The U.S. Air Force is reported to be considering acquiring at least 100 propeller-driven “counter-insurgency fighters.” The argument for such an aircraft is that it can fly low and slow, giving it the ability to engage hard-to-find targets, operate from small, rugged airfields and be useful in helping to train friendly air forces. Of course another reason for buying these fighters is to prove yet again to the Secretary of Defense that the Air Force will comply with his dictum to rebalance the force in favor of irregular warfare capabilities.
Has anyone, particularly the leadership of the Air Force, considered the possibility that flying low and slow can get a fighter shot down? The statistics from past wars are not encouraging. In Vietnam between 1964 and 1973, the military lost 150 A-1 Skyraiders, 82 0-2 Skymasters and 63 OV-10 Broncos in combat. For the entire Vietnam War, 464 propeller aircraft (observation aircraft and close support) were shot down. Most were hit by ground fire. More recently, two OV-10s were shot down by missiles in 1991 in the Iraq war (Operation Desert Shield/Storm).
Yes, Vietnam was a different environment than Afghanistan. But we will not always be fighting in Afghanistan. There are lots of places in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia where the U.S. could find itself conducting counter-insurgency operations and all of them have jungles and dense forests. Afghanistan has rugged terrain and high mountains from which the Mujahideen shot down dozens of Soviet helicopters and even some fixed-wing aircraft.
When the U.S. military is planning on deploying hundreds of low and slow flying unmanned aerial systems, many of them armed and all equipped with advanced sensors, why does the Air Force need a propeller-driven counter-insurgency fighter? Would not a combination of unmanned systems and higher-flying, faster jet aircraft armed with precision munitions be a better solution? Of course, this would not be as politically correct a solution as that demanded by Secretary Gates.
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