Time to think properly about air support

When a British Major criticised the air support he was receiving in Afghanistan – “utterly, utterly useless” – it unleashed the predictable response from analysts of condemning the treasury, and questioning whether Britain should really be in Afghanistan at all.

So, it’s good to see someone with a real knowledge of aircraft weighing in on the debate.  Joe Katzman argues that, although British Harriers are underequipped in contrast to US Harriers, the real problem is that we are using the wrong kind of plane for the job.  He quotes a US Army Sergeant:

“The aircraft that we have are awesome, but they are too awesome, they are too fast, too high speed. The older technology, the A-10, is far better than the new technology, Antenori said.

And concludes:

[I]f the kinds of failed state/ peacemaking conflict represented by Afghanistan are indeed a future norm, the same Western militaries that are rethinking their wheeled patrol vehicles may also wish to rethink the balance and composition of their air assets. In order to provide the support required by their troops on the ground, “new” items like “Bronco” type forward air control aircraft (currently under US consideration) at the low end, purpose-built aircraft like the A-10 or lighter options like options like the Brazilian Super Tucano et. al., and even light gunship aircraft may be necessary, in order to handle forward observation and light precision attack roles properly.

The Treasury won’t like it – buying a whole new set of planes is going to cost money.  But it’s something that needs to be done.  We need to accept that a great deal of the missions undertaken by British troops over the next couple of decades will involve ground combat against insurgents.  They are not – usually – going to require Top Gun style dogfights against highly skilled Soviet pilots.

While the Harrier and Eurofighter are able to play both air combat and ground support roles, they are expert in one, and amateur in the other.  Far, far better for the British government to invest in two experts.