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Close Air Support is a valuable tool for our troops in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the precision guided weapons CAS brings to the fight have doubtless saved many of our troops lives. The Air Force doesn’t really like doing CAS. They do it, and they do it well. But there are other things they’d rather be doing.

And let’s face it, having a $40-80 million dollar fighter stooging around for 6 hours at a pop, burning upwards of 50,000 of jet fuel at $3 a gallon per mission, just in case someone might need a strike (and they usually don’t) is an expensive way to do business. Further, there are only so many flight hours you can put on a jet. Much of the US jet fleet is old and getting older fast. And most of the time, a strike fighter is overkill. Further, at 20,000 feet and 500 knots, the crews of these jets don’t have the situational awareness we might like.

Attack helicopters are great, but they are limited by their relatively short endurance and light weapons. They also have trouble operating at higher altitudes such as those found in Afghanistan.

And while UAVs have come a long way, there’s still a limited number of them. Further, bandwidth constraints put a real upper limit on how many can be used. With their limited sensor field of view, their situational awareness is even worse.

So what to do? Well, the Navy, and to some extent, are looking at buying a converted turboprop trainer or similar aircraft to supplement the “go-fast” planes in the close air support role. Under a program known as “Imminent Fury” the services want to field a Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LAAR) Aircraft.

To a certain extent, this is reinventing the wheel.  Even before the US involvement in Vietnam entailed large numbers of ground troops, modified T-28 trainers were being used as light attack aircraft. And the Air Force’s basic training jet, the Cessna T-37 “Tweet” was modified and built as the highly successful A-37 Dragonfly. This is to say nothing of the highly successful, purpose built OV-10 Bronco, which was used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, as well as several other nations. But after the Vietnam war ended, the services turned their eyes to what was considered the most critical theater, Western Europe. In an area like that, with highly developed integrated air defenses, no light aircraft could reasonable be expected to survive, and accordingly, almost all the light planes were retired.

Now, 8 years into the war on terror, the institutional side of the services are finally beginning to grasp that they have to be able to support the effort, and cannot do so with the existing force structure.

28 thoughts on “LAARA”

  1. Broncos or Spads… either would be good, but, alas, the tooling has likely been scrapped long ago.

    This is good, though. The use of a turbo-prop is always the better choice over the radial.

  2. I support the Bronco myself, but still would like to see them make the A2D Skyshark, a turboprop version od the Skyraider. I can see uses for a turboprop powered dumptruck.

  3. StB,

    Some of the reading I’ve done suggests that the A2D had problems beyond just the powerplant. Certainly enough problems that they never took another crack at replacing the R-3350.

    I’m the son of a SPAD driver, and I know my old man loved the old bird. But he was also a big Bronco fan.

  4. I love the Skyraider, it is the ultimate Prop driven plane, and you have to love the sound of that big radial. I would concede a turboprop, but would love to see it come back with updated electronics and weapons.

  5. I was in the Navy in the 80’s. There were still a lot of pilots around who had flown or flown with Skyraiders around and it was universally loved. One of the big things that Marines loved about it was the fact that it could stay on station much longer than jets when close air support was needed. I never really understand why the military always forgets lessons like that between wars.

  6. I have read that the transmission was just as much of a problen as the powerplant.

  7. The AT-6B is a worthy platform. In fact, I hope they’re taking volunteers.

    Just don’t bring back the Tweet. It might have been effective in SE Asia but that doesn’t matter. It looks ugly.

  8. I like the Dragonfly. It may not have been as pretty as some planes, but it sure looked pugnacious.

  9. I still think they should check out/invent the TAC-Viking, they fly low, slow, cheap-ish, carry a nice load and best of all: The USMC like cast-off used-Navy stuff, right?

  10. Let me expound on that. I have long thought that a platform like a P-3 or an S-3, equipped with LGB/JDAM weapons would be very useful in a permissive environment like Iraq or A-stan. But the Navy can’t seem to think clearly when it comes to buying aircraft. And they sure do like to retire them early. See A-6, F-14, and the aforementioned S-3.

  11. Yep the S3.
    The Navy sent an ISR Det from the last Viking Sq to Iraq last year I think.

    Too much Gerry Anderson as a kid, I guess, but I always figured the S3 could carry modules to do pretty much anything, given the ‘permissive’ environment and lack of adversary aircraft etc…

    They already had the US-3 for COD and the KS-3 for tankering, ES-3s (like miniAWACS) and AS-3s (mini-jet-Spectre) and RS-3s (miniARIES) couldn’t be that hard to make…. they might even make decent V-22 or JSOF armed escorts…. after all once you can lift mass, you can do whatever.

  12. Well, I think the Viking or the Orion would have made sense for call-CAS in Iraq, especially in a dense area like Baghdad, where they could provide imagery/ROVER support.

    But as much as I like the old Hoover, it wasn’t built for combat, and would make a pretty poor escort for MV-22s. It wasn’t built to operate in a small arms environment. An Osprey escort needs to be able to operate from the same platform, an LHA/LHD.

  13. I’m back on the subject of the A-37.
    XBrad and Scott: You can’t be serious. Nevermind that the Dragonfly was very inexpensive and did a great job. It looks like a toy.
    At least the Canberra looks like a fighter with an intimidating appearance. It’s all about teh image.

  14. It’s my belief tat BOTH the S-3 and the B-57 are perfect for the mult-purpose role in semi-permissive environments. Both have legs and good loiter, with plenty of room for electronics tgting pkgs inside and out as well as able to carry lots of ordinance of all kinds. S-3 prolly btter as littoral anti-shipping, while B-57 better dive bomber for cas/ anti-truck/armor, etc. For that matter if they had any A-26 Invader COIN airframes left THAT would be the ideal wpn for the Af!–got it all..2 engines, (which were placed such that the cockpit was HIGHLY protected) loiter time, legs, maneuverable, doesn’t need hard strips or turbo/jet level of advanced training engine maint. experienced personnel–the perfect COIN aircraft. Would pay to dig up the blue-prints and build new ones in new factory. Room to put a ton of electronics just like B-57/S-3 but can be used from unimproved forward strips unlike even turbos like the OV-10 and Super Turcano as fod not nearly the problem.

    Hell, if *I* were El Cid I’d fund ’em all–there’s a needed niche for each, when one thinks about it.

  15. And what do you mean the B-57G was ugly!? Dressed up in night-fighter black it looked like a giant BAT, Cool.

    (PS: RAAF B-57s were based at DaNang but moved to Phan Rang prior to my arrival. But one RAAF B-57 driver came up to DaNang visiting old friends and I ended up sharing “a few” drinks with him. They flew the old side-by-side seating original model. Was interesting guy to talk to…..the RAAF in those days was DEFINITELY a more loosey-goosey outfit than the button-down collar, corporate USAF! Probably more akin to the WWII AAF…didn’t need official “signed” orders–in the RAAF an officer’s word was good enough to authorize movement–until he ran into USAF enlisted types at the C-130 pax terminal who demanded written orders to manifest him. LOL. First time he had heard of such a thing–that an enlisted could tell an officer what he could or couldn’t do! The entire concept was utterly foreign to him! Like I said, not the *American* Air Force!

  16. Last time I checked, the Brits were still operating a Canberra PR.9.

    I wouldn’t say dig up the B-57 (and certainly not the B-26- the R-2800 was a hell of an engine, but not as easy to work on as you may seem to recall- plus hauling avgas out to the theater, when EVERYTHING else runs on JP-8 would be a pain).

    I just think that it was stupid to get rid of the S-3 when it was still a very viable and useful airframe. How hard would a software upgrade to allow JDAM use have been? I’m fairly certain some had ROVER before they retired. And now instead, we’re using Superbugs for tanking and SSSC.

    Now, if I were designing the PERFECT LAARA for A-stan, I’d probably go something in the range of an A-1, updated to turboprop (with a backseater, like a lot of the AD-4s had) but I don’t live in a perfect world.

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