Swarms

Some time ago, I was pondering the state of our air power in terms of its being able to police Third-World conflicts.  Frankly, it made no sense to me (and still doesn’t) that we would need to spend x million dollars to send a jet fighter (or even an Apache chopper) just to drop a missile on an Afghani wedding party, when even a simpleton like me could see that the same job could have been executed by a WWII-era P-51 Mustang for about a jillion dollars less.

Seems like someone in the Pentagon has been having similar thoughts:

US Special Operations Command is moving forward with its armed overwatch plan, independent of the Air Force’s light attack experiment, inviting industry for a briefing on a proposal to buy an estimated 75 aircraft.
SOCOM will hold Industry Days March 4-5 for the Armed Overwatch program, which will “provide Special Operations Forces deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems” that will be used for “close air support, precision strike, and SOF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in austere and permissive environments.”

And here are the stats on one of the bad boys they’re considering.

My only question is:  why only 75?  Why not five hundred and seventy-five? I mean, instead of sending a few missiles from one plane onto a target opportunity of fuzzy-wuzzies, why not go Full Dresden and rain a hundred missiles or so on their turbanned asses?  I’m not talking of big, expensive missiles here;  just some little Radio Shack-type sweeties that can get the same message across for far less money.

And let’s not forget the magic word “jobs” (pilots and navigators/fire-controllers) which would flow from this expansion — one more stat God-Emperor Trump can add to his next employment report.

By the way:  I love the paint job on these planes, although in today’s .dotmil, they’ll no doubt be outlawed because they frighten the enemy too much.  Don’t get me started.

Oh, and one last thing:  “deployable and sustainable aircraft systems”?  Whatever happened to simple expressions like “aircraft” or even better, “airplanes”?  Fucking nimrods.

27 comments

  1. And the Chair Farce has their panties in a knot over it, because they’re bypassing their traditional mission (which is, of course, to throw metric fucktons of taxpayer cash at defense contractors, ensuring high-pay/low-work jobs after separation from the military, see F-35 Thunderjug for details). Hell, how many times as the Air Force tried to retire the Warthog, while refusing to let the services that are actually supported by the aircraft take over their operation.

  2. And that’s why the A-10 is still flying – too many Army brass have told the Air Force that should they decide to retire the A-10, the Army is picking it back up and putting it right back into service.

    I think the reason the SF folks are looking for new solutions is that they’re looking at the F-35, and realizing that once that plane is actually in service, their close air support will consist of fuck-all. That plane can’t do close air support. It really can’t do anything other than suck up tax dollars, because they tried to make plane that can do three wildly different missions, which is an impossibility. So they ended up with an expensive mistake that nobody wants to take credit for that can’t do any of the missions it’s supposed to do. And SF doesn’t want to leave our boys hanging with just the Thunderjug as support.

  3. As a former “Chair Farce” officer (I lol’d), I’ve been watching this with interest for a while now. And I am mightily pleased. I’m also pleased they have not yet succeeded in mothballing the A-10, as well. For the money it delivers more in terms of tactical results per dollar than any other aircraft in the inventory. But it may be supplanted in that regard by the AT-6. It will be fascinating to see this develop.

  4. Being an Army guy I’m tempted to be cynical and say the reason the USAF isn’t interested in this is because there isn’t enough potential for multi-billions of dollars of sweet, sweet taxpayer cash to spread around to their beloved contractors.

    But I’d also say that a lot of the things this aircraft can do – reconnaissance in particular – can be done quite effectively by unmanned drones.

    The most expensive and vulnerable part of any aircraft is the soft squishy pilot inside. To the extent we can eliminate that, we should.

    A manned aircraft gets shot down and all of a sudden we have a “Black Hawk Down” situation. A drone gets shot down? Press the self destruct button and send a replacement order to the contractor.

    Patton had the nickname of “Blood and Guts” but his best quote, IMO, was the one where he said “Spend ammunition like a millionaire and lives like a miser.”

    1. “But I’d also say that a lot of the things this aircraft can do – close air support and reconnaissance in particular – can be done quite effectively by unmanned drones.”

      Until the enemy figures out where the drone-jockeys are and drops a bomb on them. Or they figure out a way to jam the signals to the drone. Or they find a way to hack the drone signal and take control of an armed asset.

      The soft squishy pilot is expensive BECAUSE he’s so damn useful, as in capable of both thinking and acting right now, outside the box if necessary. “Black Hawk Down” was a situation because the powers-that-be didn’t act strongly enough, quickly enough. Had they rolled with a show of force, making it known that they’re going to blow away anyone who gets in their was (as they ultimately DID do, when all other options were exhausted) it wouldn’t have spiraled out of hand like it did.

      I’m not saying drones don’t have their place, especially for recon and overwatch, but I suspect the grunts on the ground would prefer that explosives delivered too-close-for-comfort be controlled by a human being who’s right there.

      1. Aren’t a lot of the “drone jockeys” in Indian Springs NV?

        (as they ultimately DID do, when all other options were exhausted)
        Didn’t Churchill once say: “The Yanks will always do the right thing, once they’ve tried everything else”?

        And about the quantity of AT-6’s, just round it up to 750!

  5. Assuming this is a piston-engined propeller plane, it should be under Army control anyway, not Air Force, and part of Army Aviation.

    Really, the first thing that needs to be done is to change the ridiculous rule that was instituted decades ago dividing responsibility between the Air Force and the Army. That rule basically said that fixed-wing aircraft that had guns that fired forward were exclusively to be under Air Force control, and conversely that rotary-wing aircraft that had guns that fired forward were to be exclusively under Army control.

    Not only does this rule prevent the Army from having excellent close-air-support fixed wing planes like the A1E Skyraider of Korea and Vietnam fame, it also prevents the USAF from having attack helicopters, which would make excellent escorts for their own Search-and-Rescue (SAR) teams, instead of either having to borrow them from the Army or try to support SAR operations with fixed-wing “fast movers” like the F-16, which aren’t as well suited to the job.

    The fact that such a “rule” needed to be made in the first place shows the problem of creating the USAF as a separate force. Were the USAF the USAAF, such a rule would not be needed.

    1. >Assuming this is a piston-engined propeller plane

      It isn’t. The single large exhaust behind the propeller is indicative of a turboprop.

    2. I don’t understand why the USAF is only the SAC portion of its forces, with interception and air superiority, and anything that is close support for ground forces is part of the Army.
      Changing that now would probably be more of an issue than doing an inventory/audit of the Forbidden City’s Eunuch’s in “The Last Emperor.”

      1. Back in the old Soviet Union that’s how they used to do it. Tactical aircraft were under control of the Army, while strategic aircraft (bombers and their escorts) were part of the air force, as were the air transportation assets. Air Defense was actually a completely different service and had both aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems. Finally, the Soviets put their “strategic rocket forces”, i.e. ICBMs, under a completely separate command.

        1. re the Strategic Rocket Forces, the story goes that K calls in his military chiefs, gives them a few billion rubles and tells them to build ICBMs. When he checks back, they have built IRBMs which have sufficient range to reach Germany, whom everybody knows is the real enemy, but not the US. He rants, raves, threatens to send them to Gulag but gives them more money and more time. He gets more IRBMs. In frustration, he creates the Strategic Rocket Forces whose ONLY mission is ICBMs. In the meantime, however, the Soviets are stuck with the IRBMs which is why they put them in Cuba.

  6. They call a system, because you are buying a system. Unlike back in the day, the airframe is the least expensive part of it. The sensors and electronics that allows it to integrate with other systems and use the new guided weapons is what makes it worth fielding.

    As to why buy only 75? Because that is all they need. The only mission it can do is COIN in a permissive air threat environment. So in our current lineup, A-stan and maybe some in Africa. Even the ISIS mission is probably beyond it because the SAM threat. Using it against China or Iran is right out.

    The value is you can use it in a low threat environment to free up better assets for the high threat environment. This is not nothing, but not something you need a ton of.

    As for the F-35, I think they made a mistake by requiring the same airframe for all three services. It should have been a common system on 2.5 airframes (with the MC versions a variation on the NAV system). That said, when all said and done, it will be a very good weapon, and we will be glad we have it. I do think there is any new weapon that we have bought that was it targeted as an overpriced lemon in the media. I was in at the start of GW1 when the media was going on about Iraq’s simple weapons were so much better than our over priced complex ones. We saw how that worked out.

  7. I live in the Texas Hill Country NW of San Antonio and our community is full of retired Air Force folks, I go to church with a lot of guys who flew all sorts of stuff in Viet Nam and the later Sand Wars and heard the interesting stories they tell about the good old days in F-100’s, F-4’s and B-52’s. Their take on the years of development on the F-35 and the money spent all over the place, billions of dollars of overruns and delays make the F-35 the most expensive screw up in Aviation history.

    One of my friends, a retired Air Force general told me that with computer unmanned flight systems, drones, that we have gone beyond the point where a pilot is needed for high speed missions and taking the pilot out of the aircraft with the drone it can get there faster, make turns in the air that would kill a pilot and come back and land for a fraction of the cost of the F-35 screw up. His two combat tours in Nam were in the F-100 and F-4 and he told me that flying the A-10 was some of the most fun he ever experienced firing found support training missions.

    The F-35 cost over-run ( By 2014, the program was “US$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule”) would have purchased a whole lot of nifty turbo prop two seaters to cause pain to bad guys flying low and slow. Same thing as the 1950’s when the Air Force wanted control of all armed military aircraft except for Navy off of carriers and they only wanted to spend money on super fast jet fighters and bombers, no armed helicopters or low and slow ground support fixed wing aircraft.

    Of course you can trace a whole lot of money problems back to congress and their projects which spend money in the home areas and promises of well paying jobs in aviation industries when they decided to retire, they built a lot of bombers over the years yet here we are flying the B-52 which first entered service in 1955, 65 years ago and they are still in an active role today with billions of dollars spent on newer bombers that have not replaced it when all that was needed was a good long, haul truck in the air to deliver a bomb load, dump it and turn around and come back home.

    And speaking of wasted dollars, the U.S. Navy might the best at designing stuff that costs way too much and can’t do the job of the ships it is replacing, but that’s another story, especially when they are manning ships with female officers that get mad and refuse to talk to each other, even when traveling in the Sea of Japan at night with lots of other ship traffic.

    1. I’m leery of too much dependence on drones. If the radio link is lost, either to jamming, or to loss of the satellite being used, drones can’t be trusted to do anything more than return home autonomously. If GPS is jammed, spoofed, or GPS satellites taken out (and you can bet they’d be a prime target in any war with a peer or near-peer nation), then even the ability to head home is in question.

      My candidate for this mission is an updated OV-10 Bronco. Twin engines are almost a must for this mission. However, Boeing now owns the design, and by the time all is said and done, it’d be a gold-plated $5 billion a copy plane ready in 10 years with serious software issues.

  8. “…WWII-era P-51 Mustang for about a jillion dollars less.”

    I’ll go you a couple better: first, the Douglas AT-1, aka “Sky Truck,” aka “Spad,” from the Vietnam days. Old, clunky, piston-engined, long loiter time, carried a shit-ton of ordnance, withstood battle damage well. Probably a (very) few left in the Boneyard in AZ, and while Douglas Aircraft ain’t no more (it merged into McDonnell-Douglas in ’67) I’d bet the AT-1 plans are in a file cabinet somewhere. Tough part would be gearing up the tech to manufacture the engine – everyone today speaks “gas turbine,” ain’t nobody know nuthin’ about pistons. Some wiz kid probably could figger out how to put one o’ them new-fangled turbines in it.

    Then there’s the de Havilland Otter. Cheap (< $150K each), about 3500 lbs payload capacity, and lots of pilots and mechs in Canuckistan know how to fly and maintain them. KInda slow, but at <$150K you can put hundreds, maybe thousands, in the air. But, it's that "piston" thing again.

    Significantly, none of this stuff – including the most modern planes the dot mil is orgasming over – would survive without total air dominance. And, once total dominance is achieved, you could probably do a lot of what needs to be done with a Cessna.

    Then there's the perpetual question of "why does the Army not own and control its own close ground support aircraft?" The Air Force really, really likes the Zoomie stuff, let 'em keep it and hand the Low 'n' Slow to the ground pounders. I suspect if there's any progress in that area it will start with the Marines. They seem able to cut through the crap to get results better than most.

    1. Piston engines are so outdated. Why not develop Injected Reciprocal gas injected rotary turbine engines? They would look like the engines in the front of the P-47 Thunderbolt, the F4F Wildcat and the F6F Hellcat, but it would be super seekret brand new technology the military could enthusiastically get behind.
      Nomenclature and semantics are very important here.

  9. Can you imagine the outcome of the Falkland debacle if Argentina used thousands of Cessna 180s instead of a few big-buck jets?

    I saw a meme about the 22,000 demonstrators in Virginia.
    “They aren’t afraid of 22,000 freedom-lovers in one place.
    They are terrorfied of 22 freedom-lovers in a thousand places.”

  10. So while googling, I came across this paper:

    https://warontherocks.com/2019/12/slaying-the-unicorn-the-army-and-fixed-wing-attack/

    BLUF for those who don’t want to read it is this: The supposed “rule” or “agreement” that the Army cannot have fixed-wing aircraft with forward-firing guns is a myth. The vaunted “Key West Agreement” says no such thing.

    The paper makes the argument that there’s no reason the Army cannot have it’s own fleet of fixed-wing, dedicated ground support aircraft (as they did, early in the Vietnam years when the Army’s OV-1 Mohawk observation plane was often armed for self-defense.)

    So why has the Army not pushed for its own dedicated fixed-wing CAS? Probably out of a fear that any augmentation of fixed-wing aviation would cut into their rotary wing numbers, or a desire to not step on what has come to be a traditionally “Air Force” role.

    The Navy doesn’t have this problem. The Navy uses both Naval and Marine Corps aviation units for CAS and I believe the Marines even have their own transport aircraft (C-130.)

    There’s no reason why the Army can’t incorporate fixed-wing CAS aircraft into their tables of organization and equipment (TO&E) if the Air Force doesn’t want this mission.

    1. Let the “zoomies” have their Space Farce, and put the “stick & rudder” guys back under the Army Air Corps.

  11. I got a better idea, stay the fuck home and guard the goddamned borders.
    Home first, everybody else second.

Comments are closed.