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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 A-10 retirement

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 Warthogin a near-peer war

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

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

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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

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

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