Book review: Attack Aircraft and Bombers of the World

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Need a handy, slim, one volume primer to all noteworthy current Attack Aircraft and Bombers of the World? Then Anil Pustam’s book of the same title is it. Published by Greenhill Books as part of their Military Manuals series earlier this year, the book comes at a vital time. Current until the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is a much-needed update for many libraries that still carry books left over from the Cold War. Since then more than just manufacturers’ names have changed (as Boeing, etc. ousted famous names from the 1970s and 1980s during the mergers of the 1990s)… The way air campaigns are fought has undergone a revolution too.
Pustam`s book is not about that sea change. It is strictly a volume about the attack aircraft and the bombers that have carried out the raids. Bombers, of course, are getting scarcer these days – and older. Precision navigation have given us this last decade bombs and aircraft accurate enough to change the old formula “sorties per target” to “targets per sortie”. This has led to smaller and fewer aircraft carrying the needed ordnance to target – and the erosion of the bomber fleets. Not that ground attack has become less important – au contraire!
As the author observes, the “term ‘attack aircraft`, particularly if bombers are included in the classification, encompasses an extremely wide range of types.” At the bottom of the scale are converted single engine turboprop trainers armed with some unguided rockets and a machine gun/cannon or two. The Pilatus PC 7/9 range as well as the Raytheon T 6 Texan II fall squarely in this category. One step up are the attack derivatives of advanced jet trainers such as the BAE Systems Hawk which can also perform some air-to-air roles. Next in pecking order are dedicated close air support platforms such as the Northrop Grumman (formerly Fairchild) A 10 Thunderbolt II and Sukhoi`s Su 25/39 “Frogfoot”/Scorpion bomb-truck. Coming on-line in the next decade, and well covered in this tome is the A 10`s replacement, the F 35. One step down from these, specialised platforms, are the less capable, but more cost-effective and multipurpose systems as the Italo-Brazilian AMX and that old steed, the SEPECAT Jaguar. The F35 will in time replace the Hornet in both its fighter and ground attack roles – which brings us to the apex of the category – the fast strike fighter of which the F/A 18, the Boeing F 15E, the Tornado and the Russian Sukhoi 24 are excellent examples.
As unmanned aircraft arrive on airbase aprons and more accurate, even stealthy, cruise missiles become operational, an increasingly large question mark hangs over the manned bomber. “The advent of standoff weaponry has meant that aircraft can operate outside the range of air defences and has given new life to the traditional long-range heavy bomber epitomised by the B 52 and Tu 95. In Operation Enduring Freedom, the USAF`s heavy bombers were its most cost-effective aircraft (in terms of cost per weight of tonnage delivered),” Pustam says in his introduction. “More expensive and specialised bombers like the low-level penetration B1B (or the Tu 160) are harder to justify. Still the US is studying future bomber concepts…” So, go figure. What we can predict is that the Royal Air Force`s “Future Offensive Air System”, as it currently calls its Tornado replacement programme, will set the trend for the future with its combination of manned and unmanned aircraft.      
All told then, a useful reference book for all military-minded libraries and individuals. Recommended! 
  
Anil R Pustam
Attack Aircraft and Bombers of the World
Greenhill Books
London
2004