LAAR on a Bar Napkin

LAAR on a Bar Napkin

by Aaron W. Clark

There is much debate over whether the US Air Force should field a Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft for use in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations like Afghanistan. Advocates exist in the US Air Force and the US Army alike. Generally, those in the Army like the idea because they envision the aircraft stationed near their area of operations, directly supporting their missions; an understandable desire, and supporters in the Air Force see LAAR as a tangible commitment to future COIN warfare. Thus both were disappointed last year when the US Air Force announced it would only purchase 15 aircraft to train pilots supporting the Air Force's Foreign Internal Defense mission. Critics believe this is just another example of the USAF's "historical reluctance" to support ground troops. Yet, even a cursory survey of the factors involved forces the question, is it really that simple?

As I write this, it is important to know that I have nothing to do with the LAAR program, nor do I know anything more about the details of its acquisition than anyone else that reads military journals or news articles. As a pilot, I think it would be a great aircraft to fly and I believe that, in certain environments, it could be an excellent combat machine. It is my curiosity that has caused me to write this article. Not long ago I sat in an audience and listened to someone ask an Indian Air Force General why they were not purchasing a LAAR-type aircraft for their COIN operations, instead of using high-priced fighter aircraft. Another time, I read an article from an Army Lieutenant Colonel touting the LAAR as the perfect solution for Afghanistan, and of course, I have often heard the argument about how cheap the plane would be relative the aircraft currently used in theater. Eventually I decided put pen to paper, or in this case a bar napkin.

Afghanistan is a country nearly the size of Texas. It is made up of rugged mountains and plains which cover 251,827 square miles (since this is a bar napkin we'll just round to 250,000). The current Theater Air Control System in Afghanistan is able to vector a jet aircraft to the location of an emergency close air support (CAS) request within 10-15 minutes of the call being sent. Since expedience may mean the difference between life and death, I will also use 10 minutes as an average response time for the LAAR aircraft. According to Wikipedia, the maximum speed for the proposed aircraft is approximately 300 knots. Bear in mind, the maximum speed of the aircraft will be affected by air temperature, altitude, and the weight of its munitions, but in this case 300 knots is easy to work with so we will use it. Now, an aircraft traveling at 300 knots can cover roughly 50 nautical miles in 10 minutes. Therefore, a LAAR aircraft could respond, in the necessary timeframe, within an area (A=πr2) equal to 10,395 square miles, but since it's a bar napkin we will round to 10,000. To summarize, an aircraft traveling at 300 knots, with a 10 minute response time, can provide cover over 10,000 square miles. Therefore, since Afghanistan is roughly 250,000 square miles, it would take 25 formations to obtain total coverage.

Many envision the LAAR aircraft as a platform that loiters over a given area, providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and on-call CAS to ground troops on patrol. To maximize loiter time, the aircraft would need to be stationed somewhere close to expected patrol areas. Also, if aircrews are to be in quasi-direct support of the ground contingent, then it is beneficial to be stationed near their ground unit. Optimally, each orbit would have its own airfield. This would allow for detailed coverage of that area, alert aircraft that could respond quickly when needed, and the ability to mass aircraft over an area in the event of a heavy firefight. Since it's a bar napkin, let's plan for 25 remote airfields manned with a capability to provide 24-hour coverage; considering the number of ground outposts in Afghanistan that shouldn't be too much to ask. We'll assume it takes six aircraft to provide 24-hour coverage. This assigns each 2-ship formation a four hour time-on-station period, and subtracting pre- and post-flight operations, leaves approximately six hours to conduct necessary maintenance. Also, to prepare for fog and friction, let's plan for two aircraft as spares for unforeseen maintenance problems and as alert aircraft. This amounts to eight aircraft at 25 airfields; or a total of 200 aircraft in theater.

Of the aircraft proposed for the LAAR program, the Super Tucano and AT-6 Texan, both have two-person cockpits. Generally, it takes 12 crews to man a 24-hour schedule on a temporary basis. However, since crews would be required to man this operations tempo over an extended period of time, it is more accurate to calculate it with 15 pilots and 15 weapons systems operators (WSO). This allows the schedule to be met and for the necessary management of the system. With 25 airfields this equates to 750 aircrew members.

Anywhere you have combat aircraft, you also need maintenance personnel, weapons loaders, life support, and security forces (there is probably more that are required, but remember it's a bar napkin). Without a manning document handy, let's suppose it takes 10 maintenance personnel for each 12-hour shift, two life support technicians, and five weapons loaders. Bear in mind this is probably grossly underestimated since the proposed LAAR aircraft would require sheet metal, avionics, communication, fuel, and engine specialists, but it suffices for this exercise. Also, let's not forget these aircraft would make a very attractive target. Since the ground personnel in the area would have other duties to attend to, we will plan for one flight of security forces troops (44-person unit) to protect the assets and personnel. Again this number is probably low considering they need to protect a 5,000 foot runway and the area around it, but it's a bar napkin. Added together and accounting for the low estimate for support personnel, this means each airfield would require 75-100 people for maintenance, control, and security. That equates to somewhere between 1,875 and 2,500 support personnel dispersed at the various airfields in Afghanistan.

Also, these airfields and personnel would require a steady resupply of ammunition, bombs, fuel, and food. This could either be trucked across the country or flown in. If it is flown in, it would require a field big enough to land a C-130 or C-27; that is unless you want 500 pound bombs and fuel air dropped on a crate. I'm not a transport pilot, but that doesn't seem advisable.

Like anything, money is another consideration. A quick search on the internet reveals the cost of a LAAR aircraft (AT-6 Texan or Super Tucano) is between $8 million and $12 million each. Using the math in public rule, we will use the average of $10 million per copy. At 200 aircraft this equates to a bill of just around $2 billion. But wait, that is only the bill for the aircraft in Afghanistan. The service would also require aircraft to train new aircrew members and maintenance personnel, plus spares to replace those in theater which suffer from battle damage or other unrepairable damage. Let's suppose that takes another 75 aircraft. The total bill for aircraft is now in the range of $2.75 billion.

Also, pilots and WSOs do not come cheap. Each pilot takes one year to train during the initial pilot training phase, an additional two months learning fighter fundamentals, and up to six months learning the specifics of the weapon system. The training regimen for WSOs is similar. Since this aircraft would not be a replacement for aircraft already in the inventory, the bulk of the pilots and WSOs would need to go through the entire process and not transfer from a different weapon system. According to the Air Force Times, the service spends approximately $2.6 million to train a fighter pilot. Accounting for a reduction in fuel costs (jet vs. propeller), a shorter training period for qualified pilots, and the bar napkin we will just use $2 million. To keep it simple, let's just suppose it costs the same to train a WSO. So, it would cost approximately $1.5 billion to train the aircrew members in theater. Of course, there are also crew members in the States going through training and waiting to rotate through Afghanistan for their tour. To keep it simple, let's suppose it takes another 750 aircrew members; this allows for a 1 to 1 swap. That also requires another bump in the number of aircraft. So now we have 1500 total aircrew members and another 200 aircraft—new subtotal $3 billion for aircrew and $4.75 billion for aircraft. This means, not including research and development, the bar napkin cost of putting 200 aircraft in Afghanistan is somewhere near $39 million per copy.

Now, for those of you sitting back and saying, "These figures are totally unrealistic. The author's analysis is way too simplistic," I agree. The analysis is simplistic. That's why it is a bar napkin and not a federally funded report. The simplicity of the calculations is also totally irrelevant. The point is that, like everything in war, the LAAR debate is a complicated subject full of what-ifs, it-depends, and yeah-buts. Granted the entire country of Afghanistan does not need coverage 24-hours a day and airfields could be consolidated for different coverage areas. However, each change made to one factor of the debate forces a corresponding change to another, and for all the considerations I didn't cover on the pro-LAAR side of the debate, there are at least an equal number of issues I didn't address on the anti-LAAR side. In the end, the bar napkin is always full and always complicated. More importantly, as I alluded to in the beginning, simple answers are rarely as simple as they first appear.

Lt Col Clark is a command pilot with over 1200 hours. He has previously served as an Air Liaison Officer with the 4th Infantry Division, 2nd BCT, and he is a graduate of the Air Force's prestigious School of Advanced Air and Space School.

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As for the outstanding suggestion for reading for yourselves, some recommended tomes.
Matt Matthews OP 26
http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=5068
and his follow up with Gaza
http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryRevi...
If you can find them, MAJ Scott's (USMC) Master Thesis
CAS-A Turboprop solution for the COIN fight.

and MAJ Langlois (USMC)The mission of the AF and support to the US Army compared to the MAGTF.

Close Air Support: Sixty years of Unresolved Problems from Brooke Nihart in Armed Forces Journal, 25 April 1970. (yes, the date is correct)

And, of course.
My original paper with LT Lawlor and then Maj. Clark's and J. Brad Reeves' response.
So please pardon me if I thought this was a continuation of that debate.
http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2010/11/5009090
http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2011/02/5278489

A final quote I received from Ronnie Tira, former IAF pilot and current analyst heavily resourced by Matt Matthews and a very intelligent, insightful analyst whose publishing credits are a testiment to that.

Cast Lead was three notches above Leb II.

The theater was saturated with air assets available to the lowest ground command level. Some assets at company level. Physical meetings between air crew and ground forces at the lowest levels. Air assets involved at the lowest level of ground fighting, UAVs clearing around the corner at urban fighting, Apaches doing enemy suppression for company commanders, fast jets even clearing the terrain from IEDs and other ground obstacles prior to ground movements. Unprecedented.

I see the gentleman from the Navy has beat me here.
Dealing with customers can be such a pain. Dont you agree?
So what aspects of the LAAR do you support? As a training mechanism for other air forces that somehow can afford these but we can't. Its embarrassing to think that the Air Forces of central america can afford Tucanos and we can't. My how the dollar has fallen!
Point 1. The tactical directive mirrored the same order I gave my forces in Afghanistan. Rotary wing, no restriction. Fixed wing, in extremis only. the flexibility, accuracy and de-centralized control of the Apaches all made for inherently safer operations in mine, and others, experience. I left Afghanistan the same month McChrystal arrived. For those who stayed, they said the implementation mirrored ours on the macro scale. The directive itself was quite general, the implementation itself will be the proof of the pudding. I guess ordnance expended per sortie would be a "bar napkin" measurement of the restrictions actual implementation. I dont have those numbers, just experience.
Point 2. What % of Air Force pilots are rated on T-6s? Yes, you can train an infantryman or mentor of Afghan National Police quickly. The question becomes how effectively? SF pipeline is about 2 years for the basic level. It takes years of study to become an effective combat leader in the maneuver art, however. COIN/Guerilla warfare is far more art than science. As for pilots, I like warrants. Your rated officer arrogance is showing a bit.
Point 3. Afghanistan will end, the greater question is: Will we never see another COIN campaign afterwards. The LAAR is not Afghanistan specific. We need an air force capable of sustained operations after D+10. The aberrations are not El Salvador, Rhodesia, Vietnam, Phillipines, Malaysia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Africa. The aberrations are Kosovo. Acquire accordingly.
Point 4. Ineffective response, regardless its speed, remains worthless. What % of CAS missions in Afghanistan are ATO driven and what percent are immediate? What % are without JTAC on site? How much of JP 3-09.3 is dedicated to non-JTAC CAS? With effective, taskable and decentralized close air support with significant loiter and low operating costs, I can actually integrate air support into my operations instead of calling for them after the fact and after they could be more useful. Response for an asset overhead is infinitely faster than the F15E running full burn and running bingo 30 minutes after showing up. We run decentralized helicopter operations now, a LAAR and LiMA run from the same airfields would meet the first priority in the QDR from last year under succeed in COIN of "Increase the availability of rotary wing assets.
So, Lt. Col. Clark, you may not like the uppity customer criticizing your air support, but the fact is I am the customer. I have received air support in close combat from both army and air assets. I have seen what works, and what doesnt. And I can run the numbers almost as well as a pilot. The fly-away cost of an A-10 is a complete red herring. There will be no more procured and they were procured 30 years ago. The current air craft costs are similarly non-sequitours. The only aircraft being procured in the future for this fight is the F-35 and next gen bomber. Do we really want to run those numbers?

Let us just cut the Gordian knot. If the Army wants LAARs (which some do and some dont) remove restrictions from Army procuring armed fixed wing (already done with UAVs and the Grey Eagle) and let us integrate the right frame for the right mission. Again, the LAAR with current AF doctrine would be a waste of money. Not an indictment on the LAAR, rather an indictment on our doctrine. Surely, the AF cant be threatened by a bunch of Army Warrants flying a single engine prop without an AMRAAM or Radar? Lets replace our OH-58s (a dog 40 years ago and a dog now) with LAARs and maintain our AH-64s for the time we need rotary wing. 80% of attack helicopter lifts take off and land from fixed wing capable airfields anyway.
If I am a zealot, it is because the results of ineffective air support are not a theoretical dissertation from the safety of a BDE Toc or HQs in Kabul for me. I have seen first hand the positive benefits of air power handled deftly and properly in the COIN environment. Likewise my men paid in blood when that same air power was wielded tight fisted or swung in blindness and ignorance.

"Point 1 - You are absolutely wrong about the Tactical Directive...read it. If you have, try again. I have studied the document, and spoken with those that helped write it. It was NOT a condemnation of airpower or CAS employment."

For the purposes of argument, I'll grant that it wasn't a direct condemnation. But, you again fail to note about the massive institution inherent in a command-sponsored, highly public cessation and re-engineering of fires support doctrine nearly a decade into the fight. We've systemically ignored not only the global airpower in COIN data, but our own historical data, to preserve a model optimized for a single battlefield, that of Western Europe.

"It was directed at limiting civilian casualties across the board. This included ground incidents, which has surpassed air-induced casualties in both incidents and the number of casualties (check the ISAF CIVCAS database). The tactical directive told ground commanders not to call air in until other avenues were expended...because in the end a CAS bomb doesn't drop until the ground component identifies a target and authorizes the drop."

Further, one could suggest, based upon this passage alone, that the centralized model of airpower, a doctrinal centerpiece of the USAF, has failed.

"Point 2 - The aircrew training outlined in my op-ed is not what is necessary for an F-22 pilot. It is the basic level training for ANY pilot. You may not like it, but the simple fact is it takes more time to train a pilot than it does a tank commander, infantryman, or a mentor for the Afghan National Police."

My own feelings on the value of pilot training aside, if our allies require pilots, they are unlikely to be able to afford them at $3 million per pilot. The LAAR is likely the airpower they can afford, and we need to create the training pipelines for our resourced-constrained allies to man those aircraft. The option is to get out of the airpower business, and yield the air to everyone and lose our highest combat enabler. I am personally convinced we can train pilots for less than $3 million per pilot, were we of a mind to.

"Point 3 - Whether you like it or not, the conflict in AFG will end in the relative near future (compared to the time it takes to standup an entire weapons system). Therefore, part of the decision matrix must include the boneyard full of LAAR aircraft left over after the conflict, and the surplus of trained aircrew without jobs--and "border security" is not the answer."

First, the LAAR is nearly a turn-key program at this point, with AT-6B LAARs participating in Stateside exercises, and foreign equivalent aircraft currently available.

Second, the LAAR does have an MCO mission, just as our other aircraft, optimized for MCO, have be utilized in COIN. While the LAAR is optimized for COIN, it is not a strictly COIN aircraft, anymore than a B-1B or F-15 is purely strike aircraft.

Third, "surplus of trained aircrew without jobs" is a function of the USAF manning and training system, is currently a problem, and itself a relic of the Cold War policies. In fairness, I will say the USAF has no monopoly on adherence to Cold War personnel models. For example, spending $3 million dollars to train a pilot whose training is then amortized over less than 2000 flight hours, in a career.

"Point 4 - You push the argument to the number and cost of flying hours because you don't want to highlight the other side. Which is this, the aircraft currently in inventory have a quicker response, carry a greater variety and quantity of weapons, and are capable of massing effects when necessary. If you "decentralize" the LAAR aircraft you will need significantly more aircraft, will still take more time to respond to different areas of conflict, will be restricted in weapon types, and most importantly will be unable to mass effects when required. And, oh by the way, the logistical requirements outlined in my op-ed will climb exponentially."

LAARs are the critical missing enabler to these other strike aircraft. We often don't need the ability to kill any and everything in the AO in an insurgency. We need to use the inherent ISR capabilities of aircraft, and their speed, to fix the enemy. Let ground forces finish the kill. Only then do WE dictate the information warfare/MISO battlefield to complete OUR kill-chain. The LAAR isn't a rocket ship; its a generally less complex aircraft than the RW platforms currently operating in austere circumstances.

As LTC Clark predicted, others have bar napkins.

Mine has a diet soda on it. It thus doesn't buy the 10-15 minute response time since it historically has worked out longer which is OK. In fact, my napkin assumes that Kandahar, Bagram, Khost, and Jalabad would suffice in providing reasonable response to areas most in need.

Agree that two-ship formations are a good idea except one would be single-pilot and the other unmanned. They would fly at different locations near their bases performing RSTA, joining up only in the event of a TIC.

Thus at each location, postulate four aircraft with overlapping 8-hour manned shifts (gotta piss/rest after all) and two aircraft for 14-hour overlapping daily unmanned shifts. Add two more aircraft at each base for spares and my total is 8 aircraft at four Afghan bases or 32 total planes.

Manned (6 hrs on station+2 transit): 8 hrs + 8 hrs + 8 hrs + 8 hrs
Unmanned (12 on station+2 transit): ....14 hrs...........14 hours

Because pilots deserve stateside time off, throw in 64 more aircraft/crews to permit 6 months deployed and 12 months stateside. Bases of choice? Langley, Tindall, Alaska, and Lewis/McChord. Pilots of choice: F-22 jocks who part time pilot new Northrop Grumman/Scaled Composite Firebirds or optionally-manned Reapers or other UAS.

So instead of 475 aircraft, a reasonable 96 plus trainers/depot aircraft would suffice at 1/4th LTC Clark's price (less if Reapers modified) and less deployment. Pilot costs would be near zero due to sunk F-22 crew training with Firebird/Reaper pilots rounding off their scant 12 monthly F-22 hours with another 18 optionally manned hours.

And of course, enlisted sensor operators located stateside at Creech etc. would augment manning and reduce costs. Fewer Afghan bases already with security, reduces personnel costs to fewer maintainers...also sunk if Reapers were employed.

CONOPS: Each of four Afghan bases has a manned and unmanned version flying at any given time. The unmanned version has a gun and more armament and is controlled by the manned aircraft and/or the stateside Creech GCS. The unmanned version would do the strafing to safeguard the pilot staying at altitude.

And of course, border patrol and homeland security would be part of the stateside mission. LTC Clark didn't explain why that logic fails.

BTW, I'm a big fan of the F-35 in all three versions and it too would eventually control unmanned versions of the LAAR and UCAS/MC-X. Same for the A-10 and B-1B. But the F-22 boys are getting big bucks and a free ride on combat deployments and its time for that to end.

Aaron,

Good initial quick-look and an even better, and remarkably restrained, response to LTC Darling. I too think an aircraft like the LAAR has it's place, but in limited numbers and definitely not at the expense of meeting other missions that have much more strategic impact.

Each service has a responsibility to develop and acquire the best mix of weapons systems to jointly fight and win our nation's wars. For the Air Force to field vast numbers of very limited aircraft that some deem to be the best at supporting ground troops doesn't meet that criteria when existing multi-mission aircraft can already perform the support role effectively.

LTC Darling,

Rest assured the article did not mention your name because it had nothing to do with you. As stated, your article in AFJ was only one instance that caused me to want to look more in-depth at the LAAR question--the article was actually inspired after reading a blog post. To be honest, a year ago I thought a LAAR aircraft seemed like a pretty decent idea. It was only after I began to take a better look at the reality of the situation that I began to tailor my thoughts. Point of fact, any evaluation of the costs of a LAAR program is more complicated than you and others assert. As I came to this realization, I decided to post an article that encouraged people to question agenda-laden advocates like yourself and to actually look at the broader issue.

I am still a supporter of the LAAR concept, but I also realize there are limitations to its utility (something you continually fail to point out). This is certainly the case when used as a large scale conventional force weapons system. Contrary to what you assert, the idea for the program began with the Navy as a method for provided kinetic power to special operations forces. It only gained traction with conventional forces after advocates like yourself sold the idea without critical analysis. You may notice the USMC is not advocating a LAAR aircraft (at least to my knowledge). Why is that? And just so you aren't confused, broadly speaking, they use their aircraft in much the same way as the AF. They are centrally based, with a liaison officer stationed with the unit, and while they have dedicated assets, those assets respond across the theater to all coalition requests (just like the AF).

Now as for the article you THOUGHT this op-ed was in response to...

I didn't like your AFJ article because it was filled with research fallacies which were easily correctable with an internet search, your understanding of the process you were critiquing was simplistic and incorrect, and the logical progression of your argument was amateuristic for a professional military journal. (Enough of the pot-shots. Just passing my honest critique.)

Here are some of the major points you fail to understand:

Point 1 - You are absolutely wrong about the Tactical Directive...read it. If you have, try again. I have studied the document, and spoken with those that helped write it. It was NOT a condemnation of airpower or CAS employment. It was directed at limiting civilian casualties across the board. This included ground incidents, which has surpassed air-induced casualties in both incidents and the number of casualties (check the ISAF CIVCAS database). The tactical directive told ground commanders not to call air in until other avenues were expended...because in the end a CAS bomb doesn't drop until the ground component identifies a target and authorizes the drop.

Point 2 - The aircrew training outlined in my op-ed is not what is necessary for an F-22 pilot. It is the basic level training for ANY pilot. You may not like it, but the simple fact is it takes more time to train a pilot than it does a tank commander, infantryman, or a mentor for the Afghan National Police.

Point 3 - Whether you like it or not, the conflict in AFG will end in the relative near future (compared to the time it takes to standup an entire weapons system). Therefore, part of the decision matrix must include the boneyard full of LAAR aircraft left over after the conflict, and the surplus of trained aircrew without jobs--and "border security" is not the answer.

Point 4 - You push the argument to the number and cost of flying hours because you don't want to highlight the other side. Which is this, the aircraft currently in inventory have a quicker response, carry a greater variety and quantity of weapons, and are capable of massing effects when necessary. If you "decentralize" the LAAR aircraft you will need significantly more aircraft, will still take more time to respond to different areas of conflict, will be restricted in weapon types, and most importantly will be unable to mass effects when required. And, oh by the way, the logistical requirements outlined in my op-ed will climb exponentially.

So, LTC Darling, you may not like the reality of the situation, but AF planners and resourcers have to look at the broader picture. If the AF chooses to field 2-3 squadrons of LAAR for Spec ops support, I am 100% behind the decision. However, your "but I want it" argument does not provide the justification necessary to field the number required to support Big Army.

To OzarkOrc (if you have read this): the A-10 has a fly-away cost of approx $11-12 million, the other aircraft are somewhere in the $40 million range. And just so we're clear, these are already purchased aircraft with support systems and aircrew already trained and in place. Like I said earlier, they have more precise targeting capability and more, varied weapons than the LAAR alternative LTC Darling supports.

My suggestion, don't listen to LTC Darling or me, do your own research. Don't allow others, especially zealots, control your opinion--that is not the way to go.

The F-35 is the all in one replacement for the A-10, F15E, F16. Hence the 1726 count somehow being held onto for the F35A (against all common sense). 400 is the probable number for the F35A, if its procured at all. This entire kabuki theater is attempt to maximize final count for F35s. To somehow explain the LAAR is the wrong solution via cost is ludicrious on the face of it and doesn't even pass a cursory review. The LAAR was initiated in 2006 as a result of the FM 3-24 and the obvious use of a long loiter turbo-prop in support of COIN. It was then killed immediately after SEN Sam Brownback of Kansas (and proponent of LAAR due to Beech location) announced the end of his Senate career. The AF is faced with the fact they are going to run out of airframes before they run out of missions. The LAAR would actually solve that problem. F16s were designed for around 4000 hour lifespans. 5500-6000 is common for the oldest gen. A-Stan, Iraq and others are not missions it was desgined for and they are putting on hours with huge fuel tanks and ordance loads really threatening the future. The waste of B-1s doing what a turbo-prop can do is charitably mission focus and cynically the desire to justify the next gen bomber.
One thing newly minted Lt Col Clark and I agree on (congrats, btw) is that with the current doctrine for CAS and Joint Targeting, the LAAR's impact on the COIN battlefield will be minimal. A doctrinal adjustment in line with the Marine Corps and Army aviation emphasising decentralized control and execution will be required to really reap not only the cost benefits, which are manifestly obvious, but the war fighting benefits as well.
So, LtCol Clark's post is not an analysis of small war fighting, but rather a self-serving justification of intra-service procurement fantasies.

OK, the second responder answered my Question- what is the comparison with A-10 Costs?

(And WHERE is the A-10 replacement prototype, or at least new Production with new Avionics?)

And who says it has to be available 24/7? How long will we borrow money from the Chinese to support even this capability for the regime?

What equivalent to the Vietnam era B26 (K?) do we have in the desert boneyard we can issue to Afghan and Iraq forces?

Ah, you won't use my name? I'm hurt.
Don't quote me, quote petreaus.
FM 3-24, E-3
E-17. Today's low technology aspects of airpower have also proven effective in COIN operations. Light, slow, inexpensive civilian aircraft often have successfully patrolled border areas.

Don't compare the LAAR, to the current fixed wing mega bases. Compare them the helicopter operations currently being executed. 1 LAAR can provide the same coverage of 5 Apaches/58Ds by loiter time and maintenance requirements. Your breathtaking tale of derring do in AFJ listed Apaches, Tornados, Strike Eagles and a B-1 bomber conducting a mission conceivably done by a 2 LAAR lift. More to the point, with effective convoy escort actually a reality instead of a myth, the entire scenario could have been avoided altogether.
Which province American forces are operating in now in Afghanistan don't have a C-130 capable airstrip?

Your frightening cost estimates assume that you must train LAAR pilots to F22 standards. Not sure why. Other than to make it frightening.
$1500 an hour operating costs compared with 17K for an A-10 and 19K for an F16 might add up.

If I may sum up your complaint, "Its too hard."
And, for you, it may be. A service dedicated to getting things done would be a refreshing change from the current climate.
I would hope that the McChrystal Tactical Directive and Patreaus' reinforcemnt of it would be a wake up call to re-look. Rather you prefer to re-trench.
Joint indeed.

Excellent assessment.
An aditional use for the LAAR A/C is CAS training. Due to increased demand on fixed wing units to deploy the availability of A/C to perform CAS training for the schoolhouses as well as sustainment training has become scarce. The Super Tacanos were thought to be a possible solution for this to relieve the pressure. As a ground controller, the bar napkin math is an eye opener as to the cost to bring this to reality.
Additionally, I am surprised that all the aircrew would need that much training to fly the a/c. My thought was that most of the aircrew could transition from existing airframes (as is done with preds/reapers) and the training would be less as they would already have the basics and would just require airframe specific training.
My glass half empty perspective is reinforced by the continuing attitude of the AF COC that it is not a priority because CAS is not sexy, despite the dividends it has paid over the last ten years of the OEF/OIF conflicts. It seems like the AF is just "half- in". They don't want to relinquish terminal control to the Army but don't want to embrace CAS fully. We at the user level (Aircrew and Ground controllers)train hard to get it right but the higher ups don't seem to give it the emphasis it should have. It seems there are a lot of light grays out of work right now.

Bravo,

I've attempted that napkin calculation on a number of occasions. Very useful to show the hidden costs of LAAR-based CAS.

For comparison, it would be interesting to see the same exercise done with F-16s, or perhaps Reapers.

Better yet, use the 400kt Predator C "Avenger". Instead of 6+ aircraft per 24x7 orbit, you only need, maybe, two Avengers.