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Thor

AF Considering Short Term OA-X

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So the AF is considering getting some new, light aircraft basically to fly with A-10s (eventually replacing them) during counter-terrorism missions.  With all of the flak the A-10 has received (especially regarding the possibility of its retirement, only to be replaced by a multi-role fighter) do you all think having a short-term replacement is a good idea?  Should we just stick with the original multi-role option?

Sources -- http://warontherocks.com/2016/08/oa-x-more-than-just-light-attack/ -- https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usaf-seeks-two-new-close-air-support-aircraft-427769/

Edited by Thor

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So, they need to end the A-10 to pull the maintainers for the F-35... But they're going to buy a new airframe to fly alongside the A-10? Must be super-duper high tech and needs zero maintenance. 

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Credible source says A-29 SuperT and Scorpion Jet will do a flying demonstration next early spring.  Not sure if those are the only participants, but that's all I heard.

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If only there was some platform capable of carrying lots of ordnance, loitering for forever, and didn't cost an arm and a leg to develop or maintain.

Besides another A-10, of course.

 

If only...

fov10_p_02_l.jpg

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You think they thought about all the details already?  Planes first, then pilots...and er, maintenance, yeah that's probably good to have too!

If done right, it's a good idea.
...IF...

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Better late than never.

Just give the aircraft/mission to AFSOC (LAAR / COIN), I suspect ACC will make an effort to look interested then sh*t can the idea after a period of time of seeming to look busy at investigating it.

Edited by Clark Griswold
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On 9/27/2016 at 5:36 PM, nsplayr said:

Credible source says A-29 SuperT and Scorpion Jet will do a flying demonstration next early spring.  Not sure if those are the only participants, but that's all I heard.

If the AF actually does something intelligent and gets a decent COIN aircraft like the A-29, I know a bunch of dudes with a thousand plus single turbo prop time who would volunteer.

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On 9/27/2016 at 11:24 AM, Kiloalpha said:

So, they need to end the A-10 to pull the maintainers for the F-35... But they're going to buy a new airframe to fly alongside the A-10? Must be super-duper high tech and needs zero maintenance. 

If it is a short term, Big Safari program, likely it will be contract maintenance.  This gets the system up quicker and doesn't require allocated manpower.  If the program were to last long enough/get big enough, blue suit maintenance might become a player.

Examples:  MC-12 was contract maintenance.  MQ-1/9 began as contract maintenance, and eventually blue suiters were added (not sure if there are still contract maintainers, or if it eventually went 100% blue suit).

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On September 27, 2016 at 6:36 PM, nsplayr said:

Credible source says A-29 SuperT and Scorpion Jet will do a flying demonstration next early spring.  Not sure if those are the only participants, but that's all I heard.

nsplayr, did you hear any more details on Scorpion in this testing?  Goes without saying, if OPSEC allows... the article says the AF is limiting a fly-off to AT-6B or A-29, the FlightGlobal article said that the AF excluded Scorpion due to still being in development, but that could be changing also...

I checked their site and it looks like they have a conforming configuration (guessing that means operational configuration for a notional or as yet undisclosed customer).  I have heard the aircraft not having an operational configuration and testing for full integration of sensors and systems was keeping some potential customers from committing, from their timeline, it looks like they will have one in 2016.

On AX-2, fielding in under 5 years is aggressive but I think feasible if LO is not required, only signature reduction with robust self defense.  

Could any of the 4+ gen fighters out there now in production, be modified for better performance as an attack aircraft?  

Conformal fuel tanks, new engine option (higher bypass ratio) for lower thrust but better mileage, light weight armor & redundant systems for golden bbs, integrated EO sensor to free up a station, etc... A-10 guys, would this be enough for a successor (not a true replacement) for the Hog?

Edited by Clark Griswold
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MULTIPLE studies, papers, proposals with great merit considered and CRUSHED by senior leadership over the past 12 years.  The math is OVERWHELMINGLY in favor of a lite attack platform that would provide more CAS capability, help with absorption, help season and solve a host of other problems, but the all jet 5th gen mafia ran a genocide operation to kill any serious consideration.  I was personally threatened (career wise), insulted, chastised and nearly banished on several occasions by VERY senior USAF officers. The truly sickening part, we could have had a highly suitable aircraft in the field YEARS ago for pennies on the dollar.

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10 hours ago, Clark Griswold said:

Could any of the 4+ gen fighters out there now in production, be modified for better performance as an attack aircraft?

There were some CSPAN videos a couple years ago showing Gen Welsh telling Sen McCain exactly that -- 15Es and 16s were doing CAS missions (even the B-1, although infrequently).  It seems as if the CAS role can be completed without the A-10, though Welsh himself admitted that we (read "The AF") don't want to retire the A-10 because we see it's usefulness.  Thanks to across-the-board cuts, though, he didn't have much choice.

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Agreed CH.  A light attack aircraft is so obviously suited for the last 15 years of war (and our projected future) that willful resistance is the only reason we don't have them in our arsenal.  Talking about OA-X to 5th gen fighter guys is like talking to cult members.  "It's unsurvivable in a modern IADS Kaliningrad type scenario!"  Well, so is most of our stuff.  And those high end wars are still theoretical.  Here in the real world we need that capability, not just for CAS but light ISR strike and SCAR.

this issue is insoluble for now, it has totally surpassed the realm of rationale discussion.  There is a strongly emotional desire espoused by a cadre of true believers to see contested airspace as more likely than it is, combined with an emotionally based hope our current pattern of endless engagement in low end conflict is waning rather than waxing.  Those folks look at the world and just don't see it the way it is; an ironic problem for a service so vocal about the value of  education..... but I digress.  OPs article links are wishful thinking.  None of the senior guys are having it.  Some of the most successful aircraft prosecuting current wars (RPAs & U28s) have been forced on senior USAF GOs rather than envisioned and embraced by them.

End result: We are losing wars while simultaneously driving our best people away.  

Edited by tac airlifter
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52 minutes ago, Thor said:

 Thanks to across-the-board cuts, though, he didn't have much choice.

Don't believe the propaganda.  Across the board cuts meant something had to give, it was Welsh who decided that something should be the A10 and he had plenty of choice.  Of all the dumb shit we could stop doing, he chose flying A10s???  So to him, everything else we do is more important: VIP lift, ICBMs, etc.

He should have fallen on his sword about BRAC.  That would create true savings without hurting the war effort.  

 

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6 hours ago, Thor said:

There were some CSPAN videos a couple years ago showing Gen Welsh telling Sen McCain exactly that -- 15Es and 16s were doing CAS missions (even the B-1, although infrequently).  It seems as if the CAS role can be completed without the A-10, though Welsh himself admitted that we (read "The AF") don't want to retire the A-10 because we see it's usefulness.  Thanks to across-the-board cuts, though, he didn't have much choice.

Which is surprising as he was an A-10 guy, I realize there is only so much money and there are a helluva lot of mission and requirements to be met but I doubt the A-10 or Attack aircraft capability is the appropriate thing to give up. 

Having to prioritize and I hate to loose anybody from the team but I would have looked at one of the two non-stealth heavy bombers as who was going to get the ax, admitting the F-35 Golden Calf was just too damn expensive would have further irked Congress and have done no good.

Or alternatively if we are talking trades, looking at accepting the risk and curtailing both the B-1 and B-52 while bringing back the F-117 (stored in a condition that allows for restoration to duty) could have been a short - medium turn COA to save money right now to preserve the A-10 / Attack mission and light a fire to get LSR-B done and fielded.

Break, Break...

From Wikipedia on the Requirements and Context on the YA-10 vs. YA-9, Attack aircraft competition from the 70s...

In May 1970, the USAF issued a modified, and much more detailed request for proposals (RFP). The threat of Soviet armored forces and all-weather attack operations had become more serious. Now included in the requirements was that the aircraft would be designed specifically for the 30 mm cannon. The RFP also called for an aircraft with a maximum speed of 460 mph (740 km/h), takeoff distance of 4,000 feet (1,200 m), external load of 16,000 pounds (7,300 kg), 285-mile (460 km) mission radius, and a unit cost of US$1.4 million.[6] Simplicity and low cost were also vital requirements, with a maximum flyaway cost of $1.4 million based on a 600 aircraft production run. Performance was to be sacrificed where necessary to keep development and production costs under control.[7][8] During this time, a separate RFP was released for A-X's 30 mm cannon with requirements for a high rate of fire (4,000 round/minute) and a high muzzle velocity.[9] Six companies submitted proposals to the USAF, with Northrop and Fairchild Republic selected on December 18, 1970 to build prototypes: the YA-9A and YA-10A, respectively. Meanwhile, General Electric and Philco-Ford were selected to build and test GAU-8 cannon prototypes.[10]

Looking at that, you can see how they specified requirements and performance necessary to accomplish them, from the FlightGlobal article you originally posted, it seemed low risk, and in production now will have to influence to some degree the A-X requirements that are being written now.  Can an existing 4+ gen meet requirements and keep risk low enough to be a viable COA?  

Taking those two ideas and then marrying them up to the original, disciplined approach to requirements that led to the A-10 and the specific requirement to design that aircraft for a primary weapons system, in the case of the A-X program of the 70's, a 30 mm cannon, can we not take an existing design and modify (albeit with some risk of cost escalation) around a primary weapon / mission system to quickly design, test and field before the moment to get this done passes?

What would an attack aircraft, capable of operating / surviving in a medium threat environment, be built around? 

A highly capable radar, capable for air to air awareness and self-protection (jamming) but also very capable at SAR ground imaging, GMTI, etc. or cross-queuing with an EO/IR or other sensors?  All of this data fed to any PGM quickly the pilot selects?  A successor to the 30 mm cannon but this time with case-less ammunition and improved ballistics?

Just thinking...

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1 hour ago, Clark Griswold said:

The threat of Soviet armored forces and all-weather attack operations had become more serious.

Those are all great points, but what really got me was that these specifications were made during the cold war era... having not been to the middle east, is it a medium threat environment to CAS aircraft?  If not, could that allow us more room for flexibility in choosing how to implement CAS missions?  Of course, I completely agree that the A-10 is the best weapon with which to conduct CAS, but, playing devil's advocate, could we not consider Welsh's plan seriously?  Genuine question.  Thanks for the information!

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4 hours ago, Thor said:

Those are all great points, but what really got me was that these specifications were made during the cold war era... having not been to the middle east, is it a medium threat environment to CAS aircraft?  If not, could that allow us more room for flexibility in choosing how to implement CAS missions?  Of course, I completely agree that the A-10 is the best weapon with which to conduct CAS, but, playing devil's advocate, could we not consider Welsh's plan seriously?  Genuine question.  Thanks for the information!

just my opinion, it is something new, not low threat but not expressly medium or above, it's an unpredictable threat level environment, most of the time the SAFIREs are small arms but there are MANPADS, medium level AAA pieces (57mm and up) that show up occassionally and the big wild cards are the remaining air defense capabilities of the failed or failing state and in the case of Syria, the very serious capes their allies (Russians especially) bring to the AOR

the air environment for what's being called the "Grey Zone" conflict, a mixture of not equal parts of war, tension, stabilization, chaos, crime, etc...

Is the A-10 the best weapon for CAS?  

Right now absolutely, but the operational environment can and always changes.  In the future maybe not and if we keep intervening in these Grey Zone fights we will likely need an A-X that is built for the unpredictable threat environment, unpredictable required effects delivery all while not punching a hole in the budget stretched thin from the weight of 5th gen acquisitions 

What I would design for in a X-gen attack aircraft:

Reduced signature and self escort / air to air (BVR) defensive capability

Networked with integrated sensors for self-cueing, PID

Designed around delivering PGMs vice direct fire weapons  

Long combat radius or endurance with AR flexibility, boom or drogue

UAV wingman or drone control from a backseater, a UAV tanker and/or ISR platform like the X-47 the Navy is developing

All those capes I just listed would likely make this hypothetical A-X unaffordable in this climate and may be more than is needed right now but considering how this first Grey Zone conflict in Syria is going, I think the argument can be legitimately be made for this type of attack aircraft.  

Not a pointless effort to do CAS in high threat environment like a mission over Moscow but one where conventional military capabilities and threats are being used by competitors to shape the operational environment, either by denial, intimidation or actual use in limited ways.

Even though it was an abortion of an acquisition attempt, the A-12 Avenger II (or an updated version of it) is what I am thinking of for an A-X 

a_12___emmerian_navy_by_jetfreak_7-d60qd

mcdonnell-douglas-general-dynamics-a12-a

 

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This isn't real tough to solve. Take the current best CAS aircraft, identify it's deficiencies, fix/improve them.

There are a lot of pilots who have flown the A-10C (not A like Welsh) along with other jets from the A-29 to the F-35 plus legacy -16/18/15E, harrier etc......talk to them.

What are our CAS challenges? The contested environment argument as presented is complete political s#it.

I'd say it's more along the lines of persistent, affordable and capable assets.

Most of the argument has been twisted for political F-35 shenanigans.



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8 hours ago, di1630 said:

This isn't real tough to solve. Take the current best CAS aircraft, identify it's deficiencies, fix/improve them.
There are a lot of pilots who have flown the A-10C (not A like Welsh) along with other jets from the A-29 to the F-35 plus legacy -16/18/15E, harrier etc......talk to them.
What are our CAS challenges? The contested environment argument as presented is complete political s#it.
I'd say it's more along the lines of persistent, affordable and capable assets.
Most of the argument has been twisted for political F-35 shenanigans.

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I am not sure if you can fix the supposed "problems" with the A-10.  

Deliberately put in quotes as I don't think it has problems, certain limitations like all planes have not problems.  I don't think you could modify it or update to address it's alleged "problems" to improve or add capabilities.  

It is a rock solid design and it's operational record is testament to that but I would add, that times change and that we should not be dedicated to the A-10 but dedicated to the idea of an Attack aircraft.  Not a multi role fighter but a dedicated Attack aircraft for the AI and conventional CAS missions.  A dedicated Attack aircraft has a unique place in the arsenal of the Air Force and that capability needs to be preserved, not necessarily the aircraft that performs it.

I doubt the signature(s) could be reduced significantly, new engines are possible technically but not financially / politically, survivability could be improved but the question of why are you investing in a platform you plan to retire soon becomes difficult to answer, etc.

Really, we need to articulate a new mission to put under the Core Function of Global Precision Attack to articulate the ISR / Light Strike mission to answer the CAS challenge you alluded to.  

It's not exactly CAS but it is not ISR and requires its own MWS probably to effectively and appropriately execute its mission, not an MWS designed for true CAS and not an RPA designed primarily for high persistence ISR.  Both are overkill (pardon the pun) at two different ends of the effects / capabilities spectrum, costing too much in money to operate or singularity in design to be necessarily flexible for this fluid mission.   

OA-X would be assigned this new mission, quick gonk on it and I would offer calling it LASO - Light Attack, Surveillance & Observation.  Observation being defined by the OP's War on the Rocks article as basically organic ISR, no PED facility between the aircraft and customer.  Different than what an RPA brings by being directly tied to the customer in supplying fires and isr/observation, no middle man (PED or OPS centers) to consult / report to during mission and capable of surveillance but by doctrine not focused on persistent stare but focused ISR, typically in support of on-going ground op:, overwatch, CAS, SCAR, dynamic patrol, etc.  Decentralized execution... what a concept.  

Conventional CAS and AI would remain with the A-10 and eventually the A-X.  

This follows the hi-lo mix we've pursued with the 15 / 16 and now 22 / 35, a LAAR / A-X is the right COA to deliver effects cost-effectively in the permissive environment and have the higher end platform to perform AI up to the medium threat environment and CAS if necessary in some appropriate way without attriting the force on Night 1.

Edited by Clark Griswold
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8 minutes ago, Clark Griswold said:

I am not sure if you can fix the supposed "problems" with the A-10.  

Deliberately put in quotes as I don't think it has problems, certain limitations like all planes have not problems.  I don't think you could modify it or update to address it's alleged "problems" to improve or add capabilities.  

It is a rock solid design and it's operational record is testament to that but I would add, that times change and that we should not be dedicated to the A-10 but dedicated to the idea of an Attack aircraft.  Not a multi role fighter but a dedicated Attack aircraft for the AI and conventional CAS missions.  A dedicated Attack aircraft has a unique place in the arsenal of the Air Force and that capability needs to be preserved, not necessarily the aircraft that performs it.

I doubt the signature(s) could be reduced significantly, new engines are possible technically but not financially / politically, survivability could be improved but the question of why are you investing in a platform you plan to retire soon becomes difficult to answer, etc.

Really, we need to articulate a new mission to put under the Core Function of Global Precision Attack to articulate the ISR / Light Strike mission to answer the CAS challenge you alluded to.  

It's not exactly CAS but it is not ISR and requires its own MWS probably to effectively and appropriately execute its mission, not an MWS designed for true CAS and not an RPA designed primarily for high persistence ISR.  Both are overkill (pardon the pun) at two different ends of the effects / capabilities spectrum, costing too much in money to operate or singularity in design to be necessarily flexible for this fluid mission.   

OA-X would be assigned this new mission, quick gonk on it and I would offer calling it LASO - Light Attack, Surveillance & Observation.  Observation being defined by the OP's War on the Rocks article as basically organic ISR, no PED facility between the aircraft and customer.  Different than what an RPA brings by being directly tied to the customer in supplying fires and isr/observation, no middle man (PED or OPS centers) to consult / report to during mission and capable of surveillance but by doctrine not focused on persistent stare but focused ISR, typically in support of on-going ground op:, overwatch, CAS, SCAR, dynamic patrol, etc.  Decentralized execution... what a concept.  

Conventional CAS and AI would remain with the A-10 and eventually the A-X.  

This follows the hi-lo mix we've pursued with the 15 / 16 and now 22 / 35, a LAAR / A-X is the right COA to deliver effects cost-effectively in the permissive environment and have the higher end platform to perform AI up to the medium threat environment and CAS if necessary in some appropriate way without attriting the force on Night 1.

So, an all-weather MQ-9 with a person in it.  And a gun.

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37 minutes ago, HU&W said:

So, an all-weather MQ-9 with a person in it.  And a gun.

Negatron.  

OA-X would in my concept be operationally employed not with the tether of VDL or BLOS to a FOB, AOC or other center.  It could do that but in intended use, it is focused on supporting and reporting to the ground unit it is supporting, not to the guys watching the feed X miles away.  Also, it is not there to conduct persistent stare, that is the role of a RPA, that is an important job but not what OA-X is for, either by design or concept.  

It's there for "tactical ISR" or Observation along with light strike.  On demand or part of the ATO, but there as an aerial scout, operating at the direction of the ground commander and can take a direct tasking but also as an organic part of the mission / unit, taking action independently as part of his role and advising the GC/JTAC for the mission.  It could be said the RPAs could do that now, I would argue the OA-X would be better at it for:

Concept of Employment, focused on providing Observation and advising as appropriate.

Capability of aircraft, more flexible and resilient than an RPA.

Physical proximity to the mission leading to overall greater situational awareness.

Psychological effect of face to face interaction (if possible) in briefing prior to mission execution.

Cost of operation would probably be a quarter of that of an RPA when you factor not just the Air Vehicle but the entire RPA operational structure (LRE, MCE, Reach-back, contingency recovery logistics, etc.)

A gun, maybe but the focus IMO needs to be on a PGM delivery.

OA-X does not have to be and maybe it should not be an AT-6B, A-29, Scorpion Jet, etc... if you don't deliver direct fire weapons, do you need to pull 6.9 Gs?  Probably not and you could carry PGMs that will do the maneuver on the way to the target, not the platform itself.  OA-X could be a commuter class turboprop with multiple sensors and a few PGMs, designed and trained for a medium endurance Observation and Light Strike mission. 

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