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 close air support aircraft (CAS). According to Defense News, 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.
But now, with Congress starting to go along with the Air Force’s wish to retire its aging A-10 fleet, Brown “4+1” fighter plan of two years ago is “probably just ‘4’ now,” he said March 15.
“We’re retiring A-10s faster than we originally thought”, Brown said at the annual McAleese defense forum in Washington, D.C. “I think that’s probably the right answer.”
Combatant commands have not been asking for A-10s, Brown said, and he has a hard time getting them to use them because it’s “a single-mission airplane.”
“The A-10 is a great airplane … in an uncontested environment,” Brown said. “The challenge is, we’re going to be in more contested environments in the future.”
The A-10’s close air support mission can be carried out by a variety of other platforms, Brown said, 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.
According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, the four fighters in USAF’s plan will be the:
At the moment, the F-35 is “right behind” the F-16 in overall numbers, Brown said, and “in the not so distant future,” it will become the majority fighter in the combat air forces, presuming the USAF continues to buy them at a rate of 48 per year.
Brown noted that the F-15E and F-15EX will have a “similar capability” to each other. The service will focus its investments on its newest F-22s and is seeking to retire 32 of the oldest airframes, a move which Congress declined to allow in the fiscal 2023 budget. But the F-22 Block 30/35s will continue to be updated and kept in service until NGAD replaces them, Brown said.
Despite retiring A-10s to find the savings needed to afford new systems, Brown said he has forbidden his staff from using the phrase “divest to invest.” Instead, “we are transitioning to the future,” Brown said.
As already reported the first A-10s to be retired will be those of the 122nd Fighter Wing Blacksnakes in Fort Wayne that will replace its fleet of 21 Thunderbolt II CAS aircraft with F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.
“The A-10 had unrivaled capabilities for the wars of the last 40 years and our record as Blacksnakes proves that point. To win future conflicts, we need new aircraft that provide different effects on the battlefield,” said Col. Joshua C. Waggoner, 122nd Fighter Wing Commander.
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
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