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Bye-Bye, Warthog, Bye-Bye

March 13th, 2014 - 9:37 am

WARTHOG

It’s all-but-official that the fabled A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka Warthog) is dead:

The five-year scheme retires all of the roughly 340 A-10 Warthog attack jets in the active Air Force, Air Force Reserve and state-controlled Air National Guard. The Warthogs account for the majority of the planned warplane cuts.

The twin-jet, gun-armed A-10s disappear from their main active-duty strongholds in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and South Korea in 2015 and 2016. Reserve and Guard squadrons in Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Maryland surrender their A-10s more gradually between 2015 and 2019.

Cutting the low- and slow-flying Warthogs leaves a big gap in the Air Force’s ability to support ground troops and destroy enemy tanks.

We’ll be replacing the low-cost/high-survivability/highly-effective A-10 with high-cost/lower-survivability/less-effective F-16s in the ground-strike role. Then the F-16s will be replaced by the stupid-cost/lower-survivability/unknown-effectiveness F-35.

In Washington this is called “progress” and “budget cutting.”

The guys with mud on their boots call it a “SNAFU” courtesy of “REMFs.”

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All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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Props (so to speak) to Mr. Lion and formerly Neil. I work with a lot of folks who love the A-10 better than anything else when they need to say "Cleared hot" on the radio to get ordnance down to support the ground forces; having flown alongside them (in training) I have the utmost respect for the 'Hog community as well.
Two big warfighting issues loom in the discussion "To keep or not to keep" the A-10. The first is an operational consideration: In what I'm sure the "Powers-that-be" believe will be a potential "Most Dangerous" hypothetical enemy, said opponent will be one that flies a decent number of 4th (and possibly 5th) generation fighters. Add a generous helping of Double-digit SAMs and near-parity in EW, and you've got a situation where the combatant commander either accepts the risk that a lot of A-10 (and F-16, F-15E, etc) sorties are going to be unable to complete their missions due to the airspace being denied them, or the combatant commander just doesn't fly the older aircraft until the serious threats have been dealt with. Assuming course of action #2 is followed: Viola! You've got a fleet of aircraft that are sitting on the ramp hoping enemy OCA, theater ballistic missiles, etc don't get through to bomb them on the ramp before the threats are rolled back and we can start launching them or the A-10s are simply not deployed into theater. Either way, little to no CAS is being provided. Put another way: In the initial phase of a hypothetical future operation, the air apportionment to the land force commander will be small until the threats to the air operation are dealt with. For those disciples of Warden out there, the Joint Force will make the fight as parallel as we possibly can, but the air forces have to be able to operate, and in the future there's a strong chance there will be some 'Serial' events that must occur before the air forces can attack everything at once. The fourth generation aircraft are increasingly going to be forced to wait for some serial events to occur before they get to participate in parallel operations, if at all.
The tactical problem is a subset of the operational problem. In the face of the newer, more advanced threats, the 5th generation aircraft are going to be able to deal with them much better and with less risk to the mission (and to the flyers) than the 4th generation aircraft.
Yes, there are conceivable future conflicts where the A-10 is the superior choice of platforms. The problem facing the Air Force is that there are some plausible scenarios where it will be too big a risk to fly them. The Air Force is now ready to accept the risk that we won't have the "perfect" solution in the event the next conflict occurs in another relatively permissive environment in order to have the platforms that will work in contested/degraded operational environments.
I wish it were not so. Welcome to our Air Force's current reality.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's pretty much the strategic aspect of the decision, in a nutshell, which has far more weight than cost or anything else.

I really would love to see a next-gen A-10 as it's a tough, awesome little aircraft. But when you can blow something expensive up with a highly trained pilot inside it with a $20k manpad, you've got to re-think the use of that resource.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see CAS largely handled by high speed tail fan attack helicopters inside of a decade, flown by the Army, which should shut the "AF hates CAS" people up.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
The MANPADS are certainly a problem, but the hypothetical "Near-peer" adversary will have mobile and semi-mobile tactical and strategic systems that will give us fits; these will be the systems that deny us the airspace.

The Light Combat Aircraft program would have been superb for permissive (from the standpoint of air superiority through air supremacy) environments such as the ones in which we've lately been engaged. It too got axed. The A-10 has been getting new wings, and it needs new engines. Even those aren't going to help it get around the newer SAM systems out there.

The Army does many things well, but after working closely with them for a few years, fixed wing CAS isn't one of them. They tend to work the rotary wing assets into their schemes of maneuver, but RW doesn't bring the heavy metal the way the fighters do. And the Army doesn't have a robust Terminal Attack Controller training program; we in the AF handle that for them.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes-- there are many threats out there that are a very big problem for such aircraft, manpads are just one I really wouldn't want to run in to in the seat of an A-10. Big scary gun or no, a dozen SA-18s lobbed in your general direction will really ruin your day.

I'm curious to see where the JMR-FVL stuff goes with Sikorsky and Boeing. It may well end up being the answer to the A-10's role, freeing up fighters to blow up other stuff. Though you raise a good point with the (J)TAC training-- yet another logistics challenge.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's a fair statement of the tactical reality (to the extent that I understand it, which isn't much--I receive specifications, I don't write them), but the other half of the problem is the procurement reality.

The F-22, F-35, and lord knows what else, were developed as generation-skipping "transformational" airframes. DoD let contracts for one basic aircraft to be developed over decades in order to come out with a product that is light-years ahead of any possible adversary. OK, so the F-22 and F-35 are likely going to beat anything else in the sky, but at what cost?

If there's only one big contract every 20 years, then only one prime contractor is making money for two flippin' decades. The other aircraft manufacturers either go out of business or get merged. The winner then gets to jack up the price on subsequent contracts, and they have every incentive to milk those contracts for all they're worth. After all, they won't get another one for 20 years.

So while the "transformational" aircraft turn into a budgetary black hole, all the other roles go unfilled in order to pay for sufficient multi-billion-dollar aircraft to cover the tasks they're not really suited for. You get a few F-22, a few more F-35, and you're short on airlift and CAS.

Don't get me started on LCS and DD(X)...
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't argue with your points on the procurement process.

I just hope that we're not all standing around a design table 10-20 years from now kicking off on the next "A-X" program trying to put together a workable 5th or 6th generation CAS platform because something got "fouled" up during the most recent war. The A-10 itself is a result of exactly that problem post-Vietnam. The A-1 Skyraider did a magnificent job, but we needed something better; the A-10 is what we got.

I forgot to mention earlier, multirole aircraft are fine (I have to say that, I used to fly one). But it takes a very long time to make the pilot multi-role, in the sense that the flyer doesn't get comfortable switching proficiently from one type of mission to another for several hundred flight hours. When CAS is all you do, you get very good at it relatively quickly.

I'll leave you with one last sentiment; paraphrasing former SecAF Wynne: "The only thing more expensive than a first-rate air force is a second-rate air force."
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
In my opinion, we could have gotten to the F-22's capabilities by building two or three consecutive incrementally improved airframes, on smaller contracts. We'd have probably ended up with the same number of 5th-gen airframes, but they'd be backstopped by a larger number of very capable 4.5 and 4.75-gen airframes.

Plus, with contracts coming more frequently, there'd be more competition and less corruption in the defense industry.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
On the sliding scale of f'd upedness I'd say this rates somewhat above SNAFU. Remember, SNAFU = Situation Normal All Fouled* Up, FUMTU Fouled* Up More Than Usual, and TARFU Things Are Really Fouled* Up.

*Hey, this is a family blog.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I bet the Texas State Air Guard would be happy to take them.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
GD MF Fighter mafia will finally do what they've been trying to do for the last 40 years. Those idiots hate anything that isn't the latest gee-whiz fighter no matter how effective it might (or not) be.

This would be a very good time for CongressCritters in Army-heavy districts to seek to abrogate the old USAF/USA agreement on fixed-wing aircraft and just slide these off to the Army. I'd be shocked if you couldn't get the USMC to take some on as well.

These airframes have mondo hours left in them and in the jihadi wars we're now fighting nothing makes them pull back quicker than a 'Hog on station.

@RPD:

If there was a way to make an Able Dog turboprop (simply for the increased reliability over piston) it would still have a place in the wars we are currently fighting.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
There was a turboprop AD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_A2D_Skyshark

However, it lacked glamor.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
It also lacked an engine, and parts of it liked to depart the airframe at generally inconvenient times. Those things might have had a bit more to do with its lack of production than glamor.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
This nonsense again?

1) The Army does not have the logistical support to run the A10. Building said support would be hilariously expensive to support one very old, and increasingly expensive platform, that is comprised of a number of components that are not possible to replace.

2) It doesn't really matter how many "hours" an airframe has left-- it's never a hard limit, the only thing that changes is how much it costs to keep kicking the can down the road. That cost has been increasing for some time, and to keep the A-10 flying would only get massively more expensive-- all to do a job that is a) Done nearly as well by helicopters and JDAMs, and b) Much better handled by a new CAS aircraft.

This "Oh, those damned Air Force guys" crap is just plain blithering idiocy-- they have a job to do, and they do it pretty damn well, no matter what they're flying. If you want to make an argument for a new CAS platform, great-- I've been doing that for a while. But if you're just going to toss around the same old "They don't like the A-10 because it isn't sexy" garbage while completely ignoring the age and cost of the platform-- frankly, disingenuous doesn't quite cover it.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd buy into the idea that it's aging, or expensive to continue to keep in the air, except they've hated that platform since it's inception, and have tried to scuttle the damn thing a number of times in it's life. While the prima-donna not-sexy bias against it may have passed, it was certainly true early in the lifetime of the aircraft.

To that end, I never hear any real numbers about how much it costs to keep one in the air, as opposed to doing the same task in an F-16, which, I think, predates the A-10 by a number of years, and while it was supposed to be cheaper to run than the F-15, only showed that 'cheaper' was a relative thing. Finding out the relative and real numbers in this would go a long way to determining if this really needs to be replaced, or if Fairchild or Lockie-McD-D's just wants a new project, or if some general/senator wants somewhere cushy to 'retire' to.

I'm sure it's easier to return this to production, even with a design re-fresh and an avionics update, than it is to dump another half trillion on re-inventing the wheel, given how the F-22 and F-35 platforms are going so well. Scope creep and making sure some part was made in every senator's district would cause a number of problems in what actually gets made.

Wars are fought "come as you are". Our enemies are going to look for our weakest point in any given theater, not when we've gotten around to having proven platforms and doctrine established. Overly complex aircraft are nice, but if you're trying to ramp up production, suddenly, of complicated and untested hardware, the war will be over before you get started.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
- The pilots who fly them, of whom I know quite a few, love the plane and their job.

- The brass do not, and never really did. Some of their reasons are more justified than others. And put quite simply, a modern 5th gen fighter is a much more useful allocation of limited resources than keeping a very old CAS bird in the air. I think we need a new CAS aircraft. AF brass do not. AF brass wins, and it has more to do with resource management than moustache twirling. It has crap to do with "sexy" gray aircraft, and everything to do with the primary job of the Air Force, which is blowing up everything that flies before it knows we're even there.

- The F-16 is a multi-role fighter that does quite a lot of stuff very well. The A-10 is a one trick pony that is very easy to kill in all sorts of ways these days. Much more significant, however, is the simple fact that the F-16 production line still exists and Lockheed is still cranking them out. The same is not true of Fairchild. Hence, it is -massively- cheaper to keep modernizing a platform you're still tooled up to build than to contract out upgrade kits to keep an EOL'ed platform in the air.

FWIW, the cost to run the A-10 is higher than the F-16, and the latter does a heck of a lot more for the money.

- The A-10 is not "easy" to return to production, and it certainly is not "easier" than the F-16 which still is IN production. None of the tooling exists. Many of the parts are hard to come by. There is no production line. In order to build another A-10, you'd have to start with a blank sheet of paper.

- The F-22 and to a slightly lesser degree the F-35 are the most lethal fighters ever made. We needed them. We need more of them. We need them a lot more than we need the A-10, or a new CAS platform, much as I might like to see one built.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd also argue that the all of the air superiority issue, including AAA and AAM, was co-opted by the air force, meaning they fight any money being diverted from them and used to develop ground based systems the army can drag around with it, and leaving the army wholly dependent on the air force to have the resources and staff to task to it, instead of running sexy strike missions. (The Sgt York gun was a fiasco from the start, and should be the object lesson in how not to make weapon systems)

"Give us these magic 80 billion dollar planes, and we'll do everything."
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have to agree with the last, would've been better off buying Gepard turrets and mating them to M1 hulls.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a replay of the Skyraider retirement. After they retired the Skyraider a obvious need developed and everything pointed to the Skyraider, which no one wanted to bring back a prop plane. In ended in the development of the A-10. In a few years when we desperately need an A-10, and all the old one have been cut up, they'll start to develop its replacement.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
As the Skyraiders were wearing out, the Navy looked into restarting production. The cost was prohibitive.
Hopefully, the A-10's will be mothballed rather than being cut up.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree it's a short term mistake but honestly with the leaps and bounds of pilotless drone technology... I think the future will be beyond manned aircraft where attack roles are concerned. shrug.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
You think wrong. Drones are useful for blowing up things remotely in a fairly stealthy way, and looking/shooting at things in areas you don't want to risk a pilot. They are entirely useless for the majority of fighter and attack aircraft roles for quite a lot of reasons.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cheap enough to replace the pilot with weaponized drone-control technology, though. You still have to carry the bombs to the target.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maverick and Hellfire missiles are still expensive ways to kill tanks. Drones are highly dependent on an EW friendly spectrum in their airspace, requiring mostly uninterrupted ground and satellite links. Deploying armed, fully autonomous drones is not a good idea.

Both potential major adversaries, and even some lesser states, have heavily invested in denying us as much usable communications as possible, knowing it to be both a weak link and a force multiplier for us.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sigh.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good thing that Russia is looking so pacifist these days.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't know about you, but I'm still not worried about a tank rush down the Fulda Gap, which is the A10's forte.

And of course, the Russians have the air power to suppress A10s anyway, which is problematic (as formerly Neil points out).
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment

To be fair, it's way past time for the A-10 to be retired. It should have been replaced 15 years ago, ideally by something that doesn't need quite so permissive an air environment. And therein lies the rub--the Air Force doesn't want it replaced, they want it gone.

Ah, well. Replacement will probably happen soon enough. I don't think all this talk of Defense budget cuts will last very long--Putin made that clear last week, and I'm sure there will be more examples to come.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
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