Girl Power Starts With A Big $(&@#ing Gun
This Wednesday evening at the National Air and Space Museum (tix are free):
Capt. Kim Campbell, USAF, offers a first hand account of recent air operations conducted by the U.S. Air Force’s 23rd Fighter Group while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom…
While flying a mission over Baghdad on April 7, 2003, her A-10 was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire, rolled left, and pointed toward the ground. The A-10 sustained damage to one engine and to the redundant hydraulic systems, disabling the flight controls, landing gear and brakes, and horizontal stabilizer. However, Captain Campbell found that the manual flight controls still worked and she was able to fly her crippled A-10 back to base, 100 miles away. On the ground, an inspection of the aircraft revealed hundreds of holes in the airframe and that large sections of the stabilizer and hydraulic controls were missing.
The full story of Capt. Campbell’s rough day in Iraq is a tribute both to her skill as a pilot and to the durability of the A-10. I hope whoever decided that the regular Air Force didn’t need A-10s anymore (only the National Guard and Reserves still fly them) got a swift kick in the brass for that dumb decision.
March 22, 2004
This has been a stupid decision over 15 years in the making. Nobody, Republocrat or Demican, can claim innocence.
The F-16 is a nice all-purpose fighter, and yes, it can even do some close air support. But there is nothing in the world on par with the A-10 for tank plinking and survivability. The gatling gun on the nose fires DU (*gasp* *horror*) slugs so fast that it actually reduces the airspeed of the plane significantly. Coupled with good avionics, it is pretty much death to anything on the ground it doesn’t like.
But they’re ugly and slower than an F-16, and therefore the fighter mafia doesn’t like them. They want to replay WWI-era dogfights and don’t like a plane that isn’t great at that. But every time there’s been a conflict, the A-10 gets another stay of execution because, reluctantly, they figure out that the Air Force is there to bomb things, not to shoot down other planes.
That being said, I was surprised to find out that B-1 bombers were used in the Iraq war for close air support and were valuable for it, as they could loiter safely away, then when they got a call, come in supersonic and drop lots of precision weapons where forward controllers needed them, then go back to loiter and repeat.
Somewhere, in his jacket that ties up in back, Bob Dornan is smiling quietly to himself.
March 22, 2004
Yup, I remember reading articles in my dad’s Air Force Association magazine in 1988 or so about how the F-16 was going to be a much better CAS platform than the A-10 and thinking to myself, “I’m just a kid and even I know that’s wrong!”
It’s decisions like that which make me wonder if we wouldn’t be better off just giving the Air Force back to the Army.
One minor nit, though — while you’re right about the A-10 not appealing to the typical fighter-dazzled Air Force brass, it’s actually not right to pin the blame on the “fighter mafia” — since the head designer of the A-10, Pierre Sprey, was actually one of the same members of Col. John Boyd’s original “fighter mafia” that pushed through the F-16:
The “fighter mafia” (i.e. Boyd and his crew) shared a devotion to inexpensive, reliable aircraft that did one task well — the F-16 designed for dogfighting, the A-10 designed for CAS. Of course, once the Pentagon got their hands on both planes, they immediately looked for ways to begin screwing them up, and the rest is history.
March 23, 2004
I didn’t mean the “fighter mafia” in the historical sense, but in the current sense as in “the top brass are all ex-fighter jocks”.
Also a slight exaggeration, but enough truth to sting.
The same program (history channel) that I watched that talked about using B1s for CAS (that still blows my mind) also did say that the Marines coming up highway 1 (I think) ran into an ambush that was much cleverer than your average regular Iraqi army–they claimed it was from a terrorist training camp a few miles away. This surprised me, as you’d think the Bush admin would be trumpeting info like this all over the place to prove that They Were Fighting Terror.
That they haven’t is, to my mind, a further condemnation of the competency of this administration. They can’t even get propaganda right.
March 23, 2004
Oh, sorry about that. My misunderstanding. You’re definitely right about the Air Force brass in general being fighter-happy, though. The fact that they refer rather disdainfully to the CAS mission as “mud moving” is all the proof you need of that.
March 23, 2004
A B-1 is probably better at CAS than a F-16 these days. It can stay on station longer, and can carry more GPS bombs. A B-52 is even better, since it can just fly around the battlefield all day out of the range of AAA and drop GPS bombs as needed, and as the bombs get more accurate and smaller (the military is developing a 250lb. GBS bomb), then the big bombers can still carry more, and be more effective than the small fighters.
Having said that, there should still be A-10s in service. Let the army take over close air support if the Air Force won’t do it. I’m sure the infantry would rather have A-10s than armed helicopters above them, since even first rate machine like the Apache is so vulnerable to ground fire.
March 31, 2004
Jason sure has it right. You get this nice sleek aircraft out of the factory and before you know it the Swiss Knife crowd has it all junked up so it’s overweight and underpowered. I guess the KC waterwagon and RC fan crowd were just lucky to get the better performing cast off airline engines.