Air War on the Central Front: D+3 (12 July, 1987)


In the early morning hours of D+3, General Bill Kirk, USAF reflected on the progress of the air war on the Central Front thus far. The four star general wore two hats, serving as Commander in Chief, U.S. Air Forces in Europe/Commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. Like a good number of his NATO and Warsaw Pact peers, he was another relative newcomer to his command position,  assuming his duties in April, 1987.  As CINCUSAFE he commanded all US Air Force units on the continent. As COMAAFCE, he played the same role for NATO air forces in Central Europe. In short, he was the NATO air boss on the Central Front at the moment when the Atlantic Alliance was fighting for its very survival.

After  almost four days of conflict, Kirk was encouraged by the performance of his air forces. A former F-4 Phantom driver himself with two North Vietnamese MiG-21 kills to his credit, Kirk knew a capable air force when he saw it. He had served as chief of staff for operations at USAFE in 1982 when the Reagan defense buildup was just shifting into high gear. In the five years since, USAFE had been molded into as lethal and professional an air command as the world had ever seen.  The improvement in other NATO air forces was just as impressive. Morale was high. Training standards had been raised and were being met. Squadrons, and wings were led by experienced, innovative airmen. Much in the same manner that NORTHAG and CENTAG’s officers and NCOs had done, the pilots, ground crews, and wing staff officers of 2nd and 4th ATAFs had focused sharply on the business of war in the first six and a half years of the 1980s. The end results of this attentiveness, and professionalism, were now being reaped in the skies above West Germany.

At current, NATO controlled the skies over a large portion of the Federal Republic. In the 4th ATAF area air superiority was almost complete.  F-15 Eagles from the 36th TFW, as well as follow on Eagle squadrons from the US were forming a near-impenetrable curtain over central and southern portions of West Germany. Fighters and interceptors from the Luftwaffe and Canadian Forces contributed to the effort, but it was in large part the F-15s that were responsible for control of the air.

Farther north in the 2nd ATAF region the situation was more fluid. NATO fighters controlled the skies over the major airbases, headquarters, and support locations. The airspace over NORTHAG ground units in contact was less definite. In sectors where the fighting was heaviest,  WP air forces appeared in force. On occasion their sheer numbers were enough to take the initiative away from defending NATO squadrons and seize control of the skies for short periods of time before NATO regained the upper hand.

When the sun set, the allied advantage in the air became absolute. The night sky over the battlefield, and on both sides of the iron curtain, was owned by NATO. USAF F-111s, RAF and German Tornadoes were striking deep in the heart of the Warsaw Pact every night with incredible accuracy. The gun camera films brought back by those crews were simply remarkable. Many of the allied fighters were equipped to fight at night to one degree or another. Very few Warsaw Pact aircraft were comparable, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage.

Then there was the F-117 which used stealth technology to remain invisible to enemy radars. The Soviet Union did not have anything similar in its inventory. Nor did they have an effective defense against the -117 just yet, Kirk reminded himself. USAFE had twenty-four F-117s in theater now. All of them were based in England, and from the moment the first shots were fired in anger, the diamond-shaped aircraft were in action. Just as the case was with their less stealthy counterparts, the films brought back by the -117 crews were scarcely believable. The degree of accuracy reached on many of the bomb runs was astounding. Invisible though they were to radar, the F-117s were not invincible. Two had been lost over East Germany, and three had limped back to RAF Alconbury with battle damage to varying degrees.

As the morning went on, the level of WP air activity was noticeably lower than in the past four days. First light usually brought a large wave of air and ballistic missile attacks against NATO airbases. On this morning the size and scope of the attacks were greatly reduced from what they’d been the previous day. By 1300 hours the tempo of enemy air operations had dropped off even more. Kirk was not surprised. Intelligence estimated the Warsaw Pact air armies were suffering dreadful losses from NATO guns, SAMs, and fighters. Those loses were likely the reason behind the slowdown in operations. Pact air forces needed time to gather themselves and reconsolidate.

If this was the case, Kirk had some ideas in mind about how to take advantage of it.

6 Replies to “Air War on the Central Front: D+3 (12 July, 1987)”

  1. Ah, I’d forgotten that. I’m guessing strike packages from Saratoga are focusing on the Balkans, then?

    Anyway, as always, fantastic stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But if they run the table in the Eastern Med the skies are open all the way into that region. Of course it’s also dependent on what Yugoslavia and some other nations down there do as far as political stance…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So far in this timeline the Balkans have been quiet. By this time in reality the wheels were coming off of Yugoslavia. They were on the road to breaking up and I don’t know how that would’ve played out if a superpower conflict had broken out


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