Did Libya Show the Need for Light Attack Planes?

This is interesting, the high-cost of using some of the world’s most advanced fighter jets in Libya against Gadhafi’s joke of a military has led some NATO allies to consider buying cheap light attack planes similar to the ones the United States wanted to buy to fight insurgencies.

NATO’s chief targeteer for the Libyan campaign recently said that it simply cost too much money to deploy cutting edge jets like the Eurofighter Typhoon and France’s Rafale for long periods of time against an enemy that had almost no hope shooting them down.  In other words, the fancy jets can be overkill, even in campaigns against other nations.

Per Aviation Week:

“We need to think about the need for the future for a low-cost platform to be able to do our job, if required, in a permissive environment,” argues Brig. Gen. Silvano Frigerio, deputy chief of air and space plans in the Italian air force and chief of the targeting directorate for NATO’s Libya operations.

“If we don’t have a composite fleet with very high technology and maybe lesser technology aircraft, how can we manage to fly thousands and thousands of flying hours on a joint operation area looking for one armored vehicle with the sophisticated aircraft we will have in the future? Maybe we can’t afford to stay there for such a long time,” he says. During the Libya operations, allies were worried about the cost of the duration of the conflict, he tells the International Quality and Productivity Center’s annual International Fighter Conference here.

This is pretty much the same argument the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Special Operations Command have all made when asking Congress for cash to buy light turboprop attack and ISR planes that can be used to provide air support to ground troops fighting insurgents in places were the U.S. owns the skies.

However, the Pentagon’s quest to field turboprop attack planes seems almost dead. This month, the Air Force was supposed to settle on about 20 light attack planes — either the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 (shown above) or Embraer’s Super Tucano — that it could use to help train the Afghan air force, but that effort may well fall victim to the Pentagon’s budget cuts.

Could NATO’s experience in Libya open the door to a new set of customers for light attack planes — NATO countries that want to be involved in peacekeeping and stability operations around the world but who can’t afford to send their precious few frontline fighters on expensive combat deployments?

39 Comments on "Did Libya Show the Need for Light Attack Planes?"

  1. Certainly a role that needs filling, but better filled with drones. Better ISR, better automation, similar unit and operating costs. Plus, you can have a smaller pool of operators capable of linking to any squadron on a by-need basis.

  2. We may opt for a High/low mix, where "High" encompasses what we traditionally think of as the High/Low jet fighters and low being either small drones or larger manned turboprops or light jets (like the T-38), along with subsonic slower craft like the A-10.

    Is an A-10 cheaper in overhead to operate than a fighter bomber like the Typhoon? Would it have been cheaper to use A-10s instead of the former; if Europe had them?

  3. I find it ludicrous that you're using the word "need" with a question mark. The need has been well-established for years. The problem isn't the need for these, it has been the systematic, vigorous and effective hostility towards them by the jet communities, especially doubly especially within the USAF.

    It's a bit disingenuous to describe the Pentagon's efforts to get these aircraft and not mention (a) the far greater institutional efforts to block them, and (b) the fact that even a modest allocation of resources amongst the services or even within the USAF alone could have had COIN planes years ago.

  4. The A-10 is interesting. It's the hated boyfriend of aircraft.

    Oh, c'mon, we know the situation: there's a decent guy who's great for a girl who adores him, but for some reason her friends or family have decided that he Just Won't Do, and spend a phenomenal deal of time trying to get her to dump him. The A-10 is beloved by its pilots, beloved by the groundpounders, and objectively a fantastic aircraft, and has been an indispensable part of the American inventory … and has never, ever been forgiven for that by large segments of the American military who greet its every success not with a change of mind, but with deeper hatred.

  5. I think linking turbo-prop strike planes to the NATO chief targeteer's comments might be a bit of a reach. I get the impression, based on the actual combat usage he's referring too, that he is stating the need for a light strike aircraft along the lines of the jet trainer/light strike fighter concept and the A-10/SU-25 attack aircraft category.

    Lets face it, turbo-prop light strike/COIN/ISR platforms have a certain operational capability in very limited operational environments. And, Libya wasn't one of them. They simply lack the "legs" for that kind of operation.

  6. Well- the EU guys certainly made a mistake with the Eurofighter when what they really need now is something like the Jaguar/ A-7.

    I don't know if Libya is a perfect showcase for a turbo trainer based plane. They would have been shot down by the Libyan airforce if the US hadn't cruise missiled/stealth bombed them to oblivian the first week.

    For Afghanistan/Philipine insurgency battles- sure.

  7. Yes……

    For the US Army to drive….

    The Air Force will NEVER do this!

    The a/c wouldn't be a jet!

  8. Amen on the US not losing a soul in Libya!

  9. 2012 will see the start of a major recession, possibly another Great Depression. UAV's will be the only affordable option left.

    Maybe China wants to buy F-35's?

  10. No prop driven aircraft wouldn't have survived the air defenses Qaddafi had for long part of the war. A-10s and older A-4s would have don't the job fine.

  11. I agree that large turboprops at low alt would have been man-pad and SPAAAG bait. you need the speed and altitude that a good jet engine gets you, plus the payload and on board power for some jamming/counter measure capability.

    A new jet aircraft roughly analogous to the A-4 or F-5 is what is called for.

  12. What I’d give to see a true successor to the A-10,it’s getting old and it’s capabilities are still above and beyond what any others can do.

  13. Honestly some incredible arguements here, but in the end, I'm a firm believer that we would benefit from these puppies. Look at the conflicts we've recently been in. Libya, Afghan, they have basically nothing in the realm of real airpower, but yet we're bringing Mach 2 jets to the fight. Its not about decreasing the muscle of the USAF, its about being well-rounded. We're bringing grenade launchers to a slingshot fight. Congress doesn't want to pass these because they're trying to cut spending. Well I can't think of a better way to cut spending than to stop spending millions on jet fuel, flight hours, and maintenance on these pretty-boy, billion dollar jets just to take out some RPG's and AA.

  14. With Jefferson County declaring bankruptcy, a number of others will follow suit and this is bad for the people and the country. Time to cut big spending now before it snowballs.

    The props will get pwned if thrown in before clearing the air defenses. That's where the expensive fast F/A jets are needed. Clear the road then park them and follow with the A-10/props that can really bring the pain to the ground fighters. Cheaper to run and can linger around a hell of a lot longer.

  15. They actually already have cheaper aircraft. The Hawk in the brits case, no need for a whole new procurement.

  16. This is what should have been supporting the Land Warrior for the last 10 years, a concept turbo-prop A-1…

  17. B-26K, T-28D, A-1H, OV-10, A-37, A-10. All planes the airforce brass hate and anyone who needs CAS loves. Guns, napalm, cluster bombs.

    Same problem with the brown water navy. Disbanded after vietnam…reinvented in iraq.

    Already talking about downsizing the MC-12W program…most useful and efficient COIN effort since the Phoenix Program and the PRU.

  18. The ideal jet to have in that mission would have been the Su-25 Frogfoot. It's cheap, reliable, has a big gun and lots of ammo. The A-10 does the same job at a slightly higher price.

    Why the heck did we close down the A-10 production line! That was stupid of us!

  19. I really like the AT-6, but I must admit the A-1 Skyraider had more pylons.

  20. 1) on the A-10: they're actually working on making these unmanned, even controllable by troops on the ground

    2) on manned vs unmanned props

    – training pilots, and keeping them trained costs millions and you can lose them during operations. training a UAV operator, especially when the computer does most of the flying, is dirt cheap in comparison

    – any manned aircraft can only stay over a target for a number of hours. UAVs can loiter for tens of hours, even days in the case of future refuelable ones. a huge financial and tactical advantage, as you save transit costs but you also need much less aircraft to perform the same mission

    – UAVs need satellite links, but today all aircraft have and use these extensively

    3) on manned vs unmanned jets

    – the Navy is looking at both the X-47b and the F-35. the X-47b is expected to cost about $50 million, against $120+ million for an F-35, yet it'll have a much greater range at a comparable weapons load

    – what is needed is an air defence fighter UCAV: with a cheap engine, a delta wing, passive sensors and about 4 semi-recessed missiles, it'll have a good range, speed, natural stealth, and it'll cost as little as $15 million each

  21. Lets not forget the AT-802U! The A-10's prop-driven little brother. A mini flying tank. Might not be as fast as the others proposed, but its lower speed is offset by its longer loiter time, durability, and heavy weapons payload. Send a few of these in along with the A-10s and I'm sure the guys on the ground would thank us.

  22. Everyone thinks we can do everything with freaking drone. Thats idiotic. A determined enemy or thier allie can wipe out satellites and then your drone fleet is expensive junk unless you can do it from mobile vans in the area. Thats danger close and not to bright.
    A CAS airframe really a necessary, one with eyeballs in the cockpit to make decisions. It doesnt have to cost millions but it does need lots of hardpoints and GUNS and loiter time. Also helpful would be dual power plants for reduncancy to keep from sacrificing a plane when it could come home on just one engine.
    A lot of electronics and other assorted apparat could be housed in a small escort like a Hawkeye type plane that orbits and does the heavy number crunching/ radar, etc. What we need really, is guns in the sky on a relatively cheap airframe to kill the enemy.

  23. Ghaddafi was over-rated, but at the end it was discovered he had nothing and his troops are high joke.

  24. From my experience, cas can’t really be done by a drone. The last time I was in country the best cas came from cobras and the one time I got lucky enough to have a ac-130 covering my mitt team. A few times we got A-10s they gave us great results, but it wasnt their guns that did it, it was the bombs. Don’t get me wrong, i love having the 30 but in todays age where I have to watch for civilians and structure damage gun runs just don’t work.as well save those.from helicopter gunships that could.hover over and have solid gun shots.

    The A10 is Awsome and I would love to see a modern version I just don’t see it happening.

  25. I think the need is there, but I’m not convinced by the single front engine configuration that you see on the Super Tucano or many of the other proposals.

    Much better for visibility is the short, dropped nose and forward seated crew arrangement that you see on aircraft such as Apache, Cobra, Bronco, Pucara, Harrier, Warthog, etc. Also frees up the nose area for mounting optics and sensors.

  26. I think mainly Gen. Frigerio's comments show that European NATO allies are feeling poor.

  27. All this comment on a new aircraft is old news. This discussion has been going on for 20 plus years and the Mil still hasn't gotten it act together. Oh, yea, and going back to wind mill aircraft just doesn't make good sense. Have a look at a solution offered up 20 years back;


    Small, cheap, effective and you don't have to reinvent the damn wheel!

  28. is the USAF flying Hawks? Thought it was only RAF

  29. Couldn't we get by if we made a couple planes like the P-51 Mustang and use them instead of a jet?

  30. Here's an idea: buy these for the Air National Guard instead of Reapers. At least an A-29 has some semblance of situational awareness. NY, TX, ND, IN could all use COIN aircraft. It's time to start phasing out the UAVs. Looking through a soda straw just isn't going to cut it, and the control systems are already proving to be vulnerable. IF we MUST have unmanned aircraft, they should be in the neighborhood of the X-47- medium-capability VLO bomb trucks.

  31. I think the logical progression of warfare is one in which smaller and smaller ground force formation are more and more directly supported by aircraft. Alot of great aircraft have been built but this mission is one that has been largely ignored in favor of high cost advanced aircraft that are valued more for their strategic impact on the theater, than their tactical advantage in contributing to the ground war. Simply drones won't be so capable and as cost effective as these type of manned aircraft any time soon, the Air Force is content with that and the Army in its marginalized dependence is forced to use alternatives such as the Apache, for missions better supported by these more cost effective air planes.

  32. Do not forget: The Czech Aero L-59 attack aircrafts are new, powerfull, reliable, cheap and immediately available from the surplus of CAF.

  33. Using the wars of the past to predict how the future works out isn't 100%.

    WW1 tanks got stuck in mud all the time. It defined post-war thinking on tanks to be "infantry tanks", rather than cavalry.

  34. UAV's are fine except the USAF insisted that only qualifed "real" pilots fly them when the could have save millions of dollars by letting the playstatation generation fly them. Zoomies run the USAF. And USAF demands thall transport Aircraft blong to them. USArmy should do the job of resupy and CAs for their troops. Let the USAF do air superority amd international support only.. Save billions ..Hahaha

  35. What is new is old. We've tried to do the trainer to fighter thing in the past. T-28's to AT-28. Even tried a turboprop version of it.
    The OV-10 was the original COIN-LARA answer.
    Skyraider bomb truck . Even tried a turboprop verion of the Skyraider backin the day. Now we have the Warthog bomb truck – with a big gun
    C-7 Caribou bought by the Army for sort range transport. Now the C-27 for guess what? The same thing the Caribou was developed for.

    The USAF only cares if it can shoot something out of the sky.
    Thank heaven the Marines have the idea of how things can and should work in a joint air-ground battle.

  36. Looks like Ike knew more then than we do now.

  37. Why has no body mentioned the L-159 ALCA. Perfect cheap and cheerfull little multiroll jet and lots available…

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