08 January 2012

Defense Aviation

I am a great fan of aviation.

Military in particular.

What concerns me a great deal is the massive reduction in real capability that modern tactical aircraft have undergone.

Let's pick on the Navy for now.  Ranges are max unrefueled total distance not combat radii.

The A-6E could carry 18,000 lb. of bombs out to 3,200 miles.
The A-7E could carry 15,000 lb. of bombs out to 1,200 miles.
Even the F-14B and F-14D could carry 8,000 lb. of bombs out to 1,000 miles.
The F/A-18C can carry 13,700 lb. of bombs out to 800 miles.
The F/A-18E can carry 17,750 lb. of bombs out to 780 miles.
The F-35 will carry 3,000 lb. of bombs (internally) out to 1,080 miles.


Look if you can't top an interceptor converted to the attack role in carriage and range...

To be fair, if you pile on stores on the external hardpoints the F-35 can carry 18,000 lb., but range suffers.  If we're compromising stealth, how much can an F-22A carry on the wings?  20,000 lb. on the wings with an unused capability for 2,000 lb. internally.  That's especially damning since the F-35 is turning out to be not that much cheaper.  The F-22A has long legs too 942 miles assuming 100 of them are supersonic!

That range thing is what worries me the most about these specifications.  Range doesn't just mean how far away you can drop bombs, it also says how long you can remain on station.  An attack plane isn't doing the guys on the ground any good if he's heading home for fuel or latched to the tanker.

The amount of bombs matters a lot too.  For the A-6E, it could readily carry 22x500 lb. bombs on the wings.  Dropped in pairs for close air support that's 11 runs.  It had the fuel to hang around and get good guidance from the forward air controller and is slow enough to see what's going on easily.

Wanna know why the A-10 is clinging on to service so tenaciously?  16,000 lb. load combat radius "288 mi at 1.88 hour single-engine loiter at 5,000 ft, 10 min combat"  ALMOST TWO HOURS OF HANGING AROUND WAITING FOR THE CALL  Oh, that 16k pound bomb load doesn't include the 1,174 rounds of 30mm available.

What caliber is the internal gun on the F-35B?  F-35C?  Oh.  There is no internal gun.  Sorry, Marines, we didn't mount the gun pod and have dropped our four JDAMS and have to head home.


An unanswered (perhaps unasked) question is how much of that theoretical 15k lb. external stores an F-35B can take-off with from an LHA.

I can't help but think the Navy and Marines would be better served doing an SCB-125 to the LHAs, installing cats and using the money saved in not buying the F-35 to develop a Navy F-22 equivalent.


  1. I wonder if the Navy and Marines would be even better off coming up with their own carrier-based version of the A-10? It seems to be already about as optimized for the ground support role as you can get. The only catch would be getting from the carrier to the combat zone in a reasonable time frame due to the (relatively) low airspeed - but on the other hand, if they need the support quickly, there's still the F/A-18.

  2. I've often felt we should reopen the A-7 assembly line. The plane was well behaved around the boat, had good loiter and weapons carriage and decent speed.

    The Vulcan is good enough for CAS really. Perhaps stepping up to the 25mm that the Harrier carries in a pod would be something we could add to the A-7J. I was going to say F, but that was taken, as was G, and H. I is never used, J seems open as does M and N. L and K are taken.

  3. I'm not as familiar with the A-7, so I'll defer to your knowledge. Also, I'll admit that the A-10 is a bit biased towards the anti armour role (for obvious reasons) and the normal CAS mission probably doesn't have to have that capability.

    Maybe do both, so that they aren't dependent on the USAF keeping the A-10 alive (since they keep trying to kill it, because it's not fast and shiny enough for them, or something).

  4. All of the Navy pilots I've talked to don't really want the F35 because a) we don't really need it (it is an aircraft searching for a mission) and b) it suffers from the same problem as the A-7...namely, a single engine. The A-6 did not have an internal gun, either, but as we learned with the F-4, any aircraft that carries the F designation should have one. The Marines want their version of the F-35 to replace the AV-8, but they want a gun. In the end, the military gets what is foisted on them (which is why we have so damned many C-130's).
    The F/A-18, in all of it's variants, is a very fine aircraft when it sacrifices bomb stations for fuel tanks or has air refueling assets in place. When I was at Pax we used to call them "close air support for a KA-6" just to make the Hornet guys mad (I was a Tomcat guy myself, but then I went to Hornets after Pax).

  5. I think the A-6 made up for the lack-o-gun in two ways, one it carried a lot of bombs a long ways; two, there was plenty of other planes with guns available for strafing.

    I keep looking at aviation lately and I can't fathom why we can't get anything done anymore.

    Like how damn hard is it to put a damn boom on the back of a 757, 767 or 777 and call it the new KC-XX. For crissakes, that's not too far from how Boeing did the KC-135. It's exactly how McDonell Douglas did the KC-10.

    While a single engine bugs me about carrier planes too, the A-7 is a known quantity and it's SIMPLE. It seems that there's a need chasing what the A-7 did for thirty years (the A-6 too for that matter).

    Another baffling thing for me is what was the source of the outright hatred shown for Grumman by Bush and Cheney? Did the flying Dorito really earn that scorn? Or was it something else? I often got the impression that LTV kinda gave up on the process of selling planes rather than running out of ideas. Perhaps it was over the "The A-7F isn't an F-16 and big Air Force flies F-16's so the National Guard will too!" Losing fairly is one thing, losing summarily is quite another.

  6. I can't understand why the "deep thinkers" think it's a good idea to have a foreign sourced military aircraft at all, even if it is "only" a tanker.
    The Hornet does what the A-7 did (Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic used to be Light Attack Wing One; when the F/A-18 came along they just changed the designations and kept rolling), but nothing does what the A-6 did. It was a dump-truck, if you needed a lot of boom in one place the A-6 was the bird you sent. It didn't need a gun, it was Medium Attack and the Light Attack guys took care of CAS. However, ALL fighters need guns.
    Grumman Iron Works makes some damfine aircraft. The Tomcat was a finicky pig and it was a pain in the ass to keep in the air, but it sure was a good looking thing flying along with it's wings all swept back. Every Sailor is glad to see the C-2 landing, and that is a Grumman bird as well.

  7. I pull out the A-7 because it is such a dirt simple bird and it would be freaking cheap, even if we put a glass cockpit in it. It doesn't need to dogfight or perform stealthy deep penetration raids. We need a solid CAS platform we can afford in numbers that both the AF and Navy can operate.

    Range, payload and loiter all in one package.

    I sometimes think we got penny wise and pound foolish by dropping specialized planes for the strike role.

    Come to think on it, what's replacing the S-3 role?


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