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May 17, 2015

Wasting Money Buying Over Engineered Aircraft

The article linked below is about how over engineered aircraft are wasting money when it comes to combat effectiveness. The whole concept of one aircraft, the F-35, for the Air Force, Navy and Marines guaranteed engineering delays and huge cost overruns. The Marines' requirement for short takeoff vertical landing required a much bulkier and heavier airframe that makes other services' models much less maneuverable. I remember that the F-111 was originally supposed to be a fighter both the Navy and the Air Force would use for both interception and tactical bombing. It ended up as a costly fiasco, which ultimately saw action only with the Air Force and only as a bomber. We should have remembered Robert McNamara's F-111 project was not the panacea that he promised. Instead, we repeated the mistake with the F-35 project.

The author mentions that for the price of one F-35, we could buy a small single purpose air to air fighter, and a single purpose ground attack bomber like the A-10 Warthog. The maintenance and flying costs of the combination would also be far lower that the F-35 and the mission readiness rate would be far higher. The Pentagon believes, almost religiously, that every airplane they buy has to be multipurpose. That's why the Air Force is trying to retire the A-10, because it only does ground attack. The fact that it does ground attack better than any other airplane we have in the inventory or plan to purchase is not enough to save the A-10, since it only does one thing. My solution is to give the A-10 in particular and the close air support mission in general to the US Army. They really appreciate the capabilities of the A-10.

I know this would require a change in the law. The Army lost almost all of its aircraft in a deal in 1948 that gave the newly established Air Force almost all current and future fixed wing aircraft. Currently, the Army can only operate helicopters as attack aircraft. But helicopters are a lot less capable and a lot more expensive to operate than "Warthogs." Congress should revoke the 1948 deal and give all the A-10 aircraft to the US Army. The Army should also be allowed to buy other fixed wing ground attack aircraft as needed in the future.

The author argues that while some stealth is worth it, super stealth is wasted on fighters because most air to air engagements are dogfights within visual range. Stealth only fools radar, not optics. Less stealth would be both cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain.

The author's historical reference at the beginning of the article really backs up his point about overly sophisticated US aircraft. He mentions that the last air to ground casualties inflicted on US ground forces were inflicted by a PO-2 biplane. The PO-2 was a Soviet training, ground attack and crop dusting airplane made of wood and fabric. It had so little metal and flew so low and slow that US night fighters could not find it with radar.



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