Friday, November 1, 2013

Marine CAS

The Marines are counting on the F-35B as their new close air support (CAS) aircraft.  Heck, let’s be honest, they’ve bet all-in and by all indications this is the hill they’re willing to die on to get it.  OK, that’s fair.  The Marines need CAS they can count on, in their view, as opposed to CAS that’s only available when the Navy or Air Force has the time or feels like it.  I get that.  But, is the F-35B really a great CAS platform?  It’s a single engine, unarmored airframe that has a very limited weapons load (2-1000 lab JDAM) in stealth mode (internal weapons only) and a modest weapons load (15,000 lb according to the LM website spec list)  with external hardpoints.  As best I can determine, the aircraft has only 4 external hardpoints plus 2 internal for a total of 6 hardpoints.  While the weapons weight capacity is adequate the number of hardpoints is quite limited and restricts the aircraft’s flexibility and number of combat drops per sortie.  Note that the external weapons load is a theoretical maximum and would be difficult to achieve in practice if the aircraft were used in its short take off and vertical landing modes.  Also, a full weapons load would severely reduce the combat radius.

The Marines want to purchase 350 F-35Bs to replace their current Hornets and Harriers.

Wiki reports that the Air Force looked at the F-35B to replace the A-10 but opted not to due to the F-35’s inability to generate enough sorties.  Wiki further reports that the Marines plan to operate the F-35B from “unimproved surfaces at austere bases”.  However, they go on to note that this will require “special, high-temperature concrete designed to handle the [exhaust] heat”.  It’s not really an unimproved surface then, is it?  The exhaust heat issue is severe and has even required the America class to have special, more heat-resistant decks installed.  F-35B shipboard testing has cause heat damage to the test ship’s deck.  I guess this invalidates the popular notion of operating the F-35B from remote roads, fields, or “unimproved” airstrips – they’ll all melt or catch fire.

Marine CAS?

As noted, as a CAS platform, the F-35B has limited weapons flexibility and capacity.  Further, the plane has only one engine and no armor – not good characteristics for an aircraft intended to fly low and slow over the battlefield and if it’s not going to fly low and slow then it’s not really suited for CAS.  Add in the presumed lack of loiter time and this is not an ideal CAS platform. 

Now, here’s the interesting part.  The Air Force wants to get rid of their A-10s.  The Marines ought to give serious thought to acquiring the A-10s.  To be fair, I’m not the first person to come up with this thought.  Regardless, the A-10 is the finest CAS platform we have.  It has a weapons load of 16,000 lb on 11 hardpoints plus the Avenger cannon.  The aircraft has a 250 mile combat radius with a nearly 2 hour loiter time.  Decades of actual combat have proven the worth of the A-10 as a CAS platform and it’s the one that the men on the ground call for by name.  It’s rugged beyond belief.  If the Marines are serious about CAS for their ground force, they’ll drop the F-35B and jump on the A-10s.  I don’t know what the current inventory of A-10s is but over 700 have been built.  This option makes overwhelming sense.  If they want some F-35s for some other purpose that I don’t really understand, then fine, buy a handful.  For now, though, the A-10 is the undisputed master of CAS and it’s apparently free for the taking.  That’s a tactical and budgetary win for the Corps.


  1. That's why I think the US Army and USMC should get the A-29 Super Tucano's as LAS and CAS Aircraft

  2. OV-10X... imagine the gun of the Apache in the belly orbiting over the AO providing accurate fire. Combine that with APKWS/LOCAS and L-ZUNI means accurate HEAVY CAS. Throw in some SDB & 500lb bombs just for good measure.

  3. Is "low and slow" yesterdays solution?

    Gone are the days when aircraft had to line up shot with unguided rockets or use primitive computers to work out how to toss a bomb on to a target.

    Now, a missile can be fired from 5 miles away and self guide on to target.
    A JDAM can be thrown at a target 15 miles away and guide on ton GPS co-ordinates, or inertialy guide if GPS is jammed.
    Paveway adds laser guidance to that.

    My main worry is the lack of a WSO to receive and input all of the required targeting information from the Troops In Contact in to the weapon.

    The A10 might shrug off small arms fire, but deploy a platoon, or god help them a section stinger man (or equivalent), and its not got a chance.

    It'll be Karbala all over again.

    1. TrT, that's a very good point and should take care of all known CAS needs ... Except for those times when a unit comes under fire without a FAC or laser designator handy which seems to be all too frequent - like during unexpected ambushes or while on seeminly routine patrols or when equipment gets damaged or when the enemy is hidden and the forces on the ground don't know exactly where the enemy is and the guy in the plane has to get down low and eyeball or when the enemy is so close to friendlies that trusting the accuracy of a stand-off weapon isn't good enough or when the attacking plane has only gravity bombs or when strafing is the preferred attack or when area bombing is needed rather than precision strike or when ... Well, you get the idea.

      I think you're mixing strike with CAS.

      The A-10 has been dealing with SAMs and AAA for decades and seems to do just fine.

      Karbala??? I'm aware of a 2003(?) battle there but no incident(s) that would seem to relate to this. What are you referring to?

    2. Maybe we need more FACs, or a better way of communicating between pilots and ground forces?

      I have a stupid phone. Its like a smart phone, but cheap and with few features.
      If I open maps, my phone will establish a GPS lock on my location, and then load map information, either from the SD card, or download them over a wireless connection.

      I then tap another location, and my phone plots a route for me to get from A to B.
      Now, it doesnt seem a huge stretch for my phone to, instead of plotting me a route to wherever, mark that location, and send it to an over flying F35.
      The pilot doesnt need to be able to see the enemy troops if the ground forces can see them and communicate that information.

      Maybe we need more designators too?
      Add in guided 81/105/120mm weapons and a section (or 2 per platoon?) laserman seems sensible.

      Gravity bombs are easy to fix, stick a paveway/JDAM package on the bomb.

      Area bombing is beyond the F35, but its not really an A10s role either...

      Has the A10 ever faced a competent AA threat?
      Enough that they were pulled away from facing the RG, hardly a fearsome foe in the grand scheme of things.

      The 2003 battle fits, low and slow CAS, helicopters rather than fast, but still supposedly armoured against 20mm, blown to bits by .50cal HMG fire.
      Well, blown to bits is an exaggeration, most of the gunships made it home, but they were so badly damaged they were out of the war.
      An entire regiment rendered mission killed, thats a disaster.

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    4. "Has the A10 ever faced a competent AA threat?
      Enough that they were pulled away from facing the RG, hardly a fearsome foe in the grand scheme of things.

      The 2003 battle fits, low and slow CAS, helicopters rather than fast, but still supposedly armoured against 20mm, blown to bits by .50cal HMG fire.
      Well, blown to bits is an exaggeration, most of the gunships made it home, but they were so badly damaged they were out of the war.
      An entire regiment rendered mission killed, thats a disaster."

      A-10s are more damage resistant than Apaches.

      Just search for battle damaged a-10s.

      The A-10 was designed to fly back to base after it had been shot to hell.

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    1. B.Smitty, the drawbacks you listed are actually pluses, in a sense.

      Ship basing isn't an issue since the Marines have not used ship-based CAS in, what, forever?

      Cockpit interface? A stick and a windscreen is all that's needed for CAS!

      Air defense is why we have F-15/22s.

      Radar is not needed for CAS.

      Survivability is what the A-10 does! How many have we lost to combat? I really don't know but my guess is next to none which, if true, would be astonishing considering their role.

      SEAD is not the A-10's role. Neither is ASW, deep penetration nuclear delivery, or any of dozens of other roles.

      Slow is an advantage and a requirement for CAS. I love that the A-10 is the only aircraft susceptible to bird strikes from the rear!

      The A-10 has everything it needs for the role it's designed for. Adding extras just drives the cost up. While some may consider the JSF "better" because it can perform multiple roles, the reality is that it can't perform any of them well since it isn't optimized for any of them and the extra capabilities just drive the cost up.

      The A-10 has not only proven itself over decades of actual combat, it's the number one choice among those on the ground (if they can't get a gunship!). Would you really advocate for replacing a free (already paid for) CAS platform that is the best in the world with a $170M aircraft that won't be as capable?

      Lifetime is another issue but I have yet to hear anyone suggest that the A-10 has some fatal, lifetime related limitation. With proper maintenance it should last quite a while, yet.

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    3. B.Smitty, you can't be serious about those casualty numbers as a proof of survivability as it relates to the CAS mission (which is what we're discussing)! Expanding on your data, the AWACS had no losses and no damage in however many sorties they flew. A loss rate of zero. Hence, logically, the AWACS should be conducting our CAS missions. Of course, not! That's idiotic. The data just reflects the distance from the enemy. The AWACS got nowhere near the enemy and suffered no losses. The F-16 got closer and suffered some losses. The A-10 got the closest and suffered more losses. That's all the data proves.

      Survivability, in this context, is the ability to EFFECTIVELY carry out the CAS mission and SURVIVE. Common sense demonstrates that the A-10 is more survivable and effective. Ignoring the lack of loiter time, and more limited weapons load, in order to effectively conduct CAS, the F-16 would have to slow down which would make it just as susceptible to hits but less able to survive those hits.

      If your response is that the F-16 can fly faster and get in and out quicker, you'd be correct that the F-16 would be the preferred platform - if survival was the only objective. But, it's not. It does no good to zip through the attack at Mach 27 if you can't hit your target - hitting the target is whole reason to be there.

      Although the data you cited is far too limited to draw a definitive conclusion, it actually suggests the reverse about survivability. 6 A-10s lost out of 20 hits is a loss rate of 30% when suffering a hit. 3 F-16s lost out of 7 hits is a loss rate of 43% when suffering a hit. Of course, the data doesn't distinguish a nick from having an entire engine blown away (fatal for an F-16!). As I said, the data proves nothing.

      The only way to prove survivability would be to compare damage/loss rates while performing the same mission.

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    1. Well we know the A-10 is tough. Its taken hits from SAM's in the wing big enough to fit a man through. Not counting the countless bullet holes. That bath tub has saved a lot of lives.

      One thing I remember though is a tail of a fight in Afghanistan when some soldiers were pinned down. Well the F-16 come in and drop bombs on a group of enemy fighters.....doesn't really hit them. Well the US planes had a minimum height they were told to stay at. So they couldn't really come in and see what needed shooting.
      So a Aussie F-16 I believe comes in and goes upside down to get a better look. Flips over comes back and sets the bombs on target.

      An A-10 is built to operate in a CAS environment. Whats more those gun runs are damn good. And no a F-16 or a F-35 won't do. They've done it time and time again and according to the guys who've seen them in action they miss terribly they just move to fast to be accurate.

      The whole Idea that the A-10 or a CAS aircraft needs to be able to fight or avoid fighters and legions of SAM's and such and come home perfectly is stupid.

      The Air Force has thousands of fighters. The Navy and Marines over a thousand more. Your telling me you can't establish air dominance with those and keep air assets busy? Well then you need to find another job somewhere you have fucked up.

      The Fighters clear the air. The Bombers/Attack aircraft kill the anti air sights and other ground targets. And the CAS aircraft fly over the fields guarding and assisting the soldiers and marines on the ground. That is a known proven formula.

      So what reason could the Chair force generals have to change this? Well who do you think gives them the funding and power they have? Senators and congressmen. Who in turn what to be able to say I brought jobs and money to my voters. Who want the businesses who make fighters like the F-35 and massive air bases that have more 4 people doing what 1 person does in the Marines or Navy.

      The F-35 is the A-12 all over again. Its just that now its become a political issue. Not only that any alternatives have been ruthlessly cut and destroyed.

    2. Horner's comments are the Air Force party line. They've been trying to kill off the A-10 for decades and every time they seem about to, some pesky war comes along the A-10 again proves to be invaluable.

      As far as pulling the A-10s off, by that point in the war the outcome was decided and priorities had changed from combat effectiveness to minimizing casualties. We also placed severe restrictions on all planes in terms of attack altitude. Everyone had to bomb from high up even though the attack efficiency went down. That was OK because the outcome was no longer in doubt and saving pilots was the top priority.

      Horner's example actually makes the case for the A-10. F-16s with holes in them don't come home. A-10s do. Had the F-16s been performing the A-10 role, Horner wouldn't have been counting damaged planes, he'd have been counting empty spaces.

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    4. Evidence that F-16s are more vulnerable to ground fire???? You don't believe that an A-10 aircraft with a titanium armored tub, redundant separated engines, and oversize wing/tail surfaces is less vulnerable? I guess I don't know what else I can tell you that you would believe.

      Does the Air Force have some perspective that the rest of us don't? Maybe. I'd like to believe they do, however, I guess a few things make me believe otherwise.

      - Why does the A-10 deploy to every conflict we get into if the F-16 is its equal?

      - Why hasn't the AF just killed the A-10 and been done with it?

      - Why does every ground soldier swear by the A-10 rather than the F-16 or whatever other plane the AF keeps trying to insert in the role?

      Back to the unique perspective bit ... I'd like to believe that AF leadership acts only in the best interest of the overall military. I'd like to believe that the demonstrable idiocy of Navy leadership is isolated to the Navy but I strongly suspect that the AF is just as stupid and has just as many non-strategic/tactical agendas as the Navy. I just can't demonstrate that because I don't follow AF issues closely enough.

      A-10s with holes may not fly the next day (although the Desert Storm stories suggest that they generally returned to action quite quickly!) but they bring their pilots back to fly again and the aircraft will fly again. That's not the case with an F-16 sized hole in the ground.

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    6. The A-10 versus F-16 debate comes down to what the mission is that you want the aircraft to perform. F-16s are better at interdiction and A-10s are better are close air support of troops in contact. Both missions destroy enemy ground forces but there are differences between the two. The A-10 was not designed to do interdiction. It was designed to come in low over friendly troops and hit enemy forces not to far from friendly forces. The A-10 is a more modern Stuka. It has the same mission set as a Stuka. In Desert Storm, the whole kill box strike thing was battle field interdiction which is not the A-10s designed purpose. The A-10 is the plane that ideally M1s would call in to help kill T-72s that they are in contact with.The real comparison is between the A-10 and attack helicopters. Because they A-10 and Apache were built for the same mission set. If not for Key West, the Army would have flown A-10s (or something like it) instead of Apaches.


  6. I find it interesting that generals don't seem to like the A-10 while the soldiers and marines seem to love it. I wonder which group will fall in love with the F-35B.

  7. I'd have reiterate B. Smittys point, CAS is not what it used to be. The A-10 was withdrawn from low altitude attacks because it was simply too vulnerable. The F-111 became the principal tank killer.

    Since then, the quality of the optics carried has advanced to such a point that CAS can be done from reasonable altitudes. There will always be exceptional incidents, but fundamentally the A-10 is not the right aircraft anymore (not necessarily saying the F-35 is either).

    I'd be interested to see what you could get out of an A-10 if the gun was removed. the ammo drum was replaced with a small fuel tank, and some of the armour was taken out. You'd be dumping almost 1,000 pounds of weight and smoothing off the airflow over the nose (though upsetting the weight balance). You'd probably end up with an extended loiter time, better performance, and it would still be able to pump out the missiles and bombs for CAS.

  8. I'll quote my friend ( a Marine Major, 3 tours in Afghanistan) "Nobody is disappointed when an A-10 answers the call for CAS")

    CAS stands for CLOSE air support. It is not strike. It is "Oh shit we need help NOW!" The job is to help troops on the ground in contact with the enemy. The airborne equivalent to selecting "full auto."

    There is no finer CAS on earth (except perhaps the AC-130) than the A-10.

    Here is why:

    The A-10 doesn't have a radar because is doesn't need one.

    It isn't stealthy because during CAS the enemy already knows you are there.

    It doesn't have/need fancy electronics because where it is supposed to shoot/bomb, is right in front of friendly troops and is usually designated by same.

    It is extremely agile and at the same time is a very steady platform which is crucial when working so close to friendlies.

    The F-35B, if used for CAS, needs to lose the stealth, (not needed) increase its crew survivability, (people will be shooting back) increase loiter time (crucial), increase load-out, (otherwise, whats the point?) gain engine redundancy, (again,people will be shooting back) mount an effective cannon and be a heck of a lot cheaper because there are going to be losses in a CAS mission. In effect, be a lot more like an A-10.

    As for being able to go aboard ship, most Marine CAS missions have been carried out ashore. F4Us in Korea, F4 Phantoms in Vietnam and even F/A-18 missions have mostly been shore based.

    Yes, CAS is evolving as the nature of the battlefield is evolving, but the basic mission of CAS is still to support the troops in contact. This is why the Air Force is still buying AC-130s which is about as far from an F-35 as you could conceive.

    I think the Marines should go with the F-35C to use as a strike platform (for which it should excel) and re-think their need for the F-35B for both CAS and VTOL and STOVL. The Marines have snapped-up all of the RAFs and RNs Harriers so they know the value of that great little jet and they get an incredible bargain to boot.

    If they ditch the "B" perhaps they could shake loose some money and actually modernize their artillery and their amphibious fighting vehicles which is a hugely pressing issue.

    1. "The A-10 doesn't have a radar because is doesn't need one."
      -- The lack of radar is of no benefit to a CAS aircraft, it simply keeps production costs down. In return it lacks the ability of modern AESA equipped aircraft to produce SAR images of areas of interest, as well as losing the benefit of radar in rapid acquistion and approach of tankers.

      "It isn't stealthy because during CAS the enemy already knows you are there."
      -- It isn't stealthy because "stealth" as we know it didn't exist when the A-10 was made. Stealth on the other hand makes the job of radar guided AA weapons (like the majority of self propelled AAA) weapons that bit harder.

      "It doesn't have/need fancy electronics because where it is supposed to shoot/bomb, is right in front of friendly troops and is usually designated by same."
      -- It actually does have some fancy electronics now. And just a word of note, the majority of blue on blue incidents involving aircraft are caused by someone on the ground messing up.

      "It is extremely agile and at the same time is a very steady platform which is crucial when working so close to friendlies."
      -- It's moderately agile, but not compared to modern fly by wire aircraft. Steadiness of the aircraft has nothing to do with it. The sights on modern targetting pods are stabilised and significantly more "stable" than any aircraft.

      "The F-35B, if used for CAS, needs to lose the stealth...."
      -- Why? It would cost a fortune to redesign while preventing the F-35 from being used in deep strike missions during the pre-ground invasion phase.

      "..increase its crew survivability"
      -- It already weighs a lot, the last thing it needs is more weight for little gain, more on this later.

      "... increase loiter time,"
      -- Not gonna happen. Tankers are a thing though.

      "... increase load-out"
      -- With all its outboard pylons it should be pretty flush for weapons.

      "... gain engine redundancy,..."
      -- Would require a massive redesign for something that has proved to not be a huge issue under live conditions. War involves risk.

      "... mount an effective cannon"
      -- Outside of COIN the cannon has been proved to be of limited utility in ground attack. Even in COIN its utility is questionable, especially given the weight. There's a gun pod option for F-35.

      " and be a heck of a lot cheaper because there are going to be losses in a CAS mission. In effect, be a lot more like an A-10."
      -- Ironically enough given that statement, the most casualties suffered in CAS missions in places like Iraq '91 were A-10s.

      "This is why the Air Force is still buying AC-130s which is about as far from an F-35 as you could conceive."
      -- The AC-130 is a COIN aircraft, for use in permissive environments only.

      "The Marines have snapped-up all of the RAFs and RNs Harriers so they know the value of that great little jet"
      -- What you guys got was essentially a stock of spares, designed to keep Harrier going until F-35 arrives. It's either that or the USMC retire Harriers as they get older and lose aircraft.

      The reality is that CAS has moved on and as much as I'm not a fan of the F-35, it probably will be a better CAS platform than the A-10. Why the F-16 would not suffice is between you and your airforce.

      The A-10 as a concept died many years ago. They're kept because they're cheap to operate and they can fly today. As CAS platforms they have been superceeded by most modern aircraft that can respond much quicker to requests for air support, scan the area with sensors that are vastly superior to peering out of the cockpit with binoculars, and deliver ordnance with much greater accuracy than the GAU-8, all from more survivable altitudes and carrying comprehensive modern DAS protection.

      Oddly enough, given the differences between CAS and heavy bombers during WW2, some of the most effective CAS aircraft today are the B-1 and B-52.

  9. A couple of points:

    1. The A-10 has certainly been useful in providing support to troops conducting COIN, and for tank-killing during large-scale major combat operations. However, if one judges the intent of DOD, it doesn’t look like either operation is in the long-term ‘game-plan’.

    2. Survivability is more than simply taking the hit. An aircraft that is high and fast, and can avoid being hit in the first place may be more survivable than a slow aircraft which can absorb enormous punishment and still come home.

    3. A-10 is certainly simple and lacks complex, hard-to-maintain electronics. It was also responsible for a large share of the “blue-on-blue” incidents during the Gulf War. Not sure if there’s a correlation.

    4. The type & number of threats to low-altitude aircraft are on the rise. MANPADS are everywhere, and much more resistant to jamming. Operating low and slow is a good way to get an SA-16 up your tail.

    CAS is going to have to occur from higher altitudes, employing low-cost precision-guided munitions. So... I don’t think we really need a flying tank – we need a bomb-truck.

    5. Is it even technologically feasible to launch and recover an A-10 from an LHA? If the answer is no, then it’s probably not much interest to the US Marine Corps -- which is returning to it's expeditionary roots.


    1. Matt, your point about high and fast as it relates to survivability is valid only if high and fast can perform the mission. A CAS platform has to be EFFECTIVE and SURVIVABLE. Also, note that survival and survivability are two different things. If survival is the only criteria, the best CAS platform would be an aircraft flying at Mach 27. Of course, it won't hit anything. We've all seen and read endless accounts over the past several years of soldiers doing the classic talk-the-plane-onto-the-target; low and slow. The consistent reports (annectdotal, admittedly!) are that F-16s are too fast, carry too few weapons, and have too little loiter time. EFFECTIVE CAS is not going to change to stand-off attacks.

    2. No, I get the difference between 'survivability' and 'survivable' I am not entirely sure that you do, since by your metrics we'd be best served in buying a bunch of A-1 Skyraiders or IL-2 Sturmoviks.

      I didn't say anything about 'stand-off' attacks. I said precision guided munitions (PGMs). And PGMs have actually changed CAS quite a bit since A-10 was designed.

      If one reads the reports, strategic bombers (B-1s and B-52s) equipped with JDAMs are among our most effective CAS platforms in Afghanistan. Bomb-trucks - flying thousands of feet in the air.

      Your comments suggest to me that you believe Afghanistan-style COIN operations - in which we have nearly uncontested control of the skies - are the template for future operations. I might rethink that one if I were you.


    3. You clearly do not understand the use of the term survivable in the context of this discussion. You are focused on "survive". By your criteria, we should be using U2s at the edge of space. They will have a 100% survival rate. Of course, they'll have a 0% mission success rate.

      You're also failing to grasp the difference between CAS and strike.

      "CAS is going to have to occur from higher altitudes...". That's kinda what stand-off is.

      You're also consistently attributing thoughts to me that I haven't stated. Please stick to actual statements. You might also benefit from going back and reading the archived posts if you want an accurate sense of my opinions. Enjoy the reading!

    4. Actually, you were the one who went on the tanget about survival vs. survivability.

      I inferred that you rate survivability purely (and incorrectly) on the ability to take a hit. If that's the case, why not just buy a bunch of Skyraiders or Sturmoviks?

      Re-read my post. Nowhere did I propose a Mach 27 aircraft -- or imply that survival is more important than accomplishing the CAS mission.

      Minor point: standoff is typically associated with range (horizontal distance) - as opposed to altitude (vertical distance). There's a difference.

      You don't seem to realize that B-52 and B-1s are regularly dropping gravity weapons (i.e. bombs) in direct support of ground forces. That is CAS - not strike. See links below.


    5. No hostility intended in any of my comments. I just feel you could stand to open your aperture a bit in terms of what 'CAS' really means and who can do it.

      Few would've guessed when A-10 was designed that strategic bombers would be used for CAS.

      Bottom line is that we don't necessarily need to be down in the mud (and in enemy's threat envelope) to provide effective CAS.


    6. Matt, you seem intent on arguing rather than learning and your focus is on ancillary details rather than the broader themes. For example, the take-away from this post was not the definition of CAS or even whether the F-16 can perform CAS. The take-away should have been the Marine's view of CAS and, more broadly, aviation as it relates to their acquisition path, the availability of the A-10s as it relates to the Marine's budget and needs, the broader impact of the JSF program on Marine aviation as it relates to the roles they expect to have, and, perhaps, the role of older but still effective, cheap/free technology in a time of constrained budgets. There are many aspects that could be productively contemplated and explored.

      This blog offers a real chance to explore naval issues and learn. I'm wasting my own time arguing with you about details. Feel free to continue enjoying the blog, if you wish, but I won't be engaging in any further discussions with you.

      Best wishes.

    7. ComNavOps,

      You seem to grasp ascribe opinions as 'facts' -- while simultaneously dismissing actual facts. This is not an attack, just an observation.

      For instance, your insistence that "...if [an aircraft] is not going to fly low and slow then it’s not really suited for CAS." 10+ years of actual warfighting in Afghanistan and Iraq appear to prove quite the opposite.

      Recognizing little details like that are actually fairly important to understanding the future of warfare. Yet you continue to ignore or dismiss them -- apparently because they do not bolster your case against the F-35.

      The F-35 is no A-10. Yet the broader question I have been trying to introduce is does DOD/USMC really need an A-10? And I don't think you can see the forest through the trees.


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    9. I completely agree in principle! But I interpreted the debate more that IF the USMC is going to maintain its own fixed-wing tactical aviation, WHAT sort of aircraft should it acquire?

      In no way, shape or form do I think the USMC should be buying B-52 and B-1s. My point was more that the method and means of CAS has changed dramatically since the A-10 was designed.

      And a fast, high-altitude 'bomb-truck' will probably be more useful in the future threat environment than a low-altitude brawler like the A-10 Warthog.


  10. The A10 isnt bad.
    I quite like them, they are cool and they look nifty, but.

    Yes, they are armoured and over engineered to survive direct hits from cannon fire and proximity hits from SHORADS
    The UKs current SHORAD doesnt have a proximity fuse. It hits the target.
    A missile (up to three in fact) hits the aircraft at two or three times the speed of sounds, penetrates the hull, and a 900g HE charge detonates.
    A 40mm cannon round carries 110g of explosives.
    Survivability is relative.
    Maybe I'm wrong, but I dont see the A10 surviving in a peer war.
    In a COIN war, or slapping uppity second worlders, its going to survive.

    Strike / CAS
    Strike - A General asks the airforce to blow up some enemy
    CAS - A corporal asks the airforce to blow up some enemy

    "I'll quote my friend ( a Marine Major, 3 tours in Afghanistan) "Nobody is disappointed when an A-10 answers the call for CAS")"
    Are they disappointed when anything turns up?

    1. TrT, you don't see the A-10 as being survivable because you claim it won't survive a direct hit by a missile. Do you see the F-16 as surviving a direct hit by the same missile? Which aircraft would you rather be in when hit?

      Your definitions are cute but not accurate.

      Strike is planned attacks on targets some distance from friendly troops.
      CAS is ad hoc attacks on targets in close contact with friendly troops.

  11. All these negatives directed at the A-10 for not being "modern" enough for the present battlefield remind me of the A1 Skyraiders being used for CAS in Vietnam. Here was a piston-engined bomb truck doing the job very well while everyone else was zooming around in jets.

    Some more points:

    For CAS to work well, the pilot has to have situational awareness that can't be had by zooming around at 500 knots or flying too high above the battlefield.

    Maybe technology has come a long way toward keeping the attacking platform at a stand-off distance, but in order to keep the enemy's head down requires a CAS aircraft to sometimes get down in the weeds. How would a strike aircraft lay down a curtain of napalm from 10,000 feet?

    The needs of the modern battlefield are evolving just as technology is always changing the way wars are fought. It is certain that there will be ways to support troops in contact that don't always require CAS. I just feel that the true CAS mission will not fully go away, especially for Marines.

    It is interesting that a lot of CAS in Afghanistan is being carried out by AH-64s
    Maybe not true CAS in the traditional sense but the AH-64 has a lot of the attributes of a good CAS platform.

    My last point is really a question. How are the more advanced Manpads going to change the way in which a CAS platform can survive?

    1. A lot of CAS in Afghansitan has also been carried out by strategic bombers flying at 30K ft. And apparently fairly effectively.


    2. Skyraider was fine for its era, where precision weapons and aerial observation were very limited. Even then it was gradually pushed to the backfoot/passed over to the Southern Vietnamese.

      In the modern era an F-16/F-18 etc, etc, can orbit comfortably at medium altitude and use the optical system on its targetting pod to zoom in on the battlefield and achieve superior situational awareness compared to a low flying A-10 pilot looking out of his canopy.

      Napalm, dumb bombs, unguided rockets etc existed because they were the only weapons available at the time. They were weapons designed to saturate an area in order to increase the percentage chance of scoring a hit on something useful.

      A modern aircraft carrying 500lb bombs and using a laser pod can pick out individual targets like a machine gun, a cluster of enemy near a building corner, a mortar etc, and drop a bomb right on the spot where it's needed. The delivery of multiple, reasonably accurate strikes against specific point targets can have a much greater effect than spraying an area with gunfire and hoping some of the rounds hit something important.

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  12. Well, you all have your points. I guess I am such a fan of the A-10 as it was such an asset at least for our units on the ground in Desert Storm. I still can remember hearing the high-pitched whine and looking up to see them rolling in on target followed by a large explosion or hearing the sound of a dozen angry chainsaws and watching a large swath of desert go poof!

    There is something about a machine that is built to do a task well and then seeing it go out and perform. This is why I have such issues with the F-35B as currently built. What is its core mission? Is it optimized to do this well?

    I am not a big fan of the "Force Multiplier" concept for the same reason. Once a unit gets knocked out of commission, it becomes a "Force Reducer" as now you don't have a platform to do ANY of the jobs that it was supposed to do.

    The point on the Small Diameter Bomb is well taken. This technology could replace the need to get "down in the weeds" for effective CAS.

    The B-1B can carry 96 (or even 144! ) of the new version of this weapon.

    "GBU-53/B scheduled to enter production in January 2014 will add a tri-mode seeker (radar, infrared, and semiactive laser) to the INS and GPS guidance of the original SDB." Wikipedia]

    This could make it more or less an airborne "call for artillery."

    It could loiter high over a battle field and be on call for CAS. GPS coordinates would be further refined by the semiactive laser that could be designated by troops in contact.

    Perhaps this is the future of CAS.

    Warthog, you served us well. Via con Dios!

  13. I'm sorry but as a group, you people haven't got a clue about this. CAS is not some guy sitting on a high vantage point designating targets - that's strike. But forget about definitions. I hope all of you get the chance to be pinned down under fire without a laser designator or FAC, knowing only that the enemy is somewhere out in that direction. You're taking mortar rounds from somewhere. Even if you had a designator, you don't know where the mortar is. There might be tanks moving around but you're hunkered down and can't see. Well, thank goodness you won't have to worry because you'll have a B-1/2/52 loitering overhead. What, B-1/2/52s don't loiter, you say? And even if one happened to be passing overhead at that exact moment what would they drop on? They have no spot. Well, you're still not worried because you've got F-16s and you still have a working radio so you can talk the F-16 onto the target. Uh, wait, you don't know where the targets are exactly. That's OK, the F-16 will make a visual pass and ID the targets. There he goes. 500 miles per hour. All he saw was a blur. Doesn't matter, he's out of fuel and he only had two useful weapos, anyway. Thankfully, though, an F-35B is in the area. By area, we mean 15,000 feet above because $170M F-35's aren't allowed to operate below that. Still, they've got 360 degree integrated awareness. The F-35 reports that his sensors give him 100% assurance that there's nothing in the air that can threaten him. He also reports that he has no idea where you or your targets are since they don't show up on radar and there's nothing big enough to be visible for his self-designating laser capability. Your last thought before you get overrun is that you wish the Marines had picked up the AF's A-10s.


    William James, you should be ashamed. You know this.

    1. ComNavOps,

      Your theories on the merits of F-35B vs. A-10 in CAS are clearly not built from a position of knowledge. I’m not saying you’re dumb (far from it!) only that your knowledge of this subject is clearly lacking.

      There is no malice intended in any of the suggestions below:

      (1) I would first review aircraft survivability. It is a lot more than simply taking a hit. Broadly speaking, the two factors involved in survivability are susceptibility (can the weapon even hit me) and vulnerability (if hit, can I survive the damage.)

      About 20 years ago, the projections of accuracy, lethality, and sheer numbers of enemy MANPADS and SAMs quite logically led designers to conclude that designing a CAS aircraft which minimizes vulnerability is a ‘path of diminishing returns’.

      In a nutshell, designers came to the conclusion that we can’t up-armor an aircraft up enough to survive low-altitude volleys of SA-16s. The focus logically became on designing and integrating aircraft, sensors, weapons and doctrine to minimize susceptibility to threats and still allow effective CAS. It's not simply about the aircraft.

      I’d say that all of this is quite evident in the continued and quite effective use of ‘traditional’ strike and bomber aircraft (F-18, B-52, etc.), equipped with advanced sensor pods, and employing JDAMs, as our principal CAS aircraft.

      (2) Related to the above, I would then a quick refresher on how CAS has been undertaken in the decade plus that we have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. A lot has changed in terms of doctrine and technology since the A-10 was designed.

      (3) I would next conduct some basic research on the DOD-doctrinal definitions of CAS versus Strike. Although you lecture others, you simply do not seem to understand the accepted definitions. If you have ‘better’ definitions, so be it – but I’d reckon that the majority of your readers go with what’s in the Joint Pubs.

      There’s a perhaps very good and objective case to be made as to why the USMC should not be procuring the F-35B - and why they should perhaps procure another tactical aircraft. Regrettably, your post has not been it.


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    1. Well, I've got to say you've totally convinced me. Now the only question I have is why we have an Army? We can shoot the weapons out of the hands of an enemy so what's the point of troops on the ground?

      I totally believe every claim the AF makes just like I totally believe everything the Navy says about the LCS so I know everything you're citing is 100% factual with no spin or bias.

      My only other question is why I repeatedly see and read about incidents where troops in contact get in trouble and can't get air support?

      I've wasted enough time on this.

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  15. I have to say CNO that you disappoint. Normally the comments section of your blog involves some interesting debates. But then you spoil it all by calling us "clueless" because we give you the true answers, just answers you don't want to hear.

    The reality is that CAS is defined as air support for troops in close contact with the enemy. It doesn't matter if you're bombing from 100 feet or 10,000 feet, if you're dropping bombs in support of ground troops then it's CAS.

    And in the modern world, that is best achieved by faster, higher flying aircraft that can ignore most issues of terrain and ground fire, while still getting an exceptional look at the enemy. Take this video for example, filmed from the targetting pod of an RAF Tornado GR4:

    The visual quality is very good in modern systems and will only gets better as visual technology improves.

    Welcome to the modern world.

  16. I am a big fan of the A-10, and provided the airframs have another 15-20-years of life, there is a benefit to keeping them.

    But a few points:

    1) CAS can be delivered by fixed or rotary wing aircraft (see definition of CAS below).

    2) The A-10 is not "just for CAS", more properly, it is an aerial interdiction platform.

    3) There is a profound benefit to having an aircraft with a dedicated aircrew for ground attack: while munitions are largely interchangeable, ground attack is about a whole lot more than simply dropping bombs or straffing targets. A pilot who really understands ground operations can work not only his aircraft, but can work fast movers, direct artillery, do BDAs, and generally control all fires. An airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC)) is a massive benefit for a ground forces. Ground attackis one of many missions competing for limited stick time for most fighter pilots, few have the training, the relationships with the ground forces, or expertise to really do the job justice regardless of the capability of the airframe.



    1) From Joint Publication 3-09.3

    "2. Close Air Support Defined
    a. CAS is air action by fixed-wing (FW) and rotary-wing (RW) aircraft against
    hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces, and requires detailed
    integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.
    b. CAS is planned and executed to support ground tactical units. CAS execution is
    tightly integrated at the tactical level with the fire and maneuver of supported ground
    forces. The air apportionment and allocation process for CAS occurs at the operational
    level. CAS planning focuses on providing timely and accurate fires to friendly forces in
    close proximity to the enemy."

  17. About 10 years after Pierre Sprey helped develop the A-10, he started working on the smaller, cheaper, lighter, and deadlier replacement of the excellent Warthog. It was tentatively called the "Blitz Fighter" and was designed to mount the exact same Gatling Gun as the A-10, but be even more robust, more maneuverable, and with strong undercarriage & big wheels to allow it to land on dirt roads or farm fields.

    The Blitz Fighter would be perfect for the Marines, especially if it were paired with squadrons of OV-10's and A-1 Skyraiders for really, really close air support, observation, and Naval & Air fire control.

    1. I believe the Blitz Fighter was developed by James Burton who was a follower of Sprey. The concept was further developed by Vought as the VB-100.

  18. I did not know about the Vought program. Thanks CNO!

    As others have written in this thread, it would seem a great idea for the Marines (and the Army for that matter) to have lots more support than they are getting now. Lord help them when they have to rely on the F-35.

    Bill Lind did some great work with some young, Marine Officers on the "Jaeger Air" concept. The USMC refused to allow them to publish it, so they wrote it for the notional "Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps" instead. I think you will enjoy some of their ideas. Unfortunately, I can't paste the PDF of their work here, but I'm sure you can find it online. Thanks for this excellent website!


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