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The US Air Force isn’t buying light attack planes

Pioneer

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Sorry, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Textron: The US Air Force isn’t buying light attack planes


I'm sorry, but yet another scitsophenic episode by the USAF, and at what $ cost??

Then for U.S. Special Operations Command to simply to turn around
and 'requested $106 million in the fiscal 2021 defense budget for its armed overwatch requirement...'

I'm really beginning to believe the the US Military is it's own worst enemy with it inherent indecisiveness and waste of money.

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Kadija_Man

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The US military is a career organisation that has officers who like big, bright, shiny, fast toys with which to fight battles. It trains to fight the war of the big battalions and so it is dismal when faced with COIN warfare. Which is a shame because it has shown that it can fight COIN warfare when it trains for it.
 

rooster

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What can a light attack turbo prop manned aircraft do that an unmanned predator or reaper cannot do? Cannot our ucavs be considered light attack aircraft? Are they not better as there is no biology barrier to overcome for mission lengths? Budgets are not unlimited. Why does the usaf need to field what is basically a ucav but put a pilot or pilots in it? For that matter what can a manned turboprop do that a f35a cannot do, except fly slower and be more vulnerable to sams?
 

Kadija_Man

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What can a light attack turbo prop manned aircraft do that an unmanned predator or reaper cannot do? Cannot our ucavs be considered light attack aircraft? Are they not better as there is no biology barrier to overcome for mission lengths? Budgets are not unlimited. Why does the usaf need to field what is basically a ucav but put a pilot or pilots in it? For that matter what can a manned turboprop do that a f35a cannot do, except fly slower and be more vulnerable to sams?
Well, perhaps 'cause pilots/observers can see what is happening on the ground and react to it much faster/easier than a UCAV can?

There is a place for both a light attack aircraft and UCAVs. The problem is, the USAF has a mindset which only sees one solution to all problems.
 

rooster

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You are talking about the situational awareness limitations of these first gen 1.0 ucavs. That is easily overcomable with A) more sensors like in the f35 and B) what difference does it matter if the person flying it is in it and looking out a plexiglass windscreen or looking at a bank of monitors with all sorts of passive and active sensors?

In fact with the ucav, you can have n greater than 1 viewing the situation and monitoring multiple targets and situations simultaneously.

The people of the ground can "radio" the ucav "crew" just as easily.

Considering a guy with a manpad can easily take out a low and slow turboprop, the ucav makes better sense for crew safety. What difference does it matter where the crew is sitting if technology can provide better awareness and keep our "pilots" safer?

I am familiar with the soda straw analogy for situational awareness with these v1.0 ucavs, but its overcomable.
 

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Reaction time. SOC wants Close air support. By close they mean right aside, in theater, ready to deliver without notice, to free them from lengthy planning and cut operation time at decision level.
A jet is not the panacea here. Nor is a UCAV. A rugged light turboprop with minimal need for support is.
Today, Manpads (or converted A2A missiles) are still strategic items for insurgents that will have a hard time to counter a swift strategy.

Anywhere, anytime:
FB_IMG_1582451446452.jpg
 
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Grey Havoc

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Under current US ROE, which mandate a 'man in the loop', UCAVs are just not effective at all, both in operational and cost terms.
 
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rooster

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I wanted to be a pilot but have a touch of colorblindness which is why I never had a shot. I wouldn't want to fly a world war II era prop into combat. Would pilots sign up for that??? I just know from flying civilian props that no way would I want to fly into a combat zone in that tech. Good grief those things you can shove a pencil through the skin they are so light.

Would not or could not loitering ucavs that don't have a biology barrier provide faster response time to something that needs to be staged at an airstrip and then flying 250kts to a battle? Plus are these proposed lightweight turboprops capable of all weather like an f35? After all they will be flying below the weather as opposed to 35k.

Also I wanted to ask you guys what's wrong with attack helicopters like apache in this role as they are only marginally slower and have the benefit of not needing an airstrip. What about those dual rotor things that are even faster?
 
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Kadija_Man

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UCAVs suffer from how high they are in the command chain. They are held usually at a strategic level and act under the command of theatre commanders. Light manned aircraft are held much lower and are more readily available to ground forces. The reason why UCAVs are the flavour of the month is 'cause they free the commander from worrying about losing an aircraft (and hence its crew). MANPADS are very much a rarity to most insurgents. SAMs even more so. Their common AA asset is a HMG such a DsHK and then only if they are lucky. Yes, sometimes they get lucky and they hit the attacking aircraft but they are rarely lucky enough to capture crew.
 

rooster

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What about using attack helicooters? The speed differences don't seem that great and forward basing without airstrips offers more flexibility and perhaps the same response time as flying from an airbase in a slightly faster turboprop . I realize my questions may be academic you guys here.
 

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Attack helicopters tend to be more complex than say a two seat turboprop, which tends to make them more vulnerable, reduces reliability and cost more.

I say a close in CAS single seat turboprop that can offload data (for the n+ observer advantage) is a very useful thing in COIN type engagements. Having a pilot in the aircraft reduces time between request and action. Removes the problem of possible jamming, increases operator situational awareness and allows a more dynamic response.

The super tucano seems like a good option overall, and I have read the Bronco trials in Syria went well.

A left field option could be to re-evaluate the piper enforcer with todays tech.
 

F-14D

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Special Operations
Sorry, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Textron: The US Air Force isn’t buying light attack planes


I'm sorry, but yet another scitsophenic episode by the USAF, and at what $ cost??

Then for U.S. Special Operations Command to simply to turn around
and 'requested $106 million in the fiscal 2021 defense budget for its armed overwatch requirement...'

I'm really beginning to believe the the US Military is it's own worst enemy with it inherent indecisiveness and waste of money.

Regards
Pioneer
Sorry about this late reply, and leaving aside the other interesting technical points made in this discussion, it's not that SOC simply "turned around".

Special Operations forces, specifically Navy Seals, pioneered this concept back in the mid 2000s and the USN leased Super Tucanos to test for this very role and found them quite successful. Program names for the operational concept tests included Imminent Fury and Combat Dragon I & II.

USAF got involved with their "roles and missions" argument and took over the idea, but even then other forces were skeptical that USAF was really all that committed to the idea. OAS, OA-X, AT-X, LAAR and LAS are all names for the various AF iterations which involved contractors spending a lot of their own money only to find that despite what they were told ("This time we really mean it"), there wasn't going to actually be an aircraft fielded. In January of 2019 USAF said once again, "Ya know? We're really not that enthused about the whole thing". Keep in mind that Special Operations have been pushing continually for this capability for their missions.

Congress got frustrated with the, "Yes we're going to do it- no we're not/oh this is really a great idea-this is a terrible idea/we're definitely going forward this-we don't plan to go forward with this, etc. So, they went to SOCOM and asked, "Do you still need this, and if we give you money directly for it can and will you proceed"? SOCOM answered, "You bet"! So Congress took the rarely seen action of giving direct appropriation authority to SOCOM and gave them $106 million in the FY2021 budget to start their program.. The total program over five years is planned to be under $900 million. The aircraft may also replace the U-28.

Whereas USAF had taken years to take tiny steps (e.g there was a "pre-acquisiton experimental phase" that lasted over three years and still didn't result result in much progress), SOCOM moved forward with (for the Government) lightning speed. They stood up their Armed Overwatch program within a month of getting the FY21 authority. A few weeks later, they announced their plans to acquire the first five aircraft within a year. They are having an Armed Overwatch Industry Day event in Tampa March 4-5 (https://beta.sam.gov/opp/61302460d9ef4238a218698349a94579/view), and have told potential suppliers to be ready for prototype demonstrations this summer.
 
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riggerrob

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You guys don’t get it.
Light attack airplanes are intended for third-tier allies.
The USA does not trust allies like Iraq or Afghanistan or Venezuela because they know that local politics are too “flexible.” Politics are so “flexible” that the USA might have to re-invade a few years later (e.g. Panama.
The last thing to USAF wants is a fair fight with a third
world dictator. Therefor, the USA never sells first-tier weapons (e.g. the latest generation of drones) to third tier allies.
 

F-14D

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You guys don’t get it.

I think you might be missing the point here. This topic is about light attack aircraft for the US, not allies (although some might and already have received them). That would be a different discussion. Most posts were about the feasibility and alternatives Mine was expressing the opinion that USAF never was serious about the mission or the requirement, they just want to own it, and that SOCOM is not just jumping in at the last minute but has always wanted this capability but is only now getting the opportunity to bring it to fruition.

BTW, I fully expect that any day now, now that the program has been given to someone else, USAF will lobby that one of their drones such as Reaper would be the mostest bestest way to meet this important mission need (under their control, naturally), which of course they've always fully supported to the max.
 

Grey Havoc

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Given how poorly the Armed Services' drones, in particular the USAF's Reapers & the Army's Grey Eagles, performed on a relatively conventional battlefield against ISIS when they were in the ascendant (the near loss of Bagdad to the would-be Caliphate being a painful example), the Air Force will likely have trouble convincing Congress these days that drones can substitute for manned CAS aircraft.
 

kaiserd

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Given how poorly the Armed Services' drones, in particular the USAF's Reapers & the Army's Grey Eagles, performed on a relatively conventional battlefield against ISIS when they were in the ascendant (the near loss of Bagdad to the would-be Caliphate being a painful example), the Air Force will likely have trouble convincing Congress these days that drones can substitute for manned CAS aircraft.
Irrespective of pro- or con- views on UCAV’s that post is full of counter-factual statements.
ISIS initial success on the battlefield had ALOT of different factors involved, way-way off topic here.....
 

Grey Havoc

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Could you please explain just how those statements were counter-factual?
 

kaiserd

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Could you please explain just how those statements were counter-factual?
Please provide your sources/ evidence for your apparent contention that:
- These US drones generally performed poorly against ISIS
- These US drones general performance was definitely worse than would be reasonably expected of equivalent (light CAS) manned air support in the precisely same circumstances (potentially limited human intelligence sources etc.)
- Specific poor performance and/or inferiority to equivalent light manned CAS air support by these US drones directly and specifically relating to ISIS’s attempted but failed attempt to reach Baghdad (and how it contributed to the attempt rather than to its failure).

I can certainly see scenarios which manned light CAS may well be better suited to than armed drones.
But I’d really like to see some actual evidence for statements along the lines that ISIS advances towards Baghdad were somehow specifically facilitated or caused by the differences between manned light CAS and armed drones, rather than a large number of other interconnected factors.
 
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Apophenia

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Attack helicopters tend to be more complex than say a two seat turboprop, which tends to make them more vulnerable, reduces reliability and cost more...
Attack helicopters also tend to noisier than smaller turboprop aircraft. Perhaps not a major concern when engaging a moving mechanized foe but kind of a biggie when operating against insurgents on foot.

As with UCAV issues, further improvements to reducing helicopters' acoustic signature are possible. But, since funding agencies are already wondering why the program has taken so long ...
 

Grey Havoc

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But I’d really like to see some actual evidence for statements along the lines that ISIS advances towards Baghdad were somehow specifically facilitated or caused by the differences between manned light CAS and armed drones, rather than a large number of other interconnected factors.
One very good example would be the rather embarrassing admission by the USAF that within 72 hours (some sources claim 48 or even less than 24 hours) of ISIS beginning it's advance on Baghdad, the only CAS assets left to support friendly forces trying to fend it off were precisely four A-10s and two U.S. Army Apache gunships (with the latter unfortunately not being able to contribute that much the defence due to serviceability issues which I will mention further below) and absolutely zero tactical recon assets. (On the Strategic Reconnaissance side of things there are some indications that Global Hawks had a bad time of it from early on in the campaign though just how bad still hasn't been revealed publically.) The Reaper and Predator drones initially available for deployment against ISIS formations seem to have been for all intents and purposes annihilated. One of the justifications given by the Obama administration to Congress for the Iraq drawdown in the first place was that drones would be easily able to help cover what shortfalls in support of Iraqi government forces might result. Alas, the administration had both badly underestimated ISIS and greatly overestimated the general effectiveness of MALE drones on anything resembling a conventional battlefield. Drones do best in hit and run operations in lightly or non-contested airspace. Otherwise they are best used for surveillance/patrol duties in uncontested or undefended airspace where an enemy doesn't have a clue that they are around. If an enemy has anything in the line of proper battlefield air defence assets, all bets are off. And that's even before we get to the USAF Reaper fleet's reliability (or lack there of).

As to the poor availability of the two Apaches left in place after extremely ill-advised drawdowns, a major cause was apparently fake and/or sub-standard parts (no guesses needed as to where the bulk of those were made), compounded by a shortage of local U.S. Army Aviation maintenance resources left in place. I had thought that some U.S. Army Grey Eagles had been deployed to Iraq prior to ISIS launching it's offensive, but apparently they were mostly still stateside due to even worse serviceability issues (COTS having struck yet again) with a unclear number of examples previously lost both there and in Afghanistan. As of 2017 the Army has been operating the IGE variant, which reportedly still has issues including vulnerability to Electronic Warfare, much as the Predator & Reaper has. The GE-ER variant, which is supposed to solve some more of those problems was still in operational testing as of late 2019.
 
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kaiserd

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But I’d really like to see some actual evidence for statements along the lines that ISIS advances towards Baghdad were somehow specifically facilitated or caused by the differences between manned light CAS and armed drones, rather than a large number of other interconnected factors.
One very good example would be the rather embarrassing admission by the USAF that within 72 hours (some sources claim 48 or even less than 24 hours) of ISIS beginning it's advance on Baghdad, the only CAS assets left to support friendly forces trying to fend it off were precisely four A-10s and two U.S. Army Apache gunships (with the latter unfortunately not being able to contribute that much the defence due to serviceability issues which I will mention further below) and absolutely zero tactical recon assets. (On the Strategic Reconnaissance side of things there are some indications that Global Hawks had a bad time of it from early on in the campaign though just how bad still hasn't been revealed publically.) The Reaper and Predator drones initially available for deployment against ISIS formations seem to have been for all intents and purposes annihilated. One of the justifications given by the Obama administration to Congress for the Iraq drawdown in the first place was that drones would be easily able to help cover what shortfalls in support of Iraqi government forces might result. Alas, the administration had both badly underestimated ISIS and greatly overestimated the general effectiveness of MALE drones on anything resembling a conventional battlefield. Drones do best in hit and run operations in lightly or non-contested airspace. Otherwise they are best used for surveillance/patrol duties in uncontested or undefended airspace where an enemy doesn't have a clue that they are around. If an enemy has anything in the line of proper battlefield air defence assets, all bets are off. And that's even before we get to the USAF Reaper fleet's reliability (or lack there of).

As to the poor availability of the two Apaches left in place after extremely ill-advised drawdowns, a major cause was apparently fake and/or sub-standard parts (no guesses needed as to where the bulk of those were made), compounded by a shortage of local U.S. Army Aviation maintenance resources left in place. I had thought that some U.S. Army Grey Eagles had been deployed to Iraq prior to ISIS launching it's offensive, but apparently they were mostly still stateside due to even worse serviceability issues (COTS having struck yet again) with a unclear number of examples previously lost both there and in Afghanistan. As of 2017 the Army has been operating the IGE variant, which reportedly still has issues including vulnerability to Electronic Warfare, much as the Predator & Reaper has. The GE-ER variant, which is supposed to solve some more of those problems was still in operational testing as of late 2019.
We appear to have quite different ideas on what represents evidence and sources.
 

Grey Havoc

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So are you saying that admissions by, for example CENTCOM, to the Press and Congress were incorrect, and that there were armed MALE and/or other type drones still available in-theatre for use by the US against ISIS at that time? AFAIK, friendly forces on the ground didn't even have Switchblades on hand.

EDIT: Unless you are thinking of the CIA drone fleet? Though they were concentrating on African operations at that time if memory serves.


In other news, what appears to be, a probably doomed, attempt by the USAF to appease an increasingly angry Congress:
 
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kaiserd

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The sources from which your assertions came from.
Just stating stuff doesn’t give the rest of us the chance to evaluate the associated credibility and context.
 

Foo Fighter

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For someone not buying light attack planes they are spending what seems to me to be a lot of money on light attack planes.
 

F-14D

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For someone not buying light attack planes they are spending what seems to me to be a lot of money on light attack planes.
Spending a lot of money has never been a problem for USAF.

Keep in mind that all that money buys a grand total of four airframes. Not sure what they intend to discover that isn't already known. I suspect they are only buying the AT-6 to placate Textron's lobbyists and Congresscritters. They can get all they need to know simply by looking at al the info from their multiple previous analyses and programs that went nowhere. Heck! They can just look at al the info from the Super Tucano's actual combat operations worldwide or what happened when A-29Bs operated here in Green Flag. If they seriously are interested in getting the latest, then do at least a paper analysis of the Novaer Calidus B-250, to get a fuller picture. .

But haven't we been down this road with USAF already? More than once? They should stop trying to confuse the issue and just get out of the way and let SOF deliver what we could have had quite some time ago.

Shouldn't this topic be in Aviation & Space?
 
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