Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Sunday, November 11, 2007

COIN From the Air

Looks like the A-10 is getting a little brother.

While the U.S. Air Force is cutting personnel in order to pay for new F-22 and F-35 fighters, many jet fighters are in danger of being replaced, in part, by equally new warplanes that look like something out of World War II. Case in point is the A-67 counter-insurgency aircraft (PHOTO). Initially designed as a private venture in the United States, it is now being developed for production next year. The propeller driven, single engine aircraft has one engine, a crew of two and can carry 1.5 tons of sensors and weapons. It can stay in the air for ten hours per sortie. The A-67 will cost about $8 million each, and is built to be easily, and cheaply maintained by small ground crews.

The Air Force has taken quite a bit of heat as of late for it's big budget, big gun policy/strategy. The essence of this intellectual assault seems to be: however majestic, stealthy and bristling with weaponry the likes of the b-2, f-22 or f-35 are they're irrelevant in today's theaters of war. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the USAF branch of service be abolished and re-allocated to it's pre-1947 custodian, the US Army.

Since the game of war has evolved into the asymmetric realm of counter insurgency the likes of the above mentioned, incredibly expensive war machines are little more than high tech relics of the cold war. Great for network centric, "shock and awe" but of little use in the close air support operations. Illustrating this point are the continued use of the venerable A-10 (which some years ago was slated to go the way of the Tomcat,) AC-130 and the Predator drone.

While I appreciate the division from the classic "Next Big Threat" ideology entailed in this railing against the USAF I think those that shout loudest are, in a similar fashion of their counterparts, guilty of static or vertical thought. While one side remains bogged down in the "Next Big Threat" the other seems quite willing to accept present day and recent history as a definition of future struggles.
Additionally they seem to regard such weaponry in the one dimensional perspective of battlefield tactics while ignoring the geo-political statement such machines entail. To quote Col. Robert Wheeler from Robert Kaplan's latest literary endeavor:

"Any adversary knows that the B-2 can enter relatively unseen and prevent a WMD from being launched. Merely by having it, we affect decision-making in regional states, and encourage peer competitors to perhaps go another route in their national defense. It is a diplomatic and military instrument."

It certainly wasn't goodwill that led to Libya's abandonment of their nuclear ambitions. I would opine that it was the sheer power and global reach of the American military combined with the 9/11 attacks that shook our old pal Quadafi into self induced acquiescence. While I'm happy to see the ideological travel away from Cold Warrior methodology I believe the high tech elements that "Go Big Boom in the Night" are as much an extension of our geo-political presence as they are lethal military weapons. The pen was mightier than the sword. It would seem that now the pen and the sword enjoy a conflated existence.

Thanks to Sake White for initial article on the A-67.

Related reading at Coming Anarchy via Younghusband.


Adrian said...

Looks kind of like the Super Tucano aircraft Brazil and Columbia have used for COIN ops.

aelkus said...


what's your position on the COIN/airpower debate?

Ymarsakar said...

COIN naturally tries to make symmetrical asymmetrical wars.

Problem with insurgency is that small groups can cause large damage. By making the conventional occupation forces be capable of doing great damage with a small logistics tail and a very small maintenance price, you get a force that can match insurgencies face to face. Or rather, air to ground.

Fast reaction forces are death on insurgents. Especially helicopter gunships, helicopter troop transports, and fixed wing aircraft that doesn't need billions in electronics and maintenance.

Intelligence is no good if fast reaction forces are not available. Cheap but effective planes using the best of Western tech and the best of insurgency tactics is death on the insurgents. It certainly helps local auxiliary forces out, which helps us out in the end.

It sucks to be us because we're the ones learning what the terrorists have already mastered. The good thing is the terroristsk now little to nothing about conventional warfare. Which means once the US masters insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, the terrorists are essentially defeated. They got nowhere to go. No other type of warfare or strategic plan to use.

Ymarsakar said...

however majestic, stealthy and bristling with weaponry the likes of the b-2, f-22 or f-35 are they're irrelevant in today's theaters of war.

They are not so much irrelevant as they are too much like parade soldiers. Designed to look good and intimidating, but rather useless in an actual fight.

The stealth fighters and bombers are like rocket launches. You use it once and then you have to reload. While insurgents fire off as fast as machine guns. Since one use of a B-2 won't squash all the enemies, the return fire will kill us off, naturally.

"Go Big Boom in the Night" are as much an extension of our geo-political presence as they are lethal military weapons.

They are only as lethal as the number of times they are used. If it is zero, then you might not have them. Only the perception that such weapons can be used and can be used effectively, can intimidate enemies and reassure allies.

What that means is that there has to be a carefully crafted propaganda campaign featuring and utilizing such events such as bombs being dropped and what not. Without it, it is just military bombs crashing down on innocent civilians. Not very effective in terms of psychological warfare and leverage.

For example, a nuclear detonation in one of the sparsely populated regions of Iran would be an unconventional and psychological based use of modern and conventional weapons. Used only as a threat of things to come, it can quickly accelerate the reach of American power into the hearts of enemies and allies alike.

As it is, the chain of command and the President do not use the conventional forces effectively in support of our unconventional war. These spheres are divided. True, it would be better if these spheres supported each other, however, it would also be better if the US had mastered COIN and insurgency before 9/11. Wishes are not fishes, though.

Adrian said...

I disagree that the F-22, etc., are irrelevant to todays war and to COIN. All of our operations assume air superiority. Take away our air superiority and you lose transport, intelligence, and communications which has huge implications for COIN efforts. Maybe you don't need to be throwing billions at both the F-22 and JSF, but you do need to maintain unchallengeable air superiority for the way we fight COIN.

Ymarsakar said...

The cry over not bombing Iran has already de facto taken away America's air superiority there. COIN and insurgency has now become far more powerful than simple air power.

Jay@Soob said...

Thanks all for the excellent commentary and my apologies for my tardy replies.


Depends on the situation at hand. Unlike the proponents of high tech and essentially faceless air superiority I don't view "collateral damage" as an accepted or necessary evil. Quite the contrary, as our British friends point out in the above article such casualties feed an insurgency. A 500 lb bomb delivered from 15,000 feet will, however precise, exact a non-combatant death toll should it be dropped in a populated area.

Contrarily, the events that unfolded in 2001 as we pursued Osama bin Laden and his merry band of jihadis into the mountainous region of Tora Bora were much more forgiving to the indiscriminate use of firepower.

Jay@Soob said...


I think we agree to a point. I'm not at all agreeable to yet another demonstration of American might via a nuclear demonstration in even the most remote region of Iran. Such demonstration would be accepted as the pinnacle of "American Imperialism." My own jingoism has it's limits.

Jay@Soob said...


We've come to rely too much on air superiority in many cases. In effect, and I'll quote the uber-liberal (and yet excellent) Roger Waters: We're "Playing the game with the bravery of being out of range." This essence is not lost on the populace that endure our bombardments.

While I agree that a continuance of what has been decried as "obsolete" from the anti-Air Force crowd is a necessary political (and in few cases, COIN) tool, I'd reiterate the importance of tactical consideration.

In this respect I think we agree that the non-kinetic aspect (as you say, intelligence, transport, communication) is of paramount importance.

Ymarsakar said...

My own jingoism has it's limits.

Bush has the same limits. Which is why he agreed to China's deal for the return of a recon plane and its pilot.

This essence is not lost on the populace that endure our bombardments.

Psychologically speaking, any weapon, once used, begins to lose its psychological impact due to familiarity and contempt. Even nuclear weapons will lose its terror after awhile. Once people begin to deal with problems instead of gibbering in fear, then their reactions and defenses become much better. The world has had a long time to learn how to deal with the American non-expansionist empire. Their methods have been honed by experience and many different attempts at ruling people.