Skyraider-A-1

In time, one of the ongoing “lessons RE-learned” has been/continues to be the need for a tough, heavily armed aircraft that is able to perform in close coordination with ground troops, in a high intensity, small-arms fire environment.  Whether facing armored assault or insurgency attacks, through the years and myriad of conflicts, some aircraft have distinguished themselves in this role:

The Russians as well, had their signatory close support/ground attack aircraft with the Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik:

. . . popularly known among the Russian infantry as the “flying Tank” (or alternately by the Germans as “schwarzer tod“, or “Black Death” ).

CAS/ground support aircraft weren’t sleek or blindingly fast – but they carried a ton of ordnance, could absorb even more punishment and when you needed heavy fire delivered within yards of friendlies, were the best bar non.

They also tended to be rapidly discarded after the war in favor of their faster, sleeker fighter brethren – because eagles are always more popular than badger hounds in the upper echelons of the air services.  But as time has proven again and again — you need badger hounds to get down in the dirt and root out the enemy.  And so in Korea the task fell to the A-1 and F4U, in Vietnam, the A-1, and a variety of other platforms including the A-37, AC-47 and AC-130.  But as the enemy’s mobile AA and shoulder-launched SAMs began to proliferate, new platforms were needed – especially as one looked back to Europe and the growing Warsaw Pact ground forces facing NATO.  So the A-10 Thunderbolt II (better known as the “Warthog”) came to pass, with significant input from the Army, for whom it would be supporting and developed and deployed by an Air Force that pretty much kept it and its crews at arms length while it was busy with the F-15 and F-16.  With the end of the Cold War, it looked like the A-10 would be headed for the barn – until, surprise, there arose a need in SW Asia for a tough, heavily armed CAS/ground support aircraft that could take a lot of punishment, deliver more and stay with the troops as they pushed Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.

Still, the utility of the type has not been lost on the Russians, who, after developing their own modern CAS, the Sukhoi Su-25 found it a better platform than helos in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

This approach proved its worth during the 1979-1989 Afghan War when the Su-25 became the most popular plane to serve with Soviet forces, carrying out numerous close-support missions in the most difficult situations.  The Su-25s conducted effective air strikes while heavy supersonic warplanes ran the risk of causing collateral damage (friendly fire incidents) and when helicopter gunships were deterred by the Mujahedin’s short-range anti-aircraft weapons, which included modern 40-mm anti-aircraft automatic guns, machine-guns and Stinger man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).

In fact, as the Russian military slowly emerges from the downsizing and stagnation of the past couple of decades, there is even now talk of re-opening the Su-25 production lines:

The Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant (UUAZ) in Eastern Siberia could resume production of Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft on orders from the Russian Defense Ministry and the United Aircraft Building Corporation. . . So far, there have been no official reports of any plans to purchase the Su-25UB/UBM under the 2011-2020 state rearmament program. Well-informed sources in the aviation industry say that no final Su-25UB production decision has yet been made. Reus’ statement merely implies that both UUAZ and the Air Force are interested in resuming production of these planes.

According to the article — “this decision has its advocates.”

Indeed, CAS supporters abound -

its just that their voices are often lost in the rush for the newest, shiniest thing…

Incredibly (or perhaps, not) when the requirements for the F-35 were being drafted, the Air Force and Marines looked to the F-35A and -B models, respectively, as their CAS replacements – the Air Force to replace the A-10 and F-16 (in the Fast CAS roles),  the Marines to replace the AV-8B.  Experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, however may be mitigating against that move as momentum develops for a new “low intensity” or COIN aircraft .    Whether that aircraft can survive in the kind of non-permissive environment that the A-10 has or even replace the A-10 is another question – assuming it even sees the light of day.

5 Comments

  1. Mongo

    My two bits worth re. F-35 has been amply displayed in another venue, so I’ll not rehash that here except to say “Beat it to death with a shovel, and then bury the pieces in situ” What a ginormous waste of capital and resources.

    What to use in its place? Good question. Ivan’s will likely reopen Frogfoot lines with updates, just as Antonov did with the AN-124, and come away with a spectacular CAS platform. I hear talk about Boeing pushing a revamped OV-10 for CAS, which, imo, has some merit, but does not cover a requirement for a high speed aircraft.

    Being such a simple creature, structurally, I’d opt for a renaissance fair starring the A-7F. Long legged dump truck that it was, there is a real need for services that the Rhino community cannot adequately fulfill. Rework the beak for AESA, keep the gun, lengthen the fuselage back to the F-8 standard, reshape the canopy for better viz, perhaps give it a titanium tub for the driver, maybe an improved wing for better aerodynamics and slow flight maneuvering, and stuff in a new motor along the lines of an F-119/135;sans blower. The result wouldn’t be your daddy’s A-7, but it sure would kick some a$$

    The Air Force still has the A-10 in limited numbers, so no need to look for another platform. Just reopen the line with applied upgrades, and stick with a known player.

  2. Mongo:

    Still have to wonder though about the cost of doing such a beast and that it is single blower. In current climate I don’t think we’ll get past the Hornet as a fast CAS and some iteration (maybe) of the OV-10 operating off the amphibs – if they can find the space not hogged by the V-22’s… Sooner or later there will be a need to replace the aging Hog airfrmaes – maybe that will be the time to look at a navalized ‘Hog?
    w/r, SJS

  3. Navy Davy

    Close air support history was made in Vietnam by a Navy squadron that few people even know existed. The Navy’s only land based attack squadron Light Attack Squadron FOUR, VAL-4. During the three years that it existed 1969-1972 flying the OV-10 they saved more allied lives and destroyed more enemy with close air support than all of the Seventh Fleet squadrons combined.
    There is a book about this squadron “Flying Black Ponies” by Kit Lavell forward by Stephen Coonts.
    and a web site http://www.blackpony.org

  4. Hmm, I think I have a candidate for another Flightdeck Friday in the near future – soon as I’m released from proposal writing hell that is…
    w/r, SJS

  5. Rich

    Dreaming of a platform is all well and good-
    lots to choose from.
    Without the commitment to CAS,
    it all means nothing.
    You need to be committed to the mission,
    put the control in the hands of the troop
    on the ground, and train pilots willing
    to drive in to deliver the goods.
    I wonder how this will be impacted in this
    time of UAV’s and turf wars over
    their control, along with the
    age old fast movers’ reluctance
    to field slow, ugly aircraft.
    The Navy took a crack at it lately (COIN),
    the AF could have done better than it did
    in my opinion, and ultimately,
    probably nothing’s going to happen.
    At least the Army and the Marines have
    rotary wing support.

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