So, a friend of ours has been having some arguments about Close Air Support. He’s kindly shared this little gem with me.
So, a friend of ours has been having some arguments about Close Air Support. He’s kindly shared this little gem with me.
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.
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.
As usual, the emotions are running high surrounding the Air Force’s intent to retire the A-10 Warthog. Congress says no to Air Force plans. Air Force digs in its heels. Members of the Air Force sing its praises to Congress. Deputy Commander of Air Combat Command tries to shut that praise down:
A top U.S. Air Force general warned officers that praising the A-10 attack plane to lawmakers amounts to “treason,” according to a news report.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, was quoted as saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” in a report published Thursday on The Arizona Daily Independent.
Obviously, that’s a pretty stupid thing for MG Post to say. You can read the rest of the story for the background and the PAO trying to unspin the General’s dumb statement.
But as usual, the comments section has something that gets mentioned every single time in the last 20 years the retirement of the A-10 has been discussed:
You can be sure he does not want these planes transferee to the Army, who would be glad to take them an use them for the next 20 years.
And therein lies a dirty little secret.
The Army would never try to take over the A-10 fleet.
In the midst of a drawdown that might see the Army slashed to as few as 420,000 active duty troops, there is simply no way the Army could find the warm bodies to fly the A-10, let alone maintain and support it. And it’s not just the operators at the tip of the spear. While the A-10 is capable of austere operations by Air Force standards, it would require investments in training and support equipment that the Army has no need for. For instance, the armament of the A-10 alone would require entire new career fields with associated training and personnel management costs.
The money and manpower requirements would come out of other Army programs (likely the attack helicopter community). And given that the Air Force, whether it has A-10s or not, will still be tasked to provide Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction, the Army would simply not see the costs to other priority Army programs as in any way justifying taking on a new role, let alone one with very old aircraft with increasing maintenance costs.
And no, the Marines don’t want it either.
Apaches provide close support with 30mm cannon and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles against a building holding anti-coalition forces.
The recent news that the Air Force is planning to retire its fleet of AC-130H Spectre gunships had all the usual suspects up in arms, howling how the Air Force was again shirking its commitment to Close Air Support.
Well, maybe. But the AC-130H fleet is aging badly, and the airframes, the avionics and the weapons are all tired and expensive to maintain and operate.
A couple years ago, looking to supplement its already stretched thin fleet, the Air Force undertook an interim program to modify some Special Operations MC-130s to “Combat Dragon” specs with a so-called Precision Strike Package, with a 30mm Bushmaster chain gun, and the ability to employ the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the AGM-176 Griffin guided bomb.
The program was very quick, and quite successful, and the Air Force has decided to buy a fleet of about 30 new build, dedicated AC-130J gunships, similarly armed, but with fully integrated avionics and adding the famous 105mm cannon.
The Marine Corps’ similar Harvest Hawk program also employs the Griffin and Hellfire, but is designed to be convertible back to a standard cargo hauler, or to a hose and drogue tanker.
This picture shows a GAU-23 mounted on an H model C-130.
Note the IR/FLIR/Laser designator turret under the nose, and the second one on the landing gear sponson.
The first AC-130J recently made its first flight. It will eventually replace the current fleet of AC-130H and U variants.
The video title says 4000 pound bomb, but that’s not quite accurate.
Hard to tell just how many bombs, and what size, were dropped. I counted at least six primary detonations.
While most folks react to the probable retirement of the A-10 fleet with anguish, I have to admit I’m not terribly concerned. Yes, the GAU-8 gun of the A-10 is handy. But virtually all close air support delivered today is via precision guided weapons. Between the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground and the use of PGMs, the A-10’s low and slow capability is largely redundant. Further, the vastly improved electro/optical sensors carried by virtually all strike aircraft today also argue against the A-10s ability to get down in the weeds to spot targets. Simply put, the technology to attack targets exists now that was beyond the state of the art when the A-10 was conceived and fielded. The improvement of short range air defense in that same environment further argues against an A-10.
Before you call for my beheading, yes, I’d prefer the Air Force to keep the A-10 in service. But removing an airframe from service has the potential to save the Air Force a lot of money. I can see where they’re coming from.
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.
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.
The evolution of the F/A-18 Hornet family has been interesting. Originally conceived as a very lightweight land based fighter by Northrop, the YF-17 lost out to the YF-16 from General Dynamics (now part of Lockheed Martin) in the Air Force Light Weight Fighter competition.
Around the same time, the Navy realized it needed to start looking for a replacement for the A-7 Corsair II family. Additionally, while the F-14 was replacing the venerable F-4 Phantom, the Midway class carriers were unable to routinely operate the big Tomcat. A replacement for those Phantoms was needed. And don’t forget the Marines. The Tomcat was a fine fighter, but unsuited for the Marine need for Close Air Support.
But the Navy was quite leery of Northrop’s product. It took a partnership between Northrop and longtime supplier of Navy jets McDonnell Douglas to redesign the YF-17 into the F/A-18A that would be suitable for the fleet. It was a good deal heavier than the original product, but still quite light compared to the Tomcat. The F/A-18B was a two-seat operational trainer version. Improvements to the avionics, primarily the ability to use smart weapons, lead to the “C” model Hornet, and the two-seat version, the “D.”
The Hornet was easy to maintain, popular with its crews, and relatively cheap. The only real shortcoming was its short range.
The very high costs of maintaining the F-14, the retirement of the A-6 Intruder, and the collapse of the A-12 stealth bomber program left the Navy scrambling to find an airframe to fill the flight decks of the carriers.
McDonnell Douglas (bought out by Boeing) responded with a proposal that was in effect a Hornet beefed up by about 25%. This design, which came to be known as the F/A-18E Super Hornet entered the fleet just about the the beginning of the 21st Century. The two seat version, the F model, wasn’t an operational trainer, but rather had a missionized rear cockpit for a Weapon Systems Officer, making the “F” model more suitable for certain strike missions.
But the Super Hornet isn’t perfect. For one thing, the stores pylons on the wings are toed out 4 degrees for release clearance purposes. This imposes a pretty hefty drag, and the Super Hornet isn’t particularly fast with full pylons. Nor is the Super Hornet a stealthy aircraft.
Boeing, seeing some signs of the F-35C program not proceeding very well, initiated a company funded endeavor to address some of the Super Hornet shortcomings. The Advanced Super Hornet may never be bought, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if at least some of the characteristics soon find their way to the fleet.
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I stole the scribd from Jason.
The AGM-12 Bullpup was probably why the call ’em “missiles” instead of “hittiles.”