‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
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