JAAT

Joint Air Attack Tactics.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VboKISx11Tk]

I posted this a couple years ago, I think. Later we’re going to look at some doctrinal stuff that’s coming up, and how the past provides the intellectual framework for this latest initiative. How is that relevant? JAAT was associated with AirLand Battle, which itself was closely associated with Assault Breaker, which is the model that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is invoking in his call for a Raid Breaker.

No, the Army doesn’t want the A-10.

We argued that some time ago the Army simply wasn’t interested in taking over the A-10 should the Air Force attempt to divest itself of the plane.

And before you say “well, fine, give ‘em to the Army” or Marines, or what have you, understand, neither service wants the A-10 so badly they they are willing to pick up those associated costs, nor incur the major doctrinal upheaval integration of the A-1o would entail. That doesn’t even get into where the Army or Marines would find the manpower to operate the Warthog. It simply will not happen.

And now, Army Secretary McHugh has made that official.

The U.S. Army has no interest in taking over the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 attack planes, even if it would save the venerable Cold War-era aircraft from the bone yard.

The service’s top civilian, Army Secretary John McHugh, rejected the idea of accepting hand-me-down A-10 Warthogs from the Air Force.

“No chance,” he said during a breakfast meeting with reporters on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. “That’s not even been a topic of casual conversation.”

“With our own aircraft fleet we’re taking some pretty dramatic steps to reconfigure and become more affordable, and the A-10 mission is not something we considered. That’s an Air Force mission as it should be and I’m sure the Air Force feels the same way,” McHugh said.

The Marines? They’ve leveraged the future of not just Marine Aviation, but the entire Marine Corps on the F-35B. They want nothing to do with the A-10.

PGM and CAS

So, a friend linked this post on Facebook about the US Army’s Excalibur 155mm guided artillery shell being adapted to the US Navy’s 5” (127mm) Mk54 gun.

Raytheon’s 155mm M982 Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shell is being shrunk down to fit into the Mark 45 five inch deck guns that are deployed aboard the Navy’s Cruisers and Destroyers. This miniaturized sea-going Excalibur, known as the N5, could triple the range of current five inch shells and offer pinpoint ‘danger close’ fire support like never before.

Since my friend teased the link as another nail in the A-10 coffin, that sparked a bit of debate. I of course, chimed in:

1. The Marines operate their own fleet of CAS aircraft, that is, the AV-8B and the F/A-18 Hornets.
2. PGM is here to stay. Both Army and Marines now use, or very shortly will, guided MLRS, 155mm artillery, and 120mm mortars. That precision ability means less need to call on PGM equipped CAS. Not eliminate, but reduce. And the future of CAS has been shown to be PGM anyway.
3. We can reasonably expect to see similar PGM capability extended to 81mm mortars in the next few years.
4. The relatively short range of the N45 is really only a matter of importance for the first 48 hours or so of a landing- that is, until the landing force gets its own artillery ashore.
5. The Army (and thus the Marines) are also fielding PGM 155mm artillery that simply uses a guided fuze installed on conventional 155mm common shells. We can also expect to see that applied to the 5″ gun. These shells have a shorter range than Excalibur, or N45, but they are also a good bit cheaper, and offer virtually the same accuracy within their range capability as the more expensive rounds.
6. CAS isn’t dead, nor even dying. But CAS is a mission, not a platform. Sure, I’d like to see the A-10 kept around. But the Air Force isn’t out to kill the A-10 from some historical dislike of the CAS mission. They just don’t have the money. Further, while the A-10 is reasonably safe in the face of little or no air defense, it will fare very badly in the face of anything above 1st and 2nd generation MANPADS. The simple kinematics of missile defense means that a faster jet is less vulnerable to being hit.

I recently addressed PGM artillery in this post.

A-9 vs. A-10

Everybody knows about the A-10 Warthog. And most of you know the A-10 was the winner of the A-X competition over the Northrop YA-9.

Here’s a little video showing some of the fly-off competition, with handling, weapon separation, gunnery, and formation testing.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRsor-m9CB4]

A-10 Hawg’s New Role As a Storm Chasing Aircraft.

This A-10 is undergoing conversion to a storm chasing aircraft.
This A-10 is undergoing conversion into a storm chasing aircraft.

As retirement looms for the USAF’s A-10 Hawg, the National Science Foundation and Zivko Aeronautics have teamed up in a $13 million dollar project to convert one aircraft into a platform to deploy sensors in thunderstorms.

A computer server system will be installed where the weapons system used to be. The system will use sensors on the wings to detect things like wind speed, pressure and movement of a storm. The information is then sent to researchers working on the ground.

“So they’ll get real time, first-hand knowledge of whatever it is they want to sample,” Schneider said.

The A-10 will be equipped to release small sensors into the storm, similar to what was done in the movie “Twister”. The only difference is the sensors will be released from above the storm instead of below it.

“We’re actually going to drop ours out of the wing tips and the wheel pods,” said Schneider.

Learn more from the video in the article above.

From the National Science Foundation:

Since the retirement of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) T-28 in 2005, the storm research community has been without means of obtaining in-situ measurements of storm properties.  In 2010 the National Science Foundation (NSF) took steps to remedy this.  The Foundation decided to sponsor the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to requisition a Fairchild A-10 from the US Air Force.   A year later, the USAF agreed to lend a mothballed A-10 to the US Navy, to be regenerated, reinforced for storm penetration, instrumented for scientific research, and operated by CIRPAS in collaboration with scientists at SDSMT.

The A-10 is a rugged aircraft deisgned to take a lot of punishment from the battlefield. That same strength will be of value when doing the storm research. From Popular Mechanics:

“Conventional research aircraft avoid these severe storms, so they’re basically outside looking in,” meteorologist and veteran storm-chaser Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo, tells PM. “We want to study the worst weather, but we’re trying to keep the [plane] outside the worst weather. With the A-10, we don’t have that limitation.”

A couple of the Thunderbolt’s targets will be supercell thunderstorms, which birth tornadoes, and mesoscale convective systems, giant storm clusters that can produce thunder and lightning, pounding hail, and damaging winds. Ground-based radar systems can track wind and precipitation in these systems fairly well from a distance. But to understand how temperature and humidity contribute to tornado formation, for example, researchers need to get at the heart of the storm.

The A-10 started off as a platform designed to save lives on the battelfield. It’s an interesting twist the A-10 will now be saving civilian lives in the US.

Git Sum!
Git Sum!

Will the A-10 Be Shot Down?

The Air Force is looking to trim older platforms (that’s airplanes to you and me) from its inventory to free up money to operate and maintain the rest of its fleet. We wrote briefly a couple days ago that the KC-10 was among the platforms being considered. Heck, the Air Force is even looking at retiring the F-15C fleet. But no proposal will generate more howls of outrage among the public and especially among the ground pounders than the thought of retiring the A-10 Warthog fleet.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As an old Warthog pilot, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III spoke in near mournful tones Wednesday of the likely mothballing of the venerable A-10 close air support aircraft and tank killer.

“Can we save the A-10?” was the question from the audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference here.

Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, came at the question in roundabout fashion. He loved flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, better known as the “Warthog,” Clarke said. He noted that the plane was “near and dear to land warriors” for its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm rotary cannon that is the heaviest such weapon mounted on an aircraft.

But the Air Force was “looking at reducing single mission aircraft,” Clarke said, and under the sequestration process “we’re not getting any more money – that option is out.”

The Air Force “has to have a fifth generation force out there” of stealthy, fast and maneuverable aircraft, and the low and slow A-10 just didn’t fit in, Clarke said.

“We’re on board with moving towards Air Force 2023,” the concept for the future of the force which has no room for the A-10, Clarke said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, also declared his affection for the A-10, which happens to be an aircraft he has 1,000 hours flying.

“I love that old ugly thing,” Welsh said.

However, the chief of staff explained the service has to take part in finding over a trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget over the next ten years because of sequestration. In this budget environment, he said the Air Force will likely be unable to afford the Warthog.

http://blastcache.com/files/2012/08/A-10_firing_AGM-65.jpeg

I think this is pretty dumb. The Air Force just spend a ton of money on refurbishing most of the active Warthog fleet to extend their service lives and make them capable of employing modern smart weapons.

But I can also see why the Air Force thinks this is a viable option. And a large part of it is the existence of those smart weapons.  When the A-10 was conceived and bought almost 40 years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of smart weapons, and the few that existed were hideously expensive.  Most Close Air Support missions would rely on old fashioned dumb bombs and cluster munitions (and yes, of course, the gun).  To be at all accurate, you had to get down in the weeds, which suited the A-10 just fine. Other jets, such as the F-4? Not so much.

Fast forward to today, and virtually no CAS missions are flown that don’t employ a precision guided weapon, most commonly the JDAM GPS guided bomb. With JDAM and similar weapons, there’s no real need to get close. The pilot doesn’t have to see the target. He simply has to have the coordinates, plug it into the bomb, and he’s reasonably assured a direct hit. That’s something other jets like the F-16, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and soon the F-35 are more than capable of doing. And have been doing for some time now. Heck, the B-1B has been doing it over Afghanistan for years now, and is a popular weapons because of its huge payload and good endurance.

Further, we’ve had the luxury in the wars of the past decade of almost total air dominance, with virtually no enemy air defense capability. But the Air Force knows this will not always be the case. The proliferation of modern MANPADS short range air defense missiles will make future COIN battlefields hazardous to low flying aircraft.  Syrian rebels have had some success against Assad forces, downing both helicopters and jets.  So using a high altitude jet flying above MANPADS range with some standoff capability via JDAM or other weapons makes a lot of sense.  Conversely, a lot of the CAS capability, ISR capability, and long loiter time ground commanders ask for can be provided by assets like the MQ-9 Reaper. And if a Reaper is shot down, you don’t have to go rescue the pilot. And should a more conventional war break out, the A-10 would be at even greater disadvantage against a wider array of air defense systems.

So while I think retiring the A-10 would be a bad idea, I don’t think it is an indefensible one.

But I know I’m gonna need earplugs for the howls of outrage about to come.

Any old stretch of highway will do…

Craig here.  Ran across this while looking for some good ‘splodie videos today:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kwo2QprI4R8]

Not just for Warthogs either.  Here’s a clip of an F-4 on what looks like the same pattern.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqKvXwPP1Cc]

The old F-104 could turn that trick too.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxdZIMy8zJc]

Check out the close tandem landing pattern for these C-160s:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLEbV_CehWs]

Here’s a compilation of several jets taking off.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8A_QSIucpY]

Use of sections of the Autobahn as airstrips date back to World War II.  During the Cold War NATO practiced this frequently.  I know certain sections of highway in Korea were likewise set aside for contingencies.   But I’ve seen very few references to American plans to use parts of our interstate system for emergency airfields.  Then again, the United States has the highest number of airfields per capita in the world… and likewise the highest number of potholes per mile of any developed nation.

 

 

Just a little Air Force love

It is a given that the folks in the Army like to make fun of the Air Force as “the country club” and not really being a military service. An old joke holds that the very first thing built on a new Air Force base is the golf course. They know if they blow all the money on luxury items, sooner or later Congress will fund the runways. I’m not immune to this, having made fun of the wing-wipers once or twice myself.

There is, however, a small slice of the Air Force that Army folks admire, almost without reservation. Close Air Support is a mission the Air Force doesn’t like, never has, and probably never will. But the folks in the Air Force that actually do end up with the job are commited to doing it as good as anyone in the world. The epitome of close air support is the A-10.

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=mJSk2Xc3Eq4]

At the end of the Vietnam war, the Air Force had relied heavily on two planes for close air support- the A-1 Skyraider, and the A-7 Corsair II. While both were excellent aircraft, neither were optimum aircraft for the post-Vietnam close air support role. The A-1 was a piston engined airplane of WWII design. They were just plain worn out. Even worse, it was a Navy design. That didn’t set well with the upper echelons of the Air Force. The A-7, on the other hand, was a relatively new design, with excellent range and load-carrying capacity. But it too had two major flaws. Again, it was a Navy design. Second, it wasn’t optimized for the close air support role. It had been designed for long range strike. The Air Force began a to design a new aircraft totally dedicated to close air support.

The major problem facing the Air Force in Western Europe in the 1970s was the same as the Army- the colossal numbers of Soviet tanks. The prime mission of any close air support aircraft would be killing tanks. Historically, the best weapon an airplane could use to kill tanks was a gun. The 20mm Gatling gun in use wouldn’t be enough though. A bigger gun was needed. And a bigger gun was got. The GAU-8 Avenger. This huge 30mm Gatling gun fired armor piercing rounds that could penetrate the armor of any tank. But it was huge. The airplane that carried it would actaully have to be designed around the gun.

The A-10 was designed around the gun. In fact, the nose wheel of the plane is offset to one side to make room for the gun and to make sure that the firing barrel is on the centerline of the aircraft.

In addition to the big gun, the A-10 has lots (and lots and lots) of hard-points under its wings to hang additional weapons, including missiles, bombs and rockets.

Another prime concern when the A-10 was being designed was survivabilty. The front line is a dangerous place. Planes flying close air support have to get down low and in close. That means that every bad guy with a gun gets to take a shot at you. Republic, who designed and built the A-10, had seen many of their F-105s lost in Vietnam to relatively minor damage. They were determined that wouldn’t happen with the A-10. Airplanes are made of panels of aluminum about as thick as a beer can. So is the A-10. But the pilot sits in a “bathtub” of titanium armor, so he won’t be injured by flak. The engines are mounted to reduce the chance of a heat-seeking missile hitting the aircraft. Rather than risking losing control from hydralic leaks, the airplane has a backup system of pushrods to handle the flight control surfaces. The wheels don’t even retract all the way into the plane. This way, in a belly landing, they can still support the plane.

The A- 10 isn’t a very fast jet. It only goes about 400 miles an hour. That’s about the same as a WWII fighter. The joke in the Air Force is that A-10 pilots don’t wear a wristwatch, they carry a calendar. But it is the best plane in the world for close air support. In service since the late 1970s, A-10s have been the angel on the groundpounder’s shoulder in Desert Storm, The 1999 Air War in the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. With its excellent manueverability, lethal weapons and great survivability, the A-10 has not only been the plane for close air support, it has also served as a Forward Air Controller, helping planes like the F-15E and F-16 locate and destroy targets to support the troops on the ground. Currently, the Air Force is upgrading the A-10s to help them do this job well into the future.