General Mattis on Imminent Fury II: How to Alter the Conduct of the Afghan War

By Defense.Info

Secretary of Defense Mattis faces the challenge of terminating the endless war appraoch to Afghansitan.

When as head of JFCOM, he argued for ways in which the war could be fought differently with a smaller US footprint via the rapid acquisition of light attack aircraft.

But like the war, the acquisition has been anything but rapid.

In this article published on September 24, 2010, Ed Timperlake looked at how the acquisition and deployment of light attack aircraft in the hands of the Afghans could alter the course of the Afghan War.

Light Attack Aircraft Can Alter the Course of a War

By Ed Timperlake

September 24th, 2010

The world has taken notice of an important and successful military attack in a nasty war raging in Colombia, South America. The event has a lesson for the American Military especially in Afghanistan.

Recently, Colombia has killed a key FARC leader with a strike task force.

As reported by AFP on September 24th, 2010:

The military said that 72 warplanes, including 30 helicopters, low-flying Super Tucano attack planes and Israeli-built Kfir jets, were involved in the attack, dubbed “Operation Sodom.” Also killed were three senior rebel leaders, including a member of the FARC directorate, a regional military commander, and the head of the group’s urban militias, according to the military.

Second Line of Defense is fortunate to have recently interviewed Colonel William Buckey USMCR (ret), now Vice-President of North America for Embraer, the maker of the Super Tucano, as well as the Embraer Brazilian leadership team.

These interviews will appear soon on SLD. Willam Buckey’s interview is important because his last assignment before retiring was serving as the senior Marine Aviator building out Kandahar for the President’s surging of troops into combat.

He and his NATO Team were nominated for the prestigious Collier Trophy for their efforts, and the airfield at Kandahar is now the largest and busiest single runway operation in the world.

Colonel Buckey has provided his insights into the combat need for a light attack aircraft and recent events in South America have just shown that the combat effectiveness of such an approach can alter events for winning in a very dramatic way.

As the French news report about a successful operation to schwack some very bad individuals, it shows the Super Tucano has yet again demonstrated its world class reputation as an extremely capable combat tested light attack aircraft. In the U.S. Military, three very capable American combat Generals know of the Super Tucano: General Mattis, General McCrystal, and General Petraeus.

All have to be “platform agnostic” in support of the concept of operations in a program called Imminent Fury II. All three men are warriors who want fielded capability to help win in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Congress delayed or permanently ended IF II and that is not good.

  • General Mattis then Commanding Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) testified about a special forces effort called operation Imminent Fury II. The Department of Defense supported the effort and sent a request to Congress to act. The entire action from testinomy to request took just a month, which is relative light speed. But nothing occured. Then a letter was made public in the Washington Times by Bill Gertz that showed General McCrystal solidly behind the rapid fielding of Imminent Fury II. General Petraeus in the chain-of-command as then CG Central Command forwarded the letter to the Chairman. But nothing happened.
  • It turns out that, unlike the recent combat success in Colombia, Imminent Fury II was stopped by Congressional Action. An immediate request for a combat program was not approved by Congress because IF II was going to use the Super Tucano. The ST is in direct competition with the attempt by the Hawker Beech to convert their T-6 Texan trainer into a combat aircraft–the AT-6. The T-6 Texan trainer (the basis for the proposed AT-6) is manufactured in Kansas by Hawker Beach a Canadian-owned firm currently in dire financial straits. There have been reports that, in order to stave off disaster, management has been considering moving some production lines to Mexico.
  • It now appears, looking at the Congressional reporting, that stoping IF II was part of a bigger effort to give time, so a combat version of the T-6 could be developed and tested. Unfortunately the Afghan War goes on and time is short. Congress has earmarked millions to try and get the T-6 Texan, a US Air Force trainer aircraft, up to combat standards ahead of a pending fly-off competition for equipping the emerging Afghan National Army Air Corps. This fly off will be a competitive test of ready-to-fly, non-developmental tactical light attack planes that are currently available. The “AT-6B” version of the trainer is not yet ready. The non-combat certified AT-6B’s competitor is Brazil’s Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, the FARC killer that has been operational for several years. including several combat missions schwacking FARC guerillas in the dead of night.

Then in an article published on May 6, 2011, we revisited the concept of a counter-insurgency aircraft in an interview with Colonel (Retired) Bill Buckey.

That article follows:

05/05/2011 With the request by General Mattis for a Counter-Insurgency Aircraft (Imminent Fury) and with the forthcoming USAF fly-off to choose an aircraft to play such a role for the Afghan National Air Force, the question of the potential role of a turboprop counter-insurgency aircraft has re-surfaced.

Late last year, SLD team members Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake sat down to talk with Bill Buckey, former Deputy Commander of the NATO Airbase at Kandahar in 2009 and now vice-president for business development for Embraer North America to talk about the potential role and impact of a COIN aircraft both for the U.S. and the Afghan forces.

SLD: How did your time at Kandahar shape your thinking about the role of a COIN aircraft and where it might fit into the mix?

Buckey:  We were launching a lot of airplanes but not necessarily expending a whole lot of ordnance.  When you talk to the aircrews they’ll tell you they were doing a lot of “show of force,” and when they did drop they were certainly not expending the 1000-pounders and the 2000 pounders.  They were dropping 500 pounders or even smaller Hellfire, or Brimstone, which the RAF had just introduced into Afghanistan.

So what you realized right away was that in this COIN environment, you needed manned presence and you needed the systems to provide you with the information required to accomplish the task; but you didn’t necessarily need a boatload of ordnance.  Were there times when you surged and you needed a lot of iron on target?  Yes.  But on a day-to-day basis, there just wasn’t that much being expended.

SLD:  So for a normal manned aircraft engagement in COIN, the observation is that presence is extremely important and ability to put some ordnance onto target is necessary but it was not necessary to carry a heavy bomb load.

Buckey: If you needed to call in more, a B-52 or a B-1 might be given the task, or an F-16, F-18 or Harrier, but on a routine basis in a COIN environment your platform does not need to be carrying a lot of heavy ordnance.

SLD:  Why not use unmanned systems rather than a turboprop COIN aircraft?

Buckey:  To digress just a little bit, one of the aims of the Imminent Fury ( program was to have the ability to get close air support but sometimes it was a matter of sitting and waiting to see if a high value target was actually present in a certain compound, you’re waiting for him to show up to that compound, or you are waiting to find out whether there are women and children in that compound before you take this guy out.  And it means sitting and waiting, developing more information.  And in the meantime, you need weapons in a moment’s notice to be able to kill this guy when you’ve got the go ahead to do it.   So if what you are working with are F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, or whatever, you’re talking about a lot of resources to perform find/fix/finish.

SLD:  If you’ve got a clearly identifiable target and that you need a rapid response, that’s one scenario.  A different scenario is where you perform the “find/fix” phase and have the persistence to actually “finish” the target.

Buckey:  Exactly.  And, if you need to pour it on to a level that goes beyond what this aircraft is carrying, you want to have somebody up there, a FAC-A or a SAC-A who’s then able to start marshalling in the heavy iron and the ability to provide the target brief during ingress to build their SA .

SLD:  Are you’re trying to develop a new layer here that gives him a persistent…

Buckey:  It’s not a new layer; it’s a different way of looking at the existing layer of air combat support. You’re offering the same capability but you’re driving down your cost of providing that capability.  In a COIN environment, one of the insurgent’s main goals is to drive up your cost of operating to an unacceptable level.  The cost of using fast jets is in this environment is simply unsustainable.

SLD:  Those costs per hour should be augmented as well, I would guess, by the cost of logistic support in an extreme environment?

Buckey:  What does that pound of fuel cost by the time it’s going through the boom into that F-16?  There’s a monstrous logistical tail to get fuel into Kandahar; the ships that get it to Karachi, the trucks that drive it up into Kandahar.  Then we eventually have to get some of it out to FOBs like Dwyer and Bastion.

SLD:  But your point is by driving down price point for the operation is a crucial strategic element.

Buckey:  Exactly.  It was a concern of Gen. McChrystal and it’s clearly what Gen. Mattis was trying to address at JFCOM and now as CENTCOM.  If you believe that a goal of an insurgency is to drive your cost of operating to an unacceptable level, we’re doing a great job of it over there right now given the logistical constraints and the aircraft we’re putting against the operational requirement.  What we have to do is field the same capabilities in a platform that’s hundreds of dollars per flight hour instead of tens of thousands per flight hour.

SLD: How does a turbo-prop compare to unmanned aircraft in providing such a savings or performing such a role?

Buckey: One of the things that the special operations forces, who started the idea of the whole Imminent Fury piece, wanted was the ability to have a partner in that light attack platform; a TAC-A or supporting arms coordinator that would be above them in the air and who, if things got ugly, could then marshal in other aircraft.  The guys sitting at Creech can’t do that.

The individual in the backseat of the aircraft is the one that’s going to be communicating to these jets who are still 30 minutes away – 15 minutes away, an hour away – and giving them the target brief and the whole situational awareness piece of what’s going on while they ingress; which is something that your guy at Creech is not going to be able to do.

But now that’s the tactical piece.  The operational piece is back to the whole COIN environment.  Again, if what you’re trying to do in a COIN environment is drive your cost of doing business down as close as you can to the level of the other guy; right now, UAVs ain’t cheap.

You’ve got a tremendous logistics piece; you’ve got the sophisticated communications infrastructure required to fly them.  You’ve got the whole piece back in CONUS in order to operate them.  Your cost of doing business is huge and you also have reliability issues. The accident rates are not great with UAVs right now.

And in terms of that ability to act as FAC-A, that’s something that you just can’t get with a UAV.

SLD: And presumably, your ground and air team are forcing the insurgents to do something vis-à-vis your ground element.  This is what was often not recognized is people are not placidly waiting around. So essentially your ground element is affecting their behavior.  So you want your air tool to be part of a quick response to the behavior they are creating on the insurgent’s part.

Buckey:  And it may be a four to six-hour operation because if it doesn’t necessarily happen when you want it.  The other guy gets a vote when he wants to move.  And the problem with cycling in fast movers is if I am a JTAC on the ground, or let’s say I’m a FAC-A, is how many times am I giving target briefs to a new crew?  Every thirty to forty minutes I’ve got a new callsign checking-in; maybe even less than that depending on whose available, time/distance, tankers, etc.

But I’m spending a lot of my time briefing new crews; whereas if I’m working with a platform with greater persistence, not only am I giving fewer target briefs, he’s constantly building Situational Awareness over a greater period.  I have more time to focus on the target while he’s building up more and more SA.

From the aircrew perspective, if I’m checking-in in a fast-mover, I may have 30 or so minutes on station.  I’ll get a good target brief and I’ll be able to build a certain level of SA.  But am I able to absorb as much as someone who is on-station for hours?  No.

SLD:  So to summarize your thinking about a COIN aircraft, you want to drive down the cost of providing close air support to the guys on the ground.   You want manned air for the roles that you have described – to be involved with the ground commander, the ability to loiter, the engagement, the systems to provide the “find/fix” piece and the persistence to be there for the “finish.”  You want sufficiently lethal manned airborne presence but at lower cost than a fast jet.

Buckey: We have the systems and the weapons to pair up with a turboprop aircraft that has the persistence to get us through the entire “find/fix/finish” process at a substantially reduced cost that is more appropriate for air operations in a COIN environment.