Design for the Mission, Not the Gadgets: Interview with A-10 Designer Pierre Sprey

Screenshot from the PBS video, How the A-10 Warthog became 'the most survivable plane ever built' by Dan Sagalyn, February 25, 2014.

A-10 designer Pierre Sprey told the story of how the nation’s most capable close air support aircraft came to be in a recent interview on the James T. Harris show. With today’s out-of-control weapon procurement system, it is important to understand the conditions that allowed the A-10 to become the plane our troops rely upon today. As Sprey describes, the A-10 was born out of a budget battle between the Air Force and the Army. Concerned that the Army’s new helicopter, the Cheyenne, would eat into the Air Force’s budget, the Air Force decided to create a cheaper, more lethal aircraft to provide close air support—the A-10.

After their budget victory over the Army, the Air Force promised they could rely upon the Air Force to provide close air support. Air Force headquarters has tried to go back on that promise ever since. Air Force Generals, with their penchant for bombers, hate the close air support mission and have waged a long campaign to get rid of the A-10.

Incorporating lessons learned from combat history was key to the A-10’s successful creation. The failure of the F-35 program, Sprey points out, is that it has been designed for technical features. “The real mission of the F-35 is to send money to contractors,” he concludes.

The whole interview serves as a useful primer on Col. John Boyd’s Fighter Mafia, the military reform movement, and the enduring impact of their hard-won victories over the military-industrial-congressional complex. I urge you to listen to it in its entirety here.