’s departure; that could depend on many factors, such as the reliability of targeting data or the weather, that generate little attention in nonaviation naval staff work. The NAF staff had its own sources for improving the reconnaissance and targeting to help plan the sorties properly. Sokerin claims that “no Admirals grown as surface or submarine warriors can understand how military aviation works, either as whole or, needless to say, in details.”

Read Part Two.

Lieutenant Commander Tokarev joined the Soviet Navy in 1988, graduating from the Kaliningrad Naval College as a communications officer. In 1994 he transferred to the Russian Coast Guard. His last active-duty service was on the staff of the 4th Coast Guard Division, in the Baltic Sea. He was qualified as (in U.S. equivalents) a Surface Warfare Officer/Cutterman and a Naval Information Warfare/Cryptologic Security Officer. After retirement in 1998 he established several logistics companies, working in the transport and logistics areas in both Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Featured Image: A United Soviet Socialists Republic (Russian) TU-95 Bear bomber aircraft in flight over the Arctic Ocean, during a flight to Keflavik, Iceland in 1983. (U.S. Air Force Photo) (Released)