Tag Archives: defense policy

The A-10’s Swan Song?

Should the USAF replace the long-serving Warthog with the F-35?

By George Jagels

An A-10 Thunderbolt in Afghanistan. Beloved by troops and acknowledged as highly capable, the Warthog might leave the arsenal in the next 15 years. (USAF)

An A-10 Thunderbolt in Afghanistan. Beloved by troops and acknowledged as highly capable, the Warthog might leave the arsenal in the next 15 years. (USAF)

Aerospace is one of the few areas where beauty and utility often coexist, but there are exceptions. The Air Force’s main ground attack aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt, serves as one: The aesthetically unpleasing “Warthog” flies low, slow, and does the humble work of close air support and tank killing. I do not mean to imply this work is not heroic, as recent reports[1] highlighted two Warthogs rescuing 60 soldiers in Afghanistan through use of their devastating 30mm cannon and conventional bombs. A-10 pilots are also credited with destroying 4,000 Iraqi vehicles in 1991[2]. To use a DoD watchword, this is a “proven” platform. So why does the Air Force want to retire a third of its Warthog fleet (and eventually all 349) without a similar replacement?

The USAF has actually been trying to do this since the late eighties. A variant of the F-16, called the A-16, was tested to replace the A-10, but Congress squashed the effort in November 1990[3] (right around the time the Thunderbolt scored a major success in the Persian Gulf). Since then, the Warthog has flown thousands of sorties and undergone upgrades to lengthen its life by decades. The plane can loiter for long periods and sustain absurdly extensive damage without crashing[4]. In 2006, a British Army major vented after a botched air support operation by Harriers in Afghanistan, “I would take an A-10 over [a] Eurofighter any day.”[5] At a cost of around $13 million (in 1998 dollars) per plane[6], it seems to be an ideal aircraft in budget-constrained times. Current plans do indeed call for many upgraded A-10s to stay in service until 2028.[7]
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Defense CEOs Address Looming Sequestration

On 3 December 2012, the Press Club in Washington, DC, hosted four defense industry CEOs for a discussion on sequestration and national security. The speakers included Wes Bush (Northrop Grumman), David Hess (Pratt & Whitney), Dawne Hickton (RTI International Metals, Inc.), and David Langstaff (TASC). As the capitol buzzes with endless talk over the politics behind the fiscal cliff, the speakers, all of whom are associated with aerospace, gave some much-needed specifics to the years-old anxiety surrounding defense sequestration.

If the definition of defense policy is matching force structure to strategy, then according to the panel of CEOs, the Budget Control Act of 2011, which enacted sequestration, will severely inhibit this policy. No one spared a breath to defend the legislation; sequestration was variously described as “a peanut butter approach” (Hess), “a meat axe” (Bush), and “indiscriminate” (Langstaff). Though deficit reduction appeared to be a priority for the group, the quick and dirty defense cuts possibly coming in 2013 would make current U.S. national security strategy unworkable in their view.
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