We’ve talked before about how the post-Vietnam era Army found itself facing down an enormous Soviet Group of Forces in East Germany, and struggling to find a way to deter them from rolling over NATO forces.
The standard Soviet tactic was the echelon attack. A US brigade might find itself under attack by a full Soviet Motor-Rifle Division. Fair enough. As a rule of thumb, units in the defense are expected to be able to handle an attack by a force up to three times their size. The problem came when the second echelon of Soviet forces would slam into our US brigade, before they have had time to reset after the first attack. And if the second echelon didn’t break through, there was a third echelon behind that. Sooner or later, our US brigade would be overwhelmed.
The key to defeating the echelon attack was to disrupt the follow-on second and third echelons. We’ve discussed the Cobra and Apache attack helicopters in the deep strike role. And the Air Force would do its part by performing interdiction missions, dropping bridges, disrupting supply and fuel depots.
But there was another tactic, designed to compliment the strenghts and minimize the weaknesses of attack helicopters and close air support aircraft like the A-10. That was the Joint Air Attack Team, or JAAT. Utilizing artillery, scout and attack helicopters, Airborne Forward Air Controllers, and close air support aircraft like the A-10, a JAAT could overwhelm the air defenses of a Soviet unit and pound it into the dirt. Even if the unit wasn’t destroyed, it would be so disrupted that it couldn’t keep to its schedule. This would buy our defending ground brigade time to reset from the first echelon and prepare for its attack.
Here’s a training film from either the late 70’s or early 80’s showing the basic concept.
With the exception of the A-10, all the platforms shown have been replaced. The M-60 tanks have been replaced by M-1s, the OH-58 scouts by updated OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, the AH-1Qs by AH-64s, and the OV-10 by modified OA-10A’s. Still, the basic concept is still a viable one.
There were a couple of real challenges to making a JAAT work. First, airspace management. It can be a real challenge making sure artillery rounds and airplanes don’t occupy the same airspace. For obvious reasons, the aviators, both Army and Air Force are kinda picky about that. There’s also the challenge of making sure the helicopters and fixed wing air know where each other are, to avoid collisions.
The other challenge was timeliness. It takes some time to put a JAAT together. If the JAAT takes too long to assemble, it can miss its chance to catch the follow on echelon. But if units have trained together before, and have worked out the kinks, it can be put together much more quickly.