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>Isn't this sort of thing expected through the process of developing cutting edge hardware and software?

To a great extent, that's the fundamental problem with the F-35 program - it's a technological showcase first and a useful weapons system second. It has been designed and commissioned by people who believe that "most advanced" necessarily means "best" and who are indifferent to the actual tactical and strategic requirements.

The Army and Marines have been crying out for years for a suitable replacement for the ageing A-10. It's the finest close support aircraft ever made, it has a legendary reputation among infantrymen who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the USAF are still planning on retiring it in favour of the F-35, an aircraft that is simply incapable of performing the same role. Even if the F-35 were inarguably an excellent aircraft, it's the wrong aircraft for a vitally important job.

The F-35 helmet is a $400,000 showcase of AR technology, capable of providing unprecedented levels of data to a pilot. It's also really bad at being a helmet - it's so heavy that it could literally break the neck of smaller pilots during ejection and so bulky that it limits visibility. Test pilots have mixed views on the usefulness of the AR cameras, but they all want the ability to look over their shoulder. It's maybe possibly better at doing a thing that nobody asked for, but it's demonstrably worse at being a helmet.

Servicemen don't want cutting-edge innovation - they want weapons systems that work reliably in the field and provide useful combat capabilities. That's what you need to keep in mind when you hear the DoD hype the F-35. We know it's a hell of a lot less reliable than existing US aircraft and competing foreign aircraft. We know that the one-airframe-to-rule-them-all model is deeply flawed and leaves serious gaps in the combat capability of the US military. What does the F-35 actually offer in the field that couldn't be provided by a cheaper, simpler, more reliable weapons system? I've yet to hear a good answer to that question.




What does the F-35 actually offer in the field that couldn't be provided by a cheaper, simpler, more reliable weapons system?

It offers Lockheed Martin one-point-five trillion dollars, much of which will be spent in key Congressional districts.

That's all.

I suspect that those responsible for making decisions about the F-35 are perfectly fine with this. Rhetoric aside, our government and military appear to think they exist in a world where direct Great Power military conflict is not a possibility. The F-35 seems perfectly adequate to swiftly wreck anywhere on Earth that is not Europe, China, Japan, Russia or India. And that seems to be our actual goal in terms of capabilities for the immediate future.


Have you ever looked at the IDIQs? The list of subcontractors is amazing. And, 20 states have received over $100M.. and only 4 states haven’t received any so far. Everyone is happy! Except the public and the soldiers, of course.

But, seriously, I’ve walked through some of these subcontractors sites. They’re often small businesses run by a politically connected ex-officer, a few revolving door phds (to establish their R&D creds), a disabled (or minority) vet, and a mass of warm bodies to pump money into the local economy. (Ironically most of the money goes to Walmart and eventually goes overseas).

Corruption conquers countries more often than war.


Due to the nature of the goods they sell a surprising amount of Walmart's supply chain is domestic. Basically anything that doesn't benefit from dirt cheap assembly labor or lax environmental regulations is produced domestically or in Canada/Mexico.


This is what always happens with government spending. When this is not the case the system only is in an unstable state and will eventually collapse into corruption.


I mean the cynic in me agrees there's a lot, and I mean a lot, of porking barrels going on, but at some point you are going to have to build unreliable bleeding edge systems so that the next generation can become mass market

sucks to be an early adopter, but this is no different than a gen0 Apple hardware, to draw some parallels.

what really gets me is that because of rules upon rules on acquisition, making such thing and marketing them as they really are (tech demonstrator, prototypes, unrefined products, whatever you want to call them) would never fly. you have to twist those as great budgeting opportunities, inflate the earning options of export versions etc etc.

it's like generations of rotten politics coming into play, portraying it as a greedy company and some unscrupulous congressmen is not wrong per se but a little reductive.


The rules are always flexible enough. They never matter.

The power structure, the actual humans making decisions are all that is important.

And currently that behemoth is hell bent on not giving a fuck about itself, its components [the humans] are mostly looking out for themselves, there's not enough institutional inertia to change this, etc.

I'm not saying it needs to be dismantled, torched to the ground, blablabla, but of course there needs to be deep, systematic, qualitative and quantitative changes. Personnel, ideology/dogma, leadership, training, culture, process, structure.

"Congress" (or more precisely the upper echelon of the power structure - Congress/courts/administration are just the venues where the show happens) is in a gridlock over moral issues, that means everything else is at best performing at the level of the status quo, at worse things become chips in the very high-stakes poker game.


Why is everybody so afraid of violence? Do you think politely discussing on HN the pros/cons of King of Earth owning 79 oil rigs is going to get him to see the error of his ways? That he should stop funding F-35s to bomb his neighbors while he bangs 42 Swedish models per day? "Please sir, that's bad of you."


The problem seems to be not too much pacifism. Quite the contrary. Both sides, every party is able and willing to escalate. Both in domestic and in geopolitics.

This of course leads to a lot of inefficient posturing and back-and-forth, and the preservation of the gridlock.


Building 1500 of the early-adopter version is madness though. What we should be doing is something like what's ended up happening with the much-maligned Zumwalts: build a handful of the gen0 fancy stealth tech and experimental weapons, some of which aren't going to work out. Then take the lessons into the next mass-production system.


It’s not like F-35 is the first at anything. I bet you can’t name one thing it is that hasn’t been done before.


I think the F-35 is the first stealth VTOL fighter-bomber. F-22 was just a fighter and wasn't VTOL (and was similarly expensive). Harrier did VTOL but isn't stealthy and only carried IR missiles until recently. B-2 and F-117 are stealthy but are neither fighters nor VTOL.


Done before in a lab, sure. For a service aircraft the full-VR helmet and the lift fan are new, and while the B-2 is reportedly "compatible" with the F-35 data link functionality I can't find anything claiming clearly that that means it's been validated in the field.


Having been on the receiving end of of an A-10 fire support mission more than once, I can speak for the effectiveness of the job they do. Their time on on target is the key to their effectiveness. They are flying tanks. I do not really care the politics of the the replacement, just that the replacement is just as effective. Lives depend on this. It should not be a pissing contest between political views but what just works. As a former grunt I just want my ass saved.


Would a plane better at loitering be able to provide more useful fire support? Or is that simply solved by having more A-10s and cycling them more? (Maybe that's the cost economics problem that the department can't justify? So fuck logic let's just shift the cost structure and pour trillions into a new plane that might look better in the accounting tables?)


If the guys on the ground are having a no good very bad day then having fewer aircraft that can loiter longer is likely going to be better because every time an aircraft shows up there's a ramp up period while the pilot figures out WTF is going on down there and that ramp up period comes with reduced effectiveness and increased risk to the guys on the ground.

Also, time to target is very important. An F15 with the wrong munitions that's seconds away at mach 2 is much more helpful than an A10 that can put the hurt on an entire tank company but is minutes away.


Here's an interesting article, some quotes

So if the A-10 was never going to be around in enough numbers, what could be done? Only one group had enough distance from the Air Force and enough independent money to consider a viable alternative: buying a cheap, lightweight attack plane on their own. That was the Navy SEALs. A group of them met with the Secretary of the Navy in 2006 to tell him about the problems they faced with getting good enough air support.

Like other American combat troops in Afghanistan, the SEALs sometimes found that high-tech gear couldn't reliably get the job done, or that cheaper, lower-tech solutions worked better. This is how the US military almost adopted the A-29 Super Tucano, a $4 million turboprop airplane reminiscent of WWII-era designs that troops wanted, commanders said was "urgently needed," but Congress refused to buy.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8qxzyv/low-and-slow


> It's also really bad at being a helmet

A buddy of mine is actually flying the jet. He said helmet is cool to wear first time but quickly wears out in real flies and is even worse in combat. A lieutenant that first flew it many years ago called it "karate mirror"; he explained it must have been designed by someone who never fought a fight, but somewhat was stubborn enough to assume when you fight karate you would love to have a back mirror to see whats happening behind.

They military argues with contractors atm to actually come back to a regular helmet, because there is really no added value in flying Mach 1 and engage in fight in front of you and having ability to see behind or even under, when you have all sort of warning systems that monitors your surrounding and allows you enough time to alter your direction before you get hit.


I wonder if the VR cams+helmet would make more sense for helicopter pilots, both military and S&R. In XXI century, you don't need to see things around you when flying what's essentially a protein-guided reusable missile launching missiles - but it could come in handy in aircraft that operate at low speeds and altitudes.


Absolutely! LM already has know-how so its a matter of time before it will become an option on their other crafts.

Another buddy of mine (doesn't work on the project but still connected inside LM enough) said that when management seen military officials defending overblown F35 budget they felt actually they sky is wide open to further abuse of $$ and spent shitload of money and time to design and overdesign that helmet.

Eventually you will see it everywhere where it make sense, be it Coast Guard, heck - your local crane operator. But it will take 10 years before LM will makeup the money they "lost" developing it, so it will take time. But F35 will eventually fly without it, no doubt.


The modern apache helmet system already has limited AR capabilities. IIRC, it even includes some in helmet display stuff like systems info and night vision, and also can be used to train the cannon


Generally speaking your post is true, but as others have pointed out, the A-10 is rapidly becoming an unviable CAS platform due to MANPADS and other improvements in anti-air support.

What the others didn't really point out is that the F-35 is definitely capable of what the A-10 does and more. It is faster, brings a drone-like attack platform, and can engage from much higher altitudes.

And this is coming from someone (see my other comments) that doesn't particularly care for the JSF/F-35. The A-10 needs to go away, and the F-35 will be a more than capable replacement for it.

Now, the other F-35 roles...


It has those survivability advantages, but it has nowhere near the loiter time of the A-10.

Flying at higher altitude is also not necessarily safer - it puts you out of reach of MANPADS, but in clear view of larger SAMs. Evasive flying generally involves nap-of-the-earth flying, which hides from larger SAMs in radar cover and provides MANPADS and AA artillery with short engagement times. The A-10 is also built heavy and robust enough that MANPADS often aren't enough to bring it down - only vehicle-mounted or static air defense systems have big enough warheads.

If anything, the problem with the A-10 is that it's overbuilt. Its cannon is built to take down tanks in an era when air-carried cannons probably can't get through modern tank armor, and is heavier than is strictly necessary for an anti-infantry role. The air force is looking at much lighter planes like the A-29 and AT-6B for low-threat environments, but could perhaps field a plane with similar loiter-time and survivability characteristics to the A-10 with less weight wasted on that ridiculous cannon.


If there are active SAM sites in the area the A-10C isn’t even remotely operable. Nobody is flying Warthogs in defended airspace. In that case your options are another more capable plane or nothing.

And higher altitudes are strictly safer, even against SAMs. If you’re at virtually any altitude above terrain masking you’re in sight of them. Altitude gives you extra time to react plus requires the missile to burn more fuel reaching you in the first place, shortening its range and increasing the tools you have available to defeat it.


There are a lot of things between "modern Russian tank" and "completely unprotected humans". The 30mm gun is excellent against armored personal carriers.

For the tanks, the A-10 carries the AGM-65 Maverick with 136 kg (300 lb) of explosives.

Upgrading the gun would be useful. We can now make even the 12.7 mm ammunition have guidance, so 30 mm should be easy. We could compensate for the density reduction by upgrading to something like the 37 mm used by the MiG-17. Guidance would allow targeting the most vulnerable parts of a tank. The toughest modern tank still relies on vulnerable sensors. One could also just pound the same spot many times, chipping out a hole. Reactive armor is nothing if you can get a second shot in the same location.


How does a guided bullet work? I always thought that was one of those perpetually ten years away kind of things.


They aren't saying as far as I can tell, except that it receives an optical signal at the rear. Some people are assuming it has fins, but none are visible in diagrams. Beginners can hit moving targets at extreme ranges.

http://bulletin.accurateshooter.com/2018/07/guided-50-calibe...

https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-04-27

Sandia National Laboratories did something similar, but with a non-standard rifle and using a laser target designator. Russia is attempting to do something similar.


From your first link: "Inside EXACTO bullets are optical guidance systems, aero-actuation controls, and multiple sensors"

Of course that could all be a lie to throw adversaries off the scent, but the trouble with trying to keep a bullet top-secret is the moment you use it, the enemy has as many as they want to study...


Could it contain a charge or instability that destroys the useful innovations when it strikes the target, to prevent that? Even regular bullets look deformed when they hit something, it seems like if you want to slow down enemy research you could exploit that


> Some people are assuming it has fins, but none are visible in diagrams.

Many years ago I saw a concept of a guided machine gun bullet in a "scientific" magazine; the concept involved steering by a mechanism that moved a lump of mass within the bullet around.


How in the world does that work? Bullets spin at ridiculous rates; some 3000 RPS. At long distances it'll have made over 10k revolutions before it hits the target!


I honestly don't know. I vaguely remember a schematic I saw some 10-15 years ago or so. It may very well not work at all, it was a concept.


We dont ever commit troops until we have air superiority.

A B-52 could loiter all day long and carry more bombs than a squadron. In fact, the USAF brags about B-1/52’s doing CAS.

So whats the unique need for a fighter that costs as much to operate as a B-52.

https://www.businessinsider.com/air-force-plane-cost-per-fli...


>We dont ever commit troops until we have air superiority.

>So whats the unique need for a fighter that costs as much to operate as a B-52.

Achieving air superiority, alongside our limited numbers of F-22s.


The way I understood it, given the very limited number of F-22s, their status of perpetual prototypes and white elephants (IIRC, $700 millions apiece is the most optimistic price range, over 1 billion probable), they will never be used in anything that qualifies as "combat" (bombing from 30000 ft some remote areas of tightly-controlled airspace doesn't really count IMO).


They're expensive, but effective right? They seem like the sort of plane we don't need until we are at war with a near-peer and they are the only thing giving us air superiority. The drop in production was due to the lack of foreign 5th gen fighters to fight against, not because the platform itself doesn't do its job well (AFAIK).


F-22 is not a "perpetual prototype", you're probably thinking of the F-35. And F-22 is optimized for Beyond Visual Range (BVR) detection and destruction of their adversaries before those adversaries even know they're in combat, both via A2G smart bombs or A2A med-long range missiles. If that's the only kind of "combat-not-combat" it ever sees, it will have been worth it - less planes and pilots lost.

That said, it's also one of the best dogfighters in the world in case it ever comes to that, but that kind of combat will be deliberately rare.


F-22s were roughly $200M apiece. Any links to support your $1B pricetag? That's the price of a B2, IIRC.


The B-2 cost $1 billion more than 25 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, it's probably much more. Apparently the F-22 cost something between 150 and 700 millions apiece: https://www.wired.com/2011/12/f-22-real-cost/


Even if you factor in the development costs (which isn't really useful since the purchase was truncated very early), the F-22 isn't close to having cost $1B.


Against third world countries, tin pot dictators and countries without indoor plumbing.

Against countries that can punch back?


That's a luxury the US can afford because for about 50 years it's never fought against a country with an air force capable of challenging it. If the US and China come to blows over Taiwan or Korea, if there's an intervention (however limited) in Ukraine against Russia - then the Army and Marines will have to deal with enemy air presence.


But you have to offset that advantage by the A-10's runway requirements. Strategically (and maybe tactically?), the A-10's inability to be launched from aircraft carriers is a major limitation. Plus, while the Warthog has (maybe?) excelled in our asymmetric wars, the US military sure hasn't. It's a great plane for wars we shouldn't be fighting.


By the same token, the A-10 can operate from unimproved runways. You don't need a carrier, you just need a few thousand feet of dirt. Wherever the troops go, an A-10 squadron can follow close behind. That capability has a huge impact in the response time of a CAS squadron, the number of sorties they can fly per day and their dwell time over the target.


Operating from rough airstrips looks great when touted by the AF, but it usually ignores the problems associated with it. First you need to provide physical security for the strip, facilities for aircrew and maintainers, and finally the two most important things, fuel and weapons.


It's not that "you don't need a carrier", it's often that you "get to use a carrier". Carrier battle groups are much safer than dirt landing strips on foward operating bases.

There is also a VTOL variant of the F-35.


The nice thing about the gun is that if you need to Swiss cheese a jerk in a Toyota pickup (redundant description, I know) it can do the job with nearly zero risk of knocking over the school on the other side of the block and it is a dirt cheap way of doing that.

I generally agree with your comment though, the A10 doesn't work well enough without air superiority and is comically overbuilt for operating with air superiority. The platform is just... old. It needs to be retired, needs have changed but unfortunately the existing menu of aircraft can't really fill all the niche corners of the CAS role as well as the A10 can.


> ...it can do the job with nearly zero risk of knocking over the school on the other side of the block and it is a dirt cheap way of doing that.

Sadly, if only this were true. The gun's published accuracy numbers have 80% of rounds landing within a ~40ft diameter circle at 4,000ft engagement distance. When the gun is fired—typically in one-second bursts—the nose of the plane lifts noticeably by several degrees and so the gun is always employed in a strafing run: you aim a bit below the target, pull the trigger, and let the target pipper rise up across the target. To make matters even worse, its targeting system is the Mk-1 Human Eyeball.

Even in the best possible scenario, you're firing the gun in a high-angle strafe (30º of dive) from 1.2–0.8nm, where you're talking about something closer to a 60ft circle of death that traverses 50ft across the ground while narrowing to 40ft in diameter. Not to mention the 20% of bullets that fall outside this area.

All this is to say that if you fire the Warthog's gun at a target across the block from a school, there's going to be a very serious press conference happening back at home the next day.

You'll see a lot of videos online where the gun seems to perform better than this, but it's always at static target practice ranges where the pilot is flying extremely low and has the benefit of doing multiple practice runs. In real combat footage, the plane is much farther out and the spread is correspondingly much wider. This video does a pretty good job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvIJvPj_pjE


> The nice thing about the gun is that if you need to Swiss cheese a jerk in a Toyota pickup (redundant description, I know) it can do the job with nearly zero risk of knocking over the school on the other side of the block and it is a dirt cheap way of doing that.

I think the point was that a smaller gun would do. A Toyota pickup doesn't need an anti-tank round. Something more like what the Super Tucano carries would suffice.


Yeah, 30mm is overkill for a Hilux but you don't want to show up with a cluster of .50s on the day they decide to drive the BMP to work.

That said, antitank weapons are good enough that well trained and equipped infantry should basically laugh off a BMP (or any other AFV) in most situations and there's always bombs and missiles.


Isn't pretty much any environment that's permissive enough for an A-29 also permissive enough for AH-64s and AH-1s?


Sure - better at keeping to terrain masking. However, the A-29 has far superior performance; in fact, it was originally designed as a helicopter hunter. It has a maximum speed 60% higher, can take almost twice as much payload, and a substantially longer range. In the context of the asymmetric wars the US actually finds itself in, the A-29 is a very good platform.


This is almost completely inaccurate.

[qoute]The Serbs quickly learned that opening fire on Hogs with AAA or SAMs made them both obvious and high-priority targets. Serb air defenses attempted to plan their missile and AAA shots to maximize the chances of hitting an A-10 while minimizing their own risks. The “SAM bush” was one such tactic. The Serbs would first fire AAA to make the A-10 jink. When they thought they had the pilot’s attention focused, they launched one or more SAMs in the hopes of scoring a hit. The SAM-bush had zero success, and often the A-10s made the Serbs regret they tried it.[/quote]

[quote]On average, Serb antiaircraft missiles and AAA engaged each 40th EOG pilot about six times—several pilots were shot at much more often... One A-10 AFAC point of pride was that, even though we often took aimed fire in daylight, none of the hundreds of strikers whose attacks we controlled were ever hit...[/quote]

from A10s Over Kosovo

https://media.defense.gov/2017/Mar/31/2001724978/-1/-1/0/B_0...


The A-10 is a relic and the areas that it can be effective in are shrinking.


> What does the F-35 actually offer in the field that couldn't be provided by a cheaper, simpler, more reliable weapons system? I've yet to hear a good answer to that question.

I think this line of criticism stems from confusing two mission types which are superficially similar, but actually have very different requirements:

- Attack missions like Close Air Support involve hitting enemy tactical targets on or near the battlefield. In recent conflicts the US has been involved in, these have mostly been in very permissive environments (limited defenses except MANPADs). This is the mission most people are thinking of when they talk about how great the A-10 is, or suggest buying the A-29.

- Strike missions involve hitting targets that might be deep behind enemy lines, protected by multiple layers of radar, air defenses, etc. This is much more difficult to do, and is getting harder as radar, fighter aircraft, and AA missiles improve. Doing it successfully against even a moderately equipped enemy requires aircraft with higher-end and more specialized capabilities than you would need for typical "Attack" roles.

You might notice that Strike is the second word in Joint Strike Fighter. That's not a coincidence - the strike capability is the major distinguishing feature of the aircraft, and what drives a lot of its requirements (stealth, decoys, etc.) The fact that it can also do a decent job at Attack missions is a bonus, but the US has a lot of F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s who can also handle that role in a permissive environment for the foreseeable future.

This blog post explains the distinction in more detail than I'd be able to: https://www.navalgazing.net/Strike-Warfare


Times have changed. The B-1B is now generally regarded as the finest close air support aircraft ever made. Compared to the A-10C, the B-1B can get on station faster, loiter longer, carry more precision weapons, and has better sensors and communications.


And only costs 40x as much as the A-10 ;)


The US army is not lacking in capability... you have an excess of it!

What you'll earn by having this probably-prototype put into production is tons of valuable data about what works in production, what to improve, what components fails first, how that single-airframe stuff can be made cheaper and more reliable etc. Based on this data nobody else will have, engineers will be able to design weapon systems (think even ML-asysted design based of v2.0 based on telemetric data gathered over decades etc.) nobody else will be able to compete with even if F-35 is a flop. I imagine this is why people fret about the Turkey thing, all this is about the data (that you wouldn't want Russian systems to get a copy of) not about the flying brick.

Overall, putting boring reliable tech in production does not generate much useful data. Putting unreliable prototypes does. And it's all about techno-military supremacy long-term game here, not losing or winning one little war in a country you don't care about.

Now about the pilots and soldiers... yeah, you're doing R&D in "production" (where "production" == "warfare" here), (the wrong) people will be killed, there will be a blood price paid for all this technological advancement, but in the end you'll benefit from it.

...only thing I find slightly horrifying is that this mindset (of "screw the 'client', let'd do some R&D in production to get unique insights and special competitive advantage from it" - that has already sipped into commercial hardware and software for a long time btw), creates an incentive to "gather more and better data" and when this translate to "wage more war" it doesn't bode well...


One major difference between the F-35 and other programs is that it is as close to an aircraft-as-a-service model as you get. You never really own the software and data, only the hardware. And even there requirements Lockheed imposes are crazy high.

And regarding the stealth and other tech stuff, well, I'm not sure about that. During the last ILA the F-35 didn't fly because some company, Hensold if I remember well, had some fancy new radar tech on-site. They only flew when the radar was removed from the premises, even then rumor at the time was Hensold could pinpoint the F-35 reasonably well.

If you ask me, the F-35 was a shot at a NATO monopoly on combat aircraft including a decade long support market and de-facto last word on operations regardless of operator. Seems it didn't work out as planned so far with Germany and France as well as the UK looking at home-grown Gen5+ fighters.


Good points above about lack of reliability and wasteful spending. I also agree with this comment, although it’s incredibly expensive (imagine what the Valley could do with $1.5 trillion) the data is hard to put a price on and keeps us out in front of potential future enemies.


> imagine what the Valley could do with $1.5 trillion

More Javascript frameworks and misused machine learning?


leftpad as a service


> imagine what the Valley could do with $1.5 trillion

They could finally build some high-density apartment buildings ;-)


Local long time residents would set themselves on fire before allowing that to happen. Some residents still championing for a return of the orchards.


The valley San Jose is located in really is lovely underneath it all. We paved paradise, and put in a parking lot.


> tons of valuable data [that] nobody else will have

Good luck keeping it secure!


>It has been designed and commissioned by people who believe that "most advanced" necessarily means "best" and who are indifferent to the actual tactical and strategic requirements.

They said the exact same thing about the F-15. And the F-18. Both of which went on to spectacular success - the F-15 in particular has never once been bested in air to air combat, while claiming 105 enemy kills (including MiG-29s). It's able to do that due to its big sexy radar and complicated electronics and all the other techno-gadgets that people like Pierre Sprey decried every step of the way because he still thinks we live in 1967.

On the ground, there is less room for innovation. Guns are a mature technology. The primary concern in 2019 are things like reliability and cost, because the difference between an AK47 and an M16 is not that big. They both shoot bullets, they both are capable of full-auto, they both are light. To the soldier holding them, big difference of course - but from the 10,000 mile perspective they're basically doing the same job in the same way. It doesn't make much difference if I'm a general planning strategies whether my rifleman are holding M4s or M16s or AK47s.

Air combat is different, technology is still radically changing things every generation. And if you're caught a generation behind it's hard to make a fight of it. We have jet engines, and our enemies don't. We have solid state avionics, our enemies don't. We have AESA radar, our enemies don't. And now? We have all those advanced technologies in the F-35, like production line stealth, that no other peer enemy yet has deployed on the field. Certainly technology is not everything, you also need training, tactics, support systems. But it is undeniably a massive advantage, and one that's worth a little teething to get.

>The Army and Marines have been crying out for years for a suitable replacement for the ageing A-10. It's the finest close support aircraft ever made, it has a legendary reputation among infantrymen who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the USAF are still planning on retiring it in favour of the F-35, an aircraft that is simply incapable of performing the same role. Even if the F-35 were inarguably an excellent aircraft, it's the wrong aircraft for a vitally important job.

The A-10 is a really awful CAS platform. It's ungodly slow and so takes forever to get on station, the cannon is horrendously inaccurate, it's got a low mission capability rating and the entire concept of its design (low-flying ruggedness) was rendered obsolete with the invention of the manpad. I mean this is the platform that flew the least number of CAS missions of any capable airframe in Iraq 2, yet had the highest number of friendly fire incidents in absolute terms. If you're curious how, the cannon. All the other platforms are using fancy sensors and PGMs, while the A-10 is often going on gun runs with the Mk-1 human eye. The A-10's only two numerical advantages are loiter time and cost per flight hour, but drones exist now so it doesn't even have those unique positives anymore.

The fact that soldiers love the A-10 is meaningless - sailors loved battleships too, even after they were turned into big metal deathtraps by airplanes. The troops just really like giant cannons, even when they're not actually useful anymore.

>Servicemen don't want cutting-edge innovation - they want weapons systems that work reliably in the field and provide useful combat capabilities.

Soviet jets could handle pebbles being blown into their air in takes. They could handle smacking down onto the tarmarc at a velocity that would cripple any modern American jet. They could be nearly shaken apart, but were just built so robustly they'd still make it home. Comparatively American jets were fragile prima donnas who needed huge amounts of maintenance and could only be flown on the most pristine of air fields.

But once they were in the air? USAF planes showed exactly why all that TLC were more than worth it. I'd rather be sitting in an F-15 than any Soviet fighter ever put in the sky. At the risk of repeating myself, the ground pounder ideology of "rugged, reliable, lowest-possible-tech" is suicide in the air. In the air, technology advantages still play a huge role and so suffering a low mission capability rating is quite possibly worth it if you get a massive return on power (within reason of course).


>The fact that soldiers love the A-10 is meaningless - sailors loved battleships too, even after they were turned into big metal deathtraps by airplanes. The troops just really like giant cannons, even when they're not actually useful anymore.

In the same vein, the US developed upgraded Sherman tanks with a bigger, higher velocity 76mm cannon and produced them in mass quantities, but they left them behind during the first weeks and months of the invasion. The men didn't want the new tanks because they hadn't yet experienced a situation where they were woefully inadequate, and the older 75mm guns performed better against soft targets like buildings. Don't fix what ain't broke, and so forth.

Which was a serious mistake. The situation had changed, and the 75mm guns were no longer sufficient to fight more heavily armored Tiger and Panther tanks from longer engagement ranges than they experienced in Italy. They would have fared better had they been forced into using the upgraded equipment that already existed.


I'm not sure that's entirely fair; while troops have sometimes rejected useful weapons systems, they've also been left waiting for years for things that they really need. The obvious recent example is AFVs - when you've got troops in the field welding scrap metal to their vehicles, that should be a clear sign that there's an urgent need. British soldiers knew from a very early stage that the SA80 was total junk, but the MoD pushed ahead with procurement anyway for political reasons.

I think what I'm really suggesting is a move from waterfall to agile procurement. A large proportion of procurement requirements can be satisfied better, faster and cheaper with COTS equipment. Rapid iterative improvements in existing weapons systems can provide more combat capability than big moonshot projects to gain a generational advantage.

The US military has unmatched logistical capability, but that capability is often hampered by slow and unresponsive procurement. Being able to move tons of materiel to any place on earth at very short notice is a massive advantage, but that advantage is squandered if you can't procure the right equipment at the right time.


I wrote a similar post, but honestly you said everything I did and much more effectively and eloquently.

The A-10C is a terrible CAS platform these days thanks to MANPADs. The gun isn’t as accurate or effective as just firing a Maverick or dropping a JDAM/LGB, and those have the distinct advantage of being able to be done with seven or eight miles of vertical altitude between you and the target, rendering pretty much any surface threat completely meaningless.

The F-35’s sensor suite (and altitude) also provides an enormous advantage in situational awareness, which is probably the most important factor in combat operations.


> The A-10C is a terrible CAS platform these days thanks to MANPADs.

As far as I am aware no A-10 has ever been lost to MANPADS or small-calibre fire. Instead several have returned to base with significant damage, exactly as intended with redundant systems.

The A-10 was designed to operate over Central Europe in the face of radar-laid 23mm guns and Gecko & Grail light SAMs. Its primary targets were in fact AAA, SAM vehicles and command tanks whilst CAS was secondary.


Those A-10s were complete mission kills, even if they saved the pilot's life and were able to rtb.

The A10 was designed solely as a tank killer, and was obsolete before it was fielded as the USSR upgraded their tank armor to defeat its gun.

It has never been able to operate in anything other than an environment where we enjoy complete air superiority and near complete ground control. It has never had AAA or SAMs, as targets -- it cannot operate in anything other than a completely permissive environment in that regard. This is not a mystery, it's well known. It was designed to strafe long lines of tanks, was never good at it, and has been obsolete since before it was fielded.


> They said the exact same thing about the F-15.

Er, citation required. I dont remember those kinds of complaints. F-16, sure, and theyd be right.

> And the F-18

Well, that depends on if you mean the F, or the A part. Many thought the F-14 was a way better fighter and had better legs. For attack, we ended up with an a/c with less range and payload capability. Which just makes it more acceptable to replace it with something with even less range. All of which reduces the strike bubble of a carrier group.


No one has ever thought the F14 was a better fighter than the F18. The F14 was an interceptor designed for long range fleet defense, not air to air combat.

The JSF has longer legs than both as I recall.



> They said the exact same thing about the F-15. And the F-18. Both of which went on to spectacular success - the F-15 in particular has never once been bested in air to air combat, while claiming 105 enemy kills (including MiG-29s). It's able to do that due to its big sexy radar and complicated electronics and all the other techno-gadgets that people like Pierre Sprey decried every step of the way because he still thinks we live in 1967.

High tech can easily lead to winning the battle but losing the war. You can have an aircraft that wins every fight that it gets into, but the price of that technological superiority might be that you can't afford to deploy them where they're needed, or can't afford to go to war at all.

The Sri Lankan air force wasn't able to control their airspace in the civil war because their fighters were too fast. I'm sure the F-35's high technology will be well-suited to fighting the Soviet Union. I'm less sure that it will help achieve a successful outcome in the next Iraq, or even the next Vietnam.


While the topic is aircraft, it's worth pointing out the diminished and maybe questionable role of air combat in general. As usual, people think how to win the previous war.

It's all about cyber war, foreign agents supposedly manipulating (US) elections without repercussions, espionage and manipulation of networks and devices on all levels.

This reality requires a complete rebuild of relevant networks, software and hardware, a large "cyber force" of people who have skills that right now only a handful of experts have, and fundamental changes in how society communicates and deals with information.

While your post was entertaining, to me it is about as relevant as a discussion how to breed and train horses for cavalry.


Boots on the ground with logistics to back them beat any army of kids with keyboards. Wartime hacking can only be used to cripple enemy capabilities to some limited extent. It cannot replace taking physical action. In fact, civilian infrastructure is certainly easier to hack than the ad hoc field networks employed by militaries. But attacking civilian infrastructure and critical services like hospitals is a war crime of then worst kind. Doing something like that is unthinkable. The effects would be more like firebombing a city.


I get the sense that what really matters to winning the kind of counterinsurgency the US repeatedly finds itself in is being able to build and defend working infrastructure faster than the competition. Now there would be a strategic shift most people could get behind, especially given its own infrastructure woes.


You say that, but America's traditional villain, Russia, put boots on the ground to annex Crimea. Albeit not with Russian flags on the uniform. It's not all some futuristic fantasy cyber war, and it never will be.


Maybe that's possible because certain governments no longer as strong/united as they used to be, or align politically more with Russia?

And how exactly does a better plane help with the Crimea situation?


An F-35 possibly wouldn't help.

Yet while I'm not advocating starting WW3 over Crimea, given Russia intervened militarily, there arguably should have been more military support for our friends in Ukraine.

I'm likewise not saying there isn't cyber warfare and psy-ops etc, but I'm absolutely saying there are still and will continue to be conflicts where are there are boots on the ground, tanks on the road, and planes in the sky.


Only the discontinued F-117 and the bid-losing YF-23 have better protection against MANPADS than the A-10.

Look at the exhaust, which is where the heat comes from. Nearly all MANPADS are infrared guided. The A-10 hides the engine exhaust by surrounding it with the aircraft's tail. An F-35 doesn't even try to be stealth at the rear, with a great big round hot orifice.

The A-10 can frequently survive MANPADS. It has two engines, physically separated on pods. The F-35 will crash if that single engine gets hit.

Tow a decoy if you want more protection.


> ... suitable replacement for the ageing A-10. It's the finest close support aircraft ever made ...

I'm actually quite happy that they are focusing on theoretical weapon F35, not a practical upgrade to a practical weapon.

I'm hoping theoretical weapon will be used less. I think modern weaponary is so muderous that we should be focusing more on its role as a deterrent (in which being hyperadvanced might help) not the practical aspects (how efficiently it helps people to kill people when in use).


Be happy. The F35's going to be used about 2/3 less because it costs about three times more to fly.


Yes, thats why more and more drones will be the cheap replacement. And in a not so distant future .. we might probably see a swarm of cheap drones just overwhelm that awesome F35


Part of the goal of the F-35 is to serve as a mini-AWACS command and control aircraft for groups of drones.


A big reason why casualty rates in wars have steadily declined is BECAUSE modern weaponry is so efficient.


Just own casualties or total casualties on both sides of the conflict?


Total casualties. Even civilian "collateral damage" casualties are like an order of magnitude lower than they were in WW2. Bombing raids used to kill tens of thousands of civilians in a single night. Bombs were so inaccurate the only way to ensure you hit the target was to employ them en masse.

Now, we can hit a single building with a handful of guided bombs or cruise missiles and civilian losses are typically in the double digits.


Look, I love the A-10C. It’s a wonderful plane. I’ve flown it for years in sims as part of a realism-based squadron. And I too am sad that such an iconic plane is being put to pasture.

But it’s beyond time for this meme to die.

The A-10C just isn’t suitable for this task any more. Low and slow just doesn’t cut it. It’s slow to respond due to a cruise speed of 200-220KIAS (compared to 550-575KIAS for an F-15E). Having to get to within 1.0–1.2nm to employ the famed GAU-8/A Avenger (or rockets) makes it a MANPAD and AAA magnet. The gun is limited in the types of targets it’s effective against nowadays as well. And if you aren’t using the gun or rockets, you’re dropping JDAMs (GPS and laser-guided bombs) or firing air-to-ground missiles like Mavericks. If you’re using these, you’d rather do so high and fast: you get both increased effective range and more forgiving margins of error during weapon release.

And if you’re doing this, you might as well just put them on an F-15E which outclasses the A-10C in terms of carrying capacity, response time, survivability (unsurprisingly, not getting hit because you’re at 600KIAS at 30,000ft is better than surviving being hit because you were flying 250KIAS at 500ft), weapons availability, and virtually any other trait you can imagine other than “loiter time”.

And response time trumps loiter time hands-down, especially when loitering dramatically increases the odds of losing the pilot and/or airframe to surface fire. On top of this, if you're in permissive airspace there's always a tanker nearby to extend your ability to loiter (and if you're not in permissive airspace, your A-10C fleet is grounded anyway).

The A-10C is lauded, and rightfully so, because it was such an effective CAS platform. But it’s not any more. All of the praise you hear about it it real and deserved, but comes from the perspective of people who saw it in action because that’s the plane that filled the role and so that’s the plane they saw in action. With other planes now filling that role, you will hear the similar praise about those planes for pretty much the same reason. The people who aren’t singing its praises are the commanders who see the frightening number of lost or damaged airframes and see how poorly it stacks up against other planes readily available in our fleet.

Edit: And I have to respond to this point.

> We know it's a hell of a lot less reliable than existing US aircraft and competing foreign aircraft.

The F-35 is literally one of the most reliable aircraft we have ever flown (second only to the F-22). Since 2006 (thirteen years), we've had four losses. For the F-22, it's four losses in twenty-two years. The F-15? 46 were lost from 1972–1985. And nearly twenty-five percent of our F-14 fleet has been lost in non-combat accidents.


The above comment is remarkably uninformed, though par for the course on HN.

Loiter time is extremely important for ground support. Otherwise the enemy just waits for the F-35 to fly over.

And reliable means dispatch rate, not losses, especially for tiny fleets (under 200) like the F-22.


This requires the enemy to realize there’s an F-35 even coming. At distances and altitudes an F-35 is going to engage in CAS from, they might as well be invisible.

I’m not saying that loiter time isn’t important. It is. But it’s not as important as arriving sooner, employing more ordnance faster, avoiding killing friendlies, and not getting shot down. All of which the Warthog are objectively terrible at. And if you do need that extra loiter time, there’s always aerial refueling.


Again, this is nonsense since the F-35 will never be flown at low altitudes for CAS since the Air Force won't risk their fighter pilots.

Also, aerial refueling can only be done away from the battlefield where the tanker is safe.


I think the poster above implies that the CAS will be done from high altitude using guided bombs and missiles.


Correct. The irony is that the GP claims I'm uninformed, but is apparently completely unaware that the USAF already has their fighter pilots performing CAS with the F-15E (Strike Eagle) while the Navy does so with the F/A-18E/F (Super Hornet). It's true that the Air Force won't risk their fighter pilots, which is why this happens fast and at high altitude, and this exact same same reasoning is why the Air Force is retiring the A-10C.

Furthermore, if combat is happening in an area too unsafe for tankers to operate nearby, your Warthogs won't be operating there either.


Thank you. Also thank for all the info you wrote on the CAS A-10 vs F-35 debate here, you changed my mind on that question (for what it's worth, since I have not stake in the matter as I'm not American, my country won't ever buy F-35 and I'm not in the military).


You don't need to flow low when your bombs are guided, have a 74km standoff range and can follow moving targets.


Also, if you need the loiter time AND an A-10 could operate in the area... Might as well just have a MQ-9 Reaper orbit overhead 24/7.


Not sure if all your time in pretend combat included this detail, but the fast-movers are usually bingo fuel after doing like 1 run.


The only way that would be true is if they dropped tanks. If they had to drop tanks, they were already in a situation where the A-10 would have to turn around and go home without even attempting a run.


> I love the A-10C. It’s a wonderful plane. I’ve flown it for years

Ah great some first-hand military combat experience here for once!

> in sims as part of a realism-based squadron

Ah, ok then... a computer game...


First, you shouldn’t even trust a real A-10 pilot on this topic, because “flying a plane” is not a skillset particularly relevant to “determining which fleet of planes best serves the needs for the role of CAS over the next forty years of combat”.

Second, I mentioned this to simply establish myself as someone who very much loves this plane. Flying military sims doesn’t make me an expert on the topic, but it does give some indication that this is a topic I’ve cared about and researched on my own in the past several years. If you have a disagreement with any of the actual points I raised, I’m all ears.

Third, you might be surprised to see how far these “games” have progressed in the past thirty years.


The DCS games get pretty damn detailed, and the A-10C looks good. [0] It is one of their older planes from what I can tell, though. As for what "pretty damn detailed" means, check out this half-hour tutorial [1] on how to start the plane.

0: https://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/products/planes/wa...

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2rYwwrq6Z4


> The F-35 is literally one of the most reliable aircraft we have ever flown (second only to the F-22). Since 2006 (thirteen years), we've had four losses.

How many F-35s were operational in that time? Without that information, the number is meaningless.


As far as MANPADS are concerned, the A-10 is stealth.

Nearly all MANPADS are infrared guided. The A-10 hides the engine exhaust by surrounding it with the aircraft's tail. This is better than the F-35 and F-22, and about as good as the YF-23 or F-117.

Any of those aircraft can be additionally protected by a towed decoy.


"Look, I love the A-10C. It’s a wonderful plane. I’ve flown it for years ..."

YES?

"... in sims"

Doh.


This is a useful perspective. Thanks. I have some colleagues who work in training at DoD. We often discuss how weapon systems (and training) could be vastly improved if well-defined use cases, requirements, and experience design were sketched out before weapon systems were sent to Congress for procurement. Unfortunately, oftentimes these bills are bloated with ‘advanced technology’ so that the contractor pie is split across enough districts to get a budget line item.


building a bloated, overpriced product that solves world's problems, but cannot accomplish a simple task it was meant for - so it is not just in the software world, eh?


maybe the high level army hierarchy is expecting different war conditions than the Army and the Marines. Much in the like of drones, killing robot machines, remote lasers etc.


Case in point: "China Unveils New Armoured Vehicle Capable Of Launching 12 Suicide Drones"

https://www.defenseworld.net/news/24744/China_Unveils_New_Ar...




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