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Air Force Brass Ignores War's Lessons to Wipe Out A-10s

Snow weighs down the tail of an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft static display in Heritage Park March 6, 2012, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The base had received more than 8 inches of snow in the previous week. Average annual snowfall in the area for March usually exceeds 7 inches. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos/Released)
 
Snow weighs down the tail of an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft static display in Heritage Park March 6, 2012, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The base had received more than 8 inches of snow in the previous week. Average annual snowfall in the area for March usually exceeds 7 inches. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos/Released)

The Air Force is so blinded by the allure of the multi-mission F-35 that it cannot, or will not, understand the nature of close air support (CAS) on today’s battlefield; how very close our young troops are to the enemy and the special equipment, controllers, and pilots it takes to perform CAS.

Until recently, without the knowledge of Congress, the Air Force was moving fast on a secret plan to help fund the F-35 by abolishing the A-10 fleet.  Thanks to some closet patriots contacting the Hill, the cat is now out of the bag, but the damage has already been done.

A-10 training hours have been cut back and the last class of A-10 pilots is going through training. Three A-10 units have been deactivated or are in the process of being deactivated. Next year there will be no A-10 class at the Weapons School.  Each step has increased the unit costs of the remaining A-10s and soon the fleet will be too expensive to keep. By the time Congress is aware of the plot, there will be no A-10s.

The plan to get rid of the A-10 has been  on the desk of General Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff. His decision will be one of the most important of his career, because this is not about losing an aircraft; it is about losing the CAS mission. There is no other aircraft in the Air Force inventory that can do what the A-10 does. The stories from the battlefield are countless. One will suffice.

In Afghanistan a Special Forces team attacked the compound of a Taliban leader. The Taliban reacted with heavy fire and the Air Force combat controller with the team was severely wounded. A Predator was overhead but could not get a shot. Nor could an F-16 which ran low on gas and departed. When two A-10s arrived, the gravely wounded controller called for them to make their gun runs “danger close.” The pilots fired high explosive cannon shells that impacted a mere 65 feet from the team. The A-10s broke up the attack and provided cover so the friendlies could leave the kill zone.

Every member survived. Every member returned to base. The combat controller, who had almost bled to death on the battlefield, survived and was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Few aircraft in history have so directly saved the lives of so many combat troops and civilians as has the A-10.

Pentagon insiders report that the  Air Force fears the efficacy of the A-10 so much that today combat controllers are not allowed to call for the aircraft. Rather they are ordered to radio the results they desire and headquarters will dispatch the appropriate aircraft.  Today when troops are in contact and the enemy is close, controllers call for an aircraft with two-hour loiter time and more than ten combat trigger pulls, attributes possessed only by the A-10.

The Air Force says the F-35 can perform CAS. That would mean using GPS coordinates and standing off at high altitude to fire missiles or drop bombs. No $160-million F-35 is going to get down in the weeds where a single bullet can take it out. A host of small arms fire hitting an A-10 can be fixed with what amounts to duct tape. No F-35 can maneuver under an 800-foot ceiling with two-mile visibility as can an A-10.  No F-35 has more than three combat trigger pulls before running out of ammo. The A-10 has twenty. No F-35 has the battlefield survivability of the A-10.

But the Air Force has staked 60 per cent of its aircraft budget on the claimed multi-mission versatility of the F-35, and that is what General Welsh wants to protect.

By all accounts, General Welsh is a highly-respected leader and a fine man. But he has been on the job only a year and is facing so many issues, some strategic and immediate, that he has not had time to conduct due diligence regarding the A-10. If he allows the A-10 to wither away by the end of 2015, he will have broken faith with the young men and women on the ground in faraway places. He will have deceived Congress about the force structure of the Air Force. He will have violated his doctrinal obligation to protect America’s ground troops.

He will probably get his F-35. But he will have paid for it with the blood of brave young warriors.

Photograph of Robert Coram

By: Robert Coram

Robert Coram is the author of Boyd: the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War and American Patriot: the Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day. He is currently working on a biography of Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lee Scott. Coram lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

The goal of the Straus Military Reform Project is to secure far more effective military forces and much more ethical and professional military and civilian leadership at significantly lower budget levels.

We would like to thank Philip A. Straus Jr. and family for their generous support.

Submitted by Airwing marine at: January 8, 2014
I was amazed that the Air Force first took this jet as opposed to the Marines who have a close air support mission assigned to their air wing units.Fast moving jets cannot stay on target as long and certainly cannot absorb the punishment the A-10 tank in the sky could. This is a big loss to close ground support!
Submitted by Magus at: December 28, 2013
The F-35 is a trillion dollar boondoggle, astonishingly over-budget and well below the original performance requirements. But the Air Force is stuck in the sunk cost fallacy, they keep dumping money into the program and taking it away from the planes that our military actually needs, just to avoid admitting that they wasted money in the first place.
Submitted by A10CrewCheifVet at: December 12, 2013
First of all Glaaaar, the A-10 does have combat fuel tanks. As a young 19 year old crew chief at about 5'3" and barely 120 lbs., I spent many a time in the right wheel well hell hole removing panels and ballistic foam so that the fuel shop could remove the fuel bladder. I've seen the A-10 Gatling gun in action over the desert of Gila Bend, AZ and I was impressed with the effectiveness and the accuracy of that 1 second burst (72 rounds) on the target. I knew then that this aircraft was unlike any other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. That was in the early 1980's. Also, as a side note, the A-10 is the only aircraft that has never been sold to other countries to be used in their defense programs. Why? Because, if that ally suddenly turned enemy, we would be on the losing end. I believe it is not only wrong, but also criminal to end the A-10 program. It has saved too many lives and wreaked havoc with too many bad guys.
Submitted by Another Guest (from Australia) at: December 11, 2013
Nothing that can replace the A-10 in CAS role.
Submitted by Another Guest (from Australia) at: December 10, 2013
The F-35 Joke Still Flying is not the answer to meeting global threats and it is certainly not a true 5th generation fighter. Why? The F-35 aircraft designs will not meet specification nor the operational requirements laid down in the JSF JORD (Joint Operational Requirements Document) by significant degrees, noting that these operational requirements and resulting specifications, themselves, were predicated on the capabilities of reference threats from an era past and subsequently subjected to the illogical and deeply flawed process known as CAIV (Cost As and Independent Variable). The designs of all three JSF variants are presenting with critical single points of failure while even the most basic elements of aircraft design (e.g. weight, volume, aerodynamics, structures, thermal management, electrical power, etc.) will almost certainly end up in what Engineers call “Coffin Corner”. In essence, the unethical Thana Marketing strategy is using to sell the JSF, along with the acquisition malpractice of concurrency in not only development, the production and testing but the actual designs of the JSF variants, themselves, have resulted in the JSF marketeers writing cheques that the aircraft designs and JSF Program cannot honour. “We must be able to project power in contested environments (A2/AD) and the Joint Strike Fighter is that machine.” Is a full of baloney by drinking too much Kool-Aid. All the comments from the critics have made it very clear that will be a good idea in the estimation of the Air Force. The more you are trying to protect the F-35 and speeding the process of the failed programme the worse off the United States and the allies by eroding/degrading the air force which will certainly make the western nations totally ineffective in the next 30 to 40 years. The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, can’t perform close air support mission. The aircraft is totally unsuited for air superiority, bomber and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance/agility, limited weapons load and limited supersonic speed. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades. The F-35 will be ineffective against the current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire. The reason why the aircraft is given a nickname called the “Joke Still Flying”. All its about is to spend money and that is a mission of the aeroplane it’s for the US Congress to send money to Lockheed Martin to produce this “Flying Pentagon Pork”. That’s a “real mission” for the aeroplane to fail any combat mission requirements that can’t do air superiority, deep interdiction bombing and close air support roles. The F-35 needs to be flushed down the toilet ASAP. http://www.ausairpower.net/jsf.html http://www.ausairpower.net/PDF-A/JSF-Issues+Problems-2011-Master.pdf http://www.democracyarsenal.org/2013/12/can-the-.html http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2004/April/Pages/Fast_Jets3594.aspx http://www.marketing.org.au/Thana_Marketing__The_dark_side_of
Submitted by KEN at: December 6, 2013
It is too early to retire the A-10, simply put. I am replying to an earlier poster that said that the A-10 did not have combat fuel tanks....that is a blatant error. The A-10 has foam in the tanks - I have photos that show this during assembly of the wings.
Submitted by KheSanh_vet at: November 30, 2013
Gunfire spotter '68 in I Corps. Sure wish we had've had some A-10s ... folks at Lang Vei too. What I see here is the same ignorance that caused so much grief with the initial F-4s: no guns in the design. I think these fly boys who would become 'leaders' should get down into an ambush ... just one ....in the mean time, give the A-10s to the Marine Corps where they will get plenty of close work.
Submitted by Picard578 at: November 1, 2013
Glaar!, I'd ask you to do a research before speaking about things you obviously don't know about. Check all stories about A-10 doing CAS in Afghanistan, and then how fast jets have performed in the same conditions. A-10 is only tactical aircraft capable of quality CAS in the US service.
Submitted by Blacktail at: October 6, 2013
No more A-10s for the USAF? Good --- that means the Army can take them all!
Submitted by Old Load Toad at: October 1, 2013
I have never seen anything else take the kind of abuse the Warthog was able to, and still land! It's been hard watching them go.
Submitted by Glaaaar! at: September 30, 2013
The Nature of CAS is poorly understood in the modern environment. First and foremost, you have to -be there- and in AfG, originally, this meant 11-17hr intervals between fragged (in the ATO fragmentary orders) sorties. The A-10 has no combat tanks (foamed not to explode) and a limiting airspeed of around 350 knots which means it doesn't fly well at altitude because the big, fat, conically cambered, near supercritical wing tends to not like flying as the speed of sound comes down. If you don't fly well at altitude and you don't have tanks, this means you have to have a _dedicated_ tanker to 'drag' you into combat. And tankers don't like flying down in the 15-20K range where a Hawg is comfortable. Because it decreases their own best-efficiency loiter and makes them potentially vulnerable to trashfire. A-10s, even after the TF34 flat-rate upgrade, don't have enough thrust to -leave- that trashfire envelope. In fact, in some of the higher elevations on the Eastern border of AfG, it can take up to five minutes to return to perch from a gun run. OA-10s have no radar. Which means it's impossible to pass SAR map coordinates when the target is low-signature presented or whether/LOS obscured to targeting pods. It also means that if you need to deconflict or sanitize airspace over a frontal threat lane, you can't. The GAU-8 Avenger has a 10-15,000ft max slant range with the new OFP 'Precision Engagement' software package. What this means is deceptive however because the exact geometry to get 10,000ft of standoff is hard to achieve since you must take into account the lower you are, the more gravity will effect bullet drop and the CM or Combat Mix of PGI-13/14 (APDS/HEI) is not 'equal'. The lighter explosive round retains it's energy for less time and so tends to fall out of the CEP pattern. Loaded 50:50, this means half your bullets are not accurate and will effect your ability to do direct (overhead) vs. safer (parallel/offset) gunnery. Because the Avenger is something like 22ft long and 4,000lbs fully loaded, as the aircraft's principle weapons system, this is not a design compromise that is readily acceptable. Because the 'next best' system is not a 30mm cannon but a 70mm rocket. Where the latter has anything up to 2.5 kilometers worth of powered flight and an average 1-2m miss distance. 70mm (2.75") rockets are typically housed in 7 round LAU-68/131 pods which means that if you put two pods on a TER or VER (the inside station of the triple ejector rack is left empty due to tanks on the F-16), the total number of shots is potentially 7X4 = 28. Twenty eight passes is possible in an A-10 (max gun kills in DS was something like 25) but it is rare. And it requires that you commit the nose under the horizon for a very long time with an equally long round out and climb away. Which is to say that target overflight is a given. This puts the A-10 at extreme risk to shoulderfire weapons for an aircraft which doesn't have a MAWS or a DIRCM under the control of it's ALQ-213 Terma DAS manager. In AfG, for the first few months of the campaign, Marine CAS was preferred because Marine CAS, bot RW and Fixed, was done professionally with rapid effects delivery. This is largely about having 2-crew F/A-18D (one rows the boat, the other shoots ducks as system manager) and the ability to stack CAS delivery assets at cardinal points around the designated FSCL with fires delivery coming 1-2-3-4. As soon as the preceding jet was nose off the target with a PGM or ATGW at splash, another rolled in and began their own approach. So that when the smoke cleared, there was already another round in-air to rinse-repeat or new-target with. The A-10 cannot do this because it lacks the standoff munitions, the airspeed or the altitude performance to match the better equipped fighters. The one are where the A-10 traditionally excelled, despite having two engines, was it's CPFH. Yet upgrades to the 10C level, along with fatigue life age out and hard use on the airframe, means that this is no longer a 7,000 dollar per flight hour aircraft (though it is still at least three times less than the 31,000 dollar CPFH F-35). I will close by stating that I am _far_ from being an advocate of the F-35. But the A-10 has been an anachronism since the day it was first designed to put paid to the AH-56 in a SEA CAVU, pre-MANPADS, environment. It's utility in a WARPAC conflict was never proven and it's utility in the modern expeditionary role is one of extreme permissiveness in both threats and base-in requirements. It's day has passed.
Submitted by ted at: September 29, 2013
evidently it is more about what the industrial complex needs than what the soldier needs (again)!!
Submitted by electroman at: September 29, 2013
no problem Airforce, last time you tried to scrap the A-10 program the Marines were willing, ready and able to buy everyone of the A-10's you had and all your stock of parts. The Marines know what a kickass plane your giving up and will take that mission from you all day every day because they do CAS for the grunts on the ground
Submitted by 165thspc at: September 29, 2013
Cutting the A-10 is plain and simply - Stupid!
Submitted by kunal at: September 29, 2013
ndian Armed Forces have converted/tasked their Special Forces to US POLICE SWAT n the original role of SF is nowhere in sight n for CAS for SF Ops there is the God Almighty
Submitted by Warfighter at: September 29, 2013
Then give the army purview over the a-10 take it out of the air forces hands problem solved. this so call Political generals lose sight of the true facts of true performance. the a-10 is by far the ground soldiers best friend give it back to the army and be done with and let the Pre-Madonnas have thier pretty lil f-35. enough said.. P.S. but the so called generals dont have a lick of sense. this is a no brainer.
Submitted by candystore at: September 29, 2013
I have never seen it in combat other than the rare soundbite on the news But I have seen it fly in airshows and see that this palne would be my friend in combat, one I could wave to and recieve a reply I doubt the F35 pilot going t 400+ knots would even see the area it is blasting from a couple of thousand feet up, even the spectre ( C130 herc) modified gunship doesn't have the same capabilities. Keep the A10 and keep the troops alive but then again budgets and appearances are more important then soldiers lives.
Submitted by Shakey at: September 28, 2013
Yep, the A-10. The plane that the Air force never wanted....The plane that proved itself so many times over in combat...the plane that can shred anything on the ground had been habitually shortchanged and STILL kicked hellacious ass ANYtime it was call in. The one that took a direct hit from a SAM and still flew home and landed uneventfully. It's being cast aside so that the pocket liners can belly up to the trough for their kickbacks and to hell with what will win the battles.
Submitted by Garry at: September 28, 2013
The USAF was created in 1947 with two ex-USAAF Missions, Close Air Support (CAS) and Military Airlift and while the Airlift Mission has been catered for the CAS Mission (since 1947) has only ever had one purpose built platform - the A-10. If you look at the A-10 the USAF quickly moved it from Active to Reserve to Air National Guard because the USAF doesn't understand nor appreciate the CAS environment and requirement to do and be seen carrying out 'danger close' operations effectively. Reverse the 1947 decision and transfer the CAS Mission and assets to its real home in the US Army.
Submitted by Popeye Oz at: September 28, 2013
Somebody should take that desk bound dick head, General Mark Welsh to Afghanistan, and drop his arse outside the wire in Taliban country, See if he appreciates the A-10 when it used to save his useless butt. Shame Welsh, shame.
Submitted by Abrnth3 at: September 28, 2013
When your 18 and face to face with a opposition tank with breathing distance all your praying for is an A=10 in the shy. The F-35s have never accoplished anything close to the effectiveness of the A-10
Submitted by ArmyGuy at: September 28, 2013
This is complete bullshit, if it has merits. I have first hand seen what great things an A-10 does on the battlefield. The enemy is TERRIFIED of the A-10, but they don't bat an eye when they see B-1s, F-16s, and F-18s. This will destroy the morale of many of the ground pounders and they won't want to go outside the wire. All I can say is thank God for the AH-64s..at least the Army will still have a form of CAS.
Submitted by Foot at: September 28, 2013
Heres a test... take a sledge hammer and hit the nose of the A-10 and repeat the test on the F-35. Which ever one sustains the least damage gets the job.
Submitted by Jimmy at: September 28, 2013
So it's unstable on the ground parked, but loved in flight by the pilots.
Submitted by Sandman at: September 28, 2013
Screw the F35. The A10 is a FLYING TANK.The A10 is a much needed Platform on Todays Battlefield.Ask any Grunt or Spec Ops Warrior!!!! SEMPER FI!!!
Submitted by Spad at: September 28, 2013
Spot on...I've already contacted my Congressman and have tried to communicate the same sentiment. I have even invited them to our A-10 guard base so maybe if the USAF can't "get it" then maybe a politician can.
Submitted by Remo at: September 28, 2013
A-10 Warthog, best bang for the buck. Great CAS plane. But since when does anything the Gov. do that makes sense.
Submitted by ke6ziu at: September 28, 2013
Only the AV-8B can do what the A-10 can do, and the Marine Corps isn't doing away with that aircraft anytime soon...
Submitted by Patrick at: September 27, 2013
Tell you what. Let's have the Marine Corps trade our F-35's for the A-10!!! F-35 doesn't meet our mission subset anyway.
Submitted by jconz at: September 27, 2013
Well , it's best to remove all dount...
Submitted by Pilotsailor at: September 27, 2013
Amen! Has it been so long since Vietnam that our military leaders forget why the A-10 was developed? What is the thinking of these generals that they believe another Afghanistan type war will not happen again. "Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it." -Burke
Submitted by Stykbow at: September 27, 2013
Again the greed of fortune and fame outweigh the lives of our fighting men. If General Welsh does as expected he will have the blood of our warriors on his hands in the future. No airplane since the Skyraider has such a profound effect on the battlefield as the Hog. They are mission capable and there are pilots that bet their lives on the survivability of these magnificent CAS machines..
Submitted by Sarge1290 at: September 27, 2013
How many friendly fire incidents have A10's been involved in since 90?
Submitted by deltaglaze at: September 27, 2013
Couldn't agree with you more, the A10 is an essential combat platform for supporting US and allied troops on the ground when a multirole platform just wont do. after reading this I am having flashback of the British MOD getting rid of the other great CAS aircraft the BAE Harrier GR9. to save money on the much over rated F35. if the A10 goes the way of the britsh harrier troops on the ground are not going to have anything beside UCAV's and rotary wing assets and jets at high altitude with very little clue of whats actually happening when the bullets start flying
Submitted by Ex Warthog Driver at: September 27, 2013
I have only one suggestion. Let Gen (Bonehead) Welsh III serve a tour of duty as a combat controller with an army special forces unit that is destined to encounter a close fire fight with the Taliban so he can see first hand how well his F35 will save his sorry butt. You are not a believer until you experience hell first hand.

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