The same day a May 27, 2003 op-ed piece ran in the New York Times exposing a secret attempt to mothball one of the U.S. Air Force's most successful workhorse aircraft, the A-10 Warthog, an Air Force general began a search for whistleblowers who assisted the article's author.
Lt. General Bruce L. Wright, Vice Commander, Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, sent out what has now become known as the "witch hunt" memo telling his fellow Air Force officers to "look your staffs in the eyes" and instruct them to "look hard at themselves, their individual professionalism, and their personal commitment to telling the complete story."
The op-ed was researched and written by Robert Coram, author of "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War."
The A-10, known as a friend of the "grunts," has been supremely successful at providing close air support for ground troops during Gulf War I and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite these and other battle successes, the Air Force has repeatedly attempted to phase out the A-10 to free up money for other pet projects like the F/A-22 tactical fighter. The A-10 does not have the political support of other more costly programs that offer fat defense contracts and jobs in Congressional districts.
"For more than 20 years, the Warthog has been a hero to the soldiers whose lives depend on effective air support," said POGO Senior Defense Investigator Eric Miller. "The A-10 works, and it's cheap. But for some reason, that's not good enough for the Air Force."
In his op-ed, Coram alleged that in early April, Maj. General David Deptula of the Air Combat Command ordered a subordinate to draft a memo justifying the decommissioning of the A-10 fleet. Coram noted that the A-10 was one of the most effective, lethal and feared weapons of the Iraqi war. A 1997 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office documented that the Warthog actually outperformed many of the other far more expensive, hi-tech, stealthy aircraft during the Gulf War.
Apparently Coram's op-ed has at least temporarily halted the effort to eliminate the A-10 from the Air Force inventory. A June 3, 2003 letter to the editor of the New York Times written by General Hal M. Hornburg noted that the A-10 did a "superb job in Iraq" and that the Air Force "intends to keep the A-10 in its inventory for many years to come."
Click here to view the Wright memo and an email documenting the order to begin the spin campaign to mothball the A-10 by writing a so-called "BBP" (bullet background paper). A good source for background on the Air Force's efforts to kill the A-10 can be viewed in a Fred Kaplan's April 23, 2003 Slate column, "Chop the Chopper."