Sunday, June 28, 2015

An Open Letter to Ed Driscoll: Power of CAS Myths

Guest 'Pundit' at Instapundit, Ed Driscolllinks to a craptastic "Save the A-10" editorial (unattributed) at Investors Business Daily.... SIX MONTHS after it was published?

I thought the editorial at the link was so bad at the time it came out (along with a bunch of similar A-10 puff pieces), I don't remember paying it much heed.  But Driscoll's resurrection of this poorly 'informed' op-ed illustrates--- once again-- the power of the CAS Mythology and "narrative". Just look at the comment thread at Instapundit. Yikes!

Normally, I like what Ed Driscoll writes, and writes about, but he's waaay out of his area of expertise this time.

Dear Ed: That IBD Op Ed could have been written by one or more squirrels.  

No, the A-10 wasn’t designed to stop Soviet Tanks. This is a common misconception I've heard General Officers utter. We are so ahistorical.

The A-10 was conceived as a weapon that could attack “hard targets” and cooperate with Army Airmobile forces in SEA. After Vietnam, the Air Force HOPED it could be survivable in the NATO order of battle and did all kinds of things to make/keep it relevant. In Europe, its main advantage was the ability to get below typical rotten Euro-weather that would keep fast-movers off the target. We have sensors and communications now that remove the weather restriction for fast movers. the F-35's The weapons the A-10 was designed to survive against predated MANPADs, Integrated Air Defense Systems and even radar controlled AAA that even the NVA were pushing into the South at the end of the Vietnam War. (Google Lam Son 719).

The A-10 wasn't fielded in 1972. It first flew, in a fly-off, in 1972. (I was there) It didn’t hit IOC until 1976 or FOC until 1978.  Core operational concepts for Europe weren't developed until 1979 (I was there too).

The A-10 HAS to fly low and slow because it doesn’t have the kinds of sensors (SNIPER pods are an improvement, but not enough) and communications capabilities to sort out the battlefield well prior to the attack. It often HAS to loiter longer just because it takes longer to set up an attack.

The cockpit armor and other design features make it harder to shoot down that it would be otherwise, but having bits and pieces shot off you is not a long term survival strategy. A-10s in Desert Storm saw the most intense air defense environment they have seen before or since. They did not do well. A-10s were pulled off the Iraqi Republican Guard units and tasked against weaker units as a consequence.

Yes “A supersonic fighter pilot flying miles above the battlefield will not see enemy forces the way a Warthog pilot can” – They will see it better. I’m always fascinated by people who cite 'low and slow" as an advantage: as if flying there gives one more time to view the ground. That maybe true at Piper Cub speeds. But I’ve 'done' low and 'A-10 slow' a the same time and the scenery is whizzing by pretty fast. It ain't that great for picking up and following specific specs out of all the other specs.

A fast mover may cost more $ up front, but if the attrition rate is even a few percentage points lower, the savings, not to mention the ability to sustain operations, far outweighs the operating costs—even if you don’t factor in the fewer 'dead aircrew' part. THAT is the proper context for framing a statement like “Force requirements should be dictated by battlefield requirements, not budget restraints.”

The F-35 will provide CAS in its own way and not in the manner the A-10 provides it, so the open question is not whether or not the F-35 “can take the punishment the A-10 can”. The open question is:
Why do people think you have to take punishment like an A-10 to fly CAS?
The Warthog is still a low-intensity-conflict “hammer”: A Completely appropriate design (ignoring they are worn out) solution if ALL you are going to do is flatten insects. It is NOT so appropriate if you have to also be ready to face  Thor who is swinging his own hammer. Unless you have the extra dollars to buy and support both kinds of weapons systems to deal with bugs and Old Norse deities, you want the one that can beat the gods without getting beat yourself.

May I Suggest Some Remedial Reading?
Start at Part 1 (Links for Part 2 through 8 at bottom of Part 1).

Just found out where and how Driscoll got suckered in.


Seal Of Lion said...

Ever going to reply to ?

SMSgt Mac said...

Heh. I didn't even know about it. I may ask people to read the whole series and judge for themselves vs. reading a couple of quote out of context, but I think this just might be a good starting point for Part 9 of the Debunking CAS Myths series, documenting the CAS aircraft saga AFTER the A-10 was fielded. Thanks for the tip.

SMSgt Mac said...

Well after reading his blog a bit I've decided its not worth the effort. Anyone who would translate:

"But if the definition is in extremis, where ‘dedicated’ means “an aircraft optimized for CAS to the point that the Air Force believed fielding it would compromise overall force effectiveness, or would produce an aircraft too vulnerable to survive, without support in the threat environment, with aircrew trained ONLY for CAS missions, well then OF COURSE the Air Force objected to and resisted buying and fielding such a CAS force."

...into meaning the AF doesn't care 'enough' about the CAS mission is beyond the reach of reason. This is especially true in contrast to the definition I provided that the AF does 'comply with'.

But if I thought it was worth it, I would ask the author if he would agree with an equivalent statement on another topic. Such as:
"But if the definition is in extremis, where ‘dedicated’ means “an assault rifle that was optimized for clearing buildings to the point that the Army believed fielding it would compromise overall force effectiveness, or would produce infantry units too vulnerable to survive, without support in the threat environment, with 'legs' trained ONLY for clearing buildings, well then OF COURSE the Army would object to and resist buying and fielding such a narrowly missionized force."
And if he did agree, I would ask him why the cognitive disconnect.

I enjoyed some of his small arms posts, though.