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"Appropriate Technology" Wins the Battle

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Old 03-12-16, 11:13 AM   #1
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For the past 25 years the US has continued to fight the cold war in the air. To counter the old Soviet and the emerging Chinese air threat, we will always have to have front-line aircraft capable of air combat - so long as our opponents maintain theirs. I'm not against the development of manned fighter aircraft - although unmanned fighters are quickly coming on the technological horizon. The truth is, given today's missions, we probably won't need fleets of hundreds of manned aircraft to fight the engagements of the future.

We've seen the development of unmanned drones, even fighters capable of launch and recovery from our current stable of carriers. Boeing is currently working on the F/A-XX, a "sixth-generation" fighter that may be manned or unmanned to replace the current air weapons in our arsenal. Unmanned versions are "relatively" cheap (as though anything with an eight-figure price tag can be so-called) and in combat, if necessary, they are expendable, opening a whole new list of opportunities for tactical air combat.



Boeing F/A-XX concept illustration, manned and unmanned versions.

But the techie stuff is no longer our sole means of aerial warfare. Sometimes older concepts work a lot better. For example, we're literally flying the wings off our uber-expensive air armada in the Middle East, flying F-16 and F/A-18 sorties that aren't really adapted to highly capable high-performance aircraft . . . we need to stop beating up our first-echelon defensive force moving a few dozen rag-tag terrorists out of their sand dune.

We proved it with the A-10 "Warthog". This tough little air-support weapon was designed to take out the enormous fleets of Soviet tanks that our war planners believed would lead an invasion of Europe.



They were designed to operate at low altitudes, be extremely maneuverable, and provide a gun platform for the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling-type cannon that can deliver a deluge of pound and a half explosive warheads to the target. With wing stations capable of carrying rocket pods, missiles, and smart munitions, the aircraft can be armed for practically any mission. Targeting pods and external fuel stores give it the range and accuracy needed to support ground troops while lingering over the battlefield. While their performance envelope isn't as extnsive as a modern fighter (they are entirely subsonic), and they aren't the technological wonders of the 21st Century, they have been upgraded over the years to incorporate all of the combat support electronics of the modern fighter, and communicate with ground forces for targeting data and fire support.

The Air Force brass has tried for years to scrap the remaining A-10's, primarily because they aren't sexy enough to drive big budgets. They claim they're obsolete, but to the men and women who fly them - and particularly the troops on the ground, they are by far the most effective weapons over the battlefield. They fly low and slow, and they may be ugly, but they continue to work well in today's battlespace.

But there's a new-old player on the scene that's stirring up a lot of notice in Iraq right now. Built as a replacement for the Cessna O1 "Birddog", an observation aircraft that saw service in several wars, the OV-10 "Bronco" was the attempt to build a sexier turboprop scout for the Vietnam war. It worked well and hundreds were deployed to the fight, but never got the credit it deserved among all the larger, faster, sexier aircraft in country. It was quick, could be operated from minimal airstrips near the fighting, and was deadly as a close air support vehicle. At the close of the war, the Air Force and Navy soon decommissioned and sold to the civilian market. Only the Marines hung on to the Bronco until about the mid '90's, when they too abandoned it.



Fast forward to Iraq 2016. The OV-10 is coming into its own again as a bonafide warbird after years of relegation to various fire and rescue missions for several states and governments worldwide. Fitted out with the latest electronics and targeting systems, two OV-10s were recently sent to Iraq as a part of a semi-clandestine Naval special ops force last year. After 120 combat missions, reports indicate the little twin-turboprops have shown exceedingly well, supporting our forces battling ISIL on the ground in Iraq and Syria. What has made them most effective (if you read between the lines of the operational reports) is that they can be moved near the action, and respond with aerial "resources" (assumed to be lightweight missiles and bombs) long before the bad guys can flee, and have been devastating in their effect. They represent maybe not the latest technology, but the most appropriate to the mission.

Now the economics: While an F-15 can cost up to $40,000 per hour to fly, the much smaller OV-10 costs as little as $1000. That's exclusive of weapons delivered - just fuel and maintenance. Will we see hundreds of OV-10's being manufactured as a response to the low-tech nature of terrorist intervention? Well, not yet. The generals and admirals that control our military contracts clamor for super-weapons that will ensure them a nice job with the manufacturer when they retire - and that means we're more likely to see space weapons before little propeller-driven aircraft, no matter how effective they might be. The business-industrial complex runs on leading-edge technology and "sexy" airplanes, big budgets and the big "WOW!" factor that provide nice retirement jobs for the brass hats. So long as they are the guys making the decisions far from the action, don't look for too many "old" technologies in tomorrow's battlespace.

Meanwhile the A-10 Warthog and the OV-10 Bronco using Vietnam era technologies and the leftovers from the cold war, are acquitting themselves masterfully in Iraq and Syria. Somebody should take notice. They certainly aren't the most beautiful girls at the prom, but they're the best dancers.
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Old 03-12-16, 11:19 AM   #2
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Cool Sometimes the older tech and familiar operation does the task without draining the budget over the latest tech device.
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Old 03-12-16, 04:33 PM   #3
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One thing puzzles me, Bob.....(and maybe you will have more insight on this than I do)......why the Marines never adopted the A-10 Warthog themselves, and left it to the Air Force. The A-10 is a classic close air-ground support aircraft....exactly the kind of the warfare that the Marines (and the Army, to a lesser extent) specialize in. The Army, of course, by law, is not allowed to have combat jets, leaving them to the other services, but the Marines have no such prohibition. Perhaps the A-10's lack of carrier-qualification keeps it out of the Marine Corps.....they like to have planes that can operate off of ships. The USMC's Harrier, of course, can operate even off of small ships. But a Harrier can't carry the A-10's amount of ordinance, partly because of its single Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine and need for vertical take-offs. Nor does the Harrier have the A-10's Gatling Gun, which fires anti-tank rounds at 6000 RPM. The A-10 does, of course, need a lot of runway on land (as does virtually every other comb at plane ever built by Republic Aviation). But even as far back as WWII, heavy Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (the A-10's grandfather), with their tough-as-nails Rock-of-Gibraltar airframes, like equally-heavy Grumman TBF Avengers, were launched off of carriers using catapult attachments. Naval carrier-based planes, of course, need tough airframes and landing gear to absorb a lot of stress, but not only did the old Jug (P-47), even though a land-based fighter/bomber, have the necessary strength for carrier operations, but so does the A-10. Like I said, it puzzles me why the Marines never showed any interest in the A-10.....although the lack of folding-wings for carrier-deck-storage may also have something to do with it.

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Old 03-13-16, 04:05 AM   #4
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I think it's a territorial issue among the armed services. I've heard that one of the reasons the Warthog is still in service over the AF's strenuous objections and plans to scrap it is that it is so beloved by the Army that they've threatened to take it over if the AF ever drops it.
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Old 03-13-16, 11:38 AM   #5
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I think it's a territorial issue among the armed services. I've heard that one of the reasons the Warthog is still in service over the AF's strenuous objections and plans to scrap it is that it is so beloved by the Army that they've threatened to take it over if the AF ever drops it.
That was one of the issues I brought up, though. Even if the AF scraps it, The Army can't take it over unless Congress changes the law and the President concurs. Unlike the other three services, the Army and Coast Guard are forbidden by law to own or operate combat jets. That is one reason why the Army combat air wings are (mostly) helicopter gunships like the Apache, Cobra, and Huey. The Marine Corps, though, has no such prohibition, and the Warthog, despite its requirements for long runways, would probably be an ideal close-air-ground support plane for them. It's just puzzling why they have not shown any interest in it.

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Old 03-13-16, 12:10 PM   #6
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nice post. assume it was based on various reports like this one from cnn.

http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/11/politi...sis/index.html

still, putting only 2 of these planes in service is not about to change the u.s. military and have it retrofit a lot of really old planes.

and no doubt drones will be replacing most everything in the coming decade as they're cheaper, more flexible, and pilots don't die. there will no doubt be drone-like planes with abilities like but greater than ov-10 and a-10.
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Old 03-13-16, 12:56 PM   #7
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Those laws can be changed - nothing's so sacrosanct as our military branches think anymore. The brass hat brigade has a long history of demanding (and getting) whatever they want, but in the face of the evolving world situation, they are going to have to recognize the new reality. Just guessing here, but the Marines have probably stayed out of the A-10 squabble intentionally. The Air Force and Navy are wrangling over who gets the big ships and planes in the budget, as the AF is still trying to force the A-10 into retirement to create a need for a NEW close air support vehicle. There's nothing sexy (or too profitable) in a 30-year old aircraft for them, so the Army's been making noises that they'd like to take over new Warthog production the moment the Air Force drops the ball. The Marines are wisely waiting on the sidelines to pick off any fumbles.

There should be a lesson in all of this. As our armed forces now concentrate more on "brush-fire wars" that require immediate intervention with overwhelming force, a new generation of less costly weapons become more realistic responses to the type of threat on the battlefield. For the Cold War, the emphasis was on big thermonuclear weapons that assured mutual destruction. The Air Force and Navy got the lion's share of the big, expensive, and high-tech weapons, stealth bombers and nuclear carriers, while the Army got a nice new tank and a new jeep.

The Army seems to be moving toward a mechanized cavalry that includes wheeled vehicles and helicopter assets and even the Navy is scaling back, looking toward more "brown water" assets that can operate in coastal and riverine environments closer to the action. Future wars are more likely to be fought with drones overhead providing intel to specialized troops on the ground, and where indicated, a precision strike capability. The Navy feels like they are being squeezed out of this future, falling back on their missile subs, attack carriers, and aviation assets - the big pricey stuff. The Air Force is reluctantly moving toward more drones and surveillance aircraft, more gunships and transports with fewer high-spec fighter aircraft.

As the combat missions are being scaled back to meet the terrorist threat, those big weapons are no longer cost-effective. We're looking at quick-reaction forces that combine air, land, and sea forces that can be on scene in a matter of hours from forward bases, precision munitions that can strike the enemy's vulnerable second-line functions like intel, communications, re-supply, and transport. America has always been amenable to exchanging dollars for blood - meaning we prefer to employ high-dollar, high-tech weaponry rather than put our combat soldiers at risk. That's fine - but we have to realize it's expensive, sometimes failure-prone, and not exactly efficient.

It's become obvious that there's a LOT of overlap in our separate branches of military forces, each with its own equipment for basically the same jobs. It's more than inefficient, it's wasteful. Maybe we should be looking at other nations' military forces as alternatives to our four-service model. Japan and Israel employ Defense Forces that are less "territorial" than ours. These forces can be placed under a single command quite readily, and share technical assets and hardware. The Israeli Defense Forces combine land, air, and sea specialties under a close-knit command that makes better use of their assets. Although they are still divided into what would appear to be an Army, Navy, and Air Force (even an amphibious division under the Navy), they are less independent, share intel and strategies, and they don't vie for separate equipment contracts like those in the US do. You want a new pistol? Here it is. It's that or throw rocks.

There are special operations groups within each unit that correspond to our Special Ops groups here, but the IDF goes even beyond that to incorporate state police functions, internal security, border operations, and even the prison system under the same "defense" umbrella. Even more unusual, many of their aircraft, aerospace, automotive, shipyards, defense plants, and weapons development agencies are all a part of the Defense Forces. This is made necessary by the incredibly short response time that a 14-mile wide nation requires of its strategists, developers, manufacturers, and its defenders. Odd, yes it is - by our standards, but maybe our service branches should stop being so territorial and begin to look for ways to serve the common defense of our nation.
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Old 03-14-16, 05:31 AM   #8
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It's become obvious that there's a LOT of overlap in our separate branches of military forces, each with its own equipment for basically the same jobs. It's more than inefficient, it's wasteful. Maybe we should be looking at other nations' military forces as alternatives to our four-service model.
yes. part of my brother's job in the royal air force is coordination of assets/services between the services, a rather different way of work than here, but of course british defense budget is a rounding error on the u.s. one.
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Old 03-14-16, 11:37 AM   #9
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For some reason our service branches have always maintained an adversarial relationship. That dramatically increases cost while producing a tremendous amounts of waste. Kinda sounds like something our government might be good at . . . .
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Old 03-14-16, 12:07 PM   #10
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yes. part of my brother's job in the royal air force is coordination of assets/services between the services, a rather different way of work than here, but of course british defense budget is a rounding error on the u.s. one.
The Brits learned in the past, though, that cost-cutting doesn't always pay in the military. For example, they sent their fleet down to the Falklands to retake the islands from the Argentines. But the fleet, at the time, didn't have any airborne-radar planes like our fleet did, and suffered early-warning problems. The result? More damage to the fleet from Argentine air-raids that was necessary, though fortunately, the two most important ships (the Invincible and Hermes ski-jump carriers) survived intact. Also helping the Brits was the fact that the Harriers on board the ships, despite a much shorter range, proved far superior in combat to the Argentine A4 Skyhawk and Mirage fighter/bombers that were sent to attack the ships....no Harriers were lost in combat vs. a number of Argentine planes shot down. The Brits, of course, also had better-trained pilots.

The Royal Navy, today, of course, does have airborne radar planes and helicopters....they learned from that experience.

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Old 03-14-16, 01:52 PM   #11
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little was reported about how much the u.s. helped the british during the falklands war, AND that the u.s. also suffered damage and casualties. had it not been for maggie's strong relationship with ronnie, maggie would likely not have been able to declare any sort of 'victory'.
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Old 03-14-16, 02:02 PM   #12
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hummm $150 F-22 versus $36 F-15E, I'd rather have more reliable 4 F15E's for the price of 1 F-22.
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Old 03-15-16, 08:47 AM   #13
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The F-22 is a beautiful tragedy.

It should have been much cheaper per unit. Originally 750 planes were to be acquired back in the early 90's. But with the wall coming down and the US not really having a big air-capable foe, numbers were reduced down to 195. A large part of the cost is the development, which is an overhead that's allocated among the production base. This drives up the cost per plane.
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Old 03-15-16, 10:18 AM   #14
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That's always the danger of a new-tech aircraft being "orphaned". Development often represents a third or more of the cost of production of a new weapon, and it's particularly evident in the B-2 bomber. Originally, the B-2 contract called for 132 aircraft, and with all those up-front development costs spread over a fairly large production run, the total cost of the aircraft amounted to about $700 Million, each. Then the budget was cut and the order was slashed to 21. NOW all those years of development had to be amortized over 21 aircraft rather than 132 . . . so the cost per unit comes in at a staggering $2.1 Billion. Each.

What did we get for our money? Well, one B-2 crashed on the runway in Guam in 2008, leaving 20 in the fleet. But that's nowhere near the number currently available for combat. Budget cuts, maintenance woes, retrofits, and upgrades routinely cut the "operational" aircraft to about NINE worldwide at any one time. Now, when you consider that about half of these are involved in training new crews and keeping existing crews up to speed, we have only a handful of B-2's on the ramp ready to go on a real mission at any one time.

But there's another problem: the fleet is split between operational theaters in the East and West. We keep B-2 aircraft at the ready for operations in the Far East and the Eastern Mediterranean, meaning that we have maybe a couple of flights of TWO ready for action on each of the two fronts. If we're going to mount a B-2 strike over Syria, we'd probably have to tap some of our Pacific resources to do so successfully. That's going to be a big problem . . . especially when you consider the cost of purchase and maintenance of what is largely a single-mission aircraft.

The B-2 is an outstanding bomber, without question - there is nothing else in the air that can get over a heavily defended position and drop smart munitions with seeming impunity. The question is only developing the ability to do this with a smaller, cheaper aircraft. Well, there's a new one on the boards - once called the B-3, it now is being designated the B-21 - that looks very much like a cranked-wing B-2, and while even stealthier than the B-2 it would recognize the superiority of smart munitions so it could carry a smaller ordinance load and be about half the size of the B-2, so its costs could be similarly reduced (in an order of 100 aircraft) to about $600 million apiece. That's a good start, and aircraft could be on the way by 2020. There's no real hurry as of yet, our existing mix of B-52's. B-1's. and B-2's could hang on for another thirty or forty years.

But among all this flashy new stuff, maybe we should be taking a look at the real missions at stake here. While most of the super-stealthy bombing missions over highly defended targets are possible, aren't we spending a lot of money on what are essentially cold-war strategies? Do we still need single bombers that each cost the equivalent of a nuclear aircraft carrier? Certainly China, Russia, possibly North Korea and maybe some coalition of Middle Eastern nations could mount a nuclear threat to the West. Do we need incredibly expensive fleets of invisible bombers to launch a preemptive strike against a second or third world nation with a nuke? Would we do it even though we have the capability?

Whatever happened to MAD? Surely Russia and China don't want to risk a retaliatory nuclear strike, but what does North Korea or Afghanistan have to lose? What will it cost to defend ourselves against batsxxt crazy?
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