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Posts Tagged ‘Close Air Support’

Ground soldiers’ view of the A-10

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2016


Pentagon is going back and forth on its decision whether to retire the A-10 Warthog. This is due to various pressures, both internal and external. Military industry cares only about the money, and retiring the A-10 would bring huge profits to the defense contractors as the aircraft would have to be replaced – likely by several times more expensive F-35. Upper levels of the military itself are connected to the military industry with a system of revolving doors, and retired generals get highly paid jobs inside the military industry. This means that active generals are under extreme pressure to secure profitable contracts to large military corporations.

A-10 is an anthithesis of everything that technophilic industry and generals believe in. It is an embodiement of the World War II military adage, „Keep it simple, stupid“. Aircraft itself is basically a flying gun – literally, as the gun was designed first and then an aircraft was designed to carry it. It is also heavily armoured and highly maneuverable at low speeds and altitudes, and does not rely on either high speed or radar „stealth“ to keep it alive. As a result, it is a major embarassement to both the military industry and the US Air Force, both of which maintain that top-of-the-line technology is absolutely necessary for a useful weapon. It also looks ugly, unlike Mach 2 fast jets that seem perfect for PR photoshoots.

Because of this, USAF generals are very motivated to try and retire the A-10. They use half-truths, lies and promises to warp the public image of the aircraft. USAF states that fast jets such as the F-15, F-16 and F-35 can perform the close air support as well as the A-10, completely ignoring many doctrinal and technical difficulties they face: pilots that train for many missions, not just close air support, and do not understand situation on the ground; limited situational awareness when aircraft are at high altitude due to „soda-straw“ view of the sensors such as radar and FLIR; „smart“ munitions missing due to fins being bent at release, sensors or computers malfunctioning; bad weather forcing the aircraft to come within enemy weapons envelope, which fast jets cannot survive; inability to provide timely close air support due to fast jets being incapable of lotering above the troops or flying from dirt strips near the troops in contact. This betrays complete lack of interest in and understanding of the close air support mission, which is far more complex than merely dialling in the coordinates and requires a community dedicated to nothing but close air support to keep alive. More importantly, presence of a dedicated CAS aircraft forces the USAF leadership to keep the mission alive, instead of airmen who trained only for hitting strategic targets from fast jets being forced to come up with ad hoc solutions on the spot, and making mistakes – oftentimes deadly – in the process. But right now, USAF leadership is cutting maintenance to the A-10, in an attempt to artificially induce mechanical and other failures which would then be used as a „proof“ that the A-10 „has to be retired“ due to „old age“.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in weapons | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 65 Comments »

A-10 effectiveness assessment

Posted by picard578 on August 16, 2015


A-10 is the premiere close air support fighter today, and one of the very few dedicated CAS platforms in existence. Close air support is one of the most important, and most difficult, missions that air force can be tasked with. However, it is part of a spectrum of missions which require cooperation with other services (army cooperation missions are close air support, armed reconnaissance, battlefield interdiction and tactical reconnaissance; navy cooperation missions are patrol surveillance, air defense and anti-ship attack; missions controlled by the air force are air-to-air, deep interdiction and strategic bombing). As such, close support is typically ignored by air forces in favor of missions that air forces control and undertake by themselves, without any involvement from other services.

Close air support is defined as attack against targets within combat (artillery) range, in direct combat contact with supported units. It has to be coordinated with both the artillery and supported units. Read the rest of this entry »

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Light CAS fighter proposal revised

Posted by picard578 on May 31, 2014


While I have proposed a CAS fighter aircraft and ideal composition of NATO air forces, neither of these proposals is very realistic. Western air forces, especially US ones (USAF, US Navy and USMC), tend to hate any simple, effective designs – especially if said designs are meant to support the ground troops. To this end, USAF and US Army have signed a Key West agreement, preventing the US Army from having fixed-wing aircraft heavier than 10.000 lbs.

While USAF says that precision munitions allow fast jets to carry out CAS, that is utterly in contradiction to battlefield realities. Infantry combat typically happens at ranges of less then 100 meters, and never at ranges above 500 meters; “danger close” limits (minimum distance one can employ a weapon at) are 500 meters for 500 lb bomb, 350 meters for 250 lb bomb and 50 meters for gun. But fast jets are too fast to use gun effectively, and even precision munitions loose precision with increasing speed and altitude. Helicopters meanwhile are at danger from small-arms fire – during the Gulf War, after 30 Apache helicopters were shot up (out of 33), they never flew in front of the ground troops again. Soviets lost hundreds of heavily-armed and heavily-armored Mi-24 helicopters during the Afghan war. Read the rest of this entry »

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Close Air Support fighter proposal 3

Posted by picard578 on December 28, 2013


As EJ-230 turned out to be too expensive for estimated cost of aircraft, I have decided to replace it with commercial engine. Gun will also be replaced with 30 mm version of GAU-12 (henceforth GAU-32). 20% increase in size will result in gun being 2,53 m long, 0,31 m wide and 0,35 m tall. Projectile dimensions will be 30×173 mm, same as GAU-8. Rate of fire will be 4.200 rpm, with muzzle velocity of 1.000 m/s. Projectile weight will be 378 g, with total round weight of 681 g. Muzzle energy will be 189.000 J, and maximum output 13,23 MW. Gun itself will weight 211 kg. Recoil is (4.200 / 60) * 1.000 * 0,378 = 26,46 kN.



Length: 12,04 m (12,6 m with tail)

Wingspan: 12,97 m

Height: 3,2 m

Wing area: 26,5 m2

Empty weight: 6.500 kg

Fuel capacity: 4.900 kg

  • Rear tank: 160x110x199 cm = 16x11x19 dm = 3344 l
  • Forward tank: 220x110x110 cm = 22x11x11 dm = 2662 l
  • 1 l = 0,82 kg

Fuel fraction: 0,43

Weight: (30 mm GAU-12 round: 681 g, AGM-65: 300 kg)

With 100% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds: 12.217 kg

With 50% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds: 9.767 kg

With 100% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds + 4 AGM-65: 13.417 kg

With 50% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds + 4 AGM-65: 10.967 kg

Maximum takeoff: 13.940 kg

Wing loading:

With 100% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds: 442 kg/m2

With 50% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds: 350 kg/m2

With 100% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds + 4 AGM-65: 487 kg/m2

With 50% fuel + 1.200×30 mm rounds + 4 AGM-65: 395 kg/m2


1xGAU-32 with 1.200 rounds

6 wing hardpoints (70 mm rocket pods, 12 rockets each; AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-114 Hellfire, AIM-9, ASRAAM, IRIS-T, MICA IR)

1 centerline hardpoint (jamming pod or 500 kg fuel tank, or any of above)

Gun: GAU-32

Length: 2,53 m

Width: 0,31 m

Rate of fire: 4.200 rpm

Muzzle velocity: 1.000 m/s

Projectile: 378 g

Round: 681 g

1-second burst: 70 rounds / 13,23 MJ

Engines: ALF-502R-5 (statistics represent each engine)

Maximum thrust: 6.970 lbf (3.162 kgf, 31 kN)

SFC at maximum thrust: 0,408 lb / lbf hr

Fuel consumption at maximum thrust: 1.290 kg per hour

Cruise thrust: 2.250 lbf

SFC at cruise thrust: 0,72 lb / lbf hr

Fuel consumption at cruise thrust: 735 kg per hour

Length: 162 cm

Diameter: 102 cm

Wing loading:

488 kg/m2 at combat takeoff weight

395 kg/m2 at combat weight

Thrust-to-weight ratio:

0,47 at combat takeoff weight

0,58 at combat weight


Maximum: 860 kph

Cruise: 490 kph

Combat radius with 10 minute combat: 1.093 km

Combat radius with 10 minute combat and 2 hour loiter: 603 km


radar warners

laser warners

missile warners




Unit flyaway cost: 9.184.000 USD

Cost per flying hour: 1.000-1.500 USD

Sorties per day per aircraft: 3

Sorties per day per billion procurement: 324



  • large tank: 140*98*122 px = 12,38*8,67*10,79 dm = 1158 l
  • small tank: 56*52*122 px = 4,95*4,6*10,79 dm = 245 l
  • wing tanks: 2 * 504*84*8 px = 2 * 44,59*7,43*0,71 dm = 2 * 235 = 470 l

This will allow extensive combat and loiter time even if one fuel tank is punctured.

ALX combat mission fuel usage will be like this:

* takeoff – 7 kg

* 10 minutes to 10.000 meters – 430 kg

* 10 minutes of combat – 430 kg

* descent – 250 kg

* landing – 4 kg

* cruise to combat area – 1.640 kg

* cruise from combat area – 1.640 kg

* unusable fuel – 10 kg

* reserve – 489 kg

Ammo capacity:

l:72 px / 63 cm, d:92 px / 80 cm

area: 450 rounds

length: 3 rounds

total: 1.350 rounds

weight: 702 kg

Wing area: 2*210*582 + 97*215 = 244.400 + 20.855 cm2 = 26,5 m2

A-10 costs 16 million USD at weight of 11.321 kg, for a cost of 1.413 USD/kg.

Naval variant will cost 11 million USD.


A-10 has a minimum takeoff distance of 945 meters and landing distance of 610 meters. Its takeoff weight is 21.361 kg for CAS mission, with TWR of 0,38, wing loading of 454 kg/m2. ALX has a takeoff weight of 13.417 kg, TWR of 0,47 and wing loading of 488 kg/m2.

Decrease in takeoff distance is proportional to increase in TWR. 10% increase in takeoff weight increases the takeoff run by 21%. 10% increase in landing weight increases the landing run by 10%. 10% increase in wing area (9% decrease in wing loading) decreases the takeoff speed by 5%.

Thus the ALX takeoff distance is 427 meters. (945 m > 407 > 427)



Comparision with other fighters

AX’s weapons loadout allows it 24 attack passes; A-10 for comparision has 22 firing passes of gun ammo and 6 missiles, for total of 28 attack passes. A-10s unit flyaway cost of 16 million USD and 3 sorties per day per aircraft however mean that while A-10 can fly 186 sorties per day per billion USD, AX can fly 324 sorties per day per billion USD; a 1,74:1 sortie generation advantage; this means that AX offers 7.776 attack passes per billion procurement USD per day, compared to 5.208 for the A-10. AX is also less visible and somewhat more maneuverable owing to higher thrust-to-weight ratio and smaller size, resulting in greater survivability.

Comparing it with other fighters that are supposed to perform CAS is nowhere near being a fair play: aside from being completely incapable of performing actual CAS, fast jets are also too costly. F-16C costs 70 million USD flyaway and can fly 1,2 sorties per day, resulting in 16 sorties per day per billion USD (a 20:1 advantage for AX); F-35A costs 184 million USD flyaway and can fly 0,3 sorties per day, resulting in 1,5 sorties per day (a 216:1 advantage for AX).

F-16C has 4,7 1-second bursts from gun and can carry up to 12 bombs, for a total of 17 attack passes; F-35A has 2,6 1-second bursts and can carry up to 10 bombs, for a total of 13 attack passes. Thus per billion procurement USD, F-16C offers a total of 272 attack passes, and F-35A offers a total of 20 attack passes. From this it can easily be calculated that, for equal procurement cost, F-16C offers 13 times as many attack passes as the F-35A, A-10 offers 260 times as many attack passes as the F-35A, and AX offers 389 times as many attack passes as the F-35A.

It is also interesting to compare it to several proposed CAS fighters. First one is Pierre Sprey’s CAS fighter (America’s Defense Meltdown, pg 161). Sprey’s fighter has 30 mm cannon, 8.000 kgf of thrust, 6.350 kg empty weight, 4.500 kg of fuel (fuel fraction of 0,41), 11.300 kg combat takeoff weight; likely cost is 9 million USD. Another Fighter Mafia’s proposal, “Blitz Fighter” by James Burton (made into concept at LTV Vought Company), an airplane with empty weight of 2.300-4.500 kg, using 4-barreled 30 mm Gattling gun and a minimum of sensors; it would have cost 7,4 million USD (adjusted for inflation to 2013 USD). AX has 30 mm cannon, 6.324 kgf of thrust, 6.500 kg empty weight, 4.900 kg of fuel (fuel fraction of 0,43), 13.417 kg combat takeoff weight, and while it can carry guided AT missiles, it relies primarly on its gun and dumb weapons; it costs 9,2 million USD. It can be seen that while AX is not as radical concept as other two fighters, it offers most of the same advantages.

3D design by Riley Amos (added 16.8.2016.)


Related content

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Posted in proposals | Tagged: , , , , , | 218 Comments »

Close Air Support fighter proposal revised

Posted by picard578 on December 7, 2013



Due to the thrust shortfall of the AX, and the range shortfall of the ALX, I have decided (after consultation with vstol jockey) to design a new, single-engined CAS fighter designed around the EJ-230. Another problem with previous AX design was its lack of close-coupled canards, caused by position of its turbofan engines.




CAS fighter needs to be stealthy, very maneuverable at low speed, and able to quickly attack the opponent. This means small size, low wing loading, straight wing and high thrust-to-weight ratio. Close-coupled canards are also advantageous for maneuverability, takeoff/landing performance and safety. Cannon should be of revolver design, with relatively large calibre and high rate of fire. Another requirement is good endurance, achieved by high fuel fraction. Engine will be single EJ230 in order to reduce profile to minimum and allow good acceleration.




Length: 11,24 m

Wing span: 10,61 m

Height: 2,22 m

Wing area: 26,88 m2


Empty weight: 3.900 kg

Operational empty weight: 4.100 kg

Armed empty weight: 6.377 kg (6 AGM-65); 10.577 kg (6*1.000 kg bombs)

Fuel capacity: 2.865 kg

Maximum takeoff weight: 13.422 kg (theoretically 17.500 kg)

Combat takeoff weight: 9.442 kg (6 AGM-65); 13.422 kg (6*1.000 kg bombs)

Combat weight: 8.010 kg (6 AGM-65); 11.990 kg (6*1.000 bombs)

Fuel fraction: 0,42


Engine: EJ230

Dry thrust: 72 kN (7.342 kgf)

Fuel consumption (cruise): 700 kg/h

Fuel consumption (maximum dry): 5.702 kg/h

Installed weight: 1.000 kg

Length: 400 cm

Inlet diameter: 74 cm

Thrust-to-weight: 11:1


Gun: GIAT 30

Weight: 120 kg

Bullet weight: 530 g

Projectile weight: 275 g (HE)

Caliber: 30 mm

Rate of fire: 2.500 rpm / 42 rps

Time to full rate of fire: 0,05 s

Muzzle velocity: 1.025 m/s

Muzzle energy: 144 kJ

Overall energy: 6 MW



1 GIAT 30 with 900 rounds

6 wing hardpoints (rocket pods, AT missiles (AGM-65, 300 kg), bombs, ECM pods)

1 centerline hardpoint (ECM pod, 800 kg fuel tank)


Wing loading:

351 kg/m2 at combat takeoff weight

298 kg/m2 at combat weight


Thrust-to-weight ratio:

0,78 at combat takeoff weight

0,92 at combat weight


Flight time on internal fuel: 4,09 hours

Flight time with centerline fuel tank: 5,24 hours



Maximum: 900 kph

Cruise: 550 kph


Combat radius: 1.100 km

Combat radius with centerline fuel tank: 1.441 km

Combat radius with 1 hour loiter: 825 km

Combat radius with 2 hour loiter: 550 km

Combat radius with 3 hour loiter: 275 km

Combat radius with 4 hour loiter and centerline fuel tank: 300 km


Takeoff distance: 700 m

Landing distance: 900 m


Unit flyaway cost: 5,5 million USD

Operating cost per hour: 5.500 USD

Sorties per day per aircraft: 3




Fuel tanks:

1: 147*109*91 = 1.458.093 cm3

2: 163*112*91 = 1.661.296 cm3

3: 4*139*49*8 = 108.976 cm3

4: 2*139*49*8 = 217.952 cm3

5: 2*149*49*8 = 116.816 cm3

TOTAL: 3.563.133 cm3

0,804 kg/l


Naval variant will weight 4.200 kg empty and cost 5,9 million USD.


Comparision with other fighters


Here, I will compare ALX with A-10, Su-25, Pierre Sprey’s proposed CAS fighter (America’s Defense Meltdown, pg 161) and the “Blitz Fighter” by James Burton.


ALX has an empty weight of 3.900 kg with 2.865 kg fuel (fuel fraction 0,42). With it, it has combat radius of 1.100 km, 550 km with 2 hour loiter or 235 km with 1,88 hour loter and 10 minute combat. Armament offers 21 gun burst plus 6 missile hardpoints, for a total of 27 attack passes. Thrust-to-weight ratio at anti-tank combat takeoff weight is 0,78, and wing loading 351 kg/m2. Unit flyaway cost of 5,5 million USD allows 182 aircraft for 1 billion USD, providing 546 sorties and 14.742 attack passes per day.


A-10 is current US close air support aircraft, and only US fighter ever that was designed specifically for close air support. It has a combat radius of 460 km at 1,88 hour loiter and 10 minute combat. Armament includes single 30 mm GAU-8 with 1.174 rounds and 11 hardpoints, of which at least 8 can be used for carrying weapons. GAU-8 fires 52 rounds in a first second of firing, thus resulting in a total of 22 gun bursts; along with 8 missiles, A-10 can have up to 30 attack passes. Thrust-to-weight ratio at anti-tank combat takeoff weight is 0,38, and wing loading 406 kg/m2. At unit flyaway cost of 16 million USD, 1 billion USD budget gives 62 aircraft, allowing a maximum of 186 sorties and 5.580 attack passes per day.


Su-25 is a Russian A-10 equivalent. It has a combat radius of 400 km at unknown loter time. Armament includes single twin-barrel 30 mm GSh-30-2 with 250 rounds and 11 hardpoints, of which at least 8 can be used for carrying weapons (same as A-10). GSh-30-2 fires 50 rounds per second, thus resulting in a total of 5 gun bursts; with 8 missiles, Su-25 can have up to 13 attack passes. At unit flyaway cost of 14 million USD, 1 billion USD gives 71 aircraft; assuming same sortie rate as the A-10, it allows a maximum of 213 sorties and 2.769 attack passes per day.


Pierre Sprey’s fighter has an empty weight of 6.350 kg, with 4.536 kg of fuel. Combat takeoff weight is below 11.340 kg. 8.165 kgf of thrust give it a thrust-to-weight ratio midway through the mission of 0,9. Cost is conservatively estimated as 15 million USD, but realistic cost is 9 million USD, allowing 111 aircraft and 333 sorties for 1 billion USD.


James Burton’s Blitzfighter has an empty weight of 2.530 kg with 770 kg of fuel, for a fuel fraction of 23%. With 238 kg of payload, combat takeoff weight is 3.538 kg, and combat weight 3.153 kg. It has 15,7 m2 of wing, and engine producing 2.291 kgf of thrust. Wing loading is 225 kg/m2 at combat takeoff weight and 201 kg/m2 at combat weight, with thrust-to-weight ratio of 0,65 at takeoff and 0,78 at combat weight. Only weapon is GAU-13 cannon with 350 rounds; this allows a total of 12 gun bursts. Combat radius is 240 km with no loiter. Cost is 2 million USD in 1979 USD, or 6,78 million USD in 2013 USD. More realistic cost of 3,57 million USD would allow 280 aircraft and 840 sorties and 10.080 attack passes per day for 1 billion USD.

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Close Air Support fighter proposal

Posted by picard578 on November 2, 2013

Historical lessons

While Gullio Douhet’s theory that bombardment of the enemy heartland can win the war has dominated USAF (USAAF during WWII) procurement ever since its formation has been thoroughly discredited (more about that in another article), Western air forces still procure far too many strategic bombers and deep strike fighters, while procuring insufficient number of close air support fighters; this often results in a situation where all ground attack aircraft, regardless of their suitability for the role, have to be used for close air support.

But Close Air Support is a very hard mission with strict requirements, which aircraft designed for other missions (“multirole” fighters, most tactical bombers with exception of aircraft designed specifically for CAS, any strategic bombers) do not meet. It is therefore paramount for these requirements to be well understood if CAS fighter is to be effective.

First concern is that crew of a CAS aircraft has to think of themselves and their mission as a ground soldiers, and understand infantry, armor and/or mechanized tactics. From this follows the requirement for CAS squadrons to be assigned to specific battallions and be colocated with them, but also a requirement for pilots to study ground combat – tactics, visual specifics of different vehicles. All of this means that “multirole” pilots are psychologically incapable of carrying out effective CAS, and that complex “multirole” aircraft are similarly incapable of satisfying basing requirements. In exercises, observers should sometimes swap places with ground troops and participate in them as infantrymen or otherwise members of ground units they are assigned to. Whenever CAS crews train, it should be with the unit they are assigned to, and observers should eventually reach the level where they will be capable of taking command of ground units.

Second problem is that Close Air Support is a very demanding mission. It is carried out at low altitude, so pilot will have a lot of trouble avoiding anti-air fire and avoiding to fly into the ground. This means that there should be a separate observer who will also command the aircraft, freeing up pilot to focus on flying.

Third concern is a coordination with both supported unit and the artillery. This means that ground unit should have attached ground FAC. Also, CAS aircraft should be survivable enough so as to be able to fly slow and low enough to identify targets.

It should also be noted that Close Air Support, while extremely useful, is an emergency procedure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why USAF hates A-10 and why it can’t be replaced

Posted by picard578 on March 23, 2013

A-10 was, along with F-16, one of two tactical aircraft created by Fighter Mafia for USAF. Notably, while USAF managed to screw up F-16 by adding bombing and BVR capabilities, A-10 is still relatively unchanged, with exception of new electronics. It is safe, efficient, durable, reliable and cheap, managing to operate in wider range of meteorological conditions than any other aircraft. Its design allows it to evade most of ground fire, and to soak up the rest and still bring the pilot home safely. It can fly at speeds comparable to WW2 turboprops, allowing it to carry out Close Air Support. While it has performed admirably, USAF wants do retire it, with explanation that it is old, vulnerable, and that precision weapons render its capabilities – including its massive 30 mm Gattling gun – unnecessary.

But the real reason for that move is because the A-10 goes against everything USAF believes in. A-10 is the ultimate proof that highly capable and effective weapons do not need to be complex or costly, and that going up close and personal with target is oftentimes the only way to get things done. In fact, USAF only rushed it in production so that the Army does not take over entire CAS mission.

Cost itself is probably the most damning aspect of A-10 in USAF generals’ eyes. Aside for the sexy appeal of new technologies, especially stealth, Air Force generals who have supported highly complex weapons get to work in firms producing these weapons after retirement, for a very high salary. As a result, generals have sabotaged F-16, loading it up with electronics, pushed for production of stealth aircraft, and always kept looking for ways to remove the A-10 from the Air Force. Despite the A-10 outperforming every other aircraft during Desert Storm (or more likely because of it, USAF has mothballed most of the fleet, while outright lying about F-117s performance during the war. During the war, A-10 took out over half of 1 700 Iraqi tanks that were knocked out by air strikes, and about 300 APCs and artillery emplacements.

In 2002 – 2010 period, 60 A-10s have fired 300 000 of ammunition over Iraq, and recorded an 85% success rate. It is also less expensive and more environment-friendly to operate than fast jets, due to its large wings and slow, but fuel-efficent, turbofan engines. In 2010, US military started operating it on biofuel. At maximum power, A-10s engines are five times or more efficient than F-35s engine.

Due to these concerns, USAF has turned to 200 million USD F-35, promising that it will be able to do by virtue of high technology what 20 million USD A-10 already does by virtue of its excellent design, despite F-35 being more vulnerable than the F-16 (an aircraft that was never designed for CAS in the first place), and being incapable of slowing down enough to find and attack tactical targets. In fact, the F-35 is vulnerable to being taken down by AK-47 fire. But the F-35 allows USAF to justify huge future budgets, and not fall behind in budget battle between departments of US military, which have displayed notorious rivalry in the past (to the point of harming overall US combat ability, such as USAF not allowing US Army to operate fixed-wing CAS aircraft).

However, history of USAF promises about A-10 replacements is not shiny. Out of 24 Apache attack helicopters sento to the Kosovo, 2 have crashed on training mission in the first week and rest were grounded for duration of the war. Seven Apaches sent to attack Taliban in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda were shot up by the machine gun fire, with five being damaged beyond repair. In Iraq, 33 Apaches attacking Republician Guard positions in Karbala were forced to turn tail and run in face of the heavy machine gun fire and few RPG-s, with one being shot down and 30 sustaining heavy damage.

Fast jets proved even less useful: on July 24 2004, unit led by SSgt Jamie Osmon, and comprising of himself and two other soldiers, was escorting a convoy sent to disarm an Afghan warlord. They themselves crewed a multi-wheeled armored vehicle, with other six vehicles containing 26 additional troops, which were comprised of Afghan National Army and Global Security forces. During the way, convoy entered a 30-50 meter wide canyon, but decided to leave it, turning south towards mouth of the valley. Upon reaching the mouth, however, convoy was ambushed. Lead vehicle, belonging to ANA, was destroyed by an RPG, and Ford Ranger behind it took small-arms fire. Rest of the convoy managed to double-back after extracting passangers from the Ranger. Three kilometers later, they were ambushed again, by an estimated 800 ambushers. Humvee laid down suppressing fire while rest of convoy retreated, and after running out of ammo, Humvee crew went on foot to find the convoy.

On the way there, B-1 bomber attempted to help, but it didn’t have any effect. Once convoy regrouped, Osmon asked for A-10 support, and was said that it is about an hour away. After an hour, A-10s – callsigns Tonto and Lobo – arrived. Pilots managed to determine where friendly troops as well as opponents are without any radio contact. Once the A-10s opened up with Vulcan guns, enemy fire ceased, and ground team finally managed to establish radio contact with the A-10s. Soon after, enemy tried to have US troops call off A-10 support by using captured ANA troops as bargaining chips.

After enemy dispersed, convoy limped home, with the A-10s loitering over the convoy protectively during entire 6-hour trip.

Several lessons can be taken from this encounter:

  • high-altitude “precision” weapons are completely ineffective against dug-in opponent
  • A-10s have huge impact on enemy ground troops, both physical and psychological, which cannot be replicated by high-flying aircraft
  • entire encounter was accoplished by eyeball, with only barest information avaliable to A-10 pilots
  • radio contact was only established after the A-10s have already started attacking enemy positions

US Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori has said that ‘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,’. (“Fast Jets Not Ideal Choice for Close Air Support” by Roxana Tiron, National Defense magazine, April 2004 ).

There are many reasons why fast jets are not effective as close air support aircraft, and why that ineffectiveness increases with speed and altitude. First is that battlefield is a very mobile environment, with many small, fleeting targets. As a result, high-altitude jets are incapable of reacting effectively to the changing environments, first due to the limitations of sensory systems (we have yet to design a sensor more versatile and precise than human eye), and second due to the time it takes weapons to reach target (thus effectively creating a delay between “decide” and “act” parts of the OODA loop). Oftentimes, immediate, pinning / suppressive fire is required, sometimes very close to the ground units – so close that even smallest precision weapons are too high-yield.

In the mountainous terrains, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft have a hard time finding targets, requiring boots on the ground to do it. Even when terrain is not a problem, it takes 18 hours to complete targeting process by using reconnaissance satellites in the low Earth orbit. If assets are moved every 10 – 12 hours, they become essentially untargetable.

In Afghanistan, F-15Es have saved a downed SEAL team – by doing gun strafing runs. When precision weapons are used, their point of impact has to be calculated so as to ensure that bombs do hit their targets – and that takes 26 minutes on average; sometimes, it took up to several hours. Until the arrival of the A-10s in Afghanistan several months after start of operations, USAF CAS was abysimal, as its aircraft were not allowed to fly low enough; thus, Army units relied almost exclusively on USN close air support, as Navy aircraft were allowed to perform low-altitude strafing and bombing runs.

Precision strikes can be effective against fixed targets, but their effectiveness against mobile targets is limited – in which case gun strafing is a far better solution. Precision strikes require ground Forward Air Controller to be attached to the unit that has requested strikes – but there simply are not enough FACs. Even when there is FAC attached to the unit, he may be injured or killed, denying the unit ability to call for high-altitude support. Against fixed targets, precision strikes have regularly proven useless if targets were dug in, such as in the war in Kosovo where 3-rd Serbian Army has marched back to Serbia unscatched by NATO air attacks. Laser guided weapons require someone to keep in line of sight of target until weapon hits, and both laser guided and especially GPS munitions are prone to fratricide.

Further, units are only equipped with the limited number of radios to communicate among themselves and with aircraft. Smoke and white phosphorus markers require slow aircraft to be fully effective. Marker baloons, though not used by the US military, are another option for situations where markers cannot be effective (such as in forests) but they also require aircraft slow enough to see them, and the radio contact between aircraft and ground troops.

Precision munitions themselves are also far from precise. JDAMs are not terminally guided and often go astray. Further, bombs bump into each other and often into the aircraft on release, making fins bend; a problem that only gets worse as speed increases. Even when that does not happen, trying to simply steer a “smart” weapon is another problem which also gets worse with increasing speed. In both cases, once that happens margin of error worsens with altitude. Guidance systems often fail, due to damage during transport or installation, or other reasons, and precision munitions go astray: something that performance testers completely ignore while calculating CEP, counting only weapons that have performed “as expected”.

To render any kind of tactical bombing, CAS or otherwise, aircraft have to be well below cloud level. F-35 carrying two bombs will thus be vulnerable to smaller weapons, and will not fly air support (close or otherwise) on bad weather. On good weather, it will be quasi-loitering at 4 500 meters, blowing up decoys, civillians, rocks and wrecks of vehicles from previous war.

While there were several friendly-fire incidents involving the A-10, these have always been result of human error on part of overencumbered pilot; thus A-10 should be equipped with back seat for observer who will operate optical identification devices so as to provide visual target identification superior to current “use the binoculars” avaliable to the pilot. But while these incidents are shot up to the sky to be as visible as nuclear detonation, far more numerous failures of high altitude aircraft are buried. In fact, even current attack helicopters (which fly at half A-10s speed) have two crewman, pilot and WSO; task of latter is purely to operate weapons, which includes identifying targets before attacking.

Per-sortie (in)effectiveness is not the only concern. F-35 simply cannot generate enough sorties per day to replace A-10. It also requires large, vulnerable air bases with concrete strips, while A-10 can fly from any surface flat enough that can carry its weight, which not only makes it less vulnerable but allows it to follow the front and stay near supported troops, much like German Stukas did in World War II. F-35 also does not even begin to approach A-10s loiter capability, meaning that it cannot escort ground troops out of dangerous situations, nor can it loiter near the front, waiting to be called upon.

For the end note, A-10s not only should not be retired, they (and tactical aircraft in general) should be employed in the same way Wehrmacht employed Stukas and single-engine fighters in World War II: keeping them under nominal command of Air Force, but assigning them to larger ground units, to be under operational command of that unit’s command staff, with CAS aircraft being permanently assigned to units, and air superiority aircraft assigned and reassigned as situation required.

Further reading

Flying blind

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