Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Infeasibility and Non-Ideal Use of A-10 Warthogs if Operated by PAF

Having a close air support aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt obtained by their respective countries is something a fanboy is imagining about, only considering its sheer firepower and setting aside other technical areas which are considered important as well. In this case though, it is important for each reader to understand the factors that predetermine the feasibility of an aircraft within an armed forces through parameters which will gives clarification as well as some harsh truths for the fans where in it comes the analytical knowledge that is primarily needed in defense avenues (with references as well).

(Pitz Defense Analysis Note: This article is meant to give knowledge for a reader who has little idea about defense technicalities to somewhat get enlightened for a bit where the information given out serves as a guide for any interested in defense to understand the concepts which helps people to engage in every discussion with the right mind and knowledge. It goes on with this adage: "Read more, post less")

A-10 Thunderbolt II. Something that a fanboy dreams about. Source
A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, is a U.S. Close Air Support aircraft which is a jet-powered, versatile aircraft with GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun as its main weapon (also used in Goalkeeper CIWS) alongside air to surface missiles like AGM-65 Maverick missiles.

It was introduced in 1972 and around 713 units were produced therein. It saw action in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and recently in Syria which gives its combat performance into test in actual scenarios. Through the years, operating A-10s are becoming a financial burden for the U.S. Air Force that is presently opting for light aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano which at present is still at post-qualification phase in Philippines' Close Air Support Aircraft procurement program. The scenario alone within the U.S. Air Force is simply the tip of the iceberg with regards to the aircraft's ever-growing infeasibility in operating it. 

Going on, misinformation as well as fanaticism of having A-10s for the Philippine Air Force is getting stronger, where in it, sad to say, involves a mainstream media outlet which makes a mistake with regards of having it as "wish listed". There are also other sophisticated weapons that are also wish-listed by numerous uninformed fanboys for the AFP which due to the numbers, we cannot mention them all. In this case, the so-called "wish-listing" of having A-10 Warthog becomes much worse back then where in it screws up people's minds especially the ones who have little idea on defense issues as well as the gullible ones.
This infographic from PDI shows the aircrafts PAF obtains with respect to
the Marawi crisis sorties. There is one mistake there.
The sheer intensity of misinformation among the people who have a first peek on the said infographic is somewhat great which definitely fuels the orgasm of those who are interested in such an aircraft but doesn't have an idea about the technicalities and factors that prevent the armed forces into obtaining the A-10. To get things clearer, the armed forces itself isn't interested to acquire it considering that there are better alternatives which also enhance the capabilities with regards to close air support operations such as the A-29 Super Tucano aircraft. Matters such as these needs to get clarified for us to understand things further with regards to close air support.

The knowledge that is about to impart here will be based out with references given as well as having an informative viewpoint that can be given out from such references. Furthermore, it is for each reader to understand the concepts with regards to the considerations needed on procuring military equipment.

Textron Airland Scorpion jet. It is one of the candidates for
the A-10 replacement program in the U.S. Source
Here are some but the important factors with regards as to why A-10 Warthogs are infeasible and not ideal for an air forces such as those for the Philippine Air Force. So to speak, it is worthy to take these notes up to understand. Notwithstanding, this is to debunk the minds that "having a popular aircraft" in mind does not mean it is ideal for an air force to have...

1. Cost to procure and airframe life. Procuring the A-10 Warthogs alone isn't that expensive which it will not eat the portion of the defense budget which there will be no more left for other projects to have (unless if it is on operating costs). To be specific, check it's general characteristics as obtained from the U.S. Air Force page below.
Click larger for clearer details.
Given the details, the cost per unit is at an estimated cost of around US$18.8 million. To take note, this is as per September 2015 where if based on the September 2015 exchange rates, it is at around Php841,235,400.00. Take note, the basis isn't based alone on price per unit considering that in any procurement contracts, factors such as warranty, freebies, add-ons, maintenance cost, inflation rate and exchange rates can make such pricing higher or lower depending on the terms given in it. In this case though, the pricing at present will be higher than it is previously due to the factors like a depreciating peso which as per posting, it is at Php51.00 per US$1.00. With respect to its airframe, it is expected to get expanded so as the U.S.A.F overhauls its existing A-10s with its wing replacement programme which will delay its decommission until 2021. In it comes value-added attributes, and in it influence the price to increase if Boeing itself offers overhauled ones to the Philippines (in which it did).

It shall be not that bad considering the price where brand new FA-50PH are fare at around Php1.6 Billion as per its contract and the provisions that are attached to it. However, the pricing isn't also the factor aside from the ones that are affecting it when considering "procuring A-10s" that goes with the gleaming eyes of the fanboys. Things like logistics are also at play as well.

2. Logistics, Maintenance and the Number of Users. This is another consideration when it comes to considering any kind of military equipment and not just the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Given its number of users, it seems that that alone is an obstacle in itself where there is only a sole source of spare parts and any other amenities should an air force consider it, and with that comes the laws of the user country that is needed to complied. That is, the United States Air Force.
Being the sole user of the A-10 Thunderbolt, the United States is somewhat relying on its very own with regards to its spare parts which in it comes with problems especially if it considers selling such jets to international users like the Philippines (IHS Janes reported it at one point saying that the congress might not agree to it). So to speak, there is at one time that Boeing, through the reports given by Air International Magazine, offers 12 overhauled former United States Air Force A-10s with another 12 being spare parts hulks, coming at overall 24 units. See article below.

Taken by the context of the Air International Magazine Article once again, it sounds promising wherein the deal Boeing offer for the Philippines is good of its own worth where aside from the A-10 Thunderbolts being overhauled, it also comes with spare parts hulk for the jets to operate further considering the wear and tear that takes place on the jet's parts. But then again, it doesn't go with the guarantees considering the mere fact that United States Air Force, in its worth is only the sole user of these jets and at present, they themselves are opted for a more light Close Air Support Aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano that the Philippine Air Force preferred and to get obtained soon. So to speak, it goes hand-in-hand to these two fundamental factors, which is the operating costs and the better alternatives that it coincides.

3. Increasing and Unaffordable Operating Costs. This is the very main reason as to why it is infeasible for the Philippine Air Force to obtain the aircraft with logistics, and procurement cost with respect to airframe being its following attributes. 

Considerably speaking, the United States Air Force is in fact considering decommissioning its inventory of said jets due to this very reason. Due also to this, the USAF almost decommissioned these out but was saved with airframe life extended due to lobbying that counters such proposal. So to speak, this article from Foxtrot Alpha may give an explanation about the rationale regarding these considerations therein. Take note, what is cost effective among the Americans may not be that cost-effective for the Filipinos given the disparity of the financial status these nations comprises of. Just take the F-16 for instance, it may be a cost-effective and battle proven as well as being used by neighbors like Indonesia and Thailand, but is not ideal for long term due to its airframe especially if it is a refurbished aircraft which DND soured a lot in its time way back 2012 as the FA-50 LIFT program is still at negotiation stage. To have some oversight in operating cost, National Interest in its article gives a detail where the USAF give figures that the A-10 Warthogs has the operating cost of estimated US$20,000 per hour which equates to around Php1,020,000 per hour given the approximate exchange rate as per posting. The cost is greater than OV-10s like the Philippine Air Force obtains where it runs at estimated US$1,000 per hour or only approximately Php 51,000 and further, the EMB-314/A-29 Super Tucanos with operating cost of approximately US$430 ~ US$500/hr or Php29,930 ~ Php25,500 as per posting's exchange rate.

The disparity of the cost between the A-10 Warthog and its predecessor is large wherein the Philippine Air Force at present is comfortable with the old OV-10 it presently obtains that it is still effectively capable of doing its sorties in combat where they are opted to look for its equivalent replacement such as A-29 Super Tucano.

4. Performance. The A-10 Warthog throughout its history is already proven in numerous theaters where it's agility and survivability as what the U.S.A.F. is explicating goes to the extreme with favorable results.

Aside from the GAU-8 Avenger Main Gun that gives fanbois the chills, the A-10 also carries various munitions in order to achieve its primary mission regarding to the nature of it. Munitions include AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, Mk-82 bombs, Mk-84 bombs, AGM-65 Mavericks, among others. So to speak, the FA-50s of the Philippine Air Force are also capable of carrying such bombs with the Maverick being the newest addition in it's guided munitions arsenal. Not to mention that the A-29s are also capable of carrying these weapons as well. Add to these the considerations of having pilots trained to opereate these aircraft which in itself an obstacle where in Close Air Support Aircraft terms, PAF pilots are honed more on helicopters and slow, propeller-based aircraft like SF-260s and OV-10s. The Super Tucanos meanwhile may be the closest one there is to these aforementioned aircrafts where the experience with OV-10s and SF-260s can be integrated to the Super Tucanos with minor adjustments.

Simply speaking, the OV-10s and A-29s may provide the same capabilities that the A-10 do have at a cheaper operating cost per hour. Not to mention that Philippines, being an archipelago doesn't have any internal adversaries that obtain armored units which the Warthog partly designs for. With internal OPFOR units being consisted with men as well as these parties don't have anti-air capabilities, having OV-10s at present or A-29s for some time may suffice the needs.

5. Alternatives. Given the the sour F-16 deal, it might as well go hand-in-hand with the overhauled A-10s wherein like the deal back 2012, the Defense Department sees for a better alternative which at that time, settles for FA-50s which shares several attributes with the F-16 considering that it was produced by KAI with the help of Lockheed Martin. 
Brazilian Air Force EMB-314 Super Tucano. Credits to its owner
Many alternatives are there in the market that also caters Close Air Support Aircraft that the Philippine Air Force can choose from for its program in the purpose of enhancing its COIN or Counter-Insurgency Operations like those presently taking place in Marawi. One of the said aircrafts is the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano which it won the Philippine Close Air Support Aircraft bid and is presently at post-qualification stage. That is aside from the active units of OV-10s which already proves its worth through the years within the Philippine Air Force. 

These planes are more ideal for the Philippine Air Force to have than the A-10 where it's cost effectiveness is essential to keep the operations going in the lowest cost possible in terms of maintenance as well as enhancing capabilities further where it gets the results intended. With OV-10 getting replaced sooner or later, the EMB-314, being used by Brazil and Indonesia, may get the fair share for PAF as soon as a contract signing will be done and if gets push through.

As much as fanatics may want it, the Defense Department has no plans
of obtaining it. Photo Source
With good aircraft in the market like the EMB-314 Super Tucano as well as the points given above, having A-10s are not viable for the Philippine Air Force in both short and long terms.

These near 40 year old aircrafts, just like the second-hand F-16 deal way back 2012, are nearing its life where the United States Air Force in itself is planning to axe it in favor to either the F-35s entering the service or candidates such as the AT-9 Texan or the A-29 Super Tucano that the Philippine Air Force may have later on. Given these circumstances, with the threat of terrorism in the country, having A-10s is a bit of an expensive gambit which can be equated to an overkill if used where operational costs and maintenance gives a headache for the decision makers considering that aside from the enemies not having anti-air capabilities, the Warthog's jet powered engines aren't well versed in local areas which the Turboprop OV-10 gains a lot. Not to mention that the pilots can adapt better to Super Tucanos than the A-10 Warthogs considering that the former, being a turboprop aircraft is something that PAF pilots is familiar about due to the use of OV-10s. Speaking of China, it is better to leave that matter to the Multi-role fighters which will get acquired in Second Horizon and to the Navy which will have more assets later on with the frigates getting processed for construction in its way to active use by 2020.

Overall, the A-10s is simply not ideal. It is very clear that the Defense Department nor the Philippine Air Force doesn't express interest in procuring this aircraft whereas the EMB-314 Super Tucano has the chance of getting obtained. Bottomline is that, the main point of these things are more of practicality where pilot training, maintenance, operational costs, logistics, and airframe life, do matter for the viability of Air Force's capability.


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