Thursday, March 12, 2015

Or Is the Air Force Speaking About a Contested Budget Environment?

The idea that the Air Force is peddling that the A-10 isn't intended for a "contested" environment and requires a "permissive" environment is just nonsense.

So the A-10 is a fragile thing that can't be risked against a shooting enemy?

[Air Force General Herbert J. “Hawk”] Carlisle insisted that the summit was not about A-10 politics or damage control. He suggested there is big misunderstanding about the Air Force’s commitment to close-air support and about what it will take to operate in enemy airspace in future wars. “This week was about taking everything we've learned and continue to get better so we can operate in contested environments.” ...

The problem with the 40-year-old A-10 — nicknamed the Warthog for its ungainly appearance — is not its performance today but its future inability to fly in defended airspace, Carlisle said. “In a permissive environment and some level of contested environment, the A-10 operates extremely well,” he said. In highly defended airspace, the A-10 is “going to have a challenge, so the F-35 is the next step.”

The A-10 was designed to kill Soviet tanks coming across the inter-German border in the teeth of the world's most contested air environment during the Cold War. It was not designed to sit in their hangars until the Air Force and our NATO allies could achieve air superiority.

The plane was designed to hit Soviet armored spearheads while the air fight up top took place, take damage, and keep flying, with armor and two engines in the rear and away from ground fire, which were designed (if my memory is accurate) to break away without destroying the plane, allowing the plane to limp home with just one engine.

Let's look at Global Security's description of the rugged design of this plane designed for a "permissive environment":

The A-10's survivability in the close air support arena greatly exceeds that of previous Air Force aircraft. The A-10 is designed to survive even the most disastrous damage and finish the mission by landing on an unimproved airfield. Specific survivability features include titanium armor plated cockpit, redundant flight control system separated by fuel tanks, manual reversion mode for flight controls, foam filled fuel tanks, ballistic foam void fillers, and a redundant primary structure providing "get home" capability after being hit.

All of the A-10's glass is bulletproof and the cockpit itself is surrounded by a heavy tub of titanium. Titanium armor protects both the pilot and critical areas of the flight control system. This titanium "bathtub" can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 37mm in size. The front windscreen can withstand up to a 23mm projectile. Fire retardant foam protects the fuel cells which are also self sealing in the event of puncture.

The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft. Designers separated all of the crucial battle and flight systems. The wheels can roll in their pods, which lets the plane perform belly landings without significant damage to the aircraft. Dual engines are mounted away from the Warthog's fuselage; if one is destroyed, the other can propel the craft to safety. Dual vertical stabilizers shield the hot exhaust from Russian-designed heat seeking missiles. The A-10 has two hydraulic flight control systems, backed up by a manual flight control system. This redundancy allows the pilot to control a battle damaged aircraft, even after losing all hydraulic power. Furthermore, redundant primary structural and control surfaces enhance survivability. Lastly, the long low-set wings are designed to allow flight, even if half a wing is completely blown off. No other modern aircraft -- including the F-16 -- can survive such punishment. The wings themselves are set low to allow for more weaponry to fit beneath the aircraft.

Yeah, what a wuss plane, just waiting for the air-to-air guys to provide a permissive environment for the A-10s to fly in.

I also don't like the notion that the recent history of the A-10 in providing close air support doesn't count because the A-10 was designed to take out Soviet tanks that really wasn't a close air support role.

I also contest the notion that CAS was not intended. In 1988, as I've related before, A-10s practiced night gun runs using our basic training night firing training as their own training aid.

I don't know how the Air Force brass defines "close" air support, but when a pilot is training on how to fight close to troops firing M-16s at night (without night vision gear), we're talking really close.

(Not that we experienced that level of close, but they were close enough for the pilot to see our muzzle flashes.)

But as that first article notes, the Air Force has reacted to the backlash against their effort to rid themselves of this troublesome plane:

In an unprecedented move, top Air Force leaders last week convened a “Close Air Support Summit” at the Pentagon with senior officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard Bureau and Special Operations Command.

Ah, a summit. Meetings. Maybe even PowerPoint presentations. And light refreshments. How splendid. Thanks a bunch. Nice to know they care.

Like I said, jointness talks, but money walks.

And we know what the Air Force leadership prioritizes. A summit is no way to build trust with the Army.

Oh, and in a further effort to kill the A-10 while maintaining the fiction that the A-10 requires a permissive air defense environment, the Air Force says they are now thinking about a cheap plane that really only can operate in permissive environments:

The U.S. Air Force is looking at Textron Inc's Scorpion and other aircraft to address future needs for low-end air support missions given its plans to retire the aging fleet of A-10 Warthog planes in coming years, a top general said Friday. ...

But growing threats in the Middle East and other areas - coupled with huge budget pressures - were forcing military officials to also look at a low-cost successor for the A-10 for less challenging or more "permissive" environments, he said.

This Plan B comes after the failed attempt to call the A-10 a friendly fire queen.

And I don't even trust the Air Force to buy that poor substitute. I suspect it will be studied until the day that the last A-10 is put in storage. Then the Air Force will discover that the Scorpion takes scarce ground maintenance troops away from the F-35, and we're darn close to getting the F-35 to fire its cannon any day now.

Face it, the case for the A-10 is strong.

The Air Force is squandering the result of more than a decade of excellent close air support for ground troops that went a long way to erasing suspicions about the Air Forces's interest and ability to provide effective ground support to our troops.