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Did Libya Show the Need for Light Attack Planes?

by John Reed on November 11, 2011

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?

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{ 134 comments… read them below or add one }

@Earlydawn November 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm

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.

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JE McKellar November 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm

But poor situational awareness. Sometimes you need someone in the air to see everything with their own eyes, especially in a fluid and chaotic situation like Libya was.

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major.rod November 11, 2011 at 8:15 pm

No guns on drones.

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@Earlydawn November 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I would think that could be rectified with a pod quite easily.

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TMB November 12, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Speed and maneuverability factor in as well. Maybe some day, but not yet.

major.rod November 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

Actually not. The time lag between controller – UAV makes the use of guns in close proximity to troops an unacceptable risk.

Charley A November 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

Two people are more effective.

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Musson1 November 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

I guess that means BLACKWATER or their current equivalent will have to fill this need.

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Shyon66 November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I agree with you entirely. Drones are the wave of the future for low tech close air support. Why develop a light attack aircraft that will inevitably be made far more expensive with pilot protection systems when you can just build more Reaper and Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles to saturate an enemy’s airspace?

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TMB November 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Like major rod alluded to, there's a hell of a lot more to CAS than launching Hellfires. You also need to be able to drop bombs, perform gun runs, and talk to the pilot. Predators pilots fly from the States most of the time, and the grunt on the ground, his higher, and the pilot need to be a radio check away from each other.

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TrustButVerify November 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Fortunate, then, that the Predator has built-in VHF/UHF radios which are linked back to the operator's GCS.

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TMB November 14, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Predators are flown via satellite link in the States. My dismount radio isn't going to talk to them.

IKnowMoreThanU November 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

You might want to recheck your math. An AT-6B costs about as much as a Pred, which is about a quarter of a Reaper. So how will RPAs be the only solution? And please note the operational limitations…

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IKnowMoreThanU November 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Drones have some severe limitations dictated by physics. They are not the end all be all. Btw, it takes a lot of manpower to operate RPAs that are going to employ weapons. Plus, it extends the kill chain, something that troops being shot at do not want.

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Shyon66 November 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm

If a drone gets shot down, no one dies. There’s no risky CSAR mission. Whatever the AT6 lists for, you can count on costs shooting up for the training program , the ejection seats, the bringing up to NATO spec. And what’s with the cult of guns? Hellfire is almost always a more accurate, definitive solution than a gun run. Drones can loiter forever and can hang lots of Hellfires. Anyone who questions the efficacy of Hellfire strikes vs fixed wing gun runs should read Not a Good Day to Die about Operation Anaconda.

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TMB November 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I'm fighting a platoon sized enemy hidden in a tree line. They're spread out across about 200 yards of trench line. I've got air support on the way. Do I ask for a missile or several seconds of strafing gunfire? I'll help you out – I'm not going to let loose an entire aircraft's load of $30k missiles when a couple hundred rounds will do the trick at a fraction of a fraction of the cost.

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Shyon66 November 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm

If you need a gun run run, call in the A10s, or the apaches or the Cobras. Usually, COIN does not involve platoon-size engagements. If and when they do, I would rather have a well armed helocopter or drone on hand than an AT6. Lets use the tried and true platforms that we have than spend beaucoup $$$ on a new platform that would be expensive to update, train, and support. That cash should go F-35

major.rod November 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

Read, "Not a Good Day…". You should read it again. They used 20mm during the fight and were able to place those fires closer to troops in contact than some munitions because of the kill radius of the bombs.

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major.rod November 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

Another advantage to fixed wing are the number of sorties and payload they can carry. More munitions and more sorties is a good thing for troops in contact. Not saying UAVs are bad just the fanboy mentality that oogles over technology and wishes away the realities of ground combat.

Dumb Grunt November 14, 2011 at 1:26 am

major.rod- A perfect example would be the battle at the Rockpile, Viet Nam.
Where a Recon team from 1st Recon Bn had to call in CAS in by A7's. That CAS gunfire was impacting at less than 7 meters of the team's position.
For every one else you can't use a hellfire that close. Yes, I do know some one personally who was there for that fight and no one left unscathed.

tiger November 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

What does a hellfire cost? Vs. a .50BMG round? I don't need a million dollar missile to take out a Toyota pickup truck…………………

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TMB November 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

$68k/missile and $3/round.

blight November 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

The eventual wet dream is drones that can be vectored in by a hand-held GCS station. I don't know if it can be done in the near future, but it would be nice…

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blight November 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm

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?

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Nick November 12, 2011 at 2:37 am

I would think so, the A-10 is 70's tech, and it isnt a pig like the KC-135. It likes to fly. But, it takes a similar crew to work it as an F-16, minus the Hydrazine aspect but offset by the second engine, so yeah. Typhoon is like a bastard child of an F-15 and an F-16. The A-10 probly has less parts, so there is less to fix ( using F-16 to compare).

I would think you could buy a squadron of 10's for the price of a few euro-ninjas.

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tiger November 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

The A-10 is not a light attack platform, not cheap, old & few targets require a 30mm DU shell that are not tanks.

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blight November 12, 2011 at 9:49 am

The 30mm may still be useful to this day: Emplaced targets like mortar pits, sangars, houses or tribe/clan complexes can still be engaged with a 30mm in lieu of missiles.

The A-10 was literally built around the Avenger, and maybe if we do go ahead with its replacement we should think about a way to have a detachable gun for the days we don't have tankbusting missions, but still need a axial gun (instead of a gun pod) for the day we do need tank busting. I imagine the Avenger might still be used against the targets I mentioned before, but it isn't the most effective use of the weapon system. If anything, modern warfare calls for accurate fires more than the high rates of fire delivered with a multi-barrel cannon.

Wikipedia has this to say about the GAU-8's accuracy:

The GAU-8/A accuracy when installed in the A-10 is rated at "5 mil, 80 percent", meaning that 80 percent of rounds fired at 4,000 feet (1,200 m) will hit the target within a 20 feet (6.1 m) radius circle. By comparison, the M61 is rated at 8 milliradians.

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Musson1 November 14, 2011 at 11:41 am

Get rid of the machine gun. The airwar in Vietnam proved that front line aircraft don't need machine guns. Ask the Phantom pilots.

/s

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seeker6079 November 11, 2011 at 12:16 pm

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.

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Space Cadet November 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Amen… each of the militaries of the Allies should be required to have at least 10% of their forces geared toward MOOTW, COIN, DSCA, etc…

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Retired Col November 14, 2011 at 10:14 am

Amen. If it doesn't have a pointy nose and do mach 3, the guys with the wings on their chests are not interested. Too bad pilots, known for their eye-hand coordination, run the AF and that the support forces are largely excluded.

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TGR November 16, 2011 at 12:53 am

It's also too bad that the support forces continue to try and prevent operations….

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seeker6079 November 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm

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.

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major.rod November 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm

It's not large segments of the american military. Pretty localized among a specific group of USAF decision makers.

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chaos0xomega November 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Agreed. I know plenty of people wearing AF blue that think we should invest in more A-10s or other similar aircraft. Don't confuse the actions of the few that hold power with the feelings of the whole.

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tiger November 12, 2011 at 8:17 am

We are are not talking about killing tanks. That is what the A-10 was intended for. You don't need a 30mm cannon & mavericks to take out a pick up truck with a gun in the back. A Super Tucano with some .50 BMG's & rockets will do. Plus the A-10 still needs a big concrete runway. Something that can operate from a forward strip or road way with STOVL ability is what we are talking about.

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PolicyWonk November 15, 2011 at 11:45 am

The fighter mafia has always hated the A-10, b/c it ain't fast or sexy. But as we found out in the first gulf war (before which the A-10 was on its way to the boneyard in favor of other aircraft that cannot perform the same mission nearly as well – like the F-16), it is one of the most effective combat aircraft ever devised. And it scares the living poo-poo out of the enemy when they see it coming.

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FormerDirtDart November 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm

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.

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mike j November 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm

"Limited operational environments" – you mean like the ones we've been operating in for the past 10 years now? And picking on the range issue is pretty weak sauce for a counter argument. They can refuel helos from tankers, it's a relatively minor engineering problem to get a prop plane to do that, too (more difficult for a nose-mounted single, but a twin or pusher-type could have a probe fitted). The simpler aircraft and lower fuel reqt. makes forward basing a legitimate possibility as well.

VAL-4 Black Ponies (OV-10s) in Vietnam often arrived overhead for CAS before the jets could. Dated material, but something to think about.

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chaos0xomega November 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Last I checked, the last lengthy major war we were in (Vietnam) benefited from these type of aircraft as well. I have no doubt that a future war with a near-power (China, Russia, Iran, etc.) would also see much utility from these types of aircraft after the fast movers have annihilated each-other.

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drball November 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm

The F-100 had a wing mounted IFR probe for example…..Secondly they do not have the range? Really and just how many times an F-16 or FA-18 has to tank before it even gets to it 's target…….

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007 November 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Excellent point, I have refueled many fast movers that when loaded down with their weapons had maybe an hour or so of gas…

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tiger November 12, 2011 at 8:20 am

Even the Cessna A 37 makes more sense than a Rafale or Typhoon in this mission.

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Mastro November 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

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.

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TMB November 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Mastro, I think you missed the part of the article where the guy said "permissive environment." That means the higher end fighters and strike aircraft have already swept the enemy air force and air defenses from the equation. The prop planes are ideal when all that is left are tanks and trucks. It is hugely expensive to put flight hours on those high performers when those relatively helpless ground targets are all that is left to shoot at.

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Chimp November 15, 2011 at 2:32 am

I agree that permissive environment helps. What I wonder about these days is how aircraft losses will play with the media. Lots and lots of 14.5mm fire will mean some of these relatively light planes go down.

Personally, I am all for it. Can't make an omelet and all that, but it's ideal material for the Ruperts and Nigellas to blow out of proportion.

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jamesb November 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Yes……

For the US Army to drive….

The Air Force will NEVER do this!

The a/c wouldn't be a jet!

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JE McKellar November 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Isn't it time to fold the USAF back into the US Army Air Corps?

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chaos0xomega November 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Most people seem to miss the fact that the entity that fought and (arguably) won us World War 2 was called the US Army Air Forces. It was about as much a part of the Army as the modern day Marine Corps is a part of the Navy.

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major.rod November 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

There's no doubt the USAAF was an important part of the effort in WWII but PLEASE stop the BS that it won the war? We've been hearing that since WWII and it simply isn't true and has never happened. Wars aren't won without someone on the ground.

Airpower aficianados have been making the case for the supremacy of airpower for decades yet in every shooting war airpower has yet to prove decisive. Important yes! Decisive? That's a ground power thing.

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blight November 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

The Germans ran out of trained manpower, then they ran out of tungsten. Then they ran out of fuel.

Musson1 November 14, 2011 at 11:43 am

"Wars aren't won without someone on the ground."

You mean 'conventional' wars aren't won without someone on the ground.

Edward R. Kline November 17, 2011 at 9:58 am

Which branch lost the most personnel Army, Navy, Marines or Army Air Force. Your right the Army Air Force lost more men in WWII more than the Navy and the Marines combined.

Guest November 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

I don't see the Army's role including responsibility for space command or warfare. That is the Air Force's job.

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jamesb November 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Amen on the US not losing a soul in Libya!

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Exan November 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm

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?

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JE McKellar November 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Aren't manned turboprops cheaper than UAV's?

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chaos0xomega November 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

UAV's aren't technically any cheaper than a manned aircraft, it only appears that way because people aren't taking relative ability into account. A predator/global hawk/reaper is basically just an oversized R/C toy. If you built a UAV to the same spec as an F-35, etc. it would cost roughly the same. Actually it would cost more once you factor in the costs of the additional telecommunications infrastructure and network architecture required to support it.

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IKnowMoreThanU November 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

And you would be assuming that the RPA loss rate is on par with manned aircraft…thus, operating RPAs would far more expensive. Especially when you account for all the different ground stations and crews.

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Lance November 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm

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.

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Curtis November 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm

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.

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Flash Gordon November 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Or the F-20 Tigershark

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Josh November 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm

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.

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A. Nonymous November 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Then SLEP it into a zero-time airframe and engines. Problem solved.

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IKnowMoreThanU November 11, 2011 at 10:17 pm

That's an airframe issue..beside, the engines are rap to begin with. The Hog would truly benefit from more thrust, and maybe a better fuel consumption rate

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tiger November 12, 2011 at 8:24 am

It is still too big, requires a big runway & maint to operate.

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Danny November 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm

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.

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Jazzism November 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm

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.

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AAK November 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm

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

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Borat November 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm

This is what should have been supporting the Land Warrior for the last 10 years, a concept turbo-prop A-1…
http://www.gregplummer.com/planes/trr1.jpg

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Joe Boyum November 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm

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.

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Black Owl November 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm

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!

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chaos0xomega November 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I'm not well versed on the subject, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Fairchild Republic was bought out by Dornier.

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blight November 12, 2011 at 9:52 am

The evil Wikipedia suggests that Fairchild took over Dornier in the '90s, was bought out by Allianz and an American investor for ~1B, and then bought out again by M7 Aerospace, buying the company's assets after bankruptcy.

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blight November 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Fairchild bought out parts of Dornier, went bankrupt, resurrected as M7 Aerospace.

Not sure if any design elements of the A-10 are in existence. Or the tooling.

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rebelCSA November 14, 2011 at 8:22 am

There are rumors that the A-10 tooling is stored at Davis-Monthan. If true, we could contract Boeing or something to build another few hundred and forever end the idiocy that is replacing the Hog with the JSF.

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blight November 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

We could pay out the nose to "reverse-engineer" our own aircraft. It might even be cheaper than a new contract?

Goldmember November 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Because the airforce has been ruled by one type of person… and if doesn't have a pointy nose, two afterburners and two tails… he's just not that into it…

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Edward R. Kline November 17, 2011 at 10:01 am

There are more A-10's at DM (boneyard) than on active and reserve bases.

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Michael November 11, 2011 at 11:25 pm

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

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Edward R. Kline November 17, 2011 at 10:02 am

Yes and an WWII engine 18 cyclinder recip.

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Nick November 12, 2011 at 12:21 am
Sanem November 12, 2011 at 4:19 am

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

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Belesari November 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

The X-47 has about 1/5 the payload of a F-35B and can't survive in a war with enemy air assets or where its stealth could be negated (which i guarrante every nation on earth is looking for a way to do). And sense a F-18SH can carry 4x the payload it can for around 55-65M and is amatch for many if not most 3rd and 4th gen fighters…

X-47 is a addition not a replacment for manned aircraft.

——————————————————————-

By the time you design, build and train pilots to use as well as mechanics to maintaine that Simple jet fighter your gonna be around 55 or more million.

NO ONE IS CLOSE TO BUILDING A AIR-AIR CAPABLE UCAV. Stealth was a movie

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Sanem November 13, 2011 at 3:57 am

at least part of an F-35's payload is used exclusively for air-to-air missiles. UCAV's at this time are not designed for such weapons, but seeing as 99.99% of modern wars don't see enemy fighter aircraft, that's a waste of fuel. UCAV's being unmanned, they can also take the risk of not carrying them, and rely on their stealth to survive

as for the ground-attack payload, a UCAV will still be able to carry plenty of SDB's, or two 1-ton bombs, making them capable of destroying most targets. and where the F-35 can carry more weapons, it does so with less fuel, meaning it'll have less targets of opportunity. in modern warfare timing is more important than how many bombs you have, the mass bombings of WW2 and Vietnam are a long time ago, and any civilians will be all the more happy for it

as for negating stealth or enemy air assets, that would pretty much defeat the whole point of the F-35 too. already its stealth and air power is outclassed by the T-50 at an equal price tag. if the F-35 needs to last until 2050, that's a serious problem

at least UCAV's have excellent natural stealth shapings, a lower cost and expendability, meaning they can use their numbers/losses to win, a strategy modern Western manned air forces cannot employ

"X-47 is a addition not a replacment for manned aircraft."
Lol, that's what they said about Predator UAVs, they where just ment for recon. Now they're replacing F-16's and doing most of the fighting in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa.

"NO ONE IS CLOSE TO BUILDING A AIR-AIR CAPABLE UCAV"
a Predator UAV fired a Stinger missile at an Iraqi Mig-23 back in 2003. it missed because of the poor missile quality, but if it had used a Sidewinder or an AMRAAM it would have easily killed its target. so I don't know about UCAV's, but UAV's are certainly capable of it

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Skeletor November 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm

All the supposed benefits of UAV's are really just a lot of over hyped BS to sell the US military a lot of systems for what we are mainly doing now… low intensity operations in uncontested airspace…

In reality UAV's need:
-more personnel to operate as you have launch / mission elements (two different cockpits), far higher hours of flight for not necessarily any gain and lots of very expensive contractors to run it all
-very expensive BLOS data links and architecture to maintain
-specialized and low density aircraft fleets that really can't operate in non-permissive environments (youtube MiG29 vs Georgian UAV)

I have flown manned and unmanned aircraft, the UAV's are means to some ends, not an end unto themselves…

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Sanem November 13, 2011 at 4:10 am

lol

UAV: $10 million to buy, $400/hour to operate
fighter jet: $70-150 million to buy, $4000/hour to operate

UAV's are better for "low intensity operations in uncontested airspace", but modern Western air supremacy means that's 90% of all missions, so yeah…

UAV's don't stand up against fighter aircraft ofcourse, but perhaps that's because they're unarmed. you send an unarmed F-22 against an armed Mig-29, and there's this weird chance that the Mig might win…

now if you arm UAV's: in Iraq that Mig-23 was performing hit-and-run attacks on Predators, the Air Force couldn't protect them. after that Predator fired that Stinger (and missed), the Iraqi's stopped all attacks, because they now knew the UAV's could shoot back

I say put advanced air-to-air missiles on $3 UAV's (the price of a Predator when you strip its satellite class spy equipment), send them at the enemy in waves, use external targetting data (from AWACS, ground stations or any fighter jet) and you'll swarm any air force in the world (including the USAF)

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major.rod November 13, 2011 at 9:51 am

Sanem – at one point you say UAVs don't need AA missiles and in the next you do. Secondly a very likely reason the Iraqis stopped trying to shoot tdown Prdeators in 2003 is we invaded the country.

UAVs are great. They do not provide the payload that manned aircraft do and they can't deploy guns (controller – UAV time lag makes that dangerous).

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Skeletor November 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Don't believe the hype, trust me, they are not bulletproof, cheap or even easy or reliable… good for a few things, really expensive in the long run and not the end all be all of airpower…
MQ-9's = 30+ million per aircraft (excluding ground stations, BLOS link cost, ground IT infrastructure, weapons, crew training, etc…)
AT-6B = 9 million a copy with no need for two cockpits deployed around the world with all the stuff needed to run them and BLOS links

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byzo November 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

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.

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Belesari November 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm

YEP far more durable. AND cheaper to operate.

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blight November 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Used by the UAE and for counter-narco already. It gives us data on how these things operate in field conditions, which is something you' d have to pay for otherwise…

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TGR November 15, 2011 at 1:34 am

It needs to be durable since they are so slow. Best story I heard about them operating in the southern hemisphere was that the only time the enemy would stop shooting at an AT-802U was either they ran out of bullets or their arm just got tired of shooting!

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afret91 November 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

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.

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Musa Usman November 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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

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john November 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm

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.

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Goldmember November 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Unfortunately I think you are right… I can see the AF already mentally shifting away from COIN and only being concerned with "The China Syndrome"

It is F-35 or bust to the detriment of anything else, USN also included in that gamble…

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chaos0xomega November 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

The funny thing is that if we went to war with China, we're probably going to be wishing we had more A-10s given the fact they have something like 8,000 main battle tanks in service.

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crackedlenses November 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

A-10s are easier prey for SAMs than the F-35 is. That's probably what the AF is betting on….

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Brian Black November 12, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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.

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chaos0xomega November 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Why not pusher prop? gets the pesky prop out of the way entirely.

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mike j November 13, 2011 at 6:47 pm

The answer is, you can have a pusher, but… You get the prop out from in front of the pilot, and the whole plane is in the way of the prop. For a very agile aircraft, that means greatly variable, turbulent loads on the prop. If it's flying out of rough fields, that means potential FOD. These were at least some of the reasons Scaled went with a turbofan for the ARES. Different designs could mitigate those problems (and create others, of course).

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citanon November 12, 2011 at 7:45 pm

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

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mrcjis November 12, 2011 at 10:44 pm

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;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG9LlHcX8lg

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

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Danny November 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

is the USAF flying Hawks? Thought it was only RAF

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guest November 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm

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

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chaos0xomega November 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I think the mustang would be a sub-par choice for the role, if you're talking about reviving an old design, why not go for skyraiders or something that was actually intended to fulfill that specific role rather than an escort fighter?

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rebelCSA November 14, 2011 at 8:26 am

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.

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Jeff November 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

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.

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farniente November 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

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

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blight November 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

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.

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Lem November 15, 2011 at 5:31 am

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
Lem

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Musket104 November 15, 2011 at 8:37 am

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.

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Elijah November 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Looks like Ike knew more then than we do now.

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Brian December 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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

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Brian December 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm
Space Cadet November 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

your call sign is quite apt

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elizzar November 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

i didn't think italy contributed many combat aircraft, more basing rights for other nato countries aircraft? i could be wrong?
as for the cost well the same could be said for most of western europe, and the usa has fairly heavy debts …

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tiger November 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Tell Them to sell Chrysler to some other sucker before Fiat loses money.

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kim November 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Oh boy, are we in a bad mood today….

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Josh November 11, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Completely agree,could carry it’s own wait in munitions,could loiter,and was maintenance friendly. Too bad those slot prope planes are “obsolete” even 40yrs ago…”sigh”…
My grandfather was in the navy when they were new,said they were one he’ll of an aircraft

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IKnowMoreThanU November 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm

So more expensive to operate, aircrew issues ( who owns them, what is their operational priority, operational mentality, etc ), and far less maneuverability…not an idea I'd be willing to risk my life on.

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Goldmember November 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Excellent choice!

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William C. November 13, 2011 at 2:18 am

Don't forget about the titanium "bathtub" and all of the other armor.

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tiger November 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm

After 10 years of war, your A-10 is at the end of it's airframe lifespan. In Libya as in Iraq & Afghanistan we have total air superiority. Your trying to use the A-10 as a hammer for every nail you see. There is a reason most other nations never bought the A-10. When a A-4, A-37, or a Skyraider would do.

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major.rod November 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

The Marines are doing that same thing with C130's. Great idea. I think they are K models?

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major.rod November 13, 2011 at 10:21 am

As an Army guy I love helos but fixed wing is just more efficient. They carry more have longer endurance & range. The only downside to fixed wing is the Army can't have them.

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TMB November 14, 2011 at 1:38 am

Define "usually." In rural or mountain areas of Afghanistan, engagements where the enemy is at least squad sized occur on a fairly regular basis. Why would you want a helicopter but not a fixed wing aircraft? The AT-6 and AH-64 would fly at roughly the same altitude except the AT-6 (or whatever your prop of choice is) would have greater response time, range, loiter time, and payload than a helicopter. It would also have a better chances against ground fire.

As for costs, you're worried about diverting funds from an aircraft that will cost probably $100 million a copy and is currently projected to cost no less than $25k/hr to fly. The AT-6 currently costs $7 million and $600/hr to fly.
http://www.af.mil/news/story_print.asp?id=1232263

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TMB November 14, 2011 at 1:56 am

You're concerned about price tag on the aircraft, but you're advocating using nothing but $68k Hellfires vs a couple hundred dollars worth of .50 cal, 20mm, or 30mm for the same missions.

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tiger November 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

The A-10 is over kill & getting old from 10 years of use. the Choppers have limits on range, speed, altitude. These platforms are Cheaper to operate and support.

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Tiger_38 November 14, 2011 at 1:40 am

Those props take up a lot of pylon space.

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blight November 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm

We might be able to compensate for that if we start implement pattern recognition: for instance, Javelin missiles use image sensors to acquire a "picture" of the target, and can adjust on-the-fly as it moves. Of course, this is all pie in the sky…

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TGR November 15, 2011 at 1:27 am

An AT-6 would actually fly higher and faster with a better graze angle to target/recon. Furthermore, the cost per flying hour of an AT-6 would be dramatically cheaper than an Apache.

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seeker6079 November 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Being a big believer in the A-10 doesn't preclude one from being a big believer in prop-driven CAS: horses for courses, and all that sort of thing.

Problem is, the pointy-nose types seem allergic to the notion of other types of CAS aircraft. There's jobs for the fast movers, there's jobs for the A-10 and there's jobs for things like a Skyraider.

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