The following is written by Gary Barrett, also known as “Bean”, a former naval aviator who has contributed an article or two previously and regularly leaves comments on the website. He brings a different background and point of view to the air tanker issue.
This Australian technical report on tanker effectiveness is the one that the USFS has been unable to accomplish since 1968.
An illustration from the report on air initial attack alone:
Combined attack vs integrated attack:
If the USFS had a similar document on the effectiveness of initial attack in 5 fuel hazard types by tanker/ crew arrival time [page 3 and 4 of referenced technical paper] , they would have been able to defend their requirements for tankers and ground equipment to congress, determine basing requirements, and contract availability requirements by type.
From previous experience in targeting for Navy tactical strikes, it is critical that the effectiveness of what you drop is known scientifically and described mathematically. The military has determined a munition effectiveness probability number for everything it has. It tells you how many aircraft of what type with what munitions you send on a strike against a particular type of target. The Naval Strike Warfare Center in Fallon NV stood up in the mid 1980’s to teach the tactical carrier Navy how to fight smarter, not harder … Google “Torpedo 8” and look at the battle of Midway to see a classic example of where fighting harder got us. We had plenty of other later examples of the same fight harder problem that indicated we were not a “learning organization”. We tended to use technology to enable us to do more of what we always used to do [fight harder].
It seems to me that the issue with using aircraft to fight fires in the US is in pretty much in the same place that Navy TACAIR was before the Strike Warfare Center stood up in the mid 1980’s. The usual answer from today’s firefighting community seems to be “fight harder” and more is better. You can’t fight smarter until you get smarter. If that means setting up canned experiments in controlled burns and collecting data, then do it. More contract studies with the dearth of information available today are useless.
The firefighting community should develop formal definitions of probability of success for each type of air tanker based on lets say 5 fuel types or hazard conditions, types of retardant, terrain slope, release parameters, and coverage levels or they will never get where they need to go when it comes time to decide how many tankers of what type carrying what kind of retardant, based where under what kind of contract is required to achieve a certain probability of success. When the time comes, you use what you have but if you have a “smarter program”, there is a better chance of having the right stuff where you need it when you need it.
Rhetorical question: What is the probability of success for a line of X level coverage of retardant [pick the type] on fuel hazard class Y in terrain of slope Z? Can’t answer? Your only solution then is to “fight harder and more is better”.
Congress and GAO have already demonstrated that they aren’t interested in the “trust me I’m a career firefighter with a zillion hours of experience and we need more” argument. One could say that the industry with the best track record for getting money from congress is the military-industrial complex and they never use the “trust me” argument.
Getting smarter enables the profession to escape from the apprentice … journeyman … master training cycle that requires a lifetime of experience, critically depends on the questionably cohesive informal knowledge held by the various “masters” and significantly limits the numbers that can be effectively trained in the profession. For all I know, if more was understood about retardant effectiveness under various conditions, different more effective tactics could be developed to deal with wildfires. Better ways of getting the job done could be developed. Firefighters could fight smarter not harder.
Where’s the published US tactics manual for aerial firefighting? It could start with the two graphs above and grow from there. All ex military aviators lived by their tactics manual for their particular aircraft. It explained what you did with the aircraft after you learned how to fly it.
Gary Barrett (Bean)