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"Air Strike v. Missile Strike - general questions" Topic

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Comments or corrections?

Queen Catherine07 Jun 2017 7:16 p.m. PST


Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 10:55 p.m. PST

Missiles are fearless and don't react to AA fire.
Missiles are often smaller and harder to hit than aircraft.
Missiles can be faster, and can fly places where it's hard to take an aircraft.
Missiles can be launched from ships that can't carry manned aircraft.
Missiles don't bring casualties or SAR missions to retrieve manned missions that get shot down.
Missiles are one way and so you don't have to recover them like manned missions. Not true with drones in ever case, some drones have to come back.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

VVV reply Inactive Member08 Jun 2017 12:21 a.m. PST

Oh I think you can assume missiles are better at getting through AA defences (smaller, faster, more of them).
The Israeli navy fired their Gabriel missiles in pairs and they had a fairly low hit rate – because the first missile often left nothing of the target for the second missile to home in on.

David Manley08 Jun 2017 4:12 a.m. PST

Nice fish story, but not true. The time separation between the first and second missiles was too short to give a meaningful difference in RCS (and if there had been a difference due to a missile strike seconds previously the fect would most likely have been a significant enhancement). As I recall the hit rate for Gabriel I was actually pretty good.

nukesnipe Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 5:34 a.m. PST

Truthfully, it depends.

With guided munitions (laser or otherwise), aircraft do not have to overfly their targets and therefore do not have to worry about close air defense systems, only the area defenses that can reach them at altitude. That's actually the reason for the guided munitions in the first place.

Missiles, on the other generally fly at relatively low level which inhibits the reaction times of air defenses. However, they must overfly (okay, fly into) their targets and are therefore subject to the entire breadth of the air defense network.

Marshaling an air strike takes time and can be detected at range which could tip your hand to the enemy. That's why there were diversionary air strikes during WW2 – it kept the Germans guessing as to what was going on. Also, air strikes require air fields/aircraft carriers in the area from which the air strike can be launched.

Missiles, on the other hand, can be launched rapidly and do not require marshaling to obtain a coordinated strike. Also, it is much easier to coordinate a Simultaneous Time On Top (STOT) for maximum effect.

The reality is that the two weapons systems work best when used together with the aircraft and missiles striking the target near simultaneously; the missiles would be used for SAM suppression and to occupy the air defenses while the aircraft move in. Likewise, the aircraft could provide SAM suppression and electronic warfare support to allow the missiles easier access to the target.

That's my two cents, anyway. Don't know if it helped. ;-)


Scott Chisholm

USAFpilot08 Jun 2017 5:38 a.m. PST

I think one of the primary considerations is that with long range missiles you don't have to put any of your pilots at risk. The downside of missiles like the Tomahawk is that they are a very expensive one shot weapon system and there is a limited supply.

Weirdo Inactive Member08 Jun 2017 5:49 a.m. PST

Manned strikes give the benefit of human judgement all the way to the target. A Harpoon isn't going to radio the ship for confirmation because the destroyer it was launched at looks suspiciously like a cruise ship, it's just gonna go right in and make itself comfortable on the Fiesta Deck. Pop-up missiles are lucky, they end up in first class.

Unlike a missile, a manned strike plane with enough ammo can hit targets of opportunity on the way home.

Fighter pilots are reusable, whereas no amount of coffee will convince an SSM to go out and kill a second frigate. Missile stocks are ablative, though this is preferable to having an ablative fleet.

To my knowledge, nobody's ever boosted troop and public morale by giving a shiny medal to a particularly successful missile.

Personal logo optional field Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

As has already been said, air strikes have a recall feature.

Also airstrikes often have shorter prep times in tactical situations. Can you imagine trying to call in a Tomahawk missile for close air support?

USAFpilot08 Jun 2017 12:58 p.m. PST

"Recall feature"? Someone has been watching too many Hollywood movies. Also, having a human in the cockpit can lead to an entire set of other errors. There is a history of friendly fire incidents; both air to ground, and air to air despite the amount of resources used to prevent this from happening.

You would be surprised to who they give medals to nowadays.

Striker08 Jun 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

Depending on the missile and era, accurate maps of the area are required for a missile strike. The sensor part of the missile strike has to be accurate. I'm guessing a piloted craft could "search & destroy" (not something to do in a modern environment). From a recent Proceedings article it was mentioned that in Gulf War I there were limited avenues for tomahawks to use, due to incomplete mapping, and the Iraqis were able to shoot some down by moving AA resources to those lanes.

Queen Catherine08 Jun 2017 5:59 p.m. PST


USAFpilot08 Jun 2017 6:52 p.m. PST

Why do we have strike aircraft? Good question. Here is my 2 cents. First, we don't have "strike" aircraft. We have fighters (F-16), Bombers (B-2), attack (A-10) aircraft, etc. Some of these are multi-role like the F-16. It can do counter-air, interdiction, close air support, etc. And there are always new mission types being developed and new technologies being added to existing aircraft. So, "strike" aircraft can be used in a variety of roles. Also having all missiles is like having all your eggs in one basket. Better to have several options available to prosecute the mission.

dragon608 Jun 2017 8:32 p.m. PST

What period?

Up to the Falklands or the '87-88 Tanker War it appears that if the target had defensive ECM/chaff the missile missed… and would sometimes anyway. If the target didn't the missile hit mostly.

Now? Can't really say except that if the target doesn't have a defense then it usually gets hit. But that's not really much different than the earlier period so…

Striker08 Jun 2017 8:46 p.m. PST

Why do we have strike aircraft?

I'm of the opinion that aircraft give a more flexible option. The ability to call back, change targets on site, and spontaneously adapt to circumstances (target moved, civies in the area, etc) are some of the reasons. I also feel that at least in the US (can't speak for other nations), the decision makers don't want to leave it all up to a machine, for good or bad. I feel like that's why we don't see more drone/unmanned aircraft in use in the military but it seems every news station is throwing a drone up and Amazon's idea of UAV delivery of product.

Striker09 Jun 2017 11:49 a.m. PST

Food for thought: now that there are missile packs that are the size of shipping containers any ship becomes a shooter if they can get targeting info.

Lion in the Stars11 Jun 2017 9:48 p.m. PST

Why do we have strike aircraft? Close air support seems to be the main reason, and the cost of dumping a tomahawk on every wing nut with an AK47 must be prohibitive.

Because up until the late 1970s guided missiles weren't an option, and the current generation of fighters (F15/16/A10) was designed in the 1970s.

F22 and F35 are newer, they were first designed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Also, as a side note, making new bombs or aircraft-carried missiles is a lot cheaper and faster than making new airplanes.

For Close Air Support, the idea is to have a human in the decision loop to reduce the chance of shooting a non-combatant. Can't make that chance zero, sadly, but we do try.

Murvihill12 Jun 2017 9:17 a.m. PST

Why airstrikes versus missiles?
Tomahawk missile with 1,000 lb warhead: $1.87 USD million
Mk 83 1,000 pound bomb: $5,848.17 USD

That's why.

UshCha21 Jul 2017 7:18 a.m. PST

To me the difference is the Mk 1 Eyeall. A missile typicaly is aimed at a point on the ground. Typicaly it needs to know exactly where that point is when it is launched. In some cases terminal guidance is possible for instance anti radiation missiles lock on, but this is not typical. Air strikes (and I include Drone Strikes) have a Mk 1 eyball with vision enhancement to dertermine exactly where and what a targaet is, generaly better than software at the present time. An airstrice can be talked onto a target a missile cannot. Currently my understanding is that lazer designated missiles are launched from aircraft not direct from the ground and hence at the moment to hit a lazer designated target you need a aircraft to launch it in the vacinity of the target. In part this is a function of Murihill's comment.

Certainly ther are folk looking to repalce artillery by missiles. the observer designates GPS cordinates anD a dispoisible crate containing missiles is activated to lauch missiles, that use GPS to hit the target. No artillery vehicle required just a disposable containeR containg guided missiles.

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