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A-X Attack Fighter - 1966-73

Use of fixed-wing aircraft over the battlefield began in the Great War with their application as observation platforms. Aircraft were then crude and light and could not carry much payload; their roles as attack weapons were therefore of no great importance. During and following World War II, however, tactical aircraft had a great impact as deliverers of massed firepower on troops in the field. Shortly after becoming a separate service, the interservice Key West Agreement of 1948 specifically assigned the USAF the task to provide CAS for the Army. Over the next two decades, the two services rehashed this division of responsibility in a number of supplemental agreements. The periodic clash over CAS responsibilities stemmed from the Armys lack of satisfaction of USAF CAS responsiveness and coordination during the Korean War. In general, the Army also felt that the USAF did not put enough priority on the CAS mission.

Through the 1950s and early 1960s, the USAF made no effort to field an aircraft specifically designed for CAS. In contrast, the USAF preference pursued multi-mission supersonic aircraft that were optimized for long-range strike and air superiority missions. The Army thought that they should have a say on CAS aircraft design and control. The USAF successfully countered each Army bid for CAS autonomy with strong congressional support. During the late 1950s, the Army had attempted to procure some Italian G-91 Fiat jet fighters to use for close air support. The USAF quickly killed the idea.

In Vietnam, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese tended to break off a battle when American or South Vietnamese forces received direct air support. Vietnam, in fact, provided many insights into the nature of modern tactical air operations, and one of the most interesting was that high-performance jet aircraft were not necessarily the best ground attack weapons. It was found that older piston-engined planes like the A-1 Skyraider and AT-28 were suprisingly effective -- information which proved to be useful during the Air Force's 1970s search for the optimal close air support design.

In the 1966 Johnson-McConnell agreement between the respective service chiefs, agreement, the USAF Chief of Staff, John McConnell agreed to cede USAF claims to current and future rotary wing aircraft for Army intra-theater movement, fire support, supply--. It was the first time the USAF acknowledged the Armys jurisdiction to operate armed helicopters. The agreement conformed to earlier joint stipulations that assigned Army helicopters to maneuver units (division size or smaller), and operated them inside the ground commanders prescribed combat zone.

A September 1966 decision by the Air Force Chief of Staff directed the development of a specialized, new close-air support aircraft - the first in US Air Force history. After years of study and debate, the US Air Force initiated the A-X program for a genuine close air-support aircraft. The US had never had such an aircraft, these missions having previously been flown by fighters such as the F-105 and F-4. The lessons learned in Vietnam and elsewhere led to emphasis in the A-X program being placed not on speed but on lethality against surface targets (especially tanks), survivability against ground fire, a heavy weapon load and long mission endurance.

A-X PerformancePierre Sprey wrote the requirements for the A-X fly-off. Sprey said that A-X concept designers invited TAC to participate, but TAC refused. During the concept formulation period (September 1966 to April 1970), cost-effectiveness comparisons determined the A-X concept to be superior to the Air Force's existing aircraft. The initial A-X program Request for Proposals (RFP) went out to 21 companies in March 1967.

Each of four contractors awarded study contracts in May 1967 submitted design approaches in support of the Concept Formulation Package. These design studies considered arange of design choices in: 1) Airframe and Propulsion; 2) Avionics; 3) Armament; and 4)Survivability Provisions. The performance regime specified for the A-X posed no stringent requirements on the airframe, and conventional aluminum airframes were recommended by all contractors. There was more variation in propulsion options, but all contractors recommended either turboprop or turbofan engines, either in single or twin engine configurations.

A development concept paper was prepared, was subjected to scrutiny by the other military departments, and was approved by the Deputy Secretary of Defense in April 1970. Six contractor submitted their proposals in Auqust 1970. These ptoposals were evaluated and competitive contracts mere awarded to Fairchild and Northrop in December 1970. Fairchild's A-10 was announced as the Air Force's choice on 10 January 1973. On 01 March 1973 the Air Force awarded a cost-plus incentive fee contract in the amount of $159,279,888 (target fee) to Fairchild for the development of ten A-10 test aircraft. The contract provided for a cost-sharing arrangement whereby the cost above target is shared by the Government and the contractor on a 70/30 ratio respectively. If the cost reaches $186,810,083 the contractor will have lost all his fee. The Government assumed all additional cost over this amount.

The full-scale development contract was awarded to Fairchild even though the proposed A-10 aicraft did not meet all the Airr Force performance goals. For example, the takeoff ground run distance and the landzng ground roll distace for the A-10 exceeded the Air Force goal of 1,000 feet maximum distance by 50 feet. In addltlon, the maximum speed for the A-10 was slightly less than the 400 knots speczfned by the Air Force. These deviations from the A-X system performance goals were approved on the rationale that the improved capabilty would not justify the cost increase associated with the azcraft system changes required.

The principal reasons given for the USAF preference for the A-10 were the plane's "responsiveness and simplicity."ss By "responsiveness" it was meant that the A-10 was better equipped to perform a multitude of ground support missions, in particular the provision of immediate support to ground forces in hostile free-fire zones. Additionally, the A-10 was lauded for its "simplicity", a quality which was expected to engender a high sortie rate and good maintenance record. Others closer to the technical decision assert that Fairchild A-10 had delivered the better aircraft. Sprey asserted that the Northrop A-9 had a number of problems to work out. Notably, it was overweight and strafed poorly due to a poorly designed flight control system. In any case, Northrop supporters did not raise much of a complaint.

To some the unstated factor was cost. The Northrop A-9 was priced at several million dollars more per copy than the Fairchild A-10. The Air Force ten-year life cycle cost analysis disclosed no appreciable cost difference between the two aircraft. Although the total program cost of the two competitors was not a predominant factor in the final selection, all cost elements were carefully evaluated during sourGe selection. As a result, the Air Force estimated that the costs of proceeding into full-scale development with the A-10 were less than for the A-9.

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