25 July 2007

Air Force Special Ops Command Looking for Toys

The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is looking to use a bomber as its next gunship platform, and it is looking at a significant increase in its air fleet (both subscription required).

I can't see how this really serves any purpose except to sell the Air Force's next gen bomber.

The use of something like the Osprey would be a significant increase in operational capabilities, allowing special operations troops to deploy via vertical insertion at greater distances, and to be extracted at greater distances, as opposed to a parachute insertion. This is a significant improvement in capability.

Additionally, the use of a stealthy platform to insert small numbers of troops might be a capability that might be occasionally (very occasionally) useful, and an upgrade to a higher performance airframe for gunships, such as the C-130 J, A400, or An-70 (the latter two would give a higher top speed too) would be an improvement, both in payload/range, and in reliability.

However, the application of a stealthy airframe to the gunship roll is nonsensical. The gunships only operate in conditions of air supremacy where there is no heavy air defense system. Certainly nothing beyond shoulder launched SAMS and light (57mm and less) AAA.

When the gunship is operating, it is orbiting a fixed position, and lighting it up. This is an inherently non-stealthy activity. The additional cost and performance hit for stealth buys you nothing.

My assesment, and I am not alone in this, is that the bulk of future deployments for the military in general will be in peacekeeping/counter insurgency operations, where the high equipment of an Air Force gains very little.

Air operations in Iraq would be much the same with the current fleet of F-15s and F-16s. Adding the F-22 and F-35 to the mix would change nothing. In fact, if a modern F-4 Phantom or F-105 Thud with modern systems would operate in exactly the same way.

The B-2 really gains nothing over the B-52, and the B-1 significantly underperforms both of them, requiring more tanking, and operates at lower altitudes which put it in range of optically guided AAA.

In any foreseeable engagement, the Air Force would achieve air superiority in hours, and air supremacy in days, even if some opposition aircraft (MiG-29, Su-27, Rafale, Typhoon) might nominally have superior air performance, because of superior situational awareness.

Integrated air defense networks will be non-existent when AFSOC deploys gunships, and so a transport would be superior, giving lower operational costs, and greater range/payload than a bomber or bomber derives platform.


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