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An airman of the German Air Force Regiment (right) together with an American airman of the Munitions Support Squadron Security Forces Operations during an anti-terrorist exercise at Büchel Air Base, Germany in 2007.

Air force infantry and special forces units are infantry and special forces units that are part of a nation's air force, airmen assigned to such units are trained and equipped for ground combat operations.

Rationale[edit | edit source]

Personnel of the Royal Air Force Regiment in a Land Rover with a Weapons Mount Installation Kit ("Wimik"), stopped on a road while conducting a combat mission near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2010.

U.S. Air Force 37th Training Wing's Emergency Services Team use a team lift technique to enter a target building during training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on April 24, 2007.

The main rationale for such units is for force protection. Aircraft are most vulnerable when on the ground, to offensive counter air operations, and most cannot operate without fixed infrastructure, consumables, and trained personnel. An adversary may hope to achieve air supremacy or protect itself from air attack first by attacking airbases, aircraft and other assets on the ground. Such attacks can be made by, for example, aircraft, cruise missiles and short range ballistic missiles. However an adversary at a numerical, technological or other disadvantage may choose to attempt to disrupt flight operations by aiming to overrun enemy air bases as early as possible, using blitzkrieg like tactics, for example Operation Barbarossa, or through the use of special forces and unconventional attacks, for example the September 2012 Camp Bastion raid

To protect against attacks against airbases, and from being overrun, some air forces have a force dispersal doctrine that see aircraft dispersed to secondary and emergency air bases, such as highway strips and as was the case with the Royal Air Force's vertical take off Harriers, dispersals in forest clearings. However when dispersed in such a way, aircraft and personnel are even more vulnerable to surprises ground attacks.

To defend against ground attacks, most air forces will train airmen in basic infantry skills and where necessary, air force infantry units are created.

Other than base and asset defence roles, air force infantry units may have other roles such as Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defence, training other air force personnel in weapon skills and basic ground defence tactics, as well as providing leadership to other airmen in base defence roles. In addition to protecting their home bases and dispersals, air force infantry forces will also provide force protection when air expeditionary forces are deployed abroad and of airheads during air bridge operations, usually being the first air force personnel on the ground.[1] Moving towards the special operations spectrum of operations, is assaulting, capturing and securing of airfields for use by one's own aircraft,[2]

Some air forces also possess special operations capable forces, the chief missions in such units are SWAT operations, search and rescue of aircrews in hostile territory, long-range reconnaissance and forward air control in support of air to ground operations, for example illuminating targets for attack by laser guided bombs.

Not all air forces possess their own ground units and whether or not they do or is sometimes due to other factors such as political considerations and inter-service rivalry. Such units act as a force multiplier allowing the secure operation of forward airbases and thereby increasing the availability and responsiveness of aviation assets

If an air force is confident that airbase defence by ground crew and other airmen with small arms is adequate for self-protection, then air force infantry units will not be found.

Doctrine[edit | edit source]

In most forces a layered approach is used to deliver a defence in depth. Peacetime doctrine is to maintain the integrity of the perimeter through the use watch posts and/or remote sensors, and if deemed necessary patrols within the perimeter. In the event of the perimeter being penetrated heavily armed and mobile fast response units, using armoured cars, armoured personnel carriers and the like, will attempt to intercept, identify and if necessary suppress the incursion. If attackers manage to gain entry into the working areas of the airbase, by subterfuge or other means, then the role of air force infantry is to function as SWAT, using close quarter battle techniques to remove them.

Wartime doctrine, in for example the RAF Regiment, sees the addition of another layer through the use of aggressive patrolling outside the perimeter to deter and detect attack. The area around the airbase is mapped and prearranged fire plans in place to allow patrols to call down rapid and accurate indirect fire from attached mortars and other crew served weapons.

Limitations[edit | edit source]

Air force infantry units are for the most part, well equipped light infantry deployed in company sized units. In addition to personal weapons, their heaviest weapons are usually heavy machine guns, mortars, rockets and anti-tank guided missiles. They lack organic artillery and support arms, relying on their home base or units they are deployed with, for logistics etc., and have a lot less staying power than army infantry units: however they normally are not expected to engage in sustained combat operations.

History[edit | edit source]

World War I[edit | edit source]

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), one of the two British air arms that would be amalgamated to create the RAF, operated an armoured car wing that grew in size to some 20 squadrons. Using at first unarmoured vehicles to pick up downed aircrew and for line of communications security duties, it was the RNAS which created the Rolls-Royce armoured cars, which it also used to raid and harass the Germans, thus beginning the tradition of RAF armoured car operations.

World War II[edit | edit source]

Luftwaffe airmen with a 2 cm Flak 38, operating alongside an Heer Panzer III during Operation Barbarossa.

During World War II Luftwaffe doctrine was to operate as a tactical air force in support of the army providing air defence and close air support against ground targets. Due to political considerations all German air defences were placed in the hands of the Luftwaffe, and Luftwaffe Flak units were attached to army units to provide ground based air defence. In addition to self-protection and air defence roles, these Luftwaffe troops, of for example the Flak corps, were also called upon to use their Flak guns in fire support and anti-armour roles, and it was in the hands of Luftwaffe airmen that the German 88mm gun was first used against tanks.

Flying units were also expected to closely follow the advancing army and as such could be expected to encounter enemy combatants during counterattacks or who had not been cleared; because of this, all Luftwaffe personnel were trained to a higher level in infantry skills and tactics than was normal in other air forces of the time. Also because of political considerations German paratroopers, the Fallschirmjäger, were part of the air force. Later in the war with Germany facing a manpower shortage, rather than release its personnel to the German Army, Göring chose instead to create the Luftwaffe Field Divisions, using personnel surplus to the needs of flying operations; as cadre for these units, officers and non commissioned officers were transferred from the Flak and paratroop units.

One of the great successes of the German forces in World War II was the destruction of enemy air forces by over running them on the ground, and the use of airborne forces in advance and in support of ground operations. One of the vulnerabilities of this time was the loss of ones own air fields, which if captured would give the enemy the infrastructure needed to build an air-bridge, during the Battle of Crete the air fields were a key objective for the Germans, and their capture by paratroopers allowed their use by the gliders and transports of the main air landing force.

To guard against English air fields falling to German paratroops as Maleme had, Winston Churchill demanded that RAF airmen should be trained and equipped to defend themselves against ground attack. In a condemning memo to the Secretary of State for Air and to the Chief of the Air Staff dated June 29, 1941, Churchill stated he would no longer tolerate the shortcomings of the Royal Air Force (RAF), in which half a million RAF personnel had no combat role. He ordered that all airmen be armed and ready “to fight and die in defense of their air fields” and that every airfield should be a stronghold of fighting air-ground men and not “uniformed civilians in the prime of life protected by detachments of soldiers.”[3] Amongst the measures implemented were improvised armoured cars and pillboxes facing inwards towards the runways, however rather than training all airmen as infantry on the German model, the RAF created instead the RAF Regiment.

During the planning of the second front which would become the invasion of Normandy, it was foreseen that as the allied armies advanced aircraft operating from air fields in England their radius of action would increasingly be eaten into, to maintain air cover allied fighter squadrons would need to accompany the advancing divisions. The RAF Commandos were created to service aircraft from newly built or captured air fields, however they were fully commando trained and because of the forward nature of their operations, they were expected to help secure, make safe and defend from counterattack the air fields they operated from.

Vietnam[edit | edit source]

In the face of US superiority in the air, North Vietnam resorted to attacking the United States Air Force on the ground, to defend against the North Vietnamese infiltrators who tried to strike from both within and outside the perimeter were the United States Air Force Security Police.

First formed as part of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, the United States Air Force Security Police were dramatically reduced in scope following the war. Post war the newly established United States Air Force (USAF) saw its primary role as a strategic one, and its base defense doctrine reflected this being one of security policing. United States involvement in Vietnam saw a real and sustained threat of ground attack, to meet these threats the Phu Cat Air Base Security Forces pioneered the Air Base Ground Defense doctrine that informs USAF practice to this day.

In a demarcation of combat roles the United States Army was primarily responsible for security outside of airbases, and the South Vietnamese Air Force for patrolling the internal perimeter, however rather than just rely upon static defences, the United States Air Force pioneered the use of remote detection equipment, such as seismic detectors and ground surveillance radar e.t.c to detect infiltrators, and to then respond to these infiltrators with rifle squads mounted in heavily armed Cadillac Gage Commando and M113 armored personnel carriers.

List of units[edit | edit source]

US Air Force Security Policemen aboard a V-100 (XM-706E2) during exercise Team Spirit '81.

Airmen of the Special Service Wing of the Pakistan Air Force during training at Fort Lewis in 2007

Historic[edit | edit source]

Current[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Staff; Ministry of Defence, Air Staff. "British Air and Space power doctrine AP3000 Edition 4". MoD. http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcms/mediafiles/9E435312_5056_A318_A88F14CF6F4FC6CE.pdf. Retrieved October 3, 2014.  page 22, ISBN 978-0-9552189-7-2
  2. Haux, Hailey (April 4, 2013). "A jump to the past: Airmen remember historic airdrop". United States Air Force. http://www.usafe.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123342819. Retrieved September 25, 2014. 
  3. Fox, Roger P. (1979). Air Base Ground Defense in the Republic of Vietnam 1961-1973. Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force. p. 278. ISBN 141022256X. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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