Saturday, July 31, 2010

Air support could come from unmanned A-10s

By Scott Fontaine - Staff writer
Air Force Times
Posted: Saturday Jul 31, 2010 12:22:30 EDT

An unmanned A-10 overhead and a joint terminal attack controller on the ground with the firing controls in his hands.

It's not possible now, but it will be in the next few years, theoretically cutting response time dramatically and reducing errors in close-air support strikes.

The Pentagon's advanced research arm wants an aircraft 30 miles from a firefight to be able to attack within six minutes of a request by a JTAC. The airman would access the plane's targeting sensors, enter coordinates to multiple targets and send ammo flying.

Officials with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency expect to award a contract for the venture later this year; a live-fire demonstration is proposed for the last quarter of fiscal 2014. The contractor will modify an A-10 already in the fleet.

The new take on strikes, called persistent close-air support, won't mean the end of fighter pilots, project manager Stephen Waller, a former F-15 and F-16 pilot, assured defense contractors and military personnel at a Washington-area conference in late July.

"I'm not trying to unman the fighter fleet," he said. "I'm not trying to rip the pilots out of the cockpit."

Close-air support strikes now, though, have problems, Waller said: Ground control can be cumbersome, coordinates are transmitted by voice and can be misinterpreted, manned crews have limited air time, current drones have smaller weapons arsenals and can usually handle only one target at a time, and the response time can be 30 minutes to an hour.

"If the guy can sit in a foxhole with an M16 and pull a trigger, why can't he do that with an airborne asset?" said Dave Neyland, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.

Though persistent support is still being developed, here's how DARPA envisions it would work:

The A-10 could be manned or unmanned; an unmanned plane would loiter autonomously but would be under the control of an A-10 pilot at a ground control station when responding to an attack and for all takeoffs and landings.

The pilot would give "coordinated consent" for the launch of weapons; the JTAC would fire the weapons using a portable computer. With the computer, the JTAC would access the A-10's sensors, punch in coordinates for its targeting pods and determine the predicted blast radius and effectiveness of the weapons.

An A-10 typically carries a seven-barreled, 30mm Gatling gun and up to 16,000 pounds of bombs. The MQ-1 Predator carries two Hellfire missiles, and the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper carries about as many bombs as an A-10 but doesn't have a machine gun — a valuable weapon in close-quarters combat.

The Thunderbolt II also is faster than the Predator and Reaper. The A-10 tops out at 420 mph. The Predator cruises at 84 mph and can fly up to 135 mph, and the Reaper cruises at about 230 mph.


1 comment:

  1. ...this is easily the dumbest thing I've ever read.