Low and Slow for the RAF
Like the old bomber generals use to insist, the fighter jocks of the Air Force say only their super-capable supersonic jets can win today’s wars. This is an interesting statement since Al Qaeda and the Taliban possess no such high tech, hundred million dollar (pound) equipment but seem to have been holding their own against the world’s most powerful air fleets. This is not to say the day of jet airpower is over, just that it can’t be everywhere, doing every mission considering their cost and special abilities.
So the jets need backup, and British Army Chief Sir David Richards, who understands best what kind of air support his troops in the field require, has an answer. In a recent speech before the IISS he stated:
Whilst, as you will hear, I am emphatically not advocating getting rid of all such equipment, one can buy a lot of UAVs or Tucano aircraft for the cost of a few JSF and heavy tanks.
Winning wars has never been about having the most advanced equipment, just the right type and especially lots of it. Modern military thought left over from the Cold War involves quick strikes in Big Wars, which are over fairly quickly. This type of philosophy has gone into the design of stealthy super-cruise jets like the F-22 Raptor and the British Typhoon fighter. While these are very important defending their host country from air assault where there are plentiful, well developed air strips, they have little place in the rough and wild Middle East.
For the troop support role, “low and slow” is the rule which is heresy to a hot-jet fight pilot. Even in the rare, peer conventional conflict, planes with slow stall speeds able to fly near the deck have been essential in the anti-tank role. The A-10 Warthog is one of the busiest planes in all America’s wars of the past several decades, and also the most unwanted plane in the inventory, which shows you where the air generals priorities really are.
It’s not just the General who is praising cheap but useful prop fighters like the Tucano. Listen to this debate from 2007 in the British Parliament:
The military seem to be obsessed with fast jets, yet history has proved that small and slow is far superior for close air support. For the price of one Eurofighter we could have a squadron of Super Tucanos. They can carry the same ordnance as a Harrier, with its loud bang, but unlike the Harrier, which can be over the battlefield for no more than 20 minutes, Tucanos can loiter overhead for hours on end, ready for use in a ground attack at a moment’s notice. We also tend to go in for expensive and complicated helicopters, which soak up manpower, like all complicated equipment. There appears to be little understanding of how light helicopters can be used effectively for ground attack.
The pilots would likely benefit the most from building more planes, even of the less capable variety.Today, flying is mostly done by the jets themselves, with computers doing most of the work, even able to land the plane in some cases. Of the old Spitfires and Hurricanes, it was said you “strapped them on” and were a joy to fly. They could operate from very sparse landings strips, as in the North African Deserts, or the jungles of the Pacific.
Increased numbers of planes would also end the death-spiral air forces have found themselves in the post Cold War era. As we often note, back during the last World War, thousands of new fighters were pouring out of British and American factories every month! Today, only a few hundred are purchased ever decade, and these are expected to serve for 20-30 years throughout their lifetime. Such output couldn’t stand up to any type of attrition in combat, such as American endured as recent as the Vietnam War, then against a low tech Third World power. So instead of keeping us safer, over-dependence on fast jets alone have put us at risk and in decline.