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AIRCRAFT: The Close Air Support Debate

Supersonic Swiss Army Knife Vs. Flying Tank.

Here is a photo of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America’s newest fighter/bomber and the most expensive military acquisition program in U.S. history.

f-35a-lightning-ii_008-ts600

A Fifth Generation Fighter with a host of targeting and surveillance sensors, the Lockheed Martin F-35 was develop[ed with the ability – depending on the variant – to fly off an aircraft carrier or take off and land vertically on an amphibious ship or tiny airstrip. Some have called this multi-role aircraft a flying Swiss Army knife because of its advanced integrated avionics and next generation radar-evading stealth technology. It is also a flying intelligence platform with enormous processing power and sophisticated sensors.

The F-35, officially known as the Lightning II, has a range of capabilities including: air-to-air combat; close air support; ground attack and intelligence gathering for joint and coalition irregular warfare operations, as well as major combat ops.

The next photo is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Sporting the latest 1970s technology, it was built to blow up Soviet tanks in Cold War battles that never happened.  Better known as the “Warthog,” for its homely appearance, punishment-absorbing air frame and ferocious attack capabilities, the hog has won the respect of pilots and the love of ground troops in deployments from Bosnia to Iraq and Afghanistan and currently against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

A-10 Warthog

The single seat, twin engine jet’s sturdy airframe and fearsome armament, including a 30-milimeter, seven-barrel GAU-8/A Gatling gun, have led some to call it a flying tank. But those features made it ideal for delivering close air support to troops on the ground.

Because of congressionally-mandated budget constraints, the U.S. Air Force has been trying, since 2014, to retire the approximately 300 remaining A-10s. The cost of maintaining and upgrading the 40-year-old Warthogs threatened funding for the F-35 and two other top priority Air Force programs: the long range strike bomber and a new aerial refueling tanker. The Pentagon said the Air Force could save $3.5 billion over five years by retiring the A-10 fleet rather than upgrading it. Instead, said then- Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh — himself a former A-10 pilot — the  F-35 could handle the A-10’s single mission of close air support.

But the A-10’s very vocal supporters in Congress, like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), disputed that claim. They maintained the F-35, flying at Mach 1.6 (approximately 1,200 mph), moved too fast to loiter over a battlefield, while its lighter 25-milimeter canon only carried 182 rounds in the Air Force variant ( 220 rounds in the Navy and Marine Corps versions), compared to the Warthog’s 1,100-round capacity.

General Electric GAU-8/A

A size comparison of the GE GAU-8 Gatling gun, used on A-10 Thunderbolt II, and a Volkswagen Beetle. (U.S. Air Force photo via wikipedia)

Other advocates argued the A-10 could also fly combat search and rescue and surveillance missions. McCain noted in a white paper that funding constraints led the Air Force to slow procurement to a maximum 48 aircraft a year between Fiscal years 2018 and 2022. He has called for buying 300 “low-cost, light-attack fighters” to bridge the gap. The Air Force plans to test light attack aircraft at the OA-X demonstration this summer at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The Air Force also says it will not begin retiring the A-10 fleet before 2021, but Congress put language in the latest defense authorization bill barring the Air Force from parking the A-10s until it proves the F-35 can take over the close air support role.

To learn more, visit the Close Air Support Summit 2017 page on the IDGA website.

April 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 7, 2017)

Air Power?

FRIFO 4-7-2017 AIRPOWER

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald Hudson)

Airmen pull a C-130H Hercules aircraft down the runway during the 374th Maintenance Group Wrenchbender Rodeo at Yokota Air Base, Japan, March 31, 2017.

The airmen are assigned to the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Teams from various maintenance squadrons competed against each other in nine events, finishing with a C-130 pull.

April 7, 2017 at 2:35 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 16, 2016)

Purple Smoke for Iron Sword.

frifo-12-16-2016-purple-smoke

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sergeant Corrina Baltos.

Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade work their way through purple signal smoke during Exercise Iron Sword in Pabrade, Lithuania last month. Iron Sword is an international training exercise featuring 11 NATO countries and about 4,000 troops.

The participating NATO countries included Estonia, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Germany.

Military observers from Belarus and Kazakhstan visited the two-week exercise, which ended December 2. NATO partners Sweden and Ukraine also sent military observers.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours, according to the U.S. Army.

December 16, 2016 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 23, 2016)

Pretty, But Rugged Environment.

Station Valdez, Alaska, training

 (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough)

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class John Gerbrands (left) guides a rescue heaving line to a 25-foot response boat during crewman qualification training in Valdez Harbor on Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Gerbands is assigned to Coast Guard Station Valdez, the service’s northern-most boast station. To see more photos of this training session, click here.

September 23, 2016 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (August 26, 2016)

Sailor’s Delight.

USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Conducts Flight Operations during RIMPAC 2016

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Noble

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) conducts helicopter operations under a red-streaked sunset during last month’s Rim of the Pacific 2016 maritime exercise in the Pacific Ocean.

Twenty-six nations and 25,000 personnel participated in the exercise.

August 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 29, 2016)

Flying Blind.18th SFS members undergo OC spray training

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis.

Airman Joshua Lenaire, whose job is providing security at U.S. Air Force facilities, uses a training baton to subdue a simulated attacker in a red-man suit. Look closely and you’ll see Lenaire is working at a disadvantage. He’s been sprayed in the face with  pepper spray. Military security training: It ain’t beanbag.

This session was photographed July 13 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Lenaire is a response force member assigned to the 18th Security Forces Squadron.

Why is it called a RedMan suit? Three guesses. Actually, in addition to its bright color, this protective training suit is marketed by Redman Training Gear.

July 29, 2016 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 22, 2016)

A Delicate Balance.

FRIFOTO 7-22-2016 CANADIAN HILLSIDE HELO

Canadian forces photo by Sgt Marc-André Gaudreault.

They call this insertion-and-extraction training.

U.S. Marines and Canadian soldiers board a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-147F Chinook helicopter balanced carefully if not precariously, on a hillside at Camp Pendleton, California during Rim of the Pacific 2016.

The biennial multi-national exercise, known as RIMPAC, is being held this year in and around Hawaii as well as in southern California locations like Camp Pendleton. Participants in RIMPAC, which began June 30 and runs through August 4, include 25,000 service members from 27 nations, including–for the first time–the People’s Republic of China. The equipment involved includes 45 ships, five submarines and more than 200 aircraft, according to the Defense Department.

The Canadian soldiers are snipers, pathfinders and reconnaissance members assigned to the 2nd Battalion Royal 22nd Regiment.

To learn more, click here and here.

July 22, 2016 at 1:04 am Leave a comment

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