Since UAVs are very bad at actual observation (except maybe as an inexpensive help for individual infantry platoons, controlled by those same platoons), this aircraft will also be manned. Aside from this concern, UAVs are also not adaptable.
First airborne FACs appeared during World War I. In that war, aircraft were employed for surveillance due to ground commander’s difficulties in interpreting the unfolding battlespace. First aircraft used had a crew of two, a pilot and an observer who would sketch the situation for the ground commander; information was later used to make battlefield maps, and aircraft also helped in directing artillery barrages. This led directly to development of CAS fighters and interceptors: some observers started dropping small bombs from aircraft on enemy positions or strafe trenches with guns, and both sides tried to prevent the enemy scouting.
Observations made were often inaccurate – strength of enemy formations could be misreported by thousands. However, information was provided far sooner by airborne observers than by other means, though development of CAS (and thus FAC) doctrine was being neglected in favor of failed strategic bombing deep behind enemy lines; only in 1917 did France and Germany realize its true value.
Interwar period led to the separation of FAC and CAS duties, since performing CAS often led to the FACs neglecting their primary duty. Only US Marine Corps, having no separate air service, was able to concentrate aircraft on CAS duties. And while World War II led to many (soon forgotten) improvements in carrying out CAS missions, appearance of airborne forward air controller had to wait until Korean war. While doctrine did permit use of airborne FAC in air-to-ground operations, there was no equipment allocated for such function, nor was any training undertaken specifically for the mission.
Forward controller did appear during World War II, but he was located on the ground, guiding aircraft to targets in his view. First such use was during battle of El Hamma in North Africa, and then in Battle of Salerno. Large scale employment of forward ground controllers happened during march up Italy; they would describe target and its AA defenses to friendly pilots. Similar system was used in the Pacific. Still, there were no airborne FACs; closest thing to airborne FAC to appear were reconnaissance aircraft, which could call artillery strikes on target, and would sometimes request airstrike, physically leading fighters to the target.
In Korea, after jet fighters (F-80 and F-86) had proven themselves too fast and with too limited loiter time to serve as an effective FACs, airborne Air Force FACs flying T-6 Texan aircraft marked targets for air strike with 60 mm marking rockets, or coordinated artillery smoke shells as a common reference point. During retreat, ground FACs were unable to coordinate strikes for fast jets, which had only 20 minutes on station, and this duty fell to the airborne FACs (known as Mosquitos). On 9th July 1950, Mosquitos were first used for direct air strikes, with two FACs arriving into target area ahead of 20 F-80s and guiding them into attacks on enemy positions. Same aircrews controlled F-80s next day, resulting in 17 North Korean tanks destroyed. Additionally, Mosquitos performed tactical reconnaissance over the front line, and were soon given authority to autonomously call for air strikes when required.
It wasn’t unusal for Army observers to fly in back seats of T-6s, a practice that had started within one month of the FAC operation. And with time, observers became familiar with environment they were operating in, greatly increasing their effectiveness – a worn out path or increased number of cooking fires in a village were possible indications of enemy activity in the area. Crews themselves concluded that an ideal FAC aircraft operated at low altitude, slow speed, provided good visibility for the pilot, had long endurance, good mobility and a robust communications package, excluding jet aircraft as FAC platforms. When squadrons flying T-6s were asked if they would like to switch to the O-1 Birddog, they noted its vulnerability to the ground fire.
A/FACs duties during the Korean war included tactical reconnaissance, locating and observing “refugee” groups in order to identify guerilla units, control of air strikes in vicinity of friendly troops, and control of pre-planned air strikes, penetrating reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines, dropping leaflets, continuous cover of convoys, search for bypassed enemy troops, covering advances of small units, providing transportation for isolated ground FACs, special weather missions. These missions grew from nature of FAC operations and characteristics of FAC aircraft, which must operate at least from first to last light. In the first 18 months of the Mosquito’s existence, 93% of all close support sorties were controlled from the air; Mosquito also became primary source of intelligence for the Joint Operations Center, and often performed visual reconnaissance both within the bombline and behind the enemy lines, as well as battlefield interdiction missions; after landing, pilots were debriefed at squadron for information on the enemy movements and positions, but understaffed nature of squadron intelligence sections prevented accurate and timely analysis and interpretation of data. Mosquitos were most usual source of CAS requests, and also often provided only reliable communication links for ROK units. Later on, system was additionally decentralized by introducing the C-47 Mosquito Mellow, which performed on-site command and control (such as tasking orders so that ammunition carried by strike aircraft is adequatly used) and in process cut the centralized and inefficient Joint Operations Center out of the loop. Mosquitos would also select what ordnance of avaliable would aircraft use.
First technique used for relaying target’s location to the attack aircraft was description via radio; this however had a high failure rate and clogged up the communications channel. Thus alternate methods of “wagging” wings in a descriptive manner (first used by a Mosquito whose radio went out during a first week of airborne FAC operations), executing a diving pass on the target and flying alongside fighter at the target and relaying need for correction in fighter’s gun shots were used. Aside from these descriptive techniques, FACs used target marking. In July 1950, first technique was devised; it consisted of dropping smoke-emitting or white-phosporous hand grenades from the T-6. However, it was difficult to drop the grenade accurately, and only 30% of grenades continued to smoke after hitting the ground; also existed a problem of prematurely-detonating grenades which could damage the Mosquito. About the same time, Mosquitos began carrying pistol flares, which like the grenades were inaccurate and had short duration of smoke. Third technique used artillery fire, with artillery burst being a reference point from which a vector and a distance to the target were given. In July, T-6s were outfitted with 2,36 in white-phosphorous HE rockets to mark the target. Rockets proved satisfactorily accurate and easily visible from the air. As a consequence of introducing the rockets, a reduction in radio transmission and increase in effectiveness and accuracy of attacks was observed. Marking rockets were also an effective weapon in their own right.
After the strike, A/FAC performed a bomb damage assessment. If target has not been neutralized, he asseses ability of the strike aircraft under his immediate control to perform a second attack in terms of remaining weapons and fuel endurance. If fighter can satisfy the requirements, strike is repeated; if not, fighter is released to return to the base, and a second fighter is called in, or requested from central command if none are avaliable under direct A/FACs command (or in its area of responsibility, if division is geographic). If target has been neutralized, FAC informes the pilot of attack aircraft to that effect, and assesses its ability to carry out a second attack and stay on station. After attack aircraft has either been determined to have a sufficient persistence remaining, or has been released and replaced with a fresh aircraft, FAC searches for additional targets. If none are found in its area of responsibility, FAC returns control of fighters assigned to him to a higher command, for a reassignment to an FAC that does have targets, and himself either returns to base or continues to provide visual reconnaissance. Mosquitos assigned directly to division as FACs were generally not allowed to perform deep reconnaissance by the ground commander, as doing so would prevent getting timely and effective CAS if needed. This however prevented Mosquitos from performing reconnaissance of the area behind the enemy lines (and even in 21st century, low-altitude recon is more effective than either ground, high-altitude or satellite recon) or supporting the behind-the-lines battlefield interdiction.
During the defense of the Pusan perimeter, USAF was short on the ground attack aircraft and Navy was asked to contribute some. Due to the difficulties in communication and limited endurance of Navy aircraft, same were eventually allowed to bypass the TACC and go straight to the Mosquitoes. After the first month, US ceased the practice of rotating aircraft over the entire front, as they realized that an observer who is familiar with the area can discover presence of enemy forces through changes in the terrain – such as color changes in the foliage.
Presence of FACs allowed UN commanders to monitor the entire frontline area, and restricted the enemy logistics and movement capability since trucks and trains are clearly visible from the air. Mosquitos did not operate during the night due to the insufficient number of aircraft for around-the-clock operations, lack of basic navigational equipment and difficulty of procuring strike aircraft at night. However, FAC losses were heavy, with one loss every 320 sorties (or 1 loss every 889 flying hours). As time passed, and importance of FACs was realized, flak damage to Mosquitos began to increase. In response, and due to difficulties in obtaining information from higher altitudes, Mosquitos began flying as low as 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground; for general reconnaissance, however, they flew at 1.200 to 1.500 feet (350 to 450 meters), even though 6.000 feet (1.800 meters) had been established as a minimum safe altitude.
In aircraft design, survivability was an important concern, with vital areas being armored. In fact, it often took precedence over the visibility, with T-6 being preferred over the L-5 and L-19. High wing was preferred for visibility towards the ground, however main obstacle in the T-6 was a relatively small canopy. It was still important to have a clear view upwards in order to see the aircraft being controlled; this view high wing obstructed. While some preferred twin-engined designs for survivability, actual usefulness of that measure is unclear, with chief causes of FAC casualties being pilot injury and fuel tank punctures. Preferred cruise speed was between 130 and 300 knots. High climb rate was also considered essential in order to avoid the ground fire after dropping low to mark or observe a target, and aircraft had to be maneuverable and responsive at slow speeds (one Mosquito discovered a set of tank tracks and followed them at an altitude of 10 feet). But most important concerns were possibly range and endurance, with ORO group suggesting seven-hour endurance as optimum, and T-6 was continually modified in order to increase the range; in the end, T-6 had range of over 1.000 miles. Group also suggested two seats, for the pilot and for the observer, with Carlton suggesting a third seat for the radio observer. Two seats would preferrably be in a tandem arrangement (observer behind the pilot) to allow observer better visibility. FAC aircraft were also preferably armed, in order to suppress any defenses, and destroy targets that do not require heavy firepower themselves so they don’t have to wait for the strike package (which might not even be avaliable at the time). However, such light targets sometimes presented potential build up points for the enemy forces, and thus opportunity for far more lucrative air strikes in the future. Ordnance also increased drag and reduced range, especially bombs. It was however generally agreed than FAC should have machine guns, preferably in .50 (12,7 mm) caliber, and mixing HE rockets with WP ones.
After Korean war, all lessons were (again, and fully intentionally) forgotten by the USAF. Increasing sophistication of ground threats resulted in claims that future FACs will have to be jet-powered, and US Strike Command manual on joint task force operations, released after Korean War, did not even mention airborne FACs. USAF was quickly left with no personnel, organization or equipment for airborne FAC operations.
In 1950, United States became involved in the Vietnam war with establishment of Military Assistance Advisory Group Indochina (MAACV-I), formed to help French forces stop Ho Chi Minh’s liberation campaign. France withdrew in the 1954, leaving a power vacuum after failling to establish a credible leadership in the South Vietnam. Until 1961, US assistance remained limited to low-scale training of South Vietnamese troops. But after Nikita Khruschev’s proclamation about USSR focusing on “national wars of liberation”, US DoD decided to established doctrines for counter-insurgency warfare; US Army and Navy established units specifically trained for unconventional warfare.
T-28B two-seater turboprop aircraft were given to the South Vietnamese; they could fly at slow speeds, loiter for hours and carry a large ordnance load. Aircraft selected received armor plating around vital components and cockpit, two .50 cal machine guns and ability to carry rockets and bombs. Crew usually consisted of an American pilot and a Vietnamese observer.
Early in 1962, with VietCong attacks against convoys increasing, president Kennedy escalated US involvement. This included FAC aircraft being used to monitor convoy progression and providing CAS when needed. Through the first half of 1963, no Vietcong managed to ambush convoys escorted by O-1 aircraft, while unescorted convoys were frequently attacked. Soon an Air Operations Center was established, centralizing control; just as in World War II and Korea, this had a negative effect on CAS aircraft performance, greatly increasing response time. South Vietnamese FACs were further hampered by two reasons: Diem’s insistence on personally approving any air strikes (fortunately, he soon lifted that requirement), and standing policy of South Vietnamese government encouraging severe punishment to VNAF FACs who landed with aircraft damaged by ground fire, or accidentally harmed friendly troops. These problems made Vietnamese FACs very passive and basically useless.
O-1 Birddog aircraft was small and capable of operating from remote air strips or dirt roads as short as 300 meters. They carried smoke rockets and were outfitted with an extra radio attached to back of pilot’s seat. Problem was that its engine was insufficiently powerful to power both radios at once, restricting its ability to communicate with both attacking aircraft and ground forces at once.
In January 1963, a negative development happened: in order to boost number of aircraft in the area, CINPAC ADM Harry Felt dropped the requirement for FAC personnel to have COIN training. By next month, Farm Gate detachment consisted of 42 aircraft and 275 personnell.
By 1964, VietCong and North Vietnamese Army alike had started using larger-calibre AA weapons. At the same time, US replaced the T-28 with larger A-1E, which could fly further and carry more ordnance. On 9th March 1965, 1st Air Commando Squadron aircraft were allowed to participate in combat operations in South Vietnam, without Vietnamese aircrews aboard and under US markings.
As of January 1965, there were 144 USAF airborne FACs in South Vietnam, a number set to drastically increase with full commitment of US forces later that year. ROE called for FACs to control all ordnance dropped in the South Vietnam.
While AFACs in Vietnam were very useful for directing air strikes, very often enemy would not be in the area once fast movers arrived. Thus FAC aircraft took to carrying their own armament, in effect turning into light CAS aircraft.
Various aircraft were utilized as AFACs during Vietnam war, but all had problems. O-1 was a light aircraft which only carried White Phosporous rockets for target marking and had no armament of its own. It was also slow; while this attribute is very useful for FAC aircraft – slow speed and low operating altitude are actually requirement for FAC – it had no armor, could not operate at night and did not have enough radios. O-2 had similar strengths and weaknesses as the O-1, but its two engines provided it with extra power, and it carried greater payload of smoke rockets. OV-10 and F-4 could carry their own weapons, but payload would not last for entire mission, and F-4 was too fast to serve as an effective AFAC.
FACs were usually colocated with troops they were supporting, O-1 Bird Dog had very long loiter time, as did OV-10 Bronco. OV-10 looked similar to P-38 Lightning, but could withstand 7 g turns, and both climbed and accelerated quickly; this allowed it to fly unpredictably, evading enemy fire. It was designed to give pilots very good view of the ground. Construction was very simple, and every system had a backup. Being armed allowed OV-10s to answer 78 of 98 CAS requests through April 4 to June 13, 1969, by themselves, and with average response time of seven minutes. OV-10s were first used by USMC in 1968, flying from Da Nang air field. Observers were primarly Bronco-qualified ground commanders and artillery officers. FACs in Laos and Cambodia used similar operating procedures.
When delivering weapons in close proximity to friendly troops FAC had to know where weapons would impact, which was done by observing the target and delivery aircraft’s nose position; gun was the preferred weapon for supporting troops in contact. But most important, and demanding, problem was actually finding and identifying the targets. More elusive enemy is, lower the FAC had to fly in order to find him; but after North Vietnamese Army augmented the VietCong and brought .50 cal weapons into the South, losses began to mount. US and ARVN could only gain intelligence through reports of locals, or by aircraft spotting the enemy. Pilots were assigned to individual sectors, becoming familiar with their operating areas; fresh tracks, smoke from places it should not appear in, too many farmers in the fields could all indicate VC or NVA presence in the area. Water buffalos were also moved into houses if peasants expected a firefight, providing possibly the best indicator.
While fast FACs were used in Vietnam, it was only in high-threat environments with insufficient terrain cover. Even then, they tended to delegate duty to slower turboprop FACs whenever possible. In 1968, F-4 Phantom II started being used as the FAC. As it originally lacked internal gun, it had a 20 mm gun bolted to the underside of the fuselage; this increased drag and thus fuel consumption, but provided needed suppression. Large engine intakes at the each side of the aircraft obscured ground view for the rear observer. F-4 was also easely detected by enemy gunners due to its large size and smoke its engines produced. It had some positive characteristics, such as ability to carry ECM gear.
After the Vietnam war, all lessons were again (intentionally) forgotten by Strategic Bomber Mafia dominating USAF (their latest “success” is pushing the strategic-bombardment-only F-35 as a “multirole” platform). Large-scale FAC programs were discontinued in all US services except the Marine Corps.
1991 Operation Desert Storm was the first test for airborne FACs after the Vietnam War. Marines had replaced OA-4 Skyhawk FACs with two seat F/A-18Ds in 1989, performing fast-FAC mission and integrating with slow OV-10s. They had also introduced concept of helicopter-based FAC, using AH-1 Super Cobra and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. Helicopter FACs were used to control and correct artillery fire, including battleship 16-in shells.
When fast jets operated on their own, they produced neglible results, dropping expensive ammunitions on decoys or previously destroyed targets, while having trouble finding well camouflaged and/or dug-in targets. They were not given the authority to descend to altitudes that would allow them to visually spot the enemy, nor did they have capability to loiter while looking for targets. OA-10s and F-16s flying as “Killer Scouts” frequently violated altitude restrictions, allowing pilots to spot targets with binoculars. Brigadier General Buster Glosson said that the Killer Scouts “increased the effectiveness of the F-16 force three- or four- -fold”.
Naval F-14s and F-18s also operated as FACs, with first batch of F-14 pilots being taught by Marine instructors. Along with Marine schooling, Navy also adopted a requirement for all FAC aircraft to be two-seaters. USMC believed that the mission was too important and physically demanding for one pilot to accomplish it alone safely (indeed, several fratricide incidents caused by the A-10 can be blamed on altitude restrictions and on A-10 being the single-seater).
In 2001, Special Operations troops and CIA paramilitary forces were inserted into Afghanistan to bolster the indigenous North Alliance. Afghani aircraft, bases and air defenses was quickly over, which led to the war becoming a FAC-run affair. GPS guided weapons were quick to cause fratricide, proving for the Nth time that technology alone is not an adequate answer. Thus ground FACs were paired to attack aircraft or to airborne FACs.
In 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, FACs practiced with SOFs, allowing latter to capture two air fields in western Iraq on 20 March 2003, despite presence of IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems). In the north, few hundred SOF and airborne paratroopers effectively coordinated with airborne FAC-directed CAS to tie up entire Iraqi divisions.
Basic requirements can thus be listed as follows:
- slow cruise speed
- good endurance (at least 7 hours)
- small size
- good maneuverability
- 1 engine
- robust construction
- two-man crew (tandem seating)
- good cockpit visibility
- rough field, dirt strip and road base operating capability
- STOL capability
- good visibility for pilot and the observer
- ability to carry 60 mm rockets for marking targets, and armament for CAS strikes and suppression (12,7 mm MG, rockets, bombs)
- high climb rate
- 1-2 radios
Aircraft will use PT6A-68C turboprop engine, which is 1,83 m long with 483 mm diameter, weights 200 kg , provides 1.262 kW of power, and has fuel consumption of 227 kg per hour at maximum power and 62 kg/h at cruise. Armament will consist of internal 12,7 mm machine guns, and wing hardpoints capable of carrying bombs, rockets and gun pods.
Length: 8,82 m
Wingspan: 8,6 m
Height: 1,94 m
Wing area: 14 m2
Empty weight: 1.750 kg
Internal fuel capacity: 542,6 kg
Combat takeoff weight: 3.281 kg
Combat weight: 3.010 kg
Patrol weight: 2.102 kg
Maximum takeoff weight: 3.940 kg
Maximum speed: 475 kph
Cruise speed: 450 kph
Endurance: 9 hours
Range: 3.825 km
Combat radius: 1.850 km
G limits: +7/-3
Wing loading: 150 kg/m2 patrol, 215 kg/m2 combat
4 x 12,7 mm FN Herstal M3P, 950 rpm, 180 rounds each
4 hardpoints with 1.000 kg capacity
* HVAR (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket)
* Mk.81 general purpose bomb
* Mk 82 general purpose bomb
* Mk 117 general purpose bomb
disposable jammers/decoys (optional)
Unit flyaway cost: 2.349.000 USD
Cost per hour of flight: 352 USD
Unit cost is calculated by using that of Tucano which costs 2.430.000 USD and weights 1.810 kg, for 1.342,5 USD/kg.
Centerline: 7.056 cm2 * 78 cm = 550.368 cm3
Inboard: 2 * 4.740 cm2 * 5 cm = 47.400 cm3
Outboard: 2 * 7.714 cm2 * 5 cm = 77.140 cm3
Total: 674.908 cm3 = 674,91 l = 542,6 kg
Cruise consumption is assumed as 11 km per litre due to OLXs smaller size compared to Super Tucano’s.
Each .50 cal round weights 112 g. 4 Mk.82 bombs weight 908 kg.
Air superiority fighter proposal 6
55 thoughts on “Forward air controller aircraft proposal revised”
why not just buy the Super Tucano off the shelf?
A bit too expensive (around 10 million USD, I believe).
you are right about the prices but then what you have specified above is the Super Tucano, including its engine but you give it the price of the non-super Tucano (which uses the PT6A engine and its production stopped in the 90’s).
Now I understand that you want a generic plane that will be produced by NATO countries but I doubt that they can design an air-frame (or license it), setup a production line and start producing FAC’s for less than $10 million per plane; in my very humble opinion.
I believe that most of Super Tucano’s cost is in avionics (IIRC, it even has FLIR and ability to use laser-guided munitions), whereas I kept complexity to minimum with this aircraft.
Clarification: I meant the Tucano uses the 25C while the Super Tucano and your plane uses the 68C engine.
As I said, there are avionics to consider, and then there is the fact that Super Tucano is 29% longer, has 29,5% larger wing span, and weights 83% more.
The other issue I see is cooperation with ground forces. Right now no air force really does a great job of it, the way that its really needed between FAC, the ground forces, and CAS.
Also, there appear to be 4 MGs, not 2.
“The other issue I see is cooperation with ground forces. Right now no air force really does a great job of it, the way that its really needed between FAC, the ground forces, and CAS. ”
True, whcich is why I think that at least some CAS/FAC aircraft should be permanently assigned to the ground units, and pilots and especially observers should be versed in infantry and armor tactics so that they can be actually effective in their job (which is yet another reason why using multirole aircraft for CAS is the height of idiocy).
“Also, there appear to be 4 MGs, not 2.”
Thanks for warning me. I originally mounted only 2, but when I decided that it will double as a light CAS aircraft (it has to, since in COIN warfare, enemy is too mobile for FAC to call in CAS aircraft or even fast ground-attack jets – by the time they get there, the enemy has disappeared), I decided on 4 MGs, but forgot to fix it in text.
What’s funny is that most air forces don’t have a FAC. Money cannot be the bottleneck as this type of plane is not too costly. A simple WWII era aircraft could do this job well.
I wonder if 2x 20mm is worth thinking about?
I’d imagine aircraft like this would have to “hug” the ground? It’s not a very durable aircraft, not really meant for action as much as trying to find things.
Most air forces don’t have any interest in close air support, so they don’t need FAC.
“I’d imagine aircraft like this would have to “hug” the ground?”
Very much. But it is primarly meant for low-intensity conflicts.
Even as a pure, low cost recon platform, I could see this having a use. It costs no more than a light tank. I guess it makes too much sense for most militaries.
I wonder, would you use CAS aircraft as FAC in intense nation state type conflicts? Or something like this still for nation state conflicts? This does have the advantage of being more cost effective although using a CAS aircraft has the advantage of being able to inflict more damage too.
“I guess it makes too much sense for most militaries.”
Unfortunately, I have to agree.
“I wonder, would you use CAS aircraft as FAC in intense nation state type conflicts?”
Probably, though OLX could still be useful outside main fighting.
It seems like each generation, everything is being built bigger and more complex. F-16 would have been considered a very avionics laden aircraft at one point. Nowadays, an F-16 could be considered austere compared to most newer machines.
That and there is not that feedback on what makes a good aircraft. Even if there were, the defense industry would probably ignore it.
I think looking at Russia, there is one thing I will give them credit for. They do correct their mistakes eventually.
When Germany attacked in 1941, it was in a terrible state. The Red Army had suffered quite a few Stalinist purges. But if you think about what they accomplished in a few short years, it’s quite impressive, even if it did come at an appalling human toll. Things like the Il-2 were eventually built, even if the pilots were less than competent. Some decisions were right from the start, like the T-34, which they stuck to. The command structure was re-orienting itself slowly and by the end, there were some good commanders that showed some degree of initiative.
A few years ago, I had a buddy of mine tell me about Afghanistan (he had friends of his family that had participated in that war). That war and the Russian actions in Chechnya have heavily influenced vehicle design there. They are moving away for example from wheeled vehicles.
The Su-27 is not an example of a “right” aircraft (too large and the successive models are too avionics-laden). It was designed as a result of Vietnam. But if you consider that before that, they had been bomber interceptors mostly, it’s an impressive achievement for its size. They also had the good sense to make it rough field capable. The air frame design is pretty well designed. They choose medium swept wings because they realized that it would need to be a good dogfighter. Basically, if it were smaller, single engined, and more electronic austere, it’d be a pretty dangerous aircraft. I think that were Russia to get into an air war, it would end up being like Vietnam, where they’d learn the lessons for the future. Right now, they are going the wrong way with PAK FA and their PAK DA.
Also, there has been changes in how the Russians organize. Smaller divisions, air borne mobility for quick response. The Russian army has changed considerably since the end of the USSR.
From what I understand, they did make some changes to tank design and anti-tank tactics as a result of the Gulf War. That said, I think the poor training of the Iraqi army proved to be a bigger failure than anything else.
They are also not retiring their Su-25s. I get the feeling they understand the importance of CAS. That being said, I think the Su-34 is an over-expensive mistake of sorts. More recently, they’ve sold Su-25s to Iraq apparently to fight ISIS (smart enough to know that this is the best type of plane for the job, vs the Americans who sold them F-16s).
I think that one serious problem the West has compared to Russia is that for all of it’s flaws, Russia does have some degree (not all, but some), some degree of self-correction.
When I look at the US war in Iraq, there does not seem to be a new generation of reformers. The Korean War led to a generation of defense mavericks. So did Vietnam. The current crop, the Boyd cadre I would argue is one of them. But this generation there doesn’t seem to be anything like that. The establishment won. The mavericks are silenced. All the establishment says is, “give us more money”. The problem is, lack of money is not responsible for the defeats of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It seems like each generation, everything is being built bigger and more complex.”
True. And what’s worse, only a minor part of it brings any real advantage in terms of performance.
“I think looking at Russia, there is one thing I will give them credit for. They do correct their mistakes eventually. ”
So did United States… but US always forget all the lessons, while Russians still tend to build their hardware sturdy.
To be fair, part of Su-27s size is due to size of Russia. At least some FLanker variants have fuel fraction of nearly 40%, which is impressive. When you take a look at my FLX design, it simply wouldn’t work as a main fighter for Russia… it is simply too short ranged (cca 1.000 km combat radius).
“Basically, if it were smaller, single engined, and more electronic austere, it’d be a pretty dangerous aircraft.”
It already is. It is outmatched by Rafale, Gripen and Typhoon, but other than these three, it can handle anything in the NATO inventory (pity USAF screwed up the F-16).
“Right now, they are going the wrong way with PAK FA and their PAK DA.”
True, but even so, PAK FA seems to be optimized less for stealth and more for maneuverability when compared to just about any other “stealth” fighter out there.
“I get the feeling they understand the importance of CAS.”
Su-25s actually had a few losses in Chechenya. Why? Because Russian Air Force did not institute (to my knowledge) an altitude limit, like USAF regularly did. As a result, Su-25s suffered more losses, but were also more effective.
“More recently, they’ve sold Su-25s to Iraq apparently to fight ISIS (smart enough to know that this is the best type of plane for the job, vs the Americans who sold them F-16s). ”
A smart move, true, but I get the impression that Americans only care about getting money. So it isn’t so much that USAF doesn’t know that only the A-10 can carry out the quality CAS, as it is that it doesn’t care.
“The establishment won. The mavericks are silenced.”
Worst part? It doesn’t seem to be limited to military.
Did they though?
When I look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other smaller conflicts, I’m not sure they learned the lessons.
Lessons that have not been learned
– Heavy civilian casualties anger the locals
– You must provide for their economic welfare
– Don’t dismantle all existing structures (ex: the Iraqi Army)
– If you say you’re going to rebuild, you gotta deliver
– Crony capitalism is bad
– Super-expensive ground weapons don’t work that well
– Drones don’t work well
– Don’t torture
– Fuel efficiency is important
– Wheeled vehicles don’t work very well in soft soil
– Listen to the mavericks
We could put together a longer list than this, but the point is that the lessons were not learned.
True that – size.
Su-35S or Su-35BM has a fuel fraction as high as .42, while the Pak-fa is estimated at .36, although I have heard the final design may be higher. Either way, it, or the existing Su-27 fleet is more than a match for the JSF. Perhaps the FLX would be best compared not to the Su-27, but to the Mig-29, which is the smaller sister of the Su-27 in some ways. IIRC Mig-29 is also about .31, which is on the lower side.
To an extent I guess the large size = better range is true. But it comes down to how that large size is used. Concorde was about .55 fuel fraction. The Tu-160 has a maximum fuel capacity of 148,000 kg for example and typical combat take-off is 276,600 kg. I don’t think they fill it up to 100%, but even at 95%, that is .51.
I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic. We need a range calculation that adjusts for fuel fraction then for the lift-drag of the aircraft. For example, a JSF will have a shorter range owing to its design that comparable aircraft with a similar fuel fraction.
It’s a trade-off. I mean CAS aircraft are at maximum survivability at very high altitude or very low (ex: <20m).
“I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic. We need a range calculation that adjusts for fuel fraction then for the lift-drag of the aircraft. For example, a JSF will have a shorter range owing to its design that comparable aircraft with a similar fuel fraction. ”
Edit: Brain freeze there.
Breguet’s aircraft range equation already does this.
Click to access Breguet-Range-U2-notes-Fall08%282%29.pdf
“Did they though? ”
Well, they did learn some lessons during WWII (extensive provision for CAS, importance of providing infantry with a better rifle, importance of logistics), but they have forgotten them after the war.
“Lessons that have not been learned”
To be fair, US are currently run by MICC, so it might not be as much inability to learn the lessons as outright unwillingness. For military industry, an extensive period of peace is the worst thing that can happen.
“IIRC Mig-29 is also about .31, which is on the lower side.”
Yes, but it was always intended as a short range point defense interceptor, not as an air superiority fighter. As a consequence it has quite high wing loading. And as I wrote, you have to be an octopus to operate it properly.
“I think that fuel fraction in and of itself may not be the best statistic.”
Generally, it is a good indicator of combat persistence, but that assumes comparable aerodynamic efficiency. For a real calculation, you need fuel fraction, aspect ratio, wetted area and engine type. F-35 has high fuel fraction, but it also has high span loading (1.707 kg/m at combat weight, compare to 1.165 kg/m for Rafale or 1.046 kg/m for Gripen C) which leads to large vortex drag in both level flight and turn, high wing loading (428 kg/m2 at combat weight, as opposed to 275 kg/m2 for Rafale and 314 kg/m2 for Gripen) which means that it needs higher angle of attack to maintain level flight at the same speed, and very fat, unaerodynamic body, which means that it has very high baseline drag. As a result, F-35 is the only one of aircraft I compared here to require maximum dry thrust in order to sustain Mach 0,9 – all three Eurocanards can supercruise (yes, even Gripen C). Its engine also has highest specific fuel consumption of three – 0,886 kg/kgh, compared to 0,78 kg/kgh for M88-2 and 0,844 kg/kgh for RM12. But among the Eurocanards, fuel fraction is a good indicator of combat persistence – Rafale has the highest persistence, Typhoon is in the middle, and Gripen has the lowest persistence. (EDIT: Granted, that may also have to do with engine efficiency, but EJ200 is actually more fuel efficient than the M88-2, at 0,74 kg/kgh).
You do have a good point there.
Out of curiosity, what kind of fighter would you build for Russia for vast areas?
Personally I would have built something like the Su-27, but with a tailless delta rather than the tailed delta.
Radar should be deleted. In its place, you could put a truly large aperture IRST system too.
More guns or a higher calibre gun could also have been used.
The nose too could be narrowed for higher angles of attack without the radar.
Combine this with the weight savings (even a large IRST would not weigh nearly as much as a radar), you would have a very high fuel fraction aircraft.
Perhaps instead of 2 jet engines, build the aircraft with one giant engine? It would make for a very formidable long range aircraft and bomber interceptor.
If it got into a dogfight, it’s wing loading means that it could probably hold its own and the higher fuel fraction may make it able to simply outlast a smaller opponent.
The higher fuel fraction could also be translated into somewhat faster speed so the odds of being bounced by surprise would be reduced.
The Russians also have one other big advantage. They are one of the leaders when it comes to titanium, which I guess you could consider heavy use of.
It’d be a mixed fleet I’d build. FLX like fighters for along the Western border near Europe (where numbers matter), and that large bomber interceptor for Siberia.
It’s interesting that of all the aircraft for Canada, perhaps the Su-27 would be the best choice. That may be because the territory of Siberia and Northern Canada is very similar. I fear though our air force has been deliberately stacking the cards for the JSF. Sighs.
“Personally I would have built something like the Su-27, but with a tailless delta rather than the tailed delta. ”
“– More guns or a higher calibre gun could also have been used.”
Eh, no. Su-27 already uses 30 mm gun, what it needs is higher rate of fire and better reliability, not higher calibre.
“– The nose too could be narrowed for higher angles of attack without the radar.”
That, and better over-the-nose visibility.
“– Perhaps instead of 2 jet engines, build the aircraft with one giant engine? It would make for a very formidable long range aircraft and bomber interceptor.”
That is a possibility, but IIRC Russian engines tend not to be as reliable as Western ones. That being said, it would improve dogfighting performance.
“– If it got into a dogfight, it’s wing loading means that it could probably hold its own and the higher fuel fraction may make it able to simply outlast a smaller opponent.”
True, but it would still be at disadvantage – first, larger aircraft tends to have inferior transient performance (especially roll onset and acceleration, and turn onset is likely slower too). Second, in order to just match (not surpass) smaller aircraft’s turning performance, it would need lower wing loading, not comparable one. That being said, usage of close coupled canards would improve pitch and roll response to the point that it could match many smaller fighters.
“The higher fuel fraction could also be translated into somewhat faster speed so the odds of being bounced by surprise would be reduced.”
“It’d be a mixed fleet I’d build. FLX like fighters for along the Western border near Europe (where numbers matter), and that large bomber interceptor for Siberia. ”
Yeah, that is a logical solution.
“I fear though our air force has been deliberately stacking the cards for the JSF.”
They are not the only ones. Western militaries seem to be full of Ferengi…
Hmm, so essentially:
+ Higher endurance
+ Higher fuel capacity
+ That fuel means more speed, range, and endurance in a dogfight
+ Larger IRST
+ Still has rough field ability, despite size
– Lower transient performance (due to inertia, it in effect has higher wing loading)
– Easier to spot due to size
– Easier to hit due to size
– Expensive (obviously) to manufacture, so fewer numbers, and higher operating costs
– Longer logistical tail due to size
Hmm … it’ll come down to pilot skill more than anything else.
There is one other consideration. Any Western fighter would have to come over the Arctic or Pacific ocean, so it’s probably already low on fuel, unless the attacker is willing to risk an inflight refueling very close to Russian territory. That could really tip things in the defender’s favor, especially considering it has a higher fuel fraction to begin with and the Su-27 variants in general are pretty aerodynamic.
This close coupled, austere, large bomber interceptor would magnify that gap. No radar, and less avionics. It would also be somewhat cheaper for that reason and reliability would go up due to the austere design. Single engine might also lead to a somewhat shorter logistics tail.
Technically speaking, there’s no barrier to the Russians doing this. There’s also no technical barrier to a Russian equal of the FLX either. I know it’s common in the West to sort of look down on Russian aerospace achievements, but they could make it happen. In fact, as I hinted, if it came down to learning the lessons of history, the Russian military is far more likely to make the needed changes than the US.
Rule #34: War is good for business.
At the moment in Canada, it’s pretty controversial. Even many of our conservative leaders disagree.
From article by Winslow Wheeler:
It’s a very controversial decision and it has led to some fan made sites even.
“At the moment in Canada, it’s pretty controversial. Even many of our conservative leaders disagree. ”
Nice to know that world hasn’t gone completely bonkers.
Yeah let’s hope the bullet is dodged in Canada.
The thing is right now it’s a battle between:
For the F-35
– Senior leadership in the current military (although a scandal broke out and some guys had to resign in disgrace)
– The Prime Minister and its cabinet (I suspect that there may have been money under the table)
– Lockheed Martin
– The general public (polls show opposition to it across the spectrum). Pretty much the centrists and the left are against it The political right in the nation is divided, with many viewing this as a wasteful expense.
– There are quite a few in the military against it too, but won’t speak up because of fears for their careers
– Plus of course there’s a few fan sites here and there that want this shot down.
– Pretty much every watch dog report
Anyways, if you want to see what they’ve considered buying:
Is there any way to shrink an image?
Yes actually copy the image paste it in the paint program shrink it although the quality of the image will diminish
I thought he was asking for shrinking it within WordPress itself, like a thumbnail… I know that option exists in blog posts, but I have no idea wether it is present in comments.
“I suspect that there may have been money under the table”
It certainly is money under the table, as a matter of fact I can hardly count any exports of modern fighter aircraft that were not helped by bribes.
“There are quite a few in the military against it too, but won’t speak up because of fears for their careers”
Yeah, modern society is screwed up. There is hardly any spine left, and it shows.
“Anyways, if you want to see what they’ve considered buying:”
Rafale, Gripen and Mirage are the only options worth considering. JF-17 is good, but it may be too expensive to make NATO compatible, plus there are politics to consider.
I’ll ask here rather than email just incase anyone else was also wondering; why did you choose a low mounted wing for this proposal, would it cause significant problems with air-to-ground visibility?
Because it is also supposed to serve as a light attack aircraft, and it allows easier rearming. Of course, for a pure FAC, high wing would be better. Another consideration was landing gear, which has to be widely mounted for rough-field operations. Mounting such gear on high-positioned wing would present issues.
Picard, I’m wondering if this plane of yours isn’t just too much plane. When I think of something that can serve as a true FAC and scout for the army, using diesel fuel, taking off from rough airbases, and STOL. When I think of that, I think of the Aviat Husky. It’s a civilian prop aircraft that can take off in about 100 ft, has a stall speed of 85km/h, range of 1287km, 20,000ft service ceiling, 225km/h cruise speed. Take a look at the thing on YouTube. Lots of farmers use the things as crop dusters. It’s tremendously nimble aircraft, and has a useful payload of 400kg. While it is true that the civilian version can’t take a bullet, I read somewhere that the armouring of the A-10 contributed just 6% to its weight, and we could probably add a lot of kevlar in the cockpit for fairly cheap. We could also just not armour the thing, since we’ve already got the ALX, or A-10 for really hairy situations where we need that. Sort of like how Jeeps are more important than Tanks. There is also a 2 seater version.
Personally I feel that the aircraft you have here is somewhere in no mans land. Too heavy to be the best pure recon/coin aircraft, and yet too light to be either a badass Fire Support aircraft like the A-10, or bomb truck/Attacker like the A-1. Don’t get me wrong, this plane would benefit almost every airforce, it’s just that I think it’s, ironically, a bit too multirole for its own good. Things like retractable landing gear are probably missing the point with this aircraft. The same goes for the PT-6 engine. That’s a great engine, but I think a piston engine burning diesel makes more sense, and somewhere around 300hp seems like a good max, as opposed to the 1600hp of the PT6.
To be clear, what I would propose in terms of Ground Attack/Army fixed wing vehicles would be.
1) Military version of something similar to the Aviat Husky for forward recon.
2) Modern version of A-1 skyraider. Lots of roles but essentially a bomb truck.
3) Modern version of A-10 Warthog. Main role is direct fire support for ground troops.
You could probably do with just 2 and 3. Hell, even if you just had plenty of A-1’s that would be a hell of a lot more than 90% of armies in the world. Having said that, an Aviat Husky is so damn cheap to own and operate that I can’t see how that could possibly cause any sort of logistical or cost issues.
I also believe that something like the Husky could serve as an important CAS trainer. It’s vitally important that pilots get extremely familiar with ground combat in whatever way they can, and a plane that can get even lower and slower than the A-10 could only be a good thing for training. Of course, I also believe that pilots in the A-10 should have to have served in the Army, preferably in a combat role, but that’s beside the point currently.
Thing is, pure recon simply won’t do it for COIN, because by the time attackers arrive, targets will be gone. You need something that can scout AND attack – that was the idea. But yeah, multirole always involves compromises.
Yeah you can make a very good argument for going a few different ways. Anyway, I think that there’s one huge advantage to going with a STOL very light prop aircraft. Sure, it’s not the best when it comes to COIN, although if we think we can get away with no armour, then we could slap 100 rounds of 7.62 on the wings fairly easily. However, the takeoff distance of a STOL CH 751 is 50 feet. That increases with increasing weight, but it is a double seater. Let me use the Just SuperSTOL as an example aircraft.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zDo7hkmCNY // This thing is incredible. There are others like it.
The cost of this thing is $75,000, all parts included. A serious military could probably lower that down and build it for less than that, but let’s say that any modifications the military wants brings the cost, including construction, to $100,000. At that price, we have the ability to do something totally unthinkable with our fighter jets, even the cheap ones. We have the ability to build way more of them than we think we need, and put them wherever we want them. At 100 thousand, we can build 1,500 of these for the price of 1 F-35. In other words, if we wanted to buy (for some crazy reason) 80 F-35’s, we could instead buy 79 F-35’s, and 1,500 modified SuperSTOL’s. The utility alone has to be worth something. This is a plane that can land on the side of a mountain and then take off again in about 20 feet. STOL airplanes shouldn’t be thought of as competing against OLX’s, OV-10’s, A-1’s, STocanos, and the rest. They should be thought of as competing against Helicopters.
Personally, I feel that a plane like this would be amazing for the navy, on a specially built aircraft carrier. STOL means no pults or arresting hooks. That means fantastically more planes in the air, giving you a genuinely great reconnaissance vehicle, plus the ability to carry some moderate load and floats, gives it the ability to do everything a heli would do. The reconnaissance especially is something I feel the USN has lacked, since the current jets disable the constant overhead patrols of WW2 era AC’s. Additionally, the ASW of these things is pathetic. The best way to detect subs is sonar, and aircraft give the ability to lay Sonobuoy fields, which can be active or passive depending on the need, which will (hopefully) detect subs. Of course, we would need to actually test this, but it appears to make sense.
It’s important to remember, that no ship can actually handle a massed attack from the worlds worst propeller aircraft armed with some 500lbs anti-ship missiles or even just enough bombs to actually hit. Additionally, although I am much more skeptical, long range anti-ship missiles, in mass, should be enough to take down ships. What’s important in naval warfare is finding the other guy first, both above and under the waterline.
A plane like this is so damn cheap that you can send not just one at a time in a given direction, but little groups of them, which gives them some protection, as and have enough fantastic reconnaissance in all directions. The thing has a 100hp engine, which sips gas like a Volkswagon Jetta. Even assuming the military version is made larger and needs a 200hp engine, that’s essentially nothing compared to the fuel requirements of a fighter plane. As a result, and in combination with the incredible STOL capability of these planes, we can build a bunch of carriers for a carrier group, which carry this plane. This solves one of the most ridiculous problems gigantic carriers have always had, which is that if they get sunk, or even have their runway damaged, the entire group is now without airpower.
Ultimately, this cannot entirely replace pult AC’s, because fighter planes definitely need to be a part of any Imperial Navy. We may also require some other planes depending on what we want to use them for on land. Aircraft Transport ships solve most of this problem, but an initial invasion of somewhere undoubtedly requires paratroopers and CAS aircraft, which will almost certainly be crippled by the aerodynamic design of a STOL aircraft.
Speaking of which, fascinating read by the guy who designed the Zenithair STOL Airplanes. In some ways, a STOL aircraft is as much a triumph of engineering as a top of the line fighter. Leading edge slats, Junkers Aileron, Inverted Tail, and about a dozen other things went into that aircraft.
1) Forgot to give the link to that article by Chris Heinz, developer of numerous STOL aircraft. http://www.zenithair.com/stolch801/design/design.html
2) A military STOL aircraft probably needs a turboprop, since the weight savings are very much desired. Since turboprops are generally larger, starting at around 450 hp, we are going to need a bigger aircraft. We need that aircraft to be bigger anyway, since, even in a Sonobuoy/Bomb/Electronics/Whatever configuration it could be carrying north of 1000 lbs. We may in fact want even larger payload, which leads us to a larger aircraft.
Actually, let me expand upon that last point, since it’s pretty fascinating what you’ll find. It really depends how much horsepower we want, whether we go piston or turboprop. I think the 210 HP Lycoming O-39, which weighs 308 lbs dry is a decent starting point. At that point, the savings from a turboprop, even one that weighed zero pounds, may well not be worth the increased fuel consumption. However, going to something like the PT6 is going to cost us quite a bit of money, and 600 hp may well be much more than we need. On the other hand, we could go for something like the Rolls Royce RR300 engine, producing 300 hp at 201 lbs, which is pretty good. We probably want our engine working on diesel, which is another strike in favour of a turboprop.
I also found this cutiepie, the STV 130. http://www.stuttgart.engineering/specifications/. With 130hp and a weight of 66 lbs, it’s probably not what we want, but then again, burns diesel and all that.
These things look like they would be excellent for COIN and ASW. Especially the latter – with such a short takeoff distance, most large ships can carry them, meaning that you don’t need to assign carriers for patrol. And yes, it would be good for COIN.
So I was thinking that I had come to not really liking your FLX proposal, much more so than your other two proposals, the ALX and the FLX. I was wondering why, and I think it’s because your design is in a sort of no mans land. As I said before, I think if you want to do pure recon a 100 hp Aviat Husky is more than enough, and if you’re worried about them shooting back, then going with something like the OV10 Bronco, or my modern take on that, seems more appropriate. However, when it comes to multi-role aircraft one of the things that should be mentioned is that CAS aircraft have a secondary role of Air Superiority over helicopter, reconnaissance aircraft, etcetera. I’m calling that role the Air Janitor. I was idly wondering if something like the Super Tocano would make for a good Air Janitor, doing that sort of thing.
Well it turns out that the Super Tocano was basically designed to do exactly that, hunt down Cessna 172’s smuggling contraband over the border. That got me thinking. What if we designed a plane, for practical military purposes, that was designed predominantly to hunt down and destroy enemy non-fighter aircraft. Not as a bonus, in the case of a CAS airplane, but right from the start. What would that look like?
Just a few days ago I stumbled upon a website that actually tests the thrust of turboprops and empirically the thrust is about 3-3.5x the hp in terms of lbs. Which means that the 1600 hp PW6 engine you have in this airplane is going to be producing around 4800 lbs of thrust, which is actually quite a bit. So I started wondering, would it be possible to create a modern turboprop fighter plane? Something with a cruise speed of around 750 kmph, a T/W ratio of greater than 1, incredibly small and agile, and extremely maneuverable, relative to delta wing jet fighters, at low speeds? More important than possible, would this be something that would be actually useful?
I had three missions in mind for this fighter, but both depend on one thing being true, if this fighter can survive being bounced by enemy fighter planes. It seems very unlikely that our prop fighter would get the jump on a jet fighter, due to the drastically lower cruise speed. However, it also seems equally impossible for any delta wing fighter to outturn us. If we can reasonable be protected against the drive by, then this could have a huge amount of potential, especially if we can outnumber the enemy planes. Outnumbering them shouldn’t be much of an issue, since we have so much more endurance in the air, along with less resources utilized overall, leading to many more planes for the same number. Secondly, I’m not saying the entire fleet should be subsonic fighters, only that a certain percentage of them should be, and they can be utilized predominantly for three different roles.
1) Escort missions
I always thought it was somewhat stupid that, post WW2, we have these ultrafast fighters escorting these incredibly slow aircraft. If you want 30 troop transport helicopters to be escorted to some destination 400 km away, then having our subsonic fighters sweeping back and forth in an area around the choppers may make a lot more sense. Since we basically just want to keep them alive, the enemy fighters have to come to us in the first place. The same is true for whatever we escort, and while I’m not much of a fan of strategic bombers, the longer ranged the escort the more ridiculous the speed mismatch becomes.
2) Naval Patrol
Hunting down enemy surface ships is something that can be done at much higher speeds than looking for the Viet Cong disguised in the jungle. It’s hard to miss the aircraft carrier. Again, this is all predicated upon these planes being able to defend themselves should they get bounced by enemy fighter planes. The advantage in terms of numbers and endurance is definitely tremendous here, should this be practical.
3) Air Janitor
The aforementioned mission. Basically we’re just flying AAA, like a CAS plane, but with greater range, and we can fight back much better against their fighters. I definitely feel that the “cleanup crew” mission is very much an underrated one. This is a plane that costs extraordinarily little in terms of the nations resources, and can potentially give a tremendous amount.
All of this, again, depends on this fighter being able to defend itself competently against enemy fighter planes. We don’t even need a positive exchange ratio, just enough to justify the advantages mainly in endurance over a jet fighter.
Next, I’ll try to sketch out what one might look like.
Let’s keep with a very reasonable 1600 hp P&W PT6 engine. That’s going to be producing around 4,800 lbs of thrust for us. Alright, not that there’s anything absolutely magical about a T/W ratio of 1, but it is worth mentioning that if we can keep our weight below 4,800 lbs then we’re going to exceed that. Let’s take a look at some contemporary airplanes that are somewhat in the ballpark of what we’re looking for.
The Beech Texan II has an empty weight of 4,707 lbs, and takeoff weight of 6,300 lbs, according to Wikipedia. It also has a 1,100 hp engine, producing about 3,300 lbs of thrust. The Pilatus PC12 has an empty weight of 5,005 lbs, and it’s hard to tell what it actually weighs when loaded. Let’s say 7,500 lbs seems reasonable. The Diamond DART 450 is probably the most optimized for cruise speed with the longest wingspan at the smallest weight. Empty weight of 3,000 lbs, takeoff weight around 4,500 lbs. 450 hp engine producing around 1,500 lbs of thrust. The Super Tocano has an empty weight of 7,000 lbs, takeoff weight in excess of 11,000 lbs, and the same 1600 hp engine that we want to use here.
The Grob G 120 is an extreme example of small size and weight. 2,100 lbs empty weight. 3,175 lbs gross weight. A whopping 260 hp lycoming engine. Only non-turboprop on here. Lowest cruise speed at just 307 kmph. It also has just +6-4 G rating. However, this plane looks promising.
All of the above planes have a second seat in tandem. This is because they are either trainer aircraft, or they, as is the case with the Tucano, are designed to patrol an area looking for the sole drug smuggling airplane. However, the weight savings that we should get from deleting the second seat should be very important and noticeable. The pilot will weigh about 200 lbs, as will the ejection seat. Then we will have a shorter airplane. I’m not sure if I can properly quantify that decrease, and I wonder if someone can help me. Since we’re taking essentially an entire part of the fuselage out, we’d expect that to reduce weight considerably. Let me ballpark the entire cumulative weight savings as 1,000 lbs. If that’s too much, let me know. It would be less for the Grob, since that has no ejection seat.
If we focus in on our most similar airplane, the Beach Texan II, then if we can delete 1,000 lbs from the weight while flying, we’re looking at a new takeoff weight of 5,300 lbs. That’s generally in the ballpark. The weight savings probably allow us to up-engine the airplane to 1600 hp, and with a few hundred pounds more fuel, to get a takeoff weight of 6,000. We’re getting closer here. I’ll bet there’s lots of other weight savings to be had here, I just can’t find any information here.
It’s one of those things that’s quite frustrating. I’ve flown in tiny airplanes before that have multiple seats and weigh just barely more than 1,000 lbs. I understand the difference in structural strength to a degree, but I can’t help but question what’s going on here in terms of the specific things that increase weight so damn much. Retractable landing gear is certainly a culprit, although necessary, but that doesn’t explain such a huge disparity between the weights.
Anyway, if I had my way I would be designing a subsonic fighter, with a nice 1600 hp engine and around 3,000 lbs of weight at combat. I strongly believe this is possible, but if not, we can always just go up to something like the PW127, producing 2,750 shp. I didn’t want to do that, since it might introduce some safety issues with the plane rolling over at low speeds, but that would be producing around 8,250 lbs of thrust, and will more than pay for itself. There are always some fixed costs in terms of weight that airplanes must pay which works against smaller planes, and I may have run up against them here. I don’t know, I’ll keep looking into this.
Problem is that while thrust is not end-all, you do need a lot of thrust to tango with modern jet fighters. And engagements will be often in transonic region. So I don’t really see how this will work, your fighter will have to always stay on the defensive.
“Problem is that while thrust is not end-all, you do need a lot of thrust to tango with modern jet fighters.”
Well it’s not thrust that matters, it’s thrust/weight. Additionally, it’s not even that, it’s the (Thrust-Drag)/Weight. This plane will absolutely not lack for T/W ratio. If we could get the combat weight down below 4,000 lbs, then we’ve got ourselves a T/W ratio of about 1.2, which is beyond excellent. I don’t think this plane lacks for thrust when considering its weight.
“Engagements will often be in transonic region”.
This is one of the things I’ve always wanted to actually test. Specifically, how useful are missiles at slowing down fighter planes. There’s no such thing as a fighter that remains supersonic after pulling hard turns, which are required to avoid missiles. When chained together it should theoretically bring the energy down to very low levels. Also, you have to turn to avoid the missile, and the shortest path between to points is a straight line. Ultimately, can missiles and numbers “drag” high speeds fighters down into an energy region that allows the prop fighter to excel?
“So I don’t really see how this will work, your fighter will have to always stay on the defensive.”
Well the missiles definitely even the odds a little here, although lots of testing needs to be done. Secondly, the prop will stay defensive only to boom and zoom tactics, or the equivalent of aerial drive by’s. If any fighter tries to turn with these planes they’re going to easily be outfought.
But the concept was to have these planes trying their best to feast on the non-fighter aircraft, with the main advantage simply being (much better) endurance and therefore presence, coupled with the (much better) lower speed maneuverability, which combine to make the plane better on a 1-1 basis for the purposes of finding and destroying non-fighter planes. I would still build something very similar to your FLX for the purposes of engaging and outfighting fighter planes specifically.
“This is one of the things I’ve always wanted to actually test. Specifically, how useful are missiles at slowing down fighter planes. There’s no such thing as a fighter that remains supersonic after pulling hard turns, which are required to avoid missiles. When chained together it should theoretically bring the energy down to very low levels. Also, you have to turn to avoid the missile, and the shortest path between to points is a straight line. Ultimately, can missiles and numbers “drag” high speeds fighters down into an energy region that allows the prop fighter to excel?”
Entirely possible. IIRC, there had been cases of engagements dropping to speeds at 100 – 200 knots. But prop would likely start from the position of energy disadvantage, so it might be difficult to force such a situation.
“But the concept was to have these planes trying their best to feast on the non-fighter aircraft, with the main advantage simply being (much better) endurance and therefore presence, coupled with the (much better) lower speed maneuverability, which combine to make the plane better on a 1-1 basis for the purposes of finding and destroying non-fighter planes. I would still build something very similar to your FLX for the purposes of engaging and outfighting fighter planes specifically.”
Indeed. They would be rather useful for hunting helicopters, at least.
My design would probably load up on small IR missiles. I’m thinking R-60 size, although with something like the Sidewinder or ASRAAM thrown into the mix there. What we want our missiles to accomplish is to drain energy from the opposing fighters first and foremost*. Actually killing them is a bonus. To that end, if we’re designing out own missile, we want to optimize them for the absolute highest acceleration rate at the expense of range. Of course, a mix of some larger, longer range missiles with slower acceleration have their place as well.
Looking at the R-60, I think we can put a reasonable weight budget for missiles at about 1,000 lbs maximum. Considering that the airplane should reasonably be 4,000 lbs at combat weight, 1,000 lbs may even be too much. Still, working with that for now, and we could fit the equivalent of 6 R-60’s on there at 96 lbs each, plus 2 AIM-9’s or ASRAAMS on there at about 190 lbs each.
That would be a very solid amount of ammunition, but we also have to think about our drag budget, especially with such a small airplane. Putting the two AIM-9’s on the wingtips, we have to find spots for the six R-60’s. We could probably put two in the middle of each wing where the M2’s are located, going by what’s on the Super Tocano. Then two or even three rows of pylons for R’60’s on the body. That’s a total of 12 potential hardpoints, although the ones on the body must push off the fighter upon firing.
That brings me to my next point. Let’s say we go with 8 total missiles, which is our weight budget. 2 on the wingtips is fine, since we need that rail for wingtip vortices anyway. However, having six pylons hanging missiles strikes me as being hideous amounts of drag. Can someone tell me what the disadvantages of conformal missiles are? It’s quite hard to find this information on the internet. I should say I mean partially conformal missiles, where just the top fins go in, and the missile rail pushes the missile away upon firing. I feel as though if we design with them in mind, we can probably get away with putting them where we need them. So I’m going to say that the fighter will have two wingtip rails, two mid-wing conformal rails, and then two sets of two on the body, for eight total. If there’s nothing wrong with that, and if anyone sees something wrong please let me know, then we should have very little drag added from those missiles.
Hopefully, this, combined with numbers and our regular jet fighters, gives us the energy draining that we need to “pull” the enemy jet fighters down to energies where they get easily outfought by the slower prop fighter. Additionally, the short range R-60 serves to essentially keep them there at that lower energy state, although numbers and tactics will also serve to do this. Again, this is not to serve as a replacement for our jet fighters, this is mainly to give it ability to fight back against fighter, for its main mission of Air Janitorial work.
*I should note, the missiles also serve to destroy the non-fighters as well, and serve as a longer range and potentially sneakier method of attack for that purpose. Targeting low flying aircraft poses challenges, but it’s still a nice option.
Disadvantage of conformal missiles is that it cannot launch from the rail directly, it has to be dropped first, which adds to reaction time.
And yeah, what you outlined would work.
All of this brings me to the design of air to air missiles. I said in an earlier comment that I can’t find online the disadvantages of conformal missiles. By that I mean just the fins inside, with the missile snug to the airplane. Sort of looking like the fighter is carrying a tube with fins on 3 sides. I feel that it’s due to a combination of obsession with dubious stealth, thus necessitating internal storage, and simple laziness in design, not accounting for how to hold the actual weapons that will be used with minimal drag. It could be that it’s very difficult to design this without knowing exactly what missile to design it for, which would be understandable.
Anyway, what we want out of our missiles is to force the enemy fighter plane to turn, and to turn hard, or to die. For starters, that necessitates actually reaching the enemy plane, ignoring a pilot who sees the missile and turns just in case despite being out of range. This is one of those times in my life where I really wish I knew calculus.
Let’s start with the absolute worst extreme. We’re flying south at 750 kmph, and the enemy fighter plane flies by us at 1,800 kmph. By the time we’ve turned around to face them they’re already 10 km away, still flying obliviously at 1,800 kmph. I think this is one of those times where you maybe can’t really expect any missile to make up the distance, but maybe not. If we fire the missile it is going to lose a little bit more distance until the speed equalizes, then it needs to make up the gap from there. I truly question whether the AIM-9 or the ASRAAM can actually make up the distance before running out of fuel, considering the AIM-9 has a whopping 2.8 second burn time. The ASRAAM may fare better, with its two stage engine, and actually have enough maneuverability to force a hard turn.
This is potentially where a small ramjet missile comes in. If we go too fast, we may have to provide cooling for the seeker head, which complicates things. Still, looking at the success of the Meteor, at least in terms of engineering if not actual war success, the advantages of a ramjet are clear in terms of range and energy. Additionally, the Russians have developed some great ramjet missiles in, at the very least, the venerable SA-6 and the Anti-Ship P-270 Moskit. The SA-6 has a fascinating design, where the starter motor charge forms the combustion chamber for the ramjet. Fascinating design. Of course, the missile weighs 1,100 lbs, and is thus totally impractical, but there shouldn’t be any reason why we can’t shrink this technology down to a nice 200 lbs package.
Great website detailing the 2K12 missile, with internal pictures.
Considering that rockets must carry internal oxidizer along with propellant, and this oxidizer is actually 3.4 times the weight of the fuel that is to be burned, then if the only thing that mattered was fuel we could get 3.4x the burn time. Of course, that’s very optimistic. It’s incredibly hard to find a good breakdown of the weight of any modern missile by various stages, but we could probably get better range than something like the ASRAAM, AIM-9, IRIS-T, or MICA, in a package at around 150 lbs the weight or so.
While I did a fairly poor job of even sketching out our wingtip missile, a ramjet powered IR missile weighing at <200 lbs with a practical range of 30 km should be more than enough for our purposes. It's important to remember that we are only going to be firing these at fighters when we are looking at them from the back and they are going away from us. We don't need to fool around with any long range seekers, since the missile will never be fired from BVR in the first place, even though it may have to chase the enemy fighter to a spot that is well BVR. Anyway, that's our first missile, designed to force the enemy to go subsonic and turn, when they already have a large speed advantage. I'm calling this missile the AAM-1 Chaser.
The second missile is the short range missile. Designed to essentially keep an already low and fairly close fighter plane from taking off again. Used in the range barely beyond guns, or perhaps up to 5 km or so against a low energy fighter. We can't use a ramjet missile for this, since it's too hard to design a ramjet missile to be conformal. It's also of dubious practicality when the range is this low. What we want is a missile with a top speed of around M1.5, a burn time of 2 seconds or possibly even less, and the previously specified range of 5 km. We are going to need some maneuverability after the rocket has gone out, but the R-60 looks moderately close to what I'm looking for. The Wikipedia stated range of 8km is probably very optimistic, but in reality it's still good enough for our purposes. I would definitely sacrifice a lot of speed (M2.7) for bigger fins and longer burn time, which is going to both give us better range for any size, and better post-burnout maneuverability. We really don't care about speeds, and in fact higher speeds may be a bit of a drawback here, since it simply lengthens our turning radius, which in this case is quite poor, since we are trying to force very hard turns on slowed fighters.
This missile is our workhorse. In fact, I am calling it that, the AAM-2 Workhorse. The low speeds, high maneuverability, and sustained burn giving good range (for its size) are exactly what we want not just on low-energy fighters, but also on everything else in the sky. The final design calls for something with a budget of about 100 lbs, a burn time of 3 seconds, maximum practical speed of around M1.5 (maybe even lower), practical range < 5km, and optimized for 10,000 ft altitude. I feel like once a fighter, even the Rafale, has been "caught" inside the effective range of the AAM-2 Workhorse, and is forced to make constant hard turns, the advantage would have to go to the prop fighter. In the meantime, the R-60 will serve as a good enough version of this concept.
For both missiles, serious thought must go to the idea of getting rid of the explosive and replacing it with a penetrator. This would save weight with the Chaser, which is especially important on a wingtip missile. The saved weight has a positive spiral effect, where we would also need a little less fuel, and a smaller motor. For the Workhorse, we wouldn't save much weight over something like the warhead in the R-60 (6.6lbs), by going to something like a 5 lbs penetrator. I don't know what the weight of the proximity fuze is, but I can't imagine more than 5 lbs weight savings all told. Really, the question is simply one of efficacy. We can hypothesize, but only realistic testing with drone targets would tell us the answer here.
Man, I am actually excited about this concept! I think we need a term for this type of aircraft, with fantastic range and maneuverability, and the armament to punish even fighter planes should they happen upon us. Since the purpose is to Find and Destroy enemy non-fighters, I think we can call this airplane a Destroyer. That also clearly explains that it is not necessarily designed to kill other fighter planes first and foremost. I am almost as excited about this plane as I am about the Steroid Athlete.
Sorry to Picard for polluting the FAC comments section with an idea for a new fighter plane.
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Could work. Could you take all the ideas you had written down and compose them into one article? Then you could publish it maybe on this blog.
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Is this an alias of Picard? I can’t help but notice the same avatar. Anyway, sure I’ll write this as one article.
WRT the conformal missiles, I should have stated that I already knew they had to be pushed off, which is clearly not as good as simply firing them, albeit much better than an internal missile bay. However, I was more referring to weight issues, maintenance issues, or other little things that might not be as obvious, but which could put the damper on our design here.
Yes, it is new alias. I got bored of everyone being weirded out in political debates of how somebody with “Picard” nickname is actually extremely conservative (I’m probably closest to being a paleoconservative in US terms, I think).
Yeah, I understand.
Alright Picard, I’m having quite some trouble writing up my Destroyer concept. The problem is that I don’t write very well with an authoritarian voice, which I see most articles written in. Instead, I feel that I could write up an article, but it would be written very personally. I don’t know if that’s what you wanted, but it’s all I can give you.
It is your style, so write as you can.
The draft is finished, how should I send it to you?
I invited you to site as author. Accept the invitation and you can write posts.
Alrighty, I’m just going to put the comment here. Feel free to move this anywhere you would like.
The Making of a Modern Prop Fighter
The romantic image of WW2 involves two fighters weaving around each other, each desperate to bring guns to bear. The reality of WW2 combat is that successful engagements were typically hit and run. As WW2 ace Erich Hartmann said, “I would attack only if I had 2000 meters of clearance above them, then I would come down with great speed…”. This was true of combat between all factions, and was especially prevalent amongst American and Japanese engagements, where later war American fighters massive speed advantage made them near untouchable against the Japanese fighters.
And it’s not particularly hard to understand why. If you are in a much faster plane, should you not like a certain engagement, you can just fly away. You can dive down and make attacks on your terms and, again, just fly away. The effective range of even 50 cals in the air is pretty short, and disorientated and surprised enemy pilots are going to have a tough time getting a return shot in.
After the war we got both turbines, as well as guided missiles. The advantage of turbines, especially turbojets over piston props is quite obvious. Props lose efficiency after 700 kmph, and are almost useless after around 850 kmph. Let’s ignore turbines for now.
Missiles have also been a game changer. While the exact efficacy of any particular missile is unclear, even with the most pessimistic appraisals missiles bring a few massive tactical advantages.
They can be fired from further range than guns
They can be fired from a slightly imperfect starting angle. Guns in comparison need to be perfectly aimed to be effective.
They fly faster than any plane in existence, at least forcing a high g turn.
Get kills against unaware opponents.
Truthfully, the pK of missiles is usually greatly exaggerated, as Picard has chronicled time and again on this site. Real life missile pK is also slightly misleading, since experienced pilots will refrain from firing their missiles until they have already maneuvered into an appropriate position.
Unfortunately, nobody really knows how effective missiles really are, since realistic testing appears to be utterly refused by the Military Industrial Complex. Before committing to a strategy or vehicle, my first task would be to do thorough testing of missile performance, with remote controlled versions of many different types of planes, including a modern fighter plane, all made cheaply. I’m talking about an all-duraluminum construction with a <5,000 lbs thrust turbojet and a cost of considerably less than a million. These planes need to be cheap enough to conduct effective testing on how effective missiles are from any given distance, altitude, aspect, weather, and many other facets of missile performance. Additionally, the before and after energy state of any given aircraft, as well as the efficacy of counter-measures must also be answered. These questions need to be answered, not just for this proposal, but for the efficacy and overall strategy of any air force.
In any case, using real world data, we know that in the Gulf War, the Americans achieved a BVR missile kill percentage of 34%, while the SAM’s fired at the American Pilots achieved a kill percent of 0.3%. The Iraqi pilots were, for lack of a better term, totally incompetent. Partly due to their broken equipment, and partly due to their lack of training, they did not react to missiles fired against them. In this ideal situation, a BVR missile still has a ⅔ chance of missing. On the other hand, against a competent opponent, the American Pilots, the Iraqi SAM’s had a 1/300 chance of getting a hit, which should be considered the low end of missile effectiveness.
It is probably true that the Iraqi SAM teams were as incompetent as the rest of the Iraqi military, and a competent military may well have shot down an order of magnitude more planes. Potentially even greater than an order of magnitude. It is also unquestionably true that a competent Air Force would have been shot down at far lower rates than the Iraqi’s were, possibly by greater than an order of magnitude as well. Because we have not yet truly done experiments to find the true efficacy of missiles both in terms of immediate kill potential, as well as energy drained from the victim aircraft, I will have to make assumptions and stick with them for the rest of this article. Assumptions will need to be made both for the outright kill potential, as well as the probability of forcing a high g, energy draining turn. And of course, competence from the attacker and defender is also assumed.
Pk of a BVR missile, whether fired from the air, or the ground, is 5%. This is probably too high, but 5% is a nice even number.
Pk of a WVR IR missile, fighter to fighter in reasonable position, is 25%.
P of high g turn forced following BVR missile shot, 50%.
P of high g turn forced following WVR missile shot, 100%. (Or close enough that 100% is just an easier number to work with.)
Which leads us to our next question, how much does the energy lost in a high g turn or series of turns actually matter? Also, how much energy is lost in any specific plane, for any specific missile shot. Again, these are questions that can ultimately only be answered by repeated experimentation, but some educated guesses can be made.
Firstly, it is absolutely laughable that high altitude supersonic bombers would remain at high altitude and supersonic while turning to avoid missiles. So laughable that it’s not even worth back of the napkin calculations. However, for fighter planes this is a much more interesting question. If we take arguably the best performing fighter plane in existence, the French Rafale, we have an aircraft that in a totally clean configuration, claims a sustained turn performance of 9.1 G’s. Frankly I’m not even sure that I believe that, but even if true, that’s not supersonic performance. It would be quite interesting to see a chart of any planes maximum sustained turning performance, in g’s, at any given speed, at any given altitude. Again, experimentation is the true method of knowledge, but we can make some educated guesses here.
A fighter flying at cruise speed is flying at a speed where dry thrust and drag are equal to each other. For the Rafale, the combined dry thrust of the two engines is 22,400 lbs. The cruise speed depends on the altitude, but at high altitude the cruise speed is reportedly about 1400 kmph. The maximum speed of the Rafale at low altitude is only 1,390 kmph, which I highly doubt can actually be achieved with missiles loaded, even if full afterburner is on. At high altitude cruise, the Rafale is generating 22,400 lbs of thrust, and 22,400 lbs of drag. Any turn at this speed will generate considerable extra drag, slowing the aircraft. Meaning, that at this speed the maximum sustained turn g’s is 0. That’s not quite true, since we can throw on the afterburner, but I hope the example makes the concept clear.
Since it was incredibly difficult to find an Energy-Maneuverability chart for the Dassault Rafale, I looked up the F-16 instead. Turns out it’s incredibly difficult to find an EM graph for the F-16. Same for the F-18. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to find out the specific energy loss from any maneuver at any speed or altitude for any specific aircraft. I suspect that these are out there somewhere, they’re just not released to the general public. I would very much like the raw numbers, so that I could calculate the specific excess power, which would be massively negative, for, say, an F-16 at 20,000 ft and 1300 kmph pulling a 9G turn. If we had the specific excess thrust, which again would be massively negative, then we could calculate the actual deceleration experienced by our F-16. Unfortunately, until then we’re just going to have to make do with educated guesses. The lift-drag ratio of different fighters is going to be vastly different, and may change depending on the angle of attack and airspeed, but we can go ahead and pull out a ballpark figure.
For our generic fighter plane example flying at cruise speed, we will assume a 9G turn will result in a deceleration of 5G’s. That’s 50 mps/s, or 180 kmph/s. This will of course depend on the fighter design and configuration.
For our generic fighter plane example, we will assume a maximum sustained turn rate of 6G at 800 kmph.
Again, I wish I had access to better data in order to find these results, but this is all we have. Anecdotally a deceleration rate of 180 kmph/s fits with the described behaviour of fighter pilots who have actually evaded missiles, and talk about rapidly losing speed and altitude. Obviously the net drag decreases as the plane flies slower, but this should be used as a general ballpark figure. With that in mind, a fighter pulling 9 G’s for 3 seconds is going to lose approximately 540 kmph. This is assuming a supercruise speed of, say, 1400 kmph.
Since a three second turn can be thought of as close to the minimum turning time for a fighter to avoid a missile, we can think of any successful missile shot that does not result in a kill as bleeding 540 kmph or the equivalent in altitude from the victim fighter plane. Extending this to a speed below 540 kmph gives us a nonsense result, no fighter pilot will, unless extremely confused, drive his plane into the ground or reduce his airspeed to zero. The latter is in fact, not physically possible, a plane will not be able to pull 9g’s below a certain speed for any given altitude.
However, this does show that a plane can, depending on its aeronautical performance, be reduced to an extremely vulnerable energy state, through successive missile shots. An F-16 needs to move at just over 200 kmph on the runway in order to pull 1G of lift and takeoff. The F-16 cannot pull 9 G’s, it’s maximum, until over about 650 kmph. Beneath that speed, the plane cannot pull 9 G’s at all, no matter how much angle of attack is pulled by the pilot. At speeds of mere hundreds of kmph, jet fighters flub their way through the skies, with their razor sharp delta wings being unable to generate the lift required to turn.
AIR SUPERIORITY VS K/D RATIO
There is another very understandable misconception WRT fighter planes, the idea that the true measure of a fighter plane is its ability to fight other fighter planes, specifically measured through the exchange ratio. It is understandable why this idea exists, but it is extremely misleading. The problem is that air superiority is not an advantage unless over geographically important terrain.
Consider an extreme example, an aircraft carrier on the open ocean. Having air superiority, even uncontested air supremacy, is entirely irrelevant over the vast majority of the oceans. In fact, any nation with enough money to buy a single Cessna 172 with some guns and floats attached to it can get uncontested air supremacy over the vast majority of the ocean, if for no other reason then that nobody would care to contest. On the other hand, if we have Nation B using fighters to escort some bombers into range to destroy Nation A’s aircraft carrier, well then it seems a lot more important to outright get kills then to minimize the risk to the pilot. If Nation A’s pilots fire some long range AAM’s from a safe distance, and then go home, it really doesn’t matter how many kills they got unless it was close to 100%, since they’re about to have their carrier bombed and destroyed.
Let’s consider another example, the US has entered a civil war, West vs East, with both sides having roughly the same level of technology and manpower. Let’s say that West has decided to do a serious attack on, say, an East airfield. In fact, to make this more extreme, let’s say that this is an airborne attack, where the attackers need to be dropped in massed troop transport helicopters, and, due to the geography, both sides will need to be resupplied through the air. Additionally, both sides have CAS in the form of Apaches and A-10 Warthogs.
To give some numbers, let’s say that we have 4 fighters on each side, F-16’s, and many many other aircraft, let’s say 100 in total. However, East has developed a new AAM which can be fired from 120 km’s away, magically knows where all the enemy fighters are, and has a Pk of 2%. Due to this, and the idea that what’s really important is having a nice K/D ratio, the East’s fighter pilots load up with 8 missiles per fighter, go out in pairs of 2 and fire off all 8 missiles at the West’s fighter planes, which are also going out in pairs. After firing these missiles, East’s fighter planes turn around and go back to base. The odds of getting a kill is pretty low, even with that full salvo, less than 20% in fact, but hey, if they can’t attack us back, we’re going to get a great exchange ratio right?
That’s actually true, but in that example our fighter planes did not accomplish much of anything, whereas the West’s fighter planes could be used to:
Destroy our A-10 Warthogs
Destroy our Troop Transport Helicopters
Destroy our cargo planes
Destroy whatever the hell they want, since when we flew away, we conceded total Air Superiority
From the perspective of the attacking West Ground Forces, they got the benefit of A-10’s and Apache’s strafing the shit out of the enemy, reinforcements of other troops, and bountiful resupply of ammunition and food. In contrast, East’s Ground Forces had no air support, no reinforcements, and were starving and out of ammo. That sounds like a rout to my ears. I hope we didn’t need that air base for anything.
But hey, after enough missile salvos the East forces finally got a single F-16! So it was totally worth it.
I picked an air base for a reason, but this applies to any strategically or operationally important target on the ground. I chose an air base to illustrate the strategic element of air power. When the Germans conquered France in 1940, they didn’t destroy French Air Power through a slow process of many weeks or months of whittling them down through 1v1 air duels. They destroyed French Air Power by capturing strategic locations on the ground, like manufacturing plants, fuel depots, and airfields. Because when Hans drives his tank onto your airfield, it stops being your air field. If a fighter plane does not meaningfully contribute to the achievement of Air Superiority explicitly for the benefit of Ground Forces, then it has not meaningfully provided value to a military. A fighter plane that does not shoot down or at least scare away enemy non-fighters is worth nothing.
It is safe to say that even if missiles were the be all and end all of fighter to fighter engagements, you would still want an onboard gun to mop up the rest of the aircraft you come upon. Which makes the idiocy of the USAF not installing guns on some mid-70’s fighters all the more embarrassing.
STAYING POWER/ENDURANCE FIGHTER
While it is obviously incredibly important to be able to at least defend yourself and other friendly aircraft against enemy fighters, if we wanted to design a plane that was only useful against non-fighter aircraft, what would we design? A look to the original EMB-312 Tucano shows us roughly the archetype.
The plane was originally designed to fight the drug war in South America, specifically to monitor Brazilian airspace for civilian airplanes smuggling drugs across the border. To that end the plane was given a reasonably fast cruise speed, 440 kmph, very nice range, 1900 km, and a reasonably high g loading, +6/-3. The mission of the plane was to fly back and forth over Brazilian airspace visually looking for Pablo in his drug smuggling Cessna 172, as part of a system also involving ground radars and an airbourne radar in a different plane. Sort of like a ghetto AWACS.
For armament the Tocano was given .50 cals, although I believe they had to be attached in a pod, as opposed to built into the wings. The pods could also carry some small bombs and rockets, although that was just for attacks of opportunity against ground targets, and not particularly transferable. The flight ceiling was 25,000 ft, which again is plenty for the low flying cessnas it was designed to track down and intercept.
We can see that, while not perfect, if simply transported directly into a military, the Tocano would be a menace to pretty much everything that’s not a jet fighter. High altitude bombers would have little to worry about, but every helicopter, CAS airplane, cargo plane, drone, and other aircraft would be prey to such a plane. The modern Super Tocano is an even better example, with a higher cruise speed, 520 kmph, over 8 hours of endurance, almost 3,000 km’s of range, and slightly higher g tolerances.
It’s not perfect of course. What we would want for our Endurance Fighter is the ability to carry short range IR missiles, and quite a few of them. We may or may not want a second seat in there, only the pilots could know, with the performance advantage of a single seater not being quite as absolutely crucial as in a regular fighter.
WRT the IR missiles, we can have them be considerably slower than traditional IR missiles, and gain maneuverability or range as a result. Since we’re using these against helicopters, CAS aircraft, cargo airplanes, and other utility airplanes our missile does not need to be fast in order to “catch” the target. A section below details the design of these missiles. What’s more important is the number that we can carry, giving us the ability to engage targets from a further distance, which may be tactically necessary to avoid return fire.
It should be noted, the overall goal for our Endurance Fighter is to supplement our Jet Fighters in an area, to bully and destroy enemy non-fighter planes. An example mission would be the imaginary airbase attack detailed above, where our Endurance Fighter, let’s call it EF-1, could be constantly in the area trying to ensure no enemy aircraft could operate, even while our Jet Fighters have to go back to base to refuel. As a result, a force of 4 Jet Fighters, which can be in the area for 1 hour every four hours, and 4 EF fighters, which can be in the area for 8 hours every 12 hours, can combined provide much more efficient and effective combined air superiority.
All of this begs the question, how low can you go? Since we’re just bullying the plebs of the skies, fairly low indeed. The fastest helicopters fly at just a touch faster than 300 kmph. Even the original Tucano can catch any helicopter with ease. CAS airplanes like the A-10 and the SU-25 can cruise at speeds of over 500 kmph, with the SU 25 being even faster. This is of course entirely irrelevant. The A-10 cannot be useful at its cruise speed, only if it is turning and patrolling in an area. While it is nice to have a higher cruise speed, close in turning ability and missile loadout seem to be much more important, as our IR missile will be easily able to chase down an A-10, or even an SU-25.
A turboprop is massively more efficient at low speeds and altitude, potentially as high as 2-1, when at low speeds. Testing with propellers on stands gives us a SHP to thrust conversion ratio of between 3-1 and 3.5-1. Taking a low end approach, if we use the PT6 1600 SHP engine, we should be producing roughly 4800 lbs of thrust. With reasonable rigour in design, and not too much junk added to the plane, it should be possible to create our EF-1 with a T/W ratio approaching 1, so the plane would not be underpowered at low speeds and altitudes, although props drastically lose power after ~750 kmph, so there is a harsh limit to the ultimate speed of our airplane. Our turboprop airplane will have a massively improved endurance advantage over a jet fighter, and should not sacrifice significant acceleration at the low speeds and altitudes that it is designed to operate in.
In fact, if we forced a jet fighter to fly at speeds of 800 kmph or slower, the EF-1 would massively outturn and outfight that traditional fighter. This leads to a very interesting question, if it is true that successive missile shots can reduce pretty much all planes to a low altitude and speed, can the missiles carried onboard the EF-1 reduce a genuine jet fighter, such as the F-16, to an energy regime that our EF-1 can outfight it in?
CHASE POTENTIAL – LONG RANGE
For our EF-1 to have a chance at all, what we want out of our missiles is to force the enemy fighter plane to turn, and to turn hard, or to die. For starters, that necessitates our missile actually reaching the enemy plane, ignoring a pilot who sees the missile and turns just in case despite being out of range. This is one of those times in my life where I really wish I knew calculus.
Let’s start with the absolute worst extreme. We’re flying south at 750 kmph, and the enemy fighter plane flies by us at 1,800 kmph. By the time we’ve turned around to face them they’re already 10 km away, still flying obliviously at 1,800 kmph. I think this is one of those times where you maybe can’t really expect any missile to make up the distance, no matter the size. If we fire the missile it is going to lose a little bit more distance until the speed equalizes, then it needs to make up the gap from there. I truly question whether the AIM-9 or the ASRAAM can actually make up the distance before running out of fuel, considering the AIM-9 has a whopping 2.8 second burn time. The ASRAAM may fare better, with its two stage engine, and actually have enough maneuverability to force a hard turn. Even then it’s very questionable.
It was at this point that I was thinking of a small ramjet powered missile. Since rockets carry oxidizer amounting to about 3.4 times the weight in fuel, a ramjet engine should theoretically have far greater range. This also isn’t a particularly new concept either, the MBDA meteor missile has a ramjet second stage, and SAM’s with ramjets go at least back to the Talos missile back in the late 60’s. However, I have since backed off on this concept, because there are some problems with a ramjet. First, the minimum speed requirement of a ramjet means that we are going to need a booster stage for reliability. Second, the placement of the intake increases drag on the missile and the airplane it’s attached to. Third, a ramjet apparently has internal structural requirements, since you need to have a very precisely made engine, or multiple engines, for the structure to work. There are very valid reasons why, despite inventing them in the 60’s, both the Americans and Russians/Soviets do not currently produce or field a single ramjet powered AAM or SAM. I do think a project to create a ramjet missile should be undertaken, but this is something that should absolutely be attempted, although the odds of success should be considered low.
Taking a step back, even if an enemy fighter is out of range of short range IR missiles, then even if we had a long range IR or radar missile that could force the turn, it’s entirely unlikely that our prop fighter could actually make up the distance anyway. Ultimately, this is what probably kills the concept for me. Missiles can make up a great deal of energy, but there is a limit. It isn’t hard to believe that a plane such as the F-22 or Rafale to be cruising along at 1500 kmph, detect the EF-1, make a little turn for an attack at 5km distance, and then fly away. Even if the turning for the attack takes the speed down to a subsonic 1100 kmph, the distance and speed difference between the two airplanes is probably insurmountable. This should be recognized as different than an enemy spamming low percentage long range missiles at you and then going home. In this case, the enemy fighter plane can engage and disengage at will, which is a legitimately big advantage, probably insurmountable.
CHASE POTENTIAL – SHORT RANGE
The second missile we need to make is the short range missile. Designed to essentially keep an already low and fairly close fighter plane from taking off again. Used in the range barely beyond guns, or perhaps up to 5 km or so against a low energy fighter. What we want is a missile with a top speed of around M1.5, a burn time of 2 seconds or possibly even less, and the previously specified range of 5 km. We are going to need some maneuverability after the rocket has gone out, but the R-60 looks moderately close to what I'm looking for. The Wikipedia stated range of 8km is probably very optimistic, but in reality it's still good enough for our purposes. I would definitely sacrifice a lot of speed (M2.7) for bigger fins and longer burn time, which is going to both give us better range for any size, and better post-burnout maneuverability. We really don't care about speeds, and in fact higher speeds may be a bit of a drawback here, since it simply lengthens our turning radius, which in this case is quite poor, since we are trying to force very hard turns on slowed fighters.
This missile is our workhorse. In fact, I am calling it that, the AAM-2 Workhorse. The low speeds, high maneuverability, and sustained burn giving good range (for its size) are exactly what we want not just on low-energy fighters, but also on everything else in the sky. The final design calls for something with a budget of about 100 lbs, a burn time of 3 seconds, maximum practical speed of around M1.5 (maybe even lower), practical range < 5km, and optimized for less than 10,000 ft altitude. I feel like once a fighter, even the Rafale, has been "caught" inside the effective range of the AAM-2 Workhorse, and is forced to make constant hard turns, the advantage would have to go to the prop fighter. In the meantime, the R-60 will serve as a good enough version of this concept.
For this missile especially, serious thought must go to the idea of getting rid of the explosive and replacing it with a penetrator. This would save weight with the Chaser, which is especially important on a wingtip missile. The saved weight has a positive spiral effect, where we would also need a little less fuel, and a smaller motor. For the Workhorse, we wouldn't save much weight over something like the warhead in the R-60 (6.6lbs), by going to something like a 5 lbs penetrator. I don't know what the weight of the proximity fuze is, but I can't imagine more than 5 lbs weight savings all told. Really, the question is simply one of efficacy. We can hypothesize, but only realistic testing with drone targets would tell us the answer here.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Of course, all written above gets massively more complicated, and in favour of the prop fighter, when we crowd the skies. If we imagine some totally artificial 1v1 duel with infinite space, then a jet fighter gets a massive advantage. On the other hand, if we imagine a 4v4, and especially with numerous helicopters, CAS planes, recon aircraft, and other targets in the area, the question becomes a lot more interesting. Additionally, due to the increased endurance, for the same resources, at least in terms of pilots and fuel, you would have significantly more force presence in any area, which would give you a large advantage.
Having said that, a small subsonic cruiser jet fighter would get you many of the same advantages, while providing little to no tactical disadvantages. Using the Folland Gnat as an example, with modern materials and engines we can almost certainly make a jet fighter with a loaded weight of 5,000 lbs or less, with thrust of 5,000 lbs or more. Such a fighter would also naturally consume very little of the nations fuel, could have very good range and endurance.
Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with the concept that probably make the very concept a non-starter, with the exception in the next section.
A prop makes it incredibly difficult to put in a radar, or IRST on the airplane. Although radar, which gives your position away, is overrated in fighter to fighter engagements, if trying to hunt down enemy non-fighters, finding them in the first place becomes much more important. Radar pods could be strapped on, but not without adding a painful amount of drag.
In order to get the high speeds that we want, sacrifices must be made. If we want a plane with 700+ kmph cruise speed, then we’re going to be using thinner, higher aspect ratio wings, and a lot less wing in the first place. That is going to leave less room for guns and fuel, which will cut into our range and endurance, and make things less workable. It will also leave us with a higher takeoff and landing speed, less lift for any given speed, and generally worse handling characteristics.
The plane needs to be armoured anyways. A plane flying within guns range of the ground, which this plane absolutely would be much of the time, is going to be getting ground fire. We can’t get away with no self-sealing fuel tanks and no cockpit armour. To do otherwise is criminal negligence. What that means is less room for fuel, and a heavier airplane. I can’t quantify how much worse the plane would be after being armoured, but if you need to throw something like a 1200 lbs bathtub in there like the A-10 has, that pretty much sinks the concept in and of itself.
Propellers themselves have hard limits. The Jet Fighter that this made me think about making, my FLX so to speak, is considerably slower in cruise than Picards FLX, due to the work I put in trying to make this plane. However, it still cruises at over 1,000 kmph, and will be supersonic capable. Propellers run into hard efficiency limits around 750 kmph, and even that speed is not possible with the design of the EL-1. At the lower speeds, the plane just doesn’t have quite enough speed to fight actual fighter planes, at reasonable exchange ratios. Against an idiotic opponent who fires missiles and leaves, this might be fine, but against a serious, competent enemy, that’s just not good enough. As mentioned earlier, the energy disadvantage is probably insurmountable.
It’s harder to install a gun on a plane like this. Or more specifically, putting guns in the wings has drawbacks. Even my CAS plane just has 50 cals, and making wing guns converge is not the end of the world, but the guns and ammo take up space in the wings, leaving less room for fuel.
High power single engine turboprops are dangerous. The torque created by powerful single engine prop airplanes has been known to rotate the entire plane over and cause a crash. This isn’t an issue with counter-rotating dual prop airplanes, since the torque from one cancels out the other. The vanilla proposal, without armour, would be by far the plane with the highest SHP/Weight ratio of any single engine turboprop ever, which might be too dangerous to fly. Takeoffs and landings would be a real challenge anyway.
MIGHT AS WELL BE CAS
This final drawback gets its own section, as I believe this perfectly describes the problems with this plane and others like it, such as the Super Tucano, from a stepped back perspective. A secondary role that this plane serves is as a ground attack and reconnaissance airplane. However, if used in that role, the single engine turboprop is probably a non-starter. I personally would not fly the EF-1 in ground attack nearly as aggressively as I would fly my version of the ALX in ground attack/air reconnaissance.
Additionally, even ignoring the single engine, if we’re going to add all the extra armour and self-sealing fuel tanks, we might as well add a fly by wire backup control scheme and figure out a way for it to land if the retractable landing gear won’t go down. On top of that, the requirement for a very high cruise speed is irrelevant, and the sacrifices to low speed handling and loiter time are unjustified. While I’ve come to believe that high munitions load has numerous drawbacks, if we do want a tactical bomber, then we can build a much better plane than this.
So what we’re left with is a CAS plane that is, relative to a real CAS plane, dangerous to fly, sluggish to control, poorly armed, and logistically intensive. On top of that, in order to make ourselves functional in that role, our range and endurance would have to take a large hit, partly ruining a lot of the point of the airplane over a traditional jet fighter. Finally, my ALX is a real STOL monster, capable of taking off and landing in short, rough fields. There’s absolutely no way you could possibly make a high speed cruiser magically generate enough lift to take off at low speeds from rough fields, especially when loaded down with armour.
But ultimately what really kills the concept, is that a beast of a CAS plane, also serves much of the role that the EF-1 serves as a Worlds Best Anti-Aircraft Artillery, or King of the Hill Air Superiority Fighter. If what we want is something that can bully enemy non-fighters, such as helicopters, out of the area, it may well be almost as good to have a dedicated CAS airplane. While the EF-1 would be making sweeps through an area and then doubling back, my ALX would not nearly have the speed to work that way, but you could just send them to an area to support Ground Forces, and then just tell them to destroy any flying hostile they encounter. If a battle is taking place over a small area of land, if the enemy wants to fly helicopters into there, then it doesn’t matter much if your cruise speed is 750 kmph, or 250 kmph, they have to come to you.
So a CAS plane that’s designed from the ground up to be a constant menacing presence over the battlefield will probably be good enough in that role to push out any serious niche for the prop fighter. Because a traditional Jet Fighter can cover an even larger amount of ground when sweeping through an area, the range upside versus a traditional CAS is lessened. Since a tough CAS plane can be even more persistent, while offering a lot more as an actual CAS airplane, there’s just not that much room on either end for the EF-1. If you want lots of ground covered and a plane that can dominate everything that flies, make yourself a Jet Fighter. If you want a plane that can provide excellent scouting and fire support for ground forces, build yourself a CAS. If you want a plane that is very mediocre at both, build yourself a prop fighter.
DEFENSIVE/INTEGRATED AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM
There is however, two possible niches remaining. First, while offensively it does appear that there are too many limitations to make the concept really worth producing. However, as part of an Integrated Air Defense System this plane could have a very valid niche, as a sort of Worlds Best Anti-Aircraft Artillery. Since the entire purpose of the ground based radar system plus SAM’s is to bleed energy from incoming hostile aircraft, something like the EF-1 probably has a much more valid role as the cleanup crew for incoming aircraft. The speed disadvantage is greatly lessened in importance, and the sheer presence in the sky has much more meaning when trying to stop what could very well be massed attacks against your cities/factories/interior military bases. Additionally, the lack of radar is nowhere near as important, since the ground based radars should be feeding the information into the plane. On top of all that, lack of armour is acceptable, since the ground underneath should be friendly ground, and taking ground fire a very much reduced risk.
Secondly, as a naval strike airplane the EF-1 has an argument. The very low speeds of my ALX are not particularly useful for finding things on the ocean, because they are not camouflaged soldiers, but boats floating on water. There is also a great deal more of an argument for range in and of itself, as opposed to persistence, since we are again, trying to find things on the open ocean. Finally, for tactical purposes, I would prefer to be in a faster plane as opposed to my ALX, since the low speed does not serve any real tactical purpose, and the same for the low speed maneuverability. The increased speed, possibly as much as 3x faster cruise speed, is a very real benefit in getting to a target quickly and avoiding SAM’s and AAA.
I am extremely happy that I decided to take the time to flesh out my thoughts and research things as I did, if for no other reason that it sharpened my designs for my FLX and ALX. As far as a Jet Fighter is concerned, I’m leaning a lot closer to something like a modern, dynamically unstable, and even lighter version of the A-4 Skyhawk, or the F-5 Tiger. Spiritual successors, more than evolutions of those specific designs of course.
The main reason being that persistence over a combat area is way more important than I had previously realized, and finding and destroying enemy non-fighters is more important than I had previously realized. To that end, a small onboard radar is an absolute must, since finding enemy non-fighters carries a tremendous amount of value, that may often be worth a pulse or two. IRST could well replace the radar, but I think that the all-weather and low-altitude advantages of radar make me lean towards a radar. Supercruise is definitely not on the table, due to the increased fuel consumption decreasing range and especially endurance. Instead, the aerodynamic design will have thicker wings, less sweep, and more wing, so as to generate more lift at all speeds, at the expense of max and cruise speed. The F-16’s cruise speed of between 790-1035 kmph is definitely the region we’re going for here. And in fact, a miniaturized F-16A would be the closest existing plane to what I want.
Boy that was a lot of work just to come to the conclusion that a turboprop fighter plane would be a very niche role aircraft. Ultimately, against a competent opponent, a fighter plane must be able to at least distract and chase away their fighters, while having the persistence, agility, and ammunition, to make multiple sweeps and kills against their other aircraft. Because of the inability to accomplish the former, the EF-1 may well not justify its own existence. I don’t think that a turboprop fighter should be built for anything other than niche roles where it’s disadvantages can be hid.
After seeing the effectiveness of 30mm gun, .50 cal machine guns seems inadequate in my opinion. I can understand that a large gun with high rate of fire cannot be placed at the nose due to the engine and the propeller. My solution to this is using a simple gun with a relatively low rate of fire that is placed sideways just like in AC-130. The FAC plane can shoot the same spot by circling around the target and would still be effective despite its low rate of fire. The ideal gun would be something like M230 on AH-64 or maybe even mk19 40mm grenade launcher. Would you agree?