Defense Issues

Military and general security

Fast jets as close air support (CAS) aircraft

Posted by Picard578 on February 21, 2016

“‘Fast moving aircraft are not designed to support ground troops,’ said Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori. ‘As much as the Air Force and Navy would like to think that, fighter aircraft that travel at speeds can’t slow down to identify the targets.’ Antenori made this statement after witnessing a friendly fire incident, in which bombs dropped from one of USAFs fast movers killed 16 Kurds and injured 45. He also said that “With fast movers, I never had any success,”, and that senior decision makers often become so enamored with technology that they fail to see what troops on the ground really require. While A-10s never missed, F-18s needed two or three bombing runs to get them on target, he said.

 

Western militaries have an ongoing love affair with supersonic multirole jet fighters, and as of recently with unmanned combat vehicles as well. There are very few militaries which have a dedicated ground attack aircraft, and fewer still which have an aircraft that is optimized for close air support in all conditions, as opposed to specialized counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare aircraft, or generalized strike aircraft. But specialized CAS aircraft can be extremely effective when properly utilized, and have no real alternative.

During 1991 Desert Storm A-10 caused half of the Iraqi military losses, including tanks, Scuds and helicopters. Put in the other words, A-10s which comprised a minor portion of the combat aircraft present have destroyed more tactical targets than all the “multirole” aircraft, attack helicopters and strategic bombers put together. This was despite the fact that USAF did everything it could to minimize the A-10s effectiveness. A-10s were assigned artificial “kill boxes” with task of destroying all targets in a kill box. Yet they were jerked from one kill box to another by central management, often being unable to finish a job in one kill box before being transferred to another, completely empty kill box. Coordination with ground troops was nonexistent (A-10 pilots had to steal Army’s invasion plan a day before the invasion to learn ground scheme of maneuver), and 8.000 ft minimum altitude limit was introduced which prevented the A-10 from flying low altitude column cover, armed reconnaissance, and from using its 30 mm gun (these altitude restrictions were frequently violated by A-10 pilots). Altitude limits also caused several friendly fire incidents on occasions when pilots did not ignore the directive. As USAF was planning on phasing out the A-10 back then, they were not given FLIR pods. As a consequence, A-10 pilots had to use Maverick missile’s own IR sensor in lieu of the pods. At the sime time, massive bombing campaign by the B-52s and F-16s failed to destroy four Republican Guard divisions, ensuring survival of Saddam’s regime. Once Iraqi army did move – towards the city of Khafji – two A-10s and an AC-130 took up the turkey shoot opportunity, destroying 58 targets in the 71 vehicle convoy.

Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori stated in interview that fast jets cannot slow down to ID their targets. This is not the only problem: while communication with troops on the ground may solve the ID problem, precision munitions dropped from high altitude are, regardless of their nature, too destructive to be used close to the troops supported. This was clearly shown by F-16s and F-15Es, platforms mounting “precision” ammunition and definetly not designed for gun attacks against ground targets, being forced to use gun in support of troops on the ground. Antenori has also revealed that, even when precision weapons were used, A-10s never missed while F-18s had to do two or three runs to get the target.

During 2001 Afghan war, a four-man US SpecOps team leading a force of 26 Afghan National Army troops was ambushed several times by 800 enemy Taliban fighters. While they managed to get out of the first ambush on their own, they got into trouble during the second ambush. A B-1B tried to help but had no effect. Sgt. Osmon asked for the A-10 support. By the time A-10s arrived, troops on the ground could not contact them, so A-10s had to determine everyone’s positions by eyeball. When A-10s opened up with their guns, enemy attack ceased and the Army team finally made radio contact with the pilots. Taliban tried to get the US forces call of the A-10 support by offering to release the captured ANA members in exchange. Soon the enemy dispersed, and the A-10s covered the reconstituted convoy during the entire six-hour return trip.

On September 20, 2002., a Special Operations base in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket and small arms fire. Two A-10s provided support, attacking the Taliban with four bombs and 500 rounds of cannon fire. During the same year in Operation Anaconda, an evac team got pinned down by enemy mortar fire. Only after one hour did first help arrive, in form of F-15Es which had to be talked into doing gun runs. It took them hours to secure the area, after which an evac chopper landed.

In 2003 operation Iraqi Freedom, both A-10 and fast jets frequently used their guns. Just the combat against Iraqi regular troops – not counting the insurgency warfare which came afterwards – saw 300.000 30 mm and 17.000 20 mm rounds being fired. This continued after the conquest, with F-15s, F-16s and A-10s frequently using their guns to support troops in close combat contact, where usage of precision munitions was too dangerous. But for the fast moving jets, this was a dangerous business as a single hit or a minor miscalculation could mean the loss of the aircraft, and potentially the pilot as well. On occasion, fast jets proved impotent even against fixed targets: Rangers who parachuted in to hold the Hiddith dam found themselves under enemy artillery fire for days, with USAF strikes incapable of silencing it.

In 2006, Afghan president pleaded for Western troops to avoid killing civilians. But the killings continued unabated, with fast jets being a major factor due to inability to see and understand situation on the ground.

On November 27, 2007., Maj. Troy “Trojan” Gilbert died when he crashed while strafing insurgents that were attacking crew of a downed Army helicopter in his F-16. He was forced to fly ever lower during his gun runs, and in a second pass he was unable to pull up in time and crashed. Reason why he flew low despite having all technological gadgets was that he needed to correctly identify insurgent vehicles trying to merge with civillian traffic which was only possible by a direct visual observation. Yet USAF sung him praise while completely ignoring the issue which killed him in the first place.

In Afghanistan, a Special Operations team attacked compound of the Taliban leader. Taliban responded with heavy fire, and Air Force controller was wounded; neither a Predator drone nor the F-16, both loitering overhead, could get a shot at the enemy as SpecOps troops were too close. Finally, two A-10s arrived and wounded controller asked them to make their runs “danger close”. A-10s fired High Explosive 30 mm shells which impacted 65 feet (20 meters) away from the team, well within the lethal distance of even smallest PGMs. Enemy attack broke, and A-10s escorted SO troops out of the kill zone. In another instance, US planes dropped two bombs on a family home, killing children aged between six months and five years, because they were too fast and too high to properly identify targets.

On July 24, 2013, a convoy of 12 vehicles with 60 US troops was ambushed in Afghanistan when a lead vehicle overturned. Unit called for a close air support, but did not have a way to confirm enemy position. Forward air controller called in the A-10s, which located the enemy by visual contact. Lead A-10 marked enemy position with smoke rockets, and his wingman attacked the enemy with 30 mm cannon. JTAC couldn’t bring the helicopters in due to heavy ground fire,and enemy did not run away after first two A-10 passes (as usually happens). When enemy closed enough to engage the unit with grenades, unit commander approved “danger close”. A-10s came in low – 75 feet (23 meters) above the enemy position – and used the gun 50 meters parallel to friendly positions. A-10s executed 15 attack passes, firing nearly all of their gun ammo and dropping 3 500-lb bombs on the enemy. After that, enemy disengaged but A-10s remained on station as it sometimes happens that enemy again attacks when aircraft leave. Commenting on the mission, lead A-10 pilot commented that “Even with all our (top-of-the-line) tools today, we still rely on visual references”. Afghan army found 18 enemies dead.

In another situation in Afghanistan, a Special Forces team attacked a compound of a Taliban leader, but were pinned down and FAC (JTAC) with the team was severely wounded. Neither a Predator overhead, nor the F-16, could get a shot – and the F-16 soon departed for lack of fuel. When two A-10s arrived, controller ordered them to make their runs “danger close”. HE cannon shells fired from the A-10s impacted mere 65 feet (20 meters) away from the team, dispersing the enemy. A-10s remained overhead providing cover while friendly troops left the kill zone. All members of the SOF team, including the controller, survived.

French air force in Afghanistan faced most of the same problems as USAF, but unlike USAF, it had no dedicated CAS aircraft to overcome these problems. Fast jets proved incapable of quickly aiding troops in combat due to the lack of loiter time. Nature of infantry combat also meant that French jets often had to use their guns to support troops, but that is problematic with fast jets. Avoiding frendly casualties was a major issue. Situation was no different for other air forces operating in Afghanistan.

Bombardment of ISIS by fast jets was somewhat effective when closely coordinated with troops on the ground. But air strikes have also caused 450 civilian deaths, giving ISIS a huge propaganda boost. They have proven completely ineffective in any roles other than support of Peshmerga and Iraqi government troops, and even there effectiveness was limited. On the other hand, A-10s were utilized at low level despite threat from MANPADS, causing panic among ISIS fighters and proving their survivability and lethality yet again. USAF, in its effort to scrap the A-10, is deliberately underutilizing it in campaign against ISIS – yet the aircraft has flown 11% of all sorties against ISIS.

In some cases US troops made decision to not go out on the mission if the A-10 was not avaliable, even when other aircraft were. When A-10s were avaliable, they would often go out with a minimal force because they knew A-10 was capable of saving them if necessary. A-10 is in essence a major force multiplier. A-10 was always the preferred choice against “danger close” targets, to the point that JTACs would turn away other aircraft. A-10 also has by far the lowest fratricide rate against the friendly forces out of all tactical jets in the USAFs inventory.

French counterinsurgency operations in Mali have clearly shown need for a dedicated CAS aircraft. Surveillance and reconnaissance were carried out by drones as well as by manned fixed-wing aircraft. Bombing and close air support were carried out by Rafale and Mirage fighters as well as Gazelle and Tiger attack helicopters. Light helicopters were preferred choice for close air support due to superior precision, while jets mostly struck fixed targets, often preplanned well in advance. For fast jets, missions against known, fixed targets took about two hours to plan and up to five hours to debrief. Huge fuel requirements of Rafale and Mirage jets have forced USAF to supplement very inadequate French air refuelling capability; by March of 2013, USAF had flown 83 refuelling missions for French fighter aircraft. However, light helicopters (and helicopters in general) are too vulnerable and complex to replace a dedicated fixed-wing CAS aircraft.

In 2014-2015 timespan, French Air Force had undertaken over 200 air strikes in Iraq, as well as some in Syria. Most of these targeted strategic installations of ISIL. Reliance on strategic air strikes is a divergence from far more successful close combat tactics typically favored by the French military. In fact, it is the first time that French had used strategic air power alone in COIN / counterterrorism operations, albeit strategic bombardment was utilized before – during the Vietnam war, AdlA commenced mass fire bombings of Vietnamese villages.

 

These incidents very clearly show all problems with fast jets performing close air support. Fast jets cannot reliably ID their targets, even with imaging IR sensors such as LANTIRN pod. Precision bombs, while allowing higher precision than dumb bombs when dropped from medium and high altitudes, are not as precise as low-altitude gun attacks, and require more time to set up for proper attack – just calculating the desired point of impact takes half an hour. In many situations, gun strafing is the only solution due to possibility of collateral damage. Also, when utilizing same weapons, low-and-slow aircraft will always achieve greater precision than fast movers. Bombs sometimes bump into each other and the aircraft when released, bending fins and causing guidance errors; this problem is more pronounced faster and higher the aircraft flies when bombs are released. Fast jets are too fuel-thirsty to loiter for extended periods of time, meaning that they cannot stay behind to secure the area even if they do manage to force the enemy to retreat. Even Korean war jets could not do CAS effectively, whereas A-10s oftentimes get to altitudes as low as 100 ft (and less) in order to perform accurate gun attacks.

Precision-guided munitions can also easily go astray. JDAMs are not terminally guided and so even minor initial errors translate into large miss distances, which means that they have to be used in the same way as dumb bombs. And while targeting information is typically provided by ground troops, controllers can be dead, wounded, otherwise unavaliable, or even provide incorrect targeting information. In one such case, a B-1B dropped two 500 lbs bombs on the US SOF troops, killing five of them. Unlike fast and/or high flying aircraft, pilots in dedicated CAS aircraft can correct such mistakes by themselves with visual verification. During the Operation Desert Storm, at most 60% of laser-guided bombs hit their targets. This is consistent with Paveway III program, during which – despite favorable conditions – only 19 out of 39 (49%) of the laser-guided bombs dropped actually hit their targets. Some of the misses landed as far as five miles away from the targets. During Kosovo war, British achieved 40% accuracy with smart bombs. In 2003 invasion of Iraq, US precision weapons on few occasions managed to miss the country itself, hitting Turkey and Iran. And only 2% of the people killed by drones were Taliban.

US Air Force has always tried to prevent the US Army from operating its own CAS fighters – it did not want to give even helicopters to the Army at first. In fact, USAF fears A-10s efficiency as a CAS aircraft so much that combat controllers are not allowed to ask for a specific aircraft but have to specify results and then local USAF headquarters send the “appropriate” aircraft. As a result, they regularly ask for an aircraft with two-hour loiter time and more than ten combat trigger pulls, attributes only possessed by the A-10.

 

Infantry combat typically happens at distances within 100 meters. Rarely, it can go as far as 300-500 meters. But while 250-lbs Lady Finger bomb of the Vietnam war vintage could be dropped 100 meters from the friendly troops, 500-lbs bombs – smallest size readily avaliable to USAF today – can’t be used closer than 600 meters; in Afghanistan, most bombing runs placed munitions within 500 meters from friendly positions. Smallest today’s cluster bombs have more than 200 bomblets and also can’t be used in firefight situations; missiles and rockets are also often a no-go as well. One of major reasons for this size creep is that many bombs are GPS or laser-guided, or can be converted to be so. Therefore, there is pressure to get most “bang for the buck”. Another such pressure is caused by the fact that fast jets drink fuel by the gallon, again creating pressure to cause as much damage as soon as possible. “Safe” distances mentioned before also only account for distance to the point of impact. Miss distance is not accounted for. While many weapons are stated to have CEP in single meters or tens of meters, CEP is nothing more than a circle which denotes where 50% of all weapons released are expected to fall. That circle is very elliptical, and it is also very misleading where precision munitions are concerned – miss distances for the remaining 50% of bombs can be very large. A guidance system malfunction can cause a bomb or a missile to go miles off the target, but these malfunctions are ignored by testers and do not factor into CEP (as stated by Lt.Col Rahm), consequently producing unrealistically optimistic assessment of weapons’ precision. Overall, low destructiveness and unmatched precision make gun the best, and oftentimes the only, choice for supporting the troops in contact.

Rather important ability, especially when enemies are very close, is a quick reattack ability so as to attack multiple targets before the enemy has the chance to disperse. Dedicated CAS aircraft – A-10, A-1 – have enough fuel and ammunition for multiple passes, and are highly maneuverable at slow speed, allowing for quick reengagement – or a dozen. In contrast, fast jets still adhere to Vietnam War F-4s motto of “One Pass, Haul Ass”. They can get there, drop bombs and return very fast – but they cannot stay around, loitering few kilometers behind the battlefield waiting for call, or overhead to deter enemy attacks – which is a far more useful capability. While Super Tucano has loiter time of four hours, and A-10 has loiter time of two hours, fast jets typically loiter for no more than twenty minutes. While USN and USAF have an 8-minute rule – that jets should arrive over target zone within eight minutes – this limits their loiter time, a fact that Taliban have learned to take the advantage of by dispersing for half an hour to hour, and then returning in force once fast jets had spent their fuel. Comments by ground troop commanders clearly point to loiter time as being far more important than cruise or top speeds. And even high speed does not necessarily mean that jets will arrive to combat quickly. In Afghanistan, there are only three air bases that have 10.000 ft runways necessary for fast movers. A-10 can fly from 4.000 ft dirt strip or steel mats, while A-29 requires less than 4.000 ft of runway (Super Tucano’s performance should be similar). This means that while fast jets are faster, A-10 or Tucano can arrive to the fight earlier by virtue of being based far closer than it is possible for the fast jets. Fast jets also have major issues with slow-speed maneuverability. Thin, swept wings required for supersonic flight result in reduced lift (due to propensity for separation caused by both lack of thickness and wing sweep), which limits both minimum speed and turning ability at slow speeds (150 to 300 knots).

 

In order to find targets, fighter aircraft have to fly low and slow, and have tight search radius. Super Tucano has search radius of 500 meters, compared to ~500 meters for A-10 and ~1.600 meters for F-15E and F-35. Super Tucano and A-10 are satisfactory and enable keeping constant visual contact with ground forces, while F-35 and F-15E have far too wide search radius. While targeting pods – as present on F-15E and F-35 (EOTS) – allow pilots to drop bombs accurately from high altitude, they typically provide straw-view image of the battlefield (radar is no better). When IR sensor does find target, its low-resolution monochromatic display is not suited for target recognition in cluttered ground environment. Even when communications are avaliable, it may take ten minutes for ground FAC to direct the fast mover onto targets. Time required to direct UAVs is about twice as long, as drone operators only have their screens and drone cameras to direct them. Reason is simple – neither can look out of the canopy and see the enemy, while relying on just radar and optical sensors leads to extremely limited situational awareness. High-flying jets are also unable to see IR strobes used to identify friendly troops. Combined with 20-minute loiter time, this means that a single fast jet can attack at most two groups of targets before having to refuel, and have higher possibility of hitting friendlies.

As Hans Rudel has pointed out, pilot has to be free to concentrate all his attention on hunting ground targets. For a pilot of multirole aircraft, that is impossible. And even though he flew Stuka, an aircraft with only 390 kph top speed, he still stated that “high speed is a poison for finding tanks”, and that under no circumstances should low speed performance be sacrificed to gain high speed capability. This was despite the fact that he was hunting for tanks in the flat, open Ukraine as opposed to cluttered environment of the Central Europe or Afghanistan. Further, CAS pilots have to work directly with ground units in order to achieve relevant response times (15-20 minutes); using centralized command and control system leads to response times of anywhere between 45 minutes and several hours. But this again requires a dedicated cadre of CAS pilots and CAS aircraft, pilots which will live with and study doctrine and tactics of ground troops, and aircraft which can operate in field conditions alongside those same troops. During World War II, such dedicated CAS units could achieve response times as short as 5 minutes, thanks to combination of decentralized organization, close basing and long loiter times. Yet modern technological advances seem to favor USAFs ineffective close control doctrine: wide-area surveillance systems, data links, centralized data-fusion/control centres (including AWACS) and complex C4 ISR network serve to distance close support aircraft from the very troops they are supposed to support, and to centralize decision making, thus unnecessarily increasing response times, casualties and likelyhood of failure. This system, among other things, means that the only targets which can be successfully attacked are fixed, heavily defended ones – precisely the kind of targets that low-flying CAS aircraft should avoid, and leave them to cruise missile strikes, or in the future, stealthy UCAVs.

 

Typical bombload for F-16, F-18 and F-35 includes two bombs. Super Tucano is capable of matching that, while A-10 significantly exceeds fast jets’ weapons load capabilities, with a total of 11 weapons stations (though at least one or two are likely to be taken up by fuel tanks during longer-duration missions). F-16 costs 7.000 USD per hour, compared to F-18s 11.000 USD and F-35s 32.000 USD. Compared to that, A-10 costs 11.500 USD per flight hour and Super Tucano costs 600 USD per hour. Overall number of maximum possible trigger pulls is as follows: 23 for the Super Tucano (12,6 1-second gun bursts plus 10 bombs/missiles), 46 for the A-10 (22,6 gun bursts plus 23 bombs/missiles), 17 for the F-16 (4,7 gun bursts plus 12 bombs/missiles), 15 for the F-18E (5,2 gun bursts plus 10 bombs/missiles) and 11 for the F-35 (2,6 gun bursts plus 8 bombs/missiles). This translates into following number of attack passes per 1 million USD: 38.333 for the Super Tucano, 4.000 for the A-10, 2.428 for the F-16, 1.363 for the F-18E and 344 for the F-35. Overall, Super Tucano offers 111:1 and A-10 offers 11:1 advantage over the F-35. Difference in between Super Tucano and A-10 is reduced however, and difference between both of these aircraft compared to fast jets significantly increased, when one considers effectiveness of each firing pass. A-10 can carry heavier weapons and has vastly higher inherent firepower than Super Tucano, whereas none of the fast jets can get as much effect from each pass as A-10 and Super Tucano can, being too fast too properly attack targets.

 

Fast jets are not survivable enough to carry out Close Air Support. In the Vietnam war, F-5s have suffered their only losses when carrying out CAS missions; out of 6 combat losses, 5 were to small-arms fire, and one was to .50 calibre machine gun and 20 mm cannon fire. For comparison, A-10 can survive any hits from shells up to 23 mm, and some strikes from shells up to 57 mm. During Gulf Wars, A-10 was the only US aircraft survivable enough to operate within the envelope of usupressed air defenses during the day – all other aircraft, even the stealthy F-117, operated above 10.000-15.000 ft in order to minimize losses. F-117 and F-111 operated only during the night; neither had any losses. What is often omitted is that an A-10 squadron flew as many night sorties as F-117s did, suffering no losses – it was combination of night flying and low number of sorties flown which allowed the F-117 to get away with no losses; radar stealth had no impact. If properly masked, neither IR SAMs nor optical AAA can be found until they shoot, as they do not use active sensors. During the Gulf War, neither of these were attrited at all (unlike radar SAMs) and posed a constant danger to low-flying aircraft; A-10 and British Tornado were the only aircraft that could survive against this type of defenses. Radar SAMs, systems allegedly so dangerous that they require replacing the A-10 with F-35, caused 16% of total casualties. IR SAMs caused 31% of all casualties, and AAA accounted for 38% of all losses – against both these systems, F-35 and stealth UCAVs are just as vulnerable as non-stealth counterparts, if not more so (but since neither of these will be allowed to do proper CAS, they may turn out to be statistically more survivable than the A-10). During the Gulf War, A-10 had a bullseye painted on it by USAF having it fly in dark green camouflage, completely inappropriate against either air threats in the desert environment, or far more relevant ground threats in any environment. As a result, 20 A-10s were hit by the enemy fire, with 6 being shot down. For comparison, AV-8B Harrier suffered 4 aircraft shot down, despite having appropriate camouflage and flying only 3.380 sorties – compared to 8.640 sorties flown by the A-10. And going back to the F-35 vs A-10 issue, F-35 is only expected to benefit from its stealth on the first day or two of the campaign, until radars are forced to shut down to hide. After that, it will carry external weapons, rendering its stealth irrelevant – and also significantly degrading its already insufficient maneuverability, combat radius and loiter time. And if the F-35 is forced to drop its weapons due to a pop-up threat it will be left with only two bombs in the internal bays, if even that. A-10 on the other hand will still have 23 gun bursts avaliable. It was designed to survive air defenses on World War III battlefields, ones more lethal than anything which would be encountered in nation-state wars, not to mention counterinsurgency ops, and it shows.

Most aircraft losses in CAS happen when pilot is tracking the target. Consequently, tracking time has to be minimized. This again requires getting close to the target and using a quick-targeting weapon – in other words, a gun. While gun track requires only a second or two, even a quick-tracking PGMs such as Maverick missiles require lock-on times in excess of 10 seconds. During this time, aircraft is flying a steady, predictable path. If it is engaged during the lock-on process, pilot has only two options: break the track and abandon the attack run to focus on surviving, or keep flying steady and pray the enemy fire misses on its own accord. This fact alone largely negates survivability advantages of high-flying aircraft, and clutter from high up may also cause prolonged lock-on times. Since experiments with pop-up tactics in the rough terrain have demonstrated that ground observers are rarely able to point at and track the aircraft in less than five seconds, this shows significant survivability advantage when using unguided weapons (gun and rockets) in low flight, combined with pop-up tactics; this is helped by the fact that the A-10 is “scarily quiet” due to its high-bypass engines. Lock on delay also means that precision munitions are less capable of hitting fleeting targets.

Weather can also negate the shelter of high altitude. Heavy overcast can render IR/optical sensors and missiles blind, in which case there are only two options for delivering firepower (radar is too vulnerable to clutter): GPS munitions or getting below the weather. But GPS munitions require preplanned delivery, half an hour or even hours in advance, and are thus utterly unsuitable for maneuver warfare. They also require direct contact with troops on the ground and are unsuitable for mountainous regions – mountains can interfere with GPS signal, and so can buildings and solar flares. Jamming GPS signal is also not very difficult for a technologically advanced opponent, and in a serious war, satellites that GPS munitions rely on will get destroyed very early on. Getting below the overcast is thus the only option, but that requires the aircraft to be capable of surviving enemy MANPADS, AAA and automatic weapons fire – in Europe and Korea, the sky is overcast at 2.000 – 3.000 ft (600 – 900 m) over 40% of the time. Iraq isn’t any better, with its weather patterns being mostly similar to European ones – weather is at least partly cloudy 50% of the time. Most infantry platoons do not have attached FAC, which means that unless the pilot can see both them and the enemy from his aircraft, air support is impossible. Even those that do have a FAC (GFAC, ETAC, JTAC) might be left without the capability if FAC is injured or killed, communication equipment damaged or destroyed, or radio contact otherwise unavaliable (jamming, terrain constrictions). All of this means that CAS aircraft has to be able to survive at low altitude – no easy task, since even in the absence of SAMs, a typical division has as many as 10.000 automatic weapons to turn any thin-skinned aircraft into Swiss cheese. Most hits are received from forward hemisphere and below. Since aircraft fly forward at high speeds, this speed gets added to nominal projectile speed, increasing penetration. This means that a divison can easily make the sky uninhabitable to fast jets to an altitudes up to 5.000 ft, well above the weather overcast allowance. Consequently, pilots will typically fly above 10.000 or below 100 ft – former being reserved for air superiority, interceptor and logistics/support aircraft, and latter being reserved for close air support and FAC aircraft. Lower altitude renders specialized air defense weapons mostly impotent, but it still means that the aircraft will receive at least some hits from small arms fire, and has to have excellent slow-speed maneuverability to avoid crashing into terrain. Higher altitude makes aircraft incapable of any effective close air support, or any close air support at all during the bad weather.

Despite all the cries about lethality of air defenses, relative lethality of modern air defenses is no greater than it was in World War II. Problem is simply that most modern air forces have no aircraft designed to survive in that environment, unlike Russian Il-2 Sturmovik or German Hs-129 Panzerknacker. Modern fast jets, with thin composite skin and no cockpit or engine armor, cannot survive AAA or even near-misses from MANPADS. In addition to its heavy armor and redundant systems, A-10 has higher turn rate and tighter turn circle than most if not all fast jets due to its straight, thick wings providing large amount of lift, enabling it to avoid ground fire in ways no fast jet could hope to. Its ability to fly low in face of the enemy small-arms fire means that it can easily avoid enemy radars without relying on technological pipe dream of radar stealth. A-10 was designed to survive in the face of integrated air defenses deployed by the Soviet Union in the closing stages of the Cold War, most lethal the world has known, and A-10 pilot community has vast experience of operating in face of the enemy air defenses. It was also always asumed that Soviet air force will be able to create contested environment and deploy advanced fighters. For these reasons, and as several JTACs argued, Secretary Hagel’s and USAF’s excuses of threat from advanced air defenses and fighter aircraft are utter bullshit.

Even if it is true that air defenses have grown more lethal to low-flying aircraft (an assertion with nothing to back it up), that statement on its own is irrelevant. Any meaningful assessment of attrition would consider the entire force as a package – aircraft, pilots and ground troops. Best way to prevent casualties among pilots is to not let them fly at all. But air forces are support element, main element – which dictates victory or loss – are ground troops. If reducing casualties among the air element means increased casualties in the ground element, then the tradeoff is unacceptable. Only dedicated CAS aircraft (A-10, Super Tucano etc.) can fly low and slow enough to see puffs of smoke in an infantry firefight, and determine which belong to the enemy. That being said, care should be taken – through proper training, approaches and equipment – to minimize pilot casualties while still providing effective close air support. This among other things means having spare aircraft for each pilot, so that pilots are not forced to fly into combat aircraft that are performance-limited due to incurred battle damage. But something like that is only possible if aircraft is of a simple yet effective design – in other words, an A-10, not F-35, Rafale or even Gripen, as all these are relatively complex and completely unsuitable for close air support.

 

Fast-jets-as-CAS-aircraft proposal ignores the major psychological effect that low-flying CAS aircraft have on both friendly and enemy troops. As many statements from troops on ground show, seeing friendly aircraft in close air support gives a major morale boost to friendly troops, which then know that they are not alone. It is also highly demoralizing to enemy forces, with insurgent forces in particular often retreating when faced with such danger – even in cases where they have displayed clear willingness to stand and fight in face of high altitude bombardment.

Most importantly, Close Air Support is a very specific skill that takes years of honing. In other words, it requires specialized pilots who train for nothing but CAS. But pilots in fast “multirole” jets either do not train at all of close air support, or spend only a small portion of time training for it – typically, air-to-air combat (especially air-to-air maneuvering, both dogfight and BVR), takes up most of their training hours (even the USAFs F-16C community, relegated to the “dirt mover” status by the brass to preserve the F-15s air-to-air throne, spend 40% of their time training for air-to-air combat). Even ignoring everything else, this reason alone means that fast jets cannot replace dedicated CAS aircraft, as proper knowledge base for close air support cannot be developed or maintained without pilots who specialize in close air support. CAS pilot has to be versed in both usage of his own aircraft and in ground troops tactics and doctrines so he can effectively employ his aircraft, and close support itself is a unique mission which has very little in common with other types of ground attack missions. A-10 pilots are the only pilots in USAF that continuously train with ground troops, becoming in essence part of the Army. This level of familiarity with ground troops, their requirements and tactics cannot be achieved by pilots of fast jets.

Fast jets are also harder to maintain than slower jets or turboprop aircraft. That as well as greater cost of multirole jets means that they provide far smaller force size at higher cost, negating sole advantage of using multirole aircraft (A-10 costs 20 million USD and 3.000 USD per hour of flight, compared to 70 million USD and 7.000 USD per hour of flight for F-16C; A-10 can also fly 3 sorties per day compared to 1,2 sorties per day for F-16C; in short, one can have 1 F-16A and 2 A-10s for price of single F-16C).

Effective CAS requires aircraft to be colocated with troops, or at least as close to troops as possible – mobility, short flight times and immediate reaction are the basis of CAS. Most (if not all) Western fast jets are incapable of operating from dirt strips and other demanding locations. Only aircraft capable of that are A-10 and dedicated COIN aircraft, all of which use turboprop or piston engines. This, combined with long loiter time and low altitude capability, allows them to effectively coordinate with ground troops, scouting ahead and protecting flanks of mobile ground units, thus avoiding surprises / ambushes and allowing the entire ground force to concentrate into attack. This was done by Patton in 1944, and enabled his lightning-quick march across the France, made possible by forward-basing of sturdy P-47s, typically alongside Army units in the field. They also have to be under direct Army command, either owned by the Army or attached to Army units. Under the current system of CAS requests, medium-size and large operations result in too many requests going towards a single central command, which will then naturally make mistakes in assigning priorities. This system also means significant delays in receiving air support, if it is assigned at all. What is necessary to correct this is a two seat FAC aircraft – either a modified CAS/COIN aircraft or a dedicated FAC aircraft – from which unit commander or controller will assign CAS priorities while enjoying full view of the battlefield, and CAS aircraft loitering nearby, independent from any kind of centralized control.

A-10 and other slow aircraft can also scout ahead of infantry and mechanized formations. Fast jets are incapable of any effective scouting, as infrared pods, radars and other sensors they have to use to see anything from high altitude provide very limited straw view of the area, and are typically grayscale as well. During mobile war, it is entirely possible to stand off from the enemy tank and end up right on top of the enemy SAM; however, when the enemy is on attack, mobile SAMs and guns have harder time tracking targets, and their sensitive electronics typically break down during movement.

 

Dug in enemy, while easily hit by precision munitions strikes, is also unlikely to be destroyed by the same – especially if strikes are carried out from the altitude. In many cases, fortified enemy units were bombarded for hours or days from the air with no results to show for. At Roberts Ridge, USAF spend hours bombing hell out of cave complexes, yet did not manage to kill a single enemy. Serbian army in Kosovo was virtually untouched by the massive 78-day NATO high-altitude bombing campaign. This, and the above paragraph, prove the importance of effective real-time coordination between CAS fighters and ground troops; in effect, ground troops have to “smoke out” the enemy so that CAS fighters can kill them. Any aerial bombardment that is not coordinated with ground campaign is a waste of time and resources.

CAS fighters can easily adapt to other missions, making them truly multirole. In addition to its basic role of shooting at infantry, tanks and other ground vehicles, A-10 has also been used to hunt helicopters, sink warships, and a myriad of other missions. Among those are forward air control, combat search and rescue, supression and destruction of of enemy air defenses, which makes it one of the most versatile aircraft in the entire USAF.

 

War is a living being, a living system with many interactive forces. Just being able to shoot antennae off an ant is not enough for proper close air support. It never was, it never will be. Close air support means being part of a system, to live and breathe together with ground troops, to do what is necessary without any prompting. Much like tanks, CAS aircraft are part of the ground maneuver force. This means that pilots have to be part of the ground force as well, have to know ground troops, their tactics, doctrines, way of thinking and reacting, their plans and backups – and not to have to steal plans days before the campaign to learn scheme of maneuver. It also means constant contact and communication, during combat, exercises and day-to-day duties. In essence, pilots have to become part of the ground force in every way imaginable, and that can be achieved only if they have no duties other than supporting ground troops – in other words, specialized pilots in specialized aircraft.

In the end, what is necessary today is a division of tasks, where Air Force would control any aircraft and tasks that are independent of the Army (air superiority, SEAD/DEAD, deep strike, deep interdiction, air base resupply, deep reconnaissance) while Army would control any tasks that have direct impact on it (close air support, battlefield interdiction, forward air control, air resupply of Army units, battlefield reconnaissance). Alternatively, Army would control the airspace up to 10.000 ft, and Air Force above 10.000 ft – USAF typically doesn’t allow its aircraft to fly below 10.000 ft anyway. USAF posession of the A-10 has centralized close air support, causing aircraft to be switched from an empty kill box to an empty kill box without coordination with Army units, whereas proper CAS requires CAS aircraft to be part of the ground maneuver. USAF, and Western militaries in general, seem to have forgotten that killing people is not a goal of warfare, but just a tool; goal is to force one’s ideas onto the enemy. That can only be done by ground maneuver and, if necessary, a lasting occupation of the ground. This in turn requires a proper CAS force, and not current “for HE delivery, call 2022-8899” standoff bombardment air force in status of a god – you know (or hope) it’s there but haven’t directly seen or felt it. There are no new things under the Sun, only new “developments” are simply new technologies allowing old approaches to be carried out more effectively, mere updates and improvements of war instruments dating back to antiquity. Thus lessons of combat from 50, 500 or 5.000 years ago are still relevant today: infantry is the basis of war since it takes the ground, but to take the ground one needs to maneuver while protecting the flanks. Maneuver requires presence of dedicated units, which in modern military means tanks and CAS aircraft. Easily-jammed, delayed-response, tunnel-vision UCAVs are not an answer (all UCAVs planned are exclusively SEAD assets, to be used to take out enemy air defenses already located and identified by manned jets; they are completely incapable of independent operation). Only the infantry can bring victory, and only dedicated CAS aircraft – manned by pilots who train specifically for and have no tasks other than providing support for ground troops – are responsive and aware enough to be of use to infantry when they are required. But USAF wants to eliminate the CAS mission alltogether so as not to feel as subservient service to the Army; because of that, they knowingly lie about the ability of fast jets to carry out close support of troops on the ground, about survivability and utility of dedicated CAS platforms, and about anything else they see as necessary to lie about in order to finally get rid of the CAS mission. USAF also apparently considers F-16C airshow Thunderbirds unit more important than the entire A-10 fleet, giving them the latest engines, structural and cockpit configuration – upgrades that it time and again denied to the A-10. And if budget is in trouble, why not cut the antiquated B-52, limited utility B-1, good-for-nothing F-35, or some of the equally good-for-nothing generals, who are apparently not only breeding like rabbits but also behaving like drunken billionaires? Apparently, for USAF and Pentagon brass, stealth fighters and generals’ wages and pensions are more important than lives of US and allied troops, lives which they can easily save by *not* retiring the most capable CAS platform the West – and quite likely the world – has ever seen. At least European air forces have an excuse – however flimsy it is in case of the “big four” – of lacking the money and logistical abilities for operating a properly structured air force; US do not have even that excuse. That being said, any country which can afford to operate heavy attack helicopters in addition to fixed-wing supersonic fighters, or medium-weight multirole fighters (such as Rafale and Typhoon), should be able to afford a combination of a multirole jet fighter and a CAS/COIN aircraft, at least of a prop variant. With Gripen NG and Super Tucano, there will soon be no excuse (and Gripen C can easily substitute until the NG arrives).

 

Further reading

https://defenseissues.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/a-10-effectiveness-assessment/

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/low-and-slow?trk_source=popular

http://www.rense.com/general38/a10.htm

http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/the-usafs-rationale-for-retiring-the-a-10-warthog-is-bu-1562789528

View story at Medium.com

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65 Responses to “Fast jets as close air support (CAS) aircraft”

  1. NicJon said

    Thanks for another great article Picard – Kind regards 🙂

  2. NicJon said

    p.s

    New interview with Sprey -re: latest news on the A-10. (the supposed cancellation of the Warthog’s Retirement)

    http://www.1041kqth.com/shows/the-james-t-harris-show/harris-podcast/the-father-of-the-a10-pierre-sprey-interview-11416

  3. Zierler said

    You never mentioned Russia’s SU25. Why? Otherwise quite interesting, tho I disagree on some issues. Cheers

  4. altandmain said

    I don’t think that the modern air forces care these days about what actually works and what does not.

    It is all about money.

  5. Silavite said

    Do you have a source for the claim that, “During 1991 Desert Storm A-10 caused half of the Iraqi military losses”?

    “A-10s were utilized at low level despite threat from MANPADS…” How survivable have encounters with MANPADS been?

    “The GAU-8/A accuracy when installed in the A-10 is rated at ‘5 mil, 80 percent’ […] This equates to a 40 feet (12 m) diameter circle at the weapon’s design range of 4,000 feet (1,200 m).”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAU-8_Avenger#Accuracy

    “During testing, over 450 JDAMs were dropped achieving a system reliability in excess of 95% with a published accuracy under 10 metres (33 ft) CEP.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Direct_Attack_Munition

    I understand that CEP is 50% as opposed to 80%, however, an A-10 would be approaching at no more than a 45 degree dive, so the fire from the gun would land in an ellipse somewhat longer than 11 meters.

    • picard578 said

      “Do you have a source for the claim that, “During 1991 Desert Storm A-10 caused half of the Iraqi military losses”?”

      http://www.pogo.org/our-work/reports/90s/ns-puav-19920701.html

      “How survivable have encounters with MANPADS been?”

      No idea. Overall loss rate was low, as was overall MANPADS Pk, but I do not recall seeing any data specifically about A-10s survivability against MANPADS.

      “I understand that CEP is 50% as opposed to 80%, however, an A-10 would be approaching at no more than a 45 degree dive, so the fire from the gun would land in an ellipse somewhat longer than 11 meters.”

      1) CEP from guided weapons themselves can be very elliptical, depending on release speed and attitude (basically the only way to achieve a roughly circular CEP is a close to 90 degree dive, or a weapon designed to achieve 90 degree dive during the final approach to a target).
      2) Fire from gun, as you poiunted out, has far higher percentage of hits landing within the “accuracy” area. Further, whereas even “misses” from a gun land very close to the CEP ellipse, misses from guided / “precision” weapons can be rather… extreme, up to several miles. And since strafing is always carried out parallel to friendly lines, length of the ellipse is irrelevant – it is the width that matters, and that is still more narrow than the PGM ellipse.
      3) Gun rounds, even 30 mm HE rounds, have very small explosive charges and produce relatively small amount of shrapnel. Bombs and missiles have far larger charges (with the exception of some specialist types with no explosives at all) and all of them produce far greater amount of shrapnel than gun rounds, and that shrapnel also typically flies further.

  6. Y said

    She cares about money, and doesn’t agree with Mr.Picard.
    http://breakingdefense.com/2015/07/secaf-james-hill-refusal-to-retire-planes-may-force-f-35-lrsb-kc-46-delays/

    Money needed for a lot of cool things, several years long studies(=contracts)

    I liked the article.

    • picard578 said

      She cares about the money allright… about the money going to the MIC contractors for new expensive toys. If she really wants to free up money, F-35 procurement can be slowed down.

  7. Vnomad said

    LOL. The A-10s were having a gala time in Afghanistan because no one was shooting back. The Soviet adventure in the same country against the Stinger-equipped insurgents was a very different experience.

    @ Silavite

    “A-10s were utilized at low level despite threat from MANPADS…” How survivable have encounters with MANPADS been?

    Here you go –

    Plus one more loss to a Roland SAM in 2003.

    Ten IR-SAM hits. Eight A-10 losses. 20% survival rate.

    Source:

    http://www.rjlee.org/air/ds-aaloss/
    http://www.2951clss-gulfwar.com/abdr-home.htm

    • picard578 said

      “LOL. The A-10s were having a gala time in Afghanistan because no one was shooting back. The Soviet adventure in the same country against the Stinger-equipped insurgents was a very different experience.”

      Mi-24 had a bad time. I don’t have info on Su-25.

      “Ten IR-SAM hits. Eight A-10 losses. 20% survival rate.”

      That is completely irrelevant unless we know how many MANPADS were shot at the A-10s in the first place.

      • Vnomad said

        As long as the adversary is incompetent and can’t target an A-10 flying low and slow… they’re golden. Fingers crossed. Or are you hoping an A-10 can ‘dodge’ an incoming SAM flying 600 m/s at a range of 1000-2000 metres? Launch-to-impact time < 5 sec.

        _______________________________

        The Soviets lost 16 Su-25s in Afghanistan in action.

        • picard578 said

          Yes, A-10 can avoid an incoming SAM. And number of Su-25s lost is irrelevant without number of sorties at least. And losing 16 Su-25s providing CAS is better than losing 0 aircraft and having no proper CAS.

      • Vnomad said

        Riiight.. and how exactly do you see an A-10 ‘dodging’ a SAM?

        5 secs or less of warning time (assuming its upgraded with a MAWS at some point). By the time the pilot figures out which direction its coming from and moves his stick (not that the aircraft’s response will be instantaneous), the missile has impacted..

        .. with a 80% chances of permanently killing the aircraft (going by the previously posted statistics).

        • picard578 said

          “5 secs or less of warning time (assuming its upgraded with a MAWS at some point).”

          Actually it may well be more than 5 seconds as missile has to accelerate. And due to response lag, a small course change by the aircraft can cause a miss or less than optimal fuzing time. This is not accounting for likely inoptimal launch position in the first time.

          “.. with a 80% chances of permanently killing the aircraft (going by the previously posted statistics).”

          80% chances in Alice’s Wonderland. Hit rate will not be anywhere near 100%.

      • Andrei said

        “80% chances in Alice’s Wonderland. Hit rate will not be anywhere near 100%.”

        And that’s assuming the IR guided missile, I assume we are talking about IR guided missile, will even be able to lock on to the A-10, which by witness accounts in Syria it might not even be able to ( there is a link going around of a report that ISIS fired four MANPADS at an A-10 and they failed to lock on.) There is a reason why the engines are mounted above the fuselage and why the tail is U shaped. It hides IR emissions from most angles except above and behind. This is also the reason why using Su-25 loss rate to extrapolate for A-10 loss rates is wrong. The Su-25s engines are much hotter then the A-10, being turbojets not turbofans, and they have absolutely no measures to hide or cool the exhaust, being placed bellow the wing and in full view from bellow, hence the effectiveness of MANPADS against Su-25.

      • Vnomad said

        Actually it may well be more than 5 seconds as missile has to accelerate. And due to response lag, a small course change by the aircraft can cause a miss or less than optimal fuzing time. This is not accounting for likely inoptimal launch position in the first time.

        80% chances in Alice’s Wonderland. Hit rate will not be anywhere near 100%.

        If the missile didn’t have to accelerate the impact time would be would be 2 seconds for a target at a range of 1.5 km.

        Here you go, launch to impact, 4 seconds (0:24 to 0:28) –

        Doesn’t matter whether its 4 secs, 5 secs or 6 secs. If a Stinger/Igla-S is fired within its envelop by a trained operator who knows his business (as opposed to the ISIS riff-raff), the A-10 on the receiving will get nailed before the pilot knows what’s happening. In fact from the time his MAWS blazes away to impact, he’ll have maybe 3 seconds of reaction time. Fat chance of ‘dodging’ any SAMs.

        And once hit, his aircraft has only 20% chance of ever returning to fight.

        • picard578 said

          “the A-10 on the receiving will get nailed before the pilot knows what’s happening”

          Wrong, missile launch plume is highly detectable both visually and on IR sensors.

          “In fact from the time his MAWS blazes away to impact, he’ll have maybe 3 seconds of reaction time. Fat chance of ‘dodging’ any SAMs. ”

          It can be enough to get out of lethal envelope of a small SAM. Launch conditions will never be optimal, after all.

  8. Vnomad said

    As USAF was planning on phasing out the A-10 back then, they were not given FLIR pods. As a consequence, A-10 pilots had to use Maverick missile’s own IR sensor in lieu of the pods. At the sime time, massive bombing campaign by the B-52s and F-16s failed to destroy four Republican Guard divisions, ensuring survival of Saddam’s regime. Once Iraqi army did move – towards the city of Khafji – two A-10s and an AC-130 took up the turkey shoot opportunity, destroying 58 targets in the 71 vehicle convoy.

    Khafji reminds me of the interview with Gen Chuck Horner, USAF commander in the first Gulf War –

    __________________________________________________________________________

    Q: Did the war have any effect on the Air Force’s view of the A-10?

    A: No. People misread that. People were saying that airplanes are too sophisticated and that they wouldn’t work in the desert, that you didn’t need all this high technology, that simple and reliable was better, and all that.
    Well, first of all, complex does not mean unreliable. We’re finding that out. For example, you have a watch that uses transistors rather than a spring. It’s infinitely more reliable than the windup watch that you had years ago. That’s what we’re finding in the airplanes.

    Those people . . . were always championing the A-10. As the A-10 reaches the end of its life cycle– and it’s approaching that now–it’s time to replace it, just like we replace every airplane, including, right now, some early versions of the F-16.

    Since the line was discontinued, [the A-10’s champions] want to build another A-10 of some kind. The point we were making was that we have F-16s that do the same job.
    Then you come to people who have their own reasons-good reasons to them, but they don’t necessarily compute to me-who want to hang onto the A-10 because of the gun. Well, the gun’s an excellent weapon, but you’ll find that most of the tank kills by the A-10 were done with Mavericks and bombs. So the idea that the gun is the absolute wonder of the world is not true.

    Q: This conflict has shown that?

    A: It shows that the gun has a lot of utility, which we always knew, but it isn’t the principal tank-killer on the A-IO. The [Imaging Infrared] Maverick is the big hero there. That was used by the A-10s and the F-16s very, very effectively in places like Khafji.

    The other problem is that the A-10 is vulnerable to hits because its speed is limited. It’s a function of thrust, it’s not a function of anything else. We had a lot of A-10s take a lot of ground fire hits. Quite frankly, we pulled the A-10s back from going up around the Republican Guard and kept them on Iraq’s [less formidable] front-line units. That’s fine if you have a force that allows you to do that. In this case, we had F-16s to go after the Republican Guard.

    Q: At what point did you do that?

    A: I think I had fourteen airplanes sitting on the ramp having battle damage repaired, and I lost two A-10s in one day [February 15], and I said, “I’ve had enough of this.” It was when we really started to go after the Republican Guard.

    Initially, much of the air assets were devoted to strategic targets, to make sure we got those down, while we were also hitting the frontline forces. As we killed off the research and development stuff-storage, those kinds of targets-we brought more and more assets into the Kuwait Theater of Operation. We really started heating the battle up in the KTO.

    • picard578 said

      And yet the A-10s killed vast majority of Iraqi ground units, were rated as the aircraft most devastating to the Iraqi ground effort, and didn’t have survivability much worse than most other aircraft in theatre.

      You accept a slight increase in casualties among the pilots, or a large increase in casualties among the ground troops. US were lucky that Iraqi were inept enough that CAS wasn’t really necessary.

      General Horner is a bureocrat with no experience of ground combat. US ground troops love the A-10, and that alone should tell you more about it than the entire Horner interview.

      Now, onto the interview:
      “The point we were making was that we have F-16s that do the same job.”

      At twice times the price and less than half effectiveness.

      “Well, the gun’s an excellent weapon, but you’ll find that most of the tank kills by the A-10 were done with Mavericks and bombs.”

      Close air support =/= tank killing. Gun is the best weapon for CAS in general, it can be used against enemy troops in close contact with friendly forces. It also leaves aircraft in far less danger when used at a given altitude, as missiles require five to ten second lock-on time compared to maybe two second track for a gun. Weather doesn’t always allow dropping bombs from 10k feet.

      “A: It shows that the gun has a lot of utility, which we always knew, but it isn’t the principal tank-killer on the A-IO. The [Imaging Infrared] Maverick is the big hero there.”

      And the old liar “forgets” another lesson of the conflict – that the A-10 is an unmatched all-around CAS platform, not just a good tank killer.

      “The other problem is that the A-10 is vulnerable to hits because its speed is limited. ”

      But is also far less vulnerable to being destroyed by the same, especially by optical AAA which are the main danger to low-flying aircraft.

      “We had a lot of A-10s take a lot of ground fire hits. Quite frankly, we pulled the A-10s back from going up around the Republican Guard and kept them on Iraq’s [less formidable] front-line units. That’s fine if you have a force that allows you to do that. In this case, we had F-16s to go after the Republican Guard.”

      Yes, the old USAFs “who cares about grunts, we mustn’t lose a single pilot” BS attitude. Meanwhile US Army extensively used the Apache gunship, despite it being far less survivable than the A-10.

      “It was when we really started to go after the Republican Guard.
      Initially, much of the air assets were devoted to strategic targets, to make sure we got those down, while we were also hitting the frontline forces.”

      So it took losing two A-10s for USAF to stop screwing around and start going after actually relevant targets? And only one A-10 was lost in 2003 war, plus two Apaches.

      I already adressed most of it here:
      https://defenseissues.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/a-10-effectiveness-assessment/

      • Vnomad said

        ‘Bureaucrat’ ‘Liar’

        Gen Chuck Horner flew 111 combat missions in Vietnam, most of which were Wild Weasel missions in the F-105, among the most dangerous tasks assigned to any serviceman. More so than what any ‘grunt’ faced in the Iraq invasion.

        We have his opinion on the A-10’s survivability in contested airspace, versus the opinion of an anonymous internet blogger…

        • picard578 said

          He’s not flying any more, and he never flew a CAS aircraft. And he *is* a bureocrat, which means that he is under external pressure and disconnected from reality, even if he once was not. People who do not conform to the system do not advance, and the system itself is corrupt.

      • altandmain said

        On the note of Horner, please see the following:
        https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1991/03/05/the-hero-that-almost-missed-the-war/c5859915-52f7-426e-a664-d0acd1febc0f/

        Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, in charge of Central Command air forces, had initially opposed the deployment of the tank-killing A-10s — the warplanes that the pilots affectionately call “Warthogs.” Horner was overruled by Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney.

        In a closed-door battle staff meeting a few days into the war, Horner admitted he was wrong. “I take back all the bad things I’ve ever said about the A-10s. I love them. They’re saving our asses.”

        We reported last December that the image-conscious Air Force didn’t like the A-10s because they are slow and ugly. The Army wanted them in the gulf because they do their job well, no matter how they look.

        25 years later, nothing changes.

      • altandmain said

        He tried to take it back after:
        http://harpers.org/archive/2014/02/tunnel-vision-2/?single=1

        Anyways, Picard, the Harper’s article I linked is well worth a read.

      • Y said

        Excuse me sir, but we are trying to discuss about how to observe facts, measure and compare apples with apples. Who cares about who is explaining a thesis? “anonymous blogger” compared to “general” and then? Smart observation linked to hard data from Mr.Hamster is more valuable than many words from an “affordable source”. Imho.
        PS
        Anyway Mr.Picard could be more straight in his thesis, few graphs, and ideas could let ideas fly better.

        • picard578 said

          General has a personal interest in making the A-10 look bad. Unlike him, I have no connections to military industry.

          Yes, we should compare apples to apples. But you can’t do that if salesman sold you potatoes instead.

      • altandmain said

        @Y / Vnomad

        I was disproving your assertion about Horner attacking the A-10. He did at point praise it.

  9. altandmain said

    I think that if anything else, there has been an over-obsession with guided weapons altogether.

    Missiles, PGMs, and guided shells have become par the course within the US and several other Western militaries. In some ways, this has become an end unto itself, over anything else.

    The sad thing is that this is often not effective and often leads to very heavy civilian casualties. Not saying that CAS won’t lead to no civilian causalities or friendly fire incidents (it will), but the loss is much lower, especially with good pilots and likely a rear person.

  10. Vnomad said

    On the issue of friendly fire, we’ve got Picard posting anecdotal evidence, and there’s the actual statistics, which prove that the safest aircraft in terms of collateral deaths over the last five years was actually the F-15E, with the F-16 coming second (albeit closely tied with the A-10 in terms of collateral ‘incidents’) –

    • picard578 said

      Actual statistics being? You mean ones that list deaths per sortie, with no mention of number of firing passes per sortie, situation on the ground that each aircraft faces, or other such “irrelevancies”? A-10 often carries out CAS in conditions where pilots of other aircraft won’t even think about attempting it, but let’s not let such “anecdots” influence us, shall we?

      Lies, damn lies and statistics. Statistics can be used to support already given argument or proof, but they can never be an argument in themselves. Not without context at least.

      And let’s not forget that even your statistics – as flawed as they are – show that A-10 is the second safest aircraft in terms of collateral damage. That despite the fact that it was always way beyond the curve when it came to upgrades, compared to other aircraft in USAF. A-10 pilots had to use binoculars and night vision googles while F-16 pilots were flying around with pods.

    • Andrei said

      That report has already been discredited here: https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-air-forces-smear-campaign-against-the-a-10-relies-on-flawed-data-243d4964aae1#.jqwjtvx1o

      And I quote from above:

      “The key issue Air Force headquarters obscures is the rate at which these tragic losses occur. Obviously, some aircraft have flown far more attack missions than other aircraft. For instance, the A-10 has flown 4.5 times as many firing sorties as the B-1.

      However, the critical number is not the total soldiers and civilians killed and wounded, but the ratio of those losses to the number of sorties flown.

      Without this crucial rate, which the Air Force downplayed or excluded entirely, you can’t determine the likelihood of friendly or civilian casualties or which plane types are least likely to inflict these terrible losses.

      Even when you look at the Air Force headquarters’ doctored statistics, it turns out the A-10 is significantly safer than most of the other planes. Only a total misreading would suggest that the A-10 is the plane most dangerous to friendly troops or civilians.”

      and:


      For example, the data sheets the Air Force prepared for the press showed the A-10 had a “.3 percent” rate of incidents causing civilian casualties, which was the second lowest rate of any aircraft.

      Using the same data sheets and long division, you quickly find that the A-10 suffered 1.4 civilian casualties for every 100 “kinetic”—weapons employed— sorties. The B-1B bomber, the platform Air Force headquarters always touts as the preferable alternative, had a rate 6.6—nearly five times worse than the A-10.

      and

      So how did Air Force headquarters cook the numbers? For one, the numbers were cooked by time frame. The chart comparing civilian casualties starts in 2010, conveniently excluding the 2009 Granai Massacre in which a B-1 killed between 26 and 147 civilians and wounded many more. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission estimated 97 civilians killed, which the Department of Defense has not disputed. Including 2009 would have made the B-1 bomber the worst killer in theater by far.

      For the fratricide data, on the other hand, the Air Force incongruously extended the time-frame back to 2001. If they had used the same time-frame, the B-1 bomber’s killing of five American troops in 2014 would have made it top the list for fratricide.

      and

      Second, the Air Force’s data doctoring went so far as to exclude all wounded U.S. troops, all killed or wounded allied troops, and all wounded civilians over the same time period.

      Including these statistics would have collapsed their case against the A-10. If the Air Force included all friendly killed and wounded, three aircraft would have caused substantially greater total fratricide losses than the A-10.

      This was also an obvious conclusion from the released data sheets, but not mentioned in the press reports.

      Finally and most importantly, to make sure no one could compare aircraft using the crucially important friendly casualty rate per 100 sorties, the Air Force withheld as classified the number of firing sorties each plane flew during the fratricide data period—2001 to 2014—notably the same data they declassified for their civilian casualty chart from 2010 to 2014.

      • Vnomad said

        That report has already been discredited here

        That’s interesting… since I didn’t post any report. Lol.

        All I posted was a set of statistics (which BTW are not disputed by the article you’ve posted).

      • Vnomad said

        Actual statistics being? You mean ones that list deaths per sortie, with no mention of number of firing passes per sortie, situation on the ground that each aircraft faces, or other such “irrelevancies”? A-10 often carries out CAS in conditions where pilots of other aircraft won’t even think about attempting it, but let’s not let such “anecdots” influence us, shall we?

        Oh please. Neither the A-10 nor any aircraft face any significant ground threat.

        Lies, damn lies and statistics. Statistics can be used to support already given argument or proof, but they can never be an argument in themselves. Not without context at least.

        Hmm.. anecdotes over statistics.. well as long as you don’t submit it for peer review by professionals, you’re golden.

        And let’s not forget that even your statistics – as flawed as they are – show that A-10 is the second safest aircraft in terms of collateral damage. That despite the fact that it was always way beyond the curve when it came to upgrades, compared to other aircraft in USAF. A-10 pilots had to use binoculars and night vision googles while F-16 pilots were flying around with pods.

        – The statistics, which are statistics and nothing show the A-10 nearly tied with the F-16 in terms of ‘incidents’ but in terms of civilian deaths, its at fourth place behind the F-15E, AC-130 & F-16, with the F-18 very close behind.

      • Andrei said

        “That’s interesting… since I didn’t post any report. Lol.

        All I posted was a set of statistics (which BTW are not disputed by the article you’ve posted).”

        You are funny. The source of the statistics you mention is mentioned right in the line bellow the table. Coincidentally it’s the same table, statistics and line that appear if you had bothered to click on the third link in the article you assume is not disputing “your” statistics. Here I’ll post the link here http://www.pogoarchives.org/straus/usaf_fratricide_data_2010_2014.pdf seeing as you are actually to lazy to read the article and just assume it is not disputing “your” statistics.

        Next time don’t insult our intelligence by making affirmation before checking your facts. From my point of view that little reply of yours invalidates all you have posted because it shows you as superficial and closed minded incapable of even acknowledging information that contradicts your views.

      • Vnomad said

        You are funny. The source of the statistics you mention is mentioned right in the line bellow the table. Coincidentally it’s the same table, statistics and line that appear if you had bothered to click on the third link in the article you assume is not disputing “your” statistics. Here I’ll post the link here http://www.pogoarchives.org/straus/usaf_fratricide_data_2010_2014.pdf seeing as you are actually to lazy to read the article and just assume it is not disputing “your” statistics.

        Next time don’t insult our intelligence by making affirmation before checking your facts. From my point of view that little reply of yours invalidates all you have posted because it shows you as superficial and closed minded incapable of even acknowledging information that contradicts your views.

        I have no idea what trip you’re on. I’ll recap in the simplest possible words I can –

        1. I posted a chart presenting some statistics, sourced to the USAF. Its provenance is accepted by all parties including POGO (from where I got that chart BTW).

        2. On basis of that chart, I presented some conclusions.

        3. In you come saying – “that report has already been discredited”

        4. I never posted nor made any allusions to any report.

        5. Unless you’re disputing the statistics themselves (POGO accepts them – while also demanding those prior to 2011), your response to my post was irrelevant. Period.

  11. Vnomad said

    First, learn to quote.

    And perhaps you should learn how to spell ‘bureaucrat’ (its not ‘bureocrat’) and ‘anecdotes’ (not ‘anecdots’) if you’re going to continue blogging in the English medium.

    Second, even against “insignificant” threats such as in Kosovo, Iraq etc., A-10 was more survivable than F-117 and close in survivability to high-altitude fast jets despite A-10 pilots regularly violating altitude limits.

    The fact that they were restricted to a 10-15k ft altitude limit is instructive. And fortunately, they were never sent into the grinder with all high threat missions assigned to the F-117 and B-2, only aircraft cleared to operate over Belgrade for the first 58 days of the air operation.

    Even in 1991, the USAF pulled them back from the high-threat missions against the Republican Guard after sustaining casualties.

    Anecdotes that show how A-10 is actually used, what opinion people who are actually being supported by it is compared to fast jets.

    And you are hardly one to talk, seeing how you are using anecdotes to disprove A-10s survivability, despite statistics – which again are actually painting far worse picture of the A-10 than it actually is (context!) – show that it is more survivable than many other aircraft in USAF.

    Statistics alone are worthless because a small change in situational context can produce large real variables. Further, USAF’s statistics are false – they have doctored them in a way that makes the A-10 appear significantly worse than it actually is. In reality, A-10 was in the second place, just behind the AC-130.

    http://www.pogo.org/our-work/articles/2015/af-hq-declassified-and-released-incomplete-data.html
    Civilian casualties per kinematic sortie: AC-130 0,7 / A-10 1,4 / F-15E 1,6 / F-16 2,1 / F-18 2,2 / B-1 6,6 / AV-8 8,4.

    Interesting that the USAF’s statistics are not just misinterpreted/out-of-context but just flat-out ‘false’ but POGO which uses the same statistics presents an accurate picture.

    Especially since in POGO’s considered wisdom, 35 dead & 3 wounded is a less severe outcome than 2 dead & 20 wounded. But they don’t cherry-pick data no sirree..

    • picard578 said

      “And perhaps you should learn how to spell ‘bureaucrat’ (its not ‘bureocrat’) and ‘anecdotes’ (not ‘anecdots’) if you’re going to continue blogging in the English medium.”

      Latter one was due to the keyboard, and former at least is not shitty laziness. Which I can’t say of your refusal to use simple quotation marks.

      “The fact that they were restricted to a 10-15k ft altitude limit is instructive.”

      Of Pentagon attitude towards the A-10, nothing else. In fact, that limit was little more than a PR stunt to “show” how the A-10 is “vulnerable” and should be retired. And pilots regularly violated the limit anyway… unlike pilots of fast jets, who consequently remained mostly blind.

      ” And fortunately, they were never sent into the grinder with all high threat missions assigned to the F-117 and B-2, only aircraft cleared to operate over Belgrade for the first 58 days of the air operation.”

      Hitting static targets and terrorizing civillians was never the A-10 mission, so there was no need to send them there, even if you ignore brass’ incorrect assumptions about the A-10s survivability.

      “Even in 1991, the USAF pulled them back from the high-threat missions against the Republican Guard after sustaining casualties.”

      Yes, I know USAFs attitude towards casualties… And seeing how the Republician Guard was mostly dug in, air strikes in general were useless. Once elements of the Guard actually tried to move, it took all of two A-10s to decimate it. One more thing you are ignoring is that ALL aircraft types that tried attacking the Guard – especially during the day, which is when the (DARK GREEN) A-10s typically operated – sustained casualties.

      Apaches have higher loss rate due to crashes than the A-10 has due to enemy fire (during the Kosovo war, two out of 24 Apaches crashed in first two weeks). In both Afghanistan and Iraq, Apaches on high-threat missions typically suffered 70-90% loss rate. But I don’t see US Army wanting to retire them, because they are genuinely useful CAS platform. What USAF is doing, is looking for an excuse. Nothing more.

      “Interesting that the USAF’s statistics are not just misinterpreted/out-of-context but just flat-out ‘false’ but POGO which uses the same statistics presents an accurate picture.”

      POGO is not trying to desperately retire the A-10 for ideological reasons, and you should do some research instead of blindly trusting a bunch of bureocrats on crack overdose with connections to military industry.

      “Especially since in POGO’s considered wisdom, 35 dead & 3 wounded is a less severe outcome than 2 dead & 20 wounded. But they don’t cherry-pick data no sirree..”

      Actually, they don’t cherry-pick data, unlike USAF… 35 dead and 3 wounded is a less severe outcome when you remember that your “2 dead and 20 wounded” do not account for some two hundred ground troops dead… but hey, since when do USAF generals care about ground troops lives? They want to play war from their sofas, comfortably disconnected from the world and the reality that at war, people die. If only they could get rid of that pesky A-10 and its close air support mission, everything would be perfect, and they would be free to wage budget wars in peace.

  12. Thorfinnsson said

    This is a very good article. But a lot more needs to be addressed. Just about everyone who isn’t an Air Force flag officer or defense contractor already agrees we need to keep the A-10.

    There are two big things that need to be addressed if we wish to get serious about close air support going forward. The first is highlighted by this article itself–nearly all the examples are related to either colonial wars (now fashionably called small wars) or wars against weak opponents (Iraq, Serbia). If we want to get serious about colonial wars (I think we should avoid them), it would be preferable to simply establish a fourth (fifth) branch of the military. Or rather a paramilitary force–a heavily armed gendarmerie/constabulary. The only requirements for close air support aircraft in such wars is to survive heavy machine gun fire and MANPADS, deliver heavy machine gun fire, and drop small bombs. High performance is not needed. The existing Super Tucano is adequate for this and the job could be done for less.

    The second is more serious. The Air Force has long maintained that the A-10 is not survivable on the modern battlefield. While we know that this is largely self-serving b.s., it is to some degree true. The A-10 is only survivable on the modern battlefield because other armed forces haven’t equipped themselves in such a way as to defeat it.

    Right now the A-10 is survivable on the modern battlefield because most air defense are intended to counter high performance aircraft flying at altitude. At the low level all that is available are unguided heavy caliber machine guns and the Shilka–which the A-10 was designed to survive.

    The Russians designed a follow up system known as the Tunguska with 30mm cannon. There is also the TOR missile system specifically designed for low altitude defense.

    Systems which have a much greater chance of defeating the A-10 also exist on warships in the form of CIWS. These are beginning to be introduced to ground forces as well. A 30mm or greater caliber CIWS would shred an A-10.

    Weapons which can plausibly defeat the A-10 from the ground have in fact existed since World War 2. The Germans designed a computer-controlled 55mm anti-aircraft gun in response to the RAF dam buster raids with the goal of rapidly acquiring and destroying an aircraft in one shot. Late war aircraft had performance similar to the modern A-10, although they weren’t as armored. The Army designed the 75mm Skysweeper anti-aircraft gun system after the war which could successfully engage aircraft flying in the transonic range, and the Russian predecessor to the Shilka was equipped with 57mm cannon. NATO SPAAG systems had 35mm cannon.

    In the future we can expect battlefield lasers as well. Extending the target acquisition time and limiting area over the battlefield will become all the more critical then.

    Large proliferation of A-10 like aircraft would prompt the proliferation of these systems, and perhaps alter even fighter aircraft design. Special low altitude fighters with straight wings might appear, and for that matter it is realistic to produce a supersonic multirole jet fighter which can engage at these altitudes and speeds. A swing-wing fighter could do it with large enough wings. So could a closely coupled delta canard with a much larger wing area and high lift devices–think the Swedish Viggen (which had the highest performance cannon of any fighter aircraft) or an F-16XL with canards and high performance flaps. It’s also not true that all such aircraft are unarmored–Su-27 family aircraft contain their engines in titanium tubes, and the Su-34 adds considerable cockpit armor.

    A survivable CAS aircraft which still satisfies the CAS mission would require the following improvements on the A-10:

    1. More engine power.

    The CAS aircraft needs more power in order to be able to regain energy rapidly after low speed passes in order to escape heavy defense or to outmaneuver missiles without stalling. The aircraft must be capable of high transonic speeds without sacrificing its low speed performance. Fortunately the X-1 proved straight wings are compatible with this, and there’s no law prohibiting a CAS aircraft from being area ruled.

    2. Smaller.

    The A-10 is too large. The design was flawed from the outset owing to the massive GAU-8 rotary cannon, which is also flawed for its core mission as it takes too long to spool up. The Su-25’s compact, lightweight 30mm gast gun is a much better design. This is not just an issue for unguided weapons–computerized electro-optical sensors are proliferating and improving.

    3. Much better visual camouflage.

    The Desert Storm example is embarrassing. But I think we can do better than simply painting for the climate. An average terrain profile could be loaded into a computer which would automatically configure a paint scheme to be applied by robotic sprayers prior to a mission. I bet such a system could be developed on Kickstarter quickly and cheaply if the DOD got out of the way. Vietnam era experiments with using active lighting for additional camouflage were highly successful but abandoned. These should be revived.

    4. Reduced radar signature.

    This is less critical as a CAS aircraft flies at low altitudes, but it’s not irrelevant. Many anti-aircraft weapons are radar guided. A smaller RCS makes the target harder to acquire and engage, increasing the engagement time. Additionally, radar-guided weapons lock onto the radar centroid. A smaller RCS means a smaller centroid which makes evasive maneuvering more effective in defeating radar lock. Reduced RCS will also add altitude flexibility to the CAS mission.

    This doesn’t need to be a multibillion dollar bungle. Stealth shaping itself is now easy (relatively speaking). Instead of using exotic materials, the aircraft could simply be largely built of plywood fastened with RAM-adhesives (e.g. ferrofluids). The wood would be intended to get damaged with the crew and critical systems protected by armor.

    A blended-wing body with a V-tail would reduce RCS, decrease drag, increase lift, improve internal storage volume, i and increase lift to boot.

    It’s not necessary to achieve B-2 or even F-22 levels of stealth.

    The aircraft could be stealthed by going on a gun-only mission, and in the event of carrying external ordinance (most missions) jettisoning all ordinance would restore the stealth profile.

    5. Reduced infrared signature.

    The A-10 is somewhat ahead here already due to its tail camouflaging its IR emissions. Perhaps better still would be a prop aircraft with turbocharged, opposed-piston diesel engines (e.g. the Napier Deltic) for colder exhaust. Another benefit is lower fuel consumption. Of course this creates a tradeoff with both RCS (could be mitigated somewhat with balsa props) and acoustic signature. Careful study is required. If going the turbofan route, engines buried in the fuselage with long exhaust pipes coated in heat ablating tiles (as in the YF-23) would help to a considerable degree.

    Now that we’ve looked at survivability, there are other flaws with the A-10 that need to be remedied:

    1. It needs a crew of two, as Hans-Ulrich Rudel pointed out a long time ago.

    2. Can the 30mm cannon reliably penetrate the new Armata tank?

    If not, increasing caliber to 35mm or even 40mm is needed. Abandoning the rotary cannon means this would still be lighter and more compact than the present gun. Advanced materials allow for further weight savings.

    A larger caliber also creates an intriguing possibility of proximity-fused programmable air-burst munitions.

    3. It needs a lower caliber gun for strafing.

    You don’t need an anti-tank cannon to engage infantry or soft-skinned vehicles. A Browning .50 cal work just fine. If we want a new gun, the 9x90mm round designed by West Germany gives performance better than .50 cal in most conditions and would allow for a much smaller gun and ammunition stowage area.

    4. Improved avionics especially sensors.

    Not news to anyone–the key here is to avoid contractor gold bricking. Distributed electro-optical and infrared sensors, distributed electromagnetic emissions receivers, and if possible distributed acoustic sensors (I doubt this is possible in an aircraft but who knows). Precision bombing computers such as the ones the Russians have been using in Syria to avoid excessive PGM expenditure would also be useful.

    5. Better armor.

    Materials and computing have improved. We can have better armor at the same or even lower weight today. Increasing survivability also increases pilot aggressiveness.

    6. Greater range.

    The A-10 is limited to a 300 mile range. For most CAS missions this isn’t a big deal, but a greater range would increase basing flexibility. Against a strong opponent bases within 300 miles would be seriously degraded by bombing and missile strikes. Longer range also increases loiter time.

    7. Smaller bombs and missiles.

    This obviously isn’t CAS specific, but would be most useful here. 100 or even 50 pound bombs need to be available.

    The A-10 definitely should not be retired, but we shouldn’t overlook its flaws either. We can do better.

    Not specifically aircraft related, but it’s clear the Key West agreement should be abandoned. Every service needs the tools needed to accomplish its job. Attack helicopters are close to useless on the modern battlefield. The Marines also don’t need a high performance fighter (if the F-35 can be called high performance…)–they need a ground pounder. Even the Navy could make use of this platform.

    • picard578 said

      “The second is more serious. The Air Force has long maintained that the A-10 is not survivable on the modern battlefield. While we know that this is largely self-serving b.s., it is to some degree true. The A-10 is only survivable on the modern battlefield because other armed forces haven’t equipped themselves in such a way as to defeat it.”

      This may be true, but it is also mostly irrelevant. Survivability of the A-10 is unimportant, as long as it doesn’t prevent it from doing the job. What matters is survivability of a system: if losing ten A-10 pilots means saving 500 or a thousand infantrymen, then losing ten pilots is acceptable – it is ground troops who win the war, everything else is there merely to support them. Best way to avoid casualties is to shorten the war, even if it means higher immediate casualties. And having a proper CAS platform supporting a maneuver force is a good way to shorten the war. That being said, the A-10 does have issues.

      “The Russians designed a follow up system known as the Tunguska with 30mm cannon. ”

      I know. A-10s are designed to survive 23 mm rounds to any area of the aircraft, but they can survive some hits of rounds up to 57 mm in caliber.

      “A 30mm or greater caliber CIWS would shred an A-10.”

      Not necessarily, see above. Also, that assumes the A-10 will be hit, which depends a lot on range and reaction time. Tunguska uses radar to acquire targets, which does not bode well for its ability to quickly acquire and engage a low-flying target. And A-10 community has a long tradition of low-altitude approach tactics: engaging it in such conditions is problematic even with optically-aimed guns, let alone radar-aimed ones.

      “In the future we can expect battlefield lasers as well. Extending the target acquisition time and limiting area over the battlefield will become all the more critical then.”

      Lasers are complex, have huge power requirements, and require very large lens to focus the beam at long range. This means that they will be limited to static and possibly shipborne applications. Any ground or air mobile systems are a long time away. Even static systems are not going to happen in close future.

      “Large proliferation of A-10 like aircraft would prompt the proliferation of these systems, and perhaps alter even fighter aircraft design. ”

      Maybe. Or maybe some CAS aircraft could be tasked with destroying enemy CAS aircraft. But existence of a countermeasure does not make a system useless. Similar arguments to what you make were made against tanks once guided missiles appeared, against closed-box APCs etc. In the end, modifying tactics was typically sufficient to solve the problem, to an extent.

      “So could a closely coupled delta canard with a much larger wing area and high lift devices–think the Swedish Viggen (which had the highest performance cannon of any fighter aircraft) or an F-16XL with canards and high performance flaps.”

      No need to go there, Gripen and Rafale already have excellent low-speed maneuverability, albeit lower wing loading – like my FLX – would help improve low-speed maneuverability.

      “It’s also not true that all such aircraft are unarmored–Su-27 family aircraft contain their engines in titanium tubes, and the Su-34 adds considerable cockpit armor.”

      But that armor is comparatively light, and to my knowledge Flankers other than Su-34 have no cockpit armor. Further, Flanker and Fulcrum family aircraft were intended from the get-go to serve in ground attack role as well: hence a 30 mm cannon with comparatively heavy shell and low muzzle velocity (compare to GIAT 30 that has comparatively light shell and high muzzle velocity), widely spaced engines and heavy armor to certain areas.

      “1. More engine power.”

      Agreed. In fact, there were proposals to fit the A-10 with more powerful engines.

      “2. Smaller.”

      No argument here. In addition to what you said, smaller aircraft will be inherently more maneuverable, and may even be more survivable – best way to avoid getting killed is to avoid getting hit in the first place.

      “3. Much better visual camouflage.”

      Well, those are some good ideas. And using active lighting for camouflage actually dates back to World War II, albeit to my knowledge it was limited to high-flying aircraft.

      “4. Reduced radar signature.”

      Yes, there were some wooden-hulled ground attack aircraft in World War II as well (British Mosquito comes to mind).

      “5. Reduced infrared signature.”

      Yes, those are some good ideas. However, burying engines in the fuselage might not be the solution: it would make the aircraft larger, or you would have to use a lower-bypass engine, which means that the engine itself will be hotter. Also, it would mean that the engine is near the fuel tanks, which would cause catastrophic consequences in the event of engine fire (e.g. due to a hit to that area). Turboprop option is worth considering, but issue is that it means lower power-to-weight ratio, which negatively impacts engagement and post-engagement survivability, especially against optically-guided weapons, due to inability to recover energy.

      “1. It needs a crew of two, as Hans-Ulrich Rudel pointed out a long time ago.”

      Yep, all my concepts for a new CAS aircraft had a crew of two.

      “If not, increasing caliber to 35mm or even 40mm is needed. Abandoning the rotary cannon means this would still be lighter and more compact than the present gun. Advanced materials allow for further weight savings.”

      This, however, might still mean a large aircraft. Especially due to powerful engines needed to counter the recoil. That being said, 35 mm Oerlikon might be a good choice.

      “3. It needs a lower caliber gun for strafing.”

      Yep, and .50-cals could be mounted in wings.

      “6. Greater range.”

      Better option would be to design an aircraft so that it can be colocated with ground troops, with no fixed bases being necessary at all.

      “7. Smaller bombs and missiles.”

      Yes, due to PGM insanity, most bombs have significantly increased in size. During the World War II and Vietnam war there were 250 lbs, 125 lbs and even smaller bombs.

      “The A-10 definitely should not be retired, but we shouldn’t overlook its flaws either. We can do better.”

      Agreed, but USAF wants to get rid of the CAS mission. That is the real problem.

      “Not specifically aircraft related, but it’s clear the Key West agreement should be abandoned. ”

      No argument here.

      You might also want to check the Blitzfighter designs – Blacktail (BlacktailDefense) has very good sketches of them over at DeviantArt, as well as the history behind them.

  13. Y said

    Hi Picard, could you confirm A-10 sustained sortie rate equal to 3? How it could be “Surge” sortie rate?
    thanks

    • Y said

      May be Mr.Gilmore reads your posts.
      http://securityassistance.org/content/update-f-35-joint-strike-fighter-jsf-proram-and-fiscal-year-2017-budget-request

      Block 4 is coming. Just few coins more..gasp

    • picard578 said

      As I recall, A-10 has 6,2 MMHPFH downtime. A-10 flew 1,4 sorties per day in the Desert Storm, but it also flew far longer sorties than other aircraft.

      http://www.2951clss-gulfwar.com/

    • picard578 said

      http://www.2951clss-gulfwar.com/

      • Mr.Y said

        Hi Picard, great site the 2951. 1,25 s/d base on aircraft, sorties, days. But I could’nt find how many hours were flown. This data could permit use to “normalize” sortierate to 1or 1.5h/sortie, used for F-35. Could I ask to the the site may be. thanks for now

      • Mr Y said

        End of my little research. I found ns97134 from GAO; reading the report I had impression A-10 data were partial, may be not to show a very big sortie rate versus other kind of aircraft. No mention to average hour/sortie.
        I red interesting considerations about multirole and aircraft cost. Why don’t usaf take a GAO director as a purchasing director? Very interesting and objective merthods could come out.
        Excellent observations about F-117 typical missions; report suggests that 0,7 s/d was an effect of many factors and bases very far from the iraqui border, but choice to put F-117 there was forced because stealth platform logistic and maintenance needs.

        I found very very surprising that no defense paper or site could use money based effective method, I’ve watched many but you and GAO are the ones I got. Defence paper and sites talk about speed, engine power, missiles number, rcs…very good for fangroups people and little boys, but it’s not talking about the issue, the topic. Discussion abut weapons seems like fotball supporters ones.
        I looked in 2951 site but I couldn’t find any info on mission duration. Anyway impressive site. Could wars be stopped.
        So I’ll get A-10 1.27s/d for my tiny article.
        Do you know A-10 average mission lenght? Thankyou

        • picard578 said

          “End of my little research. I found ns97134 from GAO; reading the report I had impression A-10 data were partial, may be not to show a very big sortie rate versus other kind of aircraft. No mention to average hour/sortie.”

          Oh, USAF always shows only partial data about the A-10, so as to make it look bad (and other governmental organizations – GAO for example – often follow the suit, either by accident or by design). For example, survivability: when they compared the A-10 to the F-117, they “forgot” to mention a few things:
          1) F-117 flew only at night, A-10 flew at both day and night
          2) Night-flying A-10s suffered no losses at all
          3) F-117 only struck fixed targets and from high altitude; A-10s engaged all sorts of targets, and oftentimes violated altitude limits in order to use a gun (the only aircraft to regularly do so)
          4) Even taking day-flying A-10 sorties into account, A-10 would have suffered no losses – or at most a single loss – had it flown as few sorties as the F-117
          5) Number of A-10 sorties was likely undercounted
          6) When Kosovo war is taken into account, F-117 had higher loss rate than night flying A-10s
          7) US Army is still using Apache helicopters despite their limited CAS capability and absolutely shitty survivability (when compared to the A-10, at any rate)
          8) Radar stealth has provided no measurable survivability benefits
          9) Even today, despite heavy MANPADS threat by ISIS, both A-10 and Su-25 continue to fly at low and medium altitudes (it helps that the latter has an IR jammer)

          I wrote an article “A-10 effectiveness assessment”, if you haven’t read it you might find it interesting. Anyway, if you want good data on the A-10, look at POGO.

          “Excellent observations about F-117 typical missions; report suggests that 0,7 s/d was an effect of many factors and bases very far from the iraqui border, but choice to put F-117 there was forced because stealth platform logistic and maintenance needs.”

          Yes, that is one of primary things I dislike with stealth aircraft. They cannot operate from FOBs, especially not from road bases or dirt strips, which both reduces sortie rate and makes them highly vulnerable to being taken out on the ground.

          “Defence paper and sites talk about speed, engine power, missiles number, rcs…very good for fangroups people and little boys, but it’s not talking about the issue, the topic.”

          That is because they are made for fanboys… their purpose is to make profit, and many people are not very fond of having to think. More importantly, those defence papers and sites are in many (most? all?) cases connected to the defense industry; if you want to know why that matters, read the article below:
          https://defenseissues.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/false-freedom-of-information/

          “Do you know A-10 average mission lenght? Thankyou”

          Several hours, I think, but I don’t recall anything more concrete than that. Loiter time is expected to be 1,88 hours for tank busting mission, IIRC.

      • Mr.Y said

        Just few thoughts about F-117 and his sortie rate equal to 0.7 (ref.GAO desert storm). Source suggests fh were not so bad: 3hours to go and 3 to come back, loiter time almost zero, many air refueling. It is consistent with a “rustic” aircraft. Nevertheless stealth-linked issues, as logistics needed, “very not expendable” generals and politicians way of thinking, forced F-117 to a low sortie rate (F-35 wuold sign immediately for a 0.7 I guess). Do you agree on above by watchinf your data?
        These send me to the next issue about F-22 sortie rate, it seems far more complex than F-117; engines, avionics, dimensions, performance. Even if I cannot quantify “complexity” these hypothesis points to a similar sortie rate between the two, with F-22 worst. Same restrictions above are valid for F-22 I think, or even stronger.
        Anyway i don’t have any evidence so it could be all wrong, just an exercise. It could be easier to look for evidence that negates F-22 low sortie rate.
        PS: i tried to post a similar comment but I did a mistake probably ansd the comment was lost in the web…

        • picard578 said

          Yes, F-117 had very good endurance, but A-10 also had extreme loiter time yet it achieved far higher sortie rate. Maintenance downtime combined with the fact that F-117 could not fly from FOBs meant very low sortie rate.

          Sorties were that long by necessity, as I said, F-117 was posted far in the rear, unlike A-10.

      • Mr.y said

        Picard, you missed that 0.7s/d is an amazing dream for the wonder-kid made by LMC.

        I red an article in a defence newspapaer asserting A-10 fleet mainatence cost to be “enourmous”. No number was there, or suorce. Obviusly? I suppose.
        Do you have a source abot that awesome number?

        I have a link about manpads/helicopters in syria, I’d like to share with you. Is this the right place to post it?
        Thanks

        • picard578 said

          I’m not sure what you mean about the F-117.

          A-10 fleet maintenance cost is actually enormous. So is the F-22, F-15, F-16, B-52, C-130 fleet cost. Having large number of aircraft does that, and since A-10 isn’t in production – even spare parts – cost is somewhat higher than it would be. IIRC, Winslow Wheeler (?) counted A-10s cost as 32k USD per flight hour, but that price included lot more than just the aircraft itself.

          Yeah, go ahead.

  14. A said

    Hi, could you provide a source for these statements ?

    “Yet they were jerked from one kill box to another by central management, often being unable to finish a job in one kill box before being transferred to another, completely empty kill box.”

    “and 8.000 ft minimum altitude limit was introduced which prevented the A-10 from flying low altitude column cover, armed reconnaissance, and from using its 30 mm gun”

    Thanks.

  15. Mry said

    Hi Picard, about f-117. Desert storm gao data suggest good fh per sorties, about 6h: go and back. Loiter points To zero I suppose. F-117 coulb be the most ruogh (rustic) stealth aircraft? F-22 is far complex, so its sorties rate could be lower than f-117. Do you agree?

  16. mry said

    Hi Picard, just to say your blog has been mentioned.
    here
    http://liberticida.altervista.org/concerto-a-palmyra-e-potere-aereo-un-punto-di-vista-tecnico-sull'intervento-russo-in-siria/
    and reblogged elsewhere with a lot of comments received.
    I would like to thankyou for your work, and your data approach method, you try to create a standard to divide marketing and propaganda from reality.
    Happy if you could have a look to the article, may be with a google translator.
    I’ll go on following you here.

    • picard578 said

      Thanks, and you’re welcome.

      And I don’t think US care about destroying ISIL. Neoliberal capitalists want the war to continue, to destabilize the Middle East and push refugees into Europe so as to create conflict and destroy democracy (Islam is as anti-democratic as it gets).

      Even if I am wrong in that one, aerial bombardment will achieve nothing – nothing – without close cooperation with troops on the ground. Russia has been cooperating with Assad, NATO coalition has not. So it is not surprising that Russian bombing campaign would be more effective.

      Also, true measure of usefulness of aircraft is not the sortie rate, sorties flown, ordnance dropped or even targets destroyed; measure is how it impacts the ground war.

      US Air Force does believe in A-10s ability as a CAS aircraft. That is precisely the reason why they want to get rid of it: USAF wants to keep its head in the clouds as much as possible, and its leadership does not see ground war as something that they should concern themselves with. Bombing kindergartens and Chinese embassies is a far more important task in their minds than actually supporting ground troops.

      • mry said

        I agree with you. Completely.
        “And I don’t think US care about destroying ISIL… gets).” yes, because of many cross linked observation on open sources, what happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, somalia and the crazy libyan quest. Believe me Picard it was literally a “shock” for me. I could have not believed that 30yrs ago when the Soviets were “enemies of the liberty”.
        “…close cooperation with troops on the ground..” Info from there suggest it is. Russians have forward observers on the ground to call air strikes properly.
        I’m sure that western “partners” have knowledge and assets to do the same Russians did til now, if just they wuold have wanted.
        “…how it impacts the ground war” very thin but strong observation and whispered like a secret but it’s true. The article is an attempt to simplify a very complex problem starting from the best sources. There are many assumptions infact. But it creates doubt and that’s enough because from doubt could start meditation.
        Meditation could be useful nowadays when we have NATO assets having trips up and down along russian borders in europe. Even if I0m not a “russian lover against everything” I believe It is not a good idea to look for a confrontation with russia, and may be John Doe could agree: unfortunaltely there is a “way of thinking” that believes russians assets are always poor and always not-reliable and this could reinforce some silly ideas in politicians mind. The article tried to put a doubt in that too. I have tried. Thankyou to have red it!

        • picard578 said

          “Info from there suggest it is. Russians have forward observers on the ground to call air strikes properly.”

          That’s good.

          ” I’m sure that western “partners” have knowledge and assets to do the same Russians did til now, if just they wuold have wanted.”

          Oh, they do have. But they don’t want to admit it is necessary.

          “Meditation could be useful nowadays when we have NATO assets having trips up and down along russian borders in europe. Even if I0m not a “russian lover against everything” I believe It is not a good idea to look for a confrontation with russia, and may be John Doe could agree: unfortunaltely there is a “way of thinking” that believes russians assets are always poor and always not-reliable and this could reinforce some silly ideas in politicians mind. The article tried to put a doubt in that too. I have tried. Thankyou to have red it!”

          Actually, Russian hardware tends to be in many ways better than Western equivalents. West is way too reliant on high-tech gadgets. But war is not a place for anything that can break easily.

  17. mry said

    “enemies of the liberty”, and US “liberty defender”.
    I missed that

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