Friday, March 06, 2015

The Air Force Reaffirmed "A-10 retirement decision" in a "Week"

Anyone with reasonable exposure to the 'issue' could have done the same thing. 

If I thought anyone was interested, I could lead a little online systems engineering exercise. Except we'd have to endure the "Because Big Gun!" argumentation. You already know where I stand on that 'point'.

And Ohohohohohohoho the A-10 fanboys of the U.S. Nostalgia Force are going to go ape-you-know-what over this one.
After a week of concentrated study of its close air support (CAS) role, the US Air Force essentially has decided to stick with plans to gradually retire the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and hand the CAS mission to the Lockheed Martin F-35.
It really just took a week to run everyone involved at the top through the relevant information already in hand.

The CAS "controversy" has been studied to freakin' death leading up to this moment, and it's not exactly like ANYONE who has paid attention doesn't already know the USAF has been looking at A-10 obsolescence growing......... like, forever

The article at FlightGlobal lays out pretty much what one would expect.
1. Phase out A-10 and phase in F-35 (as planned all along
2. Look at alternatives to fill any gaps during the transition (as F-35 capabilities mature). 

That's not 'too complicated' is it? 

Some good details at the link, such as still having dedicated CAS units (Which I note did no good to appease the 'A-10 forever!' crowd the first, last, any time.

If I were to open a group SE exercise to derive requirements for a CAS aircraft, I would start by asking "What capabilities are necessary in a CAS plane?

After the dumb*sses with the 'big gun!' ,'fly slow!', derived qualities spouted off, and if we even cared, we would probably employ the 'Five Whys' approach to backing out the top-level requirements. Example: Why do we need a big gun?, and then based upon the answer, ask why that answer was valid, and etc back to the truly top-level requirements. In doing so, we would arrive at a list of characteristics: effective targeting, responsiveness, lethality, survivability, persistence, etc.
F-35 optimal attack profile with GAU-22 vs. 
A-10 Optimal Attack Profile. F-35 rounds per
square meter density is approximately double 
A-10's even at a much longer, safer range.    
There would be multiple paths that could be followed to meet a desired top-level requirement: a 'Big Gun with lots of ammo' is but one technical solution to 'lethality'.  But we also have 'effective targeting' which does not just support overall lethality objectives -- it also includes "safe to employ" as one of many sub-elements of "effectiveness". So once we got into looking at the optional material solutions we could select for 'lethality' we would then perform tradeoffs among the many desired attributes, and many of them will be contrary to each other. A balance among all of the attributes would have to be achieved. 

Done to Death

But we don't have to do this study. It's been done to death. And it wouldn't have to have been done very well at all to produce an argument that beats PFC Short Stroke's anecdotal recollections of 'that day in the 'Stan', UNLESS we can count on CAS not ever/likely needing a 'better' (as in 'survivable in a medium-high threat arena') weapon system than the A-10. If you can't guarantee a low-threat battlefield future, you have NO basis for preserving an asset that is only survivable in a low-threat environment. That's not the only reason the A-10 needs replacing, but it ought to be the easiest one to grasp.        



TinkersDam said...

Sometimes it seems like you're the only person on the web actually presenting reasoned arguments for A-10 retirement. Everyone else just repeats the same old half-truths, or outright falsifications, ad nauseam. "The AF hates the A-10 because it isn't a sexy fighter jet/ doesn't cost enough / only does CAS." "Congress almost made the AF give it to the Army." "Nothing else is as good at killing tanks as the GAU-8."
And so it goes, forever it would seem. From time to time I expect to see Gen Welsh wind up a press conference with "Look, just go read Elements Of Power, okay?" but let's face it, the press is more concerned with military sexual assault statistics than airframe modernization.

Marauder said...

There was a Joint Think Tank Event where CSBA, AEI, CNAS and CSIS each "wargamed" their own Future Years Defense Programs. Practically the only unanimous decision was to retire the A-10.

Unknown said...

The US seems to do a lot of fighting in low threat environments. The A-10 is not the ideal aircraft for them, but we already have a few hundred of them and they're cheap. sending a f-35 when a cheaper plane will do is a waste of money.

SMSgt Mac said...

Hi Cassander,
I would say keeping a low-threat-only airplane that can only fly in low-threat scenarios, when you need to have a system that can survive a high-threat environment that by default can operate in high AND low threat environments is a complete waste of money, and more importantly an unnecessary risk to life and treasure.
Since we have potential high-threat scenarios sitting right in front of us (Ukraine, Korea) now, it also doesn't take too much imagination to see that just because we've been able to operate in the sandbox the last couple of decades, doesn't mean we will get such freedom going forward. In fact, I believe we've now reached a modern day'Dangerous Times' (even putting politics aside): We vanquished the Evil Empire and then rested on our superior technological a** too long before recapitalizing the high-end systems milking that so-called 'Peace Dividend'. The A-10 is going away no matter what happens. We've worked miracles with it to keep it flying this long, and upgrades can only do so much. The A-10 wasn't overbuilt like the BUFF to start with, in fact all but the last ones were under-built. The A-10 is 'done'- time to stick a fork in it.
My observations and opinions aren't surprising, but they are well- founded in experience and history.

RON said...

Being on the ground side in the fires business for going a generation now, I have used the full gambit of US fire support assets ranging from mortar all the way to Mk84 class weapons in both combat and training. I have seen the psychological effects and actually physical effects on both friendly force and the enemy. Often the usage of weapons don't result in enemy dead or wounded no matter how much estimated BDA/BHA figures are produced.

The A-10 is one of the better fixed wing CAS platform but not the best CAS platform, the 130 is the best platform out there (I group in KC-130s with Harvest Hawk kits and the AC-130). In general right under the C-130 based platforms rotary wing CAS (or CCA in army parlances) fills most of the requirements and does it better than fixed wing aircraft but its slow transit speed to the target area and limited weight of weapons (somewhat mitigated with PGMs) limited to those times when I don't need an entire building destroyed. When I need the type of "throw weights" brought in by non-gunship, fixed wing aircraft than just about anything works.

Most people attempt to sell the A-10 based on its 30mm gun, which is its least effective weapon; the simple fact is forward firing gun runs may look cool but probably are best as only a suppressive fire system because they hardly ever kill the enemy. If you want to kill people, the best way to do it is put high explosives on the designated mean point of impact. People have to remember when the GAU-8 was it was designed it was built around killing T62 era tanks; testing done in the 90s on modern Russian armor acquired on the grey market showed with the armor fielded in the last 20 or so years ago the 30mm would probably only be able to disable instead of killing it.