Saturday, June 14, 2014

And Wish for a Pony, Too!

I find this defense of the Air Force decision to kill the A-10--the only dedicated Air Force close air support (CAS) aircraft--pretty darned humorous.

We have three reasons to consider:

Myth No. 1: The A-10 is the best aircraft at CAS. The A-10 is in fifth place, at best. The king of CAS is the AC-130. The attributes listed as critical to effective CAS platforms are lethality and loiter.

If the A-10 is deficient in using a wider array of weapons now in the arsenal, why is the failure of the Air Force to modernize the planes a defense for any shortcomings in lethality that justify retiring them?

And don't forget survivability. The AC-130 is simply not survivable in a high-threat environment. There is a reason it flies either at night or very high--air defenders with radar will knock them down like the transport planes they are.

Yes, in a counter-insurgency against enemies without air defense, AC-130s are great.

Oh, and the other 3 platforms judged superior to the A-10 in close air support? Army and Marine helicopters. That alone tells you a lot about the issue of trusting the Air Force to determine what the Army needs.

And in the survivability matter, numbers matter. Lose 50 out of 50 AC-130s and we're hosed. Lose 50 of 300 A-10s and the support is still coming in strong.

Reason number 2:

Myth No. 2: Bombers cannot do CAS. Yes, they can. But that is not a testament to the capabilities of the bomber. Rather, it is an indictment of the dangerously outdated method by which the Air Force provides support to the Army.

Again, bombers are few and to loiter over a battlefield, you need a permissive air defense environment. Bombers truly have performed a great service when the need is for occasional smart bombs over an entire country. I don't think a high-intensity battlefield can rely on those few bombers to sortie at a rate needed and to survive long enough to do the job.

As for fighting the Air Force on who calls in air support? Really? Wish for a pony, for all the good that will do! Or at least wish for an Air Force that doesn't insist that officers only can fly and call in firepower. If this is a condition for defending the loss of the A-10, the author has lost on this point alone.

Myth No. 3: The A-10 is more survivable. Since 2001, no fixed-wing combat aircraft have been lost to enemy fire. They are all survivable in permissive airspace. And there will be no CAS available in non-permissive airspace, as combat aircraft will be dedicated to the first priority of destroying enemy air defenses. In the high-intensity combat environment, CAS doctrine demands the neutering of artillery to keep the busy airspace above the battlefield risk-free. If given a choice of an artillery battalion or an A-10 against a highly capable enemy, the infantryman will take his artillery every time.

Are you kidding me?

The author at least recognizes the concept of permissive environment. But in what alternate universe of Air Force thinking does the Air Force have the luxury of putting off ground support until the Air Force has (if it can) gained air superiority? This is the heart of the suspicion about the Air Force's motive for dumping the A-10 without a replacement--the Air Force just doesn't think ground support (CAS) is a priority.

Did our Cold War military plan to just slug it out on the ground until air control was decided? Did the Soviets agree to that rule? All or nothing?

No. We'd have to fight for air superiority while providing close air support. If the Air Force wins air superiority in under a week while the Army loses the ground campaign, just where will the Air Force planes land?

Further, is the author seriously saying that because no planes were lost to hostile fire in a permissive air defense environment during our recent wars that survivability is just a given for anything flying over any battlefield?

If that was true, the Air Force would rely on the current drone fleet for CAS. But they won't. Because they know that Reapers are not survivable against an enemy with air defense missiles and fighter aircraft.

If that was true, the author would advocate for armed dirigibles. Talk about loiter time! I mean, if survivability isn't an issue, why not?

And yes, planners must deconflict the air space. We do that. We can keep doing that.

And if we can't deconflict? Well, I guess Air Force pilots will have to take the risk of a shell hitting their plane in a one-in-a-million shot the same way the guys on the ground risk misplaced rounds or bombs from anybody throwing firepower around on a chaotic battlefield. Yeah, life sucks.

And sometimes, as tough as this is for artillery people to accept, the guys on the ground need air power when the range or volume of fire from ground force sources is not sufficient. In what world are you asking the Army to choose between an artillery battalion or a single A-10 sortie? Hell, I'd choose the arty if that's the choice. But come on!

The author seems to admit that air power is needed since he then asks for the Air Force to use the money they save by retiring the A-10 to convert C-130s into gunships using the Marine gunship-in-a-box concept! Yeah, the Air Force wants 30 F-35s rather than 300 A-10s, but they'll just reinvest that money into permissive environment-only planes!

So the request is for two ponies! Ah, what a hoot. I laughed pretty hard.

And if artillery is so much better all the time, why not argue for taking the money saved on A-10s and putting it into more artillery battalions?

And then I cried. You know ... in a manly sort of way, of course.

The Air Force ditching of the A-10 is bad both for the capabilities it abandons and as an indicator of what the Air Force thinks is important for the Army.