Tag Archives: F-35

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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Today’s Links

  • Time’s Battleland has an excellent obit for the USS Enterprise. After fifty years of service, the aircraft carrier is being retired. A sad day for some, but also comforting to know she worked hard and well for five decades.
  • The robotic mule is coming soon to a USMC squad near you! DARPA’s $54 million Legged Squad Support System (LS3), which mimics a mule, just completed a couple weeks of field testing and is no worse for the wear. Among many other great features, the LS3 can recharge batteries and follow basic commands (“sit!”).
  • In allies news, Japan will up its defense budget a bit, though it is still a very low share of GDP. Canada’s love-hate relationship with the F-35 continues to twist and turn: Ottawa claims it will have to use private companies and allies for mid-air refueling because it will not modify tankers for the job.
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Today’s Links

  • At Fort Sill, the Army holds a meeting to discuss Anti-UAS measures:

U.S. ground forces detect an enemy unmanned aircraft performing reconnaissance  over their forward operating base. Now the soldiers must determine how to  neutralize the Unmanned Aerial System threat: whether to jam the electronic  signal from its ground controller, kill the ground controller or shoot down the  Unmanned Aerial System, or UAS.

  • The Afghan Army is not retaining its soldiers too well these days, but at least they’re not joining the Taliban:

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