Small Wars Journal

Light Attack: It's What's for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Light Attack: It's What's for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

by Mike "Starbaby" Pietrucha, Lt Col, USAFR

Recent discussions with respect to the application of airpower in Irregular Warfare have highlighted the applicability of light attack aircraft, currently missing from the US arsenal. Used extensively by the US in Vietnam, the light attack aircraft were widely exported, but were not replaced in US service when they retired due to age. Focused on the "high/low" F-15/F-16 mix envisioned to fight the Warsaw Pact in Western Europe, the USAF has been particularly resistant to the possibility that the USAF might operate a modern light attack aircraft at all. Key objections range from the superficial (it has a propeller) to the conceptually flawed (the aircraft can't be used in an MCO). Lost in the fray is the huge benefit to the forces currently involved in combat provided by an attack aircraft which can carry a similar warload to the F-16 with more hangtime, at a fraction of the cost, using a small sliver of the F-16's logistical and support requirements. If we are to take the long view, a modern high/low mix which includes light attack shows significant potential to expand the capacity of tactical air worldwide without compromising the capability of a force involved in Major Contingency Operations. Yes, of course you can use light attack in a major war.

Understand, of course, that a modern light attack aircraft is not your father's Oldsmobile. Taking under consideration either the Hawker-Beech AT-6B prototypes or the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, the aircraft are a advanced fourth-generation weapons systems installed in turboprop-powered low-winged monoplanes. Both are gun-equipped attack aircraft capable of delivering up to 500-lb precision-guided munitions, rockets, and missiles and possessing advanced FLIR sensors equivalent to those on legacy fighters. Each is powered by a reliable, responsive, electronically controlled turboprop engine that would make an earlier generation's engine designers weep with envy. From the inside looking out, the aircraft are advanced fourth generation aircraft repackaged in a different airframe type -- an airframe design with equivalent weapons delivery capability to its fast jet counterparts, that is not dependent on 8000-ft asphalt runways and can be fueled from 55-gallon drums hauled to a dirt strip in a pickup truck.

It is beyond dispute that the aircraft type is effective in IW. US experience in Vietnam and current Colombian and Brazilian experience in the Amazon demonstrate that fact. A question, which hangs over the potential for USAF procurement, is the effectiveness of a light attack aircraft in conventional operations. After all, the aircraft has no radar warning gear (they do have chaff and flares, missile warning and armor) and could be expected to suffer in an environment dominated by radar-guided surface to air missiles (SAMs) and enemy fighters. Nevertheless, the aircraft type can operate effectively in environments lacking the radar threat, and should be considered based on desirable capabilities; operating area, support and basing opportunities, warload and endurance.

Operating Area. With the Warsaw Pact long gone, the case for classic a come-as-you-are war is the Korean Peninsula. Here, US airpower consists of Korea-based F-16s and A-10s, and USAF, Navy and Marine aviation based in Japan (to say nothing of other 7th Fleet assets). Present also is the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), one of the most advanced in Asia. Lined up north of the 38th Parallel in the DPRK are a handful of aging fighters, hardened SA-2, 3 and 5 sites, and more AAA than seems possible. In such an environment, where does light attack fit?

The answer is simple. Every sortie flown south of the 38th parallel frees up a legacy fighter to go north. And there will be plenty of work to go around outside the north's fixed air defenses. (I will discount the DPRK's fighter force entirely for obvious reasons). The demand for Close Air Support (CAS) is likely to be very high, but other missions including CSAR, counterbattery work, maritime patrol and counter-SOF will be in high demand. There is even likely to be a demand for air defense missions -- it is notable that the Super Tucano's requirements were partially derived from a Brazilian Air Force anti-helicopter program.

In fact, the radar defenses which pose such a great threat to the light attack aircraft are not ubiquitous. After all, the A-10 and AH-64 prefer to avoid radar threats as well, to say nothing of the MQ-1 and MQ-9, and the utility of these aircraft in MCO is not challenged. The fact is that the majority of a country's airspace is unprotected by radar SAMs the majority of the time, particularly at low altitude. Expanding beyond Korea and beyond the borders of a potential aggressor, the low altitude environment may be unreachable by a long range SAM. In a scenario that envisions an invasion of Taiwan, the closest a land-based SAM can be to the Taiwanese coast is 75 nm. At that range, even a radar mounted on an 80-foot mast cannot reach below 2700 feet, leaving plenty of operating room for fixed-wing air to make life miserable for an amphibious force. Even here, there is a place for light attack.

Basing and Support. Returning to Korea, in the likely event that the USAF/ROKAF bases are overrun or subject to conventional or chemical attack, light attack need not be grounded like their fast-jet counterparts. With the ability to operate from roads and civilian airstrips much shorter and less pristine that required by the F-16 (including unimproved strips), attack capabilities can be distributed beyond military bases. And the fuel requirements are so substantially different that light attack aircraft can be kept flying from local fuel supplies. A 5000-gallon airport fuel truck is barely sufficient to top off a single 2-tank F-15E, but provides enough fuel to fill 27 Super Tucanos or AT-6B. That same fuel expenditure, powering the F-15E for maybe two hours is enough to provide 80 flight hours to light attack aircraft. Similarly, Taiwanese civilian airbases and roads become an effective surrogate for (presumably) unserviceable fighter runways. Traveling even further down the supportability scale, a light attack aircraft can be filled with fuel transported in 55-gal drums at 3 and a half drums per aircraft.

Ordnance remains a limiting factor. At a minimum, .50 cal guns can be reloaded by the aircrew with any linked .50 cal ammo that is available, and the 2.75 inch rocket is widely used by fixed and rotary-wing aviation. While not as robust a loadout as four GBU-12s, a gun-and-rocket loadout can be loaded by hand in the field (as could AGM-114 Hellfire, if available). Guns and rockets airborne trump GBU-12s on the ground. If the ability to operate from austere airfields is valuable in an MCO, and I submit that it is, then this capability expands the operating envelope for airpower writ large in any theater of operations.

Warload. A combat-loaded F-16 carries three external fuel tanks (or two and an ECM pod), four AAM, four 500-lb LGBs on two pylons, a targeting FLIR and an internal rotary cannon. A Super Tucano loads up with four 500-lb bombs on four pylons, one external tank, a targeting FLIR, and internal wing guns. The AT-6B loads up in a similar fashion with more pylons but external gun pods taking up the extras. Discounting a need for air-to-air missiles, the warloads are identical. The light attack aircraft have slightly more weapons flexibility because their weapons are carried on four pylons vice two and one of these aircraft could conceivably carry a very flexible mix: a 500-lb LGB, a Hellfire missile, a 2.75 inch rocket pod and a 3-pack of GBU-44.

Endurance. Given the above-mentioned warloads, an unrefueled combat sortie for the F-16 might stretch out to an hour and a half if weather at the recovery base is clear. The light attack aircraft gets three hours or more of air time. In a high-intensity conflict, the limit is likely to be ordnance rather than endurance, but even an aircraft that is out of bombs can stick around and perform FAC or OSC services. Tankers, of course, can stretch the endurance of the F-16, but require a break in coverage to refuel. The light attack aircraft cannot air refuel (they could, perhaps, but they don't) but gets all of its on-station time without interruption.

To be fair, the endurance comparison is stacked against the fast jet. It should be clear that the jet, because of its higher speed, will have a larger combat radius with any comparable warload. A light attack aircraft may be able to match an F-16's combat radius, but only by cutting the bombload in half and replacing it with external fuel tanks. This may or may not be offset by basing parameters. If the light attack aircraft can stage closer to the fight, then the radius is irrelevant if both aircraft can reach the same target set - and the light attack still wins the endurance competition.

From an airfield perspective, there are always more small airfields to go around, in more places. Nigeria, for example, has three airfields that can base military jets (8000' runway, appropriate bearing strength) and four civilian airports with the requisite runway length and strength. Added to that, however, are another sixteen licensed airfields that can support light attack and an unknown number of unlicensed strips. Expanding the same comparison to the Philippines, fast jets get two mil and 7 civil fields; light attack get another 37 on top of that. (Notably, that last number can quadruple, depending on the actual runway limitations of a light attack aircraft -- the Philippines has a lot of airstrips in fair condition or better). Again, if the light attack can stage closer to the fight, the range limitation becomes less critical.

All of this should illustrate the point that the light attack aircraft is not an "IW-only" platform. It is certainly much more of a combat platform than the MQ-1 and arguably the MQ-9, both of which the USAF has embraced with some degree of fervor. If Secretary Gates states that the majority of the force should be multipurpose, vice "IW-only" or "MCO-only", then surely there is room for light attack aircraft. In the worst of the MCO scenarios, there will be more demand for light attack than there is light attack to go around.

Lt Col Michael "Starbaby" Pietrucha is a USAF Reserve Officer with 156 combat missions in the F-4G and F-15E and two ground combat deployments in the company of the US Army. He has precisely zero combat sorties in any light attack aircraft, but would unhesitatingly strap his soft pink body in one tomorrow. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, or any element thereof.

Comments

B.Smitty

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 4:36pm

I'll bring the feathers if you bring the tar. ;)

I'm not arguing the merits of LA.

My intent was to point out some of the less often talked about down sides:

1. $400-1000 per gallon of fuel delivered to a FOB directly impacts the cost equation in Afghanistan. If Pakistan denies tanker overflight rights, they may also deny ground transport of fuel as well. Then, the viability of the entire mission comes into question.

2. The potential requirement for more ground forces at each FOB to sanitize a significant area around the strip.

3. How many additional air and ground crews will be needed vs using existing tacair, and how much will they cost.

and so on.

I've participated in too many discussions where the participants JUST look at the cost of a single F-16 vs a single Super Tucano and declare the USAF a bunch of criminals for not buying the "cheaper" option. Reality is more complex than that.

Clearly you've done the leg work and have a much more complete argument in favor of LA.

I also agree that studying the problem to death is not the best way forward. "Perfect" is the enemy of "good enough", as they say. The best way forward may be to buy some AT-6s or STs now, experiment with them, find out what works and what doesn't, and adjust course.

Also, thanks for pointing me to your ASPJ article. I hadn't seen it.

John (not verified)

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 1:11pm

One thing that is going to have to happen for any of this to happen is a shift in senior leader thinking. I would point you to the movie the "Pentagon Wars". I am fully aware it's a comedy... But the problem is we REALLY do have people like that. The XM8 Assault Rifle is an fine example of this. You spend a $100 million plus dollars to build a rifle that still shoots 5.56mm and a 20mm grenade launcher... Wow. If you thought that was a good idea your in for more of it. We have got to sit down a really define what we want to do, and then get the tools to do it. Everyone thats been in Iraq seems to want the following: .45 pistol (almost a 100 years old) an M-14 (almost 60 years old) The M2 .50cal machine gun (almost 100 years old). I like and would rather have the M-79 granade launcher. Yes it could be inproved. But take a look at the peice of crap M-320 that the Army got. I don't think you could make a more unweldy weapon if you tried. So what if we looked around and found the best systems we had and improved upon them rather than a new wonder weapon. I think that the LA concept is overdue for a comeback. But you are going to have to get it past people who liked the movie "Starship Troopers". It aught to be an easy sell, but if I know the brass, it'll take 20 years, 20 billion and you have the capability of a Cessna with a door gunner, dropping a 5 gallon can of gas out the door. Instead of making something do one job well, we'll try to get it to do 12 jobs poorly. THen we will scrap the project.

Starbaby (not verified)

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 12:35pm

Oops. Let me fess up before somebody correctly throws the bullshit flag onto the field.

My notes suck. The "300" figure for the Super Tucano in cruise is actually the fuel flow in pph, not the airspeed. Pretty spiffy, by the way, but not relevant to that portion of the thread. 300 was chosen for the scramble time comparison for two reasons: it was plausible for the class, and the math was easier (5 miles per minute).

Pol-Mil FSO

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 11:34am

What I find interesting about this discussion is that all of the arguments are about this concept's utility for U.S. military use. Is there an implicit consensus that utility for foreign forces is not a compelling argument? Looks to me like Building Partner Capacity and Security Force Assistance are not ideas in which we "put our money where our mouth is." Meanwhile, country needs and Brazilian marketing efforts are making the Super Tucano the Latin American solution for a fixed wing platform for most of these country Air Forces.

Starbaby (not verified)

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 11:03am

Foolishly, I had not expected this thread to kick off a discussion of the utility of light attack writ large - I would have thought that was settled historically. For my full defense of the concept, see http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj10/fal10/2010_3_04_p….

I've been reinformed that the F-15 on air defense alert had a scramble time under 5 minutes. When I wrote the original analysis in Afghanistan, surrounded by F-15E guys, 8 minutes was the fastest we could come up with from our own experience (The original piece was based on the L-159 as the jet since most countries cant afford the F-15E/16/18). Pulling pins from the ordnance is a big time consumer, as is the start time for one versus two engines and the alignment time for the INS (I spent more time waiting for the INS than anything else in the sequence). But to be fair, 5 minutes is also very long for the AT-6/Super Tucano, which have ridiculously short engine start checklists - along the lines of "close the canopy, clear the prop, press auto start and turn on the generator".

Even normalizing the scramble times, the light attack still arrives with more hangtime than the jet, and if you want to keep the comparison fair, the light attack can be based farther forward. If you draw a chart of 10-minute response circles (280 KIAS v. 480 KIAS) assuming an overhead the airfield start (scramble time = 0) from Afghanistan's three ISAF fast jet bases (Kandahar, Mazar and Bagram) and versus 12 ISAF bases that are suitable for a light attack, the total area covered by the LA circles is greater than the jet circles, even accounting for overlap, and the LA circles cover far more of the high-threat areas in RC East and RC S/SW. That does not count the possibility of using Afghan civil bases or the airfields used by PRTs which have no full-time ISAF presence.

Afghanistan aside, the comparison becomes even more pronounced when you consider other countries (I used Nigeria and the PI) and the vast disparity between 8000-ft fighter runways and the airstrip that a LA can operate from. The Mindanao example is eye watering - even if the fighters use major civilian airfields - because there are no fast jet-suitable military bases but lots of smaller fields in fair condition or better. This is a global reach issue that affects the US more than the US Army and which remains unrecognized by the USAF.

Which leads me to tankers. There are tankers available 24/7 over Afghanistan, not necessarily everywhere we could use LA in the Long War. In Aghanistan, if we lose access to Manas AB, the tankers have to fly from the Gulf, which doubles the roundtrip to RC East and reduces the offloadable fuel for a KC-136R by a third - more in hot weather. If we then lose the ability to overfly Pakistan, the available tanker support drops to zero. Imagine that - an entire fixed-wing combat support effort dependent on Pakistan and Kyrgystan. If that doesnt keep you awake nights, it should. Global reach, again.

Skipping around to the drag issue, remember that the drag equation is based on the square of the velocity. 300KIAS was based on observed cruise (not max) performance of the Imminent Fury bird with weapons on board, and not on the manufacturers spec sheet.

Finally, anybody who calls for one more study on LA in wartime should be dipped in tar and feathers. HAF/A8X has a handful. RAND has done several already. The Colombian and Brazilian experience in combat against irregular adversaries (16,000 combat hours and counting) should be definitive. The US aviators who are pushing for LA are almost universally combat experienced and generally highly so - including experience on the ground. There is a place for military judgment. If the default "more study" option were applied to combat aviation in WWII, I suspect we would have been outclassed in both quantity and quality by the Luftwaffe; in Vietnam we would never have seen the A-37 or the OV-10. We havent the time or money to develop a totally new aircraft and we shouldnt need to - neither the AT-6 nor the Super Tucano are lemons.

I think that the attitudes of a lot of A-10 pilots are instructive. A-10 guys are weird. They maintain a cultlike attachment to their airframe and their mission. And yet, we hear a lot of "OA-X is the only aircraft Id leave the A-10 for". If ever there was a time to listen to your line aviators...

John (not verified)

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 8:14am

ALCON,
This is a solid, proven concept. We used it in SW Asia and South America. Is it going to replace the big stuff...? Nope. But it could sure complment helo's and could be very cost effiecent. I am sure you could get a fight school down under 6 months and you would have little problem finding guys to do it.

Jed (not verified)

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 7:58am

B.Smitty,

Great points. Too much of this Light Attack argument focuses on "How can you best support the Army?" vice the more important, "How can you best support the needs of the United States?" While there are overlaps, those are definitely not the same question.

Would that we could all be honest about our arguments and facts, but the truth is everyone has a different perspective on even the agreed facts depending on their horizon view. When you combine that with the blatantly disengenuous on all sides, there is precious little to base rational decisions upon.

B.Smitty

Thu, 06/23/2011 - 12:09am

Great conversation.

Starbaby,

I'll defer to your expertise on scramble times but this link alludes to potentially faster times for jets.

http://www.defenceaviation.com/2011/01/what-is-the-importance-of-scramb…

"Presently the procedure of a Scramble includes , Pilots being ready with their G-suits on and always in a ready mode. Then the phone rings , siren goes off and pilots pick up their helmets , dash to their aircraft , jump in the cockpit , quickly strap out , taxi out , line up and take off with full after burners to intercept the enemy aircrafts . The average Scramble time in case of any emergency should take around 4 to 5 minutes."

Of course this is an air defense scramble, but does it necessarily have to be longer for a troops-in-contact CAS call?

Don't we usually have tankers airborne 24/7 (or nearly so)?

On airspeed, isn't 300kts the ST's max airspeed? Presumably clean. How much slower is it with a useful load and a realistic sortie profile?

C.W.,

http://karbuz.blogspot.com/2009/12/source-dipetto-2008-slides-7-9-merge…

The fully burdened cost to deliver fuel to remote areas in Afghanistan can be MUCH higher than by air refueling,

"When an article with a title $400 per gallon gas to drive debate over cost of war in Afghanistan appeared in the Hill in October 2009 it created a lot of noise. "The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan," the article said.

Dr. Kevin T. Geiss, program director for energy security in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment, gives an even higher figure: in some places, analysts have estimated the fully burdened cost of fuel might even be as high as $1,000 per gallon."

...

"In-flight tanker refueling costs about $26 a gallon to deliver fuel from an aerial refueling tanker if you assume the tankers are free. If you include the cost of recapitalizing the tankers, the cost is about $42 a gallon."

Of course YMMV.

I imagine delivering heavy ordinance and spares to remote airfields in Afghanistan will show a similar price increase.

I do agree with you about the relationship between a light attack concept and COIN principles.

tankersteve,

Starbaby's analysis assumes triple the scramble time for a jet. If, procedurally, that can be compressed, the jet will look a lot better.

I'm not against props. Just want to see an in-depth analysis of fully burdend purchase and support costs (including indirect costs such as security forces for forward airfields, and so on), response times, time on station, simulated aimpoints hit, and so on, across various options, using realistic parameters (not marketing spec sheets).

I'd like to see options include prop trainers, jet trainers, UCAS like the GA Avenger (400kts cruise, up to 20 hours endurance, 3000lb payload internal bay), along with traditional fighter aircraft.

One could also throw in speculative aircraft including a high-speed prop attack aircraft, a STOL light attack jet using more efficient bizjet engines, and a tilt-rotor gunship version of the BA609 (260kt cruise, land anywhere). Of course all of these would require development.

Sounds like a RAND project.

Anymouse (not verified)

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 12:37pm

EdT brings up an important point. If the future holds FID and Security Force Assistance in the cards as two of our primary means to avoid the costly COIN-Nation Building types of conflicts we are now engaged in it makes sense that we have the personnel and the platforms to support the light attack mission and capability.

EdT (not verified)

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 12:29pm

Alliance politics can also benifit from networking Light Attack--

The world has taken notice of an important and successful military attack in a nasty war raging in Colombia, South America. The event has a lesson for the American Military especially in Afghanistan.

Recently, Colombia has killed a key FARC leader with a strike task force. As reported by AFP on September 24th, 2010:

"The military said that 72 warplanes, including 30 helicopters, low-flying Super Tucano attack planes and Israeli-built Kfir jets, were involved in the attack, dubbed "Operation Sodom." Also killed were three senior rebel leaders, including a member of the FARC directorate, a regional military commander, and the head of the groups urban militias"

Now shiting to the Pacific theater and a Hi-Lo mix-

A key factor from the successful air attacks by the Colombia AF on the FARC immediately tilted the decision for the Indonesia AF to enter into negations to buy the Super Tucano.

Indonesia is a key country for any Pacific strategy and their recognizing the need for a Light Attack Aircraft shows they take airpower seriously. Remember Indonesia is the largest in population Muslim country in the world.

So when Hawker Beech was trying to hold the Indonesian buy off with promises of a yet to be proven "paper airplane" the AT-6, Indonesian military leaders recognized the tacair success by Colombia and decided not to wait. This is an important alliance consideration.

Why is this critical for China and the Pacific? Because if the U.S. can develop a LAS for the Afghan AF, and learn from the Indonesian buy, then a Foreign Military Sale of US assembled Super Tucanos to the Philippine Air Force is the art of the possible.

Tragically, the Philippines have two parallel COIN fights on their hands. One is against Communist insurrectionist and the other against Islamic fighters. America assisting the Philippines with an aircraft that has been killing FARC guerillas might be a welcome addition to the Philippine AF.

If the US puts a LAS Aircraft in our inventory-we can network security with allies by sharing training and tactics--this can be a huge multipler effect in forging alliances with a nations key combat leaders especially pilots.

Chuck Myers (not verified)

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 11:31am

Our "big war" high performance TAC fighter inventory is essential for MCO; we are wearing them out (at great expense) in "overkill" applications for lesser situations that could easily be serviced by light attack aircraft. Exposing a $50M/copy high performance fighter to ground fire in order to straff infantry makes little sense. And, the 500# bomb is overkill with a high probability for fratricide.

The primary need of our small ground combat units in all forms of war is "response time". The key to providing "immediate response" (what you need when serious engagements occur, especially for ambush)is "presence and persistence" ergo numbers and availability are important. Without light attack, our "grunts" will continue to suffer. The mystery to me is why we do not hear a statement of need from our senior infantry officers???

tankersteve

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 11:02am

Airfield security? Hmm, I am willing to bet that every enduring FOB in theater has a suitable airstrip, already secured, with fuel already driven in for the myriad of helicopters that fly from it.

B. Smitty, you sound like you just don't like props. As Starbaby showed, within 155nm, the Super Tucano has the advantage. Using Kandahar, Salerno, Bagram and Sharana as examples (I am fairly certain all of them already have suitable strips), with 155nm radii drawn, you cover a very significant portion of the US area in Afghanistan (roughly speaking, estimating on a map).

In this fight, we don't need super-expensive, do-it-all fighter/bomber jet aircraft to watch over a patrol tracking enemy gist, nor can we afford to, as the time put on those jet airframes is pretty valuable.

And Dave, if the Army could get the funding, I bet they would love to pick up this mission. It is sexy in an old-school way, and truly gets into supporting the troops on the ground.

Tankersteve

C. W. (not verified)

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 10:36am

First, both the Super T and the AT-6B can easily provide four hours of endurance with "all that ordinance". A better question might be why do we always use 500lb weapons, probably because that is the smallest munitions folks are hauling for thousands of miles around the battlefield. More and more we are concerned with limiting collateral damage (a cornerstone of COIN), so why do we trap ourselves with conventional thinking? Light attack can carry 500lb bombs, but it can also carry other systems that provide flexibility and appropriate firepower to those who needs it.

Airfield security is always an issue, in the case of light attack the number of 5,000' runways around the world is staggering. Light attack also opens the door to operating out of unimproved strips, highways, and other locations that reduce signature and more importantly improve response time to our forces on the ground.

The question about the cost to truck or fly in fuel, munitions and spares to these airfields is the single best argument IN FAVOR of light-attack. Light attack aircraft operate at a fraction of the operating cost of 4th and 5th generation fighters. In fact, using the same amount of fuel it takes the F-15E to start and taxi to the EOR, a light attack aircraft can fly a two hour sortie. The cost of moving fuel and spares to a forward operating location is easily offset by the fact that it costs nearly $18.00 a gallon to put jet fuel at the end of a tanker boom, and the aircraft taking that fuel uses it at a rate ten times higher than a light attack aircraft.

The issue of requiring more crews to cover the same area of the F-16 is yet another complicated question that some make false assumptions about. Will a forward deployed light attack aircraft require more aircrew...it depends. A thorough examination of the case study might show you require more light attack pilots, but no tankers pilots to do the same mission. An honest examination would also look at how much playtime the F-16 has when it proceeds "Buster" to a TIC 500 miles away from one of the few 8,000' runways in some of our current theaters of operation.

The light attack concept also asks us to think about COIN and the principles we claim are key to victory. For example, if a successful COIN campaign starts with the partner nation providing for their own security, shouldn't we ask what these partner nations are more likely to be able to afford to acquire and operate, the F-16 at $30-40 Million and $15-18,000 per hour to operate of a light attack aircraft that costs less than $10 Million and costs $1,000-1,500 an hour to operate.

Understanding the Light Attack concept requires breaking paradigms and giving up parochial thoughts about the application of airpower.

Starbaby (not verified)

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 10:20am

Covering a bunch of bases: The Skyraider and the OV-10 were the conceptual baseline for ACC's OA-X Enabling Concept. The Skyraider was a very large aircraft and there hasn't been a modern counterpart since the 70s. Jets tend to be fuel pigs compared to turboprops, and don't get anywhere near the endurance with the same load. Period.

Neither the Super Tucano nor the AT-6 can get four hours of endurance with a full wall-to-wall combat load. They can get four hours with a useful load. Of course, the sooner you drop all that stuff, the better your drag index gets...

Finally, the response time curves for a prop versus jet look different if you do not have tankers airborne 24/7. In that case, the key metric is actually scramble time, not airspeed. I compared an L-159 (15 min scramble) with a ST (5 min scramble). You can play with those times, but the 5 min for the Super T is proven - and for a jet, even an air defense alert scramble is 8 minutes or longer.

Anyway, constant airspeed, no climb profiles, 450K versus 300K.

At 0:15 the A.29 has already reached any target area inside 50 nm, arriving on station with an endurance over target (playtime) of 2 hours 40 minutes. Indeed, for any range less than 150 miles, the A.29 not only arrives first, but arrives with around two hours of playtime. The breakpoint is 155 nm, where both aircraft are in a virtual tie (36 minutes after scramble), but the L-159 has 48 minutes of playtime to the Super Tucanos hour and 58 minutes.

From 155 to 262 miles, the L-159 arrives first by as much as seven minutes, but at the edge of that ring has only 20 minutes of playtime compared to the 70 minutes that the A.29 has at that range. Holding the A.29 to the same standard of a minimum of 20 minutes of playtime, the combat radius of the L-159 is fixed at 262 miles if it is to return to home base, whereas the combat radius of the Super Tucano extends to 387 nm.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 11:02pm

Excellent point about there being a lot of unimproved airfields in third world countries. All it takes is local labor, hand tools and ground up termite mounds to make a strip suitable for any number of airplane types.

B.Smitty

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 3:34pm

Will a Super Tucano or AT-6B really have four hours of endurance with all that ordinance strapped to them?

How many troops will it take to secure a large enough area around all of these forward airfields to permit reasonably "safe" takeoffs and landings?

How much does it cost to truck or fly in fuel, munitions and spares to these airfields?

How much will it cost to train all of the additional flight and ground crews needed to cover a single F-16's operating area with slower prop aircraft and still give the same CAS response time?

I think there are a lot of hidden costs in the slow prop CAS aircraft CONOPS.

Now if someone were to make an inexpensive light-attack/recc jet or high-speed prop. (e.g. AT-37B)

Nick (not verified)

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 1:39pm

I like the idea. I'd just suggest that we consider something a little heavier (that is, with a heavier bomb/missile/cannon/MG load) than the two aircraft mentioned here. Something with a firepower load approaching that of the old A-1 Skyraider. Anyone know if anything like that - with the advantages of the AT-6B or the EMB-314, but with a greater quantity of weapons - exists these days?

Dave (not verified)

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 11:32am

Or better yet, since the AF is balking, let the Army drive these. It would be a good complement to the AH64.

SJPONeill

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 10:05am

Couldn't agree more!!!

I would also offer that both Super Tucano, AT-6 and others of the ilk include two pairs of real time eyes on the operational environment; and in addition to the kinetic warload above can also carry a range of podded ISR options as well...

I do have a certain fondness for the old OV-10 which must have been one of the, if not the, first customised aircraft in this class and role and which also offered an additional capability in the cargo bay at the rear of the fuselage pod...and, from memory, could also operate from an LHA?

I know of the various regional partnership programmes that the USAF is progressing that may operate this type of aircraft in order that US air capabilities can concentrate on 'real wars' but I would suggest that there would be significant value in it introducing its own organic light attack capabilities...