Friday, September 27, 2013

Debunking Close Air Support Myths, 2nd Edition: Part 7

Sourcing ‘AF Hates A-10’ Nonsense

We tackled the ‘big’ myths in a while back Parts 1-6. This post, at the root of things, is about the little myth that if the Air Force retires the A-10, that somehow means the Air Force doesn’t care about the mission, the Army, or both. I believe it is based upon other little myths that are sometimes based upon big lies and/or uniformed opinions more than anything else. The lies and opinions get planted as ‘fact’ in places where they line up neatly with already well-entrenched points of view. Then over time, if they get repeated often enough, they become ‘facts’… that aren’t.

The Current Sequester ‘Crisis’ and Close Air Support

At last week’s Air Force Association convention Air Force Leadership statements, acknowledging the reality of how Defense Sequestration was making the military a hollow force. As reported by Defense News:

With the F-35 coming online to take over the close-air support role, the venerable Thunderbolt II will be a likely target, Gen. Mike Hostage told reporters at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference.
“This is not something I want to do,” Hostage said, explaining that no decisions had been made.
Hostage said he had already talked to Army officials about losing the A-10 and using other jets to take over the close-air support role. The Army was “not happy” about the possibility, Hostage said.
“I will not lose what we have gained in how we learned to support the Army,” Hostage said. “I had to make sure the Army understood that I am not backing away from the mission.”
Hostage said the service can do the close-air support role with the F-35, but it would be more expensive and “not as impressive” without the famous GAU-8 Avenger 30 millimeter gun.
“In a perfect world, I would have 1,000 A-10s,” Hostage said. “I can’t afford it. I can’t afford the fleet I have now. If I cut the fleet in half, do I save enough to get through this problem?
“My view is, while I don’t want to do it, I would rather lose the entire fleet and save everything I do in the infrastructure.” 
Hostage’s comments follow similar statements from both acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh that single-mission aircraft would need to be cut if budgets continue to decrease.
“If we go into [fiscal year 2014] with sequestration still in effect, and we need to achieve those savings, you have to look at cuts,” Fanning said Monday…
What is facing the Air Force right now is same for all the services: they must plan on doing ‘less with less’ because of the current ‘budget reality’ [Though it is arguable that is really about a lack of defense-as-a-national-priority ‘reality’]. Within the framework of the ‘budget reality’, the services have to figure out how can they fulfill as many of their responsibilities, and to what extent, with the ‘less’ budget they will be left to work with going forward.

The Lesser of Evils?

It now appears that part of the best way (or least ‘worst way’) forward, involves the possibility of retiring the entire (such as it remains) A-10 fleet

Aside from the sentimentality of General Hostage’s statement, I have no problem with it, and there is one part that sums things up perfectly:
“My view is, while I don’t want to do it, I would rather lose the entire fleet and save everything I do in the infrastructure.”
Got that? Retire selected weapon systems and save all the capability (“everything I do”).

The A-10 is Going Away Anyway

This is certain to cause a groundswell of emotion and irrational fear in some quarters if the A-10 fleet is forcibly retired. I would say ‘retired early’ but that would be less correct than stating ‘earlier than planned’, as we have kept the A-10 past it’s freshness date. the A-10 was considered as rapidly obsolescing AND rapidly aging when the Air Force first proposed replacing it with A-7Fs and A-16's the first time in the late 1980's. All but the last A-10s built (~1983-84) were manufactured with known deficiency in structural strength to begin with.

A-10s in AMARG: The Largest Supply Source for Keeping Operational A-10s Flying.  

"...fourteen airplanes sitting on the ramp having battle damage repaired, and I lost two A-10s in one day..."

Desert Storm Air Boss Made the Call: Pulled A-10s Off the
Iraqi Republican Guard Due to High Attrition
Tales of  the A-10's effectiveness in Desert Storm overshadowed it's shortcomings, which no one wanted to talk about (see Gen Horner's observations in Part 6 of this Debunking CAS Myths Series ) . Between Desert Storm and Congressional dabbling in matters they did not understand, the A-10 got a reprieve. The reprieve has lasted this long because we have not had to fight a war like Desert Storm again (Yes, there were significant differences between then and Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom).

Once again, there will be the ubiquitous ‘some’ who will complain that the AF is abandoning the needs of the Army by abandoning the Close Air Support (CAS) mission. In reality, the complaint will/would be over little more than a ‘hardware’ and ‘tactics’ change in the mission, NOT a retreat from the mission itself. Let us note here, that such complaints ignore the fact that the current plan already has the F-35 replacing the A-10 in the CAS role. If the A-10 fleet is retired due to sequestration, then sequestration is only causing a change in schedule for something that was going to happen anyway and NOT changing an inevitable end-state (not that changes themselves are good things, they usually cause chaos and added costs themselves).

Here We Go Again

With this emerging probability that the A-10s will finally be retired, we can expect a repeat of past experience: someone (or rather, many someones) will, in their ignorance, decry such a move as yet another example of the Air Force trying to get rid of the A-10 ‘they never wanted’ in the first place. Never mind that the reason for retiring the A-10 is clearly articulated in the present time: In the future the mythology will be that it was just another exhibit of ‘proof’ that the Air Force has ‘never wanted the A-10’ or never ‘took CAS seriously’. One in a laundry list of other examples. The problem is that laundry list, is a list of myths as well: a compendium of untruths, perversions of the truth, and biased opinions promoting a theme masquerading as the truth.

And I can back up my claims with hard evidence.

Taking Down the Myths, One Myth at a Time

To me, one of the most annoying myths about the Air Force and the A-10 is the one that asserts that when the AH-56 Cheyenne program was cancelled, the Air Force “tried to back out of the A-10 commitment” but it was “made” to keep it by some greater outside force, See "Close Air Support: Why all the Fuss?"  (Garrett, P.10) .

 I’ve picked the ‘Garrett’ (Thomas W. Garrett) reference to use as a starting point for a few reasons. First, when he stays away from the politics involved and deals strictly with the whys and wherefores of the logical division of responsibilities and missions between the Army and the Air Force, the paper is quite admirable. (His snarky delivery however, which no doubt raises a chuckle or two in Army quarters, comes across as snide and mean-spirited in its essence when experienced by this Airman.) Second, He reprised his War College paper in the Army War College quarterly Parameters under a different title (Close Air Support: Which Way Do We Go) . Over a dozen papers written later directly cite these two Garrett papers, and even more papers spring from these.
Third, the paper was written shortly before Desert Storm when Garrett was a Lt. Colonel. Later in Desert Storm “he commanded, trained and led the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Aviation Brigade, the largest Army Aviation rotary wing task force in conventional land warfare history”. Garrett also served in Vietnam, retired as a Major General, and has been inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame, so he has sufficient ‘street cred’ to be a reliable reference on this topic.

Myth: The Air Force Tried to Kill the A-10 After the AH-56 Cheyenne Program was Cancelled.

When you go to the bibliography to find the source of the claim as quoted in Garrett above, you are taken to a reference:
Horton and David Halperin, "The Key West Key," Foreign Relations. Winter 1983-1981, pp. 117.
This source took me longer to find than I thought it would, because the citation is wrong (It should read “Foreign Policy” ). I initially thought it was some State Department trade publication, but instead find it was in a magazine we’ve all probably seen many time at Barnes & Noble. A magazine that describes itself thusly:
“Since its founding in 1922, Foreign Affairs has been the leading forum for serious discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. It is now a multiplatform media organization with a print magazine, a website, a mobile site, various apps and social media feeds, an event business, and more. Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a non-profit and nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to improving the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs through the free exchange of ideas.”
References to the web, mobile, apps and social media aside, I suspect their self-perception hasn’t changed much since the Halperin & Halperin ‘article’. Put succinctly: Foreign Policy is a magazine for self-identified ‘movers and shakers’. In the referenced article we find multiple complaints and examples of “interservice rivalry” causing ‘problems’. Close Air Support was but one example:
The Army next tried to build the Cheyenne, a large antitank helicopter priced at $8 million. This time the Air Force feared that the Army, with its new weapon, might be able to acquire officially the close-support function. While the Air Force still had no interest in providing close support, it wanted to protect its bureaucratic territory. Thus it developed the Fairchild A-10, which Easterbrook notes, "many aircraft observers believe is one of the best planes ever built." And priced at $3 million, the A-10 could do a far better job than the Cheyenne at less than one-half the cost. 
The Cheyenne was canceled. But having headed off the Army, the Air Force saw no further use for the A-10 and attempted to cut the plane from its budget. Congress has insisted that the A-10s be built. But Air Force reluctance has sent the Army back to the drawing board, once again in the no-win realm of the helicopter.
There’s A LOT wrong with the above besides the claim the Air Force tried to ‘back out’ of the A-10, such as tying what would become development of the AH-64 Apache to some sort of Air Force ‘reluctance’ ‘Halperin x 2’ were apparently unaware the Army began pursuing what would become the AH-64 the day after the Cheyenne was cancelled. The Air Force was fast in those days, but it wasn’t that fast. The Army simply went back to the drawing board trying to replace perhaps the longest-lived interim system ever: the AH-1 Huey Cobra. But we’ll let the niggling things slide and keep our focus on the task at hand.

First, who were the authors of this ‘article’ and who was this ‘Easterbrook’ they were citing?

The Halperins

Around that time including before and after, Morton Halperin was the Director of the Center for National Security Studies, on the board of the ALCU, and a Brookings Institute ‘scholar’. He was nominated to be THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR DEMOCRACY AND PEACEKEEPING under Les Aspin (Spit!). When nominated in 1993, he was a very well known ‘quantity’. It did not go well.

The other ‘Halperin’ was his son David, then a senior at Yale, and he has not fallen very far from the tree. By the way, Nowadays ole’ Morton is running George Soros’ Open Society Institute. So one might file this data away for future consideration: Perhaps this Father-Son duo were/are not that keen on defense in the first place?


We Keep Pulling the Thread: What is The Halperins’ ‘Source’

The ‘Easterbrook’ above was one Gregg Easterbrook writing for the Washington Monthly. The current WM website describes the publication thusly:
The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 on the notion that a handful of plucky young writers and editors, armed with an honest desire to make government work and a willingness to ask uncomfortable questions, could tell the story of what really matters in Washington better than a roomful of Beltway insiders at a Georgetown dinner party. In our cluttered little downtown DC office, we’re still doing what we have done for over forty years, and what fewer and fewer publications do today: telling fascinating, deeply reported stories about the ideas and characters that animate America’s government.
When you get right down to it, the Washington Monthly is a political ‘alternative’ news outlet. It has been largely run, and overrun, by people like James Fallows whose merits I briefly noted in a sidebar here. So file that away for future consideration as well.
Easterbrook’s ‘article’ was called “All Aboard Air Oblivion” in which he rambles through a no-holds-barred screed: 
  • Decrying the wastefulness of hugely-vulnerable helicopters, 
  • Asserting the Air Force with a penchant for technology was requiring an expensive unnecessary “smart bomb” called the AGM-65 be carried on top of the internal 30mm gun.
  • Laughably describing the Maverick as having only a “15%” probability of kill per “pass” and being impossible to operate effectively in combat.
  • Making baseless claims that the Air Force Chief of Staff only pursued the A-10 because of the Army's Cheyenne.
  • Citing James Fallows’ writings criticizing the TOW missile, and mocking the idea that the next missile in the works, the Hellfire in combination with the “Son of Cheyenne” (AH-64 Apache) will be any better.
 Among many, many other transgressions against logic and truth. 

And buried inside Easterbrook’s nonsensical diatribe is this little gem of our real interest:
With the Army challenge deflected, anti-close-support generals once again ascended within the Air Force. They wanted to stop wasting money on an Army-oriented project and reserve all Air Force funds for superplanes like the F-15 and B-1. So each year, the Air Force tried to cut the A-10 from its budget. Fortunately, each year politicians put the funds back in. (This year, for, example, the Air Force cut 60 A-10s, but Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger reinstated them.) Next, the Air force shunted 72 of the first 400 A-10s straight to the National Guard, the only front-line aircraft ever assigned directly to the Air National Guard

ALL the above is patently, and demonstrably untrue. All of it.
Beside there being no evidence of ‘anti-close-support’ generals in the Air Force (names?), the ‘tried to cut the A-10 from its budget’ isn’t supported by the history either. I know from a personal friend that briefed the AF budget to Members of Congress (Circa 78-79) that there was constant pressure to increase the original objective of 600 planes to something greater. The numbers WERE increased, because they had to be: just to get the budget past a Committee Chairman or two. Three years after this article was published, at the end of production there were 715 A-10s. So yeah, after the Air Force got all they originally wanted, MAYBE then they stopped asking for more. So what?

Here’s another little factor to consider. Since we don’t know the number from which Easterbrook is subtracting that 60 A-10 figure, perhaps at least some of the 60 aircraft that the Easterbrook alleges the Air Force tried to have taken out (in 1980-81) was related to the 1979 GAO report that ‘came down’ on the Air Force for buying too many total A-10s? From the GAO Report:

… We believe that our current work on reducing Defense aircraft time in maintenance further demonstrates the necessity to reevaluate aircraft needs for depot maintenance float. We focused on the potential procurement of 61 A-10 aircraft as substitutes for aircraft undergoing depot maintenance--currently called backup aircraft inventory for maintenance. Specifically, we found that: 
--Even though the A-10 is being procured under a concept designed to eliminate the need for depot overhaul, the Air Force is still using a 10-percent factor to justify the purchase of 61 A-10 aircraft for maintenance float purposes.
--While Air Force criteria also allows substitutes for aircraft undergoing modifications, the full extent of the modification program for the A-10 is not known.
--In developing the lo-percent maintenance float factor Defense has not systematically determined how quickly aircraft In the depot could be "buttoned up" and returned to their units under a wartime compressed work schedule and the influence of this rapid return on the requirements for maintenance float aircraft. 
The A-10, as well as other newer weapon systems, are being procured under a concept designed to eliminate the need for depot overhaul. New design features and reliability-centered maintenance concepts have improved maintainability and reliability so that work which used to be performed in depot facilities can now be performed in the field and at intermediate facilities. In spite of this change, we find that the planned procurement for the 61 A-10 maintenance float aircraft is still being justified using a 10-percent factor. Historical experience has been used in the past to justify the procurement of float aircraft as substitutes for those aircraft undergoing periodic overhaul. Since the A-10 is not scheduled to undergo periodic overhaul, the justification for 61 A-10s is questionable…

Funny how we never hear about this little development, eh? Congress' "watchdog" complains about too many A-10s one year, and a drive-by journalist hammers you the next. Such is life.
Finally, everyone and anyone who has ever played the 'budget game' knows that if someone up the chain is going to support buying system X, whether you want it or not, you can let that someone spend political capital getting more of system X, so you can spend it on system Y. Congress makes the rules, everyone else just plays the game. If the Air Force ever chose to reduce numbers of the A-10 to be bought in an annual budget, it was part of a larger strategy.

As to the characterization the Air Force “shunted” A-10’s to reserve units, and doing so was 'without precedent', the A-10 WAS the first ‘front-line’ system to go directly to reserve units, but hardly the ‘last’. The year after this article was printed, it was announced that the first F-16s would be going to reserve units beginning in 1984. I presume it would be Easterbrook’s argument that the F-16 was ‘shunted’ as well? My damning counterargument to any accusations that anybody in the Air Force was ‘shunting’ anything would be to point to a little thing we (the Air Force) had going on with a full head of steam at the time: Making Total Force a viable force.

So we’ve now pulled this thread, whereby it is claimed the Air Force “tried to back out of the A-10 commitment” all the way to it's frazzled, unattributed end. We've found NO substance to the claim at all, only B.S. 'hearsay'


Do I Have Suspicions? Feh. Its 'The Usual Suspects'

I don’t think you have to be much of a detective to read between the lines for Easterbrook’s sources. Aside from referencing Fallows, I see some of the same verbiage that’s been thrown around by Pierre Sprey and Winslow Wheeler for years. I also don’t find it much of a coincidence that this article found it’s way into a particular compendium of lunacy, a copy of which I own. A little book of perversions produced by the predecessor to Project on Government Oversight (POGO) in 1983; the much more verbose “Fund for Constitutional Government”, under their so-called “Project on Military Procurement”.

The title? “More Bucks: Less Bang: How the Pentagon Buys Ineffective Weapons” (If you buy a copy for goodness sake buy a used copy will you?). In this little (in more ways than one) book many weapon systems come under fire. I would say there were only 3 ‘reports’ (out of 30+) that I would call 'materially accurate'. One of those was written post facto: about the tribulations of the by-then long-fielded M-16 so it doesn't count as 'prophetic'.
The rest? Among all the other tall tales, written by a who's who of muckrakers, activists, and 'reformers', we learn that the Trident submarine and Aegis Cruisers won’t work, the Stealth Bomber is a ‘joke’, Low Probability of Intercept Radar is a ‘homing beacon’, the Abrams and Bradley are failures, and the Maverick, Pershing and Tomahawk missiles will be useless.

I marvel at the 'expertise' on display within.(/sarc)

I suspect Easterbrook was spoon-fed his article’s scary parts from the so called ‘reformer’ camp. His output then later gets rolled into the Reformer Noise Machine which then echoes down the years.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. That is how these myths are born.

I further suspect the next thread I pull will lead me right to the same noisemakers as I found this time.

The Next Myth? (Part 8)

'The Air Force only started/proceeded with the A-X/A-10 because they 'had to' due to external pressure.

Note: I'm having formatting (font and case mostly, with some copy/paste gaps) issues with Blogger on this post for some reasons. Please bear with me as I find problems and make adjustments.



Anonymous said...

Excellent article Mac.

SMSgt Mac said...


Seal Of Lion said...

If I remember right, Horner pulled the A-10's off of the Republican Guard because they were operating too far forward at the time. He got on the planners for doing that while having F-16's doing work on the border. He had them switch the roles around so the 16's were doing deep strike like they were suppose to.

SMSgt Mac said...

You are correct. The discriminating factor between the Republican Guard and lesser units threatwise was more AAA, manpads, and mobile SAMs.

Unknown said...

Well,Mike Spick talks about that in is 1987 book«An illustrated guide to modern attack aircraft».He said that if the A-10 penetrates more than 3km beyond the FLOT it has gone to far...
The order of battle in Europe was the A-10 and the german Alpha Jet doing CAS,F-16s and Jaguar doing interdition and the Tornado and the F-111 doing deep strike...

SMSgt Mac said...

I should also note that Horner pulled back the A-10s ~8 days before the ground war kicked off, so at the time there was no CAS, and no material difference in BAI close to the line and deep behind, EXCEPT the Air Defense environment.

SMSgt Mac said...

Hi Nuno,
I'd say pretty much the same for helicopters as well. The A-10 of the 80's would have almost no night/adverse weather capability to work down in the weeds for far too great a percentage of time in Central Europe. The extra survivability at the FEBA comes from the enemy having (hopefully) less time to track and shoot you down because they're preoccupied with good guys on the ground shooting at them at the same time. It is interesting to note that A-10s in Allied Force ranged far and wide all over Kosovo and rarely got into trouble because the FACs only went down to 10K ft and the missile shooters stayed above 15K.
the A-10 was designed for what is by todays standards a permissive threat environment. (See the case study link above)

Anonymous said...

There are two main problems with this article. First it's too well thought out, rational, and written by someone with actual USAF experience. Second grand conspiracies are SOOOOOOO much more fun.


Anonymous said...

SMSgt Mac:

I'm a USAF EOD tech with a deployment to Afghanistan under my belt. I'm a friend of Larry Correia's, whose gun control article you posted here, and cowrote the novel Dead Six with him.

I hope you don't mind, but I reposted this article on a forum that he and I both frequent, to open it up for discussion.

Please keep up the excellent blogging!

SMSgt Mac said...

Not a problem. The series is about 'de-mythification', so the farther it's spread the better. When you find others respond with even more tropes, ask them "sources please?"

Don M said...

When I was in Europe in the late 70s, our ground tactics changed as the A-10s were fielded. Before then, we were focused on enemy tanks and infantry carriers. We were very concerned with the Soviets punching holes in our lines, and we were compelled to mass antitank assets on the best routes to prevent that.

After the A-10s a gaggle of Soviet armor on a good route was a target. We focused on maintaining good positions, but tried to target 'funnies' the vehicles that didn't look like other vehicles, such as multiple antenna vehicles, ZSU-23-4s, and other radar or air defense assets. With those stripped away we had some degree of confidence that the Soviet penetration units could be bottled up, and destroyed with air power.

Marauder said...

Sweetman has chimed in on this debate..eager to hear your analysis..