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