Air interdiction

Air interdiction

Air interdiction (AI) is the use of aircraft to attack tactical ground targets that are not in close proximity to friendly ground forces. It differs from close air support because it does not directly support ground operations and is not closely coordinated with ground units. Unlike strategic bombing, air interdiction is not meant as an independent air campaign; its ultimate purpose is still to allow ground operations rather than to defeat an enemy by air power alone.

The purpose of air interdiction is to delay, disrupt, or destroy enemy forces or supplies en route to the battle area before they do any harm against friendly forces. Even at such degree, used in an interdictive offensive assault againt enemy forces without friendly forces involved. A distinction is often made between strategic and tactical interdiction. The former refers to operations whose effects are broad and long-term; tactical operations are designed to affect events rapidly and in a localized area.


Air interdiction is a core airpower mission that has been conducted since World War I by virtually all air forces. In that war, the goal was to isolate the battlefield by strafing and bombing enemy supply lines. Favorite targets were railroad lines, bridges, and truck convoys. Due to the primitive state of aircraft and weapons technology, as well as the undeveloped nature of air doctrine and tactics, air interdiction missions in World War I were of limited utility.

The potential of air interdiction was clearly recognized, however, and during World War II it once again became a major mission of air forces. Although air interdiction operations were conducted in all theaters, the most extensive and thoroughly analyzed were those of the United States and United Kingdom against the Axis. Specifically, the Allies launched major air interdiction efforts in the North African, Italian, and Normandy campaigns. The venues for these three campaigns were markedly different in terms of weather, terrain, the enemy’s supply and transportation infrastructure, and the availability of intelligence regarding the enemy. As a consequence of these differences, the results of air interdiction also varied. The greatest success was in the desert terrain of North Africa, where Axis forces also relied heavily on vulnerable and visible sea convoys across the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian campaign, by contrast, was characterized by mountainous terrain, poor weather conditions, and shortened German supply lines. The diverse results of these two campaigns taught air planners differing lessons.

Air interdiction has continued to play a major role in conflicts since World War II. It was used extensively in U.S. conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Serbia, as well as in wars between Israel and the Arab states in the Middle East. Once again, differing local conditions and political restraints have had an enormous effect on how air interdiction was conducted and the degree to which it was successful. In Vietnam, for example, the strategic interdiction campaign known as Rolling Thunder (1965–1968) was largely unsuccessful. The dense jungle terrain, poor intelligence on enemy movements, and political restrictions on targets struck made U.S. air interdiction efforts largely futile. The flow of supplies and reinforcements from North Vietnam to their units in South Vietnam was not seriously affected. In contrast, coalition air interdiction efforts in the Gulf War (1991) were extremely successful in isolating front-line Iraqi units from their bases in the rear. Intelligence, much of it derived from space and airborne sensors, gave an unusually clear picture of enemy locations, and the open desert terrain similarly facilitated air interdiction operations.

Lessons learned

When assessing air interdiction efforts during the 20th century, it is possible to identify several factors that will have an impact on success.
*First, air superiority is essential for air interdiction because it permits a more thorough identification and attack of enemy forces and supplies while also exposing the attacking aircraft to less risk.
*Second, intelligence regarding enemy dispositions, movements, stockpiles, and intentions is crucial. In the North African campaign during World War II, for example, Ultra intelligence sources gave the Allies a clear picture of Axis shipping in the Mediterranean. In contrast, in Vietnam the United States had a very poor understanding of Vietcong and North Vietnamese activities.
*Third, weather and terrain will have a major impact on air interdiction’s success or failure. One factor included here is the ability to conduct air interdiction at night or in marginal weather; conditions that assist the clandestine movement of forces and supplies.
*Fourth, air interdiction operations must be persistent. If an enemy is allowed a respite, it will resupply and stockpile, making the air interdiction effort ineffective.
*Fifth, air planners must have realistic objectives. It is virtually impossible to totally isolate the battle area. Something will always get through, and that amount may be enough to sustain the enemy. For example, even if 95 percent of all supplies to Axis forces in Italy during World War II had been stopped, there would still have been enough material getting through for Axis forces to conduct effective defensive operations.
*The sixth factor is related and is perhaps the most important: there is a symbiotic relationship between air and surface forces in a successful air interdiction campaign. An enemy that is quiescent and stationary consumes few resources while also presenting few targets. If, by contrast, enemy forces are attacked and flushed from their defensive positions by friendly surface forces, they will consume far more resources, especially fuel and ammunition, while also exposing themselves to air attack.

Examples of air interdiction campaigns

* Operation Strangle - Used P-47 Thunderbolt attacks to disrupt Axis rail supply lines in Italy.
* The attacks on Axis logisistics in France in preparation for Operation Overlord.
* Attacks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail continued throughout the Vietnam Conflict.
* Operation Linebacker
* Air campaign during Operation Desert Storm

ee also

* Tactical bombing
* Ground attack aircraft

External links

* [ Air Interdiction] , by Clifford Krieger. Aerospace Power Journal, Spring 1989.
* [ DOD dictionary] definition of air interdiction.

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