Along With the A-10, Wanna Guess What Else The Air Force Wanted to Ax?

| May 12, 2014

If you guessed the U-2 – formerly the TR-1 – give yourself a pat on the back.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Although I don’t remember hearing much about it at the time, buried in the USAF’s fleet retirement proposals back in February was a proposal to retire the U-2 along with the A-10.  The stated reason was that RPV’s could now perform the mission at an acceptable cost.

Color me a bit skeptical.  In prior years, the USAF had stated outright that even our latest RPVs couldn’t perform that mission an affordable cost.  And despite recent improvements in the efficiency of RPV operations (and thus lower operating costs), not long ago the USAF also said that RPVs still don’t provide equivalent SIGINT and IMINT capabilities to those provided by the U-2.  I’m guessing that’s still the case today.

As I understand it, RPVs today still can’t carry some of the U-2’s sensor packages – so either the platforms or their sensors will have to be substantially “improved” to do so.  And we all know that improvement will be a “snap”, and will be really cheap and quick too.

Oh, and the USAF is also scaling back it’s proposed RPV fleet, too.

Congress appears to have put the kibosh on this proposal for now.  For once, maybe we owe Congress a bit of thanks.

Hey, I realize the USAF needs to modernize.  But throwing the baby out with the bath water has always seemed to me to be, well, kinda stupid.  And regarding the U2, IMO it looks like exactly that was what the USAF was proposing.

Must be something in the water that the Air Staff drinks these days.  Maybe the old Cold War TAC insult is becoming apropos again:  “Hell, those boys done been SACumcized – and forgot how to fight a war!”

Category: Air Force, Defense cuts, Military issues

Comments (38)

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  1. Bill says:

    That’s only because they are not made in the right areas. I’m sure that if they moved the plants, they would keep them. It’s not about what the military needs or wants, it’s about who can grease the pockets of the politicians best. Don’t U know?

  2. ChipNASA says:

    So Bono is going to be out of a job?

  3. FatCircles0311 says:

    I thought the SR71 replaced the U2.

    • Hondo says:

      For many missions, it did – from 1965 or so until 1990.

      The SR-71 was retired from the USAF inventory in 1990. The U-2 is still flying.

      1 August 2015 will be the 60th anniversary of the U-2’s first flight.

    • Islandofmisfittoys says:

      On some missions it did, the Blackbird was first designed as a high speed fighter the A-12 then later the SR-71 and worked in high threat areas where speed worked for it. Cost however for pre and post flight was always high and drawfed most of the other planes and was complicated by them being made by hand. Add in leaking fuel like a sive. The both carry different mission packages as well and the U-2 went through a lot of mods over the years. Cost wise it is a lot less.

      • Hondo says:

        islandofmisfittoys: that would be a negative, amigo.

        The A-12 was first and always a single-seat CIA recon aircraft. It was designed and built as such from day one.

        The USAF interceptor version was the YF-12A. It was a modification of the A-12 airframe to produce a 2-seat Mach 3 interceptor.

        Three A-12 production articles were diverted to build it.
        Lockheed used those production articles to built 3 YF-12A prototypes.

        One of the YF-12A prototypes survives today at the National Museum of the US Air Force. One was lost in a crash in 1971. The third was severely damaged in a landing mishap in 1966; it’s rear half was combined with an existing Lockheed static test front-half to produce the sole SR-71C ever produced.

        • islandofmisfittoys says:

          You are correct sir, I stand corrected. Got a bit ahead of myself on that one. The A-12 has that disinctive nose on it as well. Still hard to believe both were built with slide rules. Kelly Johnson was the man.

          • The Other Whitey says:

            And he was also honest enough to tell the Air Force to cut its losses when he knew a project he was working on (that was making Lockheed LOTS of money) wasn’t going to work out.

            • Hondo says:

              Suntan, to be precise. (smile)


              Johnson’s Skunk Works also reportedly built extra aircraft under the U-2s original funding from savings during development and production. Ben Rich reportedly continued that practice by providing unprogrammed upgrades and spare parts for the F-117 from savings, since at the time the USAF professed not to be able to take the saved money back.

              The A-12, on the other hand, went way over budget – though given how far it stretched the limits of the technology of the day, that’s eminently understandable.

              Can’t be perfect, I guess.

              • Islandofmisfittoys says:

                It is interesting to see all the projects that came up especially between post WWII and the 60’s some great ideas and some you had to wonder just what they were thinking. A lot of it of course got worked into other programs and helped pave the way for stuff like fly by wire. Hands down the Blackbird still takes the cake especially when you look at when she was built. SB Nation had a great interview with former pilot.

      • tm says:

        I heard from a former NRO director was that both the U-2 and SR-71 were considered “stop gap” measures until they put up satellites. Of course, you’d expect the NRO to say exactly that 🙂
        The IMINT advantage the U-2 has over RPVs is, according to the linked article, the optical bar camera that apparently also flew on the SR-71:
        Question for those of you more familiar, but at the same NRO talk the former director said the satellites were at that point (mid-90s) all digital cameras. What are the issues with going all digital for something like a U-2 or RPV?

        • Hondo says:

          Not sure, tm. But my guess would be the number of physical pixels available on a CCD detector.

          For all its drawbacks, good film has resolution at not much above the molecular level on the emulsion. Damned hard to beat that when it’s coupled with good optics.

      • Isnala says:

        SR-71/A-12 leaked fule only on the ground and at low flight speed. It was a design feature to combat skin expansion from high heat during high speed flight. Incedently rarely did either take off with any where near close to full tanks (for this reason). SOP was to fill bellow half just before take off then immediatly refule after takeoff to fill the tanks.

        • Hondo says:

          Actually, Isnala – no, it wasn’t a design feature at all. It was the one major technical issue with the A-12/SR-71 that the Skunks Works could never fix. Ben Rich discusses that at length in his book.

          The Skunk Works tried desperately to find a sealant for the SR-71’s fuel tanks. The solution eluded them. They and the CIA/USAF finally decided that the problem was one all could live with. The work around you give was precisely what was chosen – take off with enough fuel for a midair refueling (plus enough of a safety factor to allow return to base if the refueling was a “no go”), refuel, then go high-speed and let thermal expansion seal the tanks.

          • Isnala says:

            Thanks for the update Hondo, I was always told that since they couldn’t find a sealant that didn’t rupture and damage the aircraft at the high temps of the high speed runs they modified the skin to control (channel and limit) the leacking, which would then expand later in flight.


            • Hondo says:

              You’re welcome. While later mods might well have happened, Rich doesn’t mention that in his book; and I also haven’t seen any references to same in other docs. Rich did mention the Skunk Works trying (and failing) to find a way to seal those tanks.

              Not saying the mods weren’t done, and it would make sense to do make mods to try and capture the JP-7 for re-use/control where it went once the decision was made to live with the issue – provided the mods didn’t add much weight. Just haven’t seen reference to that elsewhere.

  4. ChipNASA says:

    And yet we have this….

  5. Valkyrie says:

    Just had a jet buzz by here pretty low and shake the whole place. Pretty funny this article just dropped and I read it (not in a haha way but a small world way) because my brother just told me it looked like an A-10. Weird things like that have been happening all day. I said I liked split tailed hawks and one comes flying over, never seen one here before or a jet. Strange, huh?

    Ok, the goofy broad will bow out of this comment section now.

  6. Islandofmisfittoys says:

    Well they have to pay for the F-35 which is still unproven but also has only one engine, not something you want covering your backside. The U-2 and A-10 along with the C-130, and B-52 are probably some of the most cost effective prorgams the Air Force had in terms of getting their moneies worth out of the program and bird. Each designed for one mission and to do that mission great verse the mindset of design one plane that can do it all and watch the cost skyrocket. The argument is still their for cheap cost effective planes who’s loss won’t crush you. The A-10 is damn good at what it does and I rember in the 90’s when it came up and the Army wanted them and then the Air Force had a fit. She is not fast or pretty but what pilot is better protected or for that matter the boots on the ground under her watch.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      The planes that were designed to do one thing extremely well have turned out to be pretty good at other jobs as well. The plane designed to be the jack-of-all-trades is the master of jack shit. Funny how that works.

      • Islandofmisfittoys says:

        Bingo same with the F-14, UH-1, UH-60 and other designed with one mission in mind perfected then adapted later. The A-10 was designed to take out Soviet armor especially in the Fulda Gap and work in a high threat area and take a beating something it proved over and over again and to be able to be repaired easily and nothing over complicated on it. I remember when GPS came along then saw people start to rely on it verse the compass and map. Relying too much on the newest gee whiz toys can be a bad thing. F-35 is the wrong execution of the right idea. Right idea try to design a multi-mission platform that all the services can use. Problem being they all have different needs and I still go under the thought that in combat especially CAS two engines are better than one.

    • OldSoldier54 says:

      I still remember the write ups at B5 on the F-22 and the F-35.

      Reading the comments of various zoomies, F-22 was the bomb for air superiority. F-35, not so much, though allegedly, the F-35 was supposed to have a lot of the tech in it from the F-22.

      I don’t know what the truth is. It just seems like the F-35 is a bridge too far. Ie, a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.

      The single engine was an issue also, but seemed to be more of an issue of a single source vendor, versus at least one other completely separate vendor, to keep engine prices honest via competition.

  7. SJ says:

    None of the planes mentioned are cool to the AF fighter mafia.

  8. GDContractor says:

    HONDO: (Off topic but) This one goes out to you! I think you will find the first half of this article very interesting. I listened to the podcast version of it this weekend.
    (hint- the article involves an obscure story about mathematics, WWII aircraft, saving lives… and ship bow waves).

  9. ChipNASA says:

    Gee….remember back in the good old days when we kicked ASS?!?!?

    15 seconds is all it takes….

  10. Virtual Insanity says:

    Congress (the HASC, specifically) is also slow-rolling the divestment of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and the TH-67 (the Bell 206 training helicopter at Rucker). This article mentions “Industrial Base concerns.”

    Which, likely, means Bell has prodded the right folks. I understand a significant number of congresscritters (over 200) and senators (25ish) have now taken an interest and want to convene a commission to study the restructuring. To me, that means they want to inject some “analysis paralysis” into the plans and stop them.

  11. Sapper3307 says:

    $$$$$$$$$ Spend spend spend newer shiner and junk get rid of what works for something built in some poor underpaid overworked congressmen’s backyard just for the sake of some votes and a mountain of economic stimulus $$$$$$$$$

  12. OAE CPO USN Ret says:

    Maybe the want to get rid of the U-2 because they have a newer super seeeekrit spyplane already in operation?


    Sorry, my tinfoil hat was on too tight.

  13. Ex-344MP says:

    Anyone consider that Aurora is coming online or am I way off?

  14. David says:

    Whenever I see the “it’s a single use tool” line I remember how old and cost-effective an axe is.