Defense Issues

Military and general security

Forward air controller aircraft proposal revised

Posted by Picard578 on August 16, 2014

Historical lessons

Since UAVs are very bad at actual observation (except maybe as an inexpensive help for individual infantry platoons, controlled by those same platoons), this aircraft will also be manned. Aside from this concern, UAVs are also not adaptable.

First airborne FACs appeared during World War I. In that war, aircraft were employed for surveillance due to ground commander’s difficulties in interpreting the unfolding battlespace. First aircraft used had a crew of two, a pilot and an observer who would sketch the situation for the ground commander; information was later used to make battlefield maps, and aircraft also helped in directing artillery barrages. This led directly to development of CAS fighters and interceptors: some observers started dropping small bombs from aircraft on enemy positions or strafe trenches with guns, and both sides tried to prevent the enemy scouting.

Observations made were often inaccurate – strength of enemy formations could be misreported by thousands. However, information was provided far sooner by airborne observers than by other means, though development of CAS (and thus FAC) doctrine was being neglected in favor of failed strategic bombing deep behind enemy lines; only in 1917 did France and Germany realize its true value.

Interwar period led to the separation of FAC and CAS duties, since performing CAS often led to the FACs neglecting their primary duty. Only US Marine Corps, having no separate air service, was able to concentrate aircraft on CAS duties. And while World War II led to many (soon forgotten) improvements in carrying out CAS missions, appearance of airborne forward air controller had to wait until Korean war. While doctrine did permit use of airborne FAC in air-to-ground operations, there was no equipment allocated for such function, nor was any training undertaken specifically for the mission.

Forward controller did appear during World War II, but he was located on the ground, guiding aircraft to targets in his view. First such use was during battle of El Hamma in North Africa, and then in Battle of Salerno. Large scale employment of forward ground controllers happened during march up Italy; they would describe target and its AA defenses to friendly pilots. Similar system was used in the Pacific. Still, there were no airborne FACs; closest thing to airborne FAC to appear were reconnaissance aircraft, which could call artillery strikes on target, and would sometimes request airstrike, physically leading fighters to the target.

In Korea, after jet fighters (F-80 and F-86) had proven themselves too fast and with too limited loiter time to serve as an effective FACs, airborne Air Force FACs flying T-6 Texan aircraft marked targets for air strike with 60 mm marking rockets, or coordinated artillery smoke shells as a common reference point. During retreat, ground FACs were unable to coordinate strikes for fast jets, which had only 20 minutes on station, and this duty fell to the airborne FACs (known as Mosquitos). On 9th July 1950, Mosquitos were first used for direct air strikes, with two FACs arriving into target area ahead of 20 F-80s and guiding them into attacks on enemy positions. Same aircrews controlled F-80s next day, resulting in 17 North Korean tanks destroyed. Additionally, Mosquitos performed tactical reconnaissance over the front line, and were soon given authority to autonomously call for air strikes when required.

It wasn’t unusal for Army observers to fly in back seats of T-6s, a practice that had started within one month of the FAC operation. And with time, observers became familiar with environment they were operating in, greatly increasing their effectiveness – a worn out path or increased number of cooking fires in a village were possible indications of enemy activity in the area. Crews themselves concluded that an ideal FAC aircraft operated at low altitude, slow speed, provided good visibility for the pilot, had long endurance, good mobility and a robust communications package, excluding jet aircraft as FAC platforms. When squadrons flying T-6s were asked if they would like to switch to the O-1 Birddog, they noted its vulnerability to the ground fire.

A/FACs duties during the Korean war included tactical reconnaissance, locating and observing “refugee” groups in order to identify guerilla units, control of air strikes in vicinity of friendly troops, and control of pre-planned air strikes, penetrating reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines, dropping leaflets, continuous cover of convoys, search for bypassed enemy troops, covering advances of small units, providing transportation for isolated ground FACs, special weather missions. These missions grew from nature of FAC operations and characteristics of FAC aircraft, which must operate at least from first to last light. In the first 18 months of the Mosquito’s existence, 93% of all close support sorties were controlled from the air; Mosquito also became primary source of intelligence for the Joint Operations Center, and often performed visual reconnaissance both within the bombline and behind the enemy lines, as well as battlefield interdiction missions; after landing, pilots were debriefed at squadron for information on the enemy movements and positions, but understaffed nature of squadron intelligence sections prevented accurate and timely analysis and interpretation of data. Mosquitos were most usual source of CAS requests, and also often provided only reliable communication links for ROK units. Later on, system was additionally decentralized by introducing the C-47 Mosquito Mellow, which performed on-site command and control (such as tasking orders so that ammunition carried by strike aircraft is adequatly used) and in process cut the centralized and inefficient Joint Operations Center out of the loop. Mosquitos would also select what ordnance of avaliable would aircraft use.

First technique used for relaying target’s location to the attack aircraft was description via radio; this however had a high failure rate and clogged up the communications channel. Thus alternate methods of “wagging” wings in a descriptive manner (first used by a Mosquito whose radio went out during a first week of airborne FAC operations), executing a diving pass on the target and flying alongside fighter at the target and relaying need for correction in fighter’s gun shots were used. Aside from these descriptive techniques, FACs used target marking. In July 1950, first technique was devised; it consisted of dropping smoke-emitting or white-phosporous hand grenades from the T-6. However, it was difficult to drop the grenade accurately, and only 30% of grenades continued to smoke after hitting the ground; also existed a problem of prematurely-detonating grenades which could damage the Mosquito. About the same time, Mosquitos began carrying pistol flares, which like the grenades were inaccurate and had short duration of smoke. Third technique used artillery fire, with artillery burst being a reference point from which a vector and a distance to the target were given. In July, T-6s were outfitted with 2,36 in white-phosphorous HE rockets to mark the target. Rockets proved satisfactorily accurate and easily visible from the air. As a consequence of introducing the rockets, a reduction in radio transmission and increase in effectiveness and accuracy of attacks was observed. Marking rockets were also an effective weapon in their own right.

After the strike, A/FAC performed a bomb damage assessment. If target has not been neutralized, he asseses ability of the strike aircraft under his immediate control to perform a second attack in terms of remaining weapons and fuel endurance. If fighter can satisfy the requirements, strike is repeated; if not, fighter is released to return to the base, and a second fighter is called in, or requested from central command if none are avaliable under direct A/FACs command (or in its area of responsibility, if division is geographic). If target has been neutralized, FAC informes the pilot of attack aircraft to that effect, and assesses its ability to carry out a second attack and stay on station. After attack aircraft has either been determined to have a sufficient persistence remaining, or has been released and replaced with a fresh aircraft, FAC searches for additional targets. If none are found in its area of responsibility, FAC returns control of fighters assigned to him to a higher command, for a reassignment to an FAC that does have targets, and himself either returns to base or continues to provide visual reconnaissance. Mosquitos assigned directly to division as FACs were generally not allowed to perform deep reconnaissance by the ground commander, as doing so would prevent getting timely and effective CAS if needed. This however prevented Mosquitos from performing reconnaissance of the area behind the enemy lines (and even in 21st century, low-altitude recon is more effective than either ground, high-altitude or satellite recon) or supporting the behind-the-lines battlefield interdiction.

During the defense of the Pusan perimeter, USAF was short on the ground attack aircraft and Navy was asked to contribute some. Due to the difficulties in communication and limited endurance of Navy aircraft, same were eventually allowed to bypass the TACC and go straight to the Mosquitoes. After the first month, US ceased the practice of rotating aircraft over the entire front, as they realized that an observer who is familiar with the area can discover presence of enemy forces through changes in the terrain – such as color changes in the foliage.

Presence of FACs allowed UN commanders to monitor the entire frontline area, and restricted the enemy logistics and movement capability since trucks and trains are clearly visible from the air. Mosquitos did not operate during the night due to the insufficient number of aircraft for around-the-clock operations, lack of basic navigational equipment and difficulty of procuring strike aircraft at night. However, FAC losses were heavy, with one loss every 320 sorties (or 1 loss every 889 flying hours). As time passed, and importance of FACs was realized, flak damage to Mosquitos began to increase. In response, and due to difficulties in obtaining information from higher altitudes, Mosquitos began flying as low as 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground; for general reconnaissance, however, they flew at 1.200 to 1.500 feet (350 to 450 meters), even though 6.000 feet (1.800 meters) had been established as a minimum safe altitude.

In aircraft design, survivability was an important concern, with vital areas being armored. In fact, it often took precedence over the visibility, with T-6 being preferred over the L-5 and L-19. High wing was preferred for visibility towards the ground, however main obstacle in the T-6 was a relatively small canopy. It was still important to have a clear view upwards in order to see the aircraft being controlled; this view high wing obstructed. While some preferred twin-engined designs for survivability, actual usefulness of that measure is unclear, with chief causes of FAC casualties being pilot injury and fuel tank punctures. Preferred cruise speed was between 130 and 300 knots. High climb rate was also considered essential in order to avoid the ground fire after dropping low to mark or observe a target, and aircraft had to be maneuverable and responsive at slow speeds (one Mosquito discovered a set of tank tracks and followed them at an altitude of 10 feet). But most important concerns were possibly range and endurance, with ORO group suggesting seven-hour endurance as optimum, and T-6 was continually modified in order to increase the range; in the end, T-6 had range of over 1.000 miles. Group also suggested two seats, for the pilot and for the observer, with Carlton suggesting a third seat for the radio observer. Two seats would preferrably be in a tandem arrangement (observer behind the pilot) to allow observer better visibility. FAC aircraft were also preferably armed, in order to suppress any defenses, and destroy targets that do not require heavy firepower themselves so they don’t have to wait for the strike package (which might not even be avaliable at the time). However, such light targets sometimes presented potential build up points for the enemy forces, and thus opportunity for far more lucrative air strikes in the future. Ordnance also increased drag and reduced range, especially bombs. It was however generally agreed than FAC should have machine guns, preferably in .50 (12,7 mm) caliber, and mixing HE rockets with WP ones.

After Korean war, all lessons were (again, and fully intentionally) forgotten by the USAF. Increasing sophistication of ground threats resulted in claims that future FACs will have to be jet-powered, and US Strike Command manual on joint task force operations, released after Korean War, did not even mention airborne FACs. USAF was quickly left with no personnel, organization or equipment for airborne FAC operations.

In 1950, United States became involved in the Vietnam war with establishment of Military Assistance Advisory Group Indochina (MAACV-I), formed to help French forces stop Ho Chi Minh’s liberation campaign. France withdrew in the 1954, leaving a power vacuum after failling to establish a credible leadership in the South Vietnam. Until 1961, US assistance remained limited to low-scale training of South Vietnamese troops. But after Nikita Khruschev’s proclamation about USSR focusing on “national wars of liberation”, US DoD decided to established doctrines for counter-insurgency warfare; US Army and Navy established units specifically trained for unconventional warfare.

T-28B two-seater turboprop aircraft were given to the South Vietnamese; they could fly at slow speeds, loiter for hours and carry a large ordnance load. Aircraft selected received armor plating around vital components and cockpit, two .50 cal machine guns and ability to carry rockets and bombs. Crew usually consisted of an American pilot and a Vietnamese observer.

Early in 1962, with VietCong attacks against convoys increasing, president Kennedy escalated US involvement. This included FAC aircraft being used to monitor convoy progression and providing CAS when needed. Through the first half of 1963, no Vietcong managed to ambush convoys escorted by O-1 aircraft, while unescorted convoys were frequently attacked. Soon an Air Operations Center was established, centralizing control; just as in World War II and Korea, this had a negative effect on CAS aircraft performance, greatly increasing response time. South Vietnamese FACs were further hampered by two reasons: Diem’s insistence on personally approving any air strikes (fortunately, he soon lifted that requirement), and standing policy of South Vietnamese government encouraging severe punishment to VNAF FACs who landed with aircraft damaged by ground fire, or accidentally harmed friendly troops. These problems made Vietnamese FACs very passive and basically useless.

O-1 Birddog aircraft was small and capable of operating from remote air strips or dirt roads as short as 300 meters. They carried smoke rockets and were outfitted with an extra radio attached to back of pilot’s seat. Problem was that its engine was insufficiently powerful to power both radios at once, restricting its ability to communicate with both attacking aircraft and ground forces at once.

In January 1963, a negative development happened: in order to boost number of aircraft in the area, CINPAC ADM Harry Felt dropped the requirement for FAC personnel to have COIN training. By next month, Farm Gate detachment consisted of 42 aircraft and 275 personnell.

By 1964, VietCong and North Vietnamese Army alike had started using larger-calibre AA weapons. At the same time, US replaced the T-28 with larger A-1E, which could fly further and carry more ordnance. On 9th March 1965, 1st Air Commando Squadron aircraft were allowed to participate in combat operations in South Vietnam, without Vietnamese aircrews aboard and under US markings.

As of January 1965, there were 144 USAF airborne FACs in South Vietnam, a number set to drastically increase with full commitment of US forces later that year. ROE called for FACs to control all ordnance dropped in the South Vietnam.

While AFACs in Vietnam were very useful for directing air strikes, very often enemy would not be in the area once fast movers arrived. Thus FAC aircraft took to carrying their own armament, in effect turning into light CAS aircraft.

Various aircraft were utilized as AFACs during Vietnam war, but all had problems. O-1 was a light aircraft which only carried White Phosporous rockets for target marking and had no armament of its own. It was also slow; while this attribute is very useful for FAC aircraft – slow speed and low operating altitude are actually requirement for FAC – it had no armor, could not operate at night and did not have enough radios. O-2 had similar strengths and weaknesses as the O-1, but its two engines provided it with extra power, and it carried greater payload of smoke rockets. OV-10 and F-4 could carry their own weapons, but payload would not last for entire mission, and F-4 was too fast to serve as an effective AFAC.

FACs were usually colocated with troops they were supporting, O-1 Bird Dog had very long loiter time, as did OV-10 Bronco. OV-10 looked similar to P-38 Lightning, but could withstand 7 g turns, and both climbed and accelerated quickly; this allowed it to fly unpredictably, evading enemy fire. It was designed to give pilots very good view of the ground. Construction was very simple, and every system had a backup. Being armed allowed OV-10s to answer 78 of 98 CAS requests through April 4 to June 13, 1969, by themselves, and with average response time of seven minutes. OV-10s were first used by USMC in 1968, flying from Da Nang air field. Observers were primarly Bronco-qualified ground commanders and artillery officers. FACs in Laos and Cambodia used similar operating procedures.

When delivering weapons in close proximity to friendly troops FAC had to know where weapons would impact, which was done by observing the target and delivery aircraft’s nose position; gun was the preferred weapon for supporting troops in contact. But most important, and demanding, problem was actually finding and identifying the targets. More elusive enemy is, lower the FAC had to fly in order to find him; but after North Vietnamese Army augmented the VietCong and brought .50 cal weapons into the South, losses began to mount. US and ARVN could only gain intelligence through reports of locals, or by aircraft spotting the enemy. Pilots were assigned to individual sectors, becoming familiar with their operating areas; fresh tracks, smoke from places it should not appear in, too many farmers in the fields could all indicate VC or NVA presence in the area. Water buffalos were also moved into houses if peasants expected a firefight, providing possibly the best indicator.

While fast FACs were used in Vietnam, it was only in high-threat environments with insufficient terrain cover. Even then, they tended to delegate duty to slower turboprop FACs whenever possible. In 1968, F-4 Phantom II started being used as the FAC. As it originally lacked internal gun, it had a 20 mm gun bolted to the underside of the fuselage; this increased drag and thus fuel consumption, but provided needed suppression. Large engine intakes at the each side of the aircraft obscured ground view for the rear observer. F-4 was also easely detected by enemy gunners due to its large size and smoke its engines produced. It had some positive characteristics, such as ability to carry ECM gear.

After the Vietnam war, all lessons were again (intentionally) forgotten by Strategic Bomber Mafia dominating USAF (their latest “success” is pushing the strategic-bombardment-only F-35 as a “multirole” platform). Large-scale FAC programs were discontinued in all US services except the Marine Corps.

1991 Operation Desert Storm was the first test for airborne FACs after the Vietnam War. Marines had replaced OA-4 Skyhawk FACs with two seat F/A-18Ds in 1989, performing fast-FAC mission and integrating with slow OV-10s. They had also introduced concept of helicopter-based FAC, using AH-1 Super Cobra and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. Helicopter FACs were used to control and correct artillery fire, including battleship 16-in shells.

When fast jets operated on their own, they produced neglible results, dropping expensive ammunitions on decoys or previously destroyed targets, while having trouble finding well camouflaged and/or dug-in targets. They were not given the authority to descend to altitudes that would allow them to visually spot the enemy, nor did they have capability to loiter while looking for targets. OA-10s and F-16s flying as “Killer Scouts” frequently violated altitude restrictions, allowing pilots to spot targets with binoculars. Brigadier General Buster Glosson said that the Killer Scouts “increased the effectiveness of the F-16 force three- or four- -fold”.

Naval F-14s and F-18s also operated as FACs, with first batch of F-14 pilots being taught by Marine instructors. Along with Marine schooling, Navy also adopted a requirement for all FAC aircraft to be two-seaters. USMC believed that the mission was too important and physically demanding for one pilot to accomplish it alone safely (indeed, several fratricide incidents caused by the A-10 can be blamed on altitude restrictions and on A-10 being the single-seater).

In 2001, Special Operations troops and CIA paramilitary forces were inserted into Afghanistan to bolster the indigenous North Alliance. Afghani aircraft, bases and air defenses was quickly over, which led to the war becoming a FAC-run affair. GPS guided weapons were quick to cause fratricide, proving for the Nth time that technology alone is not an adequate answer. Thus ground FACs were paired to attack aircraft or to airborne FACs.

In 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, FACs practiced with SOFs, allowing latter to capture two air fields in western Iraq on 20 March 2003, despite presence of IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems). In the north, few hundred SOF and airborne paratroopers effectively coordinated with airborne FAC-directed CAS to tie up entire Iraqi divisions.

Basic requirements

Basic requirements can thus be listed as follows:

  • slow cruise speed
  • good endurance (at least 7 hours)
  • small size
  • good maneuverability
    • 1 engine
  • robust construction
  • two-man crew (tandem seating)
  • good cockpit visibility
  • rough field, dirt strip and road base operating capability
    • STOL capability
  • good visibility for pilot and the observer
  • ability to carry 60 mm rockets for marking targets, and armament for CAS strikes and suppression (12,7 mm MG, rockets, bombs)
  • high climb rate
  • 1-2 radios

Design

Aircraft will use PT6A-68C turboprop engine, which is 1,83 m long with 483 mm diameter, weights 200 kg , provides 1.262 kW of power, and has fuel consumption of 227 kg per hour at maximum power and 62 kg/h at cruise. Armament will consist of internal 12,7 mm machine guns, and wing hardpoints capable of carrying bombs, rockets and gun pods.

OX

Data:

Length: 8,82 m

Wingspan: 8,6 m

Height: 1,94 m

Wing area: 14 m2

Empty weight: 1.750 kg

Internal fuel capacity: 542,6 kg

Combat takeoff weight: 3.281 kg

Combat weight: 3.010 kg

Patrol weight: 2.102 kg

Maximum takeoff weight: 3.940 kg

Maximum speed: 475 kph

Cruise speed: 450 kph

Endurance: 9 hours

Range: 3.825 km

Combat radius: 1.850 km

G limits: +7/-3

Wing loading: 150 kg/m2 patrol, 215 kg/m2 combat

Armament:

4 x 12,7 mm FN Herstal M3P, 950 rpm, 180 rounds each

4 hardpoints with 1.000 kg capacity

* HVAR (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket)

* Mk.81 general purpose bomb

* Mk 82 general purpose bomb

* Mk 117 general purpose bomb

* AIM-9X

* IRIS-T

Countermeasures:

chaff

flares

disposable jammers/decoys (optional)

Unit flyaway cost: 2.349.000 USD

Cost per hour of flight: 352 USD

Notes

Unit cost is calculated by using that of Tucano which costs 2.430.000 USD and weights 1.810 kg, for 1.342,5 USD/kg.

Fuel capacity:

Centerline: 7.056 cm2 * 78 cm = 550.368 cm3

Inboard: 2 * 4.740 cm2 * 5 cm = 47.400 cm3

Outboard: 2 * 7.714 cm2 * 5 cm = 77.140 cm3

Total: 674.908 cm3 = 674,91 l = 542,6 kg

Cruise consumption is assumed as 11 km per litre due to OLXs smaller size compared to Super Tucano’s.

Each .50 cal round weights 112 g. 4 Mk.82 bombs weight 908 kg.

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32 Responses to “Forward air controller aircraft proposal revised”

  1. anonemiss said

    why not just buy the Super Tucano off the shelf?

    • picard578 said

      A bit too expensive (around 10 million USD, I believe).

      • anonemiss said

        you are right about the prices but then what you have specified above is the Super Tucano, including its engine but you give it the price of the non-super Tucano (which uses the PT6A engine and its production stopped in the 90’s).

        Now I understand that you want a generic plane that will be produced by NATO countries but I doubt that they can design an air-frame (or license it), setup a production line and start producing FAC’s for less than $10 million per plane; in my very humble opinion.

        • picard578 said

          I believe that most of Super Tucano’s cost is in avionics (IIRC, it even has FLIR and ability to use laser-guided munitions), whereas I kept complexity to minimum with this aircraft.

      • anonemiss said

        Clarification: I meant the Tucano uses the 25C while the Super Tucano and your plane uses the 68C engine.

      • picard578 said

        As I said, there are avionics to consider, and then there is the fact that Super Tucano is 29% longer, has 29,5% larger wing span, and weights 83% more.

  2. Chris said

    The other issue I see is cooperation with ground forces. Right now no air force really does a great job of it, the way that its really needed between FAC, the ground forces, and CAS.

    Also, there appear to be 4 MGs, not 2.

    • picard578 said

      “The other issue I see is cooperation with ground forces. Right now no air force really does a great job of it, the way that its really needed between FAC, the ground forces, and CAS. ”

      True, whcich is why I think that at least some CAS/FAC aircraft should be permanently assigned to the ground units, and pilots and especially observers should be versed in infantry and armor tactics so that they can be actually effective in their job (which is yet another reason why using multirole aircraft for CAS is the height of idiocy).

      “Also, there appear to be 4 MGs, not 2.”

      Thanks for warning me. I originally mounted only 2, but when I decided that it will double as a light CAS aircraft (it has to, since in COIN warfare, enemy is too mobile for FAC to call in CAS aircraft or even fast ground-attack jets – by the time they get there, the enemy has disappeared), I decided on 4 MGs, but forgot to fix it in text.

  3. Chris said

    What’s funny is that most air forces don’t have a FAC. Money cannot be the bottleneck as this type of plane is not too costly. A simple WWII era aircraft could do this job well.

    I wonder if 2x 20mm is worth thinking about?

    I’d imagine aircraft like this would have to “hug” the ground? It’s not a very durable aircraft, not really meant for action as much as trying to find things.

    • picard578 said

      Most air forces don’t have any interest in close air support, so they don’t need FAC.

      “I’d imagine aircraft like this would have to “hug” the ground?”

      Very much. But it is primarly meant for low-intensity conflicts.

      • Chris said

        Even as a pure, low cost recon platform, I could see this having a use. It costs no more than a light tank. I guess it makes too much sense for most militaries.

        I wonder, would you use CAS aircraft as FAC in intense nation state type conflicts? Or something like this still for nation state conflicts? This does have the advantage of being more cost effective although using a CAS aircraft has the advantage of being able to inflict more damage too.

        • picard578 said

          “I guess it makes too much sense for most militaries.”

          Unfortunately, I have to agree.

          “I wonder, would you use CAS aircraft as FAC in intense nation state type conflicts?”

          Probably, though OLX could still be useful outside main fighting.

  4. Chris said

    It seems like each generation, everything is being built bigger and more complex. F-16 would have been considered a very avionics laden aircraft at one point. Nowadays, an F-16 could be considered austere compared to most newer machines.

    That and there is not that feedback on what makes a good aircraft. Even if there were, the defense industry would probably ignore it.

    I think looking at Russia, there is one thing I will give them credit for. They do correct their mistakes eventually.

    – When Germany attacked in 1941, it was in a terrible state. The Red Army had suffered quite a few Stalinist purges. But if you think about what they accomplished in a few short years, it’s quite impressive, even if it did come at an appalling human toll. Things like the Il-2 were eventually built, even if the pilots were less than competent. Some decisions were right from the start, like the T-34, which they stuck to. The command structure was re-orienting itself slowly and by the end, there were some good commanders that showed some degree of initiative.

    – A few years ago, I had a buddy of mine tell me about Afghanistan (he had friends of his family that had participated in that war). That war and the Russian actions in Chechnya have heavily influenced vehicle design there. They are moving away for example from wheeled vehicles.

    – The Su-27 is not an example of a “right” aircraft (too large and the successive models are too avionics-laden). It was designed as a result of Vietnam. But if you consider that before that, they had been bomber interceptors mostly, it’s an impressive achievement for its size. They also had the good sense to make it rough field capable. The air frame design is pretty well designed. They choose medium swept wings because they realized that it would need to be a good dogfighter. Basically, if it were smaller, single engined, and more electronic austere, it’d be a pretty dangerous aircraft. I think that were Russia to get into an air war, it would end up being like Vietnam, where they’d learn the lessons for the future. Right now, they are going the wrong way with PAK FA and their PAK DA.

    – Also, there has been changes in how the Russians organize. Smaller divisions, air borne mobility for quick response. The Russian army has changed considerably since the end of the USSR.

    – From what I understand, they did make some changes to tank design and anti-tank tactics as a result of the Gulf War. That said, I think the poor training of the Iraqi army proved to be a bigger failure than anything else.

    – They are also not retiring their Su-25s. I get the feeling they understand the importance of CAS. That being said, I think the Su-34 is an over-expensive mistake of sorts. More recently, they’ve sold Su-25s to Iraq apparently to fight ISIS (smart enough to know that this is the best type of plane for the job, vs the Americans who sold them F-16s).

    I think that one serious problem the West has compared to Russia is that for all of it’s flaws, Russia does have some degree (not all, but some), some degree of self-correction.

    When I look at the US war in Iraq, there does not seem to be a new generation of reformers. The Korean War led to a generation of defense mavericks. So did Vietnam. The current crop, the Boyd cadre I would argue is one of them. But this generation there doesn’t seem to be anything like that. The establishment won. The mavericks are silenced. All the establishment says is, “give us more money”. The problem is, lack of money is not responsible for the defeats of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • picard578 said

      “It seems like each generation, everything is being built bigger and more complex.”

      True. And what’s worse, only a minor part of it brings any real advantage in terms of performance.

      “I think looking at Russia, there is one thing I will give them credit for. They do correct their mistakes eventually. ”

      So did United States… but US always forget all the lessons, while Russians still tend to build their hardware sturdy.

      “too large”

      To be fair, part of Su-27s size is due to size of Russia. At least some FLanker variants have fuel fraction of nearly 40%, which is impressive. When you take a look at my FLX design, it simply wouldn’t work as a main fighter for Russia… it is simply too short ranged (cca 1.000 km combat radius).

      “Basically, if it were smaller, single engined, and more electronic austere, it’d be a pretty dangerous aircraft.”

      It already is. It is outmatched by Rafale, Gripen and Typhoon, but other than these three, it can handle anything in the NATO inventory (pity USAF screwed up the F-16).

      “Right now, they are going the wrong way with PAK FA and their PAK DA.”

      True, but even so, PAK FA seems to be optimized less for stealth and more for maneuverability when compared to just about any other “stealth” fighter out there.

      “I get the feeling they understand the importance of CAS.”

      Su-25s actually had a few losses in Chechenya. Why? Because Russian Air Force did *not* institute (to my knowledge) an altitude limit, like USAF regularly did. As a result, Su-25s suffered more losses, but were also more effective.

      “More recently, they’ve sold Su-25s to Iraq apparently to fight ISIS (smart enough to know that this is the best type of plane for the job, vs the Americans who sold them F-16s). ”

      A smart move, true, but I get the impression that Americans only care about getting money. So it isn’t so much that USAF doesn’t know that only the A-10 can carry out the quality CAS, as it is that it doesn’t care.

      “The establishment won. The mavericks are silenced.”

      Worst part? It doesn’t seem to be limited to military.

  5. Chris said

    “So did United States… but US always forget all the lessons, while Russians still tend to build their hardware sturdy.”

    Did they though?

    When I look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other smaller conflicts, I’m not sure they learned the lessons.

    Lessons that have not been learned
    – Heavy civilian casualties anger the locals
    – You must provide for their economic welfare
    – Don’t dismantle all existing structures (ex: the Iraqi Army)
    – If you say you’re going to rebuild, you gotta deliver
    – Crony capitalism is bad
    – Super-expensive ground weapons don’t work that well
    – Drones don’t work well
    – Don’t torture
    – Fuel efficiency is important
    – Wheeled vehicles don’t work very well in soft soil
    – Listen to the mavericks

    We could put together a longer list than this, but the point is that the lessons were not learned.

    To be fair, part of Su-27s size is due to size of Russia. At least some FLanker variants have fuel fraction of nearly 40%, which is impressive. When you take a look at my FLX design, it simply wouldn’t work as a main fighter for Russia… it is simply too short ranged (cca 1.000 km combat radius).

    True, but even so, PAK FA seems to be optimized less for stealth and more for maneuverability when compared to just about any other “stealth” fighter out there.

    True that – size.

    Su-35S or Su-35BM has a fuel fraction as high as .42, while the Pak-fa is estimated at .36, although I have heard the final design may be higher. Either way, it, or the existing Su-27 fleet is more than a match for the JSF. Perhaps the FLX would be best compared not to the Su-27, but to the Mig-29, which is the smaller sister of the Su-27 in some ways. IIRC Mig-29 is also about .31, which is on the lower side.

    To an extent I guess the large size = better range is true. But it comes down to how that large size is used. Concorde was about .55 fuel fraction. The Tu-160 has a maximum fuel capacity of 148,000 kg for example and typical combat take-off is 276,600 kg. I don’t think they fill it up to 100%, but even at 95%, that is .51.

    I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic. We need a range calculation that adjusts for fuel fraction then for the lift-drag of the aircraft. For example, a JSF will have a shorter range owing to its design that comparable aircraft with a similar fuel fraction.

    Su-25s actually had a few losses in Chechenya. Why? Because Russian Air Force did *not* institute (to my knowledge) an altitude limit, like USAF regularly did. As a result, Su-25s suffered more losses, but were also more effective.

    It’s a trade-off. I mean CAS aircraft are at maximum survivability at very high altitude or very low (ex: <20m).

    • Chris said

      “I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic. We need a range calculation that adjusts for fuel fraction then for the lift-drag of the aircraft. For example, a JSF will have a shorter range owing to its design that comparable aircraft with a similar fuel fraction. ”

      Edit: Brain freeze there.

      Breguet’s aircraft range equation already does this.

    • picard578 said

      “Did they though? ”

      Well, they did learn some lessons during WWII (extensive provision for CAS, importance of providing infantry with a better rifle, importance of logistics), but they have forgotten them after the war.

      “Lessons that have not been learned”

      To be fair, US are currently run by MICC, so it might not be as much inability to learn the lessons as outright unwillingness. For military industry, an extensive period of peace is the worst thing that can happen.

      “IIRC Mig-29 is also about .31, which is on the lower side.”

      Yes, but it was always intended as a short range point defense interceptor, not as an air superiority fighter. As a consequence it has quite high wing loading. And as I wrote, you have to be an octopus to operate it properly.

      “I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic.”

      Generally, it is a good indicator of combat persistence, but that assumes comparable aerodynamic efficiency. For a real calculation, you need fuel fraction, aspect ratio, wetted area and engine type. F-35 has high fuel fraction, but it also has high span loading (1.707 kg/m at combat weight, compare to 1.165 kg/m for Rafale or 1.046 kg/m for Gripen C) which leads to large vortex drag in both level flight and turn, high wing loading (428 kg/m2 at combat weight, as opposed to 275 kg/m2 for Rafale and 314 kg/m2 for Gripen) which means that it needs higher angle of attack to maintain level flight at the same speed, and very fat, unaerodynamic body, which means that it has very high baseline drag. As a result, F-35 is the *only* one of aircraft I compared here to require maximum dry thrust in order to sustain Mach 0,9 – all three Eurocanards can supercruise (yes, even Gripen C). Its engine also has highest specific fuel consumption of three – 0,886 kg/kg*h, compared to 0,78 kg/kg*h for M88-2 and 0,844 kg/kg*h for RM12. But among the Eurocanards, fuel fraction is a good indicator of combat persistence – Rafale has the highest persistence, Typhoon is in the middle, and Gripen has the lowest persistence. (EDIT: Granted, that may also have to do with engine efficiency, but EJ200 is actually more fuel efficient than the M88-2, at 0,74 kg/kg*h).

  6. Chris said

    To be fair, part of Su-27s size is due to size of Russia. At least some FLanker variants have fuel fraction of nearly 40%, which is impressive. When you take a look at my FLX design, it simply wouldn’t work as a main fighter for Russia… it is simply too short ranged (cca 1.000 km combat radius).

    You do have a good point there.

    Out of curiosity, what kind of fighter would you build for Russia for vast areas?

    Personally I would have built something like the Su-27, but with a tailless delta rather than the tailed delta.

    – Radar should be deleted. In its place, you could put a truly large aperture IRST system too.
    – More guns or a higher calibre gun could also have been used.
    – The nose too could be narrowed for higher angles of attack without the radar.
    – Combine this with the weight savings (even a large IRST would not weigh nearly as much as a radar), you would have a very high fuel fraction aircraft.
    – Perhaps instead of 2 jet engines, build the aircraft with one giant engine? It would make for a very formidable long range aircraft and bomber interceptor.
    – If it got into a dogfight, it’s wing loading means that it could probably hold its own and the higher fuel fraction may make it able to simply outlast a smaller opponent.
    – The higher fuel fraction could also be translated into somewhat faster speed so the odds of being bounced by surprise would be reduced.

    The Russians also have one other big advantage. They are one of the leaders when it comes to titanium, which I guess you could consider heavy use of.

    It’d be a mixed fleet I’d build. FLX like fighters for along the Western border near Europe (where numbers matter), and that large bomber interceptor for Siberia.

    It’s interesting that of all the aircraft for Canada, perhaps the Su-27 would be the best choice. That may be because the territory of Siberia and Northern Canada is very similar. I fear though our air force has been deliberately stacking the cards for the JSF. Sighs.

    • picard578 said

      “Personally I would have built something like the Su-27, but with a tailless delta rather than the tailed delta. ”

      Same here.

      “– More guns or a higher calibre gun could also have been used.”

      Eh, no. Su-27 already uses 30 mm gun, what it needs is higher rate of fire and better reliability, not higher calibre.

      “– The nose too could be narrowed for higher angles of attack without the radar.”

      That, and better over-the-nose visibility.

      “– Perhaps instead of 2 jet engines, build the aircraft with one giant engine? It would make for a very formidable long range aircraft and bomber interceptor.”

      That is a possibility, but IIRC Russian engines tend not to be as reliable as Western ones. That being said, it would improve dogfighting performance.

      “– If it got into a dogfight, it’s wing loading means that it could probably hold its own and the higher fuel fraction may make it able to simply outlast a smaller opponent.”

      True, but it would still be at disadvantage – first, larger aircraft tends to have inferior transient performance (especially roll onset and acceleration, and turn onset is likely slower too). Second, in order to just match (not surpass) smaller aircraft’s turning performance, it would need *lower* wing loading, not comparable one. That being said, usage of close coupled canards would improve pitch and roll response to the point that it could match many smaller fighters.

      “The higher fuel fraction could also be translated into somewhat faster speed so the odds of being bounced by surprise would be reduced.”

      True.

      “It’d be a mixed fleet I’d build. FLX like fighters for along the Western border near Europe (where numbers matter), and that large bomber interceptor for Siberia. ”

      Yeah, that is a logical solution.

      “I fear though our air force has been deliberately stacking the cards for the JSF.”

      They are not the only ones. Western militaries seem to be full of Ferengi…

      • Chris said

        “True, but it would still be at disadvantage – first, larger aircraft tends to have inferior transient performance (especially roll onset and acceleration, and turn onset is likely slower too). Second, in order to just match (not surpass) smaller aircraft’s turning performance, it would need *lower* wing loading, not comparable one. That being said, usage of close coupled canards would improve pitch and roll response to the point that it could match many smaller fighters.”

        Hmm, so essentially:

        Pros
        + Higher endurance
        + Higher fuel capacity
        + That fuel means more speed, range, and endurance in a dogfight
        + Larger IRST
        + Still has rough field ability, despite size

        Cons
        – Lower transient performance (due to inertia, it in effect has higher wing loading)
        – Easier to spot due to size
        – Easier to hit due to size
        – Expensive (obviously) to manufacture, so fewer numbers, and higher operating costs
        – Longer logistical tail due to size

        Hmm … it’ll come down to pilot skill more than anything else.

        There is one other consideration. Any Western fighter would have to come over the Arctic or Pacific ocean, so it’s probably already low on fuel, unless the attacker is willing to risk an inflight refueling very close to Russian territory. That could really tip things in the defender’s favor, especially considering it has a higher fuel fraction to begin with and the Su-27 variants in general are pretty aerodynamic.

        This close coupled, austere, large bomber interceptor would magnify that gap. No radar, and less avionics. It would also be somewhat cheaper for that reason and reliability would go up due to the austere design. Single engine might also lead to a somewhat shorter logistics tail.

        Technically speaking, there’s no barrier to the Russians doing this. There’s also no technical barrier to a Russian equal of the FLX either. I know it’s common in the West to sort of look down on Russian aerospace achievements, but they could make it happen. In fact, as I hinted, if it came down to learning the lessons of history, the Russian military is far more likely to make the needed changes than the US.

        They are not the only ones. Western militaries seem to be full of Ferengi…

        Rule #34: War is good for business.

        At the moment in Canada, it’s pretty controversial. Even many of our conservative leaders disagree.

        Some hope:

        http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/11/canadas-politicians-take-on-the-f-35/

        From article by Winslow Wheeler:

        My expectations were completely wrong. The differences between Canadian politicians and members of Congress are utterly stunning. Unlike here, oversight in the Canadian Parliament is alive and well. In Canada, I found two political behaviors unheard of in the United States: Opposition politicians actually try to understand the issue they are talking about, and they take offense at being lied to.

        My re-orientation started when, lo and behold, without giving long, windy, and poorly informed opening statements, the parliamentarians asked questions directly relevant to my testimony about the cost to buy and operate the Canadian version of the F-35. They were not reading off or cribbing from memos but were reacting to what I had said; we had an actual discussion, one member at a time.

        It’s a very controversial decision and it has led to some fan made sites even.

  7. […] Forward air controller aircraft proposal revised […]

  8. Chris said

    Yeah let’s hope the bullet is dodged in Canada.

    The thing is right now it’s a battle between:

    For the F-35
    – Senior leadership in the current military (although a scandal broke out and some guys had to resign in disgrace)
    – The Prime Minister and its cabinet (I suspect that there may have been money under the table)
    – Lockheed Martin

    Against
    – The general public (polls show opposition to it across the spectrum). Pretty much the centrists and the left are against it The political right in the nation is divided, with many viewing this as a wasteful expense.
    – There are quite a few in the military against it too, but won’t speak up because of fears for their careers
    – Plus of course there’s a few fan sites here and there that want this shot down.
    – Pretty much every watch dog report

    Anyways, if you want to see what they’ve considered buying:

    • Chris said

      Is there any way to shrink an image?

    • picard578 said

      “I suspect that there may have been money under the table”

      It certainly is money under the table, as a matter of fact I can hardly count any exports of modern fighter aircraft that were *not* helped by bribes.

      “There are quite a few in the military against it too, but won’t speak up because of fears for their careers”

      Yeah, modern society is screwed up. There is hardly any spine left, and it shows.

      “Anyways, if you want to see what they’ve considered buying:”

      Rafale, Gripen and Mirage are the only options worth considering. JF-17 is good, but it may be too expensive to make NATO compatible, plus there are politics to consider.

  9. Riley-Amos said

    I’ll ask here rather than email just incase anyone else was also wondering; why did you choose a low mounted wing for this proposal, would it cause significant problems with air-to-ground visibility?

    • picard578 said

      Because it is also supposed to serve as a light attack aircraft, and it allows easier rearming. Of course, for a pure FAC, high wing would be better. Another consideration was landing gear, which has to be widely mounted for rough-field operations. Mounting such gear on high-positioned wing would present issues.

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