Air base defense and attack has been the subject of sustained research and analysis at the RAND Corporation for most of its history. This report provides an overview of RAND's work in this area from 1951 through 2020, describes RAND's contributions (both in substance and analytical methods), and identifies enduring insights for improving the resiliency of U.S. air bases in the face of modern threats.
Winning the Battle of the Airfields
Seventy Years of RAND Analysis on Air Base Defense and Attack
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- How has RAND analysis of ABD/A contributed to the resiliency of U.S. air power?
- What enduring lessons do RAND's seven decades of work on ABD/A provide?
From the dawn of the air power age to today, airfields have been recognized as essential military facilities, and combatants have gone to great lengths to destroy enemy aircraft on the ground (where they are most vulnerable) and to deny the use of airfields through attacks on runways, fuel storage, and other supporting assets.
The RAND Corporation has worked on issues related to analyzing air base defense and attack (ABD/A) for 70 years — supporting the analysis of its U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. Air Force (USAF) sponsors and sometimes leading the way. This report documents and highlights RAND's many contributions to the analysis of ABD/A over time and identifies enduring insights for improving the resiliency of U.S. air bases in the face of modern threats.
RAND has made far-reaching contributions to the resiliency of U.S. air power, and sometimes led the way
- Over seven decades, RAND analysis has responded to an ever-evolving geopolitical, military, and technological landscape in step with its DoD and USAF sponsors, but, given RAND's charter, it was not entirely bound by them.
- At critical junctures, RAND led its DoD and USAF sponsors, identifying emerging threats to air bases and potential solutions well before the broader community acknowledged them.
- RAND's greatest contributions were in its disciplined and creative application of more formal analytical tools to the problem of ABD/A. RAND researchers invented and applied these tools so that the relative utility of various offensive and defensive concepts could be measured systematically.
RAND analysis of ABD/A offers several enduring insights
- Air bases have always been, and are likely to remain, priority targets in wars. This is true because air power is an element that must be countered to prevail in conflict, and air bases are specific points of vulnerability.
- Air base attackers will rarely limit themselves to a single attack mode.
- There are no simple or cheap means to defend air bases.
- Aircraft dispersal on and across bases has renewed salience for air base defense. Distributed operations present a host of challenges but are often easier to implement than other passive defense options and do not require massive investments in infrastructure at bases that may not be needed in the next war.
- ABD/A is best understood from a systems perspective.
Table of Contents
A Statistical Overview of RAND Research on Air Base Attack and Defense, 1951–2020
Nuclear Threats to U.S. Air Force Bases in the United States and Europe, 1950–1959
A Shift Toward Conventional and Offensive Operations, 1960–1969
Conventional Warfare in Central Europe, 1970–1989
Era of Rear Area Sanctuary for the U.S. Air Force, 1990–2009
Anti-Access Threat to U.S. Bases Reinvigorates Analysis of Air Base Defense, 2010–2020
Statistics on Report Authors and Co-Author Networks
First Authors by Decade
Chronological Listing of Publicly Available RAND Reports on Air Base Attack or Defense
Research conducted by
The research described in this report was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted within RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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