Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Empire Building

The US equipment procurement system is complex and impenetrable to an outsider. On at least one occasion it has been the subject for a comedy (Pentagon Wars). But today I feel we should cover that, and a few other items that are related to the A-10 Warthog, and the issues of US procurement run through the entire story. 

Roughly my reaction to this story... If you ever think your nation is bad at weapon procurement (I'm looking at you Czech Republic) refer back to this story.
The big argument was between the US Army and USAF, it was over Close Air Support (CAS). For the longest time the USAF had concentrated on high tech shiny supersonic marvels of the jet age. The Army, however, thought that CAS might be quite useful, while the USAF disagreed. The first inter-service agreement on the subject was from 1948. But by the outbreak of the Vietnam War the USAF had no way of providing CAS, and so started strapping bombs onto its planes. It was quickly found that these planes were somewhat ineffective. Luckily the US Navy and Marines operated the A-1 Skyraider, a plane designed in 1945, and the USAF begrudgingly brought these into service. It was from the experiences of the A-1 over Vietnam the A-10 would grow. 

Us Army Airborne Rocket Artillery from Vietnam, there's another bank of rockets on the far side of the aircraft. These were so heavy they were almost beyond the Huey's lift capabilities.
 In the early years of the Vietnam conflict the Army began to increase its rotary wing assets, much to the annoyance of the USAF which kept on trying to limit the Army's flight capabilities. The USAF view appears to have been if it flies it is part of the USAF’s remit, even if the air force was not working on the subject. Let’s not forget the main reason for the increase in rotary winged firepower was to provide the airmobile units sufficient firepower to do their jobs. By 1966 the air force relented and surrendered the control of rotary winged assets, but did come to the agreement that fixed winged assets were entirely within the scope of only the USAF. 

Rear of the AH-56 Cheyenne. Note the two tail rotors. One to prevent the body spinning, the other to provide forward thrust. Equally look at the size of the stub wings, these would actually provide a good chunk of lift when in motion.
The Army, then brought out their newest project, the AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter. This was vastly more capable attack helicopter than the AH-1 Cobra had been. It also bridged the gap between fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The USAF saw this as erosion of their responsibilities and immediately started putting up a fight against it. One of the responses to this threat was to launch the Attack Experimental (A-X) program to create a dedicated CAS aircraft. 

The A-X program was utterly despised by the air force brass. One Colonel was even fired after he was caught a bit too blatantly trying to sabotage the program. The core of the program was a group of experienced A-1 pilots, all with combat experience over Vietnam. The USAF then saw the US Marines working on the AV-8 Harrier program. They immediately attempted to use the A-X program to halt that development. Congress became involved as well. The result was the USMC's AV-8 was deemed not to be under the CAS umbrella and could go ahead. The AH-56 was also killed off partially for cost reasons. However, Congressmen had been approached by the manufacturers of the A-7 Corsair, which was suggested as a CAS aircraft by Congress, urged on by interests from Texas (The home state of the company that builds the A-7) . So, the Congressional hearings demanded that the winner of the A-X program would compete against the A-7, because reasons... 
A-7 pretending to be a dedicated CAS Aircraft over Vietnam. I mean it has a sharks mouth painted on it and everything!
The A-X program came to the conclusion that their plane needed the following abilities: massive cannon firepower, long loiter time and extreme survivability. Thus, two aircraft were selected. Both mounted the monstrous GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Gatling cannon, which we'll talk about later. The aircraft were the Northrop YA-9 and the Fairchild YA-10. The YA-9 bares a passing resemblance to a SU-25 Frogfoot. After comparative trials it was decided that the YA-10 was the winner and would go on to face the A-7. 
The YA-9 with its distinct SU-25/Warthog combination of looks.
Now the A-7 was in no way a dedicated CAS aircraft like the A-10. It was faster, with less loiter time, a lot less survivable, lacked the cannon armament and had a smaller payload. 
In 1974 the A-7 comparative trial was carried out. Despite the air forces utter disregard for the A-10, their hatred for the A-7 was greater. It appears the main reason for this was simply because it was a US Navy plane. The USAF was able to rig the trials to use the worst weather conditions they could, and thus prejudice the tests against the A-7. 
Even then with the A-10 coming out the winner of the A-X project, over the next few years it struggled to get into service with the USAF brass attempting to discredit or otherwise delay the project. It finally entered service in 1977, eleven years after the project was started, and five years after its first flight.