With the decision to procure the Gray Eagle UAV (MQ-1C), the United States Army (Army) has embarked upon an enduring commitment to tactical, fixed wing aviation. This decision, combined with recent and historical United States Air Force (USAF) decisions, must inspire the Army to fully embrace its fixed wing future.   The Army now finds itself in a convoluted situation. It flies manned, unarmed, fixed wing aircraft. It flies, manned, armed, rotary wing aircraft. It flies unmanned, armed, fixed wing aircraft. Yet, somehow, the Army cannot fly armed, manned, fixed wing aircraft regardless the effects they provide or the cost savings to the Nation. This archaic and parochial position is untenable, unnecessary and foolish. As the Army is committed to a fixed wing future, it should maximize the opportunities afforded.

This opportunity to focus on battlefield capabilities and not technical trivialities will save not only money but lives on the future battlefield. The Army should divest itself of restrictions on which aircraft to procure in support of land operations. The OH-58, a Vietnam legacy aircraft, should be replaced by a manned, fixed wing alternative designed specifically for light attack/armed reconnaissance and integrated to operate with current and future Army forces. The USAF’s latest proposal to kill the A-10 is only the latest in a 70-year history of seeming ambivalence to their requirement to support the Army in close air support. From Eisenhower to Odierno, the Army has often found itself the victim of a quick reversal of USAF promises to support the Army.

The support of General Eisenhower was critical to the creation of the independent Air Force. This support was obtained only by a commitment from General Spaatz to provide robust tactical air support in the form of the creation of the Tactical Air Command (TAC). Just one year later, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Vandenburg demoted TAC making it subordinate to the Continental Air Command and eliminating all habitual relationships between air and ground units. Spaatz, then retired, was furious at the betrayal of the Army and Eisenhower. General Quesada, the father of US close air support (CAS) techniques in World War 2, later resigned in disgust due to Vandenburg’s decision. The devolution of TAC happened only months after President Truman approved the Key West Agreement which severely curtailed US Army aviation based upon soon to be abandoned promises of support. Vandenburg had divined that the inevitable conflict between the US and the USSR did not include ground forces.

The USAF has often tried to determine what a future war will look like. For example, in response to many complaints about CAS during Korea, the USAF replied that the conventional fighting in Korea was atypical and would not be repeated in future conflicts. In 1963 the Air Force predicted that the FB-111 would be the optimal CAS aircraft for Vietnam. The procurement of the A-10 in the closing stages of Vietnam might be seen as a commitment to supporting the Army. The main impetus for procuring the A-10, however, wasn’t to kill enemy ground forces; it was to kill the Army’s proposed follow on attack helicopter, the AH-56 Cheyenne.

From Eisenhower to Odierno, the Army has often found itself the victim of a quick reversal of Air Force promises to support the Army.

In a replay of the FB-111 prediction, the Air Force has determined that the supersonic, stealthy F35A is the best replacement for the A-10. The loiter, armament and armor which made the A-10 the premier conventional CAS aircraft all being abandoned for stealth and speed. The GAU-8 30mm Gun with 1100 rounds of ammunition will be substituted by GAU 12 25mm gun with 180 rounds of ammunition providing only four seconds of total firing time.   The costs, too, will increase. The $17,000 per flight hour cost of the A-10 is estimated to at least double for the F35A. The 1970s vintage A-10s have been flown hard in their career and require an approximately $2.7 billion upgrade program. With network centric, high intensity conflict seen as the future challenges by the USAF, the A-10 has no place and is seen as an expensive albatross. With the greatly increased operating cost and the many missions slated for the F35A few, if any, hours will be dedicated for training F35A pilots on CAS. This situation, too, is not unprecedented. In 1955 the Air Force identified the F100D as the USAF’s primary CAS online casino platform. Yet by 1959, no F100D pilots were trained to drop conventional munitions due to the USAFs preoccupation with the delivery of nuclear weapons by tactical aircraft.


Light Attack, Armed Reconnaissance

The desire to replace the OH-58 with a more up to date airframe led to the RAH-66 Comanche program cancelled in 2004. The Comanche’s missions were “armed reconnaissance, light attack and air combat.” The same terminology was used to describe the USAF’s Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) program in 2006. The program originally envisioned 100 inexpensive, propeller driven aircraft to provide close air support in the counter insurgency environment. Unfortunately, the LAAR quickly devolved to the 20 airframe Light Air Support (LAS) program and only to be used to train allied air forces rather than in support of US ground units. The USAF selected the Embraer A-29 “Super Tucano” for its LAAR/LAS program.

The A-29 has features that should be attractive to a budget constrained military.   The per-unit cost for the A29 is approximately 22 million dollars. This amount includes all training, maintenance and support requirements. With just the $2.7 billion pending for A-10 upgrades, 100 brand new A-29s could be procured. The flight cost per hour is estimated at only $1000. It can fly well above 30,000 feet for up to eight hours. With hand held Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) being a primary threat to aircraft operating in a small war environment, only fixed wing attack aircraft can operate effectively above these increasingly available missiles’ 15,000 foot range. The A-29 is one of many aircraft with similar capabilities and costs. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have asked for years for such a capability.

The Army’s commitment to the Gray Eagle demonstrates the value of organic fixed wing assets to the Land Component. But armed UAVs are a poor substitute for a manned aircraft in the close air support role. Designed to perform Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, UAVs shine especially in the surveillance role. The AH-64 helicopter will remain the premier Army attack platform in major combat operations (MCO). Its remote field capability is irreplaceable in the rapid advances found during high intensity, short duration fights. If this is the limit of the Army’s fighting future, then there is admittedly no need for a LAAR. But, likewise, there would be no need for an Army independent UAV system. These Desert Storm-esque battles are precisely the types of conflicts the Joint and USAF doctrine are designed to fight.


The Future of Land Warfare

The country gave a specific mission to the United States Army in 1947:

“In general the United States Army, within the Department of the Army shall include land combat and services forces and such aviation and water transport as may be organic therein. It shall be organized, trained and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat incident to operations on land.

The past 30 years have seen the Army perform sustained missions in the Sinai Desert, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. Farther back, large scale wars in Vietnam and Korea as well as smaller long term commitments in Central and South America have clearly predicted that sustained operations are most likely in the Army’s future. Our Nation’s financial ability to fight long conflicts with expensive aviation optimized for short duration, high intensity conflict is increasingly in doubt. The Army’s statutory mission is to fight both types of conflicts. The law specifically includes authority for organic aviation as required to perform its mission. The Army should procure accordingly.

Building off the Gray Eagle, the Army’s standard Combat Aviation Brigades (CAB) should include a fixed wing battalion. Such a battalion would be comprised of LAAR aircraft, Gray Eagles, MC-12s as well as maintenance and ground support companies. This battalion could also host a future fixed wing, intra-theater airlift element should the Army wish to relook this requirement following the cancellation of the C27J by the USAF. The disestablishment of current OH-58 units would provide adequate manpower and funding. AH-64s would provide rotary wing attack and reconnaissance requirements prior to Army airfields being established. In peacetime, the fixed wing fleet could provide low cost border security, search and rescue, and command and control for natural disasters bypassing FAA limitations on UAV operations. This fixed wing battalion would not be designed to operate en masse, but rather optimized to task organize into small detachments of mixed fleets crafted specifically to the requirements of the task force commander.

The Army is rightfully committed to organic, fixed wing aviation in combat operations. The current proposals for replacing our rotary wing fleet involve more expensive options which will entail either fewer available airframes or a higher overall cost with a strong possibility of both. Procuring inexpensive, fixed wing options would give the Army better capabilities at a lower cost in anticipation of future reduced fleets. Starting with the Gray Eagles and the LAAR, the Army would enjoy superior air support, sustainable for long periods, and at a savings to the taxpayer. No one should say “No” to that.


Photo source: U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center]


Lieutenant Colonel Paul Darling is an Alaskan Army National Guardsman assigned to the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff as a strategist. The views presented here are his own and do not represent the views of the Alaska Army National Guard or the U.S. military.



  1. Mike M. 8 January, 2015 at 15:25 Reply

    “The main impetus for procuring the A-10, however, wasn’t to kill enemy ground forces; it was to kill the Army’s proposed follow on attack helicopter, the AH-56 Cheyenne.”

    Why do writers keep saying this?
    The Cheyenne Program was canceled because of a crash and delays in the development. And frankly the follow on program resulted in the Apache, so clearly the Army ended up with an even better attack helicopter.

    The A-10 development came out of the A/X programs and then a new RFP was modified and released because of the concern of the threat of Soviet armored forces and need for all-weather attack operations. There was also a specific requirement that the aircraft would be designed for the 30 mm cannon.

    “In 1966, the Army awarded Lockheed a contract for ten AH-56 prototypes. The AH-56’s maiden flight took place on 21 September 1967. In January 1968, the Army awarded Lockheed a production contract, based on flight testing progress. A fatal crash and technical problems affecting performance put Cheyenne development behind schedule, resulting in the cancellation of the production contract on 19 May 1969.[1] Development of the Cheyenne continued in the hope that the helicopter would eventually enter service. On 9 August 1972, the Army canceled the Cheyenne program. The Army announced a new program for an Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) on 17 August 1972,[4] which led to the development of the AH-64 Apache”


    The RFP from the USAF that would lead to the development of the A-10 came out in may 1970, “Two YA-10 prototypes were built in the Republic factory in Farmingdale, New York and first flew on 10 May 1972 by pilot Howard “Sam” Nelson. Production A-10’s were built at Fairchild in Hagerstown, Maryland. After trials and a fly-off against the YA-9, the Air Force announced its selection of Fairchild-Republic’s YA-10 on 18 January 1973 for production.[14] General Electric was selected to build the GAU-8 cannon in June 1973.[15] The YA-10 had an additional fly-off in 1974 against the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D Corsair II, the principal Air Force attack aircraft at the time, in order to prove the need to purchase a new attack aircraft. The first production A-10 flew in October 1975, and deliveries to the Air Force commenced in March 1976. In total, 715 airplanes were produced, the last delivered in 1984.[16]”

  2. Paul Darling 9 January, 2015 at 01:50 Reply

    For something a little more in depth than wikipedia, I suggest reading:
    Help from Above: Air Force Close Air Support of the Army, 1946- 1973 by John Schlight
    (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Project, 2003)
    This book provides research (funded and published by the USAF.)
    pages 350-370 provide a much more detailed history of the A-X (and the A-10 that developed from it. Some quotes from the book:
    McConnell’s decision in September 1966 to support a specialized CAS platform was that if the AF did not move in that direction, the entire CAS mission could be lost to the Army. 352
    The [A-X] decision was prompted primarily by a damage limiting desire to avoid giving the Army a further rationale for developing advanced helicopters and secondarily by the costs of developing military aircraft. 363

    I unfortunately do not own a copy of the book, these are from my notes. But the book itself is well referenced. If you are interested in this subject, as I assume you are, I highly recommend it.
    Thank you for the comment.

  3. kbg 9 January, 2015 at 15:07 Reply

    In the western desert, fast-moving 5th Army troops are advancing towards four Republican Guard divisions — perhaps 40,000 men hidden in the countryside south of Baghdad. Thirty-two Apache helicopters are ordered forward this night to search out and destroy the Guard. The Iraqis spring an ambush and intense small arms fire brings down one Apache. The rest are forced to turn back with almost every helicopter damaged. The Republican Guard is largely unscathed. Apache pilots’ faith in U.S. intelligence is badly shaken.


    Bad intelligence or a weapon system approach not likely to survive a modern battlefield? Perhaps the AF is always worried about high end threats, but it’s also the Service that is responsible for making it safe for highly vulnerable Army and Marine aviation to move anywhere on it.

  4. strategicservice 9 January, 2015 at 15:17 Reply

    Definitely an interesting article. There’s been a lot of folks lately who assert that the Army should take over the CAS mission entirely (and thus take control of the A-10 fleet from the Air Force). I was a bit surprised when you suggested the procurement of what is basically a Cessna instead. Sure, we can get 100 new airframes for the cost of modernizing the A-10 fleet, but we are talking a great deal many more airframes in the A-10 fleet with a whole lot more capability. I understand that the A-22 has hardpoints for mounting weapons like Hellfires but frankly it lacks a lot of what the A-10 has in spades, chiefly the Avenger cannon. I think that any capability you might get out of the A-22 could be much better achieved by assumption of the A-10 fleet and procurement of UAVs like the Shadow but with expanded capabilities for missions like aerial retrans, FMV, and precision strike. Whether any of this is actually politically realistic is up to the guys at the top.

  5. Paul Darling 9 January, 2015 at 15:52 Reply

    The cannon on the A-10 was designed to destroy T62 tanks. It is actually very ineffective against dismounts as it was designed for armor penetration and not fragmentary effect against soft targets. The GAU-8 forces the A-10 to fly a profile which makes it very vulnerable to both small arms and MANPADs. The A-10 flies at 10X the cost per hour, is not STOL or rough field capable, lacks the two man cockpit essential for effective decentralized support, and was designed to fight an armored battle in Europe. No matter how vulnerable the LAAR may be, its more survivable than any rotary wing to include the Apache. If we continue to procure for non-permissive airspace operations only, we will find we lack the funds to operate efficiently in the much more prevalent permissive airspaces we spend 95% of our time fighting in.

  6. Neill McDonald 9 January, 2015 at 17:00 Reply

    For close-in air support, supply the Army with a bunch of armed ag-planes such as the Thrush 510G — easy to maintain, tough, reliable, run on kerosene (JP8, the common military turbine/Diesel fuel), born to work down low and simple to learn to operate to a basic level. A lot less expensive than a helicopter and almost as maneuverable.

    (By an old Flying Crane [CH-54] pilot who’s probably way over his head on this topic.)

    • strategicservice 9 January, 2015 at 17:50 Reply

      “No matter how vulnerable the LAAR may be, its more survivable than any rotary wing to include the Apache.”

      Any helicopter gunship, to include the Apache, is designed with the idea that it is able to use terrain for cover against AAA/SAM threats, including MANPADS. Indeed this is the helicopter’s best defense against anti-air threats, and this is entirely discounting the effects of armor and ECM. A LAAR might be quicker and give off a smaller thermal signature than helicopters but it has other drawbacks which impact its vulnerability.

      As for the capabilities of the GAU-8, while designed to destroy the T-62 it is perfectly capable of destroying the T-55 and T-72, which are still the most used armor designs in the world. It’s also worth noting that it’s also effective against an array of other vehicles, including IFVs, artillery pieces, and helicopters, so its effectiveness isn’t limited to tanks. Further, while the rounds it fires are suboptimal for lethality against massed infantry, the cannon’s 3900 RPM is extremely intimidating and I doubt any infantry formation is going to stay in position long when they take fire from it.

      I don’t doubt the effectiveness of a Super Tucano in an air support role. It’s definitely worth considering. But let’s not rush to bury the 191 A-10 airframes we have in active duty because they’re more expensive to operate, when the expenses involved in operating them are quite manageable compared to some of the other planes we fly.

      • Paul Darling 9 January, 2015 at 18:00 Reply

        In practice, Apaches don’t fly NOE. In combat in Afghanistan they flew orbits at over 1000 AGL. The masking operations designed to hide from tactical ADA radars simply made them suspectable to small arms fire. For well over a decade we used airframes and tactics designed to fight against an integrated tactical ADA network in a short duration, high intensity mechanized conflict. If it worked, which is sometimes didn’t, it was ineffective and expensive. With ubiquitious PGMs, all the advantages the A-10 enjoyed over the F-4, F-111, F16s of the 70s and 80s disappeared while the limitations were magnified. For the high intensity combat it was designed for, the A-10 is an anachronism. For the low intensity combat it is being used for, it is needlessly expensive to fly and maintain while being compromised at being effective in the envirnoment. As an infantryman, I greatly respect the A-10 community for their dedicaiton to the CAS mission. However, they would be even better in an airframe that reflects the reality of the modern, decentralized battlefield. And Army aviators, due to the doctrine they operate under and their habitual training relationship with manuever units, are even better.

      • James 11 January, 2015 at 01:26 Reply

        Using terrain to protect against air defenses is effective–so long as you have friendly hills to hide behind. In Afghanistan, most of the hills might have MANPADS on them, as the Soviets found in the 1980s.

        In low-intensity conflict, the A-10 excels because it has long loiter time and can establish effective orbits over battlefields. The giant cannon is awesome, but the same effects can be achieved with modern guided missiles and bombs.

        This all begs the question of why the Air Force cannot conduct CAS with F-35s, but that comes to an issue of mindset. Historically, the Air Force has a service-wide predilection towards flashy air combat and strategic bombing. They don’t train hard for CAS because that isn’t the war they want to fight. When they are forced by decade-long wars to pick up CAS skills, they do, but drop them as soon as the war ends.

        I wholeheartedly agree with Lt. Col. Darling, that the Army should take back the fixed-wing CAS mission, because until they do, it will never be performed by a force which truly believes in the mission. For an example of what the Army’s aviation force should look like, look at the Marines; all the tactical transport and CAS assets for Marine ground forces are flown by Marines.

  7. Paul Darling 9 January, 2015 at 17:20 Reply

    One of the competetors for LAAR was the Agtractor 802U.
    Tail draggers have their own issues, but there was something to be said for the concept. Tucano has a great history, uses a standard PT-6 engine, and is already in use in other militaries. The rough field ability of the 802U would be beneficial for a brief period of time, but would then be of no value while having sacrificied some of the capabilities of the airframe.

  8. Wittsend7 9 January, 2015 at 19:02 Reply

    I’m a retired USAF B-52 maintainer with 22 years AD. I have a son in Army Infantry and another in AF Pararescue. I’m not informed enough so I won’t comment on the best weapon system. I agree with LtCol Darling, the CAS Mission should belong to the Army. In my experience AF Leadership (Fighter Mafia) has always protected itself above the needs of those it supports both internally, within the AF, & externally, the other services. The most recent solid proof of this is to retire the A-10 long before the F-35 would be capable of a CAS mission, if it ever would be. Army CAS will always be a subordinate mission to the USAF. Unless & until there is a threat to take it from the USAF !

  9. Max 10 January, 2015 at 03:33 Reply

    Pierre Sprey, who was the man behind the A-10, was close friends with Col. John Boyd, leader of the “Fighter Mafia”. That group was responsible for the F-16, which the USAF saw as a threat to their pet project of the time, the F-15. Don’t give the Fighter Mafia a bad name, they are already reviled enough by the Air Force for fighting against the “bigger-faster-higher” design mentality that created the F-111 and almost ruined the F-15, had they not intervened in that project.

    • Paul Darling 10 January, 2015 at 12:50 Reply

      There is still a group of Boyd apostles that meet Wed night at the Fort Meyer Officer Club. We have talked the A-10 issue there. The multi-purpose/single purpose debate continues to run deep. multi-purpose demands sacrifice and what you find is that those aircraft will always be compromised. As we no longer will fight top tier nations (if nuclear deterrence (aka airpower) theory holds), these compromised aircraft will be fine in combat. Our limiting factor now is money and public will (and both variables are in play). We will accept decades long occupations as long as the cost in lives and dollars remains low. Aviation is the ultimate force multiplier in low intensity conflict. With speed, fewer men can cover more ground. HOWEVER, this only applies if the aviation is responsive, integrated with the battle space owners, decentralized and inexpensive enough to be used liberally. See what the RLI did with Fireforce. Great admiration for Colonel Boyd. however, he was focused, rightfully, on the Soviet Bear. We are in a new generation of warfare against a different enemy who has adapted his tactics to our weaknesses. Our enemies have adjusted. We should do the same.

  10. CharleyA 12 January, 2015 at 03:03 Reply

    The A-29 is an interesting option, but the USAF brass would have the same response to its acquisition as they do to keeping the A-10s: funding it would compete for scare funds and mx personnel needed for the JSF program. And if you think the A-10 is too expensive to operate in the CAS mission, the F-35 is at least twice as expensive to operate, and about 6x as much to acquire, in adjusted dollars. But maybe there’s the solution to the USAFs dilemma: a deal could be cut to allow the USAF to retire their A-10s IF the Army is allowed to acquire the A-29….

  11. William 12 January, 2015 at 22:05 Reply

    The entire argument could be turned on it’s head and say the Army shouldn’t be doing any of these fixed wing operations and those missions are inherently cheap and better run in the Air Force. To say the Air Force at large doesn’t care about supporting the ground troops would ignore the thousands of troops assigned to Air Support Operation Squadrons supporting each Brigade. I loved being with the Army but there ability to managed Grey Eagles vs the Predator was like night and day. The Army just isn’t designed to handle those assets and echos of the fighter pilot mafia just as quickly be turned to the ‘armor’ or ‘infantry’ mafia. I just don’t see anything here that can immediately be used as justification why all the current fixed wing assets should be transferred to the Air Force immediately.

    • Paul Darling 13 January, 2015 at 14:01 Reply

      The idea is to have better air support at a cheaper cost. If we wanted worse air support at a much high cost, then your suggestion would have merit. Assignment of airmen to the brigade to simply give lectures on “airpower” aren’t really very useful believe it or not. If the AF was proficient at air support, the Marines and Navy wouldn’t be buying F35s, would they? The AF was created to wield our nuclear deterrent. Their doctrine and thinking are entirely based upon independent, strategic airpower. Considering the AF’s many current failings at the nuclear mission, perhaps removing periphery missions they historically disdain and ignore would allow them to focus on more important ones for the Nation.
      Perhaps Douhet said it best.
      Fundamental Principles
      1. Aerial means used by the army and navy to facilitate and integrate their own actions in their respective fields, no matter what those actions may be, are an integral part of the army and navy and must be considered as such.
      2. Aerial means destined to carry out war missions in which neither Army nor navy can take part and beyond their radius of action, must be made independent of both of them and constitute what we may call an Independent Air Force.

      By the phrase army and navy auxiliary aviation I mean all the aerial means utilized by the army and navy to facilitate and integrate operations in their respective fields of action. If these auxiliary aerial means form an integral part of the army and navy, they must be (1) included in the budges of the army and navy respectively; and (2) placed absolutely under the direct command of the army or the navy beginning with their organization and ending with their employment. The only body competent to decide upon the proper organization of this aerial auxiliary is the army or navy, as the case may be; for they are in possession of the data necessary for determining the aerial weapons most suitable for furthering their respective actions.

      For the past decade plus we have held unfettered access to the air. Completely unchallenged. And yet both the conflicts we fought have failed to meet our political or even operational objects. Maybe we should start looking at different ways of doing things.

  12. Charles Hooker, Canadian Army (ret) 13 January, 2015 at 16:56 Reply

    A USAF Lieutenant Colonel told me in 1983 that the A10 was procured to forestall the Army’s proposal to acquire its own Close Air Support aircraft.
    I have always admired the superior responsiveness of the USMC’s integral close air support versus the USAF’ reluctance to support another Service. The Tri-Tac program was cancelled because of USAF and USN equipment demands that could not satisfy Army needs. It is time that all Armed Services recognize their unique requirements and procure accordingly. I include my own Canadian Armed Forces in that recommendation.

    • Paul Darling 14 January, 2015 at 15:24 Reply

      Within NATO there is always talk of having countries specialize in a niche capability to avoid redundancy. Invariably, they all volunteer to take on DCA/OCA and have someone else do logistics. The Czechs have done very well with taking on the chemical mission. It would be great to have a NATO country accept the mission of low intensity CAS in exchange for access to US C-17s and refueling capabilities. Canada has done great work in providing air sovreignty for North America (though I think the F35 is the wrong platform for that), perhaps you guys could buy a few Tucanos and augment deployed NATO forces? If nothing else, the air to ground conversations would be much more polite. “Sorry I’m late, eh? What can I do for you?”

  13. Jeremy 14 September, 2015 at 21:13 Reply

    As a current Army Fixed Wing Pilot I agree with all of what you said. An alternative would be an AT-6. I’ve watched what the Tucanos can do in Colombia and it seems to work for them. I just returned from the rock pile and the sand box before that and yes, the Apaches are great but they are limited on time on station, have to fly high for small arms, cost a lot of money per hour and require a ton of maintenance. In the stack below us was usually an AC-130, a B-1B or sometimes A-10s or F-16s. You can’t tell me it’s cheaper to fly those than the Tucanos. The guys we were supporting were inserted for 1-3 days but only had “CAS” if you can call it that from the AF during infil and exfil. You could keep a pair of Tucanos or AT-6s over them for the whole mission 24/7 for the price of a B-1B on station for an hour on infil and exfil and still have money left over to mow the base golf course for the year. 24/hrs a day x 2 Tucanos/AT-6s x $1000/hr = $48,000 (the AF cost to operate a T-6 is around $500/hr, I rounded up for a combat aircraft in theater costing more). A B-1B is around $46,000/hr. The 2 hours of infil/exfil coverage doesn’t include the cost to get to and from (at least 2 more hours since they aren’t based in Afghanistan. So for 4 hrs of B-1B time it’s $184,000. That’s 184 hours of Tucano/AT-6 time. You could have 7 planes up 24 hours for the same price of a 4 hour B-1B mission.

    The AF “CAS” guys were great and they did what they could with the limitations they have and I’m sure they would do more if they could, but the AF as an institution doesn’t like CAS, doesn’t have time for CAS, doesn’t have money and time to train on CAS like they would like, and soon won’t have a CAS aircraft (the A-10). If anybody thinks they will let an F-35 low enough to spot smoke or an IR laser to shoot it’s 180 rounds of gun ammo at the risk of getting shot up they are crazy. CAS via GPS/laser designated bombs dropped from 20,000’+ isn’t CAS, it’s bombing. CAS is using the Mark1 Eyeball to see who and what is going on.

    Same story with tactical airlift. The AF can do it, but if you don’t fill the plane it’s not efficient and they won’t do it. If you fill the plane it’s too heavy to go into the short strip you needed. So we burn blade time on a CH-47 ($10,000/hr) flying from airport to airport when a C-27 could do the same job faster and safer (higher) for $1,200/hr.

    In the end PVT Snuffy doesn’t get CAS and gets his RIP-ITs delivered via helo with $50+/gallon gas in theater.

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