Document created: 1 June 03
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2003
Neglected Air Force Combat Missions
Maj Collin Ireton, USAF*
*Major Ireton is the A-10 chief pilot and A-10/F-16 developmental test pilot with the 40th Flight Test Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
In Operation Desert Storm, the US Air Force showed the world how to kick down the front door of a Soviet-designed and -equipped advanced integrated air defense system (IADS). Stealth technology and tactics neutralized command and control (C2) centers, early warning radars, and ground control intercept (GCI) sites, blinding the Iraqis and forcing uncoordinated operations. Effective use of air superiority fighters led to a complete rout of Iraq’s fixed-wing air force. The IADS broke down, leaving only an air defense effort with neither systematic approach nor integration and allowing the effective use of suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) operations by F-4G and F-16C aircraft against the remaining pockets of activity.(1) With the destruction of C2 nodes and the Iraqi air force, as well as the moderately successful suppression of ground-to-air defenses, a high-threat arena became a medium-threat arena. These actions opened the way for the destruction of large numbers of strategic and tactical targets through interdiction and close air support (CAS), as well as other required missions such as combat search and rescue (CSAR).
Perhaps such success as this partially justifies the tremendous fiscal outlays for a “kick down the door” force. The acquisition of specialized aircraft such as the B-1, F-117, B-2, and F-15E, although costly, ensures our ability to penetrate and destroy both C2 centers and a host of other strategic targets. The new joint family of inertially aided munitions (IAM) gives these aircraft the tools to do the mission, day or night, in almost any type of weather. Surely this ability to destroy fixed targets represents one of the Air Force’s greatest strengths.
Another strength, although it is slowly eroding, lies in our counterair capability. Development of the AIM-9X and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System; incorporation of the advanced identification, friend or foe (IFF) in the F-16; and continued superb performance of the AIM-120 will slow the erosion of our lead. The F-22 will reverse the trend and clearly define air dominance over hostile aircraft as another Air Force strength (at about $92 million a copy, it should).(2)
The ability to destroy or suppress the plethora of ground-to-air threats constitutes another strength. Since the Vietnam War, the concept behind the F-100 Wild Weasel has evolved considerably. Today’s F-16C, equipped with the high-speed antiradiation missile (HARM) Targeting System and a family of joint weapons, increases our ability to destroy and suppress ground-to-air threats. Acquisition of the unmanned combat aerial vehicle ensures the Air Force’s ability to kick down the door of any advanced IADS.
We are spending sizeable amounts of money and devoting much effort to forcibly enter an enemy’s territory and then gain and maintain air dominance. But what resources are being outlaid to do what we came to do: step through the door and systematically destroy the enemy’s centers of gravity? The Air Force tends to take the assets that enabled entry and use them to deliver body blows. The B-2 is great at what it was designed for; but it cannot hit moving targets, roll into a CAS line, or go down below the clouds and find, identify, and kill Scud missiles. Neither F-117s nor AC-130s fly around during the day looking for artillery tubes that are pounding friendly ground troops. If an F-15E attempts to provide CAS, more than likely it will be doing as ineffective a job as it did at Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan.(3) An F-16 might do these things, but almost as soon as it begins killing, it has to leave for more weapons and fuel—and the same will hold true for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The money the Air Force is spending on support roles such as counterair and SEAD is out of proportion to the money it invests in the ability to find, identify, and destroy large numbers of tactical (mobile and fixed) and strategic targets at a tempo the enemy cannot withstand. Our service must continue to support its commitment to US ground forces by providing ample and decisive CAS; it must also support CSAR operations with a suitable platform. The lack of fiscal planning to these ends threatens the Air Force’s future ability to dominate the battlefield. Air superiority and SEAD do not, by themselves, bend an enemy to our will. They are only support roles; the ability to put bombs on target impels the enemy to see things our way.
Close Air Support
Because CAS directly supports our ground troops in contact with the enemy, it is extremely important. Conducting CAS without inflicting casualties with friendly fire requires a high degree of teamwork between the ground forward air controllers (FAC) and the CAS aircrews—a skill that takes aircrews years to perfect and that requires constant honing. A typical fighter swinging to a CAS role may do a passable job when the enemy is several miles from friendlies. But a troops-in-contact situation requires professional CAS providers. One need only consider the recent situation in Afghanistan in which the force attempting to rescue Navy SEAL Neil Roberts found itself in need of CAS. After an hour’s wait (apparently no CAS assets were in orbit or on ground alert, standing by for just such an occasion), F-15E Strike Eagles arrived. Not designed for CAS and flown by aircrews not trained for troops-in-contact CAS, the F-15Es made only ineffective strafing runs.(4) Our troops deserve better.
As long as the United States possesses the initiative, can choose the time and place of the conflict, and decide whether or not it will commit ground troops, CAS may seem a secondary concern. But when we cannot predict the time and place of combat or do not have the luxury of months of setup before committing troops, CAS becomes critical. More than likely, the next conflict will not be like the last, so we must be prepared to fight without the initiative.
In the Korean conflict, we quickly learned that slow, propeller-driven aircraft performed CAS better than the fast, jet-driven aircraft. For this reason, ground forces valued Marine F4Us above F-80s and F-84s. The success of the Douglas series of A-1/AD Skyraiders in Vietnam made it obvious that a heavily armed, survivable, long-range, high-loiter-time, slow aircraft was ideally suited for CAS. Today’s F-16s and tomorrow’s F-35s are akin to the F-80s and F-84s of yesteryear.
Combat Search and Rescue
The Air Force has a long history of keeping the faith with downed aviators. Aircrews take comfort in knowing that the Air Force will do what it takes to rescue them. It’s also comforting for the civilian leadership as it denies aircrew exploitation—and for the public, who takes no joy in seeing its finest dragged through the streets of an enemy capital.
Traditionally, a good CAS asset has proven a good asset for CSAR, which involves escorting helicopters moderate distances at slow speed, finding the aircrew, and loitering while the choppers attempt the rescue. It may require large amounts of well-placed, timely ordnance. Again the slow, long-range, high-loiter-time, large-payload Skyraiders of the Vietnam era were the weapons of choice to fly “Sandy” missions.
CSAR keeps aviator morale high. The rescue of Capt Scott O’Grady from Bosnia in 1995 lifted the spirits of his comrades as well as those of the nation. It also kept him from being exploited by the enemy, which could have had serious political implications. The abuse of a US serviceman’s remains by hostile Somalis certainly played a role in demoralizing the American public and pushing political objectives aside. Like CAS, CSAR is a critical Air Force mission that requires teamwork and skill; coordination, complexity, and flexibility on par with those for CAS; and a dedicated cadre of aircraft and crews.
Heavy Interdiction and the Arsenal Aircraft
An arsenal aircraft would prove useful in any low- to medium-threat theater with numerous mobile and fixed tactical or strategic targets. Such an aircraft would act as a force multiplier by freeing up more dedicated and expensive platforms for specialized missions and would use a large, varied payload and increased staying power to pound numerous targets. It would also act as a “dollar multiplier” by performing the jobs of several more expensive aircraft, carrying perhaps three or four times the payload of a traditional fighter.
Bridging the gap between fighter and bomber, an arsenal aircraft, like a bomber, would exceed the traditional fighter’s firepower, range, and loiter time, thus reducing dependence on tankers. It would employ ordnance in the manner of a fighter through level or diving bomb, cannon, and missile attacks. The aircraft’s robustness would allow it to operate from forward operating bases and roam extensive areas to locate, identify (sort decoys from real targets), and destroy fixed and mobile tactical targets as well as strategic targets, using the correct weapon for each one. It could acquire targets visually with a targeting pod or through handoff from a Rivet Joint aircraft. An arsenal aircraft also would have the maneuverability and survivability to operate either day or night in a medium-threat environment.
Such an aircraft could take off, release a partial payload on fixed targets, and then enter a kill box to look for movers or report to a FAC for a CAS mission. Ideally, it would have great range and loiter time to perform a variety of somewhat unspecialized ordnance-delivery missions; it would not perform SEAD or employ extreme standoff precision weapons. It would carry many weapons, allowing it to attack 12 to 15 targets, yet be maneuverable enough to survive all but the high-threat arenas. In this way, an arsenal aircraft could fulfill the mission of several traditional fighters that have sacrificed payload and loiter time for stealth and supersonic capability.
The only US fixed-wing aircraft stationed in Afghanistan and ready to provide responsive CAS is the Fairchild A-10A Warthog. Its minimal runway requirements and robust systems made it the ideal choice for deployment to Bagram Air Base (AB), a forward operating location. In Afghanistan’s extensive and scattered battlefield, the “Hogs” have shown their worth against an enemy without traditional centers of gravity. For example, on 20 September 2002 the enemy attacked Bagram AB with rocket fire. The US response included mortar and small-arms fire, together with two A-10s on CAS alert. The Hog pilots located the rocket position, destroying it quickly and decisively.(5)
The Hog’s extensive arsenal of weapons allows it to fix and destroy large numbers of targets. During Desert Storm’s ground offensive, a two-ship formation of A-10s performing CAS destroyed 23 tanks and damaged another 10 over three sorties in a single day, often while under nearly continuous antiaircraft artillery (AAA) fire.(6) Because of the A-10’s extensive loiter time and weapons capacity, the air leadership tasked the aircraft with the problematic mission of roaming the desert to find, identify, and destroy Iraqi Scud launchers. Hogs destroyed several Scuds and launchers, but in the absence of secondary explosions (often the case when launchers did not have missiles), their pilots found it difficult to determine whether they had hit a decoy or the real weapon.(7) Visual searches and battle damage assessments often proved inadequate.
If properly upgraded, the A-10 has the potential to provide hard-hitting CAS and effective CSAR. It is also poised to provide the Air Force an extensive ability to survey the battlefield and then identify and destroy both mobile and fixed targets in quantity as an arsenal aircraft. Although the Hog has been scraping by on the skill of its pilots in these roles, it is now staring obsolescence and ineffectiveness in the face.
The strengths of the A-10, specifically designed as a CAS platform, include loiter time, payload, ability to destroy large numbers of targets per weapons load, speed range compatible with that of escorted helicopters, and ability to search for and find targets at low altitudes. Since the aircraft costs only about $9.8 million, leaders envisioned it as a cheap way to counter the immense deficit in tanks we faced in the German theater.(8) As an inexpensive, low-tech aircraft in a high-tech Air Force, the A-10 found itself at the end of the line for improvement programs and first in line for phaseout. Since its inception, the Hog has received only one major improvement—low-altitude safety and targeting enhancement (LASTE). Sold to the Air Force in the early 1990s as a safety improvement, LASTE gives the A-10 a continuously computed impact-point capability, thus dragging its weapon-delivery system from the World War II era to the Vietnam era.
The A-10’s greatest traditionally perceived weakness is its lack of speed. Fighter pilots equate speed with life: the faster they can go, the more survivable they are. Many commentators suspected that the plodding A-10 would be driven from the skies over Iraq during the medium threat representative of Desert Storm. Three A-10s were shot down in enemy territory during the war, and another was damaged beyond repair. Evidently, infrared (IR) surface-to-air missiles (SAM) downed them, often during diving-attack recoveries. The loss rate of 0.5 aircraft per 1,000 sorties (9) (not including OA-10 data) is far better than the coalition average of 0.9 losses per 1,000 sorties.(10) Damage to 13 other A-10s yielded a damage rate of 1.6 per 1,000 sorties.(11) Compared to the loss rates of 2.6 to 3.0 aircraft per 1,000 sorties during intense air operations such as 1972’s Linebacker III and 1967’s Route Package 6 in Vietnam, these are excellent numbers and more than likely represent the wisdom of conducting a medium-altitude war.(12) Still, a large discrepancy remains between the A-10’s loss and damage rate and that of its nemesis, the F-16C, which—in keeping with the mission creep that has characterized its existence—has assumed many of the A-10’s roles, such as CAS, FAC(A), and even CSAR.
The loss and damage rates for F-16s during Desert Storm were 0.2 and 0.3, respectively—far lower than those of the A-10.(13) However, a more telling statistic would be loss and damage rate per 1,000 weapons passes. Although we have no figures detailing how many passes each aircraft made, we can estimate the number. Of the nine weapon stations on the F-16, four are for air-to-air missiles only; two are occupied by external wing tanks; and another hosts an electronic countermeasures pod for combat missions. The remaining two stations are for air-to-ground weapons. Typically, the aircraft carried two Mk-84s or six Mk-82s on triple ejector racks, or two to four cluster bombs of various types during Desert Storm. These munitions were usually expended in one pass. Undoubtedly, the F-16s performed multiple passes a number of times, but the vast majority delivered their munitions in a single delivery. An average of 1.5 weapons passes per sortie is probably generous for the F-16.
By way of comparison, the A-10 has 11 weapon stations and a cannon designed for air-to-ground attack. One station typically carries air-to-air missiles, another an electronic countermeasures pod, and another station is not usable when the adjacent stations are occupied. Thus, eight stations can carry air-to-ground ordnance. Firsthand accounts indicate that a typical combat load consisted of two AGM-65s (A, B, D, and G models); six Mk-82s; and 1,150 rounds of 30 mm cannon ammunition consisting of a combat mix of five armor-piercing incendiary (API) rounds to one high-explosive incendiary (HEI) round. One pilot describes how he shot two AGM-65 Maverick missiles in two passes at GCI and troposcatter radar sites, dropped six Mk-82s on support buildings during another pass, and then began multiple strafing passes firing 900 rounds for a total of eight weapon-delivery passes (allowing five passes to fire the 900 rounds).(14) An estimate of four weapons passes per sortie is probably on the conservative side for the A-10. These averages generate loss and damage rates of 0.125 and 0.4 per 1,000 weapons passes for the A-10 and 0.133 and 0.2 for the F-16. Therefore, in all probability, the A-10’s loss rate per 1,000 weapons passes was no different than that of the F-16.
One may account for the fact that the A-10’s damage rate is higher than the F-16’s by pointing out that, because reattacks forfeit the element of surprise, the attacking aircraft is more likely to suffer combat damage. For example, consider an account of the shootdown of a wingman and flight lead after three and five weapons passes, respectively. The flight elected to attack an area that had already launched several IR SAMs at them, and both attacking aircraft were shot down by IR SAMs in the ensuing melee.(15)
Another account tells of an A-10 shot down while recovering from what was apparently its fifth weapons pass.(16) Most such instances of damage to A-10s show them being hit on their third or fourth pass. All shootdowns and damage occurred after the Hogs dropped ordnance and often during the recovery to medium altitude. Evidently, all were hit by IR SAMs, suspected man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and SA-13s.(17) In summary, the A-10 is just as survivable as the faster aircraft that one finds in medium- and low-threat environments, but it is susceptible to hits by IR missiles.
Today the A-10 is on the verge of receiving its second major improvement—Suite 2, a hardware and software upgrade that will incorporate a passive method of determining target altitude (previously, the pilot had to input estimated target altitude), a searchable database of steer points, and modern aiming symbologies. When Suite 2 is implemented, the A-10 will attain the capabilities of other Air Force aircraft of the late 1980s.
Furthermore, a small alteration in the GAU-8 cannon’s symbology promises great changes in its employment. Typically, the cannon’s combat mix has consisted of five API rounds to one HEI round. Because each round has slightly different ballistics, HEI shot from high slant ranges, such as four or five nautical miles (NM), would hit short of the API-tuned sight. Suite 2 provides a ballistic solution for HEI as well as API so that pilots have two sights when combat mix is loaded, and they can choose to put either the API or the HEI on target when shooting from high slant ranges. The HEI will explode and throw significant amounts of shrapnel even when fired from a 5 NM slant range, thus giving A-10 pilots 1,150 grenades that they can deliver with precision—extremely effective on small bodies of enemy troops.
A third planned update, Suite 3, will incorporate two multifunction displays, improved hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, data-link capability, the ability to use IAMs, and an IR/charge-coupled device (CCD) laser designator (targeting pod). Although the A-10 has always had the ability to employ precision-guided munitions such as the AGM-65 Maverick and its 30 mm cannon, these improvements will allow it to engage a greater variety of targets with precision and near-precision weapons. The AGM-65 and GAU-8 are quite capable of destroying most tactical targets but are limited in their ability to engage many strategic targets. Having the flexibility to choose between AGM-65s, the cannon, IAMs, or Paveway-series laser-guided weapons will allow the A-10 to destroy any tactical and most strategic targets.
The IR/CCD laser-designator capability is especially important. The pilot can slave this device to a point of interest on the ground—usually by referencing target coordinates—and magnify it, as if by a telephoto lens. Because this can occur in either the IR or visual spectrum, allowing day, night, or diurnal crossover usage, the pilot can identify many targets at standoff ranges or altitudes. Something that looks like a truck to the naked eye from 15,000 feet will clearly be seen as a mobile launcher for a missile such as a Scud. The IR targeting pod would also allow identification of an inflatable decoy since it does not have the same black-body radiation characteristics as a metal target. Incorporating this targeting pod on the A-10 is key to successful target identification from survivable ranges and altitudes.
Laser-guided Paveway weapons are uniquely suited for CAS. The GBU-12, a 500-pound weapon with excellent accuracy, reliability, and maneuverability, can be dropped like a conventional Mk-82 and hit fairly close to the ballistic Mk-82 solution. This capability is important in the event the kit fails to seek the laser or the laser fails with the bomb in flight. In this case, the weapon does not glide or go “haywire” and will hit close to, if not on, the intended target. Typically, after the bomb is dropped and falls toward the target for 10 or 20 seconds, the laser fires for the last 10 seconds of flight, guiding the bomb directly into the target. It is capable of destroying tanks, armored personnel carriers (APC), light bridges, small buildings, and troops—both sheltered and in the open since the fuse can be set for slight delays. Another feature of this relatively light weapon is its maneuverability. It can easily be “moved” about 500 feet from its ballistic solution with the laser.(18) The A-10 can drop the bomb on poor target coordinates or on a mobile target. The lasing aircraft (not necessarily the dropping aircraft) turns its laser on and either moves the bomb from the poor ballistic solution to the target or follows the moving target. The bomb adjusts its ballistic profile and flies into the target—something an IAM cannot do.
The data-link capability will enhance the Hog driver’s situational awareness. Ground and air threats, targets, and positions of friendly troops will display on one of two large, multifunctional color displays. A significant advantage of the data link is its compatibility with US Army systems and the fact that it can provide a tactical air control party (TACP) with the relative location of the A-10’s aiming point. If the A-10 is at 20,000 feet and out of sight of the troops providing positive control, the jet can data-link the position of its pipper (point of intended weapon impact) to the FAC or TACP with respect to the location of the friendly troops. This allows the TACPs to exercise positive control by always knowing the Hog’s axis of attack and where it is aiming.
The problem, simply stated, is that the Hog is a pig. Each TF-34 motor has only 8,900 pounds of thrust. Even at production, people thought the engines were inadequate, and now that they have aged and been detuned, they are unsatisfactory, keeping the A-10 in the threat envelope for unreasonable amounts of time. Weapon-delivery passes take the A-10 from the relatively safe 15–20,000-feet arena down into the AAA and MANPADS arena. After delivering ordnance, the jet turns skyward and begins clawing for altitude. It is quite alarming to see how long it takes the A-10 to climb out of the threat envelope. On recovery from a 2 NM slant-range gunshot, pulling through the horizon at 7,000 feet at 400 knots with the throttles in maximum power, the aircraft can take four minutes and 45 seconds to reach 20,000 feet—out of most IR SAM threat envelopes.(19) One should note that all A-10s lost in Desert Storm were assessed to have been taken by IR SAMs. Such poor performance will certainly decrease the A-10’s survivability in the next conflict. The poor motors also compel Hogs in hot-weather locations to take off with partial fuel loads, thus reducing range, loiter time, and war-fighting effectiveness if the aircraft does not go to a tanker to top off. Also, it is difficult to scramble and provide timely CAS if the jet has to tank first.
The Air Force has begun acquiring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a replacement for the F-16C and intends to replace the A-10 with it as well.(20) The answer for long-term CAS, CSAR, and arsenal aircraft does not lie with the F-35. Neither its speed range nor weapons load is compatible with CAS and CSAR missions. The F-35 will allow carriage of two air-to-ground weapons routinely, and its single-barrel 25 mm cannon will hardly prove capable in the air-to-ground role. If push comes to shove, seven air-to-ground weapon stations (with no stealth capability) could be made available, which still does not match the A-10’s 10 stations and GAU-8 Avenger. Although it is certainly a suitable replacement for the F-16C, at almost three times the cost of the A-10 and with less weapons capability, the F-35 is no bargain.(21) Upgrading the A-10, however, is a bargain.
What We Need
The Air Force must outlay funding for CAS and CSAR commensurate with its spending on air dominance and SEAD. Any aircraft that meets the requirements of an excellent CAS or CSAR platform can fulfill the heavy-interdiction mission of the arsenal aircraft. The A-10 appears suitable for these tasks today. However, at the rate high-technology weapons are proliferating and at the rate the venerable Hog is deteriorating, attrition will become unacceptable in the near future, leaving no aircraft in the Air Force inventory designed for CAS—one of our most important missions. This failure, which represents a break in faith with our ground forces, must be remedied. To make the A-10 minimally acceptable for combat operations in the near to mid future, the Air Force must take action.
Continue to Fund Suite 3
This improvement includes a pod that will enable target identification and effective weapon employment at standoff altitudes and ranges. Furthermore, it will allow the A-10 to communicate effectively in the positive-control CAS environment and will permit the use of IAMs for flexibility in striking both tactical and strategic targets.
Upgrade the A-10’s Engines
Without such an upgrade, the excessive time to climb to safe altitudes will continue to plague the A-10. The increase in payload resulting from the variety of weapons allowed by Suite 3, coupled with current engine deterioration and the increasing use of the aircraft in hot-weather environments, makes the current power plant unsatisfactory. More powerful engines will allow more efficient and quicker deployments, higher standoff altitudes, greater payloads, acceptable hot-weather operations, and—most importantly—increased survivability. To cite one example, General Electric’s proposed TF34-GE-100B engine for the A-10 would provide 15 percent more sea-level thrust and about 30 percent more thrust at altitude with improved thrust-specific fuel consumption. Cost for the fleet of about 370 A-10s with flight-testing would come to about $1 billion—the equivalent of 12 F-22s or 33 F-35s.
Add a Missile Warning System
Short-range IR missiles such as MANPADS, SA-9s, and -13s have extremely short fly-out times, are difficult to pick up visually, trigger no radar-warning receivers, and are lethal. As mentioned previously, A-10s have a history of trouble with IR SAMs. A missile warning system can detect the plume of an inbound missile and trigger the aircraft to begin dispensing flares while telling the pilot to maneuver. Such a system would greatly enhance A-10 survivability. The Hog’s susceptibility to tail shots by IR missiles and its small IR signature from the front calls for a system that would cover only the six-o’clock area of the aircraft—perhaps a 60–90 degree cone around the longitudinal axis. Such a limited system would be relatively cheap and greatly increase the A-10’s chances in the next war.
Add a Towed Decoy
A towed decoy trails the aircraft and is designed to attract radar-guided weapons, thus affording some measure of protection. Such systems are widely fielded—but not on the A-10. The Hog’s dual-rail adapter, which carries two AIM-9 air-to-air missiles, could accommodate such a system, allowing use of the AIM-9s at the same time that the towed decoys are either stored in a housing in the adapter or deployed and working. This configuration would have the double advantage of retaining the weapon station and increasing survivability.
Develop a New API Round and HEI Heavy Combat Mix
The extremely useful GAU-8 30 mm cannon is flexible enough to defeat a main battle tank and strafe enemy troops. The Hog driver can make more than 10 lethal passes to expend the weapon’s 1,150 rounds. Currently, A-10s carry either combat mixes (one HEI round to five API rounds) or loads of all-HEI rounds. But political and environmental issues associated with depleted-uranium API may not allow employment of this round in all arenas, perhaps limiting A-10s to all-HEI loads. We need to acquire new API rounds. Less penetration is an acceptable consequence of being allowed to use the weapon in all theaters. On the one hand, in a theater where main battle tanks are expected in large numbers, A-10s could use depleted-uranium API rounds. On the other hand, targets such as trucks, troops, APCs, and the occasional tank call for a more useful general-purpose load of two HEI rounds to one environmentally friendly API round, giving Hog drivers great flexibility. If the target is soft, they can shoot from 5 NM slant range and 18,000 feet above the ground into as close as they like, use the HEI pipper, and expect excellent results. If the target is a truck, they can do the same and expect good incendiary effects and penetration. An APC or a tank, however, would require a Maverick, laser-guided bomb, or a closer-range shot. In situations encountered in Afghanistan, where targets often consisted of small groups of men, this surgical tool would shine. The HEI heavy load would be especially effective against troops, laying down a grouping of hand-grenade-like munitions. With a five-mil radian dispersion, a 2 NM shot would produce a 30-foot-radius impact area (assuming a vertical projection). Skilled pipper placement and the localized effects of the HEI would allow the strafing of targets to within perhaps 150 feet of a parallel line of “hunkered down” friendly troops. The gun would provide an excellent range of destructive ability against a variety of targets with an improved HEI heavy load.
Acquire a Helmet-Mounted Display for Air-to-Ground Operations
A helmet-mounted display (HMD), which projects information onto the pilot’s helmet visor, would allow the pilot to look at a visually acquired target, overlay a designation point displayed on the HMD, command the system to derive approximate coordinates and elevation via HOTAS, and slave the IR/CCD laser designator to the target—all in a matter of seconds. Immediate attack with precision weapons could follow, or, if the Hog is acting as a FAC, the pilot could catalog the point for a later CAS strike. Moderate testing of the Viper IV helmet and associated helmet-tracking system confirms their usability in such a role.(22) An HMD would allow for quick and efficient collection of target data and subsequent target destruction.
With these improvements, the A-10 would become a viable CAS, CSAR, and heavy-interdiction arsenal aircraft until the end of its predicted service life in 2028 or until it is replaced by what the Air Force really needs—the next-generation attack aircraft. In the meantime, improvements to the Hog would dramatically increase the Air Force’s firepower at relatively low cost and with little financial risk. The arsenal aircraft would become both a force multiplier and a dollar multiplier, producing significantly more “bang for the buck” than the F-35 in this role. For these reasons, the Air Force should expend resources for CAS, CSAR, and heavy-interdiction arsenal aircraft commensurate with those for its other programs.
Eglin AFB, Florida
1. Norman Friedman, Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 148–53.
2. Federation of American Scientists, “F-22 Raptor,” 25 April 2000, on-line, Internet, 26 December 2002, available from http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-22.htm.
3. David L. Grange et al., “The Close-Air-Support Imperative,” Armed Forces Journal, December 2002, 14.
5. CNN. com, “U.S. Base Attacked in Afghanistan,” 20 September 2002, on-line, Internet, 20 September 2002, available from "http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/central/09/20/afghan.raid"
6. William L. Smallwood, Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1993), 195–96.
7. Ibid., 94.
8. “A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II,” USAF Fact Sheet, June 2000, on-line, Internet, 15 December 2002, available from "http://www.af.mil/news/factsheets/A_10_OA_10_Thunderbolt_II."
9. Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. 5, A Statistical Compendium and Chronology (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993), 641.
10. Friedman, 166–67.
11. Keaney and Cohen, 651.
12. Friedman, 166–67.
13. Keaney and Cohen, 641, 651.
14. Smallwood, 84.
15. Ibid., 177–78.
16. Ibid., 140.
17. Ibid., 84–190.
18. Personal observation by the author.
20. Jeff Rhodes, “JSF System Development and Demonstration,” Code One, second quarter 2002, 5, on-line, Internet, 26 February 2003, available from "http://www.codeonemagazine.com/archives/2002/ articles/arp_02/jsf/index.html".
21. The Web site of the Federation of American Scientists quotes the price for the Air Force variant of the F-35 at $28 million. See “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF),” 20 December 2001, on-line, Internet, 10 December 2002, available from "http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-35.htm".
22. Kevin Gibbons et al., “Flight Test Evaluation of the Non-Distributed Flight Reference Off-Boresight Helmet-Mounted Display Symbology,” X Cockpit, April-June 2002, 16-18.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
Link : http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/a...03/ireton.html