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The All-Weather Attack Aircraft For The '90's:  A-6F or A-18(AW)?
CSC 1985
                    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
         A-6F OR A-18 (AW)?
I.   Purpose:  To determine which of the two candidates
proposed to replace the A-6E can best meet the requirements
for a successful follow-on all-weather attack aircraft.
II.  Problem:  Although the A-6E has performed well since
its introduction in the 1960's, it now has serious problems
that will require its replacement by the early 1990's.  The
A-6F and A-18(AW) have been proposed as replacement candi-
dates.  Both aircraft have advantages and disadvantages that
must be weighed to determine which aircraft should be chosen.
III. Data:  The current all-weather attack aircraft, the
A-6E, has developed serious problems due to its age.  The
airframe, designed in the '50's and built mainly in the
'60's, is reaching service-life limits, has severe mainte-
nance and structural problems, and lacks the speed and maneu-
verability to survive modern air defenses.  Its ability to
perform the all-weather mission of sea control and power
projection in bad weather and in darkness against the projected
threat is questionable.  Two candidates, the A-6F and the
A-18(AW), have been proposed to replace the A-6E.  They have
been compared in the following three requirement areas:  pay-
load and range, maintenance and availability, and survivabil-
ity.  In the payload and range area the A-6F was the better
aircraft, able to carry more ordnance at any given distance
with a maximum range beyond that of the A-18(AW)'s.  Main-
tenance and availability was a definite advantage of the
A-18(AW)'s.  It not only improved on the A-6E's performance
in this area, but easily met maintenance goals set by the
Navy for the next generation aircraft that-the A-6F would
not be able to achieve.  Finally, the A-18(AW) scored the
highest in the most important area--survivability.  The A-6F
would not improve in the vital characteristics of speed,
maneuverability and ease of detection.  The A-18(AW) makes
the quantum leap in those factors required to meet the
projected improvements in enemy air-defense capabilities.
IV.  Conclusions:  The A-6E must be replaced by the early
1990's.  A comparison of the two replacement candidates shows
that they both have advantages and disadvantages.  However,
not only does the A-18(AW) perform better in two out of the
three requirement areas, but it performs best in the key area
of survivability.  The A-18(AW)'s ability to survive the pro-
jected threat makes it the only choice to replace the A-6E.
V.   Recommendation:   The aircraft selected to replace the
A-6E should be the A-18(AW).
                    A-6F OR A-18(AW)?
     Although the A-6F out performs its rival in some ways,
the replacement for the A-6E should be the A-18(AW) because
this aircraft scores the highest in the one area that counts
the most--survivability in the high-threat environment of
the 1990's.
I.   Reasons for replacing the A-6E
     A.  Service life projections
     B.  Maintenance and structural problems
     C.  Inability to meet advances in threat technology
II.  Requirements for the replacement aircraft
     A.  All-weather attack mission
     B.  Payload and range characteristics
     C.  Maintenance characteristics
     D.  Survivability characteristics
III. Description of the A-6F
     A.  Payload and range characteristics
     B.  Maintenance characteristics
     C.  Survivability characteristics
IV.  Description of the A-18(AW)
     A.  Payload and range characteristics
     B.  Maintenance characterisitics
     C.  Survivability characteristics
V.   Comparison of the two aircraft
     A.  Payload and range characteristics
     B.  Maintenance characteristics
     C.  Survivability characteristics
Table                                      Page
  1.    Aircraft Comparison Factors          18
  1.    Projected Number of Available and
         Required A-6E's and KA-6D's          3
  2.    Anti-Air Defense Coverage            10
  3.    Interceptor Aircraft Radar
         Capability                          10
                    A-6F OR A-18(AW)?
     The choice of a replacement aircraft for the durable
A-6E has developed into a serious contest between two quality
adversaries.  What started as a quiet search within the
all-weather attack community for a follow-on aircraft for
the '90's has developed into a slug-fest being fought out
at the top levels of the Department of Defense.  With mil-
lions of dollars at stake, both Grumman and McDonnell Douglas
have jumped into the fray with expensive campaigns touting
the capabilities of the two replacement candidates--the
Grumman A-6F and the McDonnell Douglas A-18 All Weather(AW).
News of this growing battle has begun to appear in the media.
In a Defense Week article, Navy Secretary John F. Lehman was
said to favor the A-6F, only using discussions about the
A-18(AW) as "a stick with which to prod Grumman into trim-
ming its cost projections." (2:7)  However, this same article
went on to say that many other sources in the Pentagon felt
that the all-weather A-18 was better because it could be
produced for a considerably lower cost. (2:12)  Finally,
there has even been disagreement between the Navy and the
Marine Corps, with the Navy supporting the A-6F while the
Marine Corps pushes for the A-18(AW). (5:4)
     This type of disagreement and controversy is cer-
tainly nothing new in aircraft procurement, with the fight
over the B-1 bomber program being the most recent case.
However, even though it may be painful to those involved,
there can be no argument that healthy competition has proven
to be a potent antidote to overpricing, and can also result
in a rapid advance in technology.  What must be avoided is
getting wrapped up in rhetoric and making a choice before
all of the facts are known.  Choosing a new aircraft because
the manufacturer is located in your home district may be
enough of a reason for a congressman, but it is incumbent
upon those in the Defense Department involved in this type
of decision to have a total understanding of the situation.
Why a replacement is needed, what requirements the replace-
ment must meet, and the ability of the replacement candi-
dates to meet those requirements must be researched and
documented.  Only then can a choice be made and justified
to both those who have to approve the choice and those who
have to fly the chosen product.
     Before any discussion of a new attack aircraft takes
place, it should first be determined why the one already
operating must be replaced.  The A-6E has supplied the need
for an aircraft that can attack targets in bad weather or
darkness since the early '60's.  Unfortunately, it has devel-
oped some serious problems that make its future use highly
doubtful.  The problem that initiated the search for a new
aircraft was the simple fact that the Navy and the Marine
Corps are running out of A-6E's.  Their numbers have been
decreasing over the past several years as attrition has
exceeded production.  The attrition rate is projected to
be 2.6% of operational aircraft per year, or a loss of
about six aircraft every year. (5:1)  In some years fund-
ing was not provided to meet that attrition rate, and in
other years the actual attrition rate exceeded the pro-
jected rate.  The year 1983 was an unfortunate example
of this when eight aircraft were lost.  This decrease in
total aircraft available has already resulted in the
primary aircraft authorization for A-6 squadrons being
cut from 12 to 10 aircraft in order to maintain the
current squadron structure in the Navy and the Marine
Corps. (3:32)  Without this reduction the services would
have had to shut down operational units that are needed to
meet fixed commitments.
     Far more serious than this gradual decrease in num-
bers is the problem looming on the horizon for the major-
ity of the A-6's now in service.  Most of the present force
was built during the  1960's.  Although the weapons systems
in those aircraft have been updated several times, the air-
frames are still basically the same.  All airframes have a
prescribed service life at the end  of which they must be
retired.  Since the A-6's service life is approximately
23-25 years, block obsolescence can be expected during the
1990's when close to 25 aircraft per year will have to be
retired. (6:3)  Figure 1 gives a graphic picture of require-
ments versus total aircraft available by year, clearly show-
ing a need for some type of action by the 1990's.
Click here to view image
     Another drawback affecting the A-6E is its contin-
uing maintenacne and strctural problems.  Repairs and
maintenance on the A-6E are much more difficult and time-
consuming than on newer aircraft designed and built with
modern avionics and engines.  (6:3)  Also, because of ad-
vances in technology, items designed in the '50's and built
in the '60's cannot match the durability of comparable items
being designed and built today.  A quick comparison of the
A-6E's and the much newer F/A-18's maintenance man-hours
per flight hour (MMPFH) over a six-month time period in 1984
shows it took 52.1 MMPFH to keep the A-6E flying compared to
the F/A-18's 25.9 MMPFH.  (4:1) While this may be somewhat
like comparing apples and oranges, the fact that it takes
double the effort to keep the older A-6E  flying cannot be
ignored.  The greater the MMPFH, the greater the operating
costs will be and the  lower the the mission capability.  This
certainly proves true as a further comparison shows the A-6E
running a 62% mission-capable rate compared to the F/A-18's
much better 75% rate.  (5:XIX)
     The A-6E is also experiencing significant structural
problems.  Cracks in the wings resulting from a shorter than
predicted fatigue life caused by the aircraft being operated
at heavier weights and with higher load factors than were
originally anticipated, have resulted in the grounding of
176 of the 344 total A-6E's in the inventory. Many of the
remaining aircraft have been G-limited to prevent further
cracks, and service-life estimates have been reduced from
the 4,400 hours originally projected for the wings to 2,000-
3,000 hours.  It will require six months to rewing each A-6
at a considerable cost to the government. (11:21)  While
this wing problem is the most dramatic and visible of the
A-6E's maintenance and structural problems, there are numer-
ous others as can be expected in any piece of machinery
close to 20 years old.
     Although the problems mentioned already are serious
enough, it could be argued that buying new A-6E's would
solve many of these problems and that there is no need to
spend money on the research and development of another air-
craft.  However, before one jumps to that conclusion, the
A-6E's biggest handicap must be examined--its inability to
survive on the modern battlefield.  The sophistication and
proliferation of surface-to-air weapons, the increasing  
capabilities of eastern block fighters, and the increasing
ability of radars to detect aircraft at greater ranges and
lower altitudes will make the battlefield of the 90's a
much more difficult place on  which to operate and survive
than the one that the A-6E was originaly designed to meet.
This was brought home in a forceable manner during the most
recent use of the A-6E in combat, the bombing raid of 4 Dec-
ember 1983 on Syrian positions in Lebanon.  While some pilots
claimed that the targets and attack time were inappropriate
for the A-6E, (18:A5) many other critics pointed out that
the aircraft's lack of speed and agility in the combat area
exposed it to high risk and resulted in the loss of an
A-6E, (6:2)  This lack of speed and agility will penalize
the A-6E no matter what the target or attack time happens
to be, and will certainly be a bigger factor if, unlike
Lebanon, the enemy force can call on the full spectrum of
Soviet air-defense capabilities.
     The A-6E has other survivability drawbacks beyond this
lack of combat speed and its limited maneuverability when
loaded with ordnance.  Most of its fuel is carried in non-
self-sealing tanks, its flight controls are hydraulic and
have less redundancy than newer aircraft, and its self-
defense capability is limited by the lack of air-to-air
radar and ordnance stations dedicated to air-to-air mis-
siles.  The A-6E is forced to rely on passive defenses such
as electronic warning and countermeasures, night or bad
weather attacks and evasion.  All of these methods are
quickly losing their effectiveness as anti-air defenses
improve. (6:3)  What is needed is an aircraft capable of
performing the all-weather attack mission and surviving in
the face of the projected threat of the '90's.  The A-6E
has done a fine job in the past, but it can no longer meet
that challenge.
    Determining which aircraft can best meet that challenge
is a difficult task, so the requirements that will be used
to compare the two replacement candidates being considered
must be carefully chosen.  Fair requirements that all com-
bat aircraft must meet can be broken down into the following
three broad areas:  payload and range, maintenance and avail-
ability, and survivability. (5:5)  Since it has been deter-
mined already that the A-6F and A-18(AW) are the only candi-
dates, (6:1) a new aircraft will not be built from scratch.
Therefore, what is expected in each of these three areas
will only be described in general.  Exact standards that
must be met do not need to be set, as the characteristics of
the A-6F and A-18(AW) have already been established in
contractor proposals.  These characteristics can be easily
compared in the three areas to determine which aircraft
will best perform the  all-weather attack mission for  the
Navy and the Marine Corps.
     Before the requirement areas are described, it is
essential to have a firm understanding of the all-weather
attack mission.  To a large extent, mission dictates the
requirements that each individual type of aircraft must
meet.  The all-weather attack mission includes many differ-
ent tasks which are emphasized differently by the Navy and
the Marine Corps.  The Navy describes the all-weather mis-
sion as the destruction of moving and fixed sea and land
targets in all-weather conditions and during darkness. (6:1)
While land targets are included in that mission statement,
the Navy naturally puts more emphasis on sea control tasks
such as anti-ship operations, open-ocean interdiction, aerial
mining, surface surveillance and aerial refueling mis-
sions. (3:34)  On the other hand, the Marine Corps' number
one task is to conduct close air support under all-weather
conditions.  While the capability to deploy and operate
from aircraft carriers is mentioned, the majority of Marine
tasks deal with power-projection missions such as supporting
the infantry scheme of maneuver and destroying land tar-
gets. (9:36-37)  Although difficult to combine all these
tasks into one mission statement, it is clear that the
replacement aircraft will have to operate at sea and over
land, be capable of performing a variety of high and low
altitude attacks during conditions of darkness and bad
weather, and operate in both the sea control and power-
projection roles.  The requirements established for the
replacement aircraft must reflect that mission in order for
the aircraft selected to successfully perform all required
     The first requirement area that will be used to compare
the two candidates is fairly straight forward.  Payload and
range characteristics are closely related and inter-dependent
on each other since the more ordnance loaded on any given
aircraft, the less its range.  This is either because more
fuel is burned to move a heavier aircraft, or because exter-
nal gas tanks are removed to make room for more ordnance.
Although not equally important to every task, as some can be
accomplished with less ordnance or at closer ranges, payload
and range are obviously important factors when the overall
mission of an attack aircraft is examined. (5:5)  Without
the ability to carry a large amount of ordnance a long way,
the capability to perform many of the power-projection
tasks is greatly reduced.  Much of  the criticism directed
towards the AV-8 attack aircraft was due to its lack of
range and restricted ordnance load.  Of course, if only
payload and range were used as criteria for selecting the
replacement aircraft, a large blimp might win the compe-
tition.  Payload and range must be tempered by the other
characteristics needed in a successful attack aircraft.
     The second requirement concerns an aircraft's main-
tenance and availability characteristics.  These charac-
teristics are equally important to any task the all-weather
attack aircraft is expected to carry out.  No matter how
else an aircraft performs the mission, if it is unreliable
and sitting in the hangar the majority of the time it is
going to be a liability, not an asset.  Included within
the overall aspects of maintenance and availability are
five factors that will be used to compare the two candi-
dates. (5:5)  First, is deck spotting, or the amount of
parking space an aircraft occupies.  One deck spot is equal
to a certain amount of space on an aircraft carrier deck
and is standard throughout the Navy.  Smaller is better in
this case, allowing more aircraft to fit into any given main-
tenance work area, and allowing aircraft to be moved in and
out of hangar spaces with greater ease.  Second, is mean
flight hours between failures (MFH/BF) which states how long
an aircraft can fly before a major component fails.  In the
Navy's specification sheet for the testing of a replacement
aircraft, a goal of 1.1 hours was set. (8:9-3)  For compar-
ison the A-6E is currently running a very poor .6 hours
MFH/BF. (5:XIX)  Third, is maintenance man-hours per flight
hour (MMPFH), or the amount of work required so that an
aircraft can fly for one hour.  The lower this figure, the
more the aircraft will be available and the less mainte-
nance personnel that will be required.  The Navy's specifi-
cation sheet calls for 23 MMPFH (8:1O-3), which is a large
improvement over the A-6E's current 52 MMPFH.  Fourth, is an
aircraft's mission-capability rate which indicates the per-
centage of aircraft that will be capable of performing the
mission at any given time.  This is normally a direct reflec-
tion of MFHBF and MMPFH.  The worse those two are, the lower
the aircraft's mission capability.  Last, is the fatigue
life of an aircraft which gives the amount of hours an air-
craft can fly before it is retired and is a strong indica-
tor of the useful life of the aircraft. (5:5)
     The third and final requirement area is also the most
important.  Survivability characteristics of an aircraft
will determine if it is a success or a failure.  An attack
aircraft that can go 2,000 miles, carry 20 tons of ordnance,
and is 100% mission capable is worth nothing if it  cannot
penetrate enemy defenses.  The replacement aircraft must be
able to survive in a severe-threat environment as, other
than the Maverick missile, there is little indication of
development of effective standoff weapons in the U.S. (10:1538)
Additionally, certain power-projection missions, such as
deep interdiction, will always require penetration of enemy
     Unfortunately, penetration is becoming increasingly
more difficult as anti-air weapons improve.  The increasing
effectiveness of today's anti-air defenses can be easily
seen by comparing the  Middle East Wars of 1967 and 1973.
During the first war no Israeli Air Force Aircraft were
lost to surface-to-air missiles (SAM's).  In the second war
over 100 Israeli combat aircraft were lost, mainly due to
the rapid improvements in SAM's and detection capabili-
ties. (14:25-26)  Since that time, Soviet forces have added
at least four new SAM's to their inventory and are expected
to soon add four more, which will further saturate the
battlefield.  The illustration on the next page gives some
idea of the coverage that an attack aircraft must penetrate.
Click here to view image
    There are several survivability characteristics that
can reduce losses during penetration.  Speed and maneuver-
ability, especially in the target area, are vital. (15:1)
Increased speed during penetration and egress reduces the
amount of time the aircraft is exposed to the threat.
Improved maneuverability allows the aircraft to better evade
the threat once it is encountered.  Also important is the
aircraft's ability to remain undetected by radar and visual
optics. (15:1)  This is primarily a function of size and is
best reflected in an aircraft's square-meter radar-reflection
value and an aircraft's overall square-footage value.  Both
numbers are arbitrary values that are useful for comparing
one aircraft against another.  Finally, the attack aircraft
of tomorrow will require an effective self-defense capabil-
ity. (15:1)  Air superiority is something that U.S. forces
can no longer take for granted.  The capability to engage
and defeat enemy fighter aircraft will become very important
if the U.S. becomes involved in a conflict with the Soviet
Union which now has over 3,200 air defense interceptors. (7:37)
While survivability in combat must remain a somewhat sub-
jective evaluation without an actual war to use as a test,
the characteristics described will give a firm indication
of an aircrat's ability to survive in the high-threat envi-
ronment of the '90's.
     The A-6F and A-18(AW) must now be examined for the var-
ious characteristics in each comparison area.  Obviously,
since neither aircraft has been built, great reliance must
be placed on contractor proposal information.  While this
type of information must always be taken with a grain of
salt, the information is grounded in reality as both candi-
dates are growth versions of aircraft already flying.  The
A-6F is an improved version of the A-6E, and the A-18(AW) is
a two-seat version of the F/A-18.  Additionally, the manufac-
turers must be prepared to produce the chosen aircraft with
the capability to perform as they advertise to maintain
future credibility.  Therefore, the information given
in the following sections can be used with confidence
to compare the two aircraft.
     The Grumman A-6F is proposed to be a two-seat, sub-
sonic, multi-purpose, all-weather attack aircraft.  It will
be a greatly improved version of the current A-6E with new
communications equipment, a more powerful and versatile
radar, new instruments and avionics, better engines, and
numerous other maintenance-related improvements. (1:3-6)
The A-6F will retain the A-6E's impressive payload and
range characteristics, carrying up to 17,000 pounds of
ordnance on seven external stations.  Depending upon its
weapon and fuel payload distribution, the aircraft will be
able to attack targets with two 1,000 pound bombs more than
700 nautical miles from its base, or carry twelve 1,000 pound
bombs at shorter ranges.  The A-6F's external stations
could also be configured to carry fuel tanks instead of
ordnance, enabling the aircraft to act as an airborne tanker
with up to 13,000 pounds of give-away fuel. (5:XIX and XXIII)
It will be able to carry a larger payload over a longer range
than any other carrier-based aircraft.  This heavy payload
and long range are important advantages for an attack air-
craft and give the A-6F a high rating in this requirement
     The A-6F's predicted performance in the maintenance
and availability area will be enhanced by using state-of-
the-art avionics equipment and engines to solve many of the
A-6E's reliability problems.  However, improvements will be
made in only three of the five comparison factors used in
this area.  No space will be gained as deck spotting will
remain 1.5, since the aircraft will be the same size as the
A-6E.  Also, the fatigue life of the A-6F will decrease to
8,800 hours from the A-6E's 9,800 hours, resulting in a
shorter service life.  On the plus side, Grumman is fore-
casting an improvement in MMPFH of 10-15 manhours by pro-
jecting that the A-6F will require only 35-40 MMPFH.  While
this is an improvement on the A-6E, it still falls short of
the Navy's goal of 23 MMPFH.  The A-6F will also improve the
A-6E's MFH/BF, increasing it from .6 to .8 hours; but this
again falls short of the Navy goal of 1.1 MFH/BF.  The
improvements in these two areas will result in the mission-
capability rate increasing to 70% from the A-6E's current
62%. (5:XIX)  The Navy figures this increase in mission
capability will produce the operational equivalent of 24
more aircraft due to better availability. (6:6)  These
improvements give the A-6F a significant advantage over the
A-6E, but they do not meet the maintenance goals set by the
Navy.  This must be considered a disappointing lack of growth
for the next generation attack aircraft and gives the A-6F
a neutral rating in this comparison area.
     In the third requirement area, survivability, there is
some disagreement on the A-6F's capabilities.  In a letter
to Navy Secretary Lehman, Mr. Peter Oram, a Grumman Vice
President, claims the A-6F can achieve acceptable surviva-
bility in high-threat areas by using a combination of stand-
off weapons, electronic counter-measures, and support from
other aircraft. (16:1)  This claim may be true for some all-
weather attack missions, but not all of them.  As discussed
earlier, the development and availability of standoff weapons
is questionable, and penetration of enemy airspace will still
be needed to perform all of the required missions.  What
the A-6F will correct are several of the A-6E's obvious defi-
ciencies in the survivability area.  It will have a much
improved Halon fire detection and extinguishing system, an
isolated fuel system with self-sealing tanks and lines, and
an improved electronic-deception capability. (1:5)  More
importantly, the A-6F will improve its air-to-air defense by
adding an air-to-air radar capability and two additional
wing ordnance stations that will carry Aim-9 Sidewinders
without detracting from the aircraft's payload.  This will
give the A-6F a limited ability to engage enemy fighters.(6:6)
     However, the A-6F will not improve on the other vital
survivability characteristics--speed, maneuverability, and
ease of detection.  The A-6F already described as vulnerable
because of its slow speed and lack of maneuverability, can
only do 450-460 knots and pull 4.8 G's in the combat zone.
The A-6F, because it weighs more, will actually be a few
knots slower and pull only 4.6 G's, making it easier to hit
than the aircraft it is supposed to replace.  Also, no im-
provement will be made in the A-6F's square-meter reflective
value and overall square-footage value as the aircraft is
still the same shape and size. (5:XIX)  While some improve-
ments will be made in the survivability area by the A-6F,
it will not be improved in the characteristics that are vital
for survival in the high-threat environment of the '90's.
Due to its slow speed, lack of maneuverability, and large
size, the A-6F will still be an easy target to detect and
hit.  While the improvements made will enable the A-6F to
take more of a beating than the A-6E, its ability to survive
against improved anti-air weapons must be questioned.  This
lack of a large improvement in survivability, compared to a
quantum improvement in enemy anti-air capabilities, gives the
A-6F a negative rating in this area.
     The competition for the A-6F is the McDonnell Douglas
A-18(AW).  It is proposed to be a two-seat, supersonic, multi-
purpose, all-weather aircraft.  It will be a modified version
of the single-seat F/A-18 designed to perform both air-to-air
and air-to-surface missions without any changes to the air-
craft other than loading a different type of ordnance.
Although the manufacturer initially claimed the ability
to carry up to 19,000 pounds of ordnance over very short
ranges, (3:39) more reasonable comparison figures would be
six 1,000 pound bombs at ranges up to 600 nautical miles,
or eleven 1,000 pound bombs at shorter ranges. (5:XIX)
Tests flown by VMFA-314 during 1983 in the F/A-18, while
carrying 6,000 pounds of ordnance, demonstrated that air-
craft's ability to reach a range of 600 nautical miles.
Those tests deflated much of the criticism about the
F/A-18's lack of range and give a good indication of the
A-18(AW)'s eventual range and payload capabilities. (12:29)
The A-18(AW) will also be able to act as an airborne tanker
with up to 6,700 pounds of give-away fuel. (5:XXIII)
Because the aircraft must make some trade-offs in payload
and range to retain speed and maneuverability advantages,
it will not be able to carry the amount of ordnance over
ranges that the A-6E currently can.  It will have the payload
and range capability to perform the majority of all-weather
attack missions successfully, but it must be given a neutral
rating in this performance area since it will not match the
current, very high capabilities of the A-6E.
     The A-18(AW)'s predicted performance in the maintenance
and availability area shows significant improvement in all
five comparison factors used in this area.  Design features
that will help accomplish this include the F/A-18's current
capability of engines that can be replaced by a four-man crew
in less than thirty minutes, extensive use of built-in-test
to reduce ground support equipment, state-of-the-art avionics
installed in quick-access compartments, and a host of other
maintenance-related features. (3:17)  Deck spotting will
improve from the A-6E's 1.5 to 1.2, providing more space for
additional aircraft and allowing easier movement aboard an
aircraft carrier.  The fatigue life of the aircraft will be
close to 12,000 hours, almost a 20% improvement in life span.
Its MMPFH will be approximately 21 hours, which is lower
than the Navy's specification goal and better than a two-
fold improvement on the A-6E.  The A-18(AW)'s MFH/BF will
triple the A-6E's current rate and, at a predicted rate of
one failure every two hours, almost double the Navy's re-
quirement for this factor.  Naturally, the above improvements
will result in a high mission-capability rate, climbing from
the A-6E's 62% to 75%. (5:XIX)  This high mission-capability
rate will mean that the same number of A-18(AW)'s will provide
many more available aircraft at any given launch time than
a similar number of A-6E'S.  The A-18(AW) shows a large im-
provement in the maintenance and availability area compared
to the A-6E, and also exceeds maintenance goals set by the
Navy for the replacement aircraft.  Its projected performance
gives the A-18(AW) a very high rating in this requirement
     Survivability, like reliability, will be designed into
the A-18(AW) from the start.  Strong emphasis has been given
to this area to allow the A-18(AW) to carry out its mission
effectively and return to base safely.  The aircraft will
have separate self-sealing fuel tanks and lines, multiple
self-sealing hydraulic systems, smokeless engines separated
by a titanium keel, and state-of-the-art fire detection and
extinguishing systems. (3:18)  Since it will retain most of
the outstanding air-to-air capability of the F/A-18 (a small
reduction in speed and maneuverability can be expected), its
ability to engage and defeat enemy fighters will be excellent.
The A-18(AW)'s air-to-air capabilities will enable it to act
as a force multiplier in situations that dictate a heavy em-
phasis on air defense.  With the proper training and the capa-
bility to easily switch to the air-to-air mode, an A-18(AW)
attack squadron can quickly become an all-weather fighter
squadron. (17:1)  This is a significant advantage in a
high-threat scenario where U.S. fighters are likely to be
greatly out-numbered at the beginning of the fight.
     The reason that the A-18(AW) makes such an excellent
air-to-air weapon is its predicted performance in the other
vital survivability characteristics.  It will be much harder
to detect either visually or on radar than the A-6E.  The
A-18(AW) will have a square-meter reflective value of only
.3 compared to the A-6E's reflective value of one, and its
overall square-footage value will be only .4, half of the
A-6's.  At a projected rating of 5.9 G's when loaded with
ordnance, it will pull over one G more than the A-6E, about
a 20% improvement in maneuverability.  However, where the
A-18(AW) will really shine will be in its speed.  Being a
supersonic aircraft, its top speed will be well beyond the
A-6E's.  More importantly, it will be able to reach 540 knots
when loaded with ordnance in the combat zone, almost 100 knots
faster than the aircraft it is replacing. (5:XIX)  The
A-18(AW)'s survivability characteristics improve greatly on
the A-6E's, with significant improvements that will match
the improvements made by Soivet anti-air defenses.  The
A-18(AW)'s performance in this comparison area earns it a
high rating.
     With the characteristics of the two replacement can-
didates described, their capabilities can now be matched
against each other in the three comparison areas.  It is
recognized that many other factors impact on a decision to
buy an aircraft, not the least of which are political pres-
sures and cost factors.  However, to choose the best air-
craft available, competition in the three areas discussed
should be used.  These areas include vital, straight-forward
requirements that any replacement aircraft should meet.
Table I, on the following page, is a quick review of the
factors used to compare aircraft.
Click here to view image
    The A-6F edges the A-18(AW) in the performance area of
payload and range.  This is one area in which the A-6E still
excels.  The upgraded A-6F will retain those capabilities
which earned it a high rating in this area.  It will be able
to strike targets over 700 nautical miles away, compared to
the 600 nautical miles that will be the A-18(AW)'s maximum
strike range.  The A-6F will also carry more ordnance than
the A-18(AW) at any given distance, although it must be
noted that the A-18(AW) will carry only a thousand pounds
less at the shorter ranges.  Additionally, the A-6F will
retain a decisive edge in air-refueling capabilities with a
give-away amount almost twice the A-18(AW)'s. This figure
would be tempered somewhat by the A-18(AW)'s higher availa-
bility rate.  This rate would allow more tanker aircraft to
be launched to make up for the decrease in fuel carried
by individual aircraft. (3:50)  The bottom line, however,
is that the A-6F will go further and carry more than the
A-18(AW).  Its advantage up to 600 nautical miles will not
be significant, but past that range it will be the only
     The A-18(AW) is superior in the next comparison area
of maintenance and availability.  The A-6F will improve on
the A-6E's dismal performance, but this improvement will not
be enough to meet Navy maintenance and availability goals
established for the next generation aircraft.  This pre-
vented the A-6F from getting any rating higher than neutral
in this area.  In comparison, the A-18(AW) earned a very
high rating.   It will not only significantly out perform the
A-6E in all five comparison factors, but it will exceed the
Navy goals.  Its impressive MMPFH, MFH/BF and mission capa-
bility will result in numerous savings in personnel and
maintenance costs, and also result in many more aircraft
being available at any given time.  While the A-6F will im-
prove on the current aircraft, the A-18(AW) will easily ex-
ceed both the A-6E and the goals set for the next generation
aircraft in the maintenance and availability area.  This
accomplishment gives the A-18(AW) a decided advantage in this
     In the key area of survivability, the A-18(AW) is once
again clearly the better aircraft.  The A-6F will make some
improvements where it can, but the basic airframe will still
be the same as the A-6E.  This fact will restrict it from
making any improvements in the vital areas of speed, maneu-
verability and detection avoidance.  Its lack of any improve-
ment in these areas gives the A-6F a negative rating in this
very important area, resulting in serious doubts about its
ability to perform any all-weather mission that calls for
penetration of high-threat defenses.  The A-18(AW), on
the other hand, will make the large advance in survivability
factors required to penetrate the projected high threat
and return safely.  Its dramatic improvement in the major
survivability factors gives it a very high rating in this
comparison area.  The A-18(AW) will be hard to detect and
will penetrate and egress quickly.  If it is detected, it
will have the maneuverability and speed to evade the threat
or defend itself against an air-to-air enemy.  These fac-
tors give the A-18(AW) a large edge over the A-6F in the
ability to carry out the all-weather attack mission.
     It has been established that the Navy and the Marine
Corps must find a replacement aircraft for the all-weather
A-6E.  The A-6E is not only reaching the end of its usable
life span, but its ability to survive in the high-threat
environment of the 1990's is extremely limited.  Its replace-
ment should be an aircraft that can best meet the perform-
ance, maintenance, and survivability characteristics re-
quired to ensure an aircraft can successfully perform the
all-weather attack mission.  Two aircraft, the A-6F and
the A-18(AW), have been identified as the replacement can-
didates and examined for the various factors in each require-
ment area.  Both aircraft have features that can be used to
make a case for that particular aircraft being chosen as the
     The A-6F is a strong contender.  It is based on a
proven design that enables it to retain the advantage in
the important ability to carry weapons a great distance.
However, Admiral Lenox, in a statement to Congress during
the F/A-18 range controversy, put that kind of ability into
proper context when he made this comment:
     ...there is a danger, in my judgement, in comparing
     aircraft on only the maximum range for a single
     mission or sortie.  Readiness is a state of requires repeated trips to the
     target area, the ability to have other aircraft
     available, to turn them around quickly, and to
     survive in a combat area. (13:38)
The A-6F does hold an edge in the payload and range area
over the A-18(AW), but it falls far short of the A-18(AW)
in the maintenance and availability field.  The A-18(AW)
is clearly superior in the ability to make repeated trips
without components failing (MFH/BF), to have more aircraft
available at any given time (mission capability rate),
and to be turned around quickly for another launch (deck
spotting and MMPFH).  However, the final point in the
Admiral's statement is the key one.  The ability to survive
in the combat area is the final test.  Without this ability
the mission will not be accomplished, no matter how well an
aircraft excells in other areas.  Although the A-6F outer-
forms its rival in the range and payload area, the replace-
ment for the A-6E should be the A-18(AW) because this air-
craft scores the highest in the one area that counts the
most--survivability in the high-threat environment of
the 1990's.
1.   A-6F All Weather Attack System.  Grumman Aerospace Corp-
       oration, December 1983.
2.   Barnard, Richard.  "All Weather F-18 Assessed for Navy,
       Marine Squadrons."  Defense Week, 21 May 1984, pp. 7
       and 12.
3.   Bauer, W.D., LtCol, USMC, and J.H. Rullifson, Cdr, USN.
       The RA-18...Expanded Roles for the Hornet.  Center for
       Advanced Research, Naval War College, June 1980.
4.   Carr, William D., LtCol, USMC.  "A-6E Tram/F/A-18
       Comparisons."  Department of Aviation Route Sheet,
       Washington, D.C.:  October 19, 1984.
5.   Carr, William D., LtCol, USMC.  "Should the A-6E be
       Replaced or Continue to be Procured?"  Department of
       Aviation Briefing Paper, Washington, D.C.:  1984.
6.   Cooper, Bert H.  Library of Congress Congressional
       Research Service.  Tactical Aviation:  A-6E Attack
       Aircraft (Weapons Facts).  Issue Brief 84022, Washing-
       ton, D.C.:  April 16, 1984.
7.   Department of Defense.  Soviet Military Power.  Washing-
       ton, D.C.:  April 1984.
8.   Department of the Navy.  Detail Specification for Model
       A-6E Upgrade Aircraft Weapon System All-Weather Low-
       Altitude Carrier-Based Two-Place Attack (u).  Naval
       Air Systems Command, Washington, D.C.:  March 15, 1984.
9.   Department of the Navy.  Headquarters United States Marine
       Corps.  Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1.  Washington, D.C.:
10.  "Derivative Fighter Decision Due."  International Defense
       Review, 16 (1983), 1538.
11.  "Fatigue Problem Grounds 187 A-6E's, KA-6D's."  Aviation
       Week and Space Technology, 7 January 1985, p. 21.
12.  Field, Peter.  "F/A-18 Hornet-Best Little Strike Fighter
       Around."  Amphibious Warfare Review, 1 (July 1983), 24-29.
13.  Gilson, Charles.  "F/A-18 Hornet-One Aircraft, One Man,
       Multiple Missions."  International Defense Review,
       14  (1982), 31-38.
14.  Hansen, James.  "The Development of Soviet Tactical Air
       Defense."  International Defense Review, 14 (1982), 23-27.
15.  Marine Air Weapons Training Squadron-One, Yuma, Arizona.
       Message concerning follow-on all-weather attack aircraft
       to CMC, Unclassified lines only, 062350 Sep 83.
16.  Oram, Peter B., Senior Vice President, Grumman Aero-
       space Corporation, Bethpage, New York.  Letter concern-
       ing A-6F, October 31, 1983.
17.  Strohsahl, G.H., Captain, USN.  "F/A-18 All Weather Var-
       iant."  Pre-Brief for VAdm J.B. Busey, USN, Washington,
       D.C.:  April 19, 1984.
18.  Wilson, George C.  "Navy Secretary Urges High-Tech Bomb
       Tactic,"  The Washington Post, February 23, 1985,
       Section A., p. 5.

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