Saturday, January 23, 2010

The only war there is.

There is a tendency for defense departments to get mired in the Eternal Present, assuming that the situations they face now will be the situations they will face forevermore. For instance, since the RAF will only ever have to rocket insurgents forever and ever amen, some in the UK are urging that the RAF purchase turboprop COIN aircraft instead of F-35 VSTOL strike fighters.

(H/T to Firehand.)


Anonymous said...

On the other hand given the cost differential, a couple of _squardrons_ of cheap turboprops for the price of one or two "gee whiz starfighters" while you have an actual war on, does sound like a pretty decent deal.

Assuming that the 'props can do what is necessary.

After all those "little" turbo props often compare very favourably to modern helo's and are certainly no worse than thier WWII - Korea era ancestors for putting ordinance onthe ground when you need it.

Greg in Allston said...

Bring back the Spitfire I say. That would be a jolly good way to fix those bloody jihadis.

While they're at it, they should bring back the P-51 and the P-38. Now THAT would be way cool.

Seriously, though, they may have a point for certain missions and certain environments. The unit cost, operational cost and 6+ hour loiter time are certainly attractive features. Quantity has a quality all of its own.

Flight-ER-Doc said...

Back when the A-10 was being developed enough people argued that the P51 should be brought back that the DoD leased a P51 with a turboprop engine and tested it...

The A10 was superior in all aspects, including cost of manufacturing, maneuverability, survivability, range, accuracy of ordnance delivery, ordnance carrying ability, maintainability, etc.

And while I support the idea of getting a couple of squadrons of small turboprops (for the cost of 1 F35) they are not as maneuverable as helos. OTOH, they can carry more ordnance (usually).

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Douglas Skyraiders did well in Vietnam in such a role. Even one or two jet kills, though I'm sure a bit of luck was involved.

Andrew Weitzman said...

I've seen a lot of arguments against such planes for modern COIN. "Not survivable in today's SAM environment, can be easily picked off by heavy machine gun AA, etc." Yet slow Predators are used all the time in areas like Afghanistan and Iraq, and I don't read about them being shot down much. Maybe one or two, but most seem to crash due to comm loss or pilot error.

Personally, I just love the profile of the Super Tucano. It's a neat turboprop that is actually more oriented to light-strike than the training role; I've read it is a little too heavy to be a proper trainer.

Anonymous said...

I've read reports that the US is buying a few of these prop driven planes to use with our special forces.


Revolver Rob said...

I certainly think there are some valid points there. Swapping a couple of jets for a squadron of prop planes, to fill a current, and most likely a continuing, warfare roll, could save some pennies.

Conversely, the moron "defence source", who says that the UK does not need and cannot afford to operate long range, ultra fast, high tech, fighters, is a moron. If you can't afford it, then you better cut some moronic social service, because believe you me, the UK NEEDS those planes. Why? Because I'm sure they have as many and maybe more enemies than we do, and we damn sure need them to keep tabs on things.


Anonymous said...

Ground pounders want air support. That's not all that surprising.

What is surprising is that an Officer of an Army that 30 or so years ago was in battle with contested air superiority is ignoring the realities of air superiority.

I foresee a whole problem of developing slow tanker air craft, defending the slow tanker aircraft, defending forward deployed airbases and ammo dumps in order to reduce time to target area, problems with supplying the forward deployed airbases, just all sorts of stuff crops up.

It isn't just airframe cost to consider, which an Officer of an Army that deploys Apache's should understand fully.

Anonymous said...

Ah hell, I left out flight crews and ground crews, training and protection.

I'm just not feeling it this morning.

fast richard said...

A dedicated ground attack aircraft might be useful, but it doesn't replace the jets. An A-10 replacement might make sense, or a Skyraider replacement built around the engine used in the C-130. That Tucano isn't much of a step up from a UAV. It is in the same class as the old T-6 Texan, fine for chasing drug smugglers, but not ready for a real battlefield.

What I'd really like, though, would be a turboprop P-38. But that's just for me.

Anonymous said...

1 F-35, 65 million quid.
1 Super Tucano, 5 million quid.

Axe two F-35s, get six Super Tucanos and the bits and bobs to form a squadron. Send this ad-hoc unit to the sandbox to see how they do.

Cut the money to replace the two F-35s from their bloated social system.

Pow, everyone wins. Well, maybe not the welfare bums, but tough titty to them.

Peter has a post with some pictures, too.


Overload in Colorado said...

A Predator UAV costs ~$4.5 Million.
The Reaper UAV cost about $10.5 Million.

I wonder what the range and payload differences are?
The big difference is that when a UAV is shot down, a pilot isn't killed.
Also, UAVs are smaller than planes, generally are quieter and usually loiter at higher altitude

Dave R. said...

I couldn't find much on the Tucano, but if the end result is somewhere between a propellor A-10 and a better armed Reaper I imagine it's a good idea. Well, except for the part about abandoning the air superiority mission entirely, but multi-role jets are an expensive way to hit goat-herds with AKs.

Air forces tend to have an institutional bias for aircraft that can do everything but cost more. And there's a case to be made for that, but you end up with fewer planes. Our own Air Force brass mostly didn't want the A-10, development was forced through by a relative handful of actors. And that turned out to be a very succesful aircraft.

Tam said...

Oh, no doubt the Tucano could prove a valuable addition in the COIN role, but the idea that the COIN role is The Only Role There Is Or Ever Will Be is what confuses me.

Anonymous said...

I think we have some OV-10s laying around. Wonder how those compare?

Back when the USAF was considering junking the A-10s, Senator Nunn was in favor (and the Army agreed) of transferring them to the Army.

Frank W. James said...

I've often wondered what the performance package of a P-38 like design would be with two big turbo-props and modern flight controls to deal with 'compressability'?

With the center pilot pod you could even design in a mid-air refueling probe that would extend past the two great fans powering the beast.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Anonymous said...


Maximum speed: 487 mph
Range: 1,160 mi (1,865 km) with external tanks
Service ceiling: 41,600 ft
Rate of climb: 55 ft/s

6 × 12.7 mm machine guns
10 × 5 in (127 mm) rockets
2 hardpoints


Maximum speed: 368 mph
Range: 2,995 mi
Service ceiling: 35,008 ft
Rate of climb: 79 ft/s

2x 12.7 mm machine guns
1x 20 mm cannon pod below the fuselage
4x 70 mm rocket launcher pods
2x AIM-9 Sidewinder
5 hardpoints

Anonymous said...

P-51 Mustang vs Super Tucano.
The Mustang is a design from the 40's with none of the modern day technologies like modern alloys, carbon fiber, etc.

So if you refreshed the Mustang modern technologies you would have an airframe that meets or exceeds Super Tucano.

Vaarok said...

Geodkyt said...

If you seriously want a "weightlifter" COIN aircraft, something along the lines of a turboprop A1E Skyraider is probably a better path to follow than an armed trainer.

But neither is goign to be worth diddly quat if you end up having to face an opponant operating modern Russian, Chinese, or French fighters, SAMs, and or ADA guns.

Anonymous said...

Re the Spit, P-51, and P-38 as ground attack a/c - all had liquid-cooled engines. One bullet in the cooling system, and you were down, which is why most of the ground attack roles went to the air-cooled radial engine types like the P-47, Corsair, Wildcat, Hellcat, and an assortment of bombers also powered by air-cooled radial engines. Ground attack in an a/c with a liquid-cooled engine was to be avoided whenever possible.

P-38s - Their only asset was their range. Slower than both the P-47 and the P-51, and not as survivable as either. They were pulled out of the ETO as quickly as was humanly possible because the '109s and '190s chewed them up and spit them out. HUGE losses on many missions - sometimes entire squadrons were lost. Not maneuverable enough to compete against German fighters with comparable top speeds (and higher top speeds by late-model 109s).
P-38s did passably well in the Pacific Theater - Japanese fighters were relatively slow, and you could dive and pick them off without getting in a dog-fight.

487 mph P-51s - the only P-51 that did 487 was the 'H' model, and they only made about 550 of them, none of which served in Europe, and only a handful of which served at the very end of the war in the Pacific. The 'H' was a very light-weight version of the P-51 having almost nothing in common with the original P-51 exept the name. It had a different fuselage, a thinner wing, landing gear, etc., etc., etc. Previously mentioned vulnerability to ground fire applies doubly to this little speedster, as it had much less armor. If you are familiar with 'normal' P-51s, the 'H' is a very odd-looking bird indeed, looking more like a cartoonist's impression of a P-51 than anything else.

Tucanos - we've got our own, thankyouverymuch, and it's called the Raytheon/Beechcraft Texan II, which is a licence-built version of the Pilatus PC-9, and already in the Air Force inventory. No need to buy any at all. Unless you want more of them.


fast richard said...

After looking at more info on the Tucano I like it a lot more. It is not a true ground attack aircraft so much as a FAC aircraft with some close support capability. It fills the role of the old OV-10 Bronco, not the AD Skyraider. It really shouldn't be compared to the prop driven fighters as its role is completely different.

The Brits are nuts to think it can in any way make up for not having enough high performance jet fighters for the future. They seem to be allowing their military supplies to dwindle in a time of increasing military threats. That can't be a good thing.

Frank W. James said...

All the reference books I've read about the P-38 in the ETO acknowledges they had problems with the cold damp north European climate and their induction systems, but as for their reported poor performance against the Me's and others they seemed to have held more than their own in Balkans flying out of southern Italy.

As for their lack of maneuverability, there is nothing in the history books about Bong and McQuire complaining about such characteristics.

It is well to remember the P-38 was the only front line American fighter plane that was in service when Pearl Harbor was bombed and was still IN service when Hiroshima served up a mushroom cloud. Pretty good for a bird the Nazi's called the "Forktail Devil".

All The Best,
Frank W. James

fast richard said...

I've been reading a bit about the P-38 lately. People either loved them or hated them back then. People either love them or hate them now.

They never had the roll rate to compete in a close quarters dog fight with the more nimble single engine fighters. There was a whole squadron that got caught at low altitude in a valley and got massacred. Late models had hydraulicly boosted ailerons which helped a little, but it was still a big plane with long wings.

The early versions which earned it a bad rep in Europe had several other flaws. Pilots could not follow an opponent into a dive because the elevator lost effectiveness at high speed and they might never level out. The later models had a dive flap that dealt with this problem. The engines did not run well at altitude until the later models got presurized magnetos to improve ignition, better cooling system control so the engines would warm up properly, and better intake intercoolers so more power could be gotten out of the engines. The early models also had inadequate cockpit heating which was a big problem at high altitude over Europe, especially in winter.

WWII was a performance race in the air with constant efforts to improve engines, airframes, and pilots. In the early part of the war Germany had the best aircraft and the best trained pilots in the world. By the time the early problems with the P-38 were sorted out, the leaders of the Eigth Air Force hated the plane and were finally getting the long range escorts they needed in the form of P-51Ds.

It was in the Pacific where the problems of the early model P-38s were not a critical, that they had their great success. The pilots already knew that they couldn't keep up with a zero in a close quarters turning fight. They had learned that in China with P-40s. The P-38 was faster and more powerful that the P-40, so tactics that worked with the Warhawk would easily transfer to the Lightning.

In the Pacific the P-38's range was much appreciated, as was the extra engine on long overwater flights. By the time the forces in the Pacific were able to get the supplies they had been short of, the kinks had been worked out of the P-38. The pilots were better trained than they had been at the beginning of the war, and the tactics for using such an unusual aircraft had been worked out.

By the end of WWII all piston engine fighters were obsolete. Only the Mustang and the Corsair survived more than a few more years, though a few Photo-Recon P-38s stayed in use as commercial aerial mapping platforms.

The P-38 still has about the highest cool factor in a field of cool relics of that war, but to upgrade its aerodynamics to modern standards I think you'd have to give it a thinner airfoil for better mach percentage and raise the horizontal stabilizer like the OV-10 Bronco to keep it out of the slipstream.