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Because future adversaries are likely to look for alternative means to challenging the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in the air to counter U.S. airpower, a recent RAND study for the USAF investigated those means. As part of that study, this historical effort sought to better understand past, present, and future ground threats to air bases. In the course of the research, it became clear that attacks on air bases were much more frequent and successful than is commonly appreciated. For this reason, the history of these attacks is pertinent to future USAF operations. This report presents a comprehensive overview of ground attacks on air bases from the first known attacks in 1940 to the most recent in 1992. The objectives, tactics, and outcomes of those attacks are analyzed to identify lessons learned and their applications to future conflicts. In particular, this report identifies the attack techniques that proved most difficult to counter and offers some suggestions for improving air base defenses against them. The five primary conclusions of this study are as follows: The most common air base attack objective was to destroy aircraft; seventy-five percent of the 645 attacks used standoff weapons; standoff attacks have proved extremely difficult to counter; reliance on non-air force services for air base defense proved problematic for Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) on Crete, the German Luftwaffe in North Africa, and the USAF in Vietnam; small forces using unsophisticated weapons have successfully destroyed or damaged over 2,000 aircraft.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Historical Overview

  • Chapter Three

    The German Airborne Assault on Crete

  • Chapter Four

    British Special Operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean

  • Chapter Five

    Air Base Attacks in Vietnam and Thailand

  • Chapter Six


  • Appendix

  • Bibliography

Book Review Excerpts

"Snakes in the Eagle's Nest should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in air base defense because it highlights a potential weakness in our reliance on airpower to achieve our national objectives."

- Airpower Journal

Research conducted by

The study was conducted as part of the Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure program of RAND Project AIR FORCE and was sponsored by the Director of Plans, Headquarters, United States Air Force (AF/XOX).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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