In a recent War on the Rocks article by Col. Mike “Starbaby” Pietrucha, the author argues that using airpower in a high threat Close Air Support role is a myth and not as practical as using land based or sea based precision artillery.
If you are the Air Force, what do you do when you your primary CAS platform, the A-10 Warthog, has been put on the chopping block by 2021, you have no real replacement, and the F-35 stealth savior can’t seem to get here on time?
Answer: Maybe you should look more definitively at your requirements against reality.
Pietrucha writes: “In a presumed environment where the air defenses are too lethal for the A-10 to survive, wouldn’t the F-35 be a better alternative? The question itself highlights a persistent trend in Air Force concept development — a mythical set of conditions that is highly unlikely, fundamentally not credible, based on a misunderstanding of the air threat, or, in this case, all three.”
Pietrucha notes that no aircraft, stealth or not, can survive a high threat CAS environment. The mythical idea that the F-35 will simply be able to loiter in and around the target area is simply that: a myth. Radar systems such as the SA-22 render stealth characterstics mute while heat exhaust from any engine allows for detection in the IR environment.
The other question mentioned: is high threat CAS really something that USAF airpower will be faced with? Not according to Pietrucha. The only two threats that hold a high threat capability, China and Russia, are likely to never see a demand for US airpower for such a mission due to impractical circumstances.
One must remember that CAS is a mission and not simply a platform. Future CAS efforts will likely come from a variety of sources: drones (all categories), stealth, and conventional air power. Maybe a greater concern should center on integration of these multitude of forces in the event of the mythical high threat scenario?
You can read Pietrucha’s full article here
Top photo courtesy www.armyrecognition.com