FAQ: Ground Attack

Ground Attack Doctrine

Its not the sexiest job that a pilot has, but its one of the most potentially important. Its been said that 'Fighter pilots make movies, but bomber pilots make history' and the saying is a nice jab, but the importance of a pilot that hits ground targets is hard to overstate in many respects. This had more relevance in the days of strategic bombing with large bombing raids to hit important targets like V-2 launch sites in World War 2, but in the generation of precision-guided munitions (PGM's) a couple of aircraft can accomplish what once took entire bombing wing formations. But it was these latter days that developed two distinct doctrines in military air power. How these doctrines effect the tasking of pilots is very important and a brief history in strategic air follows.

Support or Dominance

The Soviets developed a doctrine whereby their air power would be directed towards the support of ground forces. Fighters were designed to defend the ground attack aircraft. This did not just direct their thinking and ideals, but it directed all the trickle-down thought processes. Aircraft were designed specifically to support ground troops and for many years that is where most of the training went. Close Air Support (CAS) was what had been their focus during World War 2 and it had worked well for them. But this had several drawbacks which still effect the Russians to this day: Their older aircraft have shorter ranges, engines burned poor-quality fuel (resulting in lower performance and life) due to forward staging and fueling issues, and their ability to maintain air superiority is far below the West's in terms of raw performance over long range. In turn, the Russians developed highly capable air defense systems in order to shoot down fighters. The Putin government has shifted directions and has started developing a Western approach.

This Support Doctrine is not the doctrine that the colonies would have adapted after the Cylon War. The doctrine is much closer to what the Western/NATO powers have used. This is the Air Dominance Doctrine.

Colonial Doctrine

Applying the Western approach, Colonial Doctrine is that of total air dominance. That means that the fighters go after enemy aircraft wherever they might be and still have the capability to defend their strike aircraft due to pursuit aviation tactics. Traditional doctrine says that ground attack aircraft attack ground targets and only go after enemy aircraft if the have no other choice. The newer strike-fighter concepts ask aircraft to perform both roles equally well, but it burdens pilots additionally and distracts them. As well, if a strike-fighter has to attack enemy aircraft on the way to its target it typically needs to jettison its bomb loads, making the mission a bust. However, given the extreme size of the Colonial Fleet (120 Battlestars, plus cruisers, destroyers, hospital ships, etc), the idea is to create dedicated aircraft that perform one role and do it very well so they do not have to find extremely capable pilots out of a pool and eliminate possibilities with other only slightly-less capable officers. Thus, we have Raptors and Predators that can perform ground attack roles. Raptors have multi-mission capability due to their versatile design, but this concept will be locked down to those frames only. Vipers may strafe ground targets, but Predators are the preferred 'fast movers' to get ordnance on target and fast. Raptors can get more ordnance on target, but they are heavier and larger targets on the enemy's DRADIS screens. Predators attack, Raptors support, Vipers control.


Hitting The Pickle Barrel

Strike Planning

While putting bombs on your target is important, how you get there is usually the difference between life and death. CAS is very often, in our universe, much more dangerous because these missions are flown with little planning more than 'fly here, loiter here, bomb if people need you to'. However, when planning strikes against static (unmoving) ground targets, like buildings, there are a vast number of considerations in how to get your bombs on target. Among them:

  • The Target: What and where it is.
  • The Weather: Can you see out of the cockpit on the approach? Will the wind blow your bombs off target? Do you want to fly up a mountain valley in zero visibility?
  • The Ordnance: Use the right munitions for the right target. You don't blow up bridges with napalm or use guns against bunkers.
  • The Terrain: Flat terrain leaves you very little places to hide and generally means flying lower to stay undetected. In poor weather, high terrain is a factor.
  • The Defenses: High Value Assets (HVA's) will be more heavily defended and will effect your approach and support elements. Raiders? SAMs? AAA?
  • The Others: Local civilian populations, human shields, unexpected defenses, mission failure/abort conditions.

All of these elements are equally important and one can effect the other in unexpected ways. Terrain-masking in mountains can be used to hide an approach. A hole in air defenses may provide an opportunity to get into the target area without having to blast your way in. A munitions depot in a populated area may not be wise to hit due to mass civilian casualties, but what about the landing areas or train tracks that transport the weapons in and out? Neutralization of a target is still neutralization if its rendered ineffective.

Mission planning is best performed in groups with one officer as the strike commander who will make all final decisions on the approach and flight planning. This officer may not necessarily be the officer in command in the air, but they will have the final say before the strike is submitted to the Command Staff for final review and authorization. Below you will see an example of a recon photo used in strike planning that was made for a PRP on another game. These can be extremely useful. Staff will try to have these available, but that may not always be the case.

Recon1.jpg

Execution

Attacking the targets should be done based on the strike profile as approved by Command. How the target is hit should follow this plan as closely as possible and still account for flexibility in the battlespace with unexpected threats. The first problems should be dealt with in order that they will be seen by the pilots. Concerns, in order, are: Fighters, air defenses, and target. If there is any danger of Raiders, Vipers should be attached to the mission. If there are air defenses, you'll need to attach Predators or Raptors to work Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD). Typically SEAD is flown with missiles to hit air defenses outside their own range. This is not always possible, however, such as with long range Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs). Hitting the actual target is done however it needs to be, to include landing Marines and then hanging around as close air support.

The act of bombing comes in a few different varieties.

Level Bombing

This is the most common tactic seen because it provides the safest bombing profile when air defenses are minimalized, as are fighter threats. To employ this tactic, an aircraft approaches its target on a straight vector and a planned altitude. Once computers are switched over to bombing mode, a ground lock is obtained by an ECO on the target area using the DRADIS. Once done, a Constantly Computed Release Point (CCRP) timer counts down until bomb release based on known groundspeed, altitude, and the weapon's ballistic arc. It counts down in '00:00' time whereas the first two digits are minutes and the last two are seconds. The ECO 'pickles' the bombs at zero and the bombs fall away. In the picture below, note the use of high-drag bombs which are employed at low altitude to give the attacking aircraft a chance to escape the area before the bombs explode.

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This tactic is best employed, as stated, in calm conditions where there is minimal threat to the craft and crew. Altitudes can vary widely but should be dependent upon weather conditions. Poor conditions will require the aircraft to be lower to the ground.

Dive Bombing

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This is the common technique seen in movies and TV shows where an aircraft will dive directly at a target and drop its bombs. This is employed in a few different ways, but is done primarily for two reasons: Penetration and Accuracy. When the delivering aircraft dives at the target, the velocity of the bomb is increased past terminal (free-fall) speeds. Thus, when it impacts the target, the fuse will still take time to fire, but the additional impact velocity will hit the ground and penetrate before exploding. This works well against hardened targets like shallow bunkers or concrete structures. The accuracy comes into play with the velocity of the bomb and the delivery angle. The steeper the angle (closer to 90 degrees), the faster the release speed, the smaller the ballistic arc will be. This means it will be far more accurate.

When employing this tactic, there are two methods to it. The first is just a straight dive down from high altitude. The aircraft approaches the target at high altitude and then dives down towards it. Typically the pull-out from this delivery is above the altitude where the local air defenses cannot reach. The second way to employ this tactic is called a 'pop-up delivery'. The bombing aircraft approaches at low altitude and just before reaching the target area, it climbs altitude, rolls over, and comes over the top to dive down on its target and release the bombs.

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When the bombing computers are set up for a dive delivery, a small pipper appears on the bombing screen, overlain with the view out front. This pipper appears as a O with a long | extending from the center towards the top of the screen. This is called the Constantly Computed Impact Point (CCIP) and indicates, within a few dozen feet, where the bombs will strike the ground based on the current, known conditions of the aircraft and weapons system.

This is a versatile technique that can be employed anytime, but the aircraft becomes exposed during its delivery dive which can take anywhere from five to twenty seconds and it cannot maneuver during this time.

Lob-Toss Bombing

This method of bomb delivery is a bit trickier and is used only when necessary because it provides the biggest margin of error for the impact of the bombs. The delivery aircraft approaches the target at low altitude and typically at very high groundspeed. Timing is critical here because the bomb computer will tell the crew exactly when to pull up, which heading to steer to, and will give two cues to drop. Why two cues? Because the aircraft goes into a steep climb and releases the bombs with its nose pointed upwards and the pilot nor ECO can see the target below them. While up at this angle, nose pointed high at a precise speed and heading, the CCRP counts down in '00:00' time and a small 'X' appears in a box at the center of the screen. The ECO pickles the bombs and they fall away from the aircraft in a climbing ballistic arc that 'lob-tosses' them out to the target area.

This is an extremely difficult tactic to master and should never be used when precision is of paramount importance. It is also generally employed when the target area is extremely well defended by anti-aircraft guns and missiles as this tactic will typically get the best range out of a gravity bomb.


Close Air Support

CAS is the art of delivering ordnance in support of ground operations. 'Close' is usually defined as anywhere within two miles of friendly ground troops, and there really is not a listed minimum since CAS may involve dropping or firing extremely close to friendly forces. The aircraft overhead have the unique ability to deliver ordnance from a direction that the people on the ground cannot put fire to, are not prepared to defend from, or just do not have the ability to deal with for a variety of reasons and those are usually emergencies. Typically, when a CAS request goes out, its not something that will be unimportant. It means that a unit or group on the ground needs help and they need it quickly. However, when its suspected that CAS will be needed, often enough the Air Wings will stage a set of strike aircraft on the deck on Alert Five, out in orbit, or down in atmo. Different threat expectations will vary deployment protocols.

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When a call goes out for close air support, there is a certain onus on the people on the ground to know how to use it. Typically it involves saying, effectively, 'kill the badguys over there'. Well a pilot screaming along the ground at 400 knots doesn't know where 'over there' is. So when a pilot checks into the combat area after a CAS call, they need a point of reference. This is where the pilot requests the ground team to 'pop smoke', which means they need to set off a smoke grenade. If, in the unlikely event, there is not smoke available, some kind of significant terrain feature needs to be used. They ground team will need to estimate the distance from the smoke, or feature, to the target.

JTAC's

Joint Terminal Attack Controllers are enlisted Marines who complete, bar none, the most intellectually challenging non-officer school in either of the services. Their sole job is to provide fire support to ground operations. They are not just airborne qualified, but they complete courses in meteorology, air traffic control, ordnance, trigonometry, physics, communications encryption, and survival. These individuals have to know not just the munitions the Air Wing carries but also both ground-based and orbital artillery, and they have to know how to employ them. Some people consider them to be special operations (they are not) but they are simply Marines who are organized into different support teams that deploy as individual elements all over the combat zone, detached from the normal command structure. They go where they are needed, sometimes spending weeks in the field and being resupplied by air. Each one is assigned a single callsign, by Marine Command - Picon, starting with a phonetic like 'Alpha', 'Kilo', 'Lima', or 'Zulu' followed by two numbers. That is their callsign for their duration of service with ANGLICO (their groups) and pilots may recognize them from time to time.

Working with a certified JTAC will provide all CAS and Medevac missions a +2 to all attack rolls associated with supporting ground operations. These individuals will often request specific information on armaments available and give specific instructions on how to approach a target as they might know very well where the air defense emplacements are and how to avoid them. Ignoring a JTAC's instructions is often ill-advised.

SAR

Search and Rescue is one of the most important and dangerous types of ground operations to support. A pilot or crew has been shot down, or people are missing behind enemy lines, and air support needs to be delivered to help get them back. If CAS cannot be delivered when its needed, those people on the ground can be captured or executed. If the former happens, they are not likely to ever return. Thus, SAR tempos tend to be extremely intense missions where dropping or firing ordnance is of paramount importance. The enemy knows the Colonials want their pilot back. That means putting more of their own people into a known area. That means the enemy knows where the pilots will be.

Pilots who fly ground support are generally called 'Sandy' by the rescue teams. Sandy Lead, Sandy Two, Sandy Three, etc. Its a tradition going back to before the first Cylon War. Their first priority is to take out threats to the rescue force, which means they need to take out air defenses or heavy weapons which might threaten the Raptor. Once that threat has been neutralized or minimized, then their priority goes to defending the personnel on the ground. SAR has always been a large priority because pilots and crews need to know that their friends and family in arms will come for them. Pilots who are discarded are less likely to return to combat with the same kind of vigor after watching their friends brushed off as a loss. Thus, SAR operations tend to be extremely hard-fought endeavors and there are many cases in history of pilots giving up their lives just for a better chance that their comrades might be rescued.

PGMs

Precision Guided Munitions can mean any kind of missile or bomb that has a guidance system towards its target. Ordinary bombs are called 'dumb weapons', as opposed to the more common term 'smart weapons'. In modern, real life terminology, these can be anything. Optical (munition has a camera in the nose and is steered into its target), laser (munition 'rides' a laser beam), GPS (drop munition, it steers towards a GPS location), AR (anti-radiation/anti-radar) and some others are examples of PGMs. Because this is very hard to replicate in our +combat system, these will be handled by manual rolls. PGMs cannot be used in +combat scenarios. 'Laser' is the only allowed PGM from strike aircraft.

A total score of 4 must be hit in order for the PGM to strike the target when an ECO is working without a JTAC. Each Success on a roll counts as 1 point. The goal is to hit a minimum of four and failures will work against your total. Anything more than four and the ECO or JTAC can get picky about exactly where that bomb strikes. A 3 counts as a very close hit and some damage done to the target. A 2 or below is no damage or effect on target.

  • Terrible Failure: -3
  • Bad Failure: -2
  • Failure: -1
  • Success: 1
  • Good Success: 2
  • Great Success: 3
  • Exceptional Success: 4

If an ECO is working to lase a target from his Raptor (Predators do not have internal pods for PGMs), then:

  • +Roll Gunnery — Launching the munition within standards.
  • +Roll Alertness — Using the internal systems to guide the PGM into the target.

If an ECO is working with a JTAC, then the rolls are as follows (and 5 is the goal here, not 4):

  • JTAC: +Roll Communications — Calls in strike information such as weather, optimal approach vector, air defenses, etc.
  • ECO: +roll Gunnery+2 — Weapon employment +2 for working with JTAC.
  • JTAC or ECO (whoever is guiding/lasing): Alertness — Guiding the munition into the target.
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