I’m only wondering why it’s taken the USAF 16 years to finally get the ball rolling on something like this. I’m sure the end result will be none will get selected and the OA-X will be deemed unnecessary after millions expended in testing, but it surely highlights how a fleet of light turboprops for low-intensity conflicts can be highly useful assets.
I think the AT-6B and the A-29 are the only real contenders here, but I’m very partial to the Air Tractor entry simply because it reminds me so much of the IL-2.
I saw an Air Tractor just yesterday, in fact! It was weaving up and down through the trees while spraying some pasture – I almost thought it crashed! It’s not the only time, either; I saw a similar aircraft last year pulling a lot of the same maneuvers down in the weeds. For no more than it costs, that’d be a lot of capability to have for CAS and I’m not convinced that it’d be a sitting duck, either.
A turbine Air Tractor parks in front of my hangar during spray season. It is so slow I think I could easily hit it with a rock if it flew by at “speed”. There is no way…No Way…it would be a pick anywhere more advanced than South Sudan.
The OA-X program was destined to turn out this way. The days of nations purchasing expensive combat trainers like the Hawk are over. Everyone’s dealing with insurgencies and let’s face it, an F-teen jet really isn’t built for that. Not when you can spend exponentially less and get an aircraft that can be serviced by illiterate conscription service personnel. They don’t need a fast jet. They need things like the Air Tractor loaded with cheap, unguided munitions that have lots of loiter time.
The USAF is going to get a COIN aircraft again. It’s needed too badly. Whether that takes the form of a Textron Scorpion jet (highly unlikely) or the Super Tucano (far more likely), is anyone’s guess.
Also, bear in mind that the USAF is also going through a massive T-X program to replace their fleet of Talon trainers. It’s not a leap of the imagination to see them possibly investing in a combat version of the type to cut down on training times and costs as well as parts and spares. The SAAB/Boeing offering is heavily favored to win that one.
Exactly this. You need an aircraft that can loiter above the Manpad threat, orbit for a few hours on station performing NTISR, and occasionally toss a Paveway or a JDAM to keep things honest. Frankly an A-10 is overkill for that job.
It flies faster than an AH-64, so I think it’d be OK. Plus the guy who has to get up and shoot at it has now exposed himself to ground elements for a little suppression fire.
The OA-X isn’t supposed to be remotely close to an A-10, F-16, F-35, etc. in what it is expected to do. Think of it as a helicopter gunship or a cheaper AC-130 instead of a dedicated, independent strike aircraft. The idea is to leverage the advantages an aircraft has in a low threat environment where the most threatening target is a technical with a .50cal. Using a $60 million F-16 at $22,000 per flight hour to drop a $200,000 bomb makes absolutely no sense when the target can’t even touch anything over 2,000 feet. That’s why we’re seeing more systems like APKWS, DAGR (barf!), Roketsan Cirit, 81mm ADM, etc.
If there’s anything more capable than a ZPU in the area, that’s when the bigger assets roll in; otherwise, it makes sense to have an affordable and efficient bomb/rocket truck to support ground forces.
I pity the fool (with 'nads of steel) who flies the thing into anything bigger than an AK. We pay $1,000,000/day so that our president can play golf in NJ. I think we can afford to drop a bomb from 22,000 feet.
And this is the critical part. As we move more and more into what looks like asymmetrical conflicts between organized militaries and ‘freedom fighters’ (this appears to be what the foreseeable future looks like), those organized militaries realize that using multi-billion dollar warplanes designed for conventional battlefields is very, VERY expensive. It’s like trying to take out the mosquito buzzing around your ear with a long-range sniper rifle when what you needed was a rolled-up magazine.
The Air Tractor and such are those rolled-up magazines. We developed nations are looking at each other, facing these conflicts in a war on terror that don’t resemble anything like what our militaries are geared for and thinking, “guys, there has GOT to be a cheaper option”. Those Air Tractors may not look sexy, but they’re the rolled up magazine we need.
If we multiply $22,000 by every F-16 in USAF service – currently about 1,200 aircraft – we end up with a per hour cost of over $25,000,000 if we assume every F-16 flies at once. If we bring that down and assume that maybe 100 F-16s are flying right now, you still end up with a per hour cost of $2,200,000. To drop a GBU-38 at ~$20,000 a pop. More if we drop a GBU-39 which is $40,000 per bomb. To blow up a rattle-trap pickup ($250), a rusty dushka ($50), a camel (worth two cows), two tents (made from recycled burlap bags), and a goat (cost more than the pickup). It costs more to keep the F-16 flying than it does to drop the bomb! And it only carries 4-8 of them, max!
So, to answer your question: no, we can’t afford to spend millions to drop a bomb on a tent. That’s how empires die. We tried to do the same thing in Vietnam. The Russians tried to do the same in Afghanistan. Don’t use a cannon to kill a mosquito, as PFunk says.
With a service ceiling of 25,000 feet, I’m pretty sure the Air Tractor can do it. It’s certainly no worse than an Apache. But as I said before, indications are that the A-29 or AT-6 will be the winners of this.
I’m not convinced that the combat we’ve been engaged in for the past 15 years is really what the future of combat looks like.
Will it stop? Probably not. Will it remain the main focus? Also probably not.
If there is one thing history has taught us, it is that human beings can always be relied upon getting the future wrong.
Did anyone say that 20 years ago they foresaw infantry combat utilizing smartphone-controlled drones for recon? We all remember the infamous declaration in the 1950s that air to air missiles had obviated the need for guns, something that only in the last decade has really become worth considering, and even then only in certain situations.
We cannot sacrifice preparedness for a conflict like Desert Storm, or worse Korea, on the altar of fighting loose groups driving pickups around a desert. How can anyone argue we will never again engage in a conflict with a major state?
That’s a valid point. Ideally I’d see this as a program that allows us to better support our current conflicts more efficiently without sacrificing our ability to wage future war. The OA-X allows us to sunset the A-10, which currently occupies a tricky niche in the USAF. It’s effective but overkill for COIN, but it’d be useless in contemporary conflict for however long it takes us to knock down the SAM threat. OA-X allows you to use a (hopefully) cheaper aircraft that can efficiently do COIN/Light CAS and shovel the savings back into the F-35 programs for more capable weapons.
I guess that Boeing is not out completely, and perhaps not convinced that it’s a viable project. This article doesn’t speak specifically to the OV-10 other than it is one of Boeing off-the-shelf offerings. FYI, requires free membership.
Boeing chose not to participate in this early stage of OA-X because the company does not “see a viable path forward for this phase,” spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson told Aviation Week.
Trouble is that right now, there is nothing in inventory to fill the niche for COIN operations. If you look at the past 6 decades, the vast majority of our conflicts have been low-intensity where we completely outclass our foes – yet we always threw gobs of funding into the “Fulda Gap” scenario that everyone was sure was going to happen. A lot of people still are convinced that it will happen!
The problem is that if we throw all our eggs into that basket, we end up like we have for the past 20 years: using a sledge hammer to kill a daddy long legs. Yes, we should be prepared for a conflict involving an evenly matched foe; no one is arguing otherwise. But as you say that we shouldn’t sacrifice preparedness for a conflict like ODS or Korea, we shouldn’t sacrifice preparedness for an Afghanistan or Iraq for an ODS or Korea. Especially considering that the capability to fight a low intensity conflict is dirt cheap.
The future of warfare shouldn’t be about fighting it, but preventing it. That goes beyond the discussion of the OA-X, naturally; but much of the reason why we need an OA-X – or an F-35 for that matter – has to do with our inability to leverage policy in a manner that allows us to avoid the use of force.
As it stands, we have all these wonderful toys because muh China and muh Russia – but nothing for the folks who have actually been attacking us from outside of any national affiliation. Much like nuclear weaponry in a post-Cold War world, the issue isn’t so much capability as it is proliferation.