Quelling the A-10 Firestorm

A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"

The Air Force has a big job on its hands, trying to defend the unpopular move to mothball its A-10 fleet:

In an unprecedented move, top Air Force leaders last week convened a “Close Air Support Summit” at the Pentagon with senior officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard Bureau and Special Operations Command.

For the Air Force, one of the takeaway messages from the summit was that it needs to explain more clearly how it will support ground troops if the A-10 is taken out of service. Another is that it has to consider the possibility that it might need a new strike aircraft to fill the gap between the A-10 and its intended replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In a briefing with reporters March 6, on the final day of the summit, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle said the central aim of the week-long gathering was to “assess the current state of close-air support and work with the Joint Staff, Special Operations Command and sister services to gain enhanced understanding of mission requirements against the backdrop of fiscal and operational challenges.”

Carlisle insisted that the summit was not about A-10 politics or damage control.

You can take that last line with a grain of salt so big, a 30mm depleted uranium shell couldn’t penetrate it.

Congress wants to look good by intervening to save the aging A-10 fleet, but those airframes are old and getting older. That makes them more expensive and more dangerous to fly. The Air Force wants to look good by showing off the sexy & stealthy F-35, but that jet will simply never be as good a ground-pounder at the Warthog.

If Congress and the Air Force were serious, they’d announce an effort to replace the A-10 — and they could do it on the cheap.

The Russians have managed one — just one — all-new fighter airframe since the Su-27 more than three decades ago. That new airframe is the T-50, and it’s still under development with only five prototypes built so far. And yet the Russians have managed to keep building more and more modern jets by improving on existing models like the Su-27 and the MiG-29. The Su-35 is highly evolved enough to put up a good fight against anything but our F-22 Raptor.

We could do something similar with the A-10. Instead of building an all-new (and probably gold-plated) ground-pounder from scratch, the Air Force and Congress could put up the funding for a new and improved attack plane, evolved from the A-10 platform.

It’s a proven system, and we’d save billion in development and production costs — and the troops would get the air support they need.

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