Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Next Enterprise Is The Wrong Ship

While our military must be sized and designed to fight a high end war, the fact is that most of the time our military is involved in very low end conflicts against third rate opponents, if even that.  We have Super Hornets wasting flight hours plinking pickup trucks that are replaced before the aircraft can even return to the carrier.  We have Aegis ships chasing down pirates in skiffs.  We have B-2 bombers flying all the way from the US to Iraq or Afghanistan to drop a bomb on a suspected sniper or mortar position.  And so on. 

Our naval aircraft have only a limited number of flight hours in their lifespan and we’re using them up conducting the simplest, lowest tech missions imaginable.  Our air wings are shrinking because we’re using up Hornets faster than we can buy new ones and the problem is only going to get worse as we buy the F-35 or some horrifically expensive, do-everything UCLASS.

There’s also the operating cost to consider.  An F-35 is going to cost around $35,000 per flight hour.  Even lower tech aircraft like the A-10 cost around $10,000 per flight hour.  I don’t know what the operating cost of a Nimitz class carrier is but it’s almost unimaginable.

What’s needed is a low end, low cost combat capability for dealing with low end threats.  What’s needed is a small, basic propeller driven aircraft with reasonable speed, range, and combat payload.  What’s needed is something very much like the Embraer EMB-314 (A-29) Super Tucano.  For those of you unfamiliar with the plane, let’s take a quick peek at some of its specs.

  • Cruise Speed:  320 mph;  that’s just fine since no low tech opponent has an air force and nothing will be chasing it.

  • Combat Radius:  340 miles;  outstanding when compared to the Super Hornet with a radius of 400 miles.

  • Endurance:  8.5 hrs;  fine – we’re not talking about flying from the US to Iraq to drop a bomb.

  • Guns:  2x 12.7mm;  adequate given the absence of an aerial threat – a Hornet, by comparison, has 1x 20mm

  • Hardpoints:  5 - 3300 lbs;  adequate for the types of low end missions that are needed

  • Operating Cost:  $1000/hr;  outstanding compared to the $15,000 - $30,000/hr costs of jets.

  • Cost:  $12M;  outstanding especially compared to the $60M - $150M for modern jet aircraft


We see, then, that we have a cheap aircraft capable of carrying out the plinking and low end close air support that makes up low end warfare.

Super Tucano - The New Air Wing?

 Now, where do we operate these aircraft from?  Well, we’ve consistently seen the difficulties in getting our “allies” to grant us basing and overflight rights.  Thus, the answer, as it’s always been, is the aircraft carrier.  No, we’re not talking about Nimitz or Ford class supercarriers.  Instead, in keeping with the low tech requirements, we simply need a WWII Essex carrier – a simple, basic platform for operating propeller driven aircraft.  The Essex, as you’ll recall, was tiny by modern carrier standards at only 880 ft long and yet it could operate an air wing of 100+ propeller aircraft.  That kind of asset is more than enough to deal with the low end threats we generally face.

Yes, I know the Super Tucano is not currently available in a navalized version, however, the conversion has been studied and would be routine.  We figured out how to make carrier prop planes decades ago.  It’s not magic.

Essex Class Carrier

 This is part of the peace/war mix that ComNavOps has advocated.  This is strictly a low end, “peacetime” asset.  When a high end war comes, this vessel gets parked and the big, shiny, well rested F-18/35s and Nimitz/Fords come out and do their work.

What does this gain us aside from immense cost savings when running a peacetime “war”?  It gains us the ability to save flight hours on our precious and expensive high end aircraft thereby extending their service lives.  It gains us the ability to keep our supercarriers well maintained instead of floating off the coast of some third rate nation/threat on 11 month deployments that pile wear and tear on the ship for no good return.  It gains us the ability to keep our carriers home and working on developing high end tactics and operating doctrine without having to worry about covering a low end threat.  It allows us to train our ships and aircraft to maximum potential.  It keeps our high end carriers in surge-ready condition rather than worn out and poorly maintained.

Given the infrequency of major wars and our propensity to jump into low end conflicts, this might be the best value for the dollar in the Navy.

Maybe the next USS Enterprise should be 880 ft long and 30,000 tons instead of 1100 ft and 100,000 tons.

98 comments:

  1. I wonder if an old assault ship could fulfill this carrier function. There are Tarawa class ships in reserve (over 800' long). It might be better to convert a Wasp class facing retirement and retain the ship's existing crew.

    The planes might need sensor and ECM upgrades to meet performance standards. It would also be nice if we could use an American plane (political reality) with a larger payload. I believe there were experiments with the Super Tucano but the program was killed due to the plane's foreign origin.

    We should also consider support aircraft that might be needed: rescue helicopters, tankers, electronic warfare, ISR.

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    1. Don't get carried away with tech (ECM and whatnot). The concept is for low end threats that generally don't require much tech. That said, modifying a couple of planes for ECM or something wouldn't bust the budget.

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    2. The Tarawa class are slated to be scrapped but that will take some time. It might be possible to use them for this if we acted soon.

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  2. What's this fascination with the Super Tucano? It's such a low capability system.

    Those ranges and endurances are clean, BTW. Not loaded with CAS ordinance. Hang bombs under its wings and it's not going very far, or staying up very long.

    If we're going to navalize a prop aircraft, let's navalize a Predator variant.

    If we want a lower cost, light manned carrier strike aircraft, how about modifying the T-45A? It already flies off of carriers and is in service. Maybe re-engine with the afterburning F125 for more thrust.

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    1. I suppose we could also hang a fuel tank thereby retaining the needed range.

      A UAV just doesn't have the on-scene awareness that a manned aircraft provides. That said, I have no objection to some UAVs provided the cost is in the same realm as the Tucano - and I'm not convinced we can do that.

      A T-45? The cost appears to be about $25M-$30M. Worse, it would require the carrier to have an angled deck and catapults which is increasing the cost and complexity of the carrier. I also suspect that the operating cost of the T-45 is significantly higher although I don't have any actual numbers on that.

      Afterburn? This whole premise is low end threats. We don't need afterburning aircraft for that.

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    2. "What's this fascination with the Super Tucano? It's such a low capability system."

      It's a low end threat. Seems like a good match of requirements and capabilities. We don't need a B-2 flying from half a world away to plink pickup trucks.

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    3. What's this fascination with high end capabilities?

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    4. Those ranges are not clean, by the way. Wiki lists those ranges as combat radius with a full payload. The ferry range is given as 1800 miles or so.

      340 mile combat radius with full payload is quite sufficient.

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    5. Embraer lists the Super Tucano's ferry range as 780nm on internal fuel. Ferry means no stores, one way. Half of that is 340nm, no stores. With external fuel that goes up to 1540nm, one way, 770nm radius (again no stores)..

      http://www.embraerdefensesystems.com/english/inc/dforcetor.asp?caminho=download/pdf/Spec_TUCANO_abril_09.pdf

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    6. (edit) 780/2 = 390nm, not 340. Still, no way you add 1500lbs and go that far.

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    7. Wiki gives a combat radius of 342 miles with 3300 lb external stores.

      Tucano has 5 hardpoints. A fuel tank or two and a few bombs and 340 mile combat radius seems perfectly doable.

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    8. "What's this fascination with the Super Tucano?"

      I think just that it exists and it's cheap, maybe even if you tried to navalize it. If you want to bring back the skyraider you're building a new aircraft and that's not cheap.

      my ideal for this would be *if* you could find a way to have the Super Tucano take off of some of our old 'phibs (I think someone mentioned the wasps). You'd also want, IMHO, some way of tanking them. But in this case it would make sense to have a couple of Super Tucs acting as a buddy tanker.

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    9. Why would you want to base Tucanos on amphibs? Not saying it's a bad idea - just curious about your reasoning and how it squares with the premise of absolutely minimal cost and low end threats.

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    10. The Tarawa class is ~840ft long. There are 3 in reserve. America is outfitted more as a carrier; and she's ~840ft long. I think the Tarawa could be fitted for what we need *relatively* inexpensively. America is right there.

      Now, giant caveat; I don't know the takeoff length of the Tucano's. Could you use JATO on them?

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    12. This could be a bit problematic. Not sure if its clean:

      Minimum Take Off Distance -
      350.00 metres 1,148.28 feets

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    13. Jim, recall that take off numbers are for a land based event. Carrier take offs are wind assisted - typically 30-50 kts of wind over the bow.

      Consider the F6F Hellcat which weighed 12,000-15,000 lbs at take off and had a 2200 hp engine (hp:weight ratio = 0.15 hp/lb). It could take off from a carrier in just a few hundred feet. The Tucano, by comparison, is lighter at 10,000-11,000 lb and has a 1600 hp engine (hp:weight ratio = 0.15 hp/lb).

      I don't see a problem.

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    14. Might have trouble carrying the loadout you envision while taking off from that short distance. Hard to say without knowing more details.

      With a combat radius of 300nm (342 statute miles) this aircraft could cover Syria from the Med, but would have trouble covering north-western Iraq from either the Med or the Persian Gulf. See below.

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByVQu4lA4SjvN1Z1aFhxWlJ1SVU/view?usp=sharing

      And aircraft at the end of their combat radius will have very little time on station.

      I still think UAVs are a better solution. Pilot SA is nice, but it can't substitute for time on station. Commanders want additional, persistent, ISR orbits more than additional strike sorties. It would take MANY Super Tucanos to keep one persistent ISR orbit at 300nm. It could be done with 2 Gray Eagle-class UAVs (but more likely 3-4 to allow for spares).

      Gray Eagle can stay on station for 8 hours at 630nm. Improved Gray Eagle can do 8 hours at 1,500nm.

      A CVE carrying Gray Eagle class UAV could cover all of Syria and all of the ISIS held territory in Iraq from the Med with persistent ISR orbits. A similar CVE in the Persian Gulf could cover all of Iraq but not much of Syria.

      Red circle - Super Tucano. Yellow circle - Gray Eagle.

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByVQu4lA4SjvVUYtTjh0dmk2dTg/view?usp=sharing

      If a Gray Eagle has engine trouble or is shot down, there won't be a pilot appearing on ISIS TV in an execution video the next day.

      So what else would this carrier do besides COIN whack-a-mole? If based on a commercial hull, it still may run $5-800 million. A 30,000 ton warship design will cost $2-3 billion. Should it have a role in wartime?

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    15. Could a grey eagle take off from a CVE/Tarawa with a decent weapons load out?

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    16. Well.. define "decent". ;)

      This sized UAV is designed to carry 2-4 Hellfires on long-duration ISR missions. It's not primarily a strike aircraft, designed to pump through bombing runs as fast as possible. It's designed to stay overhead and plink fleeting, infrequent targets of opportunity.

      Gray Eagle would need a significant redesign to handle cats & traps and shipboard use. So when i say "Gray Eagle" what I really mean is a "Naval MALE UAV in the Gray Eagle Performance Class". It would require development.

      The navalized GA Avenger may be a more ready-made solution. It was designed from the outset to have a naval variant. However it's significantly larger and more expensive. Certainly still an option though. On strike missions, Avenger supposedly could carry 3 x GBU-12s to a 1,500nm combat radius.

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    17. "I still think UAVs are a better solution."

      I have no objection to a combined manned-UAV wing if the UAVs meet the underlying requirements for cost.

      "So what else would this carrier do besides COIN whack-a-mole? "

      Nothing. It's sole purpose would be low end ops to preserve our high end capabilities. I would hope an Essex-ish carrier could be had for less than $2B-$3B but even if not it would still justify its cost by saving Hornets/Nimitz's and extending their lives.

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    18. "This sized UAV is designed to carry 2-4 Hellfires..."

      That's a useful load for this kind of low end threat/mission. We're not talking about saturation bombing runs. This is also the kind of load (the low end of the load, admittedly) that would be satisfactory for the Tucano, so that should answer your concern about that.

      I can't emphasize this enough - we're talking low end of the spectrum. Everyone keeps wanting to "up" the performance and capabilities, just like the Navy does, and that's missing the point.

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    19. Jim,

      Thinking about a modern CVE, I would probably start with one of the two LMSR designs. The T-AKR Bob Hope class was built at Avondale. The T-AKR Watson class was built at NASSCO. So get each to submit a bid.

      The T-AKRs have a service speed of 24.5kts. Perhaps a bit slow for a CVE. It may be feasible to up that to 27kts for additional WoD. They are nearly as long as a CVN, so should be ample space for parking and takeoff/landing.

      The big question is obviously its mission set. This will drive air wing composition and a lot of the cost and complexity.

      Does it need to carry Super Hornets? E-2D? Or can it get by with just UAVs and lighter aircraft? Does it need to be CATOBAR? Would STOBAR work? Does it need EMALS? Or is EMKIT sufficient?

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    20. CNO said, "I would hope an Essex-ish carrier could be had for less than $2B-$3B but even if not it would still justify its cost by saving Hornets/Nimitz's and extending their lives."

      LPD-17s are $1.6-1.8 billion each. I have to imagine a larger carrier built to the same standards would be more expensive.

      LMSRs are closer to $3-400 million each, IIRC.

      IMHO, it doesn't make much sense to spend $2-3 billion for a "low-end capability only" ship. It will siphon too much money from the high end fleet. So if it's low-end only, I think it has to be based on a relatively inexpensive commercial hull.

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    21. Smitty, you keep wandering away from the main premise - LOW END threats. We don't need a carrier built to LPD-17 standards since it won't ever see combat. It's just a launch/recover/service platform. We don't need combat control systems, radars other than nav and air traffic control, damage control, CIC, redundant systems, hardened electronics, or the hundreds of other high end naval components.

      This would not be built to LPD-17 standards!!!!!!!!

      We can build a carrier to commercial standards, wooden flight deck, SIMPLE automation, low speed (does it really matter if it takes a few extra days to get to a low end threat?), two shaft/screws, one rudder (who cares about maneuverability?), and so on.

      SIMPLE. BASIC. !!!!!!!!!!!!! Arghhhhh!

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    22. I think you are agreeing with me then. It needs to be built to commercial standards as I said earlier. Essex class carriers you mentioned in the original post were built to naval standards and were the CVNs of their day. The WWII era CVE is a better starting point, conceptually.

      Wooden flight decks make no sense these days.

      Speed is useful for wind over deck, not just for transit.

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    23. I cited Essex carrier as a relative comparison to today's supercarrier. Yes, I understand that they were built to the naval standards of the time. If you want to reference the concept as a WWII CVE rather than an Essex, that's fine.

      I don't care about materials of construction. If wood will do the job and is cheaper, use it. If steel will do the job and is cheaper, use it.

      If someone analyzes the takeoff requirements and determines that a given speed is necessary than that's fine. Speed for any other reason is pointless. My strong suspicion is that 20 kts is adequate.

      My belief (hope) is that such a carrier would cost $500M-$750M. Now, given that an LCS costs $500M that would seem to be a stretch but that is a horribly mismanaged and mis-spec'ed program. The other relevant data point is the world of commercial tankers and the like where a 30,000 ton vessel can be had for $100M. Sure, we'd have to add magazines and munitions safety and handling features, much larger crew accomodations, maintenance facilities, and so forth but the hope would be that those could be added and remain under $750M. Could that be done? Probably not by the Navy but if the project were turned over to a commercial shipbuilder and not subjected to the usual government over-oversight, I would hope that goal could be met.

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    24. Another interesting option might be to start with the Lewis & Clark T-AKE. It's only a 20kt hull, but that's similar to the CVEs of decades past. T

      he nice thing about the Lewis & Clark, is it already has magazine spaces and elevators, as well as significant fuel tankage. Don't know how much would have to be re-arranged to accommodate a flight deck and hangar, but might be worth considering.

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    25. It sounds like we are agreed?

      Find a T-AKR/Freighter/Tanker type hull, built to civilian specs and modified with a big enough flight deck/modest speed modifications for flight ops *if needed*, and fly some type of UAV off of it for HiLux plinking/bunker bombing?

      It might actually be great duty. Huge ship without the need for a massive crew.

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    26. Okay.If you could install bigger engines cheaply enough to get better speed... it has all the flight deck space you need:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Paul_R._Tregurtha

      ;-)

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    27. "Another interesting option might be to start with the Lewis & Clark T-AKE."

      That could work. The first ship of the class was $400M (2001) and the next was $300M so it's in the realm of economically feasible.

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    28. "It might actually be great duty. Huge ship without the need for a massive crew."

      The hot tub and below deck tennis courts alone would make duty on board fun. :)

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    29. I remember reading about the Wolverine and Sable; two sidewheel paddle (!) steamers they used for aircraft carrier training in Lake Michigan.

      Aside from being I think the only sidewheel CV's ever, I believe they had a tailor and an ice cream parlor on board; leftovers from their days as passenger ships.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Wolverine_(IX-64)

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  3. Those are some short legs and I don't know if you could sell the survival of putting a US pilot in it even against camel jockeys with AK's and the occasional manpad, hell a Tucando would get chewed up spit out by your plentiful soviet zu type toyota guns.

    I would agree the US needs a cheep version but I think we have already found it we just need to classify it and leverage order it as such. Very simply in my opinion what I love about UAV is that like firing old ordinance they are expendable and more so as they age. By that selling a Tucando with a US pilot flying over manpad rich theaters would be a tough sell not even considered in peer war, contrary a UAV would be no such worry short financial replacement/attrition cost. The reaper is your cheep bomb truck with the legs hold a huge circle down (air basing rights), enough payload to bring it, and if navalised (think they had a BAMS proposal based off the reaper) the few LHA/LHD could easily handle the two current ops of Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria Med/Gulf/Indian.

    The best part of using a reaper type idea is in those peace times you pull the wrench, box them up to stack store until needed. If you then get into a peer fight you can still use them if for nothing more than a lead element to flush out the radars.

    With todays gps weapons flying low in the low end manpad/AAA threat is unnecessary. A reaper at altitude above the threat with the appropriate load out is just as deadly as a A-10 operating like a airborne artillery. The only thing it would lack in my opinion would be a ordinance issue we need a light cluster bomb type gps weapon.

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    1. I have no objection, per se, to a UAV if we can obtain them cheaply enough. However, I do see a value to manned aircraft for situational awareness that a UAV just can't provide. A mixed wing of UAVs and props might be viable.

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    2. "... a Tucando would get chewed up spit out by your plentiful soviet zu type toyota guns"

      As would any aircraft that flies in range of one. The "wall of lead" defense doesn't care about the aircraft's speed.

      The post's premise is that we would use a Tucano for low end threats. If the threat is abundant ManPADS and ZSU's we'd back off deal with it differently. Also, the Tucano's service ceiling is 35,000 ft. There's no reason it can't cruise above the threat and drop LGBs from altitude until the threat is reduced. But again, we're talking about low end threats.

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    3. I meant at altitude above AAA manpads, yes anything will be eaten if in range. I didn't know the Tucano had the ability to operate high enough so I will take that back.

      I don't know if a manned aircraft situational awareness (exempting air to air) is really that much of a advantage anymore especially at altitude. I would actually say that the UAV's with some of the newer systems and programs have the advantage. Most of this low level fighting is allot more observation, escort, watching, waiting than actual attack. Those are all things a UAV multiple value on.

      Wiki says a Super Tucano is ranging 9-14mil, a Reaper running 16mil. We all know a US Tucano is going to be the high end of that Tucano but even if we take the 9mil or roughly 1/2 the cost, the Reaper will still win because of the range/time on station.

      I agree with your idea of the need for a low end option to save our high end stuff but I just don't see were a Tucano would be valuable, even less so flying off anphibs. Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? all would require bases in nation or in bordering nations.

      I also think it is never really pushed as a benefit for UAV's but I look at the boneyards and imagine that yard in 40yrs. That yard will be filled with ole outdated UAV's that unlike a outdated manned craft I would have no problem sending on a suicide mission, or as we are discussing pulling out for the days low end grind.

      I am not huge on UAV, but I do believe for the low end they really are tailor made. Improvements in sensors, refueling, & programming will just enforce that. Can't remember were but I think the other day I read the new reapers were being built with a improved wing and new wing drop tanks getting it from 14yrs to 30hrs. That either translates into reach out and touch someone or just sitting overhead.



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  4. If this could be made to operate from amphibs, it should be the perfect for USMC. The benefits:
    -MV22 escort with reasonable speed instead of AH-1Z
    -low operating costs
    -rough field ability and amphibs use which will be gone when Harriers are gone (F-35 will not do rough field well)

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    1. Good thought about MV-22 escort. I hadn't thought of that.

      Also, good observation about rough fields. A prop plane is a lot more likely to be able to operate from a rough field than the F-35 (that was always an absolutely unrealistic fantasy, anyway).

      Nice comment.

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  5. We have Essex size carriers but call them LHD and LHAs. This is more a Marine Corps mission, and they could dump the F-35 monsters that torch the deck and embark an entire prop squadron space wise. Here is a great overview of the value of props: http://www.g2mil.com/O-6B.htm

    That author advocates similar T-6s since they are already in our system. Since our ultra-expensive jets plan to use stand off glide bombs in high threat areas, might as well drop them from a small prop at 20,000 feet. Also in high threats, a prop puts out much less heat for IR missiles, turns faster than a jet, and is half it size. A good tactic is for a jet to swoop by and attack first to attract all the AAA systems, with props following, observing and engaging them as they are focused on the escaping jet.

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    1. "...much less heat for IR missiles..."

      Good point.

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  6. I believe Enterprise is the right ship. That being said, I would be willing to reduce the number of super carriers to 10 and repurpose the approximately $24B in shipbuilding funds for 10-15 escort carriers based on Alaska Class tankers. They would have two bow catapults and an angled deck flight deck with arresting gear. The ships would be capable of launching and recovering all TACAIR jets, but would normally carry an air wing composed of 20-30 General Atomics Avengers (or similar) and E-2D. An A-29 or AT-6 could be useful, but range and speed are limited.

    The ships would be bare bones. All the maintenance, parts, mission planning spaces etc would be Conex containers. Remember, the cost of a super carrier in not just in the flight deck - the ship is a hotel for 5000 Sailors, two nuclear power plants, an intermediate maintenance facility for several T/M/S, a supply hub for the fleet, a major intelligence center...

    Peacetime task groups would be composed of an escort carrier and a few small frigates. In wartime these groups can escort convoys, provide FARP-like capabilities for the super carriers, and complicate the adversaries targeting problem.

    V/r TA

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    1. Vr, unfortunately, by the time you add all the equipment you've indicated, you've got a supercarrier in all but name. You'd need EMALS and AAG to launch and trap the aircraft. You'd need complex and expensive control stations for the UAVs (unless you envision them being controlled from a land site which seems unlikely). You'd need advanced shipboard radars and all the self-defense weapons any carrier has. The maintenance, parts, mission planning spaces, etc. that you say can be Conex containers are still complex and expensive. Being in containers doesn't reduce the cost. Computers and electronics cost the same regardless of the container or room they're in. You'd need air control centers, combat centers, intel centers, comm suites, etc. You'd still need thousands of crew. And so on.

      The Avenger has a 66 ft wingspan and no folding wings. That's a lot of deck space!

      You're not going to get 10-15 carriers out of $24B with this design. This design would likely cost around $10B each. It's a supercarrier on a different hull.

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    2. It's a modern Commencement Bay Class concept - a production tanker modified to launch and recover airplanes - and we all know how much you take inspiration from WWII.

      I don't know where you come up with $10B. America Class cost approximately $3.4B, and they have all of the facilities you listed except catapults and arresting gear. Do you contend that catapults and arresting gear cost $7B? Not likely. One EMALS and an AAG cost about $700M.

      MLP/ESB target cost is $500M per ship. I suspect the design could be modified and a CATOBAR system could be installed for less than a billion more. Even if it comes out at $2B, the catapults make it more capable than the no catapult America class.

      The ship doesn't need extensive air defense or control centers. Basic point defense missiles with area defense provided by the frigate. Again, this ship is for presence and brush wars with an auxiliary role in high end combat. An E-2D would control the UAVs line of sight, and the aircraft could be controlled from a ground station via overhead (like reaper) for longer range/endurance missions.

      Super Tucano does not have folding wings, so it would require the same modifications as Avenger. Landing a conventional fixed wing nose gear aircraft on a strait deck without arresting gear requires a clear deck all the way to the bow, thus limiting the number of aircraft that can be spotted on deck. You're basically limited to the starboard side forward of the island. The same is true for a deck run launch. Your stiff wing Super Tucano further reduces deck spots.

      V/r TA

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    3. Vr, so how do you explain the jump from America class at $4B to Nimitz/Ford at $10B-$15B? The only significant difference is the catapult, arresting gear, and angled deck. Seriously, you've hit on a point that has long puzzled me. Why does a supercarrier cost what it does?

      Regardless, the evidence is pretty straight forward. When you add all the capabilities of a supercarrier, you'll have the cost of a supercarrier.

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    4. You're correct that the Tucano does not have folding wings but the wingspan is only 36 ft versus the Avenger at 66 ft. Quite a difference!

      As far as landings, I would envision the same type of basic arresting gear that was used in WWII. Nothing elaborate.

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    5. "Seriously, you've hit on a point that has long puzzled me. Why does a supercarrier cost what it does? "

      Just off the top of my head; didn't you do a post about steel not being cheap?

      The Ford is 110K tons. The America is 44K; so that's a lot more ship to pay for. Also, the Ford is Nuclear, so that's going to up the ante.

      But, all that said, I still wonder what the priorities of the Navy are. They want EMALS and the new arresting system to supposedly increase sortie times; while at the same time they haven't addressed their range issue or the air wing size/age issue. Its like they are preparing to do a great job bombing Bosnia in the '90s.

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    6. Yes, I did. However, while air and steel aren't free, they can't account for the complete difference between America and Ford (I don't think). For instance, there are supertankers the size of the Ford and they don't cost $14B (admittedly, that's not exactly comparing apples and apples but it proves that the steel, alone, is the reason for the cost differential. I'd love to see a line item cost accounting for the Ford. I'd also love to know how much is material cost and how much is profit/overhead - I also did a post on that and opined that it was a hugely, major portion of the total cost but, again, I have no actual numbers.

      FYI, the increased sortie rate claim has been debunked. It was based on unrealistic assumptions.

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    7. "FYI, the increased sortie rate claim has been debunked. It was based on unrealistic assumptions."

      I hadn't heard that. But it doesn't surprise me. I'm not entirely sure as to why the Navy thinks it needs to spend all this time and money replacing the Nimitz class. They can build it easily and cheaply, even if they evolve it. But that's another post.

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  7. Throw in a new class of heavy cruiser with completely modern long range guns for cheap ordnance on target within 100 miles or so of coastlines. That right there would cover a lot of Syria. I'm visualizing something like a cross between an Aegis ship and a Deutschland-class cruiser. Resurrect the 12"/50 gun and feed it rocket-boosted gps-guided shells.

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    1. A modern heavy gun ship would solve a lot of problems for the fleet.

      Delete
    2. Then bring back the Skyraider with its 4 20-mm cannons and 8,000 lbs. bomb load.

      Delete
    3. That would work. I thought about mentioning that but the Tucano is in production and is a realistic option. Tough to argue with the Skyraider, though.

      Delete
    4. I really like the Skyraider option. But can any prop plane heavily laden for A2G get off an 800 odd foot deck? IIRC the Skyraider itself was a CATOBAR plane wasn't it?

      As to a gun ship, this problem fairly screams for a monitor of some sort, it would seem. You do sacrifice range and some situational awareness, but it should be cheaper. I know rocket assisted artillery is expensive but is it as expensive as an air strike?

      Quick thought: What is the range on the AGS? What is the operational cost of the Zumwalt class? Could we use those to a certain extent? Its not a great solution due to the high cost of those things, but at least 2 are going to exist, and we might as well get some use out of them.

      Delete
    5. Jim, good point about the Skyraider probably needing a catapult.

      The AGS has a max range of 70 miles, if I recall. It would be useful in certain, limited situations.

      Delete
  8. Wasting precious airframe life for these low tech targets feel very unwise..

    it's like waging low intensity warfare without thinking of saving majority of your 'cards' for the inevitable future conflict with peer/near peer enemies..

    stupid leadership

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  9. CNO,

    The main issue here is the lack of alternatives and lack of imagination, a COIN fight should by definition be a partnership; if the USA cannot get basing right in the host country or its neighbors we have already lost!

    Second, most of these air strikes have devolved into simple assasination missions and there should be a host of alternatives to having to do the deed with airpower. No organized criminal organization would have difficulty executing this mission. The fact that our intelligence community is incapable beggars belief - the taxpayer should be right angry and demand that Congress sort these incompetents ASAP.

    There certainly is a military aspect to COIN and I have sharp opinions on the military side of the problem, but the real problem is that State, the intelligence community are ineffective, and after over a decade of war, we still cannot muster federal agencies to achieve national goals (e.g. run a competent police training program) overseas!

    GAB

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    Replies
    1. As usual, you comment is on point.

      Has there ever been a counterinsurgency effort that succeeded due to outside assistance? I can't think of any but there may well have been. However, if not, we need to seriously re-examine the entire COIN concept - not just the strategic and tactical execution but the reason for engaging.

      In other words, by the time we get involved, is it, by definition, already too late?

      Delete
    2. Bring back the skyraider.

      Delete
    3. When dealing with failed states, we need an alternative to getting basing rights from the host. The US might not want to establish a vulnerable ground presence in a volatile country. Also, a carrier could be logistically superior to a ground base - quicker to get operational and easier to resupply.

      Delete
    4. "Has there ever been a counterinsurgency effort that succeeded due to outside assistance?"

      I think that's a whole other issue. We need to think really hard on the cost benefits of getting involved in some of these things.

      Us wiping out terrorist camps in Afghanistan after 9/11 made sense to me. We had an organization with a real base that was trying to do us harm in real time.

      Us supporting one side or another in an 'Arab Spring' state? What are we going to get out of that? What is the chance that a nation that has no history of democracy in the past 2000 years is going to all of the sudden become one?

      I'm not saying the answer is no. And I'm not averse to doing humanitarian things 'No, you can't starve these people to death'. But we need to think long and hard.

      Delete
    5. It is the entire issue with many of these low end insurgency conflicts. We get in them thinking that with our assistance we can save Country X. Unfortunately, history suggests otherwise. I can't, offhand, think of a successful example. If the entire model of outside counterinsurgency assistance from us is unrealistic, we need to rethink why we're doing it. I have a feeling that by the time we choose to get involved it's too late and doomed to failure. If that's the case we should refrain from getting involved, get involved much earlier (problematic), or get involved much more violently (also problematic though possible correct).

      Delete
    6. CNO,

      There are many examples of succesfull COIN operations, but few where foreign military force is the primary instrument to prop up a "democratic" government.

      El Salvador, Malaya are a couple of post WWII examples of success.

      Note that military force does have a role in insurgency, just not a primary one. Once armies start fighting , it isn't COIN, it is a civil war!

      Delete
    7. Anon, nice comment. So, is the solution to get involved sooner? What's your thought?

      Delete
    8. CNO,

      Our problems stem from:
      • Inability to assess situations
      • Failure to develop realistic alternatives, including alternatives to military force
      • Political inability to articulate realistic goals and end states in plain language

      GAB

      Delete
    9. GAB, included in your points is our inability to accept (or even consider) goals/end states that are less than perfect by our standards. For example, supporting (or leaving in power) a ruthless dictator who provides regional stability, if not exactly democracy, freedom, and personal rights, may be a desirable goal but we won't consider it because that's not the American way of life and governance. Note, I'm not talking about any specific situation, here - just a generalized example.

      Regional stability may be more strategically useful (and achievable) than forcing a country that is not culturally or sociologically ready to become a mini-America.

      We need to consider "un-American" solutions.

      Delete
  10. The textron scorpion was designed for a similar purpose. Make them cheap in a country like India, and you will have a cost effective way of plinking low end threats.

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    Replies
    1. From a quick Internet search, the Scorpion seems a bit more expensive to produce ($20M) and operate ($3000/hr). In addition, it would require a more advanced carrier with catapults, arresting gear, and angled deck. The premise was a very low end aircraft coupled with a very low end carrier. Still, it's in the ballpark and could work as an Air Force option.

      Delete
  11. CNO - You are a heretic! Actually analyzing what we need in the real world and proposing a simpler solution? That is how we got the A-10 and look how much heartburn THAT SUCCESSFUL program has caused the establishment.

    Spot on and keep it up!

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    Replies
    1. Did you know that the Navy has flown both A-29 Super Tucanos (IMMINENT FURY) and OV-10G Broncos (COMBAT DRAGON II) during the past decade, and it has been congressional pressure not military "establishment" that has killed the programs. Maybe WE actually know what WE need.

      V/r TA

      Delete
    2. Vr, I know the military looked at the Tucano but I thought the idea was dropped. I know the Navy briefly tested a Tucano but I'm unaware of any combat use. Tell me about it.

      Delete
    3. "CNO - You are a heretic!"

      Thanks. It's what I do! Common sense is a rare commodity in the DoD.

      Delete
    4. We need something smaller than the A-10, more agile, but at the same time, it needs to retain the survivability.

      Delete
    5. Pierre Sprey wanted the A-10 to have only one engine but was overruled by the Brass. That would go along way to making it smaller.

      This have to have 2 engines myth is ridiculous. A-4s and A-7s worked fine and engine reliability has gone up since then.

      Delete
    6. I'm not intimately familiar with the A-10 design history but I assume the dual engines was to deal with battle damage (survivability) rather than mechanical reliability. If you're going to fly in a low level, contested environment, a second engine would be very useful if one engine gets hit. Maybe I'm wrong but that's what would make sense to me.

      Delete
    7. I've listened to Sprey. To be honest the guy sounds like a bit of a zealot to me. He loathes the F-15; despite its battle record. He loves the original F-16, but the F-16 nowadays isn't even close to what he envisioned originally; and frankly I don't think would fit our needs at all.

      The A-10 may have its flaws, but I don't think the extra engine isn't one of them.

      Delete
    8. Read the books: BOYD by Robert Coram (Popular Version) and Mind of War by Grant T Hammond (Air War College Version) for a good history of the A-10 development, AND the reasons the F-15 is not liked (it could have been so much better and CHEAPER).

      Delete
    9. I'll take a look at it. I guess I disagree with (what I got, admittedly) from some of Sprey's interview.

      Its one thing to say 'It could have been managed better' or 'it could have been cheaper'. Its another to say its crap when it very clearly is not. 'Its just way too big. Too complex...'

      I get a little nuts in the monday morning quarterbacking of existing equipment.

      Its like saying the Ferrari's of the 60's could have been cheaper and better, and because they weren't they are crap. Well sure, they could have been. And maybe they would have won more... but the amount of championships they won suggests that they had something going for them...

      Delete
    10. After you read them you will see his position is not Monday Morning Quarterbacking. He was there with BOYD (how had Vietnam orders cancelled to work on/save the F-15) as they shaped down from another F-111 into what it is became.

      Delete
    11. Single engine would mean a smaller aircraft which in turn would mean a smaller more agile aircraft.

      Flaws of the A-10:
      - It's too sluggish, a better T/W ratio is needed. The acceleration is lacking on an aircraft for ground attack (or it would have been anyways against a modern army with modern AA weapons - namely one like the Soviet armies it was designed to fight)

      - Needs to be more agile (too big in that regard); transient performance is not good

      - The gun, although powerful, could be made even more lethal by using either a gas operated rotary weapon or multiple revolver type weapons.

      @Jim Whall,

      Remember cheaper means you can also buy more for the money and it doesn't always mean inferior - depending on what you are doing and what is driving up the $$$.

      Delete
  12. Despite support from McChrystal and Mattis, congressional pressure from the Kansas CODEL (home to Hawker-Beechcraft, the maker of the AT-6) was successful in removing $44M in Phase II funding for overseas deployment of the A-29. The OV-10 program was criticized by Senator McCain as “duplicative close air support programme without any clear, defined requirement.” Coincidentally, Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ hosts about 80 A-10s and contributes $1.1B to the local economy.

    Neither the Marine Corps, as the lead service agency for CAS, nor the Air Force, as the service most tasked to provide CAS, have publicly supported a light attack aircraft like those used in the Navy experiments.

    V/r TA

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    Replies
    1. As an addendum, I contend that the Marines will torpedo any effort to allow a fixed-wing conventional take-off aircraft launch or recover from a U.S. Navy ship without catapults or arresting gear, let alone a light strike CAS platform... at least until 353 F-35Bs make it into service.

      V/r TA

      Delete
    2. "Neither the Marine Corps, as the lead service agency for CAS, nor the Air Force, as the service most tasked to provide CAS, have publicly supported a light attack aircraft like those used in the Navy experiments."
      +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      wrong.

      Research the Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) program.

      GAB

      GAB

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    3. Point to me the line item in the POM.

      V/r TA

      Delete
    4. TA,

      The USAF (pushed by SOCOM and AFSOC) not only supported the LAAR program, they went so far as to actually solicit bids (which the EMB-314 won) - I am not sure where you came up with the bit about "public support" and the USMC, but there definitely was a real program with real requirements.

      You are confusing a Congressional fight over pork with the acquisition process and tossing a lot of misinformation around in the process.

      GAB

      Delete
    5. GAB,

      With respect, I disagree.

      The 2008 OA-X concept that evolved into the LAAR was power-point deep. When faced with budgetary pressure, the same Chief of Staff that conceived it, killed it.

      By 2010 Gen. Norman Schwartz stated there was no requirement for a light strike aircraft in the USAF inventory, as all requirements could be covered by F-15, F-16, and A-10. “There is a not a need, in my view, for large numbers of light strike or light lift aircraft in our Air Force to do general purpose force missions… With the platforms that we already have in our force structure, and our capabilities, we can service any close air support requirement. It’s as simple as that.”

      Gen. Carlisle, the current ACC Commander, admits that the service has not come to a decision about a low-end CAS platform following a 2015 “CAS Summit”. "There wasn't anything definitive, other than we will continue to think about it and plan for it and see what that would look like." Future CAS requirements will be serviced by F-35. Lt. Gen Davis USMC, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, is also convinced that the F-35 will be able to fulfill all future Marine Corps fixed wing strike fighter requirements.

      The LAAR and follow-on effort LAS were then considered to be Foreign Military Sales (FMS) for training and ultimately building the Afghan Air Force; IMMINENT FURY and COMBAT DRAGON II were proposed as SOCOM direct support assets flown and operated by the United States.

      You are correct that A-29 was selected for LAS, and the first aircraft are at Moody, AFB, but the program is to train Afghan pilots and maintainers – NOT to support SOCOM.

      All of these programs were mired in congressional controversy. Senator McCain has vehemently defended the A-10 while simultaneously deriding the development of a light strike platform.
      Senators Roberts and Moran, and Representative Pompeo of Kansas have repeatedly pressed both the Department of Defense and the Department of State on the program expressing concern that the Air Force rejected the AT-6 as a competitor for the LAS.

      If there is anything that I have expressly misstated, I stand-by for correction. I have provided sources and citations below, lest I be accused of misinformation.

      V/r TA

      http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj10/fal10/2010_3_04_pietrucha.pdf

      http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/budget/fy2014/usaf-peds/0207100f_5_pb_2014.pdf

      http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/combat-dragon-ii-demonstrates-ov-10g-bronco-capabilities/
      http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/capitol-hill-rejects-light-attack-aircraft-request/

      http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/204676-mccain-chides-air-force-leaders-over-a-10-retirement

      http://www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/capitol-hill/2014/11/06/sen-john-mccain-vows-to-save-a-10-from-retirement/18604159/

      http://pompeo.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=292027

      http://aviationweek.com/defense/kansas-lawmakers-question-usaf-las-award

      http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/03/06/no-decision-on-a10-follow-new-aircraft/24514011/

      http://news.usni.org/2015/08/13/davis-f-35b-external-weapons-give-marines-4th-5th-generation-capabilities-in-one-plane

      http://www.acc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123426297

      Delete
    6. I think you're both saying the same thing. The AF/USMC both looked at light aircraft with some degree of interest, got as far as testing and selection, and then largely dropped it. So, yes, there is interest there but no budgetary appetite for actual US purchases at this time.

      Would the AF/USMC support renewed interest in light aircraft? Probably not in the current budget climate and drawdowns. Could the Navy pursue its own light aircraft, which was the point of the post? Yes, though realistically it would be unlikely.

      Delete
    7. TA,

      I do not own stock in Embraer, I am very familiar with FMS/FMF, but one of the real problems with the defense is that we play games and try to disavow war fighting services provided by contractors, as though it is somehow unrelated to the fight, even when we have U.S. troops engaged in combat operations alongside them! It is crass and purely political. The reality is:

      1) The USG has put EMB-314s in the air over Afghanistan (and other places) and paid a lot of money to do it.

      2) Designated agents of the USG committed this nation to a legally binding obligation to purchase of EMB-314s, they then defended that contractual agreement on two separate occasions in bid protests before Congress started fighting over which district would get to bring home the bacon.

      I also note that the *observation/light attack* mission is not the same as the “CAS” mission (the most misunderstood and abused doctrinal term ever created). Once again the whole “ground support” mission has been muddled by people blathering on about CAS and A-10s and everything but the kitchen sink. And the A-10 was bought primarily to perform the aerial interdiction role, not CAS.

      And one final rant: the USMC has no more say in what the USN does with carriers than the US Army. I recall the very public USMC insistence on an amphibious invasion of Iraq before being told to quietly stand in the corner. I also recall our last invasion of Haiti and the two (2!) CVNs that deployed loaded down with SOCOM’s forces and not marines. The V-22, EFV, F-35B and other programs are legendary procurement failures. I love the Corps, but the universe does not revolve around them, and they have no leg to stand on in telling other services how to suck eggs.

      GAB

      GAB

      Delete
  13. The one concern I have is the Super Turcano's survivability.

    The problem is that it was designed to take hits like the A-10 was. Even a WWII Stuka or something like the P-47 was designed to take hits.

    I'm not against the idea of a prop driven CAS aircraft, but I think that we need a better implementation.

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    1. I agree with you; ideally we'd want to find some balance between what is feasible and what is affordable. It'd be great if we could build something like an A4 or a Super Tucano with the pilots titanium tub, dual controls, and similar engine protection, and teh ability to take off of something like an America class, to do the job. I think we might even be able to do it (relatively) affordably.

      But if we really wanted to put the effort in we might be able to do the Super Tucano without too much effort, assuming it could be semi navalized (You'd need to make it able to do an arrested landing, but we aren't talking catapult assist on take off). And you might be able to do it on the cheap. It would be a good first step to get some function, save airframe hours on the SH's, and have a more force appropriate response.

      Maybe it doesn't work, but it sure seems worth at least testing it out.

      Unfortunately, I don't think our Navy, or indeed our military, thinks like that anymore.

      Delete
    2. Alt, don't lose sight of the premise. This is for low threat missions. We won't be flying through highly contested airspace. Sure, a bit of armor would be nice just as a bit of speed, a bit of maneuverability, a bit more payload, a bit of stealth, a bit better radar, a bit bigger engine, and so on would all be nice but then there goes the main characteristic which is cheapness.

      If we were to purpose design a new low end aircraft perhaps we'd give it some armor. However, in the meantime, I'm looking at solutions that actually exist and could actually be implemented. It's not surprising that it isn't 100% perfectly optimized for this role since that' not what it was designed for. This is the entire "perfect is the enemy of good enough" theory. A Tucano (or maybe a low end UAV or some other aircraft - there's lots out there) may not be perfect but it exists and it meets the two main criteria: cheap and reasonably effective.

      Delete
    3. "I'm not against the idea of a prop driven CAS aircraft, but I think that we need a better implementation."

      You get that this post and premise is not about a prop CAS aircraft, right? It's about a low (read, nearly non-existent) end threat aircraft. We're not talking about CAS in contested environments. We already have aircraft for that.

      Now, if you want to explore the concept of a prop aircraft for contested CAS, that's a different topic. Not sure why we'd want to look at that but the Skyraider would fit that bill. A Skyraider would not meet the premise of this post, however, I don't think. It would probably be too expensive but who knows?

      Delete
    4. I'd want something closer to a modernized Stuka or perhaps an A1.

      The Stuka (a WWII era aircraft) was regarded by German pilots as immune to 20mm and under weapons.

      A Super Turcano by contrast is not as good in that regard (it's been noted that it could be brought down by a 12.7mm machine gun), although it's newer engines would help.

      You want a weapon for fighting Islamic fundamentalist groups. The problem is, they can get their hands on machine guns and perhaps even light flak (mostly old Soviet weapons).

      Flare and chaff dispensers should also be carried on any prop driven aircraft. Given that ATGMs are proliferating around the world, it's probable that MANPADs will as well.

      Delete
  14. After reading up more on the GA Avenger, it would be interesting to know just how stealthy it is and how much the Sea Avenger variant would cost.

    It's range, endurance, speed, payload and potential low cost are attractive.

    A CVE based on a T-AKE or T-AKR carrying a couple dozen could do most of what CVNs do today, with the exception of air superiority, in low to moderate threat environments. Avenger could even be reasonable stand in for my Reusable Cruise Missile concept, though at a higher price and with lower survivability.

    Or they could be configured as long-range, high-endurance ASW aircraft.

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  15. As mentioned by a couple others, I think the real solution here should be the newer Combat Dragon variant of the OV-10 Bronco.

    It can perform V-22 escort just as easily and has more than a few advantages over the Super Tucano, in that it is already a familiar airframe with the USMC/NavAir, it comes ready from the factory for naval operations off of our amphibious assault ships (and has a history of doing so), it has twin engines for safety over water ops (an oft requested feature by NavAir), has longer range and payload capability that the Ttucano, and is a purely American product to boot.

    I am honestly surprised this thing hasn't already won over the DOD by storm, especially being that it's a politically safe choice, and it's cargo bay offers even more opportunity to check off an untold number of multi role check-boxes that both the DOD and services claim to cherish.

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  16. ", it comes ready from the factory for naval operations off of our amphibious assault ships (and has a history of doing so), "

    It can take off from the flight deck of a 'phib and bomb things? And has done so before?

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  17. Yup. Dang. This thing seems almost perfect:

    http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/the-amazing-ov-10-bronco-was-never-allowed-to-meet-its-1695837367

    Dang.

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  18. What about a carrier the size of the French Charles de Gaulle?

    ReplyDelete