Defending the Aerial Threat with Small Arms

dronehuntingGuerrillamerica – by John Mosby

“Technology is a product of human ingenuity. If one man can imagine something, I guarantee you that another man, somewhere, can imagine a way to f**k it up.”  –SSG John Mosby, U.S. Army Special Forces, northern Afghanistan, 2002

Perhaps the single most critical tactical advantage that conventional security forces hold over resistance guerrilla elements is the air threat. The ability to project force through close-air support (CAS) via ground-attack fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as the growing application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)/”drones,” is a dangerous threat to irregular forces. The unavailability of traditional anti-aircraft weapons such as surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and anti-aircraft artillery, in any useful number, serves as a demoralizing impediment for potential future American guerrillas.  

There is, however, a historically proven method for guerrilla forces to engage and counter airborne threats utilizing individual small-arms. During the Vietnam War, according to the U.S. Army historical record, we lost over 400 fixed-wing and over 2100 rotary-wing assets to enemy small-arms fire. The relatively common presence of special application, heavy sniper systems further facilitates this method of active air defense by potential future guerrillas as well. It is critical to understand, however, that while there is ample historical evidence of the validity of this method of air defense, any current U.S. military doctrine on the matter is strictly theoretical. The doctrinal emphasis and successful implementation of gaining immediate air superiority has rendered the requirement for this application by U.S. infantry forces irrelevant for most of the last three-quarters of a century (in point of fact, outside of some anecdotal stories from World War Two, I don’t know of a single example of this method being used by U.S. forces since.—J.M.)

Small-arms air defense incorporates the application of volume fire at proper aiming points appropriate to the target aircraft. The key is an adequate volume of fire. The more projectiles the guerrilla element can put in the air in the path of the aircraft, the greater their chances of bringing down the aircraft. Even in the event that these fires do not directly destroy or damage the aircraft, it may intimidate the pilot enough to cause fatal error on his part, causing the aircraft to crash (especially in the CAS role in alpine and urban terrain).

The most critical element of using massed volume fire for air defense is that once the lead distance aiming point is established, all riflemen should continue firing at the same aiming point, until the aircraft has passed. Maintain the aiming point, not the lead distance. Upon commencement of fires, the riflemen should not adjust their weapons.

Synchronized fire from special application heavy sniper systems, aimed at the pilot’s windscreen can have an especially effective result when applied during low-level flight, and/or take-off/landing operations (such as during air-land troop transport or FRIES “fast rope” operations). Even if the rounds do not penetrate the windscreen and kill or wound the aircrew, the startle response may be enough to crash the aircraft, or dump infantry personnel out the open sides, leading to their death/injury.

The decision to engage enemy aircraft with small-arms is strictly situation dependent and should be based on METT-TC. The chances of a two-man buddy team bringing down an Apache or MH-60 with 5.56x45mmNATO or 7.62x51mmNATO are slim, at best. In such cases, it may be more prudent to simply hide from sight until the aircraft has left the immediate area, and engage the landed infantry. Nevertheless, when being actively engaged with CAS fires, with nothing to lose, the guerrilla force has the option of using small-arms air defense fires in self-defense.

Every weapon must be utilized to engage the target. The goal is to create a virtual “wall-of-lead” that the pilot must fly through. Each individual selects an aiming point in the flight path of the aircraft, based on the doctrinal “football field method.” The simplest method for determining lead for small-arms active air defense, the football field method will result in everyone in the element providing interdiction fires at the same approximate point. Any error on the part of one shooter will be accommodated by the opposite error by another shooter. These variations will ensure that the massed volume of fire fills an area in the path of the aircraft instead of one small, avoidable point.

The appropriate aiming point depends on the targeted aircraft’s characteristics and its path of travel in relation to the unit. Doctrinally, fixed-wing aircraft should be engaged by aiming two football fields ahead of the aircraft’s nose, unless the plane is flying directly “toward” the guerrillas. In the latter case, the aiming point is “slightly above” the nose of the aircraft.

Rotary-wing aircraft at the hover should be engaged by aiming slightly above the aircraft’s body. If the aircraft is crossing the guerrillas’ field of view from side-to-side, the appropriate aiming point is one-half of a football field in front of the aircraft’s nose. (Current doctrine mandates the same aiming point for UAV “drones” as for rotary-wing aircraft.)

A coordinated, high-volume of small-arms fire can achieve effective results in active air defense for the guerrilla force. Precision is typically not necessary. Fire should be delivered on command rather than at the discretion of the individual. It is imperative that every fighter fire as rapidly as possible, until either all ammunition is expended or the command is given to “cease fire.” Unless the element can create the requisite “wall of metal,” the aircraft will not sustain enough damage for relatively small-caliber weapons to have the necessary effect.

Nous Defions!
John Mosby,
Somewhere in the mountains

John Mosby is a former Army Ranger and Green Beret, and the author of the Mountain Guerrilla blog.



One thought on “Defending the Aerial Threat with Small Arms

  1. Didn’t I see this tactic in the movie, “Pearl Harbor” where Ben Affleck flies his plane past the air tower and before that he tells Tom Sizemore and his gang to be ready to shoot after he passes by because he will be luring the Japanese plane and to fire at it at just at the right moment it passes by them?

    Anyone remember that part? This seems like what the author is talking about to me. It worked in the movie.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.