The A-10 Warthog is the first US Air Force (USAF) aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against light maritime attack aircraft and all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
The A-10 is a great plane: it can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.
Moreover, the Warthog can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. Many of the aircraft’s parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers.
Why doesn’t the USAF build more A-10 Warthogs?
‘I assume you’ve seen the movie Captain America: The First Avenger. If not, I’m going to spoil a small (but awesome) part of it for you,’ Lynn Taylor, former A-10 Pilot at US Air Force, says on Quora.
‘Building more Hawgs would be the procurement equivalent of what little Steve Rogers does in this clever scene at the flag pole. It would be the simple and easy, yet highly effective, solution to a vexing problem that has plagued defense budgets for generations. It’s the obvious answer that, once it has been applied, everyone else stands around wondering why no one saw it sooner.
‘The problem is, we don’t have a little Steve Rogers in the procurement decision pipeline who can pull out the pin and topple the flagpole. Everyone is still trying to scramble to the top to grab the flag in the same way as everyone else before them.
‘Okay, that may be a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much. For the masochists, let’s dig a little deeper…
‘One of the chief reasons that the Air Force has not been pursuing a close air support replacement to the Hawg is that every penny has been tossed into the F-35…
‘Actually, that may be THE chief reason. In a 2015 Air Force Times article, then USAF Chief of Staff Mark A. Chief of Staff Welsh said that he envisioned an A-10 replacement but saw no money for it :
“We need a low-threat CAS platform in the near future, if the money will allow it,” Welsh said at an event sponsored by Defense One in Washington, D.C. “It doesn’t today, but we would certainly like to have something like that, that operates more efficiently than what we have today, that carries more firepower and does so in a low-threat environment.”
‘(Side note: Using “back of the napkin” math, you could probably field a whole squadron of A-10s for the price of one F-35.)
Creating Production Capability
‘Another hurdle would be what it takes to start production of an aircraft. Yes, having an existing airframe to riff off of would shorten the initial design phase, but there are not any dormant factories just waiting to have the lights turned on again to start churning out more Hawgs. All of the tooling and machinery would have to be procured and set up, possibly from scratch in many cases. That would take more time and more money.’
‘On top of that, there are several upgrades and modifications that would do much to further enhance and improve the Hawg’s existing design, making it even better. So, there would necessarily be some (re)design work that would have to be prototyped and tested. “What kind of upgrades and modifications?” you say.
‘Then there’s the temptation to just walk into your local airplane store and buy something off the shelf. One alternative is to simply order the Textron AirLand Scorpion. After all, why spend the extra time and money cooking up your own hamburger when you can just pop down to Micky D’s and indulge in their fine cuisine? Right? Right?
‘Why are you looking at me like that?
The Fate of All Aircraft
‘Whenever I’m asked what I think about plans to retire the Hawg, my answer is always the same. I shrug and say “every aircraft gets retired eventually.” (Except for the B-52. And the C-130. Two other freakin’ amazing planes.) “The question is, when it is finally retired, what will they use to replace it?”
‘My hope and prayer are that the list of requirements for the next generation of close air support includes all of the winning features of the Hawg.
‘Close air support is a serious business that requires a dedicated platform to do the job well. Sure, lots of platforms can be pressed into service to drop bombs in close proximity to friendly forces. But it takes a special blend of characteristics to do it in a way that rains holy hell on the bad guys with such precision that the good guys can feel the breath of winged death waft by them, yet leave them unscathed; with such persistence that it can run out of targets before it runs out of weapons; and with such a reputation that the enemy exercises the better part of valor when they but hear the whine of the engines, or see the “the Cross of Death” start circling overhead.’
‘Whatever the descendant of the mighty Hawg turns out to be, I hope it’s a worthy successor. Not for my sake, but for the sake of those it supports and defends.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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