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Ground Attack Aircraft

Ground Attack Aircraft. World War I established the requirements for ground attack airplanes: armored aircraft, capable of high speed but also maneuverable and agile at low speeds and altitudes, equipped with multiple machine guns and bomb delivery capability. In World War II, the German Ju‐87 “Stuka” dive‐bomber spearheaded the early success of blitzkrieg operations and triggered increased interest in ground attack aircraft. Improved air defense capabilities and changes in battlefield doctrine created a less permissive operating environment, making the advantages of designated ground attack aircraft less obvious as World War II progressed. The Korean War revived the controversy over fast versus slow air speeds, high‐ versus low‐altitude strikes, air‐ground communication, and air control links.

In recent years, the U.S. Air Force has preferred to build air‐ground capabilities into its general purpose fighter and medium bomber aircraft, like the F‐111 and the F‐16. Still, its fixed‐wing gunships (the AC‐47 and the AC‐130) played an important role in the Vietnam War, and the A‐10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft did yeoman's duty in the Persian Gulf War. The army has developed the AH‐64 “Apache” attack helicopter and other rotary‐wing aircraft; the Marine Corps has acquired both fixed‐wing ground attack aircraft, including the AV‐8B “Harrier,” and attack helicopters such as the AH‐1 “Cobra.”

Airmen and soldiers agree on the potentially decisive nature of air‐ground attack, but have reached no consensus on the best platform for delivering such firepower. The increasing lethality of the modern battlefield for all aircraft in the era of heat‐seeking technology and laser‐guided missiles keeps the debate over air‐ground aviation alive.
[See also Air Force Combat Organizations: Tactical Air Forces; Air Warfare.]


Richard P. Hallion , Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911–1945, 1989.
Benjamin Franklin Cooling, ed., Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support, 1990.

Caroline F. Ziemke

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