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Old 11-12-2017, 08:25 PM   #1
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Post The Viggen and its important anti-ship role - a case study

A bit of a disclaimer first; I'm yet to actually get DCS and the Viggen (I'm holding off until I can get a new computer, so please don't hit me!), but in the meantime I've researched some stuff just out of personal curiosity. I'm by no means an expert on matters of aircraft or aerial combat (or military stuff in general), my knowledge is pretty much limited to what I'm presenting here, nor do I have first hand experience with the sim, its engine, mission editing, multiplayer and so on for the reason I mentioned. So take this for what it's worth and forgive me if I'm missing anything that should be common knowledge or obvious among real flight nerds and DCS users. Also, "case study" might not be the proper term for this but it sounds cool and important so I'll go with it because I feel like it and you can't stop me! Anyway, let's move on.

As many of you know, the speciality of the attack version of the Viggen was anti-ship operations. Both the design of the aircraft and the doctrine and tactics used by the AJ(S) 37 units revolved heavily around this scenario. So I figured it would be of great interest and relevance with some insight into this scenario and the plans around it. It should hopefully come in handy when designing missions and campaigns or just flying the Viggen in general (or just out of curiosity). And it might be interesting for use in other cases as well. Some of it you might have heard before (especially if you're a Viggen nerd) but hopefully I can bring something new to the table or at least present it in a somewhat gathered format.

This will mainly focus on the cold war era ('70s and '80s) and will therefore primarily cover the Viggen in its pre AJS upgrade configuration, the original AJ 37 (the AJS 37 program started around 1991). But I don't think it will cause any major obstacles, except maybe when it comes to weapon loadouts. However you're of course free to ignore all that and just fly the AJS 37 as it is.

If you think anything should be added or you see any errors, let it be known.

Let's take the whole history from the begining:
The AJ(S) 37 Viggen was capable of carrying out a variety of strike missions. But throughout its service during the cold war the "big one" was the anti-ship role. This mission was prioritized above all else and would in reality have been its only mission, since the Swedish Air Force planned to carry it out with such high frequency and aggression that the AJ 37 squadrons were expected to be depleted within the opening stages of the war (!).

In the words of air force lieutenant Björn Bjuggren:
"We have to deploy E1 ruthlessly, we have to strike hard and we have to strike quickly so we can repeat our strikes. We have to deploy the greatest possible strength from the start. Do not save aircraft and missiles for later. By then it may be too late."
"E1" refers to "Första Flygeskadern" ("First Air Group") which was the unit all air attack squadrons belonged to, and which Björn Bjuggren commanded between 1952 and 1964. E1 was a special unit since it obeyed directly under the swedish supreme commander ("Överbefälhavaren" or "ÖB" for short), unlike the rest of the armed forces which were commanded by their respective military district commander (including the rest of the air force). Because of this E1 was commonly referred to as "ÖB:s Klubba", which roughly translates into "The SUPCOM's War Hammer". In other words - E1 was a precious and valuable tool only to be disposed of in important matters. Hitting targets of high strategic value was the only option, with the anti-ship mission being on top. In case the expected amphibious invasion didn't happen and the Warsaw Pact instead decided to invade via the north, through Finland, E1's mission would have been interdiction; hitting bridges, supply lines, communications, etc. Another important aspect of E1 was that it was more or less the only major unit within the swedish armed forces that could be available within short notice. Since Sweden relied upon conscription to man its military it would take at least two-three days to fully mobilize it, but the air force pilots were of course full time employes and could thus be ready within just a few hours.

So why was the anti-ship role so highly prioritized then? Well, one of the two main conflict scenarios Sweden expected to find itself in in case the cold war went hot was an attack over the Baltic Sea (the other being an attack via Finland, as mentioned above). And this attack was expected to be spearheaded by an amphibious assault carried out by a reinforced WP marine infantry brigade, whos job would be to capture a bridgehead with one or more major ports that the main invasion force could then be shipped over to (motor rifle regiments presumably). So if the initial amphibious assault force could be prevented from reaching swedish territory they wouldn't be able to seize a bridgehead, and without a bridgehead there won't be anywhere to send reinforcements to, and thus there would be no invasion. Even if the amphibious assault force managed to cross and reach their target more or less intact the losses inflicted upon them would hopefully complicate things for them and give the swedish army enough time to mobilize and launch a counter-attack on the bridgehead. The WP's number of transport and cargo ships (both military and civilian) was believed to be high, but their number of specialized landing crafts (such as the Ropucha class) necessary for an amphibious assault was considered to be rather low. Which was yet another reason to focus on wearing down the assault force as much as possible. Other than E1 the assault force would also have to get through the swedish navy and coastal artillery.

As mentioned above, all AJ 37 squadrons were organized under E1. There were three air wings flying the AJ 37 during this period, with a total of 5,5 squadrons. The reason it wasn't a full 6 was because the second group of the 152. squadron was used to train pilots on the Viggen system, and was thus equipped with the two seated Sk 37 instead.

The units flying the AJ 37 were:

6th Air Wing (F 6), based in Karlsborg:
* 61. air attack squadron, Filip Röd (Foxtrot Red)
* 62. air attack squadron, Filip Blå (Foxtrot Blue)

7th Air Wing (F 7), based in Såtenäs:

* 71. air attack squadron, Gustav Röd (Golf Red)
* 72. air attack squadron, Gustav Blå (Golf Blue)

15th Air Wing (F 15), based in Söderhamn:

* 151. air attack squadron, Olle Röd (Oscar Red)
* 152. air attack group, Olle Blå (Oscar Blue)

One squadron in the air consisted of 8 aircraft, divided into two groups of 4. The remaining available aircraft and pilots would be held in reserve. So an E1 at full force consisted of 44 aircraft.

E1's commander was referred to as "C E1" ("Chefen för E1", literally "Commander of E1" in english. Who would have thought?!). C E1 either takes orders from the SUPCOM or the commander of a military district in case the SUPCOM temporarily assigns E1 to him, which was a planned possibility. But I don't think that would have been the case in the anti-ship role, so it's not that relevant here.

The Swedish Air Force had a system of dispersed basing of its squadrons during the cold war, called "Bas 60" and later developed into "Bas 90". This meant in case of war the squadrons would disperse over a large number of wartime air bases, which were military airfields with regular runways. There were also road runways as backup bases. The goal was to have each base house one or half squadrons of aircraft (so 4-8 aircrafts, plus reserves presumably). Since there is no scandinavian map or air bases of swedish configuration in DCS at the moment (?) this aspect might be difficult recreate. But E1's bases were mostly concentrated towards the inner parts of the country in order to give some protection, whereas the fighter squadrons tended to have their wartime bases closer to the coast in order to get up and intercept approaching hostiles as early as possible.

In the anti-ship role the Rb 04 was obviously the weapon of choice during this time period (Rb 15 came with the AJS modification), but most of the AJ 37's weaponry was planned for use in the anti-ship role. Since the Rb 04 could only be used at open sea the other weapons were needed for attacking targets in port, near the coast or in archipelagos.

If my knowledge is correct, weapons config was up for the squadron leader to decide. According to a post (down in the comments, here is a screencap of the comment in question) in the Viggen group on Facebook a common anti-ship loadout was alternative "043", which consisted of x5 Rb 04, x2 KB pods and x1 U22 pod per group. I don't know how reliable or accurate that post is, but it sound plausible. But any reasonable mix of Rb 04's + countermeasure pods should do the trick. Not that there are any real alternatives when you exclude the Rb 15...

The original AJ 37 could not carry Sidewinders (Rb 24) on its outer pylons, so if you want to stay authentic to the time period they will have to go. It could however carry the AIM-4 Falcon (Rb 28 ) on them, but the case of their usage seems unclear. Some sources claim they were effectively obsolete due to their bad performance, but others claim they were cleared for use in wartime. And of course those missiles aren't even in DCS to begin with. Maybe the Rb 24 could be used as a "surrogate" if desired? The question is if it's worthwhile bringing the extra weight when you're flying an anti-ship mission and already carrying bulky missiles and countermeasure pods. Considering all the heavy AA cover you'll be flying through it seems preferable to just hug the deck and leave the the air-to-air missiles at home.

(Or you can just not give a **** and fly with whatever missiles you want)

The target:
The intended target of an amphibious assault force was estimated to consist of a core of transport and landing crafts carrying a reinforced marine infantry brigade onboard, covered by inner and outer protective screens of combat vessels (including ships with heavy AA, obviously) and minesweepers. Fighter cover was likely as well. The fleet was expected to travel with 1 nautical mile of spacing between ships, at a speed of 10 knots. Crossing the Baltic Sea from the baltic coast to the swedish east coast would take about 10-12 hours. Crossing from East-Germany/Poland to the swedish south coast would take 4-6 hours.

There was a lot of debate whether E1 should focus on taking out the escort first or go directly for the transport ships. Taking out the escort and their AA would make it easier to target the transports in subsequent strikes, but at the risk of exhausting the squadrons before they even had a chance to target the transports. Sinking combat vessels would also help even odds for the numerically inferior swedish navy. Going directly for the transports would be the preferable choice, but with the AA cover still intact it would be very risky and increase the number of losses.

Here are three examples of how the invasion fleet was expected to look like, based on swedish intelligence:

This example was used in an exercise in 1972:

From the infograph "Sveriges Ödestimma 1968":

This example is shown in the book "Svenskt Flyg Under Kalla Kriget":
(this one seems a bit "unstructured" compared to the other two)

As you can see there are some differences between the scenarios presented in these examples. And they're all taken from the late '60s and early '70s, before the Viggen was operational. But for the sake of simplicity and lack of other sources we'll assume that some variation of this configuration would have been the case through the duration of the cold war, with the actual ships involved in the operation depending on the exact timeframe (as you can see the ships are mostly unspecified). Someone with more insight into the WP's baltic navy of the '70s and '80s could perhaps elaborate. Not that it matters much anyway since most (none?) of these ships are in DCS at the moment.

Looking at real world amphibious exercises the WP held, we got Zapad -81 where about 90 combat vessels and about 70 transport ships and landing crafts participated. Another exercise in 1986 included 7 Aist-class hovercrafts, 1 Ivan Rogov and 2 merchant ships. To what degree these exercises reflected a real operation is uncertain.

It's worthwhile pointing out that the general historical consensus is that the the WP's amphibious forces in the baltic were primarily intended for operations against West-Germany and Denmark. And Sweden didn't (necessarily) expect all of the WP's baltic fleet capability to be used against them. Post-cold war research suggests that Sweden, and maybe NATO as well, overestimated the WP's amphibious warfare capabilities. But that's another story.

A few things are unclear to me though: regarding taking out the escort first or not, I'm not sure if they mean the outer or the inner most screens. Because all of the available illustrations and examples presumably only include the transports proximity defense and none of the outer screens. Because otherwise the number of ships seems rather low. And considering that the Rb 04 couldn't target discriminate (unless we count the group targeting mode) it seems like a pretty irrelevant discussion anyway. Perhaps someone else can shed some light on this issue?

Another question is regarding WP air cover: would it be carried out by their frontal aviation (VVS) or air defense aviation (PVO), or both?

The primary tactical behaviour was flying in groups (4 aircraft). This was highly emphasized, AJ 37 pilots were never to act individually. This was both for tactical and morale/psychological reasons. This was reflected in how weapon loadouts were configured; a group would carry the appropriate mix of weapons and countermeasures in order to support each other.

The AJ 37 squadrons utilized extreme low level flying at high speeds (around Mach 1) to approach their target(s). Peacetime restrictions were 20 m above ground/treetops and 10 m above water. A typical attack run consisted of rapidly climbing a few kilometers before the target area, identifying your target, fire/drop weapons and then get back down on the deck and egress.

In the anti-ship scenario we're discussing here the basic plan was to use all of E1 in one single big, coordinated strike on the invasion fleet. And keep on repeating that until E1 was depleted. Hopefully having brought a large chunk of the enemies gross tonnage down with them. Based on exercises and simulations, the expected strike frequency for E1 lied around every two hours or so.

A more specific and detailed description of how a AJ 37 squadron would carry out an anti-ship strike isn't available (I don't know of any at least). There is however good documentation of how it was made with the A 32 (the preceding aircraft), and it seems like most of the tactics remained unchanged with the AJ 37. The descriptions vary slightly between sources. I'm presenting them as is here:

According to "Svenskt Flyg Under Kalla Kriget":

The mission from start to finish:
1. Once the start order has been recieved the squadron takes off pair wise, with 30 seconds intervals between pairs. The standard finger-four formation is utilized through most of the mission.
2. With the A 32 it was necessary to stop and refuel at a base closer to the coast, but I don't think this was the case with the AJ 37. So let's ignore that for now.
3. After passing a certain point (the island of Gotland is used in this instance) the squadron descends to attack altitude (ca 10 meters).
4. One group positions itself 30 seconds behind the other. 30 km from the target the squadron engages their afterburners and rapidly climbs to 300 m and turn on their radars.
5. At 20 kilometers from the target the lead group fires their first missiles and at 10 km their second ones, then immidietly descends back to low altitude and starts egressing in pairs. The following group repeats the procedure 30 seconds after the first one. During the return flight the squadron flies in "defensive formation", which is 5 km spacing between the groups.
6. Before passing the coastline the squadron climbs to a higher altitude in order to show themselves to friendly radars and thus avoid friendly fire.
7. The squadron then lands at a nearby base for refueling, and either fly back to their home base afterwards or are reloaded for another sortie. Uncertain if the Viggen needed to make a stop for refueling before heading back to the main base.

The attack run itself:

1. The group closes in on their target just 10 m above sea level, under radio silence and with radars off.
2. About 30 km from the target afterburners are engaged and a rapid climb to a few hundred meters is made. Radars are now turned on. Only about half of the A 32 fleet was eqiupped with radar and would have a navigator on board during a mission, so the other aircrafts were dependant on these for navigation and targeting.
3. The navigator in the lead aircraft allocates targets. The navigators in the other aircrafts gives "steering orders" to their respective pilots so their aircrafts are alligned with their intended target. The Rb 04's own radar is now active.
4. About 20 km from the target the navigator issues an "all clear" order. The pilot fires the first missile (the aircraft following him does the same).
5. The second missile is fired about 10 km from the target. But this missile is fired in a slightly different direction from the first one, either to the left or right depending on where in the formation the aircraft is (the aircraft following him does the same).
6. The group splits up into pairs to protect themselves from AA and enemy fighters, and descends back down to 10 m.
Here is in illustration for the six steps above, to help make sense of it:

According to "Sveriges ödestimma 1968":
1. One group (4 aircraft) flies towards the target at 800 km/h at an altitude of 10 m.
2. 80 km from the target one or more aircraft(s) climb to 50-100 m in order to make a radar scan, and then climbs back down to 10 m.
3. 40 km from the target the aircrafts climb to 50 m and fires their missiles and then egress.

The attack is structured so that first a wave of four groups attack and then the remaining units attack in waves of two groups with 5-10 minute intervals. This is to give struck ships time to sink and not "attract" following missiles.
There are some obvious differences compared to how it would (probably) have been done during the Viggen era. The main one is that every Viggen aircraft had its own radar and navigator (although computerized) and thus weren't as dependant on their lead aircrafts and such. Another is the improved version of the Rb 04, which has both longer range (30 km instead of 20 km) and the ability to be fired in group targeting or home-in-on-jam mode. The method of firing off the second missiles in a different direction as described above could still potentially be useful though (?). Common praxis was to target each ship with two missiles, except for larger or special ships (such as cruisers) which were to be targeted with four missiles.

Except for the attacking in 5-10 minute intervals thing, the coordination of the attack is not discussed in any meaningful detail in these examples. Do all squadrons gather up in the air somewhere before the target and attack from the same direction, or do they plan the strike so they make their way to the target on their own but arrive at the same time and attack from different directions? That depends entirely on more exact details of the scenario and situation at hand I assume.

The radio silence is another important and interesting thing. It's mentioned both in writing and in interviews with former pilots that the missions were flown in complete radio silence, so having a detailed and agreed upon plan for the whole flight was essential. The radio silence was complemented by radar silence right up until the point of the attack itself. Seeing this done in DCS would be quite interesting.

And that's all, for now at least. I hope you enjoyed it and find some good use for it.

* ÖB:s Klubba (2010), ISBN: 9789185789740
* Svenskt Flyg Under Kalla Kriget (2016), ISBN: 9789173291347
* Sveriges Ödestimma 1968 (2004)
* A few other sources as well, most of them in renhanuxes Viggen documentation thread

Insignias and stuff:

Första Flygeskadern, E1 (First Air Group):

61. squadron, Filip Röd (Foxtrot Red):

62. squadron, Filip Blå (Foxtrot Blue):

71. squadron, Gustav Röd (Golf Red):

72. squadron, Gustav Blå (Golf Blue):

151. squadron, Olle Röd (Oscar Red):

152. group, Olle Blå (Oscar Blue):

Miscellaneous debris:
Here is some stuff that may not be directly related to the topic at hand, but still interesting or amusing.

* The Viggen was by all accounts incredibly field friendly and easy to maintain. Full turnaround of an aircraft could be performed in 10-20 minutes. During an exercise in 1983, when part of the flight operations were relocated to a civilian airport acting as a backup base after the ordinary base was "destroyed", two men (one flight technician and one conscripted mechanic) were able to perform full turnaround on four AJ 37's in just 40 minutes! The overall availability on the aircrafts that participated in the exercise never fell below 90%. Out of the 460 air strikes carried out during the exercise 360 were deemed to have an effect on target, which was seen as an excellent result.

* As mentioned at the beginning, it was expected that E1 would have a very high loss rate and be depleted quickly. In the early '60s it was estimated that 23% of the flying units would be lost per day. The attack frequency for E1 was expected to lie around every two hours, and each flight crew was expected to manage three to five sorties per day for ten days.

* The Rb 05 was unpopular among both pilots and in the air force in general. C E1 openly said he didn't want that type of missile for the AJ 37 and pointed towards the poor performance of MCLOS weapons in Vietnam and the Middle East. A TV-guided version of the Rb 05 was in development but was cancelled in favour of the Rb 75 (Maverick).

* During the U137 incident (also known as the "Whisky on the rocks" incident) in 1981 two groups of AJ 37's from F 6 were kept on standby at all times throughout the ten days that the incident lasted. This included flying patrol missions. Their job would have been to engage the group of ships lead by a Kashin destroyer that were waiting outside the swedish maritime border, in case they decided sail in and liberate the stranded sub. This was probably the closest the Viggen and the Rb 04 ever came to being used for real.

* A number of foreign aircrafts were studied as alternatives to aquiring the Viggen. Including the Buccaner, F-111, F-4 and even the TSR-2. Out of these the F-4 was the most interesting and was an option as late as 1966. The F-4 had superior range and weapons carrying capacity, but the Viggen had more modern and better avionics and operational costs lower by about 30%. And the F-4 could not achieve the desired STOL capability without ground infrastructure.

* 48 AJ 37 were modified to AJS 37 standard, out of the ~80 remaining aircraft in inventory. 13 SF 37 (the photo recce version) and 25 SH 37 (the maritime patrol version) were also modified to AJSF 37 and AJSH 37 respectively. The AJS 37 remained in service until the year 2000 and the AJSF/AJSH 37 remained in service until 2005.

* E1 was disbanded in 1995, when the Swedish Air Force was restructured into three geographical air commands.

* In the 1970's the then in development fighter version of the Viggen (JA 37) was marketed as the "Eurofighter" in an attempt to export the aircraft. Here is an old article reporting on it.

* Layout for an AJ 37 flightline position at an air base in 1974:

* Remember that part about the Warsaw Pact amphibious warfare capabilities likely being overestimated? Well, here is an excerpt from a french analysis from the early 1980's:
(the citation for this simply says "Coutau-Bégarie", who as far as I can tell was a french maritime strategic analyst)
The Soviet fleet's amphibious resources remain extremely feeble. The main landing vessels during the 1960's were the Polnotsny barges with less than 1 000 t, incapable of carrying men and equipment over a long distance. The appearance of the Alligator lighters, with 4 500 t, represented a big step forward. During the 1970's, they were followed by the Ropucha, of equivalent tonnage, and in 1978, came the first really ocean-going vessel, the Ivan Rogov, with 13 000 t; it features a very complex design and carries one battalion which it can put ashore by means of conventional barges, by helicopters, or by hydrofoil vessels. But their number is very insufficient. Right now there are 55 Polnotsny, 14 Alligator, 11 Ropucha, and a single Ivan Rogov. A second Ivan Rogov is under construction. To this we can add the ships of the merchant navy among which three types are particularly useful for amphibious operations: 12 recent passenger vessels of 16 500-20 000 t, from the Byelorussia and Ivan Franko classes, which would make excellent troop transports; two barge carriers of 38 000 t, of the Yulus Eushik class, each carrying 26 barges of 1 300 t; and a score of vessels, including four Magnitogorsk of 22 500 t, which proved their effectiveness during the Ethiopian affair. In 1979, a hospital ship, the first of its kind, was commissioned; it is the Ob, built in Poland. This kind of vessel is justified only with a view to remote operations. In 1981, the Yenissey, an identical vessel, joined it. But, for the time being, this amphibious potential does not give the Soviet Union any real overseas intervention capacity:
"Soviet air transport amounts to only half of what the American aircraft can carry in terms of millions of tons per mile and per day (their aircraft have a shorter action radius than those of their American equivalents and they can not be refueled in flight); the Soviet amphibious fleet can carry only 1/3 of the American capacity. The Soviet Marines (although they number 12 000 men, they are twice as strong as 10 years ago) do not amount to 1/15 of the size of the U.S. Marine Corps; it remains an assault force, which has be resupplied after a week, whereas the Marines can remain in action for a month without outside resupply. Even with the entry into service of the STOL aircraft of the Kiev vessels, Soviet shipboard aviation cannot rival the American shipboard aircraft in terms of action radius, endurance, and firepower. The USSR cannot attain the sophistication and effectiveness of the American resupply operations when the forces are under way; in the absence of sufficient shipboard aviation. Soviet resupply in a combat environment would be totally unfeasible." (Strategic Survey 1973, p. 12)
Nevertheless, the progress made during the 1970's must not be underestimated: Although the Ropucha and Alligator vessels do not have an ocean-going capability, they would nevertheless be quite sufficient for operations in close-in areas, such as the Baltic or Turkish straits, or Manchuria.

Last edited by Farks; 11-15-2017 at 02:42 PM.
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