A-10 Warthog May Live to Fight Another Day with Support from Lawmakers
April 14, 2014 9:41 AM
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"The Taliban hates the A-10. That’s good enough for me." -- Senator Lindsey Graham
In February of 2012, a report surfaced that said the
U.S. military was looking to retire single-purpose aircraft
in favor of multirole aircraft in large part due to budget cuts. One of the aircraft that was among those to be killed off was the A-10 Warthog. However, it looks as though some lawmakers want the venerable Warthog to fly for many more years.
The A-10 is a dedicated ground attack jet that has been providing close air support for decades. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) has announced that she will push for amendments to be made to legislation that would retire the A-10 fleet.
The USAF has proposed the removal of the A-10 from its fleet by 2019 in part due to a 2011 deficit-reduction law. There are lawmakers on both sides of the isle that want to keep the A-10 flying, but they will have to find cuts in the budget elsewhere to make that happen.
The USAF maintains that by cutting the A-10 from the fleet it will save $3.5 billion over several years.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R) says that he has "been in theater enough to know what the troops say about the A-10." Graham added, "The Taliban hates the A-10. That’s good enough for me."
According to reports, many senior Army leaders, special operations troops, and soldiers in the field oppose the retirement of the fleet. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Oiderno recently stated, "Obviously, we prefer the A-10. [Soldiers] can see it, they can hear it, they have confidence in it."
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Long Live the Warthog
4/14/2014 3:02:08 PM
There are several issues the Air Force will have to consider before replacing the A-10.
First, the F-35 is a great, shiny new stealth plane, while the A-10 is a slow, lumbering beast - that was built around the largest gun ever mounted on an aircraft. A gun that was specifically designed to turn shiny new tanks into flaming hulks of scrap. This weapon, the GAU-8 Avenger cannon, fires a 30mm depleted uranium round that can penetrate virtually any armor on the battlefield. While it has good armor-piercing qualities, the 20mm cannon on the F-35 is not designed specifically to deal with armor.
Secondly, the A-10 low speed makes it perfect as a ground attack aircraft, as it can engage a large number of targets in one pass. The F-35, while designed to fill an close air support (CAS) role, is not designed to make multiple passes. Instead, it is entirely reliant on precision munitions to get the job done.
Furthermore, while stealth is nice, it tends to minimize survivability. The A-10 can take a massive amount of punishment and stay in the air, as Desert Storm proved quite well. Pilots often returned with meter-wide holes blown in their wings, tails shot off, and one engine gone. Some even lost most of one wing. And yet, they were still able to complete the mission and return to base. This is due largely to the primitive nature of the plane's design. It is perhaps the most technologically deficient plane in the U.S. arsenal. Rather than use sophisticated (read: "expensive")computer technology like the F-35, the A-10 uses hydraulics and cables for virtually all of it's flight systems. Modern amenities may include computerized guages and a GPS. Also, the A-10's pilot sits in an armored bathtub, bulletproof up to (and possibly above) 20mm. This makes the aircraft incredibly robust - perfect for its role as a tank-buster. The F-35, on the other hand, relies entirely on speed and stealth to survive an attack. If shot at low altitude by a visually-aimed 20mm AA gun, I doubt the F-35 would survive to finish its mission. Also, any damage compromises its stealth characteristics - and only an idiot thinks that it won't take any damage on a strafing run. I guarantee, at least one F-35 will be lost due to good old-fashioned AA on its first combat deployment.
Another issue is the F-35's primary defense - stealth. While stealth looks great on paper, in practice, it is virtually useless for a CAS aircraft. Yes, you can slip in, attack, and slip out without being detected (in theory). However, if a mission requires more than just an in-and-out approach, then stealth becomes a liability, rather than an advantage. Stealth also limits the payload of an aircraft, as all the weapons have to be carried internally. While rotating racks solve part of the problem, the F-35 will never be able to carry the same amount of weapons as the A-10 And if wing pylons are used, it defeats the purpose of stealth altogether.
And finally, while the multi-role fighter-bomber is a good idea,it has limitations that prevent it from filling the role of either dedicated aircraft particularly well. Consider the expression "jack of all trades, master of none," meaning that it will not excel at any one thing. The U.S. Navy needs aircraft that can perform multiple missions, as each aircraft takes up valuable hanger space. The Air Force, however, can afford to have role-specific aircraft on its tarmacs.
In conclusion, while the F-35 may make a great replacement for the F-16, it has a long way to go before it can, if ever, compare to the mighty A-10 Warthog. This venerable aircraft has continued to prove its worth, from the opening days of Desert Storm, to today' modern conflicts. And it will likely continue to do so well into the 21st century.
RE: Long Live the Warthog
4/18/2014 5:06:28 AM
Excellent post, I just want to emphasize the importance of low speed, loiter time, and ground fire protection in the close air support role. There is no there aircraft in the available or proposed inventory that can come close to replacing the A-10 in its specific role.
There is truth to the saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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