A very clear statement made by the Government in the most recent StrategicDefence and Security Review (SDSR,) says that one of their main priorities forthe next five years is to:’Tackle terrorismhead-on at home and abroad in a tough and comprehensive way, counter extremism andchallenge the poisonous ideologies that feed it.
‘1With the release of the GovernmentCounter-terrorism (CT) strategy (CONTEST) back in 2011, the recent SDSR simplyreinforced the fact that terrorism poses a severe threat to the United Kingdom(UK.) During this essay I will be describing how Air Power fits into CONTESTand is used on a daily basis in the fight against terror, along with thelimitations and future potential of our countries Air Power capabilities inthis role.Air Power is commonly seento perform two main functions in the CT role which are prevention and response.
This relates directly back to CONTEST which lays out the key objectives ofPursue, Prevent, Protect andprepare. Air Power often utilises non-kinetic means to prevent terror attackshappening directly or to prevent terror organisations from multiplying andplotting attacks. On the other hand, direct retaliation is often used in responseto events occurring in what potentially could be seen by some as revenge.
Lookingdeeper into these two main categories, the Air Power roles come into play andeach contribute a huge amount to CT operations.Air Mobility exploits theSpeed attribute of Air Power and allows for the rapid dispersion of forceswithin Theatre. Quite often, CT missions will utilise multiple ground forces includingSpecial Forces which have proven to be key in CT operations as shown by thekilling of Osama bin Laden in 2011. These ground forces often heavily rely onAir Mobility assets such as the Chinook, or the C17 to provide predominantlyIntra-theatre support as well as aiding with Littoral manoeuvre.
This is justone of the ways that Air Mobility benefits CT operations but, it can also beused to remove National citizens, politicians or other VIPs from a potentiallythreatened area as well helping from a medical point of view during theaftermath of an attack. The main benefit is that is allows other CT forces toreact quickly as they can count on Air Mobility assets to aid, insertion/extractionalong with the transportation of equipment to anywhere in the world.Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR,) forms the backboneto all CT operations and without it, Air Power would struggle to play aneffective role in CT operations. The use of ISR assets such as the Sentinel,Sentry and Reaper gives the Royal Air Force (RAF) and therefore Air Power asignificant reach, which allows information to be collected and processed tohelp plan and execute CT operations at the same time as monitoring Terroristactivity. To succeed, timely and accurate information must be collected,processed, distributed and then acted upon and this can be done through a varietyof ways. A lot of this information can be gather using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) such as the Reaper and or satellites but, arguably the best for ofintelligence is Human (HUMINT) as it can come direct from Troops on the groundto help personnel using platforms such as the Sentry to build a bigger picture.
Other forms of intelligence such as signals (SIGINT) or aerial/satellitephotography (GEOINT) is also valuable and can be exploited to the advantage ofCT forces. Thanks to the fantastic reach of RAF Air Power, intelligence can begathered during peace time operations as well as combat periods to help forcesbuild a better picture of Terrorist activities. Both Air and Space platformscan find and report on terrorist activity whenever and wherever it appears andcan also give crucial information on the surroundings which helps to limit collateraldamage from potential kinetic force. Dueto the nature of terrorist activity, the RAF regularly uses assets such as the ReaperUAV to find and destroy terrorist related persons/equipment in a very shortperiod of time to save the need for large scale manned attack missions to becarried out.
Attack or directretaliation, works towards the response side of Air Power in the CT role. OnceISR has been employed and information has been collected it often ends upcontributing to a kinetic attack. As of 11th November 2015, the RAFhad flown 1,562 missions and carried out 352 strikes against Daesh.2 Itis the most obvious CT method and can be carried out by both fixed and orrotary-wing assets such as the Typhoon, Tornado or Apache. An example of thisutilisation of Air Power capabilities in response to terrorism is OperationEldorado Canyon.
The United States Air Force (USAF) carried out airstrikesagainst Libya in response to the bombing of a German Discotheque where Americanservicemen were killed and injured. The attack did have the desired affect withattacks reducing by 50% in 1986 compared with the previous year along with alarge reduction in the number of terror related fatalities.3 This is an example of a responsive strike however;they can also be pre-emptive if there is sufficient intelligence to warrantone.4Attacks can come in many forms such as strategic attacks, air interdiction (AI)and close as support (CAS.) The purpose of these attacks is to supress enemyground forces or to support our own CT forces whilst they complete missions. Strategicattacks and AI are forms of counter air operations and more specificallyOffensive Counter Air (OCA) which help to achieve air superiority.
If the RAFcan achieve a high level of dominance in the airspace around the battlefieldthen it allow us to use all assets across the ISR, attack and air mobilityareas to their full potential without facing the risk of air combat. Theobvious benefit of this is that if we have control in the air, it makes iteasier to gain/maintain control on the ground as part of CT operations. With regards to prevention, Air Power can be used forPsychological Operations (PSYOP) which aims to demotivate and stop terroristsfrom carrying out future attacks. Although this is not a long term preventativemethod, it can be used in the short term to prevent or divert attacks.
They areseen as a warning to terrorists and examples of PSYOPs are deploying forces tothe areas surrounding high profile events such as the Olympics and or publiclyissuing clearances to engage enemy forces within specified areas. Contrary topopular belief, Air Power is not purely based around the size of the crater itleaves in enemy territory. It is equally about the psychological and politicaleffects it can cause by demonstrating decisive action to counteract a threat.5 As with most things, Air Power in the CT role does havelimitations and issues. Firstly, Air Power cannot defeat terrorism as astandalone CT method.6Air Power must be exploited in the role in a very careful and considered way.Using kinetic force may solve some short term tactical issues however, couldcause backlash in the form of a multiple widespread attacks as revenge in thefuture.
As well as this, there is no actual proof that PYSOP actually dissuadestates from supporting terrorist groups/actions within their country or area.In addition to this, members of the country delivering the Air Power inwhatever form may not agree as there may be civilian casualties involved(another downside) and or they may believe it is not the right way to fightterrorism. CT air operations are becoming increasingly difficult as asymmetricwarfare is beginning to dominate with the UK armed forces continuing to becomemore technologically advanced every day.
It is very difficult to pin pointsmall and camouflaged individuals and piece of equipment that are constantlyhiding and mobilising every second, even with the level of ISR that the RAF hason offer. Finally, one of the biggest issued currently face by the RAF whilst employingAir Power in a CT role is impermanence. It is currently not possible to keep anaircraft airborne forever and we cannot re-arm/repair aircraft in flight whichmeans we do not have eyes on the target at all times which is allowing theterrorists to maintain a handhold. It is imperative that the RAF and the Government considerhow they will remove the current issues regarding Air Power in a CT role. Itwas released as part of the SDSR that with the Government plans to invest a lotof money into the Armed Forces and has their Joint Force 2025 vision. There areplans to increase the ISR fleet with nearly 30 new aircraft to expand the fleetand ensure we can keep a watch on the enemy 24/7.
7They have also identified that impermanence is an issue that needs to be solvedand a potential solution is the use of UAVs so have invested £100 million topurchase over 20 new Protector aircraft.8This will allow the RAF to expand their Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS)fleet and reduce the issue of impermanence when it comes to Air Power and CT. Overall, terrorism is a growing issue and it is reassuringto see that the Government are aware of the potential threat it causes to thecountry. Personally, I believe that with the use of the SDSR and otherprocurements we as a country are taking the right steps towards evolving andadapting Air Power to mirror the fast changing nature of terrorism. Air Powerplays a key role in the CT role and without it, any strategy put in place bythe Government would not succeed. However, it is important for people torealise that Air Power is not the sole CT method and we need to invest moneyand time into other areas so that Air Power can work in conjunction with othermeans to fight terrorism. I think that the Government has made a lot ofmistakes over the last few years in relations to the assets the RAF had on offerhowever, there is now a lot of positive investment going on to fill the gapsleft by other aircraft and equipment. Using kinetic force and airstrikes will alwayscause controversy within groups of people.
I personally support the use ofairstrikes as I can see the benefits they have both in the long and short termhowever, I believe that we need to ensure we use our ISR capabilities to themax to ensure we are fully weighing up all of the risks and reasons behind eachstrike to maximise effect and minimise damage. To conclude, I believe that AirPower has the potential to have substantial effects on CT however, we have notquite reached that point yet but, with further investments, studies and work wewill be able to use Air Power to win the war on terror once and for all. 1 British Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defenceand Security Review, 2015. 2 Ministry of Defence, SDSRDefence Key Fact, 2015. 3 Editor, Airpower and the ‘Global War on Terror’: Canlessons be learned from Operation El Dorado Canyon over Libya in 1986? 2014.
4 Maj. MarkS. McAlpine, FUTURE ROLES OF AIR ANDSPACE POWER IN COMBATTING TERRORISM, 1997.
5 Editor, Airpower and the ‘Global War on Terror’: Canlessons be learned from Operation El Dorado Canyon over Libya in 1986? 2014. 6 Sam Gray-Murphy, Air Power and Trans-national Terrorism, 2008. 7 Ministry of Defence, SDSR Defence Key Fact, 2015.8 Ministry ofDefence, £100M investment in Britain’sfuture ‘Protector’ programme, 2016.