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Thread: Characteristics of a new-design CAS platform

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    Characteristics of a new-design CAS platform

    I don't want to derail the F-35 thread. CSAF Welch has come out and said that a new CAS-specific design is warranted.

    http://www.defensedaily.com/welsh-f-...q_v=d9454e2fe6

    As a former 'customer' of CAS, I am curious what others feel a solution to what GEN Welch is proposign might look like. I think some of the roles include CAS, CSAR escort, FAC, ISR. Maybe if cost is low, then perhaps a transferable package to small/poor air forces, with a training capability?

    So I am curious about what the collected wisdom here thing are the desirable capabilities that a new CAS platform must bring to the fight. Things I am thinking about:

    Cost - procurement, operating, maintenance costs significantly below high-performance multi-purpose aircraft (F-16, F-35)

    Endurance: Long time on station (achieved thru large fuel capacity, efficient engines, inflight refueling...)
    Durability: Rough-field operation, Survivability, Robustness (simple? elegant?), Ease of maintenance
    All-weather capable
    Carry modular payloads (weapon systems, ISR, markers, ECM, relay, cargo/passengers? (OV-10...))

    Cannon system - this is not a capability, but a means to an end. I don't think we should limit ourselves to a specific characteristic - what effect do we want?

    I look forward to thoughts and critiques of my suggestions. Also, any examples of suitability of other
    existing systems and their unique/emulable capabilities are appreciated.

    Tankersteve

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    I guess I didn't see where he indicated a new design beyond the F-35 was desired. I did see that he indicated IOC does not mean FOC. Now that I think about it, I suppose it wouldn't. That said, I've always presumed the F-35 to be our primary operational high threat strike aircraft, meaning to say that this aircraft would conduct deep penetration strikes, BAI, Wild Weasel and air/counter-air ops.

    CAS always seemed massive overkill for this aircraft's nuanced capabilities. Welch doesn't think so-

    "The F-35's mission in the close air support arena would be to do high-threat close air support in a contested environment that the A-10 would not be able to survive in. That will be the role of the F-35..."

    Now...given that the ancient world from which I draw experience would be 1979-1991, I'd suggest that's EXACTLY what the A-10 was expected to do. That titanium-steel tub was expected to withstand Soviet regimental-level AAA fire- 23mm/57mm.

    That's FLOT/FEBA turf.

    Now...it was expected to act in concert with friendly artillery SEAD to suppress/destroy soft anti-air missile/radar and allow friendly precision attack army aviation to shoot up the hard AAA (ZSU 23-4/ZSU 57-2) systems. All this suppressing and/or destroying the mechanized SAM/AAA assets moving with the forward echelons of a Soviet armored assault.

    We presumed that was a somewhat high threat environment. Have matters changed so much that it takes an aircraft of the sophistication of an F-35 to survive in that environment? Has Welsh discounted the cooperation expected by the air/ground team to target and suppress/jam enemy radars, SAMs and AAA?

    And if the battlefield is presenting a threat of such an unprecedented nature, should we presume the enemy's operational and strategic level targets are less protected?

    The Ukrainian battlefield concerns me. There, we see Russian SAM coverage passively dominating the air-space. Perhaps the electronic environment is so toxic that only an F-35 could operate there. Still, the Ukrainians can in no way conduct the same type of aggressive SEAD/air-dominance ops which we'd almost certainly undertake immediately were we intending to actively engage their ground forces.

    So...could A-10s operating in concert other air force assets along with army artillery and aviation survive and be effective on the Ukrainian battlefield where nothing the Ukrainians have put up has done so? Of course, have the Ukrainians heretofore ever conducted air-ground ops in a manner remotely like our doctrine?

    I guess I need to know what's changed in the OPFOR air defense dynamic or our own operational doctrines such that aircraft of the sophistication of an F-35 are necessary to survive and fight along the FEBA. Again, I always thought this aircraft's optimal intent was deep penetration and related strike/suppressive missions.
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    Senior Contributor Doktor's Avatar
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    Isn't A-10 to go out of service?

    However, I am a bit surprised to see removing a robust, proven platform, for a high-end and not very tested (or contested one). What happened with the drones?
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    Patron Zad Fnark's Avatar
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    I found this rather interesting on the topic.

    http://baloogancampaign.com/2015/02/...e-air-support/

    A subsequent piece:

    http://baloogancampaign.com/2015/03/23/f-35/

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    “Eventually” Welsh would like to procure a replacement for the A-10 that would be designed from the ground up to conduct CAS in low threat environments, he said.

    S2, this is the reference that is driving my question. I really don't want to chase a platform (A-29 seems pretty good, and COTS would help achieve the potential #1 criteria - Cost), but am curious about all the capabilities an aircraft for this role would fill.

    Ideally, it could work in the mid-level spectrum as well as the COIN/low-threat environment (as pointed out by Zad Fnark's first article), or perhaps in the mid-level after a significant SEAD/F-35 interdiction campaign had attritted (sp?) enemy AD assets.

    Tankersteve

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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    S2,

    I think there are a couple areas the A-10 is lacking in that are more or less required for CAS in a modern contested battlefield.

    The A-10 was designed with ground based cannon fire in mind "hence the titanium bathtub" but it doesn't deal well with missiles. It doesn't possess the speed and energy of a fighter or even the high angle maneuverability that might allow it to evade incoming SAMs if countermeasures are ineffective. It also cannot hide from radar at altitude, which forces it into a ground hugging role much like a helo if even halfway modern SAMs might be active anywhere nearby.

    Low and slow is great if you want to look out the window to see what's going on on the ground, but its also great for anyone with MANPADs, which have gotten quite good and become rather widespread. The portability and ease of concealment for MANPADs means there just isn't a good way to remove them from the picture the way a SEAD/DEAD campaign might for high performance SAMs. The titanium bathtub doesn't protect the pilot from above, which is where the engines happen to be located and where an IR missile will zero in.

    In addition to a lack of survivability in an environment with missiles, the A-10 really wasn't designed to work in a networked environment with precision guided munitions, which have become the mainstay of CAS and for good reason.

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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    I see the real revolution in CAS being the maturing of cost effective Precision Guided Munitions.

    With PGMs, higher altitude and speed actually result in greater accuracy as the munition has more time and energy with which to maneuver, which kind of flips the mantra of "Low and Slow" on it's head where accuracy is concerned. As a matter of fact, PGMs are significantly more accurate than the A-10's gun. The GAU-8 when installed in the A-10 will put the majority of its rounds within 12m of a target at 4000m range, the SDB II meanwhile has a CEP of just 1m. Used with a non-fragmenting case and DIME filler, this makes the SDB II a fantastic option for use when in close proximity to friendlies.

    I see future CAS split into two general aviation categories. F-35s (or B-1s after SEAD/DEAD) that operate at medium-high altitude above the MANPADs that can evade SAM fire and lob accurate munitions from relative safety, and Drones that fill the "Low and Slow" niche and loiter directly above the guys on the ground all day long.

    Drones don't need titanium bathtubs or triplicate redundancy and can literally stay on station all day long without running out of fuel or experiencing fatigue. In the event one gets shot down, we don't have to mount SAR missions, or god forbid watch one of our pilots star in the next ISIS media video.
    Last edited by SteveDaPirate; 27 Aug 15, at 15:13.

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    SteveDaPirate,

    MANPADS would have been a concern then, also, with the proliferation of SA-7 Grails in the hands of their maneuver guys. You're correct about cannon fire but my guess is that advancing a SAM envelope in concert with a mechanized attack with an intent of deep penetration isn't easy. Hence the large numbers of cannon systems found at the battalion/regimental level. Too, A-10s were primarily envisioned as tank-killers first with, hopefully other threats suppressed/destroyed to permit gun runs on tank formations denuded of their SAM/AAA coverage.

    Lot of things have to go correctly for A-10s to have largely un-distracted gun runs on tank columns but I suspect that would be the case for any CAS platform in that type of lethal environment.

    "...F-35s (or B-1s later) that operate at medium-high altitude above the MANPADs that can evade SAM fire and lob accurate munitions from relative safety, and Drones that fill the "Low and Slow" niche and loiter directly above the guys on the ground all day long."

    I think you're correct and that's probably the correct approach in a highly lethal and sophisticated but static battle-space as we witness in the Ukraine.
    "This aggression will not stand, man!" Jeff Lebowski
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    I like the thinking here, with the specific use of unmanned aircraft as a means to operate effectively in any MANPADs environment. Almost surplants the 'survivable' requirement for 'expendable'.

    Two considerations. First, are we ready to utilize UAS for CAS? I've generally understood UAS systems to have very limited observation systems (looking through a drinking straw). Or are we just looking to significantly augment the capability to view the area (make 'exceptional situational awareness' a requirement?) to closely mimic what a manned, even 2-seater, aircraft brings to the fight with visual and augmented observation?

    The second is the limit of PGMs. One huge issue that regularly surfaces in Afghanistan, in rural areas, is the inability to know where the enemy is that is engaging you. PGMs are not optimal in that circumstance. Gun runs (or some other low-cost, politically acceptable (no ICMs...), area engagement system) are often considered essential. When the enemy is shooting from a lengthy ridge or treeline, PGMs are not the answer - something that can repeatedly engage the length of the target area is necessary.

    Artillery is not always the answer to issue number 2. Direct fire systems have significantly different ROE than indirect and this is a significant consideration. How do you scope this requirement? Capable of lethal area suppression?

    Tankersteve

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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    UAS at lower altitudes should be able to take advantage of a great number of sensors including wide field cameras, highly telescopic zoom, infrared, even looking for EM emissions. The cool thing about them is that they can do all of that simultaneously since unlike a piloted aircraft, the UAS can have 5 guys back in Arizona controlling it and analyzing several different takes at once. If UAS are looking through a drinking straw its because they are way the hell up there playing U2 (not the band, or maybe the band, idk what UAS jam to) rather than conducting lower level surveillance.

    For your second point, I think this is one of the reasons the US has been working so hard to get the failure rate of submunitions in cluster weapons down below 1% and has refused to go along with international efforts to ban them. As for other potential solutions, we still have MLRS and attack helicopters packing 30mm cannon and rockets that can make that treeline a rather uninviting place to be. While I don't expect it to see frequent use, this is one scenario in which the F-35 will probably use it's 25mm gun to good effect. It doesn't have the ammo capacity of the A-10, but neither is it the only tool to accomplish the job.

    While I realize tube and rocket artillery frequently face different ROE standards than direct fire weapons, having a UAS overhead can also quickly identify if area of effect weapons would inadvertently kill non-combatants and should allow for much faster employment of the MLRS grid square removal system. The fact that many infantry units have begun integrating small organically operated drones shows the value of being able to quickly gather intel to allow the use of brute force weaponry.

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    All of the above is true; I also think that we, as a society, have changed our tolerance for losses in battle. Back in the "good ole days", during the Cold War, it was just assumed that if the balloon went up, we would take significant losses in both the air and the ground, should the Soviets come charging through the Fulda Gap. It was expected, and even planned for; as kato, I think, mentioned, all of the pre-positioned forces along the German border would merely be "speed bumps" to the full might of the Soviet army. We expected to lose A-10's, in vast numbers; their main purpose in the '70's and '80's was to slow the Russians down, not stop them. Nowadays, that is unacceptable; we have gotten used to wars where the loss of one aircraft makes headline news, and calls for an investigation into "what went wrong"; I would hate to think what losing tens, or even hundreds (as was expected in Germany), of aircraft would do to popular opinion.

    Yes, the A-10 is still extremely survivable (witness what happened to Kim Campbell's A-10 in 2003: http://www.americanvalor.net/heroes/332), but our tolerance for losses, particularly human losses, is much lower than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
    "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not there any more." -Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge

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    "...we have gotten used to wars where the loss of one aircraft makes headline news..."

    Comes with the territory when facing exponentially inferior foes. We'll be unmitigated fools should we plan accordingly. OTOH, I could probably make a case that an A-1 Skyraider would be our optimal CAS platform over 90% of our engagements during the last 74 years of American combat.

    And quite likely would remain so.
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    Senior Contributor Stitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by S2 View Post
    "...we have gotten used to wars where the loss of one aircraft makes headline news..."

    Comes with the territory when facing exponentially inferior foes. We'll be unmitigated fools should we plan accordingly. OTOH, I could probably make a case that an A-1 Skyraider would be our optimal CAS platform over 90% of our engagements during the last 74 years of American combat.

    And quite likely would remain so.
    Interesting that you should say that; back in the late '60's, when the Air Force was hurting for more dedicated CAS/COIN assets, the idea of reopening the Skyraider assembly line was actually contemplated. Unfortunately, they weren't making Wright R-3350 engines anymore, and there weren't enough surplus engines to justify reopening the production line. Hence, the A-10.
    "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not there any more." -Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stitch View Post
    Interesting that you should say that; back in the late '60's, when the Air Force was hurting for more dedicated CAS/COIN assets, the idea of reopening the Skyraider assembly line was actually contemplated. Unfortunately, they weren't making Wright R-3350 engines anymore, and there weren't enough surplus engines to justify reopening the production line. Hence, the A-10.
    I have no source or first hand info, but the Military was getting rid of Avgas . It had a low flash point and lead which would require dedicated equipment to avoid contamination and complicate your supply situation..etc... but the most likely reason. The aircraft that used it were being phased out by the late 60's Those piston powered aircraft still in use were now turbine power think Beech T-34 the Military version of the Queen Air all were replaced by turbine powered versions

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    Patron Zad Fnark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stitch View Post
    Interesting that you should say that; back in the late '60's, when the Air Force was hurting for more dedicated CAS/COIN assets, the idea of reopening the Skyraider assembly line was actually contemplated. Unfortunately, they weren't making Wright R-3350 engines anymore, and there weren't enough surplus engines to justify reopening the production line. Hence, the A-10.
    No, but Douglas had worked on the A2D, which was basically a turboprop powered Skyraider. Maybe that could have been pursued. It would have simplified fuel logistics along the way.

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