The USAF has already rewinged 173 A-10s, but 109 Warthogs (one-third of the fleet) are still flying with their original wings and are in desperate need of wing set replacements or the service will be forced to start grounding them
According Defense News the U.S. Air Force (USAF) can continue installing new wings on the venerable A-10 Warthog thanks to $103 million in the omnibus spending bill that will restart the production line.
Congress in fact recently passed a $1.3 trillion spending measure for fiscal 2018, that was signed by President Donald Trump on Mar. 23, 2018. Now that the bill is law, the USAF will get the money it needs to stand up a new production line for A-10 wings and buy the first four wing sets.
The service has already rewinged 173 A-10s (including one aircraft that has since crashed), but 109 Warthogs (one-third of the fleet) are still flying with their original wings and are in desperate need of wing set replacements or the USAF will be forced to start grounding them.
As we have previously reported on Dec. 15, 2017 U.S. Representative (and former A-10 pilot) Martha McSally led a bipartisan, bicameral group of 20 lawmakers in sending a letter request to Senate leadership and high ranking appropriators urging them to include funding for new wings for the A-10 fleet in any final FY18 spending package. The A-10 wing production line was shut down because the Obama Administration unsuccessfully attempted to mothball A-10s and cripple the fleet.
“The remaining 109 wing sets must be delivered as soon as possible. The A-10 remains the only aircraft in the U.S. military specifically designed for Close Air Support (CAS) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). If one-third of the A-10 fleet were to be grounded, it would create a significant capability gap at a time when our service members are facing increasing threat environments,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “We urge you to fully fund this Air Force UPL list item as authorized/requested in any final spending package for FY18 in order to keep these battle-tested aircraft in the air and in the fight.”
However even if the service had to wait for the FY18 budget to pass before it could restart the wing replacement program, it has already taken some initial steps to speed along the process.
In February, it put forward a draft request for proposals stipulating that the USAF could buy up to 112 wing sets — enough to outfit the remainder of the Warthog inventory.
“Due to potential A-10 groundings, this acquisition is being expedited to the maximum extent possible,” the solicitation noted, and contractors will be incentivized to deliver the initial four wing sets early, according to the draft RFP.
A draft schedule stated that the service could release a final RFP in April ahead of a contract award as early as March 2019.
Thus far, the Air Force has not committed putting new wings on all 109 A-10s in need of a replacement. Air Combat Command head Gen. Mike Holmes said in January that he wasn’t sure how many Warthogs will be covered in the rewing effort, adding that it “will depend on a Department of Defense decision and our work with Congress.”
Over the past several years, the A-10 received little support from the USAF that instead pushed to retire the Warthog from FY15 onward. In FY18, the service decided to retain the aircraft but kept the procurement of new wings out of its budget, bumping it instead into the unfunded wish list given to Congress every year.
The service requested $79 million in its FY19 budget proposal — a sign that the service was ready to dedicate part of its funding to retaining the A-10 fleet. That sum was originally intended to restart the wing production line, in the case that Congress opted not to include money in its spending bill for the Air Force’s unfunded requirement.
Now it can be directly spent on wing procurement, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee on Mar. 20, 2018.
“We think that will get us between eight and 12 more [sets] in fiscal year 2019,” she said.
The A-10 is currently one of the U.S. military’s most utilized aircraft across multiple theaters, crucial in contingency operations against North Korea, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and ISIS in the Middle East.
Noteworthy as we have already explained Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who is member of the the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program’s integration office, said that a CAS flyoff competition between the F-35 and A-10 could start this year.
The Thunderbolt II has excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and is a highly accurate and survivable weapons-delivery platform. The aircraft can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate in low ceiling and visibility conditions. The wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles (NVG), A-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.
The A-10 is built around the powerful GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute to defeat a wide variety of targets including tanks.
The Avenger makes of the A-10 the perfect CAS platform, a mission that the aircraft performed exceptionally well in operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
Photo credit: U.S. Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force and Teddy Techer
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com