Well, yes, military equipment

French warplanes and helicopters may be battling jihadists in the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, but the French Air Force on the whole is in a disastrous state, with 56 per cent of all its aircraft unfit to fly at any given moment, according to a senior minister.

“If I compare the current situation … of our planes with a car, it is as if I wanted to have a car every morning that works, I would have to own four cars,” Florence Parly, the armed forces minister, said during a visit to an air base in Evreux in Normandy.

Not that I really know about this area but this doesn’t sound too abnormal.

We have to have 4 Trident subs to have one at sea at any time, don’t we?

OK, slightly less flippancy. But military planes are built at the limits of the technology of the time. This makes them maintenance heavy. I don’t know what you actually expect, that 50% or 10% or what ever are undergoing airframe tune ups or whatever at any one time. But you’d expect – OK, I would – to have a lot more of the fleet out of action at any one time for normal scheduled reasons than you would for a civilian technology, no?

Which leads to, well, what is the correct number?

35 comments on “Well, yes, military equipment

  1. > “battling jihadists in the deserts of Africa and the Middle East … at the limits of the technology of the time”

    You don’t need an overpriced F-35 to bomb sand-dwellers. Procurement isn’t being driven by operational need; same applies in most countries.

  2. But worth reading with a view on the US military. I’ve never seen the same dereliction in uniformed UK personnel. Low grade MoD CS (dickies, storesmen) yes.

    A modern fighter jet requires 10+ hours maintenance for each flying hour.

    And it’s nice for Mr Ecks to assure us that nice Mr Putin (or Mr Xi) won’t be selling any more high-end AAMs to any potentially hostile “sand-dwellers”.

  3. 4 Trident subs is:

    1 on patrol.
    1 in basic maintenance (having just got back) – this includes doing painting and stuff that you can do at sea on _subs_.
    1 working up to patrol.

    And one in refit. This last was based on the 1950s/60s reactors needing regular refuelling. I think the modern ones are better.

    In the mid 1990s, after Revenge was decommissioned and before Vanguard came on stream, we actually ran with 2 for a while – Reso and Repulse.

  4. SE:”And it’s nice for Mr Ecks to assure us that nice Mr Putin (or Mr Xi) won’t be selling any more high-end AAMs to any potentially hostile “sand-dwellers”.”

    The late Robert W Smith assures us that “the implicit governs when reading Tibetan Literature”. It seems I must write in an even more implicit style to have written the 30 words SE sets down above using only 18 words none of which have anything to do with SE’s non-sequitur ramble.

  5. See apology before your 10:05 post.

    And, no, addressing your post, the OP and then Andrew M’s post is hardly a “non-sequitur”. Or is it just “random insult Sunday” in Ecks-ville?

  6. Surreptitious Evil – “And it’s nice for Mr Ecks to assure us that nice Mr Putin (or Mr Xi) won’t be selling any more high-end AAMs to any potentially hostile “sand-dwellers”.”

    Well it is odd to deny soldiers the best CAS they can get because of the off chance the local Islamic nut cases (who have not been well disposed towards either the Russians or the Chinese) might have acquired a few Manpads. The best being, in many cases, any at all.

    But it is irrelevant. The air force is slowly being turned into slow “missile trucks” who stand off and release GPS guided bombs from hundreds of kilometres away. No doubt the Air Force will continue to insist that these should be top of the range cutting edge technological devices.

    In the meantime more and more of the Air Force’s real work will be done by cheap, slow, expendable aircraft. Drones mostly. Where the air forces of the world are not using drones, they are avoiding the expensive aircraft the Air Force loves. Take Lebanon. Hardly a stranger to the threat of high end AA threats built in the USSR. Their air force went the high tech route. Didn’t work out for them.

    In 1968, 12 Mirage IIIELs were delivered from France but were grounded in the late 1970s due to lack of funds. In 2000, the grounded Mirages were sold to Pakistan.

    Their air force is now a bunch of helicopters, a few Brazilian Super Tucanos and the US has given them a handful of Cessna 208 Caravans.

    Which is also close to a description of the Afghan Air Force. But what do they know of AA threats?

    This is Britain’s future. Like it or not.

  7. Very rough rules of thumb for military aviation is that mission-capable rates below 60% in peacetime indicate problems: either lack of spare parts, lack of ground crew, lack of budget, or some combination thereof. (New airframes often start badly as the ‘didn’t expect that’ problems emerge and then get better – the F-16, now held up as an exemplar for reliability, picked up the nickname ‘Lawn Dart’ because of early issues)

    Military aircraft do take a fair bit of maintenance (used to be 15-20 man-hours of fixing time for every hour of flying time for the 1970s generation, before digital electronics brought it back down again: Typhoon’s usually comfortably under 10 MMH/FH) but having too many of your operational fleet sitting around on the aerospace equivalent of bricks with the wheels off and the covers open, is a bad sign and bad for the airframes.

    The RAF are actually quite good at moving aircraft into and out of reserve to maintain a given “Force Elements At Readiness” or FE@R profile, with “surplus” airframes in controlled storage so they last longer (hence why some Typhoons go straight from production to storage, then get unwrapped and warmed up when more operational airframes are needed and funded for jobs like intercepting the Russian Long-Range Aviation bombers we were told were gone and never coming back…)

    Not sure if the French do similar – one important point in the article is that they’ve got 80% availability in operational theatres, but only 30% in metropolitan France, which suggests that they’re doing well at keeping their deployed units working but are taking pain at home to do so.

    However, the figures for their airlift are really pretty shocking… 25% flyable rates for tactical transport, when there’s no obvious “fly them until they break and fly the bits until they crash” crisis going on, suggest a serious problem.

  8. SE,
    That’s a valid specific point; but the problem remains that we spend a lot on very expensive overly-complex technology which doesn’t get used in the battlefield.

    To be fair to the armed services, this happens across government. They see a technological solution and they set about trying to find a problem that it can solve. Teachers are forced to use “smart” whiteboards, nurses have to spend hours logging patients’ details onto painfully slow computers, and so on.

  9. Given that, going on its historical record, the French Airforce fights its wars by staying on the ground, what’s the problem? All its aircraft are, by French standards, mission capable.

  10. SE: I wrote my bit before seeing your apology–the “non-sequitur ramble” was a bit excessive given that I should have released you were referring to Andrew M’s comment.

    So I apologise in turn.

  11. A Frenchman recently told me the US Air Force is utterly dependent on the French for their heavy-lift air capability. If this is what the French are being told, who knows what state their forces are in?

  12. @Andrew M:

    “You don’t need an overpriced F-35 to bomb sand-dwellers. Procurement isn’t being driven by operational need; same applies in most countries.”

    From what I’ve read, US ground forces love the A-10, but the US AIr Force hate it and keep trying to get rid of it.

  13. It has been my understanding for some years now that the nominal strength of European militaries was a complete fiction. The manpower was there but most of the heavy equipment assets were either in storage or unfit for service. The deployable, combat ready forces might be only 20% of the paper strength.

    In general I believe that military aviation aims at 70% readiness, or near to.

  14. You’d think they have more than enough jihadists in La Belle France to be getting on with, without having to go to the arse end of Africa to bomb more with mega-expensive military material.

  15. Its not uncommon for military equipment to be upgraded, refuelled, serviced, repaired, cleaned etc – any of which means its not available for immediate use.

    If anything, the modern militaries spend a lot more time in routine maintenance, replacing parts etc than they officially need to.
    The engineers, mechanics, armourers etc get to replace things far more often than they would in wartime if keeping the vehicles fighting was the aim.
    Pilots need flying time, mechanics need time replacing and fixing stuff – can simulate that xxx has failed so sort out the problem and tear out the yyy part and replace it.

    Its not just equipment, its personnel too. Can maintain a high state of alert but bad for stress, bad for personal relationships, bad for annual leave.
    Various methods have been tried including rotating back to base and back to blighty even. Standing down parts of a unit, have a training cycle and so on.

    While 56% aircraft not operating sounds high it really isn’t that bad. A pilot lands a plane after a mission its quite possible for several hours to pass before the plane and pilot are both available. Refueling, repairs, rearming etc.

  16. A Frenchman recently told me the US Air Force is utterly dependent on the French for their heavy-lift air capability

    When I was last at KAF (Kandahar Air Force Base), one of the USNAG squadrons was in. Might have been Colorado. They had more C17s on base than the RAF and the CESMAF has, at the time, C17s and A400M combined and in total.

    Just one state’s National Air Guard. And the C17s are medium lift to the Yanks.

    Oh, and when the Frogs needed not-very-heavy lift to Guadeloupe (30 tonnes?), they needed to ask the RAF for the loan of a C17.

  17. Andrew,

    They see a technological solution and they set about trying to find a problem that it can solve.

    One of defence’s specific problems is that the defence suppliers spend a lot of time lobbying local MPs and non-defence Ministers. And go “buy this and we’ll create hundreds of jobs in marginal constituencies.” Which gets listended too (aircraft carriers much passim).

    The military end up with kit they certainly want but may not be what they really need and is very unlikely to be their priority for spend at that point in time.

  18. Unless you are the Swedish airforce. As far as I know, they have the high reliability and serviceability of any airforce in the world. Largely because of the way they design their planes.

  19. I know chap who used to be on the boats. I said to him in the pub, on our rare meetings, that one job I never fancied was being a stoker on a sub.

    “How do you mean ?”
    “Well shovelling the uranium into the furnaces.”
    He burst out laughing and came right back
    “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong… It’s all modern these days. The uranium comes in pellets and we have big hoppers to feed it into the boilers. We have just enough for three months on board.”

  20. Salamander

    the Austrian Luftwaffe lived for years off of their small squadron of second-hand Drakens. They absolutely loved them but eventually had to give them up for Typhoons. This was a political decision and has been a running scandal in Austria for years, because it was “obvious” that palms had been greased.

    The joke told about the air force there, was that if the planes wanted to go supersonic, they had to start at the Hungarian border and then fly in a huge circle at the “thick end ” of the country and then fly back in order to slow down again.

  21. I did some investigation into Trident to moderate my abolishment stance, and it’s a mature technology where it can be reduced to three units to have continuous cover, one at sea, one being refurbished, one ready to set off. Two would be pushing it as then you would be depending on the at-sea unit never having to return early before the one at base was ready to take over.

  22. It’s worth reading about the state of readiness of the US Air Force on 9/11. Because the Cold War was over they no longer had some fighter jets on the runway, fuelled, armed, warmed up, with crew aboard, ready for take-off. They had never practised what might be necessary to intercept hi-jacked civilian airliners in US air space. They had no way to use their radar to distinguish where the hi-jacked planes were or in which direction they were flying. They had no means of communicating with air traffic control except by ordinary telephone calls.

    They had no procedure for what to do if a fighter plane eventually got into a position to shoot down a passenger jet deemed a threat. With the wisdom of hindsight it was a complete shambles. Or perhaps foresight; there had been ample public speculation beforehand about, for example, hi-jackers deciding to crash onto, say, a packed sports stadium.

    Presumably there is a similar tale of gor-blimey ineptitude for their Soviet equivalents over the case of the German laddie who landed in Red Square. Remember him?

    https://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-notorious-flight-of-mathias-rust-7101888/

  23. Presumably there is a similar tale of gor-blimey ineptitude for their Soviet equivalents over the case of the German laddie who landed in Red Square. Remember him?

    Yes. Ballsy little sod, I’ll give him that. I also like to be pendantic and point out he didn’t land in Red Square, but on the bridge nearby.

  24. Surreptitious Evil
    December 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

    And it’s nice for Mr Ecks to assure us that nice Mr Putin (or Mr Xi) won’t be selling any more high-end AAMs to any potentially hostile “sand-dwellers”.

    If I were you I’d be less worried about the Russians or Chinese selling them arms than the US (my own freakin’ country) managing to be so careless that our shit is finding its way into their armories because we’re supplying the ‘moderate’ genocidal maniacs who then pass them on.

    And this is the government morons here want to hand total control of the internet to.

  25. @Jonathan, December 17, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    From what I’ve read, US ground forces love the A-10, but the US AIr Force hate it and keep trying to get rid of it.

    Correct. USAF want fast jets only for combat, rather like RAF. A few squadrons of Hawks or even modern eqiuv of Spitfires is all we need for killing RoPs.

    As for maintenance vs flying hours, iirc the Lightening was abysmal.

  26. Pcar, Jonathan,

    This is worth a read:-
    http://elementsofpower.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/debunking-close-air-support-myths-part.html

    The USAF are not huge lovers of the A-10 because it was designed for a specific niche role (close air support of troops in South Vietnam) which was pretty much obsolete before the prototypes flew. You can use A-10s (with a lot of tanker support) in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not in Syria, or Libya, or Kosovo.

    The actual Army (as opposed to armchair warriors) prefer attack helicopters for the persistent, danger-close CAS role the A-10 was designed for: while it can’t operate if there’s any significant threat. Nor can the A-10 get to where it’s needed very quickly, which is a problem for troops in contact.

    The whole “all we need are A-10s or cheaper” brings back memories of why Typhoon was obsolete because it was “designed to intercept Russian bombers” and those had gone away and were never coming back…

    One question that amuses: the most successful, decisive demonstrators of high-end battlefield CAS in the 1960s were the Red Sea Pedestrians in 1967. And yet, despite their continuing emphasis on the air force existing to help the ground soldiers win, they’ve never expressed the least interest in the A-10, preferring high-end fast jets (which are expensive overkill for the easy jobs but can still survive and win in the hard ones) and concentrating their air force around the F-16 and F-15.

  27. “You can use A-10s (with a lot of tanker support) in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not in Syria, or Libya, or Kosovo.”

    The A10 has been used in combat in Kosovo, Libya and Syria.

    The USA can afford multiple platforms to support the ground attack and close air support missions, and it should have them. From the F35s to contest and secure the airspace, to the yet-to-be-chosen turbo-prop loiterers to attack lightly defended targets. Drones and A10s have useful roles to play, too.

    If the Israelis have no interest in the A10 it is not any indication as to the utility of the A10. Israel’s needs are unique, which is why it has a unique main battle tank that nobody else is interested in.

  28. The only thing the A-10 needs is to have the enemy ADS sufficiently degraged. Which we did in Kosovo, Libya, and Syria.

    Attack helicopters have the problem of not being able to stay on station. So, they move slower while coming from the same distance as the A-10’s while not being able to stay on station and patrol – which the A-10’s can.

    You don’t launch an A-10 when there’s a call for it. One was launched hours earlier and is holding station over a whole section of the battlefield, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

    Now, I do say that there are other planes that could do . . . 75% of what an A-10 does for half (or less) the cost (Super-Tucano for example), but the A-10 absolutely still has a place in the ‘fighting 5th rate armies and insurgents’ type of warfare that we’ve been doing massive amounts of.

    Yeah, you’ll probably need an F-35 to do CAS in the early weeks of a Sino-Anglo war – but how many of those do you think we’re going to be getting into?

  29. The A-10 has been “used” in Kosovo – except that large areas of airspace was closed to it (any potential SA-2, SA-3 or SA-6 MEZ, which we weren’t able to fully suppress because the Serbs fought very smart).

    It’s been “used” in Libya for short hops from bases in Egypt, but had to retrograde immediately when a regime SA-8 came on line, until that vehicle was found and confirmed put out of action by other assets.

    It’s been “used” briefly in Syria in the friendly airspace above the Kurdish enclave, before being withdrawn: too slow, too limited, too many support assets required.

    AH can, and so, stage forward much more easily than jet aircraft can; it’s much easier to set up a FARP for a flight of Apaches not far behind the front lines, than an airbase for A-10s. That puts them close to the units they’re supporting, while the A-10 has the problem that (especially in current conflicts) it’s a long way from its base and it’s a slow aircraft: so a long flight to get on station, tanking required to stay there, slow response if it’s not in the right place, and a long flight to return to base to rearm. It’s also got limited coverage: an F-15E or B-1B can cover a hundred miles in ten minutes, a loaded A-10 at altitude.

    To quote someone actually tasking and controlling the airpower:-

    “Land forces love the A-10 because they only see the end effects delivered when it is able to support them. They are rarely aware of the occasions when the limitations of the aircraft mean it can’t provide CAS. I can think of numerous times that I’ve been unable to task an A-10 because it’s relatively slow transit speed would have delayed the response, particularly for ECAS in Afghanistan.”

    and

    “I’m not the greatest fan precisely because I’ve seen (or at least listened to) friendlies getting killed because of the A-10’s glacial transit speed and inability to identify a target or engage through poor weather. And I don’t like listening to friendlies getting killed”

    The USAF is getting rid of them because of sequestration and budget issues: the airframes aren’t cheap (and have lifing issues that will require expensive rework), the bases and pilots are expensive (but politically sensitive – an ANG A-10 wing was an excellent bribe^H^H^H inducement for a wavering Senator back in the day) and they urgently need to save money; and cutting a type and its support lines is the way you save useful money rather than slicing off airframes here and there.

    The A-10 can have utility in specific circumstances, but as long ago as 1991 it was being pulled back from difficult tasking (even against a suppressed IADS and with total air supremacy) because it was too slow and vulnerable to survive even moderate threats (the A-10s took three times the loss rate of the F-16s in GW1, despite being restricted to the relatively safe ‘kill boxes’ which the F-16s used to expend unused ordnance on their homeward leg).

    Where the defences come up, the A-10s retreat or just don’t play: and not every air environment will be as safe as Afghanistan.

  30. “The A-10 has been “used”…”

    Not been used has now become “used”. Progress. Well done.

    “…in Kosovo – except that large areas of airspace was closed to it (any potential SA-2, SA-3 or SA-6 MEZ, which we weren’t able to fully suppress because the Serbs fought very smart).”

    Indeed they did fight smart. They shot down an F-117A Stealth Fighter, no less (and an F-16), making areas of airspace challenging for all NATO aircraft. A-10s escorted the rescue helicopters that picked up the downed F-117A pilot, by the way; through the same airspace. A-10s were in ground attack actions until combat operations ceased.

    “the A-10s took three times the loss rate of the F-16s in GW1, despite being restricted to the relatively safe ‘kill boxes’ which the F-16s used to expend unused ordnance on their homeward leg”

    6 A-10s lost. 3 F-16s lost. That’s twice the rate. The A-10 was so unsuccessful in GW1 that the USAF immediately abandoned plans to replace it with a CAS version of the F-16.

    “The USAF is getting rid of them…”

    Except they’re not. This year it was announced they would remain on force indefinitely, and the fleet is being re-winged.

    “The A-10 can have utility in specific circumstances…”

    Just like every other combat aircraft, then.

    I wonder if every other combat aircraft has internet anoraks desperately trying to shoot them down. At least the Serbs switched off after twenty seconds.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.