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Posts Tagged ‘Warthog’

A-10 Thunderbolt survivability design

Posted by picard578 on December 11, 2016

When the A-10 was about to be introduced, USAF leadership used the exact same arguments to prevent that as they are using now in an effort to kill it. They saw merely a clunker that flew at 300 knots or less, an anachronistic dud unfit to operate on the modern battlefield where it was to kill Russian tanks. In fact, the A-10 would never had been introduced if the USAF was not engaged in the budgetary battle against the US Army. Army was about to introduce the new attack helicopter, the Cheyenne. Cheyenne was a compound helicopter, designed to overcome the inability of normal helicopters to achieve higher speeds when necessary, and its high price would see financial resources redirected away from the US Air Force and into the Army’s purse. USAF would have none of it, and it decided to finally take responsibility for the close air support mission it was supposed to do anyway, and so introduced the A-10. Technical requirements were outlined mainly by Pierre Sprey after talks with surviving US and German pilots who carried out close air support in World War II and the Vietnam war, while the overall effort was directed by the Colonel Avery Kay. More heavily armed, survivable and less expensive, A-10 easily killed off the Cheyenne, and the USAF never placed any orders beyond the first batch. In fact, the A-10 was the first and the last US fighter designed for close air support. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in weapons | Tagged: , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

Ground soldiers’ view of the A-10

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2016

Introduction

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 »

A-10 effectiveness assessment

Posted by picard578 on August 16, 2015

Introduction

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 »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 146 Comments »

News: USAF rules out international A-10 sales

Posted by picard578 on July 24, 2015

http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usaf-rules-out-international-a-10-sales-414975/

USAF has decided not to sell the A-10 to its allies.

Why this decision? Because selling the A-10 would run contrary to everything USAF was and is saying. USAF has for years, and against all evidence, maintained that the A-10 is unsurvivable and that fast jets can and will do its job – close air support – just as well if not better. Further, selling the A-10 would reduce – however slightly – prospects for F-35 sales. F-35 is primarily a ground attack aircraft, while A-10 does nothing but ground attack, and thus two are competitors. A-10 can also be easily maintained by countries they get sold to, which means no profits for Lockheed Martin and co. from lucrative maintenance contracts.

As it stands, greed and low selfishness will kill the A-10. USAF has no interest in close air support, and it seems that it will finally manage to get rid of the mission alltogether.

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

History Spot: Case Studies in Defence Procurement

Posted by picard578 on February 24, 2015

BeyondDefence

Yes, it’s my avatar for a reason. The De Havilland Mosquito was the most accurate bomber of the first half of World War II, with the lowest ordinance expenditure per target, the lowest loss rate and the highest kill probability. It could race in at treetop level for precision work, or soar above anti-aircraft fire while heavier bombers were slaughtered in droves. When the RAF needed to take out a particular wall of a prison to free French resistance fighters, they used the Mosquito.

But that was not all. The Mosquito, as the fastest aircraft in the world at its introduction, was ideal for conversion as a fighter, night fighter, fighter bomber, U-boat killer and numerous other roles. It combined heavy armament with high speed and needed no escort. The wooden airframe was as strong as contemporary metal airframes, but much lighter, and it avoided drawing on critical war supplies…

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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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