Saturday, July 30, 2011

Centennial of Naval Aviation #3

1926 'Bare Base' Naval Operations
Here's a post for the "maintainers". I know it might be hard to believe for some, but Hawaii was once a 'frontier', where all the trappings of modernity were not available when and where they might be needed. This must have presented challenges, especially when dealing with the 'high tech' of 1920's aviation. 85 years ago, this was what 'bare base' operations looked like:

Photo taken by my Grandfather, Machinist's Mate on the USS Langley, taken in 1926 while the Langley was operating out of Hawaii. The caption in the photo album reads: "Naval Aviation Camp".
It is actually printed backwards in the original print. I flipped the image for this post.

Here's an interesting detail I extracted from the original (click to enlarge):

Nice 'hangar'-- (and check out the living quarters in the background).

-Photos Copyright SMSgt Mac at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 6

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
(scroll down for links to Parts 1-5 and 'Sidebars)

As noted previously, the A-10 design was from the very start designed to be operated in a ‘permissive environment’. This limitation had been a concern of AF planners since the A-10’s inception, and its vulnerability to weapons larger than those it was designed to encounter became more of a concern with the advent and proliferation of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADs) such as the SA-7 (and successors) as well as increases in numbers and types of larger mobile systems that filled the gap between short range low-altitude MANPADs and longer-range high-altitude fixed site systems (SA-2/3s and successors). Before the A-10 was even out of flight test, evidence that the battlefield was getting a lot nastier was seen in the 1973 Arab-Israeli ‘October War’:
Egyptian SAMs (SA-2s, SA-3s, and SA-6s) along with 23-mm ZSU23-4 antiaircraft cannons destroyed some 40 Israeli aircraft in the first 48 hours of the war, or 14 percent of the frontline strength of the IAF.3 In contrast, only five Israeli aircraft were destroyed in air-to-air combat during the entire conflict. Coupled with the high number of aircraft lost to ground-based air defenses in Vietnam, the results of the October War prompted some analysts to ask whether tactical aircraft had outlived their usefulness on the modern battlefield.(link)
Air planners saw the world’s Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADs) evolving at an alarming rate and anticipated that flying low-and-slow would soon be a poor survival strategy. 
Other developments were also occurring that would influence AF attitudes and decisions concerning future CAS capabilities:

1. Israeli successes with the F-16 in the Osirak Reactor Strike (air-to-ground) and the Bekaa Valley (air-to-air) “reenergized proponents of fast multi-role fighters”.

2. The emergence of the Army’s Air-Land Battle doctrine which “envisioned a faster and freer-flowing battlespace without a traditional battle line”. This was a doctrine that clearly favored use of a faster aircraft and operations that were less reliant on air-ground coordination.

3. The discovery that the A-10’s structural design life was significantly less-than-specified, and that would require remedy either via an extensive and expensive modification program and/or replacement of much of the A-10’s structure or the development of a replacement aircraft far earlier than anticipated.

All these factors contributed to the Air Force considering an A-10 replacement that was a ‘fast mover’ and viewing an F-16 variant as a good candidate for that replacement. Making aspersions that the Air Force ‘doesn’t want to do Close Air Support’ because it has sought (and seeks) to perform the mission using resources more survivable than a relatively ‘low and slow’ platform such as the A-10 says more about the ignorance of what is necessary in performing the CAS mission by those making such accusations than anything else. 
If one were to make a list of all the things that the A-10 brings to the battlefield that make it a good CAS platform, none of them are directly dependent upon the ability to fly ‘low and slow’ : its ability to fly low and slow enables it to provide timely and effective CAS in  many a highly permissive environment, but timely and effective CAS can be provided in any number of different combinations of weapon systems and tactics See here and here for examples. 

General Chuck Horner, the 'Air Boss' in Desert Storm, gets to have the last word on whether the A-10 or an A-10 'like' platform qualifies as the 'best' CAS tool in the future (LINK):
Q: Did the war have any effect on the Air Force's view of the A-10?
A: No. People misread that. People were saying that airplanes are too sophisticated and that they wouldn't work in the desert, that you didn't need all this high technology, that simple and reliable was better, and all that.
Well, first of all, complex does not mean unreliable. We're finding that out. For example, you have a watch that uses transistors rather than a spring. It's infinitely more reliable than the windup watch that you had years ago. That's what we're finding in the airplanes.
Those people . . . were always championing the A-10. As the A-10 reaches the end of its life cycle-- and it's approaching that now--it's time to replace it, just like we replace every airplane, including, right now, some early versions of the F-16.
Since the line was discontinued, [the A-10's champions] want to build another A-10 of some kind. The point we were making was that we have F-16s that do the same job.
Then you come to people who have their own reasons-good reasons to them, but they don't necessarily compute to me-who want to hang onto the A-10 because of the gun. Well, the gun's an excellent weapon, but you'll find that most of the tank kills by the A-10 were done with Mavericks and bombs. So the idea that the gun is the absolute wonder of the world is not true.

Q: This conflict has shown that?
A: It shows that the gun has a lot of utility, which we always knew, but it isn't the principal tank-killer on the A-10. The [Imaging Infrared] Maverick is the big hero there. That was used by the A-10s and the F-16s very, very effectively in places like Khafji.
The other problem is that the A-10 is vulnerable to hits because its speed is limited. It's a function of thrust, it's not a function of anything else. We had a lot of A-10s take a lot of ground fire hits. Quite frankly, we pulled the A-10s back from going up around the Republican Guard and kept them on Iraq's [less formidable] front-line units. That's line [sic] if you have a force that allows you to do that. In this case, we had F-16s to go after the Republican Guard.
Q: At what point did you do that?

A: I think I had fourteen airplanes sitting on the ramp having battle damage repaired, and I lost two A- 10s in one day [February 15], and I said, "I've had enough of this." ....
The Air Force Tried to Give the A-10 to the Army?
One of the most recent episodes fueling the “Air Force Doesn’t like CAS” myth often pops up in real and virtual discussions on the subject as a form of 'proof' or evidence is the simplistic claim that “the AF tried to give the A-10 to the Army”. This argument has its roots in a singular event after Desert Storm, when General Merrill McPeak, shortly before his retirement as Air Force Chief of Staff, proposed a radical change in DoD and Service responsibilities based upon his particular view of “roles and missions”. The A-10 ramifications were collateral damage in the scheme of things. It was McPeak's view that such a restructuring would reduce redundancy and exploit each Service’s strengths to the most effective level.

Per 'Learning Large Lessons' (p.197), McPeak asserted:
In my view, modern land warfare can be seen as containing four “battles”—the rear battle, which includes all the base and supporting elements; the close battle, in which the main opposing ground forces engage one another; the deep battle, which includes hostile territory well beyond the line of contact; and the high battle, the arena of air and space combat. . . . The rear and close battles should be the responsibility of a ground forces commander, an Army or a Marine Corps officer. His forces should be capable of relatively autonomous operations—they should be capable of engaging the enemy in the friendly rear and immediately in front of them, without a lot of outside help. True, the ground commander has a deep and abiding interest in what goes on overhead in the high battle or over the horizon in the deep battle and he may even have some capability to get into these fights. But, his forces are not the most effective for the high or deep battle. Air assets provide the best, most often the only capability to operate in these parts of the battlefield. . . . [T]his approach to dividing battle space provides a logical starting point for identifying unnecessary overlap and duplication. If you accept the scheme I just laid out, it follows that the commander with responsibility for the close battle does not require systems or capabilities that reach across the boundaries into the deep and high battles. If there are such systems in the field or on the drawing board, they might be good candidates for retirement or transfer to another service. Alternatively, the commander with responsibility for the deep battle does not need forces that are configured for direct support of close combat operations. If there are any, they too could be transferred out. 
McPeak called for the Army to give up the ‘deep battle’, the Air Force to give up ‘close battle’, and called for, among other things, the other services to get out of ‘space’ operations. His proposal (thankfully) went nowhere with the other services nor anyone else in the Air Force. Thus, the ‘give CAS to the Army’ was the idea of one man – now long gone and most definitely ‘not missed’, as part of a complete realignment of service roles and missions, essentially dictated by geography of the battlespace.

There were very large problems with inter-service cooperation and conflict that McPeak saw and was trying to solve. The challenge was real, but his solution would have created as many problems as it would have solved, even without entrenched interests subverting such an effort (and there would be). Desert Storm experience, if it did nothing else, clearly exposed the Army’s parochial and incorrect view that Airpower is nothing more than a support element. When in reality it should be viewed as a maneuver element.
Updated and expanded references 7/28: Some excellent papers on differing Airpower-as-manever-or-support views (large .pdf files at links):
Thunder and Lightning: Desert Storm and the Airpower Debates (1995)
Airpower and Maneuver Warfare (1994)
Integrating Joint Operations Beyond the FSCL (1997) (Army POV with AF POV Intro)
Unity of Effort: Crisis Beyond the FSCL (1999) (Army POV on resolving ambiguities in Joint Doctrine)


Thus we have found:
1. The Air Force supports the CAS mission better now than when it was part of the Army.

2. The Army was the primary antagonist in creating inter-service friction over CAS post-WWII and in it's Army-Centric way of war it continues to generate friction to this day.

3. CAS is a mission NOT a platform.

Post Script: 
There were a lot of sub-topics we could have pursued and I was/am tempted to further explore the effects of organizational culture and tendencies of the services on the CAS debate, but I fear that will drive the discussion down a ‘rabbit hole’ from which there may be no return. There are also some interesting dynamics now changing the Army’s way of fighting that could lessen the perceived friction between the services, but I am content to simply monitor them for the present time. I could have also expanded greatly on what makes up 'Effectiveness' for a CAS mission. Finally, the Marines insistence on being the primary provider of CAS as an organic USMC function is another topic for another time.

Update 7/27/11@~19:45hrs: Added part of a response that Gen Horner made in the Q&A above that had been dropped in copying the file from a word document to Blogger.(Now the answer makes sense.)

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Second Edition: 
Part 7: Sourcing AF Hates A-10 Nonsense
Part 8: The AF 'Had To" Buy a CAS Plane?

CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

(scroll down for links to Parts 1-6 of CAS Myths and another 'Sidebar')

The current (IMHO myopic) Army view of airpower persists in relegating the AF to a permanent supporting force, and is highlighted by an incident just before the Desert Storm ground campaign kicked off (boldface emphasis mine):
A few days before the ground war commenced in February 1991. . . he [General Schwarzkopf] met with his subordinate commanders to discuss the land offensive. General Horner explained his Push CAS modus of flowing airplanes to the battlefield twenty-four hours a day (rather than keeping them idle while sitting alert). When General [Frederick] Franks ignored what Horner had said and demanded that VII Corps be allotted hundreds of CAS sorties per day (whether needed or not), the airman angrily disputed the allocation of air power in that manner and reiterated his Push CAS procedures. Horner believed it important for unity of command to let his anger show as he vehemently rejected Franks’s claim for so much unfocused air power. He remembered his outburst having no effect: “Everyone looked at me and said, ‘Well, he fell on his sword; isn’t that quaint.’” General [Walt] Boomer jumped in and requested as many dedicated sorties for his Marines, and General [Gary] Luck joined the “run on the bank” and demanded as many CAS flights for his XVIII Corps. The ground commanders argued for their sorties, but after a while Schwarzkopf called a halt to the debate, reminding all present, “You people don’t understand. It’s all my air, and I’ll use it any way I please.” “That ended the argument,” Horner recalled, “and we maintained centralized command.” The CINCCENT [commander in chief of Central Command] depended upon his JFACC to ensure that all the ground commanders received adequate air support.  
But having failed to divide Airpower into subordinated chunks prior to the ground war, after the ground offensive kicked off Army ground commanders insisted on placing their Fire Support Control Lines so far ahead of their forces that it hindered the Air Force’s ability to engage interdiction targets once the ground war started (source: Revolution in Warfare: Airpower in the Persian Gulf, Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen (1995), pp. 133–134 and partially cited in “Learning Large Lessons”):  
FSCL, Coalition aircraft could attack only under direction from ground or airborne controllers. This procedure could cost time to coordinate the actions and required suitable weather conditions and the presence of a controller to execute the attacks: far less weight of fixed-wing air power could be brought to bear under such circumstances. . . .
Because the FSCL definition said little about coordination of weapons employment beyond the FSCL the corps commanders considered supporting fires beyond the line as “permissive,” requiring no further coordination. That is, they resisted any restrictions on employing missiles or helicopters beyond the line and saw attempts to include such strikes in the ATO as efforts to put their organic firepower under JFACC control. To avoid JFACC control, XVIII Airborne Corps advanced the FSCL well north of the Euphtates River on 27 February and thus reserved an area for attack helicopter operations unconstrained by any requirement to coordinate with the JFACC. The effect of this was to hamper air power’s ability to destroy escaping Iraqi ground forces until the FSCL was finally pulled back after several hours.
Corps commanders at times set the FSCLs for their respective corps at different distances. which sowed confusion and complicated air-ground coordination. This practice continued until Gen Horner established a Desert Storm operation-wide FSCL that approximated the distance that corps commanders could effectively engage the enemy with their indirect fires including the MLRSs.       

The Army POV of the FSCL and its placement was of course quite different and focused on the limitations imposed on them prior to the kickoff of the ground war:   
....[b]ecause the Air Force absolutely would not fly short of the FSCL before G-Day, we kept the FSCL in close to facilitate air attack of division and corps high priority targets. This caused two problems. Every [artillery] fire mission or AH-64 [attack helicopter] attack beyond the FSCL had to be carefully and painstakingly cleared with the Air Force. Even counterfire required this lengthy  process. Equally bad, air sorties beyond the FSCL were completely the domain of the Air Force. VII Corps could nominate targets beyond the FSCL, but could never be sure they would be attacked.
Two points of view. One takes into account the entire battlespace and the other is centered on the individual corps forces. The corps commander's focus on their responsibilities is perfectly a point. I leave it to the reader to decide which POV holds the greater effectiveness and potential for victory.
Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'

The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
(scroll down for links to Parts 1-6 of CAS Myths and another 'Sidebar')

The AGM-65 Maverick missiles launched by A-10s were one of the most effective weapon combinations in Desert Storm.  This point should come as no surprise within the A-10 community, but again we are fighting against human notions and human emotions. During TASVAL 79, where the A-10's fundamental operational concepts and tactics were born, 57TFW (Tactical Fighter Weapon Center)  pilots initially tended to prefer attacking with the GAU-8 gun over the AGM-65 Mavericks. The short story is: They DIED...alot. TASVAL scenarios were very intense: realistic fluid battlefronts, and real and simulated threat systems that drove nap-of-the-dirt maneuvering, usually pop-up engagements, and coordinated attacks either with a four-ship A-10 flight, or a similar force working with Army attack helos. Towards the end of the deployment, experienced pilots would advise the replacement pilots to press with the Mavericks against the Air Defense first, use their missiles up THEN press with the gun. When they followed the old hands advice they lived. When they followed the 'Cult of the Gun' they were the only A-10 drivers 'killed'.

I never knew for certain if the 'lessons learned' from TASVAL had been carried forward until Douglas Campbell wrote about it in his (~9575%) definitive book [10/28/13: Just finished dissecting Campbell's thesis the book is based upon and now have serious reservations concerning the quality and selectivity of his sources] on the history of the A-10 "The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate". His book has the first references I've ever read of  TASVAL (other than an Army Mental Health paper on the extraordinary divorce rates among Army participants at Fort Hunter Liggett) and confirms the lessons DID go forward.

But though the lessons went forward, so did the Cult of the Gun. Using the 'Gun' is visceral. I had conversations on this topic with my late Father-in-Law who flew the first F-4Es in SEA out of DaNang. He flew with the 4th TFS 'Fuujins' , then with the 366th TFW "Gunfighters". His favorite air to mud configuration was 20mm centerline and 2 more 20mms on the wings on top of his 20mm cannon in the nose. He likened the satisfaction of attacking with the gun to reaching out and touching the target.

I believe some of the same feeling he conveyed can be found in this C-Span Video interviewing Eric 'Fish' Salomonson and his wingman John 'Karl' Marks (Segment starts about 1:30 into the clip). These pilots 'killed' 23 tanks (and 10 damaged) flying three missions in one day. I remember watching this video the first time it aired. The 'pool' reporter asks some hilariously stupid questions at times so the whole video is pretty entertaining. At first I thought that the kill mix was 12 'gun' and 11 'missiles' because Salmonson mentions he had a 'bad Maverick' (~7:41) on the last sortie, but less than 10 seconds later he's asked about the mix and Salomonson tells the reporter the ratio was 17 kills with the Maverick and 6 kills with the gun. Keep that in mind as you watch the pilot's reaction at the ~11:20 mark when the reporter asks what it looks like when 'a Maverick hits one of the tanks' and listen to their comments: "huge explosion", "turret blew completely off", "spinning through air" etc. Then about the reporters ask (about the ~21:17 mark) about the effect of 'the cannon' and get in response: "not quite as big a boom", just "see flashes", "usually a little bit of a delay if it does light off"... etc ,,and then about 30 seconds of commentary on how it's harder to use (takes more skill).  But when they get asked (~21:54) about "of all the weapons" which weapon do they they prefer?

Lt Marks closes his eyes, smiles and then Salomonson says: "The Gun".
 Salomonson elaborates further including closing his eyes for a moment as if to relive the feeling in his head as he says....
"There's nothing like it."
There's no better example of the visceral power of 'the gun' than this interview. 16 (oops) 17 certain nearly instantaneous kills with missiles vs. 6 'slow cookers' and 10 'possibles' with the GAU-8...and they prefer the gun.

We're such irrational beings aren't we?

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 5

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
(scroll down for links to Parts 1-4,6 and 'Sidebars)

As a result of the 1966 study, the AF immediately launched an effort to field a dedicated CAS aircraft that would replace the (believed to be) best CAS aircraft of the time: the A-1 Skyraider. The A-1 was a naval strike aircraft developed towards the end of WWII and fielded too late for combat. It was used in Korea as a capable bomb-truck, and was re-invented for counter-insurgency warfare. An important planned improvement seen as needed in a Skyraider replacement was a better capability against ‘hard targets’, and this requirement dominated the replacement effort. The replacement program went through two major rounds of capability and mission analyses and numerous minor tweaks before the final A-X requirements were issued. All of these events were ‘fast-tracked’ by any contemporary definition of the term, which only highlights the point that the AF was NOT dragging its feet in bringing into existence a better CAS platform.

Epilogue: Ironically, a showdown on CAS between the Cheyenne and what was to become the A-10 was avoided -- as the Cheyenne program sank by the weight of its own technical requirements and ambitions.

A-10: An Aircraft Developed for a Milieu
As mentioned above, one of the requirements for a new CAS platform was more capability against ‘hard targets’. The ‘A-X’ Requirements Action Directive was issued for a specialized CAS aircraft, heavily armed, that could loiter for extended periods, and escort slower-moving aircraft. It was to have a crew of one, be comparatively ‘light weight’, and low maintenance. Although it was to provide armor protection to the pilot and critical systems, it was to be designed for operation in a ‘permissive environment’. According to the Air Force Center for Systems Engineering Case Study on the A-10:

Although the intended operating scenarios stressed a permissive environment, the CFP was to consider the feasibility of incorporating a limited air-to-air missile capability as a defensive measure. Survivability from ground fire was an essential characteristic for the A-X. Structural and system design would need to provide inherent survivability, to include self sealing fuel tanks and, if power flight controls were used, a manual backup system would be provided. The pilot and critical flight systems would be protected from 14.5mm projectiles (common Soviet Anti-Aircraft shells). The aircraft was to "incorporate maintainability characteristics which will make it possible for this system to meet its combat operational objectives with a minimum of maintenance effort and expenditure.
The definition of ‘permissive’ may be somewhat vague, but given what the threats were at the time, and the above paragraph statements we can safely presume it meant something similar to the circa 1966 South Vietnam environment: Small arms fire, some light anti-aircraft weapons and at least local air superiority. It was most definitely not conceived to face MANPADs or to go toe-to-toe regularly with ZSU-23 'Shilka' systems.

Initially, the ‘best’ A-X configuration was conceived to be turboprop powered, but by 1970 progress with high-bypass turbofan technology prompted the A-X program to direct potential contractors to examine using turbofan configurations. This change in plans created some interesting configurations to be submitted for development. Some of the concepts are illustrated below.

These were two of the early turboprop design concepts submitted to the Air Force:

General Dynamics Turboprop Concept

Northop Turboprop Concept

Here are the two turbofan concepts selected for prototyping and the so-called “fly-off” competition.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 ‘won’ the fly-off (another complicated and not all that clear-cut story for another series of posts sometime) and was put into production.

The twisted path of procurement, deployment and employment, modernization, life-extension, and ownership for the A-10 could fill several books, but this summary from an Air Force Case Study Report (in which the authors themselves somewhat ‘buy into’ Air Force CAS myths) is a fairly good and concise synopsis:
The A-10 aircraft had an inauspicious beginning for an Air Force that many have suggested only wanted the Air force to keep the Army from 'taking over' the CAS mission. The Air Force always believed that a fast multi-role fighter was a better choice for the feared war in Europe, but agreed to procure the A-10 for contingencies and “limited wars” like Vietnam. For its part, the Army seemed to like the A-10 as long as it did not threaten its own development of attack helicopters, and on several occasions the A-10 did appear as a political threat to continued funding for those helicopters. Despite these challenges, the Air Force did embrace development of the A-10 and produced a specialized CAS aircraft that would prove effective in a variety of operations throughout the world (fortunately for mankind in the 20th century, a shooting war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact never erupted, and it never became necessary to prove the A-10’s mettle against the armies and air forces of Eastern Europe). Close attention to key mission characteristics (lethality, survivability, responsiveness, and simplicity) allowed concept formulation and subsequent system design to result in an effective CAS aircraft, and design-to-cost goals kept the government and contractor focused on meeting the critical requirements at an affordable cost. The A-10 did not meet all its cost goals, but it came much closer to them than most major defense development programs did in that time frame or since then.
My only problem with the above paragraph is that it discusses how ‘well’ the program was run to meet cost and performance objectives in a manner that divorces the ‘qualitative’ from the ‘quantitative’ aspects of the A-10. To assess how well the program REALLY worked out we have to be aware of some of the A-10 ‘challenges’ that are not mentioned. Two paragraphs after the above, some caveats to this glowing appraisal were presented:
Alas, no program is perfect, and the A-10 provides no exceptions to that observation. Overlooked problems associated with production readiness and contractor financial stability did not go away and had to be resolved far too late in the development program. More significantly, the original structural design proved inadequate for the design life, and even fixes during production were inadequate for all but the latest aircraft produced.
Not mentioned above was the difficulty the designers had in de-bugging and integrating the 30mm cannon into the airframe, including getting past the gun’s tendency to ‘jam’ and engines ingesting the gun gases that eventuated with the loss of a test aircraft due to a double-engine flameout and a seriously injured test pilot as a result. Yet the program marched forward, as the ‘need’ was seen as pressing and real.

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Monday, July 25, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 4

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
(scroll down for links to Parts 1-3,5,6 and 'Sidebars)

In June of 1966, the AF Chief of Staff directed a study to determine if the AF was providing satisfactory support to the Army in Vietnam. By August the results were reported: The Army was generally satisfied with AF support, but in performing survey and decoding the results, the AF found that the Army, in the course of their ongoing experimentation and development of Air Assault and Air Mobility doctrines, were actually EXCLUDING the AF from certain missions and for 'fulfillment' by helicopters.

The survey also found that [due to the needs of the new Air Mobility concepts] the AF lacked the capabilities to 'perform helicopter escort and suppressive fire roles'. Thus, given the changes to Army operational doctrine, the finding meant that the multi-role platform approach (i.e. using aircraft such as A-7D for CAS when needed) wouldn't satisfy the perceived need for helicopter ‘escort’ and ‘fire support’ roles as the missions were then conceived and conducted.

Most remarkably, the 1966 discovery of the ‘exclusion’ of the Air Force from supporting Army missions was not even the first time it was ‘discovered’, nor was it the first time that the Air Force made an attempt to improve the situation. There is strong evidence that this schism between the services on CAS was driven by the Army’s aggressive ‘Airmobile’ aspirations appeared even long BEFORE the US began engaging in major ground combat in Vietnam.

According to “The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1961-1973” (Office of Air Force History, 1977) Army ‘Airmobile’ adherents were attempting to develop and expand their ‘Airmobile’ modus operandi without an AF fixed-wing aircraft support even before the Air Force (the American one anyway) was a major player in Vietnam:
Meanwhile, U.S. Army advisors were working to develop ARVN airborne helicopter assault tactics, using equipment of two U.S. Army companies which had arrived in Vietnam in late 1961. Almost at once a problem arose over fixed wing/air-ground coordination. According to directives issued by the newly organized U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV), all helicopter operations into areas where enemy opposition was expected were required to have fixed-wing tactical air cover. U.S. Army corps advisors who controlled helicopter usage, however, tended to ignore the requirement.
In April 1962, during a visit to South Vietnam, General LeMay learned that Army advisors were not calling for fixed-wing air support, that only about 10 percent of ARVN heliborne operations were accompanied by VNAF aircraft, and that the Air Support Operations center at Ton Son Nhut frequently were not informed of such operations. Concerned about this situation, LeMay subsequently obtained permission to assign air liaison officers (ALO’s) to all ARVN corps and division headquarters and USAF forward air controllers to augment VNAF liaison squadrons…,(pp 16-17)
Thus we see that as early as 1962(!), the Army was already pushing the Airmobile ‘way of war’ using ARVN operations as their laboratory, and the Air Force was already proactively seeking to support the ground forces in Vietnam as much as possible. Yet four years later the formal study findings showed that the Army was still pursuing a ‘go it alone’ Airmobile approach. It is therefore clear that a more reliable case can be made for the statement that the Army “did not want” Air Force CAS than there is for stating the Air Force “did not want to” perform the CAS mission.

This exclusion of the Air Force from missions generated by Army planners must have created a mistaken impression concerning AF ‘interest’ in CAS for a far larger number of men completing the mission on the ground who were not involved in mission planning who might have wondered ‘where was the Air Force?’ when they really would have preferred to have the AF overhead. One wonders how this misperception of the Air Force interest and support might have been exacerbated even more by the limitations placed on Army escort and fire support helicopters as the Army-Air Force conflict deepened. The big question is:
How many times were the men on the ground on the ‘losing end’ of the CAS conflict because the Army "couldn’t" support while the Air Force "wasn’t even asked"? 
When this author began asking the question ‘why’ the Army excluded the Air Force from mission planning, there was a range of possibilities to consider. One rational explanation as to why the Army was excluding the Air Force from some force packages might have been that Army mission planners perceived the task of integrating the faster-moving AF assets with slower helicopter forces as ‘too difficult’. After researching the issue in some depth, I have to conclude that at the root of the problem, was Army Airmobile advocates wanting to prove their concepts as much as anything else. But this does not tell us exactly ‘why’ they wanted to prove them. Without knowing ‘why’ it was important to the Airmobile advocates to promote the self-escort and fire support to the detriment of Air Force support and cooperation, we can never know exactly the reason others within the Army chain of command did not solicit the Air Force for ideas on the subject, if indeed there really was a problem. It is difficult to believe that the men working CAS at the lower levels weren’t acutely aware of the ‘problem’ and easy to see that their frustration had to have been great.

To support the force packages (where the Air Force was being excluded) the Army was using armed helicopters for escort and suppressive fires, and decided the solution was to seek larger, more heavily armed helicopters as a solution to correct their shortfalls. It is anyone’s guess how an alternative history would have unfolded if the Army planners had chosen to seriously seek a joint solution by working with the Air Force instead of persistently planning the Air Force out of the solution. Some alternative histories are plausible based upon what the players were doing at the time. For instance, the Air Force was trying to field new precision capabilities at the time that could have benefitted the CAS mission and vice versa: such cooperation might have brought precision strike capabilities to fruition a decade or two earlier than it actually occurred. This is not to make the point that such a capability would have been developed, but that there were developments that could have been employed that did not require development of a new class of aircraft or possibly even weapons, ‘if only’ collaboration had been sought.

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 3

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
(scroll down for links to Parts 1,2,4-6 and 'Sidebars)

Update: DefenseTech has a thread going now that couldn't be a better example of the Power of Myths.

Update 2 (6 Feb 12) DoD Buzz has another thread going that couldn't be a better example of the Power of Myths.

Because the Vietnam War would be a war fought quite unlike those before it, the 'lessons learned' from earlier conflicts proved to be less than ‘completely’ helpful in Southeast Asia. It is not that Vietnam could not have been fought much like WWII, or even Korea, but that the lessons were less than useful because Vietnam was not fought as wars before it. Political exigencies and choices made by the US civilian leadership to NOT risk escalation through more 'vigorous' execution minimized the impact of the past lessons learned. It is well documented, that when North Vietnam risked its forces with more exposure through more conventional military operations their forces were dealt with decisively by air interdiction and ground forces, and that when we chose to pursue aggressive strategic bombing and mining of the North, such efforts (as in 1972’s ‘Linebacker II’) produced decisive military results.

Changes in Army Operational Doctrine Gives Rise to the CAS Dispute
As outlined in Andrew Krepinevich’s 1986 book “The Army and Vietnam”, the conflicts and issues between the ‘Regular’ and ‘Airmobile ‘Army factions in the early 1960’s can be viewed as the factors that essentially forced the greater conflict with the Air Force. The Airmobile advocates (such as General Robert R. Williams) really wanted to prove their concept in a higher-intensity conflict arena than Vietnam and feared that proving the concept in Vietnam would not be enough to convince the non-believers in the Army that Airmobile Forces were desirable in a more conventional role. But the ‘Regular’ Army adherents would not entertain the conversion of heavy forces to airmobile forces for conventional warfare purposes. It was only due to pressure coming from the OSD that compelled the Army to do ‘something’ and form the first airmobile division. In “The Army and Vietnam” Krepinevich appears to address these internal and external conflicts as separate issues, yet much of how we recounts the history unfolding virtually screams to this reader that it was Army Airmobile ambitions and internal friction that fueled the push for organic winged (albeit ‘rotary’) fire support, and it was this push that fueled the Army-Air Force conflict on the same subject. I believe this perspective is reinforced by known events and actions leading up to (for the lack of a better term) ‘major ground involvement’ in Vietnam.     

By 1965, the Army, in the pursuit to improve their attack helicopter capability to support their air assault concept, had been increasing the spending for upgrading armament on the existing ‘interim’ AH-1 and was well along in working towards fielding something called the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System. Readers will more likely know it as the AH-56A Cheyenne if they know of it at all. Existing DoD doctrine in 1965 allowed the Army to pursue rotary wing solutions to providing ‘suppressive fire’ support that could augment but not replace CAS. The Army was thus developing its ‘Airmobile’ doctrine and sought to expand acquisition and use of both rotary and fixed wing aircraft to support it. In particular, the Army's effort to acquire more Caribou and Mohawk aircraft was seen as trespassing into AF missions and the effort was shot down at the SecDef (yes, ‘McNamara’) level and NOT at the Air Force level. Lest one assume this was due to some ‘anti’ army-aviation bias on the part of Secretary McNamara, it should be noted here that it was McNamara who supported the Air Mobility advocates within the Army in standing up Aviation Brigades. McNamara’s support was given in opposition to the positions of the more conventional warfare advocates, up to and including supporting the diversion of funds from heavy divisions to acquire Airmobile capabilities, and such support was given years before America moved beyond the ‘advisory’ stage in Vietnam.

The 'fixed wing expansion' attempt shot down by McNamara, combined with the Army's efforts to field the Cheyenne (the roots of which also reach back to circa 1962 before major involvement in Vietnam) was seen by some in the AF as proof of the Army's intent to expand beyond the 'suppressive fire' mission and into the CAS arena. This was due to the quantum leap ahead in rotary-wing capabilities (high speed, advanced avionics, 30mm gun, grenade launcher/mini-gun, etc) that the Cheyenne represented.
Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne (US Army Photo)
Indeed today, the Cheyenne is often thought of as a ‘hybrid’ (helo-fixed wing) design. This apparent attempted ‘mission creep’ on the part of the Army did nothing to reduce tensions between the AF and Army.

There were Congress-critters taking sides (largely the Army’s) in the debate, and one in particular, U.S. Representative Otis Pike, played a major role in bringing things to a head. He convened a hearing in late '65 and his committee’s findings released in early 1966 criticized the AF for not being more “serious” about fielding a better CAS capability. These findings were in spite of the on-going AF effort to field an interim platform (The quite effective ‘fast-mover’ A-7D) while searching for a more permanent solution. IMHO, Pike’s background as a WWII Marine aviator probably ‘poisoned the well’ on the issue, since Marine Aviation’s sole reason for existence during WWII was to support the Rifleman on the ground. Like many of my ground-dwelling brothers-in-arms, Pike probably confused/confuses CAS with Airpower, instead of recognizing the first as a subset of the second. As it will be noted later, in reality the Army was generally happy with the AF’s CAS capabilities with the only exceptions related to helicopter escort operations, so it appears that ‘someone’ was overstating the case against the AF on CAS for reasons that are anyone’s guess.

There was a behind-the-scenes cooperative effort at the highest levels that occurred within this highly politicized environment to resolve -- or at least lessen--the ‘CAS’ friction between the Army and Air Force. In the Spring of 1966, the Army Chief of Staff General Harold Johnson and Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell “met secretly to resolve air support differences that the Vietnam War had aggravated” (Douglas Campbell, “The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate”). They arrived at a compromise agreement that changed the criteria for dividing responsibility from aircraft weight to aircraft type. The Army was thus allowed to provide helicopter fire support and the Air force retained the CAS mission. As in all compromises, no one was completely happy.

A cynic would assume that the Army, or at least nefarious members thereof, were consciously attempting a turf takeover to support their Airmobile aspirations. But a more likely (to me) explanation is that the situation at the lower levels of command was more along the lines of the Army Airmobile commanders wanting to control as much of their own destiny as possible by making as many of their ‘fires’ as organic as possible and at all times, including when in contact with the enemy. This desire has appeared to have been pursued with single-minded purpose since the earliest days of Vietnam to the modern era, without too much concern for the unintended consequences to the overall ability to eliminate the enemy, or reducing his capabilities PRIOR to contact. [I believe Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom operations and AF-Army friction during give some validity to the second explanation.] Pick your own root cause, but all the evidence suggests Army commanders have consistently demonstrated an insular and expansionist tendency that clearly flags them as the chief instigator of friction between the services on the CAS issue. I assert that what will follow is some fairly strong evidence of the Army’s culpability in fostering the ongoing interservice conflict over CAS.

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 2

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
(scroll down for links to Parts 1,3-6 and 'Sidebars)
Learning Large Lessons’ has the most cogent and concise summary (p. 12) of the state of Air-Ground operations in WWII and throughout most of the Cold War that I have ever read:
In World War II, and during subsequent major conflicts, each service largely fought independently. This is not to say that the Army and the Air Force have not effectively integrated their capabilities in the past. Nevertheless, the most effective “systems” of cooperation were generally developed in the field—not by the institutions responsible for training, organizing, or equipping forces—because the need was so great. Perhaps the most compelling example of this development of closely integrated air-ground capabilities can be found in the experience of General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group in Europe during World War II.
 The above is followed by a citation from Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945, by David E. Johnson (1998):
A postwar review of operations in the European theater asserted that the Army’s failure to develop air-ground doctrine meant that means of cooperation had to be invented extemporaneously in the field. In the combat theaters, ground and air commanders were forced to create ad hoc procedures for tactical air power because their superiors provided no centralized direction. . . . The final after-action report of General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group emphasized that “the air-armor team is a most powerful combination in the breakthrough and exploitation. . . . The use of this coordinated force, in combat, should be habitual.” Thus, although air support of ground operations played an important role in the Allied drive into Germany and procedures were continually improved, the initiative came from below. In the combat zones, where Americans were dying, intra-service agendas were discarded and field expedients were devised to overcome institutional agendas. 
It wasn’t ‘Air’ ignoring ‘Ground’ at the higher command levels -- the “ignoring” part cut both ways.   I submit that since the early Vietnam era through to today, our Air and Ground forces have been far more integrated, and increasingly so, than in WWII. I also submit that in the post Goldwater-Nichols Act world, the (joint) doctrine driving the integration now actually does ‘come from above’. The principles, techniques, and tactics of our Air Force ‘air’ (and space) and Army ‘ground’ forces are now developed and practiced ‘jointly’ in peace and then applied and adjusted ‘jointly’ in war far more often than any time in history.
Pre A-10 CAS: “Secondary Missions” NOT “Afterthoughts”
The Air Force philosophy for ‘matching aircraft to mission’ leading up to Vietnam was that aircraft designed for the most demanding mission requirements and hostile environments could also be employed to satisfy what was perceived as less demanding missions and less hostile environments. This wasn’t an original ‘Air Force’ idea, but a legacy of Army philosophical thought from WWII and before. Learning Large Lessons points out no fewer than three times that the existence of an Army having forces (of all kinds) prepared for the most demanding missions was presumed to also be capable in turn of dealing with lesser contingencies. This tenet has roots that go back to the Army’s 1923 Field Service Regulations and has survived through to the modern era at least up to the Army’s 1986 FM 100-5 ‘Operations’ Manual and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff’s 2001 JP 3-0, ‘Doctrine for Joint Operations’ (superseded in 2006). Preparing for the most demanding missions on the assumption that a force could then deal with lesser ones therefore is a tenet completely consistent with long-standing ARMY philosophy, firmly rooted in ARMY doctrine, and which the Air Force inherited. That the Air Force worked under the belief that it could satisfy the Close Air Support (CAS) mission using: 1) aircraft designed with capabilities developed for other air-to-ground (strike) missions, 2) by multi-role aircraft, or by 3) aircraft modified for air-to-ground missions that had been originally designed for air-to-air roles can hardly be criticized as ‘Air Force’ short-sightedness.

These doctrinal beliefs were built upon experience so were not mere assumptions. The relevant 'lessons learned' in WWII and Korea were that Strategic Bombing and Interdiction were far more ‘decisive’ than providing CAS. The relative decisiveness of Strategic Bombing and Interdiction was ‘true’ for several reasons, not the least of which was that Strategic Bombing and Interdiction missions had the highest probability of hurting the enemy and the lowest probability for killing our own people. This should be unsurprising, given the weapon delivery accuracies of the day, as well as the primitive state of the art of air-ground coordination and communications. It can also be said, that Strategic Bombing and Deep Air Interdiction missions posed the greatest challenges for aircraft design (range, speed, defensive armament, payload) and posed the greatest risk to the aircrews. However, from an “execution” point of view, CAS was/is the more complex mission: it presents the mission planners with the worst possible consequences of failure combined with the highest demand for precision.

Part 1: The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Friday, July 22, 2011

Debunking The Close Air Support Myths: Part 1

CAS, the Air Force, and the A-10
(scroll down for links to Parts 2-6 and 'Sidebars)

I've posted a bit of what I’m about to cover in different places as comments, including one in response to a Strategy Page piece quite a while ago, but my hope is that this series will serve nicely as a single-point source for me to refer others. There is so much mythology surrounding the Air Force, Close Air Support and the origins of the A-10, that one is constantly running into it on the web -- which I’ve found to be extremely tiresome over the years (This post should save me bags of time in the future). My overarching goal is to provide evidence, if not proof, that certain myths that have risen concerning the title subjects are indeed ‘myths’. I also realize that there is no moving some people off a well dug-in position (especially some--not all—of my brothers-in-arms on the ‘grunt’ side of the family who seem to have employed the mental equivalent of a stainless-steel nuclear-powered trenching tool). I would at least hope the information here shakes and cracks the foundations of their close-held, albeit groundless, beliefs.

The “Big Two” Close Air Support (CAS) Myths
There are other myths out there, but I view the following as the ‘Big Two’.

Myth #1: “CAS Was More Important to the Flyboys When the Air Force Was Part of the Army”
This one usually gets trotted out as a solution to a perceived (i.e. not necessarily actual) discrete ‘problem’ or event. It usually makes the news every time Air Force-wielded Airpower doesn’t “make somebody’s day” (regardless whether or not it was busy was making MANY OTHER ‘somebodies’ day at the time). You will also hear it whenever a non-CAS acquisition program comes under scrutiny. Something like:
“Never mind more F-##s! We need more planes like the A-10 or A-1 or (fill in the blank – preferably with some ‘prop job’)!”
Or more obliquely …
“Put the AF back into the Army like in WWII and then the money will be spent on the ‘right’ aircraft!”
There is no basis of fact to suggest either of the above is true. I believe they are usually uttered by those who, to paraphrase Dr. Thomas Sowell, “see only problems with single solutions” and never think in terms of answers involving ‘tradeoffs’. In this case their single solution would be based upon a non-existent major premise, that is to say, they propose a solution that is in search of a problem.

Myth #2: “The Air Force ‘Doesn’t Like’ Close Air Support”
This one has several variants. Among the most popular are versions of “Fighter Pilots just want to zoom around in the sky”, or “The Air Force would rather shoot down other airplanes than help the troops on the ground”. Believers in this myth often point out that their ‘proof’ is in the lack of a dedicated CAS aircraft post-war design prior to the A-10, or wild claims that by the Air Force wanting to phase out and replace the A-10 at various times, with aircraft that did not have the same physical and operating characteristics that the AF didn’t really care… as if a different approach somehow represented a desire to abandon the ‘grunt’ on the ground. The wildest claim of all IMHO is that the post-1947 Air Force had to be metaphorically dragged to CAS in a ‘shotgun wedding’ of sorts: i.e. the idea that the Air Force was allegedly ‘shamed’ or ‘forced’ to provide CAS and/or buy the A-10 by an indignant and righteous Congress/Army/public (pick one or more). All of these claims are demonstrably false.

Debunking via Historical Review

Close Air Support From 1940 through the Korean War
At times in this post--and in this section in particular-- I will be relying on content and sources found in RAND’s “Learning Large Lessons: The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era”. Despite the title, it provides quite a bit of information prior to the Post-Cold War Era as perspective on what the ‘roles’ were/are evolving ‘from’.
From the front matter of the publication: “Several of the generals who developed and employed the air-ground cooperation system for the U.S. 12th Army Group during World War II in Western Europe at Fort Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany on April 6, 1945. From left to right: Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., 3d Army; Major General Otto Paul “Opie” Weyland, XIX Tactical Air Command; General Omar N. Bradley, 12th Army Group; Major General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Ninth Air Force; Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges, First Army; and Major General Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada, IX Tactical Air Command. (U.S. Army photograph), collection of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service”

I’ve referenced this publication many times on various comment threads, so forgive (but don’t try to stop) me if you’ve “already heard this one”. The PDF version is free online at RAND (LINK) but you can also order a hardcopy from RAND at the same link or from Amazon.

Note: In reviewing the front matter of this material I find that Dr Christopher Bowie, “Deputy Director, Air Force Strategic Planning, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force (AF/XPX)” was the sponsor of this publication in 2007. I may have noticed it before and it didn’t ‘click’ that I should mention it, but in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that in past years I have performed some minor analyses for Dr. Bowie, have cited his peer-reviewed journal and RAND publications in my own work, and have communicated with him on rare occasion, mostly by e-mail, on sundry ‘Airpower’ topics.

When the United States entered World War II, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall oversaw the reorganization of the Army to deal with the demands of the global conflagration. The Army in effect divided itself and reorganized into three autonomous components: Army Air Forces, Army Ground Forces, and Army Service Forces. Therefore, the idea that creation of the U.S. Air Force also created a sharp break of some bond with the U.S. Army’s ground forces is simply not true. The separation of ‘air’ and ‘ground’ started before WWII and the separation was just moved one step up on the command chain in September 1947.

The use of ‘Forces’ term in these descriptions is indicative of the separation by ‘types’ of force to be employed. During the war (WWII) the separation became more formalized. When the Army published its 1943 manual on “Command and Employment of Air Power” (FM 100-2) it included this rather stark and explicit statement on the “new relationship between Army ground and air forces”: 
“Land Power and Air Power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other.”
The 1943 manual went further and defined command relationships that have been passed down through time and are still recognizable within today’s joint doctrine. (Text in [brackets] are mine and describe the modern corollary for emphasis):
Control of available air power must be centralized and command must be through the air force commander if this inherent flexibility and ability to deliver a decisive blow are to be fully exploited. Therefore, the command of air and ground forces in a theater of operations will be vested in the superior commander charged with the actual conduct of operations in the theater [today’s Combatant Command Commander, ex: CENTCOM], who will exercise command of air forces through the air force commander [today’s Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC)] and command of ground forces through the ground force commander [today’s Ground Component Commander (GCC)].
 Therefore we see that even before there was an Air Force as a separate military department, there were separate forces and that the Army leadership had already put the key tenet of the modern Air Force in place: ‘Centralized Control’ with ‘Decentralized Execution’. This basic Airpower tenet is therefore an Army creation; NOT an Air Force one.

So how did CAS “work” in WWII? Was it better in 1941-46 and only later marginalized or ignored by the ‘new’ Air Force from 1947 on as it is claimed by some? Were things ‘better’ when it was an ‘Army Air Forces’ mission?

In a word: NO.

Part 2: Those "not so good old days”
Part 3: Vietnam and the Rise of the “No-CAS Air Force” Myth
Part 4: Origins of the A-X Program
Part 5: Defining a New CAS Platform: the Evolution of the A-10
Part 6: A-10s 'Forever' ?
CAS Myths Sidebar: The A-10 and the 'Cult of the Gun'
CAS Myths Sidebar: Army-Air Force Views on CAS and Airpower

Second Series:
Part 7: Sourcing ‘AF Hates A-10’ Nonsense
Part 8: The AF "had to" buy a CAS plane?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hoss Cartwright on Long Range Strike

Looks like Hoss is Still a Little Slow, even when trying to circle the wagons to protect the Womenfolk and Rice Bowls. I suspect the Rice Bowls are more important.

Well, Adam and Little Joe were always the smart ones.

p.s. the General is a fighter meat-servo. He's got the brains to know better, but it smells like he's got one very big Long Range Blind Spot.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Army of JSF-Haters STILL Short of Logicians

I'm back home (as of 00:30 hrs) Thursday from a business trip. Blog-wise, my immediate aspirations are to try to 1) ferret out the real Next Gen "Semi"-Long Range Strike story and 2) close out a substantial CAS Mythology post in my little 'spare' time.

BUT! since someone 'asked' for a comment on the latest "F-35 is Evil" drumbeat (especially one so loaded with snarky false confidence) and it is such an easy request to fulfill....I figure, eh-why not?

Latest 'Isn't This Just Awful' F-35 scare headline from Flight Global: "Lockheed adds $771 million to early F-35 production bills."  I suspect Steve Trimble might not have written the original headline, but if he did.... 'meh'. Headlines, if done properly, should draw the reader in. If the story is boring, it is not unheard of to have the 'zing' come from careful phrasing of both headline and story. Such careful delivery allows interested and targeted readers to overwrite their own bias and beliefs into the piece.
This headline gets transformed into the less accurate: "Early F-35 costs increase $771M, Lockheed says" at DoD Buzz.

So.... 'why' are these 'early' bills/costs/whatever "increased"? Trimble's original Flight Global article contained the 'bottom line', faithfully parroted at DoD Buzz:
    The $771 million reflects the impact of the 2004 weight reduction redesign on the Lockheed’s production system, the company said. The redesign carved off thousands of pounds of excess weight, but suppliers could not keep up with the flow of design changes. That led to late delivery of parts, then extra labour hours to install them outside of the normal manufacturing sequence, the company said.
    As the F-35 continues to be developed even as the first production models are delivered, the $771 million bill also includes the cost of future modifications to make the aircraft standard with jets delivered after the development phase ends in 2016.
    It is possible that the bill for LRIPs 1–3 could be reduced in the future. “The F-35 team is focused now on any opportunity to reduce the concurrency estimate and improve the final cost-to-complete on these early production lots,” Lockheed said. the cost of the 'production system' weight-reduction redesign, for building all three variants in the entire fleet built between then and the last F-35 to be delivered someday probably decades from now , as well as its impact on the aircraft built during the weight reduction redesign effort, is 'billed' in the present time, and this 'bill'  might even be reduced in the future, since it assumes future costs included in the 'bill' as well?

At the end of the DoD Buzz article, the fever swamp known as the 'comments section' does its usual 'kill the witch' thing until a commenter "Another Guest"  tries to inject a little sanity:
    I'm sure an Australian, other fighter manufacturer marketing rep, or nauseus dog will try to correct this uninterested observation. Trimble's article implies these costs were related to 2004 weight reductions to meet F-35B STOVL requirements by shaving weight off parts common to all variants and unique to the Marine model.
    An assumption then follows that this is a one-time expense...caused by the Marine requirement that no other aircraft can duplicate. It constitutes one quarter of one percent of total program costs while ensuring better performance of all aircraft types to include decreased fuel consumption that may retrieve some of the cost.
    From LRIP 5 on, LockMart will assume more, if not all over and above costs. BTW, a Gripen/Raptor/F-15SE (or F-16, F/A-18) mix would be nowhere near as effective with most aircraft obsolete against future threats at far higher acquisit[i]on costs than Tee claims. Seen any F-22s flying lately, bombing Libya or Afghanistan, being sold to allies, or replacing Naval service aircraft?
Well said.  Of course now the denizens of the fever swamp are furiously trying to 'down-rate' his comment, as if that means anything. But let us look at the hard numbers behind 'Another Guest's cogent observation on the costs involved in this 'bill'.

Compare these two charts:
 Extract from a Canadian briefing on the F-35
How the $771M 'Bill' breaks down over the whole program 

From these two charts we can readily see that even with a massively reduced F-35 buy, the 'cost' of the weight reduction re-engineering amortized over the number of units built comes under a piddling $1M/unit. In any case the end cost is still far, far, (millions $ for the A model, and I would guess similarly for the B and C) below the unit cost difference between 'actuals' and internal estimates.

In short: Add the cost of the weight reduction and to-date you are still delivering aircraft well under internal cost estimates on the curve and those costs are trending orders of magnitude lower than the bulls*** CAPE estimates.

Thus we now understand what the 'bill' is.

Now Let's Talk "Value"

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
--Oscar Wilde

What did we as taxpayers get in return (Besides ensuring an 'executable' STOVL version)? We could do an analysis of the design changes to see where lower weights translate into lower stress and wear and tear and in turn higher reliability and fewer failures and balance that against the ledger where reduced weight may have increased probability of failure or loss, but we don't have sufficient data. I would suspect the balance is positive in 'reliability', but cannot prove it. All I do know is that the entire program is being managed to constrain Total Life Cycle Costs.

What we CAN easily perceive is that since the airplanes weigh 'thousands' of pounds less at the lighter weights, the fleet will almost certainly burn BILLIONS of Dollars LESS fuel over the operational life of the fleet. A common aircraft design rule of thumb that shakes out from the Breguet range equation is that for every 1.00% of aircraft weight removed, ~0.75% less fuel is required.  3000 aircraft, 8000 hr operational life, SFC ~.7 as basis for fuel the math.

The 'McCain' angle is just a red herring. McCain is (still) just a self-aggrandizing, hot-headed a**hat. What else would anyone expect from him?

Hat tip Solomon at SNAFU: Heh. Bill Sweetman 'double-downs' on the topic. I should have used the words 'Anti-JSF drumbeat' more. Honestly, what brand of stupid do you have to sniff to try to amortize the total 'bill' for re-engineering production capability for the entire fleet against just the first 31 aircraft?   Whomp, Whomp, Whomp.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

From "The Hill" --Think tank to Obama: Defense budget not your domestic ATM

H/T Instapundit.

From an article at The Hill ...
The Heritage Foundation marks the moment when President Obama lets the mask slip and reveals his real priorities:
“The nice thing about the defense budget is it’s so big, it’s so huge, that a 1 percent reduction is the equivalent of the education budget,” Obama said, immediately noting he was “exaggerating” the exact numbers.
 Only by an order of magnitude Mr. President. Only by an order of magnitude (~13X).

Mr. President, the 'nice thing' about the defense budget is that it is one of the few things in the Federal Budget that actually belongs there....unlike all that other crap you want to spend it on.

The Heritage Blog Post that was the source of The Hill's article also mentions some specific problems with how "Defense" is (not) managed by the current Administration:
What the President left out is the impact his “modest changes” are having on our men and women in the Armed Forces. The poster child for stupid defense budgeting is the F–35: how the Administration has stretched out, exaggerated the costs of, and played politics with funding for the military’s next-generation fighter aircraft. Today’s air forces are the oldest in the history of U.S. air forces. Replacing old airframes and ensuring the U.S. maintains its superiority over potential adversaries is a national security priority.
Yet Obama has done little to show he takes the challenge of modernizing the air fleets seriously. Particularly troubling is his penchant to let the Pentagon slow-roll the fielding of the F–35B (the vertical takeoff and landing version of the fighter for the Marine Corps). The answer may be, as one defense analyst notes, “Put the Obama Administration on Probation, Not The F–35B.”
Today, the Marines are stuck with aging airframes that have limited capabilities and are expensive to operate—a double problem. In contrast, the “B is a winner on both counts. The impact on the fleet is significant. The Marines go from three to one aircraft; and it gets a new aircraft with significant reductions in cost of maintenance.”
The fate of the F–35 is a case study in the President’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to defense spending. 
President Obama's early successes depended on enough people believing "He surely doesn't mean that!" when every stupid idea was brought forth. His problem now is that more people take his Regime's machinations at face value.
P.S. I had NO idea there was an F-35 story at the end of this string when I started pulling it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Deliver Us From Bean Counters

I’ve been ‘taking to task’ a hyperventilating commenter over at DoD Buzz who goes by the handle ‘Engineer_Economist’. He (I am assuming he is a ‘he’) is in a fully formed outrage over what he claims is the completely failed and doomed F-35 program. He bases his claims on what I see as  superficial knowledge of what might be the actual status of the program and what IMHO publically mimics a school-house awareness of the acquisition process (see for yourself here). It is entirely possible that he has worked one or more 'smallish' programs (as compared to the F-35), but doubtfully anywhere near a Program Manager level. This experience seems to have reinforced a dogmatic, and incorrect belief that the acquisition process must be implemented according to strict interpretation of a very rigid paradigm, and if not then there is a certainty that chaos and failure WILL result. When and if he someday runs a program, he will find there are many ways to ‘skin a cat’ within the bounds of the acquisition process. When and if he someday gets involved in a program with major political ramifications, then maybe he’ll see where real program chaos comes from.

In the linked-to comment thread, I gave him a challenge (my typos corrected):
I haven't avoided your arguments at all, just cast scorn on them as hybris-ridden rantings of a program manager wannabe. If you can't Grok that the objectives and goals of the processes are more important than the processes themselves, that we have rules and processes to foster success and order--not to DEFINE success and order, that is not my problem. Let me flip your arguments back on you: tell us EXACTLY WHY what is so overarchingly important to you, should be just as important to me, and EXACTLY WHAT will be the consequences if your worst fears come true if no one listens to you....and I will post a complete ‘fisking’ of it at my place.
'Engineer_Economist’s' response:
yes you have avoided the arguments and you are still avoiding them. you have faith in and are selling us on the unit cost estimates when development is far from complete. again, I have to explain to you, the F-35's latest SAR shows MS B as being rescinded, and all the dates for IOT&E, IOC, MS C, FOC, are all TBD. That means there is no schedule. They canceled the DAB that was supposed to determine these dates. They can't even hold the DAB the program is so screwed. If you'd pay attention I wouldn't have to REPEAT to you over and over again why this matters. F-35 continues the repeated failing pattern of late, overbudget, and underperforming programs. If we continue to reward such programs, the problem will just get worse and worse. We will fail to properly recapitalize our defense system portfolios, forcing us to operate legacy systems longer & longer and greater risk. If I just say "DMS" are you able to make the connection or am I going to have to explain THAT to you as well?
And now, I fulfill my promise
The only 'splaining' you've done is to yourself –and it is more appropriately called ‘rationalization’. Simply declaring you are ‘right’ about something without supporting facts or claiming doom without explaining how and why “B” will follow “A”. Stating what form it will take and assertion of doom with certainty) does not explain much less prove diddly-squat. The irony here is that if you had managed to judiciously insert a few ‘perhaps’ , ‘mights’, or ‘increased chances of’, I don’t think hardly anyone would have have had a problem with your comments. But instead you pretty much only insist repeatedly that the 'formalities must be observed' and declare that because they’re not occurring according to a script (as you believe they should be), then an epic program failure is happening all around us. And all of your outrage is based upon ... made-up and poorly understood (public) cost estimates (and expectations) as well as your frail outsider understanding of actual schedule drivers and impacts to-date, and all with no idea of the nature of program or what risks are behind it or what the risks are that sit ahead. The program does. DoD does. Political posturing aside, I believe even enough of Congress does. You don't, and are in a sophomoric snit about it.

Let the Fisking begin!
Your argument is sufficiently vague to ALMOST evade ‘fisking’, but not vague enough.
We’ll take your key ‘points’ in order.
>RE: ” …the F-35's latest SAR shows MS B as being rescinded, and all the dates for IOT&E, IOC, MS C, FOC, are all TBD. That means there is no schedule. They canceled the DAB that was supposed to determine these dates”
Such hyperbolic breathlessness! Schedules and progress don’t magically disappear based upon a declaration of a Milestone do-over or reprogramming, so rescinding MS B doesn’t mean there is no schedule or budget baseline. It DOES mean that the program is still working to a previous baseline while it is developing updated schedules and budget forecasts for a new baseline. 
>RE: “They can't even hold the DAB the program is so screwed…”.
No. It means that because the F-35 is a VERY large and complex program, nothing is easy - even bean counting. In fact, if you read around a bit, I believe you will find that the biggest driver in delaying the DAB is the reconciliation of the so-called ‘independent’ CAPE and program cost estimates. The PEO wants to get things right, and ensure as much actual program data is available so the DAB is now slated for sometime in the Fall. Good on him.
"It was decided: why don't we let a little bit more of the performance of the program both in test and production play out through the summer; why don't we let that integrated master schedule get finished, do a schedule risk assessment of it, present that to service leadership, let them ponder IOC [initial operating capability], let the operational test planning complete," said JSF program executive officer Vice Adm. David Venlet. "Then, rather than set a baseline now with a whole bunch of go-finish-your-homework assignments, we will go finish the homework and then present the new baseline for [Pentagon procurement chief] Dr. [Ashton] Carter's approval in the fall of this year."
….The delay is a matter of being thorough, not an indication of new problems, Venlet said.
"That is not a sign of alarm. It is, I think, a determination to continue in a deliberate fashion with good solid fundamentals applied to get things done," he said.
Thus we find the JSF program is evidently not “so screwed” as the ranting of a PM ‘wannabe’ might lead us to believe and insists MUST be true in spite of evidence otherwise.  
>RE: “…. If we continue to reward such programs, the problem will just get worse and worse. We will fail to properly recapitalize our defense system portfolios, forcing us to operate legacy systems longer & longer and greater risk.”
I think we may assume that you are using the term “reward” metaphorically for deciding to continue pursuit of a program instead of a literal and illogical ‘reward/punish’ paradigm. Mission need and the cost of meeting that need versus the risk of not being capable of meeting that mission need is all that matters in determining the viability of a program. To-date, the F-35 program is seen as executable by those responsible, and the mission need remains in the eyes of the users. As I’ve noted before, outside observers on the sideline don’t know diddly, never have – never will.

On CAPE estimates and comparisons for casual readers dropping in:
My ‘opponent’ gives much credence to external estimations (that employ varying assumptions, (many of which are irrelevant) that predict outlandish costs In the out-years, yet completely discounted the fact that LRIP 1-3 deliveries have beaten internal program cost estimates to-date and are trending downward. Like many, he chose to believe external numbers. I choose to believe my ‘own lying eyes’ and the information in front of them. [BTW: I suspect these same internal estimates are now showing adverse impacts to earlier LRIP 4 and 5 due to constantly imposed program ‘tweaks’, but I also predict they will STILL be significantly lower than the farcical external estimate methodologies, including CAPE’s.]
Since reconciling the CAPE estimates with actual costs to-date and internal cost projections is a sticking point that will remain with us for some time, I cannot pass up this opportunity to highlight some known aspects of the CAPE estimate -- and how much ‘relevance’ the government really (vs. publically) places on CAPE estimations… and we need not look any further than how the LRIP 4 negotiations were conducted [emphasis mine]:
Lockheed Martin officials take issue with the Pentagon’s APUC estimates, which come from the cost analysis and program evaluation (CAPE) office. “The CAPE model uses production costs derived from the F-18 and F-22 programs and extrapolates them out to 2037 using only a 50-percent confidence level,” Steve O’Bryan, vice president for F-35 business development, told AIN. “That model takes no account of our plans for lean production, nor our much lower supplier costs. For instance, we can buy an F-35 radar for half the cost of an F-22 radar. We can make the same order of savings on the electronic warfare system and other avionics, including the single-piece plasma screen in the cockpit.”
Moreover, he added, the APUC figure includes military construction necessary to support the F-35 and a portion of the support costs. The F-35 comes complete with radar, avionics, defensive systems and so forth, as well as weapons pylons, he noted.
“While the U.S. government uses the high independent estimates for program budgeting purposes, it holds the contractor to an entirely different standard in contracting for the actual aircraft,” another Lockheed Martin spokesman told AIN. Negotiations for LRIP Lot 4 (low rate of initial production) have been under way in the weeks leading up to this week’s Farnborough show. The government’s offer was 40 percent lower than its own CAPE estimate for this lot, while Lockheed Martin’s opening bid was 20 percent lower than the same estimate. “We’ll settle somewhere in the middle of that range,” the spokesman added.
And so a LRIP 4 production deal came to pass. [As a side note, I find it interesting how many of the major aerospace websites covered the same story at the time. They somehow seemed to have ‘missed’ some of the more ‘affirmative’ details concerning the F-35. (Just saying)]
The above quote also highlights the pivotal bookkeeping hook that ‘some’ are using to draw inappropriate (since the end purpose appears to be nefarious -- might I say “unfair”?) comparisons. Whereas F-16/F-18/AV-8 costs tossed around are essentially the URF [my note: ‘Unit Recurring Flyaway’ cost], we note that the F-35 numbers tossed around  by critics these days are estimated  “APUC”[my note: Average Procurement Unit Cost]. This is not trivial, so an example is in order:

Mod programs to bring early production aircraft up to final production standard have typically been booked against the APUC and are thus missing from F-18/F-16 and AV-8 URF numbers, But these costs ARE included in what is being thrown around concerning the F-35. These high jinks are not unprecedented: Pushing the APUC costs in the public mind has been an increasingly common tactic of incumbent programs (not just by contractors – do NOT underestimate entrenched DoD constituencies):
Comparisons between the acquisition costs of the F/A-18E/F and an attack capable version of the F-14D, such as the F-14D Quick Strike, have been highly conjectural because of conflicting estimates of development and production costs, and projected inventory requirements . In mid-1991, Department of Defense (DOD) officials estimated their flyaway unit costs in FY1990 dollars as $33 million for the F/A-18E/F vs. $44.5 million for the F-14D Quick Strike . F-14 supporters noted, however, that flyaway costs do not include development costs, which would be several billion dollars for the F/A-18E/F vs. several hundred million for the F-14D Quick Strike . They noted further that these flyaway costs assumed annual buys of 72 F/A-18s vs. 24 F-14s, and they argued that comparable 72-plane buys would reduce the cost of each F-14D Quick Strike to $34 .5 million, approaching the cost of an F/A-18E/F. “ (p.10)
When evaluating mercantile claims critical of ongoing programs, it is best to always consider Cui bono?” While the incumbent contractor’s ties to their commercial interests are obvious, it still takes a certain willful ignorance to pretend those assailing an ongoing program are not serving what they perceive to be their own self-interests.

Additional Notes on the Use and Abuse of Cost Numbers
In a rational world, we could leave the question of whether or not the JSF program is progressing, is ‘worth it’ and has the majority of its ‘risk’ behind it with an answer of definitely “YES” . We can also answer a similar question as to if the JSF program still needs to be managed carefully to ensure the plans and program are successfully implemented in the years to come with an equally emphatic ‘YES” (I am aware of no one who disputes the second point) . But I think given the disconnect between the hysteria generated by JSF-detractors in their public-relations war against the F-35, and actual program status, a couple more points should also be made.

1. SDD costs are running higher than first projected. That anyone would think stretching the SDD to reduce program and production risk would not have adverse cost impacts speaks more about those who think such lunacy than the program itself. Squawking about increased SDD costs as if they were some unexpected anomaly without acknowledging the role that decisions made to ‘buy down’ risks had in the cost increase is disingenuous. I would blame decisions made solely by Lockheed Martin for exactly one year’s worth of schedule delays to-date, and that was because their plan was to fully staff the program faster than any program had been staffed before, but did not change any of their staffing processes or ground rules: you can’t get different results unless you do things differently. Ironically, this delay is about the only one that we can point to that contributed relatively little to the SDD cost growth: if you don’t hire the people to begin with, it doesn’t cost the program for people they don’t have to not do the work. Conversely, if you stretch your plan after the people are on board, it costs big $ to have a capability run in place. Conversely, if you elect to cut deliverables after your program is staffed up and running, you are burning dollars while running in place. I’d like to know what the costs of cutting the LRIP batches are. This would include not only the costs of LRIP production batches, but also the costs added by suppressing the learning curve needed to achieve full production rates. There’s also a PhD thesis ripe for the picking for some industrious candidate in this problem: Develop a methodology to trade off the costs of early production units having to be modified to later baseline configurations against the increased costs of production units with inhibited learning curves. The trick is to make the methodology transparent enough for innumerate policy makers to understand. Good Luck.

2. Given that the F-35 program is replacing (from the US point-of-view) 4 existing aircraft weapon systems, shouldn’t the SDD cost of replacing more than one weapon system (at least two?) be the standard by which the F-35 SDD program costs and schedules are declared “too high”? (some other thoughts on ‘perspective’ and other factors here) I submit that the SDD cost increase would have to be significantly greater than the current projected bill before the JSF SDD costs became anything less than a ‘tremendous bargain’.

About the worst that could ever happen at this point is for the program to ‘break even’ and that is only if some VERY major technological hurdle pops up that no one yet sees. I think the chances of such a big ‘uh-oh’ moment are highly unlikely this late in the program. (This not to say the weak sisters among us don’t try to manufacture a crisis every time a little hiccup comes along)

In closing, it must be mentioned that at the root of all the confusion, claim and counterclaim concerning costs, is the fact remains that no one has ever presented a complete line by line comparison and analysis of the cost numbers, or the legitimacy of their underlying rationale, being thrown about.
Nor is there a reason to – the decision makers have the numbers.