Quality versus quantity fallacy

As important as weapons are for waging war, they are simply enablers, and they put limits on what people can do. As a result, people are most important, strategy and tactics come second, and hardware is third. This is not to say that weapons are unimportant; as tools of war, they are crucial – without tools there is no craft, and war is but one of various crafts people engage in. Weapons that don’t work can bring down even best people and ideas.

In short, procuring the best weapon possible is important. But there are several definitions of weapon’s capability. Majority of modern militaries and all defense industry officials define capability in technological terms. But this way is useless when fighting a war; instead, quality has to be defined tactically, in terms of what works and does not work on a battlefield, and strategically, in terms of force presence and vulnerability when outside of combat. Even if weapons are tested, it is in heavily prescripted and biased way.

In tactical terms, there are several important characteristics:

  1. Weapons should be hard to detect across entire spectrum in order to gain surprise. This requires small weapons with completely passive sensors (only active sensor would be optionally-used laser rangefined).
  2. Weapons should be agile, both in terms of mobility and ability to adapt within their designed role. As much as it might seem counterintuitive, this precludes multirole aircraft as they trade adaptability within one role for adaptability over multiple roles.
  3. Weapons should achieve their effects quickly. This requires fire-and-forget weapons of both guided and unguided variety. Unguided weapons, such as guns, cannons and recoilless rifles achieve effect far quicker than guided weapons; even within guided weapons, weapons which use passive-only sensors achieve effects far more quickly (and reliably) than active weapons.

Strategically, these qualities are added:

  1. Weapons should be reliable and easy to maintain. This allows for all-important training time and lowers expenses of training, thus improving force readiness.
  2. Weapons should be expendable. This is not in terms of battlefield expendability (such as UAVs) but technological expendability – many modern weapons are too expensive to get rid of and thus are kept even when they have become irrelevant and heavily outmatched by newer counterparts. These weapons also become progressively harder to maintain as they age, and thus soak up more and more funds.
  3. Weapons should be affordable in adequate numbers. Going into fight against competent opponent when heavily outnumbered is certain to result in heavy losses and very likely to result in a failure. This does not mean sacrificing individual quality however, as will be explained later.
  4. Weapons should be mobile over long distances. This means ability to use enemy’s supplies, especially fuel, good fuel efficiency and excellent reliability.

Does more cost really equal more capability in these areas? Not really. To see that, two pairs of aircraft will be compared later on: 126 million USD F-15C vs 30 million USD F-16A, and 273 million USD F-22A vs 94,5 million USD Rafale C. But first onto other weapons.

In World War II, cheap T-34 proved far superior to more expensive and finely manufactured early model Panzer III and IV tanks due to its long-barrelled cannon, sloped armor and wide tracks. USAAF used P-47, P-51 and P-38. 125.000 USD twin-engined P-38 proved useless in combat against German fighters due to its large size, bad roll performance and heavy weight, and was withdrawn from Europe; 90.000 USD P-47 performed far better but ended up used as a CAS fighter due to range shortfall and inferior air combat performance when compared to P-51; and 51.000 USD P-51 proved by far the best US fighter of the war,

In Vietnam, Army hierarchy preferred the heavy, complex and precisely manufactured M14 over lighter, cheaper AR-15. M-14 proved useless in combat against Viet Cong using fully automatic AK-47, but AR-15, used by some Special Forces units, achieved very favorable results. 75 USD AR-15 proved far more accurate, reliable and lethal than 295 USD M-14.

Both F-22 and F-15 are built around the radar-guided beyond visual range missiles. On the other hand, Rafale’s BVR missile is MICA which comes in either IR or radar guided variant, while F-16A is purely visual-range dogfighter.

As discussed in other articles, most important characteristics of air superiority fighter are a) achieving surprise bounce, b) avoiding being surprised, c) outmaneuvering the enemy in the air, d) outlasting the enemy while outmaneuvering him and e) achieving reliable kills. Strategically, it has to be capable of outnumbering enemy in the air.

F-16 is smaller than the F-15 and smokes less, which means that it has better capability to surprise the opponent and is less likely to get surprised itself. If either fighter uses radar, they automatically discard ability to surprise the enemy; as neither has optical sensors, their BVR capability is effectively nil. In maneuvering performance, F-16A has wing loading of 338 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,15 at combat weight, compared to 278 kg/m2 and 1,15 for F-15C; however, F-16As superior aerodynamics, large amount of body lift in particular, offset wing loading difference to a significant degree; more importantly, F-16 has far better transient (roll and pitch) performance, resulting in maneuvering performance overall superior to the F-15C. F-16 also accelerates noticeably faster. Fuel fraction is 0,29 for F-15C and 0,31 for F-16A, which along with F-16s better lift-ot-drag ratio means that F-16 will always outlast the F-15C in combat. Both F-15 and F-16 use same weapons, but F-15 also has radar-guided missile. Force presence is calculated by number of aircraft for 1 billion USD * sorties/day/ aircraft. For F-15C, it is 7*1=7, while for F-16A it is 33*1,2=40, or 6:1 advantage for the F-16A. As a result, F-16 is superior to F-15 in all areas except achieving reliable kills, in which area both aircraft are equal.

Rafale has mostly same advantages over the F-22 that F-16 has over the F-15. It is smaller, leading to lower visual and IR signature. It also has extensive suite of passive sensors, including IRST and IR missile warners, eliminating need for radar usage in air to air combat. Aerodynamically it is superior to the F-22, leading to lower drag and higher lift coefficient; when combined with lower wing loading (276 vs 314 kg/m2) and better transient performances, it gives Rafale far better maneuvering performance than F-22s. While both fighters have g limit of 9 g, Rafale’s structural load factor is 1,85, allowing it to pull 11 g without reducing airframe life. Fuel fraction is 0,29 for F-22 and 0,33 for Rafale C; when combined with lower drag it allows Rafale a far better endurance in combat. Rafale’s primary weapon is MICA missile which comes in both IR and EM variants, allowing Rafale a completely passive BVR capability, something that F-22 lacks. Force presence for F-22 is 3*0,5=1,5 sorties per day for 1 billion USD, while for Rafale C it is 10*2=20 sorties per day for 1 billion USD, or 13:1 advantage for the Rafale. As can be seen, Rafale is superior to the F-22 in all areas.

In Close Air Support, F-35 has far wider turn radius and higher minimum speed than the A-10, as well as worse loiter time and inferior survivability. While A-10 can be flown from dirt strips, F-35 requires concrete runway. F-35 also has lower number of attack passes.

AH-64 is twice as expensive as A-10, yet it lacks A-10s lethality, survivability and loiter time. In the First Gulf War, A-10 suffered 4 losses in 12.400 combat sorties, of which 3 were actual shootdowns and 1 was writeoff due to damage. 132 A-10s fired 5.000 Maverick missiles, dropped 40.000 bombs and made thousands of gun strafingf passes, firing over 1.000.000 rounds of ammunition. 274 AH-64s were used sparingly for first 39 days of the war due to their vulnerability to just about everything; in total, they launched 2.764 Hellfire missiles. In the Second Gulf War, between 2003 and 2007, A-10s suffered a single loss while 32 AH-64s and AH-1s were lost. As for stealth aircraft, their utility in both wars was limited to surgical strikes, and two Iraqi fighters almost intercepted an F-117 early in the war. F-117s kill rate was also less than 15-25% per strike.

Furthermore, since field army defenses place a heavy emphasis on visual acquisition in anti-air defense, aircraft has to be able to use terrain masking; this also helps mask aircraft’s infrared, acoustic and radar signatures. In this area, A-10 is far superior to all other aircraft in Western service with possible exception of attack helicopters, in good part due to latter having two crewmembers, thus allowing pilot to focus on piloting.

A-10 also offers faster response than either fast jets or helicopters since it can loiter near the battle area for prolonged periods of time.

In Vietnam, best CAS fighters were neither high-speed jet fighters nor helicopters, but rather low-speed turboprop aircraft. For destroying harder targets, recoilless rifles proved to be far better choice than unguided rockets, and more cost-effective than guided missiles.

In surveillance roles, cheap, manned turboprop aircraft are still superior to satellites and UAVs in terms of collecting usable information. While satellites may be able to gather large quantity of data and cover very large areas, this is irrelevant since data collected is of low quality and questionable usefulness (more specifically, satellites have no capability to separate decoys from valid targets). At best, they can be used to roughly outline points of interest to be examined by manned flights (in either visual or photographic reconnaissance roles).

As a class, multirole aircraft are both more expensive and less effective than single-role aircraft, with cost of aircraft being 3 times of that on most expensive of types it replaces.

Challenger II MBT is somewhat cheaper than M1 Abrams. While it is heavier, it also has rifled cannon which allows for greater precision though at some cost to penetration. More importantly, its engine gives it far lower IR signature than gas turbine of M1 Abrams; while it is noisier, this is not as relevant since sound does not propagate very far. Challenger II is also faster and more agile over the rough terrain due to superior suspension. Ground pressure is also lower in Challenger II (0,9 vs 1,08 kg/cm2) thus giving it superior mobility over the soft terrain. Thanks to using diesel engine as opposed to gas turbine, Challenger II has superior acceleration despite lower power-to-weight ratio, allowing it to “sprint” from cover to cover; this capability is actually far more important than top speed. Diesel engine is also more reliable than turbine engine, resulting in less maintenance downtime, and uses less fuel thus necessitating less frequent refuelling, reducing any army’s Achilles heel = its logistical system. Challenger 2 has turret rotation speed of 9 seconds for 360 degrees compared to 8 seconds for M1 Abrams.

Leopard II is another European tank. It has ground pressure of 0,83 kg/cm2, providing better cross-country mobility than either M1 or Challenger 2. While its smoothbore cannon is somewhat less accurate than Challenger II’s, it does offer superior firepower and effective range to M1 Abrams due to being an L55 cannon (effective range is 4.000 m compared to M1A2s 3.000 m). Its multi-fuel diesel engine makes it superior to M1 in terms of acceleration and fuel efficiency. M1A2SEP is superior in terms of armor protection, but still inferior in most other characteristics.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs have been a continuous problem. Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization was formed, with five contractors for each DoD member. It spent between 17 and 20 billion USD by 2011 to find an effective counter to IEDs, without result. 40 million USD were spent on radio jammer which was to jam signals by which IEDs were detonated – a fool’s errand, since most IEDs are not activated remotely, but rather on contact. A device designed to detonate IEDs also exists, and costs 140 million USD per device. It is called Joint IED neutralizer, and so far it has been a miserable failure, but has been kept alive by Congressional earmarks. All high-tech devices have failed, in fact, with insurgents finding ways to defeat them faster than new devices could be developed. Only one device has proven to work over 80% of the time; namely, dog. 250 dogs and their handlers cost 8,7 million USD to train. While insurgents did try varius ways to defeat dog’s nose (such as rotting food), all these attempts have failed just as miserably as US high-tech devices did against insurgets.

Similarly, AIP submarine is only fraction of cost of a nuclear submarine. Typical AIP submarine costs 300-400 million USD, compared to 1,7-2 billion USD cost of typical nuclear submarine. It is also smaller, more maneuverable and far quieter, as well as almost impossible to detect in coastal waters; on the other side, large nuclear submarines are comparably easy to detect (especially by aircraft) but are far faster over the long distances. In this case, neither weapon has decisive quality advantage, but rather advantage depends on operating environment and requirements.

When evaluating weapons with regards to losses, measure should be neither number of losses, losses per number of units, or losses per number of combat uses (combat sorties for aircraft); while last one is a good indicator of survivability, it is not an indicator of weapon’s usefulness. Rather, losses should be compared in terms of effect on the enemy. In this area expensive weapons tend to underperform compared to cheaper ones.

40 thoughts on “Quality versus quantity fallacy

  1. The thing I think is widely misunderstood at this point is that there is probably an optimal point for “best quality”. Beyond that point, spending more tends to lead to “negative quality” in terms of complexity, reliability, affordability, and ability to train people to maintain optimum skills needed to use a given weapon to it’s potential..

    That and well, I think that point, is going to be one where higher quantities of weapons are bought. It’s because equipment is a quantitative thing. Now there are things that I think that would be genuinely better. Imagine if we could make fighters that had their entire bodies out of mostly titanium alloy (as much as the SR-71). Now titanium has some very good qualities – high strength to weight ratio, non-toxic to humans, holds well under high temperatures, and is very corrosion resistant, but at the same time, it’s notoriously hard to weld, and even slight imperfections (we are talking 0.01% here) have a much higher impact on tensile strength. Top alloys can be in excess of 1600 mpa (about 230 ksi) in ultimate tensile strength. The question is not whether we can or not – it’s the cost of doing so and the opportunity cost.

    By contrast, people tend to favor the side that has the qualitative advantage. A group of exceptional people will always prevail over a group of mediocre people in a combat match, unless the mediocre side has overwhelming numbers, in which case the mediocre side will take huge casualties. Of course, a small percentage of the mediocre people will become exceptional as a result of their combat experiences.


      1. The only weapon I’ve ever seen that is complex that “worked well” was arguably medieval plate mail. The top end stuff “worked” in that it offered near immunity to all non-blunt attacks (save near the eye). But of course, it was very costly and only affordable by the very top tier.

        Any other examples of top end stuff working well?

        I suppose that the SR-71 with it’s titanium body as above would count.


      2. “The only weapon I’ve ever seen that is complex that “worked well” was arguably medieval plate mail.”

        It worked well as a defense against arrows but knights still needed support of “lower-tier” units (light infantry and light cavalry) not to get shredded by enemy light infantry wielding tin can openers (maces for example). To see what happened when knights went in without support of light infantry… cough Agincourt cough.


      3. “To see what happened when knights went in without support of light infantry… cough Agincourt cough.”

        We have had this discussion before if I remember. Militarily, let’s suppose that the top armor did give total protection (or close to that) from arrows:

        Not everyone has top tier armor and most people would die from the sheer volume of fire
        Anyways, only a small number would have actually made it through
        Too small a number to make a difference

        My history is a bit hazy, but I remain unfavorable terrain also held the French back and they used pretty poor tactics. But the point is, the survivors in 3 would likely be captured and ransomed. Ransomed since anybody who owned top end armor was probably very wealthy.

        I suppose a counterargument could be, what if there were enough funds to arm everyone with the finest armor of the late Middle Ages (probably from Milan)?


      4. @Chris
        “I suppose a counterargument could be, what if there were enough funds to arm everyone with the finest armor of the late Middle Ages (probably from Milan)?”

        Yes, what if there were funds to equip entire USAF with the F-22, or for Germany to produce 25.000 Panthers? There weren’t funds to do that and there couldn’t be.


      5. “Yes, what if there were funds to equip entire USAF with the F-22, or for Germany to produce 25.000 Panthers? There weren’t funds to do that and there couldn’t be.”

        Late war Panthers actually got better, particularly once the Ausf E versions were reached, and I think only about 30% more expensive than a Panzer IV. Earlier versions were much more expensive (more than 2x the price of a Panzer IV) and had a ton of reliability issues. They got better as the war went on, reliability wise (first ones deployed broke down, more thanks to Hitler’s insistence that their “Wunderwaffen” get sent into battle before it was ready).

        That said, I still agree that the T-34 was overall a better weapon simply because it could be mass produced more. The 85mm gun it got was a big upgrade over the 76.2mm variant. Anyways, what it needed was a radio for each tank, another crew member, and better optics. Perhaps a better gun as well, if possible.


      6. @Chris “Anyways, what it needed was a radio for each tank, another crew member, and better optics.”

        Yes, if you read about it, main advantage of German tanks over Soviet ones was not their armor or gun, but the fact that each tank had a radio, as opposed to each fifth tank in Soviet tank armies (at least early in the war).


      7. “Yes, if you read about it, main advantage of German tanks over Soviet ones was not their armor or gun, but the fact that each tank had a radio, as opposed to each fifth tank in Soviet tank armies (at least early in the war).”

        Pretty much this and the fact that the crew quality of the Panzers was better overall. The Red Army got better as the war went on though.

        Still, other good qualities of the T-34 were the wide tracks coupled with a Christie suspension, which gave it some pretty impressive mobility. Earlier versions with their sloped armor could not be easily penetrated either at the front.

        I’ve noticed one common thing about comments in the Western world. They view the fact that Russian equipment is easy to maintain as a failing rather than an advantage. I wonder why this is.

        “Yes, what if there were funds to equip entire USAF with the F-22, or for Germany to produce 25.000 Panthers? There weren’t funds to do that and there couldn’t be.”

        Actually I do have one issue with this argument. The F-22’s technology that it relies upon, namely radar stealth and BVR radar guided missiles are well, at best, unproven technologies of questionable effectiveness. Full plate armor on the other hand, offered pretty good protection against arrows, swords, and most weapons of the medieval era, save for large blunt weapons like war hammers. The top armor even offered protection against early firearms. Only weak spot was the eye usually, especially as the quality of joints began to improve (a historical weak spot in earlier plate armor).

        I suppose a closer analogy would be if a way could be made to armor a fighter aircraft to the point where it was more durable than a CAS aircraft, albeit with some loss in maneuverability (full plate wearers was not as restrictive as it is thought today – the bigger problem was that the suits were not breathable). Modern aircraft would be like Japanese Zeroes by comparison.


      8. “I’ve noticed one common thing about comments in the Western world. They view the fact that Russian equipment is easy to maintain as a failing rather than an advantage. I wonder why this is.”

        Because Russian equipment looks crude (and often is) and people, especially in the West (with Hollywood and Star Trek and US) tend to be fascinated by technology. So to many people, more “high-tech” = better.

        “The F-22′s technology that it relies upon, namely radar stealth and BVR radar guided missiles are well, at best, unproven technologies of questionable effectiveness.”

        This is true, but F-22 (unlike F-35) does have some redeeming qualities, such as supercruise ability and good maneuverability.


      9. I have to say I think the love affair with the T-34 is a little bit ahistorical. The Soviets received something like 4,400 Sherman M4 tanks, so they got to use both. Turns out the actual Russians who had to crew both tanks hated the T-34 with a passion, and loved the M4 Sherman. Apparently the inside of the T-34 was horrid and the tank was, despite it’s reputation, a reliability nightmare. At one point Stalin was going to order T-34 crews to death because their combat readiness rates were below 10%, and he thought that was because they were cowards. Later, someone managed to convince him that no, the tanks really just sucked that bad.

        On the topic of it’s vaunted sloped armour, of the 55,000 T-34’s produced during world war 2, 46,000 were destroyed. Of course, the real reason for their awful showing in WW2 wasn’t the tank, training apparently consisted of driving the tank down to the range and firing three shots with the gun. That’s not being undertrained, that’s totally ridiculous. It’s not even close to being militarily effective to have your tankers given that little training. Totally unforgivable.


      10. Not surprising, considering M4 was well-made, and with good crew comfort. As for training, Russian tankers were often sent on a mission like “drive in this direction and shoot at any Germans you find”. No maneuver, nothing. One of the reasons was that in many cases, only every fifth tank had a radio. The other was, as you said, training.


  2. Good post where you pedagogically distill your concepts. Some things I would enjoy your analysis on: the Finish winter war – where completely outnumbered light infantry crushed invading soviet forces.

    Also, the S-Tank. A very complex weapon. Could be operated by a single person, automatic loading system. Until the 80’s the S-tank was invulnerable in the front against all opponent tank shots. It had an extremely long barrel and extremely sloping armor. Completely built around Swedish defense doctrine which would be similar to what the Finns did during the Winter War — use guerrilla tactics and hurt numerically overwhelming enemy so hard and bloody that he doesn’t want to continue. The S-tank was an original concept that was became outdated when tanks could fire accurately on the move. Still, when Strv 122 was introduced in Sweden there was an exercise held between them. The experienced and well trained old Strv 103 crews crushed the inexperienced 122 crews despite the latter having an incredibly superior machine.


    1. Why I mentioned the S-tank is because, just like the Gripen, it’s a rare example where advanced technology makes possible higher performance in the field. This is to make good use of advanced technology – to make it more “fieldworthy” as we say in Swedish. You can change the engine on a Gripen in the woods in 1 hour. With the Viggen the same thing took 8 hours and you needed the infrastructure of a hangar.

      Here’s a good page regarding Strv 103. Perhaps you can use Google translate?


      1. I look forward to reading it!
        Here’s the S-tank link in wonky Googlish http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&nv=1&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=sv&tl=en&u=http://www.ointres.se/strv_103.htm&usg=ALkJrhgWw5_buV0wykjDLDYpbaxS60LegA

        And here is an old Swedish clip from the 70’s. Note the speed with which a trained crew could stop, turn around and aim the 103 in the ten last seconds of the last seconds of the clip. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CQwsgPYHPd4


    2. I still wonder if it might be viable as an option to built a modern S-tank.

      Although it cannot fire on the move, it does have a few advantages. Without a turret, it could be lighter, have a lower silhouette, and likely be more reliable. It would likely be used alongside tanks the way the Germans used their Stugs in WWII.

      It wouldn’t be a 1 to 1 substitute for a Leopard 2 or any other MBT, but it would have it’s own niche.


  3. I would like to further stress the issue of “fieldworthy”. This is historically a very important thing for equipment in Sweden. When I read about weapons online the context of war is often forgotten. In your F15/F16 example I would like to stress that having two engines can be good for carrying bomb load, but what is seldom mentioned is how the second engine greatly increases logistical and economical problems. If you want 1 spare propulsion system for 100 f16’s you need a total of 200 engines (one in the plane, one on the ground). For a system of 100 F15 you need 400 engines. Two hundred engines extra is a lot of money and logistics. Also count the extra time and money to change the engine during war times. Then add that the large twin engine consumes far more fuel. Sweden does not produce oil, so fuel efficiency is important. This why the Gripen, in my opinion, is far superior to the other Eurocanards. It’s much more fieldworthy. The Gripen E will have equal or better flight characteristics and will have better IRST than the others. The Gripen C already carries more flares and chaff than any other plane (another “unsexy” feature) making it very survivable as well as reliable. I digress, the point is that one engine is much easier to maintain than two in all aspects. Single engines are nowadays as reliable as twins. Gripen has a far better safety record than twin engine F18 for example.

    So why did the S-tank have two engines? One word: fieldworthiness. Back then Diesel engines where not as reliable in cold winter. To be certain that the tank would start in -40 Celcius a turbine was included as it dealt with cold much better. With modern Diesel engines this is not an issue.


    1. Ever see an American airfield?

      Every day, they have to do Foreign Object sweeps to ensure that nothing enters the engine (they don’t bother to put filters in their aircraft).

      I’d agree that reliability under the field is more important than raw theoretical performance – especially if it’s never realized. A while back, I noted that one concern of the F-22 was that for every hour of flight it needed 30 hours to maintain; this meant it could be destroyed while on the ground. Said person dismissed my concerns. In a real war, destroying airfields would be a priority.

      I think that this one of the cases of the US never fighting a competent opponent in decades and growing complacent.


      1. @Chris

        “A while back, I noted that one concern of the F-22 was that for every hour of flight it needed 30 hours to maintain; ”

        45 hours, actually.


  4. “AH-64 is twice as expensive as A-10, yet it lacks A-10s lethality, survivability and loiter time. ”

    Re-reading this, honestly, I’m convinced that attack helicopters are well, obsolete. They’re simply too vulnerable. They can be brought down by 12.7 mm machine guns (there’s plenty of those in this world) and by MANPADs with ease, which increasingly are becoming common, even for “low tech” opponents.

    Where can they operate then?
    – They are forced to “hug” the terrain or hide under hills/trees
    – Increasingly restricted in the open on where they can operate

    – They are hard to maintain in terms of hours of maintenance to flying ratio
    – They don’t stand a chance either versus fix winged aircraft if they meet one (especially against enemy CAS which are used to being “in the weeds”)

    Then there’s always the issue of instability when shooting from a rotary platform that I’ve never seen satisfactorily solved. Essentially they need “perfect” conditions to survive (ex: overwhelming air superiority on your side, ability to restrict enemy from setting up any air defense).


    1. “Re-reading this, honestly, I’m convinced that attack helicopters are well, obsolete.”

      They were obsolete since their first appearance. In Vietnam, 20% losses per sortie was not uncommon.

      “Then there’s always the issue of instability when shooting from a rotary platform that I’ve never seen satisfactorily solved.”

      Which is even worse since helicopter’s machine guns and cannons typically aren’t fixed as those in fixed-wing aircraft are.


      1. Attack helicopters as instruments of war and doctrine proved all their failings in the Raid on Karbala battle during the 2003 invasion of Irak. In this battle 11th Regiment of the US Army launched an unsupported long range attack against the 11th Tank Brigade of the Medina Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard. The Apaches tried their usual tactics of ducking behind cover and raising to shoot and then scoot. Tactics that we have been presented at nausea in documentaries in the 90s. However those tactics had never been attempted on this scale before and this the first time they had they failed, miserably. The Iraqis heard the choppers coming and had some time to prepare. Also the quality of the troops might have had something to do as this were Republican Guard and were probably above the incompetent level of the average Iraqi soldier,but still I don’t think they were far above semi-competent 😉 Anyway the minute the Apaches got near they were greeted by a wall of fire. Every piece of hardware was firing in their general direction, about 90 T-72 tanks and God knows how many towed 57mm AA guns. To say that the Apache pilots were unable to perform the maneuvers which they had trained would be an understatement. The Apaches manged somehow to destroy 12 T-72 tanks and 6 57mm AA guns. But the Iraqis managed to inflict more damage on them, at least from a financial point of view. From the 31 Apaches in the raid one was outright shoot down and another crashed shortly after take-off. From the 29 damaged Apaches 2 were unrecoverable. And the other 27 needed about a month to be back in operation. In all 4 Apaches totaling 120 million dollars lost plus the cost of the repairs of the damaged Apaches in exchange for the destruction of 12 T-72 costing no more then 30 million in total and 6 57mm AA guns.
        The battle led to a complete overhaul of the US attack helicopter doctrine. During the rest of the invasion the Apaches abandoned shoot and scoot tactics and where used a Forward Observers more calling in Air and Artillery Strikes. The Raid on Karbala was succesful 3 days later when another regiment of Apaches attacked again, this time with Close AIr Support provided by Marine Corps F/A-18 and I think USAF A-10. Ironic.
        As a point to start researching this battle here is the wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Attack_on_Karbala

        Also I think that the US Army also considers the Attack Helicopter obsolete as the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program envisions for times of helicopters. A scout to replace OH-58 Kiowa, an medium helicopter to replace both Black Hawk and Apaches probably something along the lines of Mi-24, a heavy helicopter and a super-heavy one in the mass range of the Hercules. Here is link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Vertical_Lift


      2. The only thing of some value I think are the lift helicopters, which do enable sometimes getting troops in and out of places where fixed wing aircraft cannot, but at the same time, it’s only going to be usable where there’s minimal resistance. That’s about it. The question is, should it maximize lift capacity, or should it be something like the Russian Hind? I’m leaning toward the max capacity and have a CAS airplane escort.

        “They were obsolete since their first appearance. In Vietnam, 20% losses per sortie was not uncommon.”

        Yikes, that would mean losing an entire force every 5 or so sorties. That’s like strategic bombing in WWII. I recall the RAF lost their entire bomber fleet every few months. Apparently at one point, they were losing more bombers than killing people on the ground!

        Anyways, the idea that the “bombers would always get through” was in a sense true, some bombers might make it through, but when facing an enemy with fighters, loses would be pretty awful (we’re talking >60% against an enemy with air superiority).

        @Andrei and Picard

        If you want to see what they have the US has chosen from the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. The V-280.

        Like the V-22, it’s another tilt-rotor. I have always been against the V-22. They’re unstable and inherently unsafe. Also they tend to have really high disk loading and really bad downwash.

        Anyways, some reading material for you two:

        Click to access osprey.pdf


      3. “I’m leaning toward the max capacity and have a CAS airplane escort.”

        Same here.

        “Yikes, that would mean losing an entire force every 5 or so sorties.”

        Every 5 combat sorties, most sorties were not combat but rather transport and scouting.

        “Apparently at one point, they were losing more bombers than killing people on the ground!”

        Something like that…

        “(we’re talking >60% against an enemy with air superiority).”

        80% or more at times…


      4. Edit – clarification on statement:

        “Apparently at one point, they were losing more bombers than killing people on the ground!’

        By that I mean that the number of dead bomber crews exceeded the death toll of people killed on the ground from strategic bombing.


  5. “Every 5 combat sorties, most sorties were not combat but rather transport and scouting.”

    For attack helicopters though, most of their sorties will be combat. Transport is done by transport choppers and there are lighter choppers that do the equivalent of FAC for choppers.

    Let’s remember too that the 5 was during Vietnam. I’d shudder to think about how long attack helicopters would last during a war against an opponent with good AA weaponry.


    1. @Chris

      From what I read in Aviation Week 2 months ago the the JMR program (which I don’t know in which realation is with the FVL program but I’m leaning on it being a technological demonstrator for it) is still ongoing there are four designs in the competition, 2 tilltrotors and 2 coaxial compound helicopters (a fancy way of saying vertical take-off gyrocopter 🙂 ). And also the Army insisted on 2 of the competitors being small start-ups.
      So on the tilt-rotor front we have:
      1) Bells entry which has powerplants of the fuselage and a complicated mechanism to transmit rotation to the rotors mounted on the tip of the wings cruise speed 280 kn
      2) Karem Aircraft which offers an Optimum Speed Tiltrotor. A tiltrotor with the Powerplants and rotors mounted at Mid-Wing with the outer parts of the wings tilting with the rotors and the inner parts having very large flaps. The gimick of this design is that it varies the speed of the rotor to better adapt to flight regime, therfore it has smaller rotors then the Bell entry and aparantlly better hover and cruise performance with aa level flight speed of 360 kn.

      On the compound coaxial rotor front we have:

      1) The Boeing-Sikorsky Defiant based on Sikorsks’s X2 demonstrator. Coaxial Rotor with pusher propeller. Cruise Speed 230 kn.
      2) AVX Aircraft. Coaxial Rotors with dual ducted fans. Cruise speed 230 kn.

      My 2 cents on the matter is that US Army is going completely the wrong way. Practically it wants to choose a single lift and propulsion system for 4 classes of weight and roles. Even an idiot can see that the heavy and super-heavy tasks are better suited to a tilt-rotor or quad tilt-rotor design, while the scout and utility task are better served by the coaxial rotor design, or even better by shrouded fans like the choppers in James Cameron’s Avatar.


      1. The problem is that the tilt rotor choppers probably won’t be the powerhouse lifters that you think they are.

        Tilt rotors have to make compromises in their performance. They need large flat blades as helicopters (minimize disk loading) and small twisted blades as planes (best efficiency for flying). They’ve got a compromise between the two, so cargo capacity is likely going to suffer.


  6. @Chris

    You got a wrong impression of me. I’m not a fan of tiltrotors. Frankly I consider that the simplest and most logical solution if you want to combine the speed of aircraft with the vertical lift of helicopters is to put a rotor in each wing and have them covered in straight flight and used only for vertical flight, like the US Army experimented with the Ryan XV-5 (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_XV-5 ). The design had one rotor in each wing and a third smaller rotor in the nose. It had a maximum conventional take-off weight of 6129 kg and a VTOL take-off weight of 5579 kg and was powered by a pair of J-85-GE-5 turbojet engines each of 11.92 kN. See the problem. The thrust to weight ratio of the jet at VTOL weight was bellow 1 in fact in was bellow 0.5. So how did this thing take-off vertically (and yes it did take-off vertically and did several transitions from vertical to horizontal flight and back). Well at vertical take-off the covers of the rotors opened and the jet was diverted so that it turned the rotors which in turn produced thrust. Seeing as under Mach 0.3 rotors are much more efficient as jets or turbofans about 71.2 kN of thrust were produced when the engines operated at maximum thrust setting ( the same power level they would have used on conventional take-off). The aircraft could even hover like a helicopter as the fuel consumption at hover was similar to a helicopter. It was even tested in a rescue role that required it to hover and lift a person in an internal compartment. The concept was abandoned but not because of fuel consumption but because the rescued victim tended to be “ingested” by the rotors :mrgreen: All in all a much more efficient and simple method, seeing as it used off-the-shelf power plants not custom produced ones such as the Olympus (on the Harrier), then thrust vectoring or that huge complicated maintenance intensive monster the F-35 is trying to push on us.
    The only problem with the design was the transition from vertical flight to horizontal flight and back that was steep and required a lot of concentration on the part of the pilot (which is also a big problem on the Harrier, tilt-rotors and even helicopters). And this problem led to the abandonment of the project when one of the 15 test pilots died when the first prototype crashed in the second or third year of testing during a transition. This problem might have been resolved by a modern Fly-By-Wire system had the concept not been completely abandoned. My personal opinion is that this concept was the victim of the internecine fighting between USAF and US Army.
    What do you guys thing of a CAS aircraft build with such a vertical take-off system? Or an V-22 sized aircraft using this system to transport 20 or so air-mobile troops?

    As for the Super-Heavy category I wouldn’t assign it to tilt-rotors. I would research hybrid airships. I find them the simplest and most efficient solution to this problem. Designs with payloads of up to 1000 tonnes, capable of VTOL and rough-field operations have been proposed. And according to some studies did by USAF in the 70s, airships are much more resistant to damage then conventional aircraft when properly designed (no H2 😀 ). The studies involved airships used for AWACS. Their large size allowed them to carry huge phased array radars. Also if correctly designed they were capable of taking several missile hits and still continue to operate.


    1. Ah, that would explain much on tilt rotors.

      To be honest, I’ve been wondering if fixed wing tactical air lift aircraft could replace a significant proportion of cargo helicopters as well. Have an airborne cargo aircraft do low altitude paradrops along with equipment (the Russians have made some pretty impressive progress in this area).

      It will not completely replace helicopters of course, but in a lot of areas, it could.

      “What do you guys thing of a CAS aircraft build with such a vertical take-off system? ”

      Hard to say to be honest. It’s never been tried, but it has potential.

      “As for the Super-Heavy category I wouldn’t assign it to tilt-rotors. I would research hybrid airships.”

      Helium airships could potentially work. I recall seeing some studies as a substitute for ships as well in some ways to get troops long distances.


  7. You know what should fix this?? An automated aircraft plant that can completely repair, maintain and build aircraft for free. That could give us at least about a thousand F-22 Raptors.


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