Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Air Force Continues To Pass On Light Attack Aircraft

For many years now, the idiocy of using front line jets to plink trucks has been obvious.  The solution has been just as obvious – use a light (probably propeller driven) attack aircraft.  The benefits are blindingly obvious:  cheaper acquisition cost, cheaper operating cost, easier to maintain, easier to learn to fly, etc.  Note that when we say cheaper, we mean by astronomically huge margins.  In the military budget world, these light attack planes border on free to buy and free to operate.

ComNavOps has suggested that the Navy acquire a simple Essex-type carrier to operate a wing of Super Tucanos or something similar.  The Navy has no interest in that and wants no part of it.  In fact, the Navy seems quite happy to burn through F-18 Hornet flight hours rather than embrace a simple, cheap solution.  They have sidestepped the issue by allowing the Air Force to take the lead on ‘evaluating’ the concept.

Tucano Light Attack Aircraft


So, how is the Air Force progressing?  You would think that it would take all of about a week to evaluate the issue, right?  I mean, it’s just not that complicated.  Let’s see how they’re doing.  From a Breaking Defense article,

After a decade of dithering, and under threat from Congress to strip the program from its control, the Air Force today issued its long-awaiting request for proposal (RFP) for the Light-Attack Aircraft to Textron Aviation for the AT-6 and Sierra Nevada Corporation/Embraer Defense & Security for their A-29. (1)

So, rather than a week of evaluation, the Air Force has wiled away a decade????  How can that be?  Well, the answer is obvious.  The Air Force wants nothing to do with a small, light aircraft.  If it isn’t a high cost, high performance jet, the Air Force doesn’t want it – just like they don’t want the A-10.  It’s just like the Navy’s disdain for small vessels, no matter how useful.

So, if the Air Force doesn’t want a small, light attack aircraft why are they even pretending to look at it?  Well, it’s because Congress and public opinion has forced them to make a token effort. 

Well, at least they’re finally going to commit to a light attack aircraft, right?  Wrong. 

The Air Force will buy “two or three of both,” an Air Force spokeswoman told Breaking D today. (1)

So, a decade of dithering and now they’re going to buy two or three of each of the two types for a total buy of 4-6.  That’s not exactly commitment – that’s more delay.

Okay, so that’s a miniscule initial buy but that will quickly ramp up to significant purchases, right?  Wrong.

Air Combat Command will take charge of the AT-6 Wolverine planes at Nellis AFB in Nevada “for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks that improve interoperability with international partners,” the announcement said. [emphasis added]

Air Force Special Operations Command will use the A-29 Super Tucano at Hurlburt Field in Florida “to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission, to meet increased partner nation requests for light attack assistance.”

Newly installed Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett chimed in with one of her first official statements, saying: “Over the last two years, I watched as the Air Force experimented with light attack aircraft to discover alternate, cost-effective options to deliver airpower and build partner capacity around the globe. I look forward to this next phase.” (1)

So … … … more studies?

And, what’s this about other countries?

Phase 3, ongoing since at least 2011, includes looking more closely at their use by allies, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, who both own small numbers of the A-29, for counter-insurgency operations, and assessing how many the Air Force and allies might buy.

“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in the Air Force announcement. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.” (1)

Congress started this project to acquire small, light attack planes for OUR use, not for other countries.  Where did this focus on other countries come from?  Who gives a rat’s ass about what other countries might think about our light attack aircraft?  This is just a way to continue postponing any significant action by the Air Force.

And, just to close out the idiocy, there’s this tidbit,

Sydney did a comparison of the two planes way back in 2012. (1)

Hey, no sense using what they learned.  That would be too quick.  Better to spend a decade restudying and delaying, right Air Force?

By the way, with the cost of a decade or so of ‘studying’ we could have already purchased all the light attack aircraft we need and had plenty of money left over.

With the Air Force taking the lead on light attack aircraft, the Navy is never going to get a cheap, simple alternative to burning through Hornet flight hours but I guess that’s fine by the Navy.  Why use a free aircraft when you can use a $100M jet with a limited number of flight hours?




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(1)Breaking Defense, “Air Force Finally Commits To Buy Up To 6 Light Attack Aircraft ”, Theresa Hitchens, 25-Oct-2019,
https://breakingdefense.com/2019/10/air-force-finally-commits-to-buy-up-to-6-light-attack-aircraft/

50 comments:

  1. I dont know why the Army just don't operate they're own attack fleet of super tucs or the like in the ground support role like the Marines do. AF or Navy is never going to buy in to something cheap and effective. If the Navy does not want prop aircraft at least they could upgrade to a weaponized Hawk trainer for light attack.

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    1. The Army doesn't due to the Key West agreement. The Navy and USMC were not party to that agreement, therefore operate their own air forces.

      Delete
  2. There were lots of stories about low B-1B readiness this year and how they are worn out. No one mentioned they've been used to bomb insurgents for years.
    https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/04/02/after-years-away-b-1-bombers-are-back-middle-east.html


    Light aircraft are needed for observation and communications are much as attack, as this guy explains:
    http://g2mil.com/O-6B.htm

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    1. OV 10 bronco been around since Vietnam 2 prop engines and excellent loiter time. Works well and w 2 engines excellent surivivabilty. Already in existence and cheap

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  3. UAVs already do most of the work envisioned for a light prop plane.

    A light-attack version of the T-7A Red Hawk makes more sense. It has the speed, and range to fly from in theater bases, assuming air refueling.

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    1. Another nice thing to go with light attack is that you can also do a run of them as UAV's with near identical parts.

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    2. "run of them as UAV's "

      They would make very poor UAVs since they would lack the characteristic endurance and range of UAVs. Of course, if you have a specific use in mind that an unmanned Tucano, for example, would be suited for, then by all means.

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    3. The listed endurance is 8 hours. Yanking out the pilot and associated equipment will allow extra weight allowance, as will removing the guns. The resulting airframe won't have the endurance of a dedicated design but should still be useful. Maintenance cost and man hours should be lower by using existing logistic systems and simple design. Not every weapon system has to be perfectly optimized. This type of UAV is unlikely to be used in a high end environment except to give the enemy something to shoot at.

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  4. The Airforce loves this game, look up OV-1 Mohawk, quad service light attack/recce.
    Navy, it must operate from CVE, Marines, it must have water skis to land on the beach, Airforce, it can't be armed too much. Army, pounds head on table.

    Remind me again what was wrong with the Army Air Corps ?


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_OV-1_Mohawk

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  5. "Remind me again what was wrong with the Army Air Corps ?"

    Because to have it and a very useful capability, the army would get a bigger budget slice. The Air Force loathes the ideal but as long as they are looking into it, the Army can't do it and thus get a disproportion (in the minds of the Air Force leadership) amount of the defense budget. There fighting the budget war man, not real wars.

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  6. USAF doesn't want it or is it big contractors that don't want anything siphoning off funds towards their much bigger pet projects??? You probably can buy and operate a squadron of these things for the price of a few F35s or LCSs BUT we dont want to lose those funds or more importantly, somebody wake up to the fact that the job gets done for 10 times less....would be bad for biz.

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  7. Could be both, but most definitely the USAF. Roger Coram's biography of John Boyd, "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War", mentions that, since the 60s, the USAF has been stuck in a "faster, higher, farther" mode in designing aircraft. As such, USAF is neither interested in CAS/light attack, nor does it optimize the airframes for those missions. The only way to get USAF to care about the mission is to threaten them with the organizational disgrace of having to fly a Navy aircraft for those missions.

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  8. So it's the new C27 program?
    Google it if you don't remember that particular fiasco

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  9. It almost seems that the US military is spoiled.
    As a former member of a defence force that works very closely with the Americans, but with much more limited resources, my colleagues and I always found the expenditure and what would have been considered wastage in our military truly amazing.
    It also massively altered the tactical approach of US forces. When you have virtually inexhaustible access to ammunition and firepower (or the perception of such), it means you lean on it heavily. Conventional US ground forces tactics heavily emphasised massed firepower to solve almost all problems.
    Where we emphasised manoeuvre and surprise, that was very much secondary to pouring as much firepower on to prospective targets as possible within the US military units we trained and served with.

    This assumption of unlimited resources seems to also permeate the approach to acquisition of equipment and material.

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    1. As a fellow traveler, we mostly don't get a grip on how seriously US weapons stores are limited in a peer conflagration.

      They haven't built war stocks up to nearly that required to deal with an attack on China in the SCS, and the proposed defense of Taiwan is just silly when you consider the level of hardening both sides are going to have to deal with.

      Anyone with half a clue is going to recognize that China will send their fourth and fifth tier forces against a US carrier group to deplete them.

      Then, gradually, we will see more advanced attacks against more and more depleted resources. Eventually, we are going to get to N+1 when the numerical advantage changes to both qualitative advantage plus numerical advantage and the US carrier groups sees what finally is going to gut them.

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    2. George, that would be very smart on their part.

      Of course it assumes that they would throw away the lives of the 4th and 5th tier forces.

      But does anybody think that they wouldn't?

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    3. "Where we emphasised manoeuvre and surprise"

      You do so out of necessity, not necessarily because it's the best approach. For low level, third world opponents your approach will likely work. My question for you is, do you think your approach will work against China?

      For example, no amount of maneuver can overcome massed artillery fire such as China will be able to bring to bear and it's very hard to achieve surprise against a peer opponent with all the various types of surveillance that China could apply.

      I absolutely do not mean this as belittling your military (whoever that is) or as a blind defense of the American approach. I mean the question as a reasoned, objective analysis of the requirements and demands of peer warfare. Can maneuver and warfare overcome massed firepower?

      A further complicating factor is that China seems to be training to apply its own maneuver and surprise though I have no idea to what extent it factors into their operational planning and thinking.

      As a historical note, the American military, in particular the Marines, has adopted maneuver warfare as a doctrinal standard although our actual implementation seems limited and suspect.

      So, can maneuver and surprise overcome surveillance and firepower?

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    4. "Anyone with half a clue is going to recognize that China will send their fourth and fifth tier forces against a US carrier group to deplete them.

      Then, gradually, we will see more advanced attacks against more and more depleted resources."

      Well, perhaps I can offer you the other half a clue. As I've stated repeatedly, and proven with historical examples, carriers don't stand and fight. They execute specific, generally short time frame, missions and then retire. In, strike, withdraw. There would be no time for an enemy to mount a campaign of methodical attrition such as you describe.

      I encourage you to read the archived posts on carrier operations and study WWII and Cold War operations to see how carriers will fight.

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    5. I wasn't besmirching US doctrine. It's fairly natural that if you had access to the level of resources the US does you might just by default adopt a firepower first approach. By the by, that doctrine is also influenced by a commonly shared objective - like all western militaries post World War 1 there's a heavy emphasis on reducing friendly casualties.
      In terms of which doctrine is more effective - I'd say like all things it depends.
      It's subjective and depends on the situation would be my short answer.

      It's a bit of a moot point anyway, as it's driven by necessity as much as anything else.

      My point was that like all doctrines or ideologies there's both god and bad outcomes.

      One of the bad outcomes, in my opinion, is that an assumption that you'll have overwhelming firepower and virtually unlimited resources available means a couple things can happen:

      1. Efficiency can be lost, both in terms of expenditure of resources and in terms of the apparently wasteful approach to acquisition of equipment within the US military - take the Zumwalt as an example. We were flabergasted by that. So much money for so few ships. If that happened in most countries, it would be considered a national disaster of epic proportions. Because of the largess afforded to the US military in terms of budget, it seems to have just been excused away.

      2. In a circumstance where the US finds itself fighting a battle without access to the level of firepower and resources her fighting forces are used to, there would need to be some very rapid changes in tactical approach. That's difficult to do in combat.

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    6. "Zumwalt as an example. We were flabergasted by that."

      So were we!!!

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    7. "In a circumstance where the US finds itself fighting a battle without access to the level of firepower and resources her fighting forces are used to"

      Access to the required level of resources is a keystone of US operational planning. In other words, we don't enter a battle without an assured, plentiful resource plan. It would be like saying, what if your military found itself without vehicles or weapons. You simply wouldn't enter battle without those things.

      Could we contrive to imagine a scenario in which, through a bizarre and unlikely combination of events our resources are cut off? Sure … and that would be called a defeat.

      As I mentioned, the US Marines have adopted maneuver warfare to some extent. The problem I have with that, as least as practiced by the Marines, is that even after all the maneuvering in the world you still, eventually, have to apply firepower against the enemy. You can brilliantly maneuver your way around the battlefield but eventually you have to kill that armored division or artillery battalion and light infantry simply can't do it. That's what the Marines are doing. They're shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy mortars in favor of jeeps, drones, and 3D printing. We're losing firepower to gain maneuver. I don't see that as a good trade, at least not in a high end, peer war.

      One of the lessons I've taken from the Russia-Ukraine war is that artillery still rules the battlefield. Ukraine maneuver units have been routinely decimated.

      Another lesson from the Russia-Ukraine war is the role of electronic warfare. The Ukraine forces were unable to command and control their maneuver forces due to comm jamming and locating. Communicating forces were located and quickly destroyed. Maneuver warfare requires a degree of assured communications which may not be available in a peer electronic warfare scenario.

      Delete
  10. We don't need Essex carriers for light attack. We have Wasp and America class carriers already paid for. A carrier in the hand is worth two in planning.

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    1. I would disagree. In my mind, the purpose of a dedicated Essex is to allow the LHA/LHD amphibs to remain stateside, saving wear and tear, and allowing the associated units to continually train.

      Delete
  11. I think that it would be good for navy attack pilots to rotate through assignments in these light attack aircraft and fly live missions with them.

    The cross-training that they would experience would make them much better pilots in their primary, more advanced strike aircraft.

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  12. "I think that it would be good for navy attack pilots to rotate through assignments in these light attack aircraft"

    Um … I'm not sure about that. They'd be learning a completely different set of tactics on completely different equipment. In essence, they'd be developing bad habits! It would be like a baseball team practicing with a different size baseball. They'd develop bad habits for real baseball.

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  13. They should be a couple of flights worth per fighter squadron. They can be used for low cost training sorties to maintain flight hours and deploy with should a COIN type war errupt.

    Just as nearly all ground forces units were expected to essentially forget their MOS and become motorized infantry during the occupations of Iraq and Afg, the USAF can expect all of its pilots to gear up or down for a deployment.

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  14. There are strategic advantages to the light attack aircraft. Many countries need a COIN aircraft but cannot afford even 3rd or 4th generation jets. If the US were to develop a couple of types of light attack aircraft such as the AT-6 and T-7 they could sell or donate these to aligned countries to fight their own wars without needing US troops on the ground.

    If the USAAF were to have a group or wing of these aircraft the sales pitch becomes much stronger as the US has a reputation for a good logistics system. This means the customers would have a reasonable expectation of being able to obtain all of the parts required to keep their planes flying, and replacement for obsolete equipment as technology advances.

    Apart from the aircraft there are also the sensors and weapons for the aircraft. These could range from the latest technology to very simple equipment for air forces without a lot of money or highly skilled technicians.

    The USAAF group outfitted with the light attack aircraft would have the following taskings:
    1. Training other air forces in the use of the aircraft
    2. Development of tactics in support of COIN operations
    3. Providing training opportunities for US forces against this type of aircraft
    4. Last – inexpensive air support for US and allied forces in low threat situations

    This means they would be focused on training and limited operational environments and allow the rest of the air force to focus on the high end threats.

    For a low cost the US would have a diplomatic tool, get a larger aviation industrial support base and save a lot of money by not having F-22s chase Toyota pickups around the desert.
    RA

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  15. USAF shows that if you postpone a decision long enough, factors will favor against going forward. This platform made sense in Middle East counter terror where ranges were short; its range makes it irrelevant in an Indo-Pacific scenario.

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    1. "range makes it irrelevant in an Indo-Pacific scenario."

      Yes and no. If you're referring to a peer war with China, of course it's irrelevant! It would be irrelevant in any high end combat scenario.

      If you're speaking generically, who knows what kind of low end, anti-insurgent activity we might get embroiled in? We seem to do that a lot! A light attack aircraft could be quite useful.

      Delete
  16. I mean, this is not a new thing; the USAF has spent decades avoiding light attack aircraft. As early as the 80s there were proposals to get the USAF to buy prop light attack aircraft, which the USAF refused claiming the threat from MANPADS made these aircraft unsurvivable, because it would be trivial for the Soviets to gift Iglas to the people the USAF would be told to use these birds on.

    The other issue though, is that these light attack aircraft are pretty much unsurvivable in the hypermythical peer war between the great powers. Viewed in that light, does it make sense to invest in a force that can only really be used for COIN/Operations Other Than War, given the criticism that the Pentagon has forgotten how to engage in Major Combat Operations? Should the US even continue to pursue such aircraft, given ComNavOps' criticism of the US involvement in OOTW and his argument that DoD is neglecting peer war with China?

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    1. "does it make sense to invest in a force that can only really be used for COIN/Operations Other Than War"

      Of course it does. It's not even debatable. Low end ops are what we do on a daily basis. High end peer wars are rare. On a relative basis, such a light attack aircraft costs nothing to acquire or operate so there is no reason not to and every reason to acquire them. The 0.1% effort required to establish such a unit will not detract in any meaningful way from preparing the military for high end war.

      Delete
  17. They use the ac130 as a propeller driven attack plane. Probably that's what bombed the baghdadi compound.

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  18. A Douglas A-4 is 40 feet 1.5 inches in length by 27 feet six inches in width.
    A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano is 37 feet 4 inches in length by 36 feet 7 inches in width.
    Bring back the A-4 or a new build of similar size and capability for the COIN role. A new build with a blown wing or other high lift devices could have a very short take off distance for working from less than optimal airstrips.

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    1. The issue with a light attack craft is not size as much as it is cost and simplicity. We want a very cheap aircraft that is very easy and cheap to maintain. An A-4 is very expensive relative to a Tucano type aircraft and is difficult to maintain since it uses a jet engine. A piston engine is far simpler to maintain.

      Another option, if we wanted a slightly more rugged and more 'combat' aircraft would the A-1 Skyraider.

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    2. The Super Tucano uses a jet engine, it is just attached to a propeller. The Textron Airlander Scorpion claims a $3,000 per hour flight cost with two 4000 lb thrust, jet engines. The A-4 had a single 8,500 lb thrust jet engine, so comparable. $3,000 per flight hour is not as good as $1,000 but still much better than $24,000 (f-18) to $44,000 (F-35) per hour.
      The great thing about the Super Tucano is you can buy it today.

      Delete
    3. "Tucano uses a jet engine"

      I did not know that. Thanks for the heads up.

      We need to bring back the A-1 Skyraider! Heck, a P-51 Mustang or P-47 Thunderbolt would make good choices. The Mustang had a range of 1600 miles on internal fuel !

      Delete
  19. A question for the light attack aircraft. does anyone have any data on how many missiles man portable or otherwise the US has faced in its endless war on global terror since 9/11.I would exclude the bit where the Iraq army was still a functioning force and RPG hits on helicopters.

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    1. "how many missiles man portable or otherwise the US has faced in its endless war on global terror since 9/11"

      Are you asking how many aircraft have been hit by a SAM?

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    2. Rand report on CAS with focus on the proposed loss of the A-10. The report is from 2017 before the Air force changed it's mind on retiring the A-10. pages 7-9 give the loss for different conflicts. I hope that was what you were looking for.


      https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1200/RR1233/RAND_RR1233.pdf

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    3. It'd be a trivial matter for the Chinese or the Russians to supply MANPADS to COIN theaters to threaten these light attack aircraft, if they absolutely wanted to stir the pot. The US supplied the Afghanistan Mujahideen with Stingers to counter Soviet Hinds, afterall.

      Delete
  20. CNO,

    I was thinking about what you said. I have a feeling that if they didn't use jet planes for bombing trucks, they's, tptb, might eventually remove them from service. Look at what happened to the planes on the carriers after the USSR collapsed. The US hasn't had many high end engasgements,and so, they might have cut back again.

    Given the poor decision making of the US military, it's possible they'd have then removed the F-18's after they removed the Tomcats etc. Only Super Tucano's in stealth outline would be on the deck.

    SO a blanace of cheap and expensive is good. But there's a danger the people in charge won't make the right balance

    Andrew

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    1. I hope you haven't misunderstood. I am NOT advocating replacing front line combat aircraft with light attack planes!

      As far as removing front line aircraft because they aren't truck plinking, I'm not worried about that in the least. First, we're only talking about a couple squadrons (a couple dozen aircraft) of light attack planes. Second, the services inherent drive to secure and spend big budget amounts will assure a steady supply of gold plated, high end aircraft, whether they're needed or not!

      Delete
  21. Congress should force the Navy to buy the Sao Paulo, refurb it, then operate it as a test platform for a dedicated COIN/support carrier. Make them fly A-4s, OV-10s, and Red Hawks off of it. Maybe get with Textron about navalizing the Scorpion if you want a newer design, but the Super Skyhawks and Super Bronco's have capability in spades.

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  22. I am kinda surprised to be honest the dedicated ground support aircraft has been atound gor many years its very proven so much si the Air Force cant get rid of it no matter how hard they try wanna know what it is its The ine the inly A10 warthog sure it uses jets unstead of props but a late model P51 or Corsair would out run it its cheap to operate compared to all of the fighters has taken many a beating yet still brings the pilot home and that heavy bomb load plus the 30mm is a deadly combination

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  23. C130 and Tucano are Turbo prop, that means, a kind of turbine engine similar to the ones on commercial planes (turbofan) or military jets (turbojet). Most of the thrust comes from the attached propeller, and not from the stream of gas exiting the engine. Great efficiency, BTW.

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  24. How to save $1.3 billion or more per year and pay for the COIN aircraft in 5 years with the savings.

    COST EFFECTIVE AIRPOWER FOR THE LONG WAR AGAINST
    VIOLENT EXTREMIST ORGANIZATIONS
    by
    Charles Stretch, Major, USAF
    Sander Heijs, Lieutenant Colonel, Royal Netherlands Air Force
    Luke Johnson, Lieutenant Commander, USN


    https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1042080.pdf

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    1. Not a good source. The linked report does not even mention UAVs. It incorrectly assumes that all air strikes were done by manned aircraft, specifically F-22, F-16, F-15, A-10, and B-1. It then argues how much less expensive those same missions could have been done by light attack planes.

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    2. "It then argues how much less expensive those same missions could have been done by light attack planes."

      Okay, so what do you see as a problem with that? I haven't read the report so I'm just asking.

      Delete
    3. The title of the article states a savings of more than one billion dollars per year, actual savings would be much less. It starts from a total number of flight hours which includes UAV flights, but then incorrectly connects that to a statistic for manned only flights to calculate the cost savings.

      It would be useful to see how the costs and effectiveness of the light attack craft being tested compare to UAV currently in use, like the MQ-9. The continued use of UAVs and constant delaying of manned light attack by the USAF shows how they really feel. So why even both to continue to go through the motions of testing these aircraft out?

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    4. "So why even both to continue to go through the motions of testing these aircraft out?"

      Congress threatened to remove funding from the Air Force if they didn't conduct light attack aircraft evaluations so the AF is conducting evaluations. They're just doing it as slowly as they can and with absolutely no intent to buy any. They're just preserving their budget slice.

      Delete

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