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Flightline Friday: A-10 safe, for now January 15, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

All you Warthog aficionados can rest easy, at least for the next couple of years.  Due to the much larger new federal budget and the end of the threat of sequester, the A-10 has terminated its drive to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft:

The U.S. Air Force is reportedly scrapping what has become an annual attempt to retire the A-10 Thunderbolts from the fiscal 2017 budget request being drawn up.

Maj. Melissa J. Milner, an Air Force spokeswoman on budget matters, said Wednesday she could not comment on the Defense One report that the Cold War-era attack aircraft had been spared indefinitely, but boosters of the plane affectionately known to ground troops as the “Warthog” hailed the move to keep them in the inventory…….

…….For the past three years, the Air Force has sought to begin mothballing the A-10s in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to take over the close air support mission. Each year, the House and Senate have blocked the cuts…..

….The debate over the A-10s appears to have been shelved as commanders in the Iraq and Syria air war increasingly call upon the Thunderbolts flying out of Incirlik air base in Turkey and other bases in the Mideast for attack missions.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, has repeatedly cited the “devastating” effects of the A-10’s GAU-8/A seven-barrel, Gatling-type cannon on the positions and fighters of ISIS. [Has it been used much, then?  Almost all CAS these days is done from medium altitude using PGMs, though certainly strafing runs occurred in the permissive air defense of environment of Afghanistan many times.  I thought ISIS might be a bit more well equipped, forcing abandonment of low-level attack, but I could be wrong.]

In a session with reporters last September at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, Air Force Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, head of the Air Combat Command, called the A-10 “a fantastic airplane doing fantastic work downrange” in Iraq and Syria.

“One of the questions I get is if you’re going to retire the A-10s why are you still using them in the fight? Well, that’s an easy answer. I don’t have enough capacity. I’ve got to use every single thing I’ve got. I don’t have enough capacity” to handle the missions in Iraq and Syria without the A-10s, Carlisle said.

For the longest time, I thought the jibe against the Air Force that it is a service dominated by fighter pilots who only want a sexy plain with an F- at the front of its designation a bit overwrought.  But I’m not so sure, anymore.  The A-10 doesn’t cost a lot to operate.  While it would be utterly dead meat against any kind of near-peer adversary (ground-based air defenses have come a very long way in the last 25 years), it’s proven very useful in the Middle East, where air defenses are generally slight to non-existent.  The F-35 is so expensive and vulnerable it would virtually never, ever be used for low-level CAS.  So you’re losing an entire capability for $4 billion, a capability that will probably never be regained given the budget environment.

I really feel the US military took a disastrous turn when it shelved aircraft types suited to one particular mission role for multi-role types.  This began with the F-18 replacing the A-7 in the light attack role, even though the A-7 could carry much more ordinance further, and deliver it with more accuracy (until the advent of GPS, which it could have benefited from as much as the F-18 has).  The idea behind multi-role was the developing one type to do many jobs was cheaper than developing many types to do the same jobs.

The thing that’s been given up in that exchange is often capability.  The F-35 may do many things well, but it won’t be a low-level CAS asset equal to the A-10.  And these multi-role types, especially since the onset of stealth, have become crushingly expensive.  There is an argument to make that numbers do matter, and at some point we might be better off with a variety of mission-specific types of far lower cost than the hugely expensive, and not always as capable, multi-role items we’ve been developing.  Preserving an industrial base by having a number of lower-cost types in development and production is another consideration.  Since we’ve gone to the “all our chips in one pot” methodology, the industrial base has shriveled to the point where there are only two production lines capable of producing fighters, down from 15 or more about 25 years ago.  And one of those – Boeing in St. Louis – will probably close within a few  years.  And then we’ll be down to one, Lockheed in Fort Worth.  Nice for Lockheed.  Maybe not so good for the country.

At this point, I really don’t know if it wouldn’t be cheaper – and a lot better – to go back to producing role-specific types, genuine attack planes with A-s in the designation, fighters that only do air to air, long range interdiction types like the F-111, and the like.  I’m sure I’d be told there’s just no money for that, but if stealth is not required for every platform (and if we made some other changes to defense posture, like drastically reducing the Army and putting a 10 year moratorium on the Navy building and retiring any non-carrier surface ships), I wonder if it could not be afforded.  The benefit of not having much of a standing army is that politicians won’t have one to use and abuse in endless wars.  That was Eisenhower’s philosophy, and I think it was a good one.

I’m out.  Have a blessed weekend.

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