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The A-10 Warthog: A Core Defense Issue Washington Can No Longer Ignore


 
Close Air Support training  An A-10 Thunderbolt II with the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., drops an AGM-65 Maverick missile during a close air support training mission Sept. 23, 2011, over the Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force Weapons School students participate in many combat training missions over the range during the six-month, graduate-level instructor course held at Nellis AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
Close Air Support training  An A-10 Thunderbolt II with the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., drops an AGM-65 Maverick missile during a close air support training mission Sept. 23, 2011, over the Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force Weapons School students participate in many combat training missions over the range during the six-month, graduate-level instructor course held at Nellis AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

More than 100 people (Hill staff, journalists, combat pilots and ground commanders, DOD officials and think-tankers) recently attended two events on a national security issue that is usually, even studiously, ignored in Washington: what is the most effective role of air power in war, and what is the thinking behind the Air Force leadership's decision to retire the whole force of A-10 close air support aircraft as soon as possible.
 
Almost single handedly, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has given the A-10 retirement issue, and the importance of the "Warthog's" close support mission, a visibility that neither have had on Capitol Hill since the days of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus of the 1980s.  The importance of the A-10, its role in warfare and the future of the Air Force were all discussed in considerable depth at two events sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight. 
 
Some, but far from all, of the issues were addressed in seven news articles prompted by the two events.  More importantly, an amendment incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act by Senator Ayotte mean that the A-10 and close support issues are now rising to Washington DC's consciousness and will remain there for some months to come--until a growing fight is resolved.
 
The material that follows will help you sort through the many issues.  Designed to  permit either a quick read or a deep dive, they include -
  • an executive summary (content: two pages) of the major points of the two Straus/POGO events,
  • a longer, 14 page description of the discussions at the two events,
  • videos of the A-10 in recent combat in Afghanistan and of ground and air operators who worked with the A-10,
  • the audio of the presentations of the day long seminar on November 22,
  • the seven news articles prompted by the two events,
  • a suggested reading list on close air support both today and in history,
  • and more.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to respond.  The described materials follow:

Executive Summary of Proceedings

"Close Air Support with and without the A-10: Will US Troops Get the Help They Need?"

Materials Presented at a Seminar of November 22 and a Briefing of December 5, 2013.

Sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight

Attending the two events were more than 100 people, including congressional staff, journalists, current and recently retired pilots and ground unit commanders, current and former DOD officials and contractors, representatives of think tanks and others. (The all-day seminar on November 22 was open to the public. The shorter briefing of December 5 was exclusively for congressional staff.)

Speakers included combat aviation designers, former senior Pentagon Officials, ground and air combat veterans of the Vietnam, Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and a scholar of human effects.  Their bios are available here

The timing of the events was prompted by the Air Force's long pursued plan to retire the A-10 ("Warthog") close air support aircraft.  However, the discussions went far beyond saving A-10s and addressed the most effective use of air power-including by the Marine Corps and Army-the character of future war, and how to design and buy effective combat aircraft.

Major Points and Conclusions from the Two Events

"Strategic" Bombing vs. Close Support: With a few atypical exceptions, such as Maj. Gen. "Pete" Quesada's IX Tactical Air Force in Europe in 1944 and the A-10 itself, the US Air Force has historically shown little interest in the Close Air Support (CAS) mission for Soldiers or Marines engaged in combat.  Instead, since the 1920's, it has shaped its forces around Giulio Douhet's notion of winning wars through air power alone: that is, massive "strategic" bombing of the enemy's cities and his "critical node" targets.  While one "skeptical questioner" expressed a very different view, this fixation on autonomous bombing described variously as "deep strike," "Revolution in Military Affairs," and "Air-Sea Battle" air operations has meant unaffordable costs, frequently ineffective-if not counter-productive-air power, and typically longer wars.

CAS Basics: Close Air Support-immediate, extremely accurate and persistent fire support and observation for troops directly engaged in combat-is the most effective way air power can impact the land battle and therefore the war.  Also known as "MAS" (Maneuver Air Support), its most important characteristic is at the "people" level:  Air and ground commanders--at all levels--must want it to occur, and the air and ground operators performing CAS must "live among each other's armpits" in order to understand each other's tactical needs, achieve split second implicit communication and innovate ever new and increasingly powerful ways of combining air and ground assets.  Wherever cooperation this close has occurred, CAS has been overwhelmingly successful in saving the lives of troops in contact with the enemy, greatly reducing the "friendly fire" events that devastate units at the moral, mental and physical levels, and achieving operational victory.

If the Air Force succeeds in "divesting" the A-10 fleet, the existing cadre of dedicated, highly skilled CAS experts will be dispersed, leaving only partially trained multi-mission pilots with weak ties to the ground forces:  that is to say, pilots who will see CAS as a secondary mission and who will necessarily perform it from inappropriate altitudes and distances, at inappropriate speeds, from inappropriate aircraft.  Because of their inherent vulnerability, maneuverability and other limitations, the helicopters in the Army and Marine Corps, the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing jets of the Marines Corps and "fast mover" fighters and bombers of the Air Force cannot replicate the capabilities of the A-10.  In particular, the Air Force's and the Marines' new multi-role jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cannot match the A-10 on virtually any the primary characteristics of an effective close air support aircraft; for CAS it is a major step backward.

Recent combat videos were shown to demonstrate how "danger close" CAS is delivered to troops heavily engaged in close, dynamically changing combat.  Ground and air veterans described the operating characteristics that make the A-10 such an effective CAS airplane:

  • A cadre of CAS pilots who thoroughly understand the mission and constantly train it;
  • Ability to fly low and slow enough to find targets independently, distinguish real targets from civilians and friendlies, operate in bad weather (below ceilings of 1,000 feet) when the enemy likes to attack and turn around and re-attack in a matter of seconds;
  • Three hours of fuel and weapons enabling an extended lethal presence over the battlefield, and the ability to do that up to three times a day;
  • Operating off rough airstrips (such as has been the case in Afghanistan and Iraq's western desert) and living in tents to foster close coordination with the ground force;
  • Extreme survivability from armor, triple redundant flight controls, adequate countermeasures and tactics; for example, against modern Iraqi and Serb air defenses in 1991 and 1999, A-10s proved far more survivable than predicted and at least as survivable as far more costly, so-called "more capable" aircraft, such as the F-117.
  • A simple, rugged airframe that can be maintained and repaired quickly;
  • A highly effective, precise weapon--usable when the enemy is ten yards from friendlies--such as the GAU-8 gun with enough ammunition for ten to twelve firing passes.
  • A diversity of other munitions to compensate for those that may be defeated by countermeasures in future war (GPS guidance) or that may not be useable for extremely close-in attacks (laser guidance);
  • Radios (and commensurate training) to communicate effectively with all levels of ground forces;
  • High combat capability per dollar to produce a force that can be bought and maintained in large numbers at affordable cost.

 

As pointed out by one of its originators, the A-10 can be improved on, but not by any aircraft or helicopter currently being used, bought or planned by the Air Force, Marines, or Army.

Key point from the audience: "Anybody can carry [precision guided] GBU-12s, but that does not mean you can do close air support."

Audio from the Proceedings

The audio of the entire November 22 seminar is available at the links listed below in twelve parts; each of these are also linked at the appropriate place in the "long" summary of the seminar (see separate document):

1.      Danielle Brian (Welcome and Introduction)

2.      Pierre Sprey

3.      Bill Sweetman

4.      Chuck Myers

5.      Mark Gunzinger

6.      Lt.Col. Geg Wilcox

7.      Capt. Daniel O'Hara

8.      Lt. Col.  John Tillson

9.      Lt.Col. William Smith

10.  Q&A with LtCol Smith

11.  Jonathan Shay

12.  Thomas Christie et. al.

 

Articles From Journalists at the Seminar

1. Defense News, Aaron Mehta, December 2, 2013: If a Future A-10 Happens, Expect Minor Changes.

2. Flight Global, John Hemmerdinger, November 23, 2013:  A-10 Thunderbolt debate continues amid potential budget cuts.

3. The American Conservative, Kelly Vlahos, November 29, 2013: Why the Warthog Matters.

4. War Is Boring, Dave Majumdar, November 24, 2013: Military Tells A-10 Pilots Not to Attend Pro-Warthog Confab-They Show Up Anyway.

5. Politico, Leigh Munsil, November 29, 2013: The Battle to Save the Warthogs. (Subscriber link.)

6.  Aviation Week, Bill Sweetman: A-10: The Victim of Difficult Choices.

7.  Air Force Times, Aaron Mehta, December 12,2013: A-10 Supporters Include Protective Language in NDAA.

8. PBS News Video on the A-10 by Dan Sagalyn, February 25, 2014: How the A-10 Warthog became 'the most survivable plane ever built'.

Find selected readings on close air support here

Long Summary of Proceedings: Seminar of November 22, and Briefing of December 5, 2013

"Close Air Support with and without the A-10: Will US Troops Get the Help They Need?"

 Sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight

Speakers' bios are here

Attending the all-day seminar on November 22 were approximately 80 people, including congressional staff, journalists, current and recently retired pilots and ground unit commanders, current and former DOD officials and contractors, representatives of think tanks and others.

Attending the one hour briefing on December 5 were approximately 30 House and Senate staff.

This summary addresses both events.

Comments from Speakers

Audio of Introduction on 11/22/2013 by POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian

Pierre Sprey: (Spoke at both events.) (Find his slides here.) 

11/22/2013 Audio: http://www.pogoarchives.org/straus/a-10/A10Conference_pt1_sprey.mp3

The seminar and briefing are not about the A-10; they are about the future of the close air support (CAS) mission and the effectiveness of US air power in future wars. 

The "people issues" are far more important than the hardware issues. 

There has been a "long festering sore" of inadequate support for US ground forces in combat, and the Air Force is not the only military service that has let the ground forces down.  The Army has betrayed fighting men by relying on less effective, highly vulnerable helicopters for CAS.  The Marine Corps had sold out the mission since adopting low payload, short range, highly vulnerable, short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, starting with the AV-8B in the 1980s.

There is a small cadre in the Air Force and Air National Guard (ANG) of A-10 pilots and support personnel, Forward Air Controllers (FACs) and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs). This is probably less than 5,000 people, but all are specially committed to and expert at the CAS mission, especially in their understanding of the ground battle. The Air Force "divestiture" plan (and interesting of words by the Air Force) will scatter this community to the winds.

Already these people face a climate of intimidation unparalleled in the 40 year history of the A-10.  Air Force leadership is showing an appalling attitude and lack of trust of its own people: by telling active duty and ANG pilots not to attend the seminar or to shut up if they do and by making clear that careers will be harmed if people speak out to assist the objectives of the seminar today.  The same poisonous attitude was also found in parts of Marine Corps leadership.

There are two central questions: What is the role of air power?  What is CAS?

Italian World War One General Guilio Douhet never flew an aircraft, but made himself a career out of prophesizing about the use of air power.  He advocated the indiscriminant use of terrorization of the enemy homeland (literally "shock and awe") and promised enemy capitulation in four weeks on the theory that enough slaughter would end the war.   He further prophesized that this could be achieved with just 300 tons of bombs. He turned out to be dead wrong on every count.

Douhet became enormously popular in the US Army Air Corps well before World War Two: the result was leveled cities in Germany, Japan, North Korea, and Vietnam; it is also little known that in North Korea, Laos and Cambodia, American air power indiscriminately destroyed countless cities and villages; the only effect was to significantly lengthen those wars.

American General "Pete" Quesada was the polar opposite. With brilliant organizing, he figured out how to employ 900 fighter aircraft to support the World War Two allies' D-Day landings in Europe, protecting them from being driven back into the sea.  He was a pioneer in the effective use of air power as a part of the larger battle, as also demonstrated in Patton's drive across France.

With only scarce and hand-me-down resources, the Quesada approach achieved amazing things in Korea, where the unsuitable P-51 Mustang and the more effective F4U Corsair were used, and in Indochina, where the A-1 Skyraider proved most effective--and "fast mover" jets (e.g. F-4 Phantom) were unsuitable.

The poor support of the Air Force for CAS even now is shown by the presence of only a half-squadron of 12 A-10s today in Afghanistan.

There is a long string of broken promises, lengthened wars and unsupported troops from the Douhet school that still reigns today in the Air Force as "shock and awe," "revolution in military affairs," "air-sea battle," etc.  It is a target list mentality that easily sways civilians and dilatants because it appears to make sense at the superficial level.

The Quesada approach instead destroys the enemy's fighting cohesion and enables him to be torn apart to achieve fast victories.

What it takes to perform CAS:

First, more than anything else, it requires ground and air commanders that want to perform it.  Regulations and doctrine are irrelevant.  Unless the commanders at the three or four star level want it, it will not happen.  A classic example is Quesada setting up a tent next to General Bradley's in the sand on the Normandy beach three days after the D-Day invasion started.

Second, it requires forward observers on the battlefield, such as JTACs, as the single-most important tactical ground resource.  Today, no one wants to bother to train them. If they are not on the immediate battlefield, they are worse than useless.  Locating them for Afghanistan in places like Qatar demonstrates the Air Force's negative attitude toward CAS ("a ludicrous way to do it").  It puts the JTAC out of touch with what is actually happening on the ground and in the air.  Moreover, the JTAC does not need to be an officer, just someone who understands ground and air tactics.  He must hang out with both the ground and air elements to implicitly understand their needs and their words in actual combat.

Third, lowest on the totem pole is the airplane itself.   It must be able to fire extremely accurately to not kill/wound friendlies; the 30mm GAU-8 is best at this.  It also must be able to perform up to 20 attack passes on targets and hang around for a minimum of two hours.  It must be able to maneuver at less than 300 knots and at less than 1,000 feet to find, identify and accurately hit targets.  It needs to generate many sorties per day-at least three.

The Air Force's decision will have consequences:

1.      The CAS cadre will disappear and be replaced by multi-mission pilots with CAS as a low priority.  No one left will care about or know how to really perform the mission.

2.      We will be dependent on 8,000 foot finished-concrete runways to support whatever aircraft the Air Force uses to perform CAS.

3.      We will lose the ability to design a new CAS airplane; the opportunity to improve on the A-10 will be lost.

4.      We will convey the message to the fighting man on the ground that he is mostly on his own: "we have more important things to do."

 

Bill Sweetman: Skeptical Questioner and Other Questions from the Floor

11/22/2013 Bill Sweetman Audio

Sweetman has no disagreement that CAS is an important part of the Air Force's mission, but there has been a "huge technological revolution" with targeting pods with IR and laser designation and with ROVER to enable aircraft to share their video with the ground.  We are also seeing small laser guided munitions that can operate close in to engaged infantry: there is a preference by some for laser guided munitions as they can be moved off the target at the last moment if there is a friendly fire problem discovered in time. [See comment below that laser guidance may be inappropriate for low level CAS due to its long minimum range.]

We could add this capability to any platform, such as the Super Tucano and all the way up to C-130 gunships or other large transport aircraft.  Such systems are no longer vulnerable to man portable air defense systems (MANPADS) thanks to new countermeasures.  There are many options; technology to designate targets on the ground has been improving.

There are serious limits to CAS: it is expensive to train for it, especially in a complex environment.

The A-10 does bring some advantages: is it inherently better at endurance and maneuver. But, is the answer to keep 300+ plus of them?  This is larger than some complete air forces.  It is perhaps best to keep less than 100 until another solution is available, perhaps from Sweden.

Sweetman Comment in the Aftermath of the Nov. 22 Seminar: CAS is also the job of the Marines and the Army, and both have been given tons of money to spend on it. Both, at least as much as the Air Force, have pounded the CAS mission into their own different molds. The Army: if it's not organic to my immediate command (that is, is a helicopter that hasn't got the legs to support the next division over), it doesn't count; the Marines have subordinated the task to their Guadalcanal fixation [with air to air and deep strike missions]. 

Much of the [budget and capability] fix that the Air Force is in can be traced to the Marines' takeover of the monopoly fighter replacement program [specifically, the F-35 and its basic design around the STOVL requirement], which had made it even later and more expensive (and with less performance) than it would have been already. 

Unless the F-35 program is drastically altered - which as has repeatedly been shown is well above the pay grade of anyone in the Air Force - there will be no respite for the A-10. 

It's crucial for CAS to be studied, measured and planned in a cross-service environment, so that whatever solution is offered is weighed against other missions and other ways to do the job. 

Just as the Air Force has never accurately predicted future war, so too have the Marines been fixated on an amphibious landing capability that has not been used in any significant way, or perhaps even required, since the 1950s.

Sprey Response: 300 CAS aircraft is only a pinprick force; we have priced ourselves out of a properly sized air force.  There is indeed a lot of interesting technology, but we need "good tech," not "high tech," and it should go nowhere before it is tested to standards of performance and realism that do not currently exist in DOD.  Make them work on the battlefield, not just the briefing slides and make sure you can perform 20 passes at the same or less cost.

A primary reason why the Air Force wants to move away from the CAS mission is to protect and expand as much as possible its budget for high cost aircraft, including the F-35 and the new long range bomber. The "revolving door" (careerism and career advancement to outside the Pentagon) is also a powerful reason. 

The end of the A-10 means you will likely never again get cheap, effective aircraft for the Air Force--or for the Army or Marine Corps.

There are cases where helicopters have provided effective CAS, but helicopters are also far less survivable and can get 5-10 times more pilots killed against competent defenses.  They cannot operate at close in ranges and survive defenses.  Also, helicopters do not carry as effective weapons/munitions.

The diversity of weapons that a CAS aircraft can carry is key.  The ability to communicate directly with the ground (both the hardware and the human communication skills) is every bit as important.

Sprey Comment on the Super Tucano after the Seminar: The Super Tucano is a poor replacement for the A-10.  Because the airplane (and pilot) can be torn apart even by light machineguns, the Tucano cannot operate low enough (not without intolerable losses) to detect and attack the close-in, camouflaged, hard-to-see threats that are the most imminent dangers to our troops. It simply does not have the extensive pilot protection, fire/explosion prevention, and fully redundant, independent flight control system provisions that were designed into the A-10 and that have proven it to be far more survivable than any aircraft ever built. Even in comparison with the A-10's considerably less survivable predecessors--the P-47s, Corsairs and A-1s, all successfully used in WWII, Korea and Vietnam close support--the Tucano, with its highly vulnerable turbo-jet engine, is notably less survivable.

The most combat-critical armament of any close support airplane is the internal gun--this is the weapon of choice whenever threats within 100m of friendlies have to be dealt with. The P-47 and Corsair had six or more caliber .50 machineguns, the A-1 had four 20mm cannons and the A-10 has a seven barrel 30mm cannon capable of destroying any infantry or armor target on the battlefield. The Super Tucano has only two caliber .50 machineguns and thus cannot destroy protected machine gun emplacements, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces or tanks--all of them high priority targets that are easily dispatched by the A-10.

A-10 Pilot Comment from Audience: The important lesson from exercises and combat is that the culture of CAS and training is most important.  Key point: "Anybody can carry GBU-12s [laser guided bombs], but that does not mean you can do close air support."  If the CAS culture dies out, CAS is dead.  The culture in the Marine Corps assures that CAS pilots will get cooperation. 

 

Chuck Myers (Find his slides here.)

 11/22/2013 Chuck Myers Audio

Myers grew up at Langley Field in the days of the Army Air Service; flew with the Army Air Corps with the 5th Air Force in the Pacific in World War Two.

CAS is not a pleasant mission; none of his commanders in the war were interested in it.  "Apprehension," in the form of fear of killing friendly troops, was the worst part-more so than fear of enemy defenses.  The mission was performed only sporadically.

It is useful to read all 274 pages of Joint DOD Publication 3-09.3 (Close Air Support).  However, experience and learning from failures is essential. 

CAS is a mission that requires constant training and exercises. The Air Force is not doing this anymore and is planning to throw away all this experience and know-how.

Helicopters are fun to fly but no one should have to go to war in them: you have to crash with the aircraft (no parachute/ejection), and they are easy to lose control of.  The Army is only using them because they were denied aircraft in the 1948 Key West agreement and afterwards.  The Army had to opt for helicopters because it knew the Air Force would abandon the mission and would not be able to deliver close combat ("Save My Ass") fires.

The A-10 has demonstrated three essential characteristics in Afghanistan:

1) The pilots do CAS all the time and they know how to do it;

2) Response time to requests from the ground is near instant (the importance of long loiter capability), and

3) The A-10 is adaptive: in the pilots' culture, the ability to follow a moving fight, the ability to operate under the weather and given all the munitions the airplane can carry.

The CAS mission must be flown under the weather; otherwise, the enemy will always be able to operate in weather/under the overcast.

The only time to replace the A-10 is when there is an aircraft that can perform the mission better, or at least as well. That requirement immediately excludes the F-35.

 

Mark Gunzinger: Skeptical Commenter and Questions from the Floor

11/22/2013 Mark Gunzinger Audio

Gunzinger flew the even uglier B-52.

There should also be seminars on other aging aircraft, including the F-15, KC-135, etc.

General Welsh's problem is that he needs to cut $50 billion over five years out of the Air Force's budget and find a way to modernize the force.  In this post-war world, there is no Reagan-era backlog of already-bought equipment.  Most new aircraft procured over the last decade were transports, Remotely Piloted Aircraft and a few F-22s.  We need to replace our nation's aging air forces.

The world is increasingly hostile; we need modern aircraft to counter new threats.  We must look at the future force structure from the "strategic" and "joint" perspective.  New equipment must be multi-mission capable.  Single mission aircraft put too much emphasis on narrow challenges.

For example, a new long range bomber is needed because a future conflict, 20 years out, against the integrated defenses of a major power cannot be excluded.  We will no longer have precision-guided munition "dominance." 

Single mission capabilities may be too expensive for DOD to maintain, especially if each military service is pursuing its own capabilities that can perform CAS as well as other missions.

Myers: General Welsh does not address what the infantry says it needs for future warfare; CAS is simply not on his priority list.  It is better to spend less, not more, on fallacious, so-called "strategic" assets.

Comments from Two Former Pentagon Officials from the Floor: "Prioritizing" in the Pentagon actually means we do not prepare for war, but instead each military service gets behind its favorite program, with the enablement of the other services (ergo, "jointness").  The Douhet approach, what "strategic" and "joint" actually mean, has failed to deal with the problem or to put together an effective force.

Pentagon insiders who advocate things like the A-10 and its replacement are regarded as "the enemy" by Air Force leadership, just as Quesada was regarded as "the enemy."  Generalities about "strategic" and "joint" are unsupported by the facts, and without specifically identifying the future enemy as China (for political correctness reasons and to mask the bankruptcy of current "strategic" thinking), advocates postulate it as the future enemy to garner support for a costly budget agenda.

Comment from an A-10 Pilot: In 75 years the Air Force has never accurately predicted future war and the weapons it has required.  We always predict the need for "strategic" capabilities, learning nothing from past wars.  The Air Force never prepares for actual war.

After the Korean War, strategic bombing advocate General Curtis Lemay was asked what he learned from the Korean War; he responded, "Nothing," meaning that he believed tactical combat would never be fought again.  That misunderstanding is being repeated today.

The A-10 actually is a multi-mission aircraft, performing air defense suppression and "offensive counter air" in Operation Desert Storm, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) in Kosovo, and "strategic" bombing over Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

CAS from Drones Question:  Myers: Drones have a large and expensive logistics tail.  At a minimum, the Afghanistan experience with them only shows that a great deal of trial in exercises is needed to evaluate them properly.

Comment from a Special Forces JTAC at the Dec. 5 Hill Briefing: The MQ-9 drone (Reaper) has been used to support the ground battle mostly in the form of over-watch.  The small payload and lack of diversity of weapons severely limits how they can be used.  Among both JTACs and ground forces, the A-10 is the strongly preferred platform; troops have confidence in it, far more so than MQ-9, F-16, F-15, B-1, or B-52.  Without the A-10, Washington should be prepared to tell the families of dead ground troops why they killed the A-10.

 

Lt. Col. Greg Wilcox (USA, ret.)

11/22/2013 Lt. Col. Greg Wilcox Audio

Wilcox's experience in Vietnam (three tours) showed that training does not teach how to communicate with the Air Force from the ground. It is essential for the ground and air operators to literally live and eat together to learn to communicate with each other implicitly.  Just as the pilot must live and operate with the ground forces, so must the ground unit commander spend many hours in the air to learn how the air components sees things and operates. 

Even in an insurgency environment, the enemy will have weapons that are extremely dangerous to helicopters and any aircraft, including high speed aircraft, that are not made highly survivable with armor and triple redundant systems.

CAS from the air has the important effect on the ground of helping to calm the ground forces when they are under extreme stress.  The voice of the pilot is "the voice of God" that help is on the way.

 

Captain Daniel O'Hara (USMC)

11/22/2013 Captain Daniel O'Hara Audio

During O'Hara's first deployment to Afghanistan in 2009 as a platoon commander, he led 170 patrols, 120 of them involving close air support.  In his second tour as a company executive officer, his job was to facilitate CAS for squads. 

The Marine Corps sees CAS as a way to support Marines just as with artillery or machine guns.  CAS is integral to the operation and success of the force. He had experience with A-10s, Cobra and Huey helicopters and Reaper drones and "loved" having A-10s for support; the pilots understood the Marine culture; the A-10 pilot and the ground commander would understand each other; they spoke the same language.

The A-10 could "stay around" long enough to finally get identification and location of the enemy.  The psychological power of the A-10 was important: "we love it; the enemy hates it."  It helps Marines feel good; that they have support; it hinders the enemy's psychology.  The ability to employ "show of force" (a low level pass without employing munitions) helps the Marines to maneuver against the enemy.

Cobra helicopters were also effective and had the same psychological impact.

He had lots of Reaper experience; was able to figure out a way to use it almost every day.  It could hang around for a long time; long loiter is very good; they helped to identify the enemy and track them.

Other fixed wing aircraft, such as the F-18 and its 20mm gun and some bombs, were usually too far away, and could not loiter over the battlefield.

Lt. Col. John Tillson (USA, ret.)

11/22/2013 Lt. Col. John Tillson Audio

During the Cold War, the Air Force plan was to ignore the Soviet operational maneuver groups (the ground forces) and to instead go deep performing offensive counter air (OCA) against airfields and command and control.  The Air Force did not understand the operational need to prevent NATO from being defeated while the Air Force "went OCA."

Tillson Comments Shortly After the Nov. 22 Seminar: There are two points about the A-10 that need to be understood.

First, the A-10 is a true multi-role airplane for the missions that are important to the outcome of wars. Those missions are support of ground forces as in Afghanistan, interdiction or deeper attack of enemy ground forces as in the battle of Kafji in Desert Storm in 1991 and in the destruction of the surface to surface missile threat, also in the first gulf war.

The A-10 was also the only effective attack aircraft in Bosnia and Kosovo where the Serbs were able to hide their forces from high, fast fliers. Think about the outcome of the Black Hawk Down battle in Mogadishu had the US forces had A-10 support. Think about the ability to halt the escape of the Republican Guard from Basra in February 1991 had the 144 A-10s in theater been unleashed.

On the other hand, the Air Force has consistently demonstrated that its favorite missions - deep bombing and "Shock and Awe" - do not accomplish their goals regardless of the vast sums the nation pays to build and maintain this capability.

Second, in this era of financial constraints, the A-10 is by far the most cost effective attack aircraft (fixed or rotary wing) in the DOD inventory. There are a number of factors that make it so cost effective: it can fly multiple sorties per day compared to one for the F-16/15 (who knows how many the F-35 will be able to fly); it has an austere support tail and can operate from expeditionary airfields; and, of course, we already own it.

The A-10 is the most effective and most cost effective aircraft in the DOD inventory. It should be the last attack aircraft (fixed or rotary wing) that DOD does away with.

 

Lt. Col. William E. ("Smitty") Smith Jr.,  (USAF/ANG, Ret.)  (Spoke at both events.) (Find his slides here.) 

11/22/2013 Lt. Col. William E. ("Smitty") Smith Jr. Audio

(Find his videos here, here and here.)  (Find a separate but related video here) [Notably, "Smitty" performed his presentation alone, without several other pilots who wanted to join him at the podium but were unable to because of Air Force command's "culture of intimidation" to ruin the career of any flying pilot (or any working for DOD contractors) who dared to question command's decisions on force structure or acquisition.]

Lt Col Smith flew 3,000 hours in the A-10, including 128 combat sorties in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

A-10 characteristics that make it successful:

  • A cadre of CAS pilots who thoroughly understand the mission and constantly train it;
  • Able to operate below weather ceiling of 1,000 feet; the enemy will always attempt to exploit bad weather when other aircraft cannot operate effectively;
  • Three hours of fuel and weapons to stay at the battlefield and remain lethal;
  • Can operate off of rough airstrips that are unusable for other aircraft, as demonstrated for years in Afghanistan;
  • A-10 crew can live and operate out of tents, not buildings, to enable interaction with ground forces;
  • Most survivable aircraft in the world, due to titanium "bathtub," triple redundant flight controls and adequate, modern countermeasures;
  • The GAU-8 is far superior to other aircraft guns; others, such as F-15/16, have 5 seconds of rounds for two or three "trigger squeezes" of a less effective round.  A-10 has 1,174 rounds for 10 to 12 passes ("trigger squeezes") over a target area;
  • In a real war, GPS munitions will be "down" (unusable), which can mean no guided munitions for many aircraft, while the A-10 retains the highly precise GAU-8; Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) require a minimum range of 250-300 meters which can restrict their utility for close in CAS;
  • More combat capability per dollar than any other air to ground aircraft, which means a fleet of adequate numbers can be bought and maintained.

Lt. Col. Smith presented three videos. (Find them here, here and here.)  They addressed how close a CAS aircraft must be to operate effectively in a moving, dynamic ground engagement and how close the enemy is to friendly troops in such engagements, requiring the acute awareness of the CAS pilot of the situation on the ground and the extreme accuracy that is required.

(After the seminar, another informative video was identified, presenting the description of A-10 CAS being called in by a decorated Air Force JTAC within only a few meters of his position.)

Lt Col. Smith Comment at Dec. 5 Briefing: Because of its focus on helicopters resulting from the 1948 Key West Agreement with the Air Force, the Army is not interested in the A-10.  Adopting it would undo the huge helicopter empire in the Army, and the Army would have to learn a great deal about fixed wing, close in CAS.

 

Questions/Discussion

11/22/2013 Question and Discussion Audio

Elements that should be added to the list of required CAS aircraft/A-10 characteristics are ability to return to base damaged, ability to quickly repair battle damage (i.e. absence of complex structures, such as stealth coatings), and ability to quickly turn around to re-attack targets.

Marines find that there is not a lot of difference in talking to Marine Cobra pilots and Air Force A-10 pilots; the A-10 pilots clearly understand the needs and language of the ground forces.

The Army has become fixated on protecting its budget for attack helicopters, not appearing to be just a "tag team" for aircraft performing CAS, and avoiding interference from the Air Force on how to perform CAS.   None of these bureaucratic preoccupations advances the effectiveness of Army CAS.

Sprey Response to Question on Desired Improvements to the A-10: Desired improvements include 

  • More thrust to escape target area defenses, but without reducing fuel efficiency to maintain or extend loiter;
  • Tighter/quicker turn around for even faster re-attack;
  • Improved gun with faster spin up rate for the very first rounds (which are always the ones most on target);
  • More variety in the types of gun rounds;
  • Make the entire aircraft smaller;
  • Make aircraft even quieter;
  • Even more flexibility where the aircraft can land/take off to enable closer contact with ground forces.

 

Jonathan Shay, Author on Human Effects

11/22/2013 Jonathan Shay Audio

Fratricide is a critical issue for the effectiveness of fighting forces and their moral health and morale.  It is not a technological problem, but a social problem.  The damage it does to both the receiving unit and the delivering unit, as well as the frequency of such accidents, is vastly increased when the operational leaders, several ranks deep, of the two units do not know each other by name and voice on the field telephone or radio.  Ideally they should eat together and "live in each other's armpits."  When this is so, accidents will still happen, but their frequency and severity will be greatly reduced, and when they do happen, they are treated as deaths in the family and grieved -- and neither the receiving unit, nor the delivering unit are destroyed as effective organizations.

Joint Publication 3.09-3 on CAS mentions fratricide 40 times, but ¾'s of the uses talk about reducing it without addressing the social and emotional connection between the air and ground operators as a way to avoid it.

More than "gee whiz" technologies, we need to keep the ground and air operators together, training together (in prolonged, realistic training), living together to build trust and the ability to communicate with each other implicitly.  This requires the pilots and commanders to visit ground units and live there.  Radios, even good ones, do not perform this function.

 

Thomas Christie, Former Director of Operational Test and Evaluation and Pentagon Insider

11/22/2013 Thomas Christie Audio

The primary objective should be to keep the current A-10 force together until it can be replaced with a follow-on platform that performs better on all dimensions and is low cost.  The F-35 is the polar opposite: worse on virtually all dimensions that are important to a CAS aircraft and completely unaffordable in cost.

The situation today in trying to move out on a replacement for the A-10 in the CAS mission is very different than that of the early-to-mid 1970s when the original A-10 program, known as A-X, and the Lightweight Fighter program (LWF), which became the F-16, got underway in earnest. Then, the Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, was an ardent supporter of both programs and was willing to weigh in personally to assure the programs were funded and supported on the Hill. Furthermore, both programs had avid supporters in key positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense: Chuck Myers headed the DDR&E (now AT&L) Tactical Air Warfare Programs, while Christie was the TACAIR Director in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Analysis and Evaluation. Both of these offices had direct access to the secretary of defense (SecDef) and, with allies in the Comptroller's office, were able to detect and head off repeated Air Force attempts to cut funding for either the A-X or LWF. Furthermore the A-X program enjoyed the support of a dedicated cadre of colonels and lieutenant colonels (albeit somewhat underground at times) on the staff of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who were invaluable to the OSD offices in protecting the A-X and the A-10 as the program evolved.
 
Today, you have almost the opposite situation with respect to a potential A-10 replacement program. Such a program, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as a threat to the current sacred cow, the F-35. There has been a succession of SecDefs, to include Secretary Hagel, who have become committed to the F-35 program while the aforementioned OSD offices that were so key to the success of the A-10 program in the 1970s and 1980s are now in the forefront with their avid support of the F-35. Likewise, it is difficult to locate any support for an A-10 follow-on or perhaps even the CAS mission in any key Air Staff or Air Force Secretariat offices.
 
Indicative of the lengths the corporate Air Force will go to cut off any serious attempt at starting an A-10 replacement is the sordid story of an OSD initiative for a follow-on Close Air Support aircraft in the mid- to late-1980s. During the FY 1988 Budget deliberations in the Pentagon in late 1986, the SecDef decided that the Air Force should fund and carry out design studies for an A-10 replacement in the 1990s. The issue had been brought to the SecDef level by the two OSD offices, DDR&E and PA&E, so prominent ten to fifteen years prior in supporting the A-10. 

This OSD initiative was based on the Air Force Program Objective Memorandum (POM) that showed the AF's intentions to begin retiring the A-10 fleet (whose average age was probably less than ten years) and to fulfill its commitment to the CAS mission with F-16s. Based on objections by both the Air Force and the Army, the SecDef established a Close Air Support Mission Area Review Group (CASMARG) to oversee the development of requirements and the progress of DoD-funded design studies for a new CAS aircraft. The CASMARG was established and consisted of senior representatives from the relevant OSD offices as well from the Air Staff and Army Staff. It functioned for less than a year, with both the Air Force and Army representatives dedicated to insuring that nothing substantive came of the effort.

Notwithstanding that, there was some design study activity initiated by a couple of aircraft companies that were hopeful that something concrete might eventually evolve from this effort. One of these outfits was Lockheed at Marietta, where a relatively low level design study produced some interesting results.  That effort came to a screeching halt when the Air Force let Lockheed know of its displeasure at giving any credibility to the notion that a follow-on to the A-10 was a serious effort.

Additional Materials

Videos that were presented at the seminar and/or briefing or that depict CAS

1.      Machine gunner in Afghanistan receiving A-10 support     

2.      Dramatic footage of interaction between ground force and A-10 pilot in a dynamic, moving engagement in Afghanistan

3.      An oral presentation at the Air Force academy describing the nature of CAS 

4.      Description of a decorated Air Force JTAC of the extremely short range CAS he received in Afghanistan

 

11/22 Audio of all parts

The audio of the entire November 22 seminar is available at the links listed below in twelve parts; each of these are also linked at the appropriate place in the "long" summary of the seminar (see separate document):

1.      Danielle Brian (Welcome and Introduction)

2.      Pierre Sprey

3.      Bill Sweetman

4.      Chuck Myers

5.      Mark Gunzinger

6.      Lt.Col. Geg Wilcox

7.      Capt. Daniel O'Hara

8.      Lt. Col.  John Tillson

9.      Lt.Col. William Smith

10.  Q&A with LtCol Smith

11.  Jonathan Shay

12.  Thomas Christie et. al.

 

Winslow Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight

By: Winslow Wheeler
Director, Straus Military Reform Project, CDI at POGO, POGO

Mr. Wheeler's areas of expertise include Congress, the Defense Budget, National Security, Pentagon Reform and Weapons Systems

The goal of the Straus Military Reform Project is to secure far more effective military forces and much more ethical and professional military and civilian leadership at significantly lower budget levels.

We would like to thank Philip A. Straus Jr. and family for their generous support.

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