A-10 drivers receive Distinguished Flying Cross medals for strafing mission in Syria that saved over 50 U.S. personnel

USAF Aircraft Armament System Specialist explains why the A-10 Warthog can’t effectively provide CAS in a near-peer war

By Dario Leone
Jul 7 2023
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‘The properties that make the A-10 a great CAS platform, are also some of its biggest weaknesses,’ Scott Moser, former USAF reserve Aircraft Armament System Specialist.

As already reported US Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. said on Mar. 7, 2023 the service would likely retire all its A-10 Warthog attack aircraft over the next five or six years.

Until recently, the USAF and Congress have disagreed over what to do with the iconic CAS aircraft. While the A-10 was known and beloved for its CAS role in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two decades, the USAF says the low-and-slow-flying plane would not be able to survive in a fight against a nation with modern air defenses, like China.

Scott Moser, former USAF reserve Aircraft Armament System Specialist, explains on Quora;

A-10C Moody print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-10C Thunderbolt II 23d W, 74th FS Flying Tigers, FT/80-144. Moody AFB, GA – 2011

‘The A-10 was designed for a conventional war against Soviet armored forces in Europe. Its much lauded, GAU-8 30mm cannon, was never adequate to take out later Soviet tanks, but worked well against light armored vehicles and enemy troops.

‘The properties that make the A-10 a great Close Air Support platform, are also some of its biggest weaknesses. The A-10 is relatively slow, which allows it to better visually spot advancing enemy vehicles and troops. Unfortunately, it also leaves it vulnerable to enemy fighters and MANPADS. The great successes of the A-10 in Close Air Support, have been in conflicts where the US military quickly established air superiority, and maintained it.’

Germany and Netherlands to supply FIM-92 Stinger Surface-to-Air Missiles to Ukraine

He continues;

‘In the current war in Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian forces have lost numerous Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft, the Soviet analog to the A-10. The Frogfoot has not been especially effective in its mission, and some have been lost due to the dangerous flying tactics pilots have been forced to use to avoid SAMs and MANPADS.

Photos and video of Russian Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft that safely landed after being hit by Ukrainian MANPADS
This photo was taken in 2022 after a Russian pilot managed to safely land his Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft to the base after being hit by a Ukrainian MANPADS.

‘Almost every armed aircraft can provide some form of Close Air Support, and in Afghanistan the F-16, F/A-18, F-15E, B-1B and B-52 were all called upon at various times.’

USAF Aircraft Armament System Specialist explains why the A-10 Warthog can’t effectively provide CAS in a near-peer war

Moser concludes;

‘The US Air Force is forced to plan for near-peer wars, where air superiority may not be possible to quickly or permanently establish. In heavily contested air space, the A-10 cannot effectively provide CAS, since it is so vulnerable to SAMs, enemy fighters and MANPADS. The F-35, which has much better situational awareness of the battlespace, and is more survivable in high threat environments, can be a more effective CAS tool, since the military would be less afraid to deploy it for these missions.’

F-35A

A claim confirmed by Brown who said that the A-10’s CAS mission can be carried out by a variety of other platforms and the Air Force must move on to cutting-edge capabilities that can survive in contested airspace and will keep the service ahead of China, the pacing threat.

In FY24, officials are asking Congress permission to accelerate retirements of the A-10: the proposed retirement of 42 A-10s in 2024 would follow this year’s retirement of 21 Warthogs, and would leave the service with 218 of the attack aircraft.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and Ministerie van Defensie

Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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Comments

  1. S810 says:

    Yeah but the warthog costs only one quarter of the f35’s expense to build. It is probably a more durable airframe, also. I’d say with some ecm upgrades it would be worthwhile to keep around. If your 90 million dollar aircraft is the only thing in the sky the enemy you are going to lose a lot more of them.

  2. webster57 says:

    If only it were so simple as to add ECM and send the A10 back out. The problem is that it would be flying into a multi layered air defense network of short, medium and long range weapons integrated with ground and Airborne radar and sensors. If enemy air defense are not suppressed first, and air cover against enemy aircraft provided the A-10 can do nothing but get blown out of the sky. This has been the understanding of the situation for decades, i.e., if you have to send F-16’s or F-15E’s in to do SEAD for the A-10’s then you may as well have them do the CAS as well. Other than the gun, which is no longer effective against modern armor, as far as weapons fo, there’s nothing an A-10 can do that an F-16, F15E or F-35 can’t do and do better because they’re faster and have better avionics.

  3. linus19660201@gmail.com says:

    The article fails for the reason that the USAF has zero CAS training hours on its future flight schedules for F-35 pilots not even for current A-10 pilots who transfer or whose squadrons convert from A-10’s to F-35’s.

  4. Brilliant Dummy says:

    I agree (mostly) with S810. Webster57, I think where your logic is a bit off for the Ukraine and Russian conflict is as follows: Russia’s military is largely still in the 80s and 90s. That is exactly what the A-10 (Warthog) was designed to fight against. For armored vehicles not as susceptible to the plane’s main gun, there is the AGM-65 the Warthog can deploy.
    As for layered air defenses; we’re not talking about interdiction into Russian airspace where a coherent defense plan has been meticulously laid. It is invaded territory, where the.Russians.are.makimgmwhat defenses they can, on the fly. This is where a combination of air superiority and air defense suppression come into play, allowing CAS. Standard practice here. As of using the higher speed, higher altitude F-series aircraft… that’s a kludge, at best. I mean, can you use a Ferrari to bring home a mattress? Sure, but a pickup truck is perfectly made for that. Why move a mattress with a Ferrari, when you have a pickup truck? The Warthog is the perfect solution for CAS, after the requisite air superiority and anti-air defense missions have been conducted. Ask any grunt.

  5. Sajuuk says:

    Nothing the Specialist says is news, it’s always been a known factor CAS is dangerous particularly when air superiority hasn’t been established yet. Losses have always been expected especially against massed attacks by near-peer forces BUT it’s also been understood that the A10 is supposed to be used in combination *with* other platforms which are responsible for reducing AA threats, including ground platforms. The A10 was never meant to go off on its own to spearhead attacks in support of ground forces while enemy aircraft and AA systems were loitering about looking for targets. If air-superiority hasn’t been established and A10s end up being forced to go it alone then something has gone very wrong and the battle is either lost or is about to be.

    It’s airframe not only carries more armament than other aircraft it’s size, it also FREES UP other aircraft to conduct other missions. It also takes up flying hour airframe stresses form those other aircraft.
    The A10 is not only physically much more survivable than any other aircraft, it’s also the perfect ground attack platform once air-superiority (or near superiority) IS established.
    And that’s the whole point.

  6. juggla2112 says:

    Why not sell em to Ukraine? At least get some money from them instead of retiring em.

  7. TACP77 says:

    Ok the first thing wrong with this article is that it’s coming from a reserve armament systems specialist…a.k.a the guy that puts the bomb on the plane. This person has never been involved in the CAS planning process for a major combat operation (MCO fight) We never ever would send an A-10 in by itself. He would be covered from the top down and from the ground up. There would be ECM aircraft on station simultaneously to jam any surface to air threats in the area. The A-10 would only have to worry about manpads and AAA. We would bring him in, Winchester him and get him out. The F-15E would be my second choice because of what they carrier and their speed.

    As far as it’s gun being obsolete…uhh no. No armor out there right now can stop it. China has knock off Russian equipment. In the up close and personal fight and I speak with lots of experience, nothing touches the A-10 capabilities. To the writer of this article… next time talk to a subject matter expert on the matter of CAS not a bomb loader in the reserves.

  8. billhunt3814 says:

    To retire the A-10 is the height of stupidity and is being pushed by people in the pocket of high dollar replacement aircraft. This thinking is laughable as the future of modern combat will be low grade areas and most will be open to the A-10 and considering the cost and what these imbeciles want to burn defense dollars on the A-10 should be in the air for 25 more years if not 50 more

  9. mapelas says:

    With current and future manuals, any jet flying close air support is vulnerable, even if you have total air superiority.
    Unlike A10, F16, F15, The F35 can be used when the enemy still has radar guided SAMs.
    In a standoff (bvr) role, A10 with current and future missiles is a good choice. It has great payload and loiter time.
    It can be fed target info from F35, or expendable drones.
    The problem since day one, was that you can’t become an ace in A10, so USAF never really wanted it.
    Just like jocks wouldn’t be caught dead driving a wagon (but SUVs were OK).
    If you get a chance, try a 1994,5,6 Chevy estate, or buick road master wagon , an E ticket ride (they had VR steering and a 5.7L LT-1 engine)

  10. Michael Welsh says:

    Multi layered air defenses can only be broken by a multi layered attack. No one aircraft, even the F 35 or F22 can hope to penetrate a modern defensive network . But a multi pronged attack, complete with drone swarms, simpler jets, helicopters and, yes, even gunships like the A 10 is what it will take.

    The A 10 is basically one step up from an attack helicopter. It flies two to three times as fast and can absorb far more fire. A simpler aircraft, with little to no secret technology, It is also far more disposable than the F 35, the loss of which would represent a treasure trove to any opponent.

    Thus , while the air force works on controlling the skies, the À 10 should be transferred to the army and marines, who might make good use of it alongside drones and helicopters.

  11. bperryii says:

    Just another example of the Air Force wanting to only have billion dollar airplanes, not have what actually what is needed. The Air Force had been trying for decades to retire the A10.

  12. blivit says:

    To the “Dummy”, yeah, obviously you are one. You didn’t read the article OR his comments. You just blasted past common sense and put nonsensical reasoning down. One word: MANPADS. One idiot Russian hiding in the woods can easily blow the A-10 out of the sky. They are stupidly slow aircraft. No amount of air support or “suppression” will eliminate MANPADS. So far these devices have brought down virtually any and every aircraft that flies too close, whether Russian or Ukrainian.

  13. Rocket Scientist says:

    I like the comment insinuating there’s nothing an A-10 can do that one of the other birds mentioned in the article can’t do. I know from personal experience that when you put a fly-by-wire bird into a hot zone you get in trouble quick. During wartime the fly-by-wire birds were no where to be found when the A-10 was saving lives. You’re absolutely right when you say it’s slower and more vulnerable. True to design. That’s what CAS requires. The A-10 has dual control surface systems…..primary and backup, neither which is fly-by-wire. Self sealing fuel tanks, titanium pilot protection, on and on. It’s made to perform CAS and come home to fight another day. How do you propose the supersonic airframes do that from a mile high? Good luck to the ground troops they are protecting! We are making a mistake getting rid of the A-10. It makes us weaker, not stronger. By the way, I was also an A-10 aircraft armament specialist, A-10 ECM specialist to include ALQ131, F-15 aircraft armament specialist, and F-16 Avionics integrated test station specialist during my USAF career. I hope they keep enough A-10s to backup the expensive iron when the job isn’t getting done. Long live the A-10 Warthog.

  14. Ståle eliassen says:

    Its better than a helicopter.
    The gun can, And might get an upgrade.
    A 40 mm Swedish multi use round, or maybe the new 50 mm ?
    The A- 10 do get new guidet 2,75 inch Hydra and Zuni’s. Suddenly you can target armor from 10 miles, with some help from a nearby F-35 ? ( you work in teams, not as a single aircraft)
    The Armor of the A-10 can be improved. And still not add exta weight ( new materiale incomming )
    A better engine, upgrade avionic And the A-10 should be an asset you should have.

    Not for solo missions, but as a Hammer, to be used when needed.
    What Else ? Lets get 1 of 6 A-10’s with a new compact energy weapon. Then you have 1 that can shoot down missiles.

    Energy weapons are testede on vehicles, ships, planes And helicopter.
    Guess they might be compact enough Soon, to be added to a modified A-10.

    Then a pack of A-10 would have one or more planes with a selfprotect solution.
    Can it be better ? Sure it can, it is not only about the plattform it is also avout the sensor And weapons.
    A-10 is NOT there to hide, but to dominate the sky And ground… in the end, that is what you want to achive, so why wait.

    Just DO IT !

  15. Joep says:

    Just give the things to Ukr’s. It wouldn’t be the first time obsolete airframes were put to use by desperate forces and won the day!!!

  16. Walker says:

    @Joep

    >>Just give the things to Ukr’s. It wouldn’t be the first time obsolete airframes were put to use by desperate forces and won the day!!!<< Ukraine's military chiefs made it clear they don't want the A-10. It would not be survivable in that conflict. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2022/07/26/ukraine-official-says-country-doesnt-want-old-american-10s.html

  17. Walker says:

    @TACP77

    >>As far as it’s gun being obsolete…uhh no. No armor out there right now can stop it.<< That's absolutely false. The gun can't even penetrate the top turret armor of a modern MBT. It simply doesn't have the energy. The best the gun could hope for is a mobility kill.

  18. Walker says:

    The ludicrous hype and hyperbole surrounding the A-10–and being mindlessly parroted by legions of “Wikipedia Warriors”– is dangerous. It’s dangerous to pilots, and it’s dangerous to the troops it allegedly supports.

    The A-10 entered the inventory unable to accomplish its primary mission, that being the anti-tank role in support of action against Soviet Bloc troops in the European theater. A single-pilot airframe in the CAS mission in and of itself is almost a disqualifier on a modern battlefield, but when also considering the lack of integrated sensors, night/adverse weather capability, and legitimate standoff in a tactical situation, the reality emerges that the airframe was just a budget gimmick by the USAF to blunt funding from the AH-56 project at the time. The A-10 so quickly demonstrated the huge “kick me” sign painted on it that the USAF and Army quickly adopted the Joint Air Attack Team (JAAT) tactics to provide AH-1 Cobras and artillery support to protect the A-10s while helping them locate targets. (See above re: Single-pilot and lack of sensors.) And Cobra pilots at the time very quickly learned that, even as limited as the TOW missiles they used at the time were, they were still a far better anti-armor solution than an airframe whose gun was largely ineffective against any MBT more recent than a T-62 and required the pilot to close to ridiculous ranges–300 meters–to have any chance of securing a solid Pk. (The A-10 quickly earned the derogatory nickname “Stuka” at the Army War College.)

    Some inexplicably point to the performance of the A-10 during Desert Storm as vindication of the plane’s worth, evidently unaware that the plane was strategically limited to operation in lightly or incompetently defended “ADA Green” areas, while more capable airframes flew into the teeth of the air defense. In fact, in the only engagements where the A-10s faced anything remotely analogous to the same air defense environment it would’ve faced against the Soviets in Germany, the losses it faced at the hands of Republican Guards SA-13s were so quick and sobering Centcom promptly changed their planning. In all, 20 A-10s were hit by enemy fire during Desert Storm, 7 were lost outright, and 8 more were damaged so badly they were scrapped/parted out and never flew again. No other Allied airframe during Desert Storm saw as many losses, while the BDA per sortie and loss was drastically lower than other ground support/anti-tank assets like the F-111 and AH-64A that saw action during that conflict.

    All that said, the entire question of fixed-wing CAS has been called into question with the emergence of more capable and flexible platforms like armed UAVs, modern attack helicopters, and precision/GPS artillery. These assets have for decades been bringing *sustained* night/adverse weather firepower onto the target at danger-close ranges without the cumbersome ecosystem CAS requires and for a fraction of the cost per dead bad guy. The problem is entirely too many uneducated “enthusiasts” automatically equate “ground support” with the antiquated doctrinal dinosaur that is the current Close Air Support practices–hardly changed from WWII–and can’t grasp the reality that something without retractable landing gear can do a far better job.

    Coalition aircraft lost during Desert Storm: http://www.rjlee.org/air/ds-aaloss/

    USAF Chuck Horner interview on A-10s during Desert Storm: http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1991/June%201991/0691horner.aspx

  19. Johnathan Galt says:

    Yes, we need to be prepared to perform CAS in a near-peer environment. NO – that doesn’t mean abandoning a low, slow CAS platform.

    The USAF should not be abandoning low/medium intensity CAS, which is effectively what they are doing by retiring the A-10. Instead, they should be doubling down. The A-10 needs to go. The wings are literally falling off, using the 30mm cannon requires getting far too close to the target. Since the F-35 will undoubtedly fill all “near peer” roles, what is needed instead is a platform which costs FAR LESS than even the A-10 to own and operate, so that we can have lots of them.

    One possible solution (not the only choice, by far, but provides an excellent compromise plus additional combat mission capabilities) is offered by icarus-aerospace dotcom in the form of their TAV/Wasp airframe. Based loosely on the old OV-10 design, the Air Force could operate around 10-12 of these little multi-role platforms for about the same cost as a single F-35. Each has about 90% of the capability of an A-10 in the CAS role. They can fly with 2, 1, or zero aircrew. With a base flight duration of up to 6 hours (10 hours with extended fuel in the cargo bay), they can perform an enormous range of missions beyond just CAS. It can be fitted with a 360-degree AESA radar, carry and deploy a MAD (Magnetic Annomoly Detector) array, load almost any USAF inventory weapon, and perform COIN; maritime patrol; sub detection; emergency airlift and resupply to unprepared fields.

    In exchange for just one squadron of F-35s, we could field over 200 of these aircraft performing a wide variety of missions – providing a force-mulitipler far in excess of their cost.

    Our Congress has to stop putting all our eggs in one basket, and think out of the box.

  20. Johnathan Galt says:

    @Walker The “Reply” feature doesn’t seem to work on this forum. I knew Chuck Horner, not well. I was one of those FACs he mentioned in the article – I helped my Army unit take the largest prisoner capture of the ground war. Chuck was a great guy – the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with. However, his comments on the A-10 in your linked article are not the whole story. We take a lot of losses with attack helos, too – anything that gets too close. The main differences between an A-10 like plane and a helo are max useful load and combat range / loiter time. The A-10’s gun is a double edged sword – sure, it can be useful for point blank kills, but it also means you’re lugging around 4,000 lbs of “dead weight” on every mission it is not optimum for. It (the A-10) was under-powered for it’s combat weight. The solution is not more expensive airplanes – each of which represents a painful loss if knocked down. The solution for low/medium threat environments is more, cheaper planes. While I liked the concept of the light attack aircraft (recently abandoned), they went TOO small. Something like the Icarus-Aerospace TAV/Wasp would be cheap enough to allow a whole squadron for the price of a couple of F-35s, and provide a real force multiplier.

  21. Walker says:

    @Johnathan Galt >>We take a lot of losses with attack helos, too – anything that gets too close.<< 1 AH-64A was lost to enemy fire during Desert Storm. And it was in fact a flight of Apaches from the 1-101st that opened the conflict by destroying a large radar installation and leaving a 70-mile hole in Iraq's coverage for the fast-movers. But your point about "gets too close" is off the mark, pardon the pun. Modern attack helicopters can operate with miles of standoff virtually on the ground. An A-10 can't do this at all. And modern helos can be equipped with drop tanks to extend range/duration, operate from forward sites much closer to the front, and have the sensors/crew to sort out a danger-close situation autonomously.

  22. Walker says:

    @Jonathan Galt >>The solution is not more expensive airplanes<< That's what it takes to survive a near-peer battle. The A-10 wasn't survivable against Cold War-era Soviet equipment. And it's much too expensive to operate as a COIN platform, now. Everyone loves the Hollywood trope of a jet coming in low with guns blazing, but that's not the CAS mission any longer.

  23. Johnathan Galt says:

    @Walker I have no idea how to configure this site to notify me of replies, so I may never find this again and for all I know you’ll never see it. Like so many others, you are nearly fixated on a “near peer battle.” It’s not going to happen that way. Apart from hovering, there is nothing an attack chopper can do that one of my referenced TAV/Wasp aircraft (or another similar platform) cannot do. The opening salvo of even a near peer war will open holes. In those holes the war will not be “near peer.” When those holes appear (and they will be fleeting, because the enemy will relocate resources to close those gaps) would you rather have 2 flights of F-35s (pulling them from other duties), or 20 flights of TAVs?

    The whole point of using cheaper units is to have more of them so as to be able to deliver devastating firepower where it is most needed. All the planes in the battlefield will now be networked – a system, not “lone knights riding into battle.” In the same way they envision using F-15EX planes to act as “missile mules” in support of the F-22/F-35 forces against a near peer, a TAV/Wasp could also act as a missile mule to support our stealth forces in stand-off mode. Networked, they could launch below the “radar horizon” arms including HARM missiles (or their successors) without ever revealing the location of the F-35 that identified the missile site. Once again, would you rather have 1 F-15EX as your missile mule, or 10 TAVs with 10 times the firepower able to stay on station for 3 hours at a time? Everything is about maximizing your combined arms potential – not about who has the shiniest toys.

    I recently attended the Bastogne Ball for the 101st 1st Bde with many of the Army comrades I served with in Desert Storm. The key concepts of battle have never changed – “shock and awe” still rules the battlefield. You achieve shock and awe by delivering overwhelming firepower where it is needed – not through sporadic pinpricks, no matter how accurate.

  24. Douglas Proudfoot says:

    If the USAF was willing to offer A-10s to any other Air Force, this argument might be believable, but they’re not. The reason they’re not willing is that they want the CAS money and manning slots for the F-35 without anybody showing that their argument for A-10 obsolescence is phony. Saying you will use F-35s for CAS is like saying you plan to use a Corvette for off road adventures. It ain’t built for that.

    Since the USAF obviously has little interest in doing CAS, give the mission, money and slots to the Army. Change the agreement that gives all fixed wing aircraft to the USAF. Make it based on mission instead of configuration. I say this as a USAF Veteran.

  25. Darren Robertson says:

    Perplexing article. The A-10C is nothing like the A-10 of Iraq. Now fitted with Tigereye SAR on a wheel well. A choice of which ever IR/EO pod is handy. Full modern Link 16 Networking. A devastating ability to carry 16 GBU-39 with a range of 53 miles on inboard pylons alone. Mavericks and APKWS rocket pods. JDAM, JSOW. The ability to select and kill many targets with a single button push. Probably the best radio outfits to communicate with JTAC’s and the like. Of course all the while toting jamming pods and up to 4 Sidewinders.

  26. Douglas Proudfoot says:

    How many layered air defenses of near peers has the US faced since WW II versus how many permissive environments? Permissive environments are far more common, and the A-10 is the best CAS aircraft for permissive environments.

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