AV-8B Super Harrier: Separating Myth From Reality AUTHOR Major F. S. Durtcne CSC 1988 SUBJECT AREA Aviaton EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: AV-8B SUPER HARRIER: SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY I. Purpose: To analyze and identify existing deficiencies of the AV-8B aircraft in its air-to-ground, air-to-air, and survival capabilities in today's and tomorrow's tactical battlefield. II. Problem: No existing aircraft - in use by any nation - has had more written about its tactical use and capabilities than the AV-8B. In some cases, rising from these books, articles, and Journalistic interviews have come inflated and even mythical capabilities attributed to AV-8B in the attack and fighter regimes. III. Data: During the next three years the AV-8B, labeled by many as the "Super Harrier", will replace the AV-8A and the A-4M aircraft, becoming the Marine Corps' only light attack fixed wind asset. The operational and tactical missions required of AV-8B aircraft include: close-air-support (CAS), deep-air support (DAS), helicopter escort (HE), armed reconnaissance (ARMRECCE), and limited antiair-warfare (AAW). The first four missions require that the aircraft possess a state of the art bombing system with precision accuracy, operating equally as well day or night. The AV-8B aircraft is equipped with the ARBS delivery system. This same system is currently in use by the A-4M aircraft; an aircraft considered in need of replacement. The ARBS system is primarily for clear day weather utilization, possessing a limited night capability. No mythical capability of the AV-8B aircraft created by publication has been more dis- torted than the aircraft's performance in the air-to-air regime. Unfortunately, when addressing the AV-8B aircraft's capabilities, nothing could be further from the truth. A com- parison with "real" fighter aircraft shows the AV-8B suffers in its speed capability, sustained turning performance, and sustained excess power available at all altitudes. Addition- ally, the AV-8B incorporates no air-to-air radar, making it blind in today's high technology fighter environment. IV. Conclusions: The AV-8B suffers from significant defic- iencies in its bombing system, aerodynamic performance, and survival capabilities that will prevent it from accomplishing the CAS and DAS missions. The AV-8B suffers from severe def- iciencies that make its own survivability questionable; let alone its active use being considered in the AAW mission. V. Recommendations: Funding should be allocated to incor- porate the needed changes to the AV-8B aircraft. The changes should include a state of the art air-to-ground/air-to-air radar, integration with the LANTRIN system, and a new engine with greater thrust. AV-8B SUPER HARRIER: SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY OUTLINE Thesis Statement: The United States Marine Corps became so mesmerized by the V/STOL capability of the AV-8B aircraft that it acquired an aircraft deficient in its mission performance. This paper will address the deficiencies of the aircraft in conducting its assigned missions in today's battlefield and the required changes needed to be incorporated. I. The AV-8B Aircraft and Marine Corps Acquisition A. Replaces AV-8A and A-4M Aircraft B. Inflated Capabilities Built by Publication C. Can Not Do Its Assigned Missions II. FMFM 5-4 Offensive Air Support A. Tasks Assigned to The AV-8B Aircraft B. Capabilities Needed to Perform Missions III. Angle Rate Bombing System (ARBS) A. Technology of the System B. Deficiencies of ARBS for Day and Night Use C. Survivability Adequacy of AV-8B in Today's Battlefield Environment. IV. FMFM 5-5 AntiAir Warfare A. Requirements to Perform Mission B. Deficiencies of AV-8B C. Doctrinal Use of AV-8B: Logistical Supportability V. Required Improvements A. Air-to-Ground B. Air-to-Air C. Doctrine Rewrite AV-8B SUPER HARRIER: SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY During the next three years the United States Marine Corps will complete acquisition and integration of the AV-8B aircraft into its active inventory. The AV-8B, labeled by many as the "Super Harrier", will replace the AV-8A and the A-4M aircraft, becoming the Marine Corps' only light attack fixed-wing asset. No existing aircraft - in use by any nation - has had more written about its tactical use and capabilities than the AV-8B. In some cases, rising from these books, articles, and journalistic interviews have come inflated and even mythical capabilities attributed to AV-8B in the attack and fighter regimes. In somecases, the only factual information provided in these sources is that the AV-8B aircraft will be providing close-air-support (CAS) to the Marine Corps well into the 21st century. There is no arguing that the mythical AV-8B aircraft created by these publications is fully capable of accomplishing all missions. But myth and reality being something different, the question becomes: Can the real AV-8B aircraft do its assigned missions? The operational and tactical missions required of the AV-8B aircraft include: close-air-support (CAS), Deep-Air-Support (DAS), helicopter escort (HE), armed reconnaissance' (ARMRECCE) , and limited anti-air-warfare (AAW).1 The first four missions require that the aircraft possess a state of the art bombing system with precision accuracy, operating equally as well day or night. The aircraft must also possess the ability to precisely navigate to the intended target while eluding the ever increasing enemy's sophisticated anti-air-artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air-missiles systems (SAMS) The mythical AV-8B aircraft created by these publications is believed to possess unequaled air-to-ground capabilites.2 In reality the AV-8B aircraft is equipped with the Angle Rate Bombing System (ARBS). This same system is currently in use by the A-4M aircraft; an aircraft considered in need of replacement by the US Marine Corps. While the AV-8B does interface the ARBS with its inertial navigational system (INS) providing for slightly better weapon delivery Accuracy than the A-4M; it is still an antiquated system at best. Development of ARBS technology commenced in 1957 at the Naval Weapons Center located at China Lake, California. The current ARBS system is primarily for clear day weather utilization, possessing a limited night capability. When used during the day the pilot is required to devote critical time during the attack phase achieving a television designation of the target or target area with the systems dual mode tracker (DMT). The system computer can not process a weapon release solution without a DMT designation. Once the DMT designation is accomplished the computer will then process angular rate changes and ranges to display bombing symbology to the pilot for weapon delivery. The ARBS DMT is also restricted vertically and laterally by gimbal limits. After DMT designation, should the pilot need to aggressively maneuver the aircraft to evade enemy threat systems during the attack phase reaching the gimbal limits, a DMT break lock will occur. This will result in a loss of weapon delivery symbology to the pilot on the heads-up-display (HUD) system. The modern day battlefield will be obscured at best. Flying dust and smoke will be rampant over the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) . Dust will be created by maneuvering mechanized units of both opposing ground forces, by weapons employed by both opposing ground forces, and by the weapons used to supress the enemy's surface to air defenses (SEAD) . Smoke will be used by both opposing ground forces to conceal their courses of action from each other. The target and target area will be barely visable to the pilot with the naked eye; but not by much else. Unfortunately, this obscured battlefield will greatly lessen - if not eliminate - the contrast needed by the ARBS DMT in achieving a target designation. This will force the AV-8B pilot to use a standby system for weapon employment, resulting in tremendously reduced bombing accuracy. Night utilization of the ARBS is even more restrictive. The DMT requires the target to be designated by a ground or an airborne laser. Unfortunately, if there is no laser designation of the target the ARBS can not be utilized. Assuming the target is illuminated by a lasing device, the AV-8B aircraft employment manuals point out that there is little chance that the target can be found; let alone attacked.3 This results from a combination of the aircraft's inertial navigational system (INS) and the limited field of view on the heads-up-display (HUD) system given to the pilot. The INS of the AV-8B aircraft is good and on an attack mission will no doubt lead the pilot to the general target area. Unfortunately, at night - because the aircraft lacks any terrain following capability - the AV-8B pilot must fly at much higher altitudes than those that are achieveable during day operations. This will make the aircraft a "sitting duck" to the enemy's sophisticated air defense systems. Assuming the aircraft survives and arrives in the target area at night the INS will have to navigate the aircraft precisely to the target on precisely the right heading. The limited field of view of the HUD requires this otherwise the laser designation of the target is outside the pilot's viewing range; thus making acquisition and attacking of the target impossible. The tactical use of the AV-8B aircraft requires it be able to operate in close proximity to the stongest portion of the enemy's surface to air defense systems and survive. Survivability in today's and tomorrow's battlefields is and will continue to measured by "not getting hit". The United States Air Force's view on survival and success in the CAS and BAI environments requires an attack aircraft to possess maneuverability, speed, bombing accuracy, and high aerodynamic preformance capabilites.4 Survivability of an aircraft in the target area can now be measured in a few seconds. Reduced time in the target area means reduced time exposed to the enemy's lethal weapons systems. In the attack phase an aircraft must be able to go in fast, Possessing the ability to retain speed and maneuverability throughout its mission profile. Only these capabilities - combined with sound tactics - will assure a favorable chance of reaching, destroying, and eggressing successfully from the target. Unfortunately, the AV-8B- aircraft suffers in both of these areas because of its aerodynamic design and engine thrust capacity. The aircraft's aerodynamic design limits its maximum attainable speed and its lack of engine thrust prohibits the aircraft's ability to replace energy dissipated while aggressively maneuvering in the target area. These factors combined will increase the AV-8B aircraft's exposure time to the enemy' s lethal surface to air defense systems. Defense analyst engineers use even more criteria to judge the survivability adequacy of an aircraft in the tactical battlefield. Unfortunately, the AV-8B suffers deficiencies in these areas too. Most of the Soviet's surface to air defense systems employ an acquisition and target tracking radar to engage an aircraft.5 The sooner a target can be designated on radar, the sooner it can be engaged by the air defense weapons. Each aircraft has a radar cross section signature which is based on its aerodynamic design and other classified factors which can not be expounded upon further here. When put through this analysis testing the AV-8B aircraft is considered to have a very signifcant radar cross section signature for an aircraft of its size. This will make it easier to find and easier to kill by the enemy. Even though the best way to survive in the battlefield arena is by not "getting hit" by the enemy's air defense weapons; reality would seem to indicate that some aircraft will feel the "sting" of these weapons. How vulnerable an aircraft's systems and subsystems are to these impacts directly effects its survivability. Not having self-sealing fuel tanks and being a single engine aircraft makes the AV-8B aircraft less capable of surviving a weapon impact. Assuming the aircraft does not explode after receiving a weapon impact in its fuel tanks, its remaining flight time will certainly be short. The results of receiving a weapon impact in a single engine aircraft can be many and varied but none of them are good. The reality is that the survivability adequacy of the AV-8B aircraft in the tactical battlefield is not what it should be for an aircraft designed to spend much of its time operating there. In the end, the AV-8B aircraft suffers from significant deficiencies in its bombing system, aerodynamic performance, and survival capabilities that will prevent it from successfully accomplishng the offensive-air-support (OAS) mission for the United States Marine Corps. The United States Marine Corps' concept of utilization of the AV-8B aircraft will often find it as the only fixed wing asset available for the anti-air-warfare (AAW) mission. No mythical capability of the AV-8B aircraft created by publication has been more distorted than the aircraft's performance in the air-to-air regime. An example of this is no better illustrated than reading the foreward by Major General Homer S. Hill USMC (Ret.) to the book Good Friday; he writes: I was one of the principle American generals during the period of 1970-1972 to push through the procure- ment of the AV-8A-one of the most remarkable weapons in the arsenal of the United States. This is the first novel of which I am aware, that reveals the great versatility of this marvel- ous piece of technology. As the reader will learn, the AV-8B (the most recent version) can outmaneuver any fighter in the world.6 This myth is further supported by the belief that the British' "Sea Harrier" preformed outstand inably in the Falklands War. The reality is that most of the Argentine aircraft were destroyed either on the ground or by the British surface-to-air-defense systems.7 Those Argentine aircraft that were engaged and destroyed in the air by the "Sea Harrier" had already dropped their weapons on British shipping and were operating at their maximum combat radius. The aircraft could not afford to engage in defending themselves and waste precious fuel needed to reach the mainland; effectively they were defenseless. Unfortunateiy, when addressing the AV-8B aircraft's superior air-to-air capabilities; you quickly find that nothing could be further from the truth. The design capabilities and requirements desired of an aircraft to optimumly perform in the air-to-air arena include: an aggressive pilot, supersonic speed, sustained turning performance, air-to-air radar, and radar/IR missile capability.8 The AV-8B aircraft will not suffer for lack of an aggressive pilot that wants to accomplish the mission, but aggressiveness alone will not overcome the severe deficiencies the aircraft suffers in other areas. When a comparative analysis of the AV-8B is done to "real" fighter aircraft - such as the F-15,F-16,F-18,SU-27, and MIG-29 - the aircraft is severely deficient. The comparison shows the AV-8B aircraft suffers in its speed capability, sustained turning performance, and sustained excess power available at all altitudes.9 Additionally, the AV-8B aircraft incorporates no air-to-air radar, effectively making it blind in today's high technology fighter environment. While other United States' aircraft can see 60NM ahead and track multiple enemy aircraft, planning their attacks; the AV-8B aircraft pilot must wait until the bogey is within his visual range. This, of course, assumes that the pilot is looking in the right direction at the right time and is in a clear weather situation. It goes without saying that at night and in obscured weather conditions he is effecetively blind; making the aircraft etremely vulnerable to the enemy. Not having the radar also means the aircraft is incapable of carrying and launching radar guided missiles, which tremendously reduces its engagement "killing zone". The simple fact is the probability of the AV-8B aircraft surviving against fighter aircraft employing missiles launched outside its visual range is doubtful. One only needs to note the tremendous success the Israeli' F-15 and F-16 aircraft had against the Syrian's - a kill ratio of 80:1 - , to realize how vulnerable the AV-8B aircraft is in the air-to-air arena.10 In the end, the reality is the AV-8B aircraft suffers from severe deficiencies that make its own survivability questionable; let alone its active use being considered in the active anti -air-warfare (AAW) mission The final myth created about the AV-8B aircraft concerns its doctrinal utilization and logistical supportability in combat. The general belief is that the AV-8B aircraft will be able to supply continuous offensive air support for the ground conbat element (GCE) wherever it may maneuver ashore. FMFM 5-4, the Offensive Air Support Manual, indicates this will be done in three phases; Phase I: Operation from Sea Bases, Phase II: Initial Operations Ashore, and Phase III: Full Operations Ashore. In all phases the effort is to base the AV-8B aircraft as close to the supported units as possible. FMFM 5-4 states: Idealy, fuel and ordnance would be staged at forward sites close to the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) , thereby allowing aircraft to refuel and rearm without returping to the main base or amphibious shipping.11 The definition of a forward site is a location ashore which is suitable for takeoff and landing of V/STOL aircraft. It will be austere, located in a secure area (nominal distance of 20NM from the FEBA) , and vary from a road to a grass field. This forward basing concept is more of a disadvan- tage than an advantage. An example is that six harriers forward based flying 24 sorties a day will require 100,000 lbs of ordnance and 100,000 lbs of fuel.12 Assuming we're capable of doing it, it doesn't take long to figure out that the majority of logistical and combat service support would have to be dedicated to this aviation element. These daily requirements will adversely affect the ground combat element force and require significant use of its assets to protect these forward base sites. I would submit that on the modern battlefield it is going to be tremendously difficult to definitively draw the FEBA. Additionally, that the basing of V/STOL aircraft 20NM from the FEBA, giving an enemy soldier with a AK-47 the chance of shooting the aircraft on the ground is tactical "unsound" at best. Proponents indicate that the extra logistical support, transportation, and security needed will be well worth it because of the rapid air support response for the ground commander. In his article, The Falklands Crisis: Emerging Lessons for Power Projection and Force Planning, Mr. Anthony H. Cordesman comes to a different conclusion; he states: The F-18 aircraft at 150NM radius can deliver twice as many MK-82SE/MK-20 bombs as the AV-8B can operat- ing under short takeoff conditions and have more time on station. At 200NM radius, the F-18 aircraft main- tans its payload advantage ever the AV-8B and can remain on station three times longer.13 The bottom line is that its not how close you are to the FEBA that counts, as much as, how fast you can get there with large quantities of ordnance and remain on station to use it. I would also submit that the chances of aircraft like the F-15E, F-16C, and F/A-18C/D to fight their way in, survive, and fight their way out is significantly better than the AV-8B aircraft. How did it happen? How could the United States Marine Corps acquire an aircraft that when it entered service was already deficient in accomplishing its assigned missions? Unfortunately, the Marine Corps began to believe the myth; eventually, becoming so mesmerized by the V/STOL concept that it lost sight of what the aircraft had to do to accomplish the mission. Opponents of the aircraft - and there were many - indicated the AV-8B would not be able to provide the needed timely, reliable, and accurate close-air -support to the ground combat element. The same opponents indicated the doctrinal use postulated by the Marine Corps of the AV-8B made little tactical sense; let alone that it was not supportable logistically. What can the United States Marine Corps do to correct the deficiencies of the AV-8B aircraft? Unfortunately, the DOD budget constraints may not allow for anything to be done. The Secretary of Defense, Mr. Frank Carlucci recent- ly reported that the Department of Defense could expect a $300 billion shortfall in funding over the next five years. Still the most important thing is for the United States Marine Corps to first recognize the deficiencies of the AV-8B aircraft. Once doing so, it should aggressively pursue the necessary funding to incorporate the needed changes. The changes should include a state of the art air-to-ground/air-to-air combination radar - such as in the F-16 aircraft - to correct the deficiencies noted previously. Integration with the low-altitude-navigation -and-targeting-infrared-night (LANTRIN) system, to give the AV-8B aircraft a true night attack capability. Also, a new engine with greater thrust capability to help sustain energy while maneuvering in the attack and fighter arenas. Finally, a doctrine rewrite should be done for the AV-88 aircraft that is realistic in its tactical viability and logistical supportability. Only then will the AV-8B aircraft be able to provide the timely, reliable, and accurate close-air-support that the ground combat element ) requires and has come to expect from Marine Aviation. FOOTNOTES 1U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 5-1, Marine Aviation, p. 36. 2Major J .L. Lehman, "Here Comes the AV-8! " Marine Corps Gazette (May 1984), p. 64. 3AV-8B Aircraft, Tactical Manuals, Vol I and II. 4Mr. J.W. Canan, "More Flak in the AirLand Battle. Air Force Magazine (February 1988) , p. 76. 5Mr. J.W. Taylor, "Gallery of Soviet Weapons." Air Force Magazine (March 1988), p. 75. 6Major General H.S. Hill, USMC (Ret.), Foreward to Good Friday, by Mr. R.L. Holt. 7Mr. A.H. Cordesman, "The Falklands: the Air War and Missle Conflict." Armed Forces Journal Intl . (September 1982), p. 50. 8Mr. Dick Pawloski, "Fighter Weapons Symposium" 12th Edition Booklet. 9Ibid. 10Cordesman, p. 55. 11FMFM 5-4, Offensive Air Support, p. 112. 12FMFM 5-4, p. 115. 13Mr. A.H. Cordesman, "The Falklands Crisis: Emerging Lessons for Power Projection and Force Planning." Armed Forces Journal Intl . (September 1982) , p. 55. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Canan, James W., "More Flak in the AirLand Battle." Air Force Magazine (February 1988) , 76. 2. Coredesman, A.H. "The Falklands Crisis: Emerging Lessions for Power Projection and Force Planning. " Armed Forces Journal Intl . (September 1983) , p . 55 3. Coredesman, A.H. "The Falklands: the Air War and Missle Conflict. " Armed Forces Journal Intl. (September 1983) p. 50. 4. Department of the Navy, AV-8B Aircraft, Tactical Manuals Vols I and II. 5. Holt, R.L., Good Friday. Blue Ridge Summit: TAB book Inc, 1987. 6. Lehman, J.R. Maj, USMC. "Here Comes the AV-8!" Marine Corps Gazette (May 1984) , 64. 7. Mason, F.K. Harrier. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983 8. Myles, B. Jump Jet. San Rafael: Presidio Press, 1979. 9. McCalla, J.C., Maj, USMC. "AV-8B: Two Meanings to Air Support." Marine Corps Gazette (May 1987), 72. 10. Pawloski, Dick. "Fighter Weapons Symposium" 12th Edition Booklet. 11. Taylor, J.W., "Gallery of Soviet Weapons." Air Force Magazine (March 1988) , 75. 12. U.S. Marine Corps. Combat Service Support, FMFM 4-1. 13. U.S. Marine Corps. Offensive Air Support, FMFM 5-4. 14. U.S. Marine Corps. AntiAir Warfare, FMFM 5-5.
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