Well, the difficulty of this mission has leaped compared to previous releases. It used to be one of the easier ones in fact. The Paveway isn't invulnerable anymore, then there's the whole jamming business... And I feel like the new Hyperions are more dangerous (better profile/turret placement maybe ?).
I think the reason the scalpel feels weaker against subsystems is that it is no longer a specialist weapon, it got retooled to be usable in dogfights as well. Also, I think turrets in WiH are generally tougher compared to retail (could be wrong, though).
As others have mentionned, the Kent isn't so much fragile as it is massive. Its greatest asset is its massive speed and afterburner reserve, which makes it great for interception or hit and run attacks. Hit and run is in fact probably the best way to use the paveway in this mission : don't shoot anyone until you get a lock, then afterburn to fire the thing point blank - as if you were firing a bomb, then run like hell. The Kent's a great ship, but it's not meant for up close dogfighting, it's more of a stand off fighter.
Reverse AB is absolutely awesome in dogfights with big fighters like the Kent or Uriel, it really adds a lot of mobility, but it takes a while to get the hang of it.
Speaking of the Uriel, for all intents and purposes, gunships are the Federation's heavy fighters. As for why you can't fly one here ? Errm, not really sure there, maybe Laporte isn't allowed to fly one, and giving one to the player would make the mission too easy or something (are there any gunships on the other wings ?).