110 A-10 aircraft (one-third of the fleet) are in desperate need of wing set replacements or the USAF will be forced to start grounding them
On Dec. 15, 2017 U.S. Representative (and former A-10 pilot) Martha McSally led a bipartisan, bicameral group of 20 lawmakers in sending a letter request to Senate leadership and high ranking appropriators urging them to include funding for new wings for the A-10 fleet in any final FY18 spending package. The A-10 wing production line was shut down because the Obama Administration unsuccessfully attempted to mothball A-10s and cripple the fleet.
According to mcsally.house.gov, currently, 110 A-10 aircraft (one-third of the fleet) are in desperate need of wing set replacements or the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will be forced to start grounding them. A requirement to start to finish re-winging the fleet was fully funded in the FY18 House and Senate National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs), the FY18 NDAA conference report, and the House-passed defense appropriations bill. However, Senate Appropriations neglected to include it in their funding bill, regardless of the fact that the USAF has re-geared up the A-10 depot line in order to sustain the A-10 fleet indefinitely.
“Now that the Air Force has confirmed that it plans to maintain the A-10 fleet well into the foreseeable future, the remaining 110 wing sets must be delivered as soon as possible. The A-10 remains the only aircraft in the U.S. military specifically designed for Close Air Support (CAS) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). If one-third of the A-10 fleet were to be grounded, it would create a significant capability gap at a time when our service members are facing increasing threat environments,” the lawmakers write in the letter. “We urge you to fully fund this Air Force UPL list item as authorized/requested in any final spending package for FY18 in order to keep these battle-tested aircraft in the air and in the fight.”
As of Aug. 30th, 2017, the Warthog had dropped roughly 20 percent of all munitions—more than any other aircraft—in the fight against ISIS. The lawmakers point out that the A-10 is currently one of the U.S. military’s most utilized aircraft across multiple theaters, crucial in contingency operations against North Korea, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and ISIS in the Middle East.
Noteworthy as we have already explained Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who is member of the the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program’s integration office, said that a CAS flyoff competition between the F-35 and A-10 could start as early as next year.
The Thunderbolt II has excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and is a highly accurate and survivable weapons-delivery platform. The aircraft can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate in low ceiling and visibility conditions. The wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles (NVG), A-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.
The Hog (as the A-10 is nicknamed by its aircrews) is built around the powerful GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute to defeat a wide variety of targets including tanks.
The Avenger makes of the A-10 the perfect CAS platform, a mission that the aircraft performed exceptionally well in operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
The F-35 has a gun too, in the form of the GAU-22/A which is a four-barrel version of the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) AV-8B Harrier II 25mm GAU-12/U Equalizer. This gun is internally mounted on the Air Force F-35A version of the JSF while is externally mounted on both the USMC F-35B and Navy F-35C.
Pleus explained that the A-10 would come out “as the better CAS platform” in a no-threat environment against the F-35, which performs similarly to the Fighting Falcon. But “as you now start to built the threat up, the A-10s won’t even enter the airspace before they get shot down — not even within 20 miles within the target.”
Actually because of its stealthiness and enhanced situational awareness, the F-35 will have an edge over the A-10 in contested or “non-permissive” operating environments.
However as already reported the USAF has reset the date for the earliest possible retirement of the Warthog to 2021.
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter delayed the A-10 retirement until 2022. In fact according to fiscal 2017 budget documents the USAF was planning to begin A-10’s squadrons disbandment in 2018 to complete the aircraft retirement in 2022.
“We’re going to keep them through 2021. Then, as a result of a discussion we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary Mattis and the department, and review all of our budgets – that’s when we’ll determine the way ahead,” USAF chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein pointed out.
In the meantime the USAF is running an experiment (named OA-X) to find a low-cost light attack aircraft.
But Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas, director of Air Force public affairs, said that not only the additionally light attack aircraft could not replace the A-10, but OA-X is in its early stages and doesn’t have any funding attached yet.
For this reason, as suggested by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the best solution for the USAF is keeping the A-10 flying and procuring “300 low-cost, light-attack fighters that would require minimal work to develop,” to flank the Warthog in the CAS role.Photo credit: Terry Atwell, Master Sgt. David Kujawa, / U.S. Air National Guard, Christopher Okula / U.S. Air Force and Teddy Techer
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com