“All Else is Rubbish”

By Ed Timperlake

Clarifying the continuing public debate about the AT-6 versus Super Tucano selection for the Afghan AF is important for the overall success of U.S. international diplomacy in the worldwide aviation market.

There is a saying that can be recognized by all USAF, USN and USMC combat aviators that after engaging in a practice Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) engagement — whomever ever first gets to the briefing board wins.

In other words, who ever first frames the debrief makes sure it favors the outcome desired-which is almost always “I won.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with strong, capable, well-trained fearless egos doing what ever it takes in arguing tactics and technology to enhance their knowledge to fight and win in the air.

Recognizing how important it is to not make the debriefing session spiral off track, The Navy Fighter Weapon School, “Top Gun,” created a technique called “Goods” and “Others.”  It was an approach with much merit.

Applying the same technique to the current and very public debate over the US Air Force’s selection of a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft for the emerging Afghan National Army Air Corps might prove enlightening.  And remembering that this is a non-developmental contract competition is always useful to keep in mind.

First, asking any aviator “platform centric” arguments can get robust and emotional. So both aircraft in consideration, the AT-6 and Super Tucano have strong advocates. It is also understandable that a lot of Air Force pilots would have fond memories of their time spent learning to fly in the T-6. The AT-6 is a derivative of that basic trainer. This is just like the fond feelings a lot of Naval Aviators have for the T-34 Mentor the, Navy’s basic trainer, which was their first step in the journey to Navy Wings of Gold.

The AT-6 versus Super Tucano-“Goods” and “Others”

A huge “Good”—is that a selection for a light attack aircraft for Afghanistan is finally in works.

“Others” –Typical anonymous and staff-driven Congressional meddling in the last Congress stopped a program to introduce such an asset into Afghanistan to support our forces.

The program was called “Imminent Fury”.

“Good”-Three of the best Combat Generals in the US 21st Century Military, General’s Mattis, McCrystal and Petraeus all wanted a light attack aircraft immediately for combat.

“Others”- Kansas (where Hawker Beech builds the T-6) interests in Congress slow rolled the Request For Forces (RFF) because the AT-6 was still in development and wasn’t ready for a combat role which remains true today.

But now, first a word about combat requirements and the role of LAS is necessary.

A truly legendary fighter pilot said almost a Century ago that; “The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. All else is rubbish.”

Baron Manfred von Richthofen, 1917.   “Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches.”

He was right about killing any enemy threat in the air being first and foremost. The USAF along with Navy and Marine fighter pilots have always quested to establish total air dominance.

The history of American success in this effort was paid for in the fights to the death in the Pacific and Europe in WWII, to MIG-Alley in Korea and the sky above North Vietnam. However, one fact often taken for granted from combat in Desert Storm is that in today’s fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya the US and its allies own the air.

Historically, Air Dominance is very fragile because in tactical aviation technology is always moving forward in an action/reaction cycle against equally reactive enemies. Currently if American political leaders retain the political will power to field the emerging “Hi-Hi” mix of fighters, the F-22 and the F-35, in sufficient numbers, America and allied nations will rule the skies for a generation. (The F-35B in the Perspective of Aviation History).

For the Red Baron, keeping his squadron focused on the air battle was important for his day. However, with Air Dominance established in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya shifting air power focus to support troops on the ground by strafing, and launching precision guided munitions to kill the enemy is also the pilots duty — and “All else is rubbish.”

Because of U.S. current ownership of the air in Afghanistan, there is a tremendous opportunity for introducing a war-tipping asset in the fight on the ground, and that is a light attack aircraft.

The Deputy US/NATO commander, whose combat assignment, was building out the surge airfield in Kandahar Afghanistan into the largest single runway operation in the world explained this important tactical opportunity. He was interviewed by Second Line of Defense Re-visiting the Concept of a Counter-Insurgency Aircraft).

Now back to the AT-6 Vs Super Tucano “Goods and Others “debate–

“Others” –The “Afghan Light-Attack Plane Competition to Culminate with Major Flyoff –Few changes in updated requirements”  (Inside the Air Force 07/30/2010)

But the reality seems to be not quite so.  There seem to be changing requirements in play. “One important change is that the “standard LAS combat mission” calls for the aircraft to strafe an enemy target with its .50-caliber machine guns while carrying two 500-pound GBU-12 bombs. In the previous requirements document, the standard mission called for releasing one of the two GBU-12s, then strafing.

The change is critical because performing a strafing mission with two large bombs – which weigh more than 1,200 pounds when guidance systems are factored in – puts a great amount of stress on a small airframe, according to defense observers. The aircraft would need adequate power to pull up while carrying the extra bomb during a strafing run.”

A portion of the test was apparently eliminated, under controlled conditions that are otherwise done on a routine basis by relatively less-experienced Colombian Air Force aircrews in combat against FARC.

An apparent attempt as well to minimize the need for strafing was made in the test process as well. The Super T has an internal gun and test fights of the AT-6 with an external gun pod were reported as being “bumpy”—the “pray and spray” tactic.

To summarize the good and others on the “Attack” capability in the LAS competition – The “good” is the Super Tucano is a proven combat aircraft the “others” is that AT-6 is not. Altering the Course of a War With LAA

Now on to the “S” for “Support” in LAS.

“Good” Supporters of the AT-6 have been emphasizing the “S” for support in talking about all aspects of the AT-6 future combat surveillance and electronic networking capability. It is obvious yet again an attempt is being made to try to shift the debate since as is pointed out there is no operational “A” for Attack in the AT-6.  So as the saying goes they are making lemonade.

But there still exists a HUGE “Others.”

Unfortunately, for the AT-6, the aircraft has bumped into some laws of aerodynamics that were recently pointed out by the very knowledgeable and prestigious Association of Old Crows.

The Association of Old Crows (AOC) sponsored a symposium in Arlington in May 2011 on the AT-6. And they were very direct:

  • No RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) installed.
  • Significant weight and balance (CG) and overall weight challenges associated with MWS (Missile warning System) installation
  • Aircraft is tail heavy; ballast had to be installed forward to re-align CG
  • Ballast detracts from overall aircraft payload

To summarize:

  • The Super Tucano is a proven combat aircraft that is currently killing Communists and drug baron; and
  • The AT-6 is not yet certified to drop ordnance and pays a price in support in just trying to defend itself in a limited threat environment.
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