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


As the day progressed the level of enemy air activity remained low in comparison to what it had been in the opening days of the fighting. It was becoming evident the Soviet and Warsaw Pact air forces in Eastern Europe were on the doorstep of a reconsolidation period. Mid-morning Intelligence reports making their way to Brussels and Heidelberg from Washington and London indicated a major reinforcement and resupply effort was being hurriedly prepared. Satellite photos revealed increased activity at Frontal Aviation bases in the western Soviet Union. SIGINT was picking up indications that a number of Soviet fighter regiments were receiving orders to pack up and move west whether they were ready to or not.

COMAAFCE inquired his operations and planning people about the practicality of shifting the focus of NATO’s own air operations for a twelve to fifteen hour period. Specifically, General Kirk wanted to expand offensive counter air (OCA) broadly and knock as many Pact airbases out of commission in order to hamper the reinforcement of 16th Air Army and other Pact air formations. The response he received back was more or less what he expected. It was possible, yet it would cause a bit of chaos with NATO’s own plans for the coming night and early morning hours. The OCA efforts would largely take place after sundown and require most of NATO’s dedicated deep strike, PGM-delivering aircraft like the F-111 and Tornado. Most of the available -111s and Tornados were already slated to hit targets deep in the rear such as railheads, POL facilities, and road junctions, but not airbases. Changes and revisions could be made to the frag order but the planners, and operations staffs in West Germany and England had to get working right away. Kirk gave them the order to proceed and then prepared to address another nagging issue.

2nd ATAF, with the support of NORTHAG, was pushing to have a number of 4th ATAF’s close air support assets permanently moved north to its area o operations. Specifically, 2nd ATAF wanted the A-10A Warthog. Requests to 4th ATAF had gone unanswered. When Kirk inquired about the matter directly he was not surprised to learn that 4th ATAF did not want to part with any A-10s. It had no reservations about chopping Warthogs north when they were needed so long as they recovered back at their home bases and they remained under 4th ATAF’s control. Kirk wanted to resolve the issue before word of it reached SACEUR, however, he was not sure what his answer would be. Both air forces were in need of close air support and the A-10s so far were the undisputed champs at providing it. Fighting up in NORTHAG was heavy at the moment and a large percentage of 2nd ATAF’s aircraft losses had come during close air support missions. On the flip side, A-10 loss rates were not low. The fear in Heidelberg was that sending even a squadron north might negatively affect CENTAG’s present ground situation.

The heart of the matter was in numbers and availability. There were simply not enough ‘Hogs in theater. 9th Air Force, the stateside command responsible for the USAF reinforcement of Europe had been working themselves to the bone moving fighters across the pond since 5 July. Unfortunately, the number of A-10s that had arrived thus far totaled enough to fit a squadron and a half. The 23rd TFW consisted of three fighter squadrons made up of nine A-10s each. As of the morning, just 14 of the wing’s Warthogs were in Europe. More alarming was the fact that 9th AF headquarters at Shaw AFB couldn’t say with certainty when the rest of the wing would arrive in Europe. They were simultaneously conducting the deployment of eight fighter wings, and all of their attached personnel and equipment to Europe. It was a daunting logistical feat that was being copied by other USAF and US Army commands around the clock. At the same time that the Air Force was trying to move its mass of fighters across the Atlantic, the Army was conducting REFORGER. Tankers and transport availability was a major issue. There simply weren’t enough to go around. 9th AF needed C-5s and C-141s to move ground crews, staff, and other support elements, along with equipment and weapons. The Army needed the same aircraft to move troops over to Europe so they could mate up with their pre-positioned equipment.

Kirk was aware the issue of A-10 availability wasn’t going to solve itself. Hashing it over with 9th AF would be a non-starter too, so the general contacted the Pentagon. After laying out the issue to Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch, Kirk was satisfied the matter was handled.

He was correct. Immediately after ending the call with Kirk, General Welch got in touch with 9th AF’s commander. Within six hours the remainder of the 27th TFW’s A-10s were in the air headed for Europe and the 354th TFW at Myrtle Beach AFB would begin moving in 24 hours. By the end of the week, NATO would have an overabundance of Warthogs on the ground in Germany and that sat well with everyone in Heidelberg, Maastricht, and Brussels.

4 Replies to “Air War on the Central Front D+3 (12 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. I once had lunch with an A10-A driver, this would have been around ’97 or so, and I couldn’t help but gush about how cool I thought the plane was. He was circumspect on it but said it was a good bird, but should have had more powerful engines. Am SO looking forward to BRRRRRRRT

    Liked by 1 person

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