Doomed A-10 Gets Life Extension

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Despite repeated attempts by Air Force brass to retire it, the A-10 Warthog is getting a billion-dollar lease on life. Boeing announced last week it had started delivering the first 50 of 112 sets of new wings for the close air support platform. The new wings will extend the life of the aircraft by 10,000 hours. In 2019, the company finished supplying wings for 173 Warthogs and two weeks later the Air Force announced it needed another 112, enough for the rest of the fleet of 281 with three spare sets. Boeing had to pull the tooling out of storage to build the wings.

The Air Force wants the Warthog dropped from inventory, saying the 50-year-old design won’t survive a fight with modern adversaries in a contested environment. It wants F-35s to fill the close air support role. But Congress has overruled the generals and authorized the new wings in a bid to keep the flying machine gun in action for another 20 years. Boeing’s just happy to have the work. “The A-10 serves a critical role for the Air Force and Boeing is proud to extend our legacy of supporting the Thunderbolt and its mission,” Dan Gillian, vice president of U.S. Government Services for Boeing Global Services, said in a statement. “In partnership with the Air Force and our established supply base, we have started full rate production and are actively supporting the customer’s installation schedule.”

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42 COMMENTS

  1. The F-35 and A-10 roles have some overlap. But they are designed to operate in very different roles. The F-35 would be an expensive replacement that would eventually lead to the USAF re-learning lessons that resulted in the A-10 in the first place.

    • We tested two Piper PA-48 Enforcer prototype airplanes at Edwards AFB in the early 80’s. They strongly resembled a turboprop P-51. The USAF didn’t want them either, so they assigned the test function to the USAF Test Pilot school. The test pilots couldn’t be pried out of the things. The PA-48 was supposed to be a low cost version of the A-10. Years later, the USAF paid to have another airplane developed for the exact same function but at a larger expense.

      Now the Navy Admirals have their own version of the A-10. Having just bought the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), now they want to divest themselves of them by selling them to allies.

      Who the hell is running our military ?? Woke Generals ??

      • Calling everything and everyone you don’t like ‘woke’ is nonsense and is getting tiresome. Meanwhile, in a world of increasingly ubiquitous shoulder-fired missiles, close-air support and attack may be going the way of the dodo.

        • The comments are about misplaced procurements to favor a pet project or a big employer are right in line. Those in the military would rather have weapons that WORK instead of an expensive weapon that DOESN’T WORK.

          It’s not “calling everything and everyone you don’t like “woke”–it’s simply using “woke” as a metaphor for something that requires convoluted reasoning to rationalize.

          “Woke” is the new “Politically correct”–going along with a dubious proposition instead of saying what you really think.

          When lives and outcomes are at stake–like the military–those of us who served would much prefer that those in command do what is RIGHT rather than what is “IN” at the moment–and will call these projects what we really think of them.

          • Jim,
            Your answer is spot on. It’s exactly what I was thinking. At the same time, my moderate Democrat wife shuts her ears to reason whenever the word is used now. It’s much like how the Republicans react to everything being labeled racist.
            If we want to be heard by the other side of the aisle, it’s best to leave out the terms.

        • How many years did you serve, Derek? Many senior officers in today’s military ARE woke … just witness the changes in names of OLD military bases just this week. As to shoulder fired missiles, ask any Army or Marine grunt what THEY think about the A-10 when they’re in trouble. 21 years service gives me the right to speak my mind … period!

          • We must be the only country in the world that names military bases after people who committed treason.

        • “Calling everything and everyone you don’t like ‘woke’ is nonsense and is getting tiresome.”

          So is every leftist politician and media hack and their minions calling everyone a “racist” just because they don’t like THEIR political opinions that have NOTHING to do with race.

          • I don’t see any reference to “racist” in this discussion that didn’t originate with those defending “woke”. So those comments are the intellectual equivalent of, “Well, he hit me first.” “No, I didn’t, you got in my way.” “MOMmmm…”

            Grow up, guys. And learn to edit your comments to omit what you obviously know to be political signal words. There are plenty of fora where that sort of thing is allowed.

            This ain’t one of them.

  2. Having served on the A-10 Test Team back in 1975 at Edwards AFB, I find the incessant desire to end the airplanes life by Senior USAF types and their bean counters myopic. The F-35 will NEVER be able to provide close air support like the A-10. Their preoccupation with “stealth” has its place but the F-35 would have to fly ‘dirty’ to come anywhere near what an A-10 can do and even then it falls short. It’s A-10’s GAU-8 30mm cannon with potentially over 1,000 rounds aboard are a formidable weapon that the Ukrainians would likely give their eye teeth for right now. (They can’t have any by law). There’s a place for high tech and stealth and there’s a place for brute force. In this case — once again — the Congress did the right thing. In fact, the 281 airplanes are required BY LAW to be kept operational. The USAF Generals oughta get that into their thick skulls! I’d like to see the next General who wants to retire the airplane Court Martialed! The airplane cost less than $5M per airplane and the new wings costs ~$8.8M. Flying hour costs are less than $20K. A mere drop in the bucket when compared to the more than $110M cost of an F-35A and $27K per flying hour.

    • Now this is a completely rational and very informative analysis. Thanks for providing the facts! This is why I read the comments section, to get perspective from those who actually know what the hell they’re talking about.

      But I too am getting tired of the political tribalism that keeps getting added to these articles. I don’t care if you’re blue or red, if you know aviation and want to talk about it, I’ll listen, but you lose me when it gets political.

    • Exactly. However the last numbers I saw put the A-10 at something like $6K per hour while the F-35 was working on getting DOWN to $35K per hour.

      If I were in charge, I would pull the avionics out of a couple, send them to China, and in 6 – 8 weeks, start taking delivery of new airplanes. 😀

  3. Oh, come on. You know how the military works. They always spend big just before cancelling something. New hangars and runways on air bases closed a few years later. New avionics in a fleet that then has its retirement moved up. Refitting and upgrading a ship and then mothballing it. The list of this kind of thing is endless. It would be better news for the A-10’s future if the Air Force stopped spending on upgrades.

    And, seriously, BOEING is doing this? Haven’t they got enough problems to deal with already, like the 737 MAX, the 777-X, the KC-46 cost overruns and technical problems, , the “Air Force One” cost overruns and delays, the potential slashing of F-15EX purchases, etc, etc, etc? At least the once-proud engineering company now dominated by beancounters has (probably) made sure sure that they’ll get paid in full for all the wingsets whether the USAF still needs them or not. I wonder how many of the 112 under contract will be delivered directly to AMARC and never get near an A-10.

    Fairchild Republic’s biggest mistake was not finding a way to put a pointy nose on the A-10 and lobbying hard for it to get an F-for-Fighter designation to go with it. It’s been an outcast among the fighter and bomber mafias ever since.

    The Air Force didn’t want it and they didn’t want the Army or Marines or any allies to have it instead of (or even as well as) the USAF. Now they want to replace it with prop-driven converted trainers with far less firepower and survivability.

    The A-10s were bought and paid for long ago. There’s a huge amount of “corporate knowledge” among the pilots and maintainers about how to employ and support the A-10 to do CAS, assist CSAR, etc, etc. A new aircraft will reset most of that to zero — and they want a new aircraft that can’t do the job as well or give its pilots anywhere near the same chance to make it home alive.

    One of their knocks on the A-10 is it “can’t operate in a contested environment”, but an AT-6 or an AT-29 will magically be able to do so? Gimme a break.

    Years ago when the Piper PA-48 Enforcer was pitched to the Air Force as an A-10 replacement, the company published a photo of one with all of its specs listed at the bottom. I saw one posted on the bulletin board of an ANG unit that was converting from the F-4E to the F-16C. Under the printed specs, somebody had neatly written “Combat Life Expectancy: 2 minutes.” Someone else had added, “You’re such an optimist!”

    Remember the USAF general who accused the pro-Warthog lobby of treason? What happened to him? Which corporate boards is he sitting on now?

    • “One of their knocks on the A-10 is it “can’t operate in a contested environment”, but an AT-6 or an AT-29 will magically be able to do so? Gimme a break.”

      There was the same argument in the 80s when I flew the Hog. The reality is, nothing is coming out of a modern contested battle unscathed. But personally, I would rather in an airplane that was designed to take hits and still bring me home.

  4. As a retired USAF pilot, I am personally convinced that the upper brass gets all hopped up over the latest shiny toy often to the detriment of “what works”. Unfortunately for the grunts on the ground, and many others, the latest shiny toy is ALWAYS very costly, gets bought in limited numbers, then gets restricted in where it can go and what it is allowed to do because of the cost, complexity and availability.
    In 1974, CSAF Gen Brown ordered the demise of the T-29, the C-131, the C-118 and all other “piston engine” aircraft. Okay, his reasoning was to limit the cost of providing both avgas and jet fuel. Even though plans were underfoot to convert them all to turboprop’s ( jet fuel!) he nixed those plans because he wasn’t in favor of props. That eliminated a very rich source of moving small to midsized groups of people / parts / cargo over short to midrange distances. I flew those aircraft and they would have filled niches very nicely in the transport needs. They could have all gone to the guard or reserves and still be flying today. Note: studies proved they had an almost unlimited life span.
    They did the same thing with the C-141 in 1994. They, and Congress, rejected the Lockheed overhaul / upgrade, fixed price deal with a 25K hour guarantee on the work because they wanted more shiny new C-17s. The -17 is a good aircraft but is finally getting near the weight-range specs in the original contract after years of work and tons of money. Oh, and to add to the issue, the C-141 met it’s contract specs on day one and could carry items that are too long to fit on the C-17. Note that that required use of the C-5M vice the C-17 to carry those items. I also flew the C-141A & B for 6600 hours.
    Congress screwed up the C-5A from the git-go and the AF brass screwed up the B model when it came out. The AF insisted on using more of the under powered engines already on the “A” even though they knew that most of the “As” were getting re-winged after the “Bs” were out. Lockheed wanted to use the CF-6-50E2 already in use and proven on the 747 and KC-10. Nope, can’t do that. Years later, they did that at much greater cost…
    Nope… between Congress and the military brass, common sense will in no manner affect how business is done.

    • Veering slightly off, a neat idea was Belfast big fuselage on C-141 wing. Did not get far.

      As for props, gee – how old is the basic C-130 design? Now with upgraded engines though not aerodynamic changes it should have had (fin and nose).

      Military are often huge bureaucracies. Trying to convince Lockheed Georgia decades ago to fix reliability problems with systems like APO and pressurization/A-C machinery it was pointed out to me that USAF had warehouses full of spares so was not motivated to fund changes. (Civilian operators could not swallow the development cost by themselves – only two were truly financially sound. So Pacific Western developed a modification to replace APU with a 727 unit, and licensed the design to others. Decades later I see that common fit on military Hercs is a new APU and other reliability modifications.)

      Today Ukraine is showing the way in its fight against Russian aggression.
      – principles and overall mission defined from above
      – field operations have flexibility to determine tactics and moves to suit emerging situation
      Canadian army showed that in France in WWII.
      Whereas Russian army suffered heavily in western Ukraine from top-down bureaucratic approach.

      • A good book is ‘Engineers of Victory’, which is about grass-roots technical developments by Allies in WWII, and even more actually about good leadership.
        An example of success was putting the Merlin engine in P-51s to get long range fast fighters accompanying bombers deep into Nationalsozialistiche Germany. (A better engine in a faster fuselage (area ruling). Took a long time for US military bureaucracy to accept that combination.)
        There were failures – the spinning dam buster bombs worked but not well enough, and the enemy repaired dams quickly.

    • Fortunately for the A-10, David — and for reasons I don’t fully understand — the Congress has saved it multiple times even codifying the effort. I’m absolutely certain there are grunts alive today because of it. Somebody likes it, fortunately.

      “T-29 and C-131’s” … you’re dating yourself 🙂 I flew aboard the Samaritans to test the offshore ranges at Vandenburg AFB during my early years at Edwards. CALSPAN in Buffalo had a C-131 modified w/ T-56 engines that was a brute. Called the TIFS (Total In Flight Simulator), it had two noses (one a test cockpit) and the whole airplane was filled with computers to make it fly and act like something else. E.G., the B-2 was first flown using the TIFS airplane. That TIFS is now in the NMUSAF in Dayton. AND … did you know that during the ‘shell game’ missile basing days idea in the 70s’s, we yanked an ICBM out of a C-5A at the Nat’l Parachute Test Range at NAS El Centro?

    • Yes and no. The main difference is discussed above – crew survivability. Even in peace time helicopters kill too many crews (not that I’m advocating against them). A10 pilots trust that plane to take a hit, so they hit the targets over and over delivering a lot of ordinance in a trip.

      The A10 has other advantages as well. At the same time, 4 Apaches can delete most of a Motorized Rifle Regiment leaving the wannabe Soviet force with a bunch of kids in dirty underwear cleaning up what’s left of their buddies. Give them a little scout buddy, and they might do it without being seen.

      In the end, synergy is what’s really amazing. After seeing enough of their buddies die from A10 attacks, the enemy stops reacting properly. Then when us guys with tracks boxes come along and blow a few up, instead of fighting back, they hide from the A10! We REALLY appreciate the lack of return fire.

      I don’t think the F35 would ever have that effect. They are going to make one or two passes and leave unless they are stupid.

      • What worked well in training for the high threat arena in the 80s was a joint A-10/Helicopter attack. Helicopters unmask and shoot. A-10s pop and shoot while bad guys are trying to shoot helicopters, who are now hiding. They move, and unmask to shoot while bad guys try to shoot the A-10s. Rinse, Repeat.

  5. Speaking of num nut generals making costly mistakes, just look at the re-engining the kc135 that he had CFM remove the reverses off each engine and didn’t want the flat bottom necell that came with the design, wow how many engine pods did we drag till they figured out the landing profile.

  6. The A-10 naysayers who predict heavy losses in battle against an opponent well equipped with the latest MANPADs and other modern anti-air defenses are probably correct, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still retain utility, and at quite reasonable cost. I would compare them to the (vastly more expensive) carriers of the Navy. Those ships, in spite of best efforts at layered protection, will suffer frightening levels of loss when/if we go against a first-tier enemy, yet in the meantime will still serve their intended purposes.

    • Name your “first-tier enemy”.

      I’d like to know. At one time, I thought it was the Russians. It’s certainly not anymore. They are currently stymied by a much smaller country, with a much smaller military on a much smaller budget.

  7. The A10 is the plane we need for most conflicts. Those advanced fighters that are supposed to shoot them down never come. If the Ukrainians had them now they would slaughter the Russians, that was the mission they were designed for. Biggest problem with the A10 is there is no existing manufacturer to give nice six figure post retirement jobs to military people involved with the program. No junkets for politicians. The design is paid for by you and me. We own it. Put it back in production. The F35 is an overpriced, complex unreliable aircraft that has no business in this type of warfare. Heck the single engine turbo prop attack planes are just as effective for 1/10 the cost.

  8. My theory on the Air Force brass hating the A10 and their CAS guys is much like that of the Army brass hating their own Air Defense branch.

    These guys have a primary responsibility that will ruin them if they fail. They have a secondary responsibility that they can blame on the other bunch. And, they are fighting each other for a piece of the budget pie. Any idea they are supposed to be doing what’s best for the country is bred out of them starting the day they are commissioned. By the time they are colonels, most of the guys left in the year group who aren’t both brilliant and extremely charismatic, are hiding any thoughts of doing what’s right in order to keep their jobs.

  9. As a career F-4/F-16 driver, no other part of the fighter community (“A” designated or not!) is as near and dear to we fast movers than the Hog Mob! The much-maligned brass ARE competing for $$$ and they KNOW how important the Hog is to our joint effort. Didja ever notice how regularly the Congress adds money to the USAF budget for the A-10 when it “appears” the AF is trying to cut it? Without the AF even asking for it? Coincidence? Hmmm!

    Living in AZ, it was almost thrilling to watch Sen. McCain rescue the Hogs, and DM AFB’s main mission as the center of the Hog world, on a regular basis at budget-busting time. Yes, partisan politics entered the picture on the local level, but don’t believe for one minute that wasn’t also in the back of the bean-counters’ minds when submitting the budget for the newer, shinier, stuff.

    • Exactly. It was one of the first lessons I got as a new 2Lt in the program office 45 years ago. The AF (and other services) have to submit a budget to the White House that does not exceed a target set by the WH. When you add up everything on the wish list, it’s more than the target. So you have to take some stuff out. If you take out something without a lot of support in Congress, you’ll never get it. If you take out something you know Congress will force back into the budget, they just might do that without cutting something else (they’re not bound by the WH targets.) Those programs that always get funded are called ‘gold watches’. So there’s a chance you get your lower priority programs and the gold watches funded. The goal is to get as many of your programs funded as possible.

  10. Hello… Is anybody really following the air war in Ukraine? If so they know the aerial carnage that took place on both sides. The reason it has slackened, is because both sides got slaughtered and finally figured out that close air support where there are effective anti aircraft assets is a suicide mission. The Russians have a modern version of the A 10 that they have withdrawn due to heavy losses from MANPADs such as the Stinger and Ukraine’s own fielded version. Sure the A 10 worked well in uncontested airspace such as where the local cave dwellers threw rocks and responded with 7.62 by 39mm AK 47s. But few if any airplanes are capable of consistently defeating Russian SA 400 and SA 500 systems, and modern Russian and Chinese versions of AAA and portable AA missile systems. A 10s would have met the same fate as their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in Ukraine, or any other modern battlefield. There may be a place at some point in a conflict for the A 10, but it is not within a modern, complex war environment such as Ukraine. The results of any use of close air support in such situations is similar to what we have already seen there, and has been disaster, similar to the slaughter of Russian and Ukrainian tanks by use of systems such as the Javelin and numerous comparable hand launched systems. The same fate awaits the A 10 or other traditional close air support platforms. The rules and equipment of modern warfare have changed, as has been abundantly clear in Ukraine.

  11. Ironic! Yesterday, in a small central Wisconsin town west of Oshkosh, I attended a Memorial Day ceremony in the high school gym. I was seated next to a retired Marine — a brute of a man w/ a lot of tattoos, including his rank and dates of service (1986-2010). I was wearing a hat saying USAF retired. He noticed me and at the completion of the ceremony, he turns to me and says, “Welcome back ‘brother.’ ” We exchanged pleasantries and so I asked him what he did in the Corps; his answer, “Infantry.” I then asked if he knew what an A-10 airplane was. His answer … “Hell yeah!” He said, “We called them Angels from on high.” True story. That’s all I needed to hear to know that MY time helping bring the A-10 online so many years ago was worth it and that my current opinion is valid. The A-10 is still a viable ‘toy’ in our arsenal of weaponry.

  12. “Boeing’s just happy to have the work” — ha ha! The real lesson here is that Boeing has effective lobbyists. Congress didn’t decide of their own volition to force the A-10 extension on the Air Force; they were “educated” by people with a vested interest in the business, like company and employee union lobbyists. BTW, I love the A-10 and am not sad to see it keep flying.