Our military has, in the years since I served, has gone ever-increasingly high-tech. The Air Force has gone even more high-tech than the others, which is of course to e expected in the nature of that branch. But have they gone too high-tech to handle close-air support in the low-tech conflicts we find ourselves fighting today? That could be. The Small Wars Journal have some thoughts on that. Excerpt:
War is expensive, especially when using high-end fourth and fifth generation aircraft designed for World War III to bomb handfuls of sandal wearing men armed with rusty AK-47s. While the United States (U.S.) Department of Defense (DOD) enjoyed the extravagance of seemingly bottomless coffers during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that time has ended. The DOD cannot afford to employ its most advanced high-end aircraft in support of every military operation. The U.S. military is primarily engaged in small-scale overseas contingency operations, characterized by tight budgets and strict force caps. These operations largely involve small teams of special operations forces (SOF) and regionally aligned ground forces deployed to advise and assist U.S. allied and partner-nation forces in irregular warfare (IW), specifically counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and foreign internal defense. The deployment of high-end jet aircraft in support of these forces is not only impractical due to robust support requirements but also fiscally irresponsible due to astronomical acquisition and operating costs. Instead, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) requires an inexpensive, light air support (LAS) aircraft as a practical and cost-effective means of providing air support for IW in low air threat environments.
The Journal suggests a couple of modest aircraft for this role, and a couple of those have some extensive combat qualifications. Those two would be the old OV-10 Bronco and the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano. Both are inexpensive aircraft, both have long design histories, both have shown their worth in close support roles. It would be worthwhile for the US Air Force to consider buying some of those.
Budgetary matters are a concern, after all, when the nation is in debt to the tune of twenty trillion simoleons. If we could field a few squadrons of close-support planes for the cost of two or three F-35s, then that seems like the taxpayers are getting a bargain.
For that matter, a couple of wings of 1940s-vintage P-47s would be pretty damn useful in close air support. Eight .50 calibers and a few 500-pounders are just what the doctor ordered for the aforementioned “sandal wearing men armed with rusty AK-47s.” The original Thunderbolt did some great work in World War 2 against foes more sophisticated than the Taliban.
The article concludes: “The USAF can procure entire squadrons’ worth of LAS aircraft for the cost of a single F-35. Furthermore, the introduction of LAS aircraft could save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in operation and maintenance costs each year, while preserving the nation’s most advanced and expensive aircraft for potential high-intensity conflicts against near-peer competitors. When taken in the aggregate, the advantages of LAS aircraft provide distinct benefits that are both tactically sound and cost-effective.”
Cost-effective sounds like a good idea. We may still even have some old OV-10s in storage. Why not dust them off and fire them up?