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Legend of the A-10 Hog and the Avenger [Mythbusting]


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14 hours ago, Toxn said:

Another thing to note (apologies for all the combo posting): isn't there an argument that the biggest success of the A-10 as a program was in allowing the USAF to keep denying the army fixed-wing assets on the basis that it was providing CAS? By that metric it was stellar - the army got beaten back all the way to only being allowed rotary-wing aircraft and has never managed to successfully bring up the issue again.

 

This is somewhat incorrect, it's managed to carve out some fixed wing stuff only recently.

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This paper is on the systems engineering of the A-10.  Lots of history.  I posted the same doc with 2 different links to combat link rot.

 

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/media/wwwlboroacuk/content/systems-net/downloads/pdfs/A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) SYSTEMS ENGINEERING CASE STUDY.pdf

 

https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA530838.pdf

 

The real shocking thing in the paper is that the YA-10 beat the A-7D in a flyoff.  That seems inconceivable.  The A-7 had one of the best nav-attack systems and could carry a large load to a long range.  It was faster and much more survivable.  Why did the Air Force try and build the A-7F instead of more A-10s a few years later?  I would like more details on the flyoff but I believe the books were cooked by having pilots compare CAS iron bomb and cannon use in a benign air defense environment in clear weather.  In any other role the A-7 wins easily.

 

An answer to the question of whether or not an A-10 has ever destroyed an enemy tank using its cannon:  "While the gun was considered effective, the number of gun “kills” was unclear due to conservative rules for performing Bomb Damage Assessment during and after the war."

 

Typical bureaucratese.  If I had to translate I'd say the answer is 0.

 

70 A-10s were damaged in the Gulf War, 20 significantly.  The paper says they were easily repaired in theater but does not say how long the repairs took or how many personnel were involved.  6 were lost, a significant proportion of all Coalition losses.  The "reference" the paper gives to show how easy it was to repair an A-10 is 2 pics of damaged A-10s.

 

The paper compares the A-10 to the A-16 in an absurd way.  The ability of the A-16 to use its cannon is contrasted to the A-10's superior cannon use.  This ignores the fact that cannon fire achieved little in the war.  Given the fact that PGMs were used for the first time in war to major effect this seems absurd.

 

Added link here:  RAND Corp says A-10 cannot function if the bad guys are even basically competent:

 

https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1724z1.html

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The most telling thing about the A-10 is that it’s not all that good at its sole function, CAS in a permissive environment.

Scrap ‘em now.

 

SMSgt Mac has a comprehensive series of posts about the A-10 and CAS myths here:

http://elementsofpower.blogspot.com/2011/07/debunking-close-air-support-myths-part.html

 

In short, the A-10 mythology is all about keeping the USAF permanently relegated to a supporting force, while the real heroes in the Army get to call the shots, win the war and bask in the adulation of the citizenry. (My summary, not Mac’s)

 

The money quote of the whole series for me is:


 

Quote

A few days before the ground war commenced in February 1991. . . he [General Schwarzkopf] met with his subordinate commanders to discuss the land offensive. General Horner explained his Push CAS modus of flowing airplanes to the battlefield twenty-four hours a day (rather than keeping them idle while sitting alert). When General [Frederick] Franks ignored what Horner had said and demanded that VII Corps be allotted hundreds of CAS sorties per day (whether needed or not),the airman angrily disputed the allocation of air power in that manner and reiterated his Push CAS procedures. Horner believed it important for unity of command to let his anger show as he vehemently rejected Franks’s claim for so much unfocused air power. He remembered his outburst having no effect: “Everyone looked at me and said, ‘Well, he fell on his sword; isn’t that quaint.’” General [Walt] Boomer jumped in and requested as many dedicated sorties for his Marines, and General [Gary] Luck joined the “run on the bank” and demanded as many CAS flights for his XVIII Corps. The ground commanders argued for their sorties, but after a while Schwarzkopf called a halt to the debate, reminding all present, “You people don’t understand. It’s all my air, and I’ll use it any way I please.” “That ended the argument,” Horner recalled, “and we maintained centralized command.” The CINCCENT [commander in chief of Central Command] depended upon his JFACC to ensure that all the ground commanders received adequate air support. 

From http://elementsofpower.blogspot.com/2011/07/cas-myths-sidebar-army-air-force-views.html

 

Mac knows wtf he’s talking about, and most importantly he backs it with sources.

 

What is the Army going to do in the IndoPacific theatre again?

Edited by Dragonstriker
Typo
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On 11/27/2021 at 11:48 AM, Domus Acipenseris said:

This paper is on the systems engineering of the A-10.  Lots of history.  I posted the same doc with 2 different links to combat link rot.

 

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/media/wwwlboroacuk/content/systems-net/downloads/pdfs/A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) SYSTEMS ENGINEERING CASE STUDY.pdf

 

https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA530838.pdf

 

The real shocking thing in the paper is that the YA-10 beat the A-7D in a flyoff.  That seems inconceivable.  The A-7 had one of the best nav-attack systems and could carry a large load to a long range.  It was faster and much more survivable.  Why did the Air Force try and build the A-7F instead of more A-10s a few years later?  I would like more details on the flyoff but I believe the books were cooked by having pilots compare CAS iron bomb and cannon use in a benign air defense environment in clear weather.  In any other role the A-7 wins easily.

 

An answer to the question of whether or not an A-10 has ever destroyed an enemy tank using its cannon:  "While the gun was considered effective, the number of gun “kills” was unclear due to conservative rules for performing Bomb Damage Assessment during and after the war."

 

Typical bureaucratese.  If I had to translate I'd say the answer is 0.

 

70 A-10s were damaged in the Gulf War, 20 significantly.  The paper says they were easily repaired in theater but does not say how long the repairs took or how many personnel were involved.  6 were lost, a significant proportion of all Coalition losses.  The "reference" the paper gives to show how easy it was to repair an A-10 is 2 pics of damaged A-10s.

 

The paper compares the A-10 to the A-16 in an absurd way.  The ability of the A-16 to use its cannon is contrasted to the A-10's superior cannon use.  This ignores the fact that cannon fire achieved little in the war.  Given the fact that PGMs were used for the first time in war to major effect this seems absurd.

 

Added link here:  RAND Corp says A-10 cannot function if the bad guys are even basically competent:

 

https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1724z1.html

 

Ah yes, the AFIT "cope" paper. I've read it many times, very little of it holds up under any kind of scrutiny. It was, you might say, "sausage making".

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10 hours ago, Dragonstriker said:

The most telling thing about the A-10 is that it’s not all that good at it’s sole function, CAS in a permissive environment.

Scrap ‘em now.

 

SMSgt Mac has a comprehensive series of posts about the A-10 and CAS myths here:

http://elementsofpower.blogspot.com/2011/07/debunking-close-air-support-myths-part.html

 

In short, the A-10 mythology is all about keeping the USAF permanently relegated to a supporting force, while the real heroes in the Army get to call the shots, win the war and bask in the adulation of the citizenry. (My summary, not Mac’s)

 

The money quote of the whole series for me is:


 

From http://elementsofpower.blogspot.com/2011/07/cas-myths-sidebar-army-air-force-views.html

 

Mac knows wtf he’s talking about, and most importantly he backs it with sources.

 

What is the Army going to do in the IndoPacific theatre again?


Mac is one of the most impressive bloggers of our era and really does a bang up job every time he puts fingers to keys. I've referenced him many times.

The A-10 is junk. We should have scrapped them in the '80s, certainly in the '90s after their dismal failure in the Gulf, and bought Tucanos and A-7Fs.

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10 hours ago, Dragonstriker said:

A few days before the ground war commenced in February 1991. . . he [General Schwarzkopf] met with his subordinate commanders to discuss the land offensive. General Horner explained his Push CAS modus of flowing airplanes to the battlefield twenty-four hours a day (rather than keeping them idle while sitting alert). When General [Frederick] Franks ignored what Horner had said and demanded that VII Corps be allotted hundreds of CAS sorties per day (whether needed or not),the airman angrily disputed the allocation of air power in that manner and reiterated his Push CAS procedures. Horner believed it important for unity of command to let his anger show as he vehemently rejected Franks’s claim for so much unfocused air power. He remembered his outburst having no effect: “Everyone looked at me and said, ‘Well, he fell on his sword; isn’t that quaint.’” General [Walt] Boomer jumped in and requested as many dedicated sorties for his Marines, and General [Gary] Luck joined the “run on the bank” and demanded as many CAS flights for his XVIII Corps. The ground commanders argued for their sorties, but after a while Schwarzkopf called a halt to the debate, reminding all present, “You people don’t understand. It’s all my air, and I’ll use it any way I please.” “That ended the argument,” Horner recalled, “and we maintained centralized command.” The CINCCENT [commander in chief of Central Command] depended upon his JFACC to ensure that all the ground commanders received adequate air support. 

 

The Pentagon is the largest building in the world, from Washington to Timbuktu.

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The most remarkable thing to me about the A-10 is how popular it is in Washington. It is an aircraft dumb enough for Congress to understand (and it reminds them of the biplanes of their childhood), so they keep pushing it. And there's enough "turd polishing" grift there for the USAF to go along.

Grunts love the A-10 because it's just as helpless and pathetic as they are, so they feel a strange solidarity with it. Plus, really any air support is welcome.

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  • 2 weeks later...
6 hours ago, Jeeps_Guns_Tanks said:

 

Is that how it really went?

It's obviously a bit of a joke, but yeah. More or less.

 

Enough Ju-88s survived to get over the target and bomb it. Even with 4 sidewinders each and respawns, the A-10s were just too slow (and slow-climbing) to get up to the formation and take the prop bombers down in time. And if they'd had escorts then the A-10s would have been sitting ducks - they were barely hanging on at that altitude.

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3 hours ago, Toxn said:

It's obviously a bit of a joke, but yeah. More or less.

 

Enough Ju-88s survived to get over the target and bomb it. Even with 4 sidewinders each and respawns, the A-10s were just too slow (and slow-climbing) to get up to the formation and take the prop bombers down in time. And if they'd had escorts then the A-10s would have been sitting ducks - they were barely hanging on at that altitude.


I think this is a bit unfair, similar to asking an A-36 to perform like a P-51, which isn’t going to happen. Now what would be a better ask is to give the luftwaffe the A-10’s and have them try to get past the British air defense. I doubt the warthog could get past the hurricanes and spitfires any better than the He-111 and Ju-88, but it just removes any bias about intended combat roles. 

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5 hours ago, Toxn said:

It's obviously a bit of a joke, but yeah. More or less.

 

Enough Ju-88s survived to get over the target and bomb it. Even with 4 sidewinders each and respawns, the A-10s were just too slow (and slow-climbing) to get up to the formation and take the prop bombers down in time. And if they'd had escorts then the A-10s would have been sitting ducks - they were barely hanging on at that altitude.

 

Confirmed, the A-10 Threshold is below the Ju 88

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3 hours ago, Lord_James said:


I think this is a bit unfair, similar to asking an A-36 to perform like a P-51, which isn’t going to happen. Now what would be a better ask is to give the luftwaffe the A-10’s and have them try to get past the British air defense. I doubt the warthog could get past the hurricanes and spitfires any better than the He-111 and Ju-88, but it just removes any bias about intended combat roles. 

True, but this is a plane design from the 70s struggling against aircraft from the late 30s. Put an A-36 up against a flight of Gothas and Fokkers and it won't struggle on any front except running out of ammunition.

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So here's a question that touches on the whole A-10 issue in a more philosophical way: should a force/service be determined by role, or by battlespace? In other words: is the main point of the navy to attain sea superiority (however that's defined), or to act as a repository for sea-going assets?

 

I know that in the real world these considerations are usually secondary to contingent, historical factors (and in any case all the actors involved here pick and choose the framing they want to suit their real purpose - which is to get a bigger share of the budget). But it helps me to think about this when engaging with the whole debate about the to CAS role. If the main role of the air force is to dominate an airspace, then it having organic CAS assets is more or less a sideshow. If, however, its main role is to house air assets, then having CAS aircraft is essential.

 

 

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10 hours ago, Toxn said:

So here's a question that touches on the whole A-10 issue in a more philosophical way: should a force/service be determined by role, or by battlespace? In other words: is the main point of the navy to attain sea superiority (however that's defined), or to act as a repository for sea-going assets?

 

I know that in the real world these considerations are usually secondary to contingent, historical factors (and in any case all the actors involved here pick and choose the framing they want to suit their real purpose - which is to get a bigger share of the budget). But it helps me to think about this when engaging with the whole debate about the to CAS role. If the main role of the air force is to dominate an airspace, then it having organic CAS assets is more or less a sideshow. If, however, its main role is to house air assets, then having CAS aircraft is essential.

 

 


That would be logical, but history is (and the people who make history are) rarely logical. Asking for a service branch to limit its sphere of influence might as well be asking them to slap their own mothers, for how much of a fuss they put up.  

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12 hours ago, Toxn said:

So here's a question that touches on the whole A-10 issue in a more philosophical way: should a force/service be determined by role, or by battlespace? In other words: is the main point of the navy to attain sea superiority (however that's defined), or to act as a repository for sea-going assets?

 

I know that in the real world these considerations are usually secondary to contingent, historical factors (and in any case all the actors involved here pick and choose the framing they want to suit their real purpose - which is to get a bigger share of the budget). But it helps me to think about this when engaging with the whole debate about the to CAS role. If the main role of the air force is to dominate an airspace, then it having organic CAS assets is more or less a sideshow. If, however, its main role is to house air assets, then having CAS aircraft is essential.

 

This is irrelevant to the question of the A-10, and it also isn't clear to me that in the case of CAS you get a different answer with either premise.

The reason it's irrelevant to the A-10 is that the A-10 doesn't exist as a "repository" aircraft, it exists to pretend to be a helicopter so that Congress doesn't take away scope from the USAF's mission-budget holdings. The USAF (circa 1965) doesn't care about CAS that much, it cares about any kind of tactical air being given to the Army, which it sees as a first step towards the Army being able to recapture scope that was split off from it in the 1940s. And you look at what the Army was playing around with at the time, and it's pretty clear that the A-10 exists primarily as a physical "lid" on the Army's tacair capability. In other words, the Army cannot have any aircraft as capable or more capable than the A-10. That's pretty much its entire purpose (even if no one person was thinking exactly that, there's a reason these things shake out this way).

Now why do I think the domination/repository models don't get you a different answer? Well, simply because fighting wars requires methods of conduct which use assets and which together are based on doctrine. So whether you think of the Air Force as a "battlespace dominator" or as a "plane battery" is irrelevant. It is a battlespace dominator that requires a plane battery and both are subservient to the doctrine. Which one has "primacy" does not change the math. I could maybe conceive of a structure where that did change the math, but it would have to be very tortured indeed to apply to CAS.

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I also think like, the A-10 has really twisted around people's ideas about what CAS is supposed to be. Close air support is ordnance delivery in close proximity to friendly forces. That's it. We now have this idea that it means some flying turd hovering around a platoon getting JTACs commands and brrrrting at anyone who looks funny. This is a hyperspecific artifact of the way CAS was conducted in the GWOT. But a 'Chief flying in at 800 miles per hour and dropping bombs on enemy positions and then zooming off is CAS, too. A B-52 dropping a JDAM from 35,000 feet onto a ground lased target is CAS, too. CAS is not just "that thing the A-10 does".

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I think the way to "win" this contest is to develop the most expensive platform possible that sits in the heart of the trashfire envelope.  Make it more expensive by giving it armor and hardening the airframe.  Make it more expensive by equipping it with a cannon that cannot take out tanks, the purported target of the platform.  Upgrade the platform with systems that let it "standoff" even though the platform is aerodynamically constrained to be in or near the trashfire envelope always.  Also, make sure the platform is optimized for CAS instead of the more efficient BAI.  Then put out to the media how the platform can take hits from trashfire that could not even reach other platforms.  Declare that CAS must be performed in the trashfire envelope instead of outside it.  Therefore, the platform in question is "superior" at CAS compared to platforms optimized for BAI/interdiction/strategic.

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