May 23, 2007:
One type of warplane that is making a
bit of a comeback is counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft. One sign of
this comeback is the U.S. Air Force
seeking to find a COIN aircraft suitable for the Iraqi Air Force. This is the
start of rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force, and helping Iraq defend itself,
allowing the United States to withdraw. There are several COIN aircraft on the
market, and sales have been brisk, although unpublicized.
COIN aircraft have a lot in common. They are
single-engine, propeller-driven aircraft. The top speed is pretty slow when
compared to planes like the F-16, usually no faster than 600 kilometers per
hour. They also carry a much lighter armament, usually about one ton of bombs,
two to four 2.75-inch rocket pods, and a pair of machine guns (either 7.62
millimeter or 12.7 millimeter). These are advantages in the counter-insurgency
mission, not disadvantages.
In counter-insurgency, one is not just trying to
take out the bad guys - although taking them out usually helps.
Counter-insurgency is also about winning the hearts and minds of the populace.
While 500-pound bombs with precision guidance can kill bad guys - and have been
used by the United States and Israel in Iraq and the Gaza Strip - they also
cause a lot of collateral damage. That tends to cause PR problems.
This is where the lighter, slower, COIN aircraft
come in handy. The lighter weapons they use can often be aimed more precisely,
usually due to the slower speed of the aircraft. These weapons are much less
likely to cause collateral damage. A standard Mark 82 500-pound bomb usually
carries about 200 pounds of high explosives. That is a pretty big bang - and in
addition to taking out the room a sniper or machine-gunner is in, it tends to
destroy the rest of the building and damage neighboring buildings. A 2.75-inch
Hydra rocket usually only has a 15-pound warhead. That is usually enough to do
the job, and it won't bother the neighbors that much.
One other benefit that new counter-insurgency
planes would bring to the table is permitting the use of precision-guided
missiles like the Hellfire. That missile has a range of about eight kilometers,
can be laser-guided or use millimeter-wave radar. The Hellfire has a 20-pound
warhead. Currently, the Hellfire is primarily carried by attack helicopters,
which have been vulnerable to RPGs and surface-to-air missiles. COIN aircraft
are faster than helicopters, and harder to get a bead on. COIN aircraft can
also get to a given place faster than helicopters, which can only go about 300
kilometers an hour at most.
These new COIN planes will not only allow Iraq to
stand up and allow the United States to withdraw, they will make life much
harder for terrorists. They also can serve as basic trainers, easing the
logistics situation for the Iraqi Air Force as well. In essence, they will be
the first planes of the new Iraqi Air Force that try to defend the emerging
democracy. - Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)