Air Force Tries New Tactics To Retire A-10

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The Air Force has gone strategic on its seemingly hopeless quest to retire the elderly A-10. Instead of year after year giving well-reasoned arguments to Congress on how the slow and boxy airplane is like a big metal billboard to enemy attack radars and of no use in a contested environment, it’s taking a piecemeal approach and trying cull Warthogs in jurisdictions where politicians can be distracted by a potentially better offer, like a new squadron of F-16s. The House Armed Services Committee is now poised to allow the Air Force to retire 21 A-10s at the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in its latest defense bill.

The move has the support of Indiana federal and state politicians because the Air Force has offered to replace them with Vipers. The Air Force has a surplus of F-16s because they are being replaced in active duty units with F-35s. There is still a long legislative road ahead of the proposal. If the House accepts it, it will have to be endorsed by the Senate and President Joe Biden. Congress has historically had a soft spot for the sexy A-10 with its big rotary cannon, arguing that nothing else in the inventory can provide close air support for ground troops. The Air Force has long argued that the Warthogs would be shredded by enemy antiaircraft fire in a contested environment. The second half of the fleet of 281 aircraft is about to get new wings as part of a congressionally mandated life extension program worth $1 billion.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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51 COMMENTS

  1. This platform keeps proving itself decade over decade. Glad the Congress has had the wisdom to force perseverance and maintenance of the A10. Not the exciting new toy, but practical & proven.

  2. I’m sure it means little now, but I can testify that in ’03 – ’04 these birds sure did a hell of a job clearing out large numbers of unfriendly folks around my unit in Iraq. I’ll spare the details, but for the ones that weren’t directly affected by its brrt…. the rest decided they didn’t want to stick around and scattered like roaches. I appreciated the support and the folks in the cockpit for the awesome work they did.

    • Iraqis had no radar to deal with them. That will not be the case in any serious European or Asian war.

  3. If the Air Force wants to get rid of the A10, then perhaps they should just give them to the Army. It is my understanding the ground troops have great respect for this platform.

    • The Marines would love them, also! They should let ground troops make this decision, not a bunch of morons who never served a day in the military!

        • Hell, I’ll take a never served moron over the morons in “Senior USAF Leadership” any day. I’ll bet the never served morons if asked should you evacuate the military or civilians first from a combat zone would have given a better answer than the fools in charge now. But the overeducated “senior USAF leadership” would surely be better able to address equity, diversity and inclusion.

        • I SERVED on the A-10 Test Team at Edwards AFB and I am here to tell you that retiring these machines is a GIGANTIC mistake.

          signed
          “NOT a moron”

  4. “If the Air Force wants to get rid of the A10, then perhaps they should just give them to the Army. It is my understanding the ground troops have great respect for this platform.”

    Ever hear of The Treaty of Key West?

    • That’s not a “treaty”, haha, it’s a nearly 75-year-old policy paper, that help start the USAF. One of the things discussed was close air support to the Army. Do you really think the best way to do that is with F-16s?
      Anyway, what was set forth in that ancient paper is certainly not immutable.

      • I struggle to understand why people think the F-16 is a terrible close support platform. It can carry almost every single munition that the A-10 can carry and in pretty much the same quantities. It can also carry extremely good targeting pods. Employing precision munitions like GPS and laser guided bombs is generally done from high altitude, away from ground fire. Even Maverick missiles can be employed from medium altitude with a decent standoff range.

        The only thing the F-16 doesn’t have is the gun, and the GAU-8 on the A-10 can’t penetrate armor made after the 1960s. Best it can do is break tracks and optics and you don’t need a 30mm gun to do that. The 20mm on the F-16 can load armor piercing and high explosive rounds just fine.

  5. If the USAF wants to get rid of the A-10, give them to the USMC. No issue about fixed-wing turf.

  6. “In a contested environment”, sure. And how many contested environments has the U.S. operated in during last 40 years? The A-10 is a relatively cheap insurance policy.

    • First, you don’t make war plans based on the assumption that the adversary can’t fight back. Second, A-10 is not a cheap program. For the number of aircraft it operates and given it has a history of getting shot down, it’s very expensive. Third, since the gun can’t actually penetrate the armor of any tank built after the 1960s, the A-10 doesn’t really provide much that other jets can’t.

  7. I’ve been fascinated by the A-10 since I was a kid. That being said, I’m no expert in determining which weapon is the best one for our military. That’s why we have military officers and experts who can and should determine which platforms their soldiers (airmen) need. Not politicians. Politicians are only interested in scoring points for themselves, and have no clue what weapon is best for the job. They’re only interested in promoting business in their home district.

    Let the experts (the USAF) decide which platforms they want to use.

    • The Army is the real “end user” of these aircraft, so why are the USAF “experts” the only ones who get to decide?
      Full-disclosure, retired Army here…

      • The A-10 has a pretty bad track record. It’s just a lot more visible when it does well.

    • I have no faith in any of the fools who lead the military. I could have thrown a rock down the street and hit someone in the head that would have provided better leadership and counsel in the Afghan withdrawal and these same idiots spend more time on social issues that impact .09% of society than actual military strategy so no, lets not let these woke mental midgets decide.

  8. The Air Force’s logic that the A-10 is vulnerable in a contested environment is specious! Isn’t the F-16 just as vulnerable, if not more so? It has one engine vs two on the A-10. A-10’s have returned all shot up like WWII bombers, their pilots safe in their armored bathtub. F-16’s, not so much.

    The F-16 can drop small diameter bombs from altitude in close air support of troops, but can’t put bullets close to those troops with the same devastating effect. The Air Force should ask those pilots who have flown both jets in combat, and I would bet they would choose the A-10 if they had to get down in the weeds.

    • I believe the plan is to use the F-35 for CAS not the F-16. However, an analysis by the Kennedy School at Harvard says the A-10 vastly outperforms the F-35 in the CAS role and replace the Hog would waste substantial resources and seriously impair U.S. military capabilities.

      • The reason the USAF says the F-35 can do CAS is that they redefined CAS to be preventing personnel and material to the battle area. That is Air Interdiction, NOT CAS.

    • There’s a lot to unpack here.

      First, in Desert Storm, the A-10 had to be reassigned due to losses and F-16s ended up flying more ground attack sorties with fewer losses and more confirmed kills than A-10. To this day, more A-10s have been lost in combat than F-16s.

      Second, F-16 can carry pretty much exactly the same munitions as A-10 with pretty much exactly the same max payload capacity. The only real difference is the number of pylons, but that doesn’t honestly matter that much.

      Third, the 30mm GAU-8 can’t penetrate armor that was made after the 1960s. The best it can do is knock tracks off and damage optics and a 20mm can do that just as well.

      Finally, the survivability of the F-16 has layers to it. A-10 only brings the gun to the table over the F-16. Using that gun requires you to fly very low, very slow, and very straight. It was therefore designed to take hits from Russian 14.5mm machine guns. Unfortunately, Russia started using 23mm cannons for SHORAD, and there isn’t a plane in the world that can survive that hit. If it’s too dangerous to fly low and use the gun, the A-10 has to fly above AAA range, which puts it squarely in the sights of SAM batteries and enemy air assets against which it has zero defense. It’s too slow to defeat missiles and carries basically zero anti-air capability. F-16 has excellent speed and anti-air capability while also being able to carry similar ground attack loadouts as the A-10, making it a more survivable platform in contested environments.

      • Sorry the “bathtub” was designed for multiple, same location, 23mm hits and individual 37mm hits. And how may 23mm or 37mm hits will an F-16 survive?

        Speed does not defeat missiles, turn rate and radius does. And the A-10 excels at turn rate and radius.

        • I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. You don’t fly A10 missions where the bigger AA guns and SAMs are being used, the armor is an emergency insurance policy, not a license to fly in an environment where it is necessary. The A10 is only for use in areas where SEAD is complete, this is not debatable and the A10’s record bears it out. SEAD is done by the F16, for what it’s worth. The assertion that the A10 is useless in contested airspace is true, it cannot be debated, it is still useful for environments where the ground is contested and the air is not though. I fail to see how it is worth doing away with the A10 just because it’s not useful in contested airspace. If airspace is contested an M1 tank is just a big hapless target as well, but nobody is suggesting we get rid of tanks. Not all weapons are going to be useful all the time.

  9. If a “contested environment” is a concern, why not address a significant aspect by establishing air superiority? The Air Force has the capability to do so, right? Right?

      • Says a few overeducated fools. They don’t have any idea. The greater evidence is now on display with Russia. Turns out to be a paper tiger. Communist/socialist societies strangle the people who build the weapons and use them. Such people are never allowed to reach their potential.

  10. The Air Force should send them to Ukraine and let the Ukrainian Air Force see how they perform in a contested environment. If they all get shot down, that would prove USAF’s contention. If they turn the tide against the Russians, it would be further proof of incompetent USAF leadership in determining a force structure. Reminds me of a prior President that said he had to wreck the economy before he could save it.

  11. What contested environment? Even if we had a convention war with Russia, I doubt that the contested environment would last longer than a day and I am sure that the A-10 can carry both HARMs and air to air weapons. I can also fly lower and is more maneuverable than an F-16.

    • Incorrect on almost all counts.

      Underestimating the adversary is a great plan to lose a war, so planning around uncontested airspace is a terrible idea.

      A-10 cannot fly high enough or fast enough for HARM to be effective and so it was never made able to carry them. A-10 also has no air-to-air capability aside from shooting down helicopters in a pinch.

      Saying A-10 can fly lower is silly. F-16 still has to be able to land. Operating in close proximity to the ground is not an issue. As for maneuverability, A-10 loses the dogfight 10/10 times. As I said above, it can only carry limited air-to-air weapons, but more than that it’s painfully slow. It might have the edge in extreme low speed nose authority, but a competent F-16 pilot would never allow the A-10 to use that.

  12. What contested environment? Even if we had a convention war with Russia, I doubt that the contested environment would last longer than a day and I am sure that the A-10 can carry both HARMs and air to air weapons. It can also fly lower and is more maneuverable than an F-16.

  13. Was Vietnam a poor lesson, or were the “Scrambled Egg Hats” really, really poor students?

  14. Seems to me the biggest problem is that the Air Force is trying to plan for a major war with a large adversary (i.e. Russia, China) when almost all conflicts we have seen since WWII have been regional conflicts with adversaries that have limited air defenses. Those conflicts, even including Korea and Viet Nam, relied heavily on close air support of ground troops. But, by favoring the F-35 as the “Swiss army knife of the air” over the A-10 is not serving the best needs of the ground pounders. It’s true that the A-10 is more vulnerable now from sophisticated shoulder-launch missiles than it was in the past, but that is going to be true of any other close support craft, including the F-16 and F-35. And, the Army and Marine attack helicopters are even more exposed to that threat. Just ask the Ukranians about that. As far as armament is concerned, the A-10’s 35mm gun beats any other such weapon, and the A-10 can carry far more armament (rockets, bombs, etc.) than either the F-16 or the F-35. Besides, it was designed from the beginning to function in a “contested environment” and survive (close air attack of Soviet troops attacking Western Europe). Perhaps it is time to ditch the old agreement about no fixed-wing aircraft being flown by the Army, and give the Warthogs to the Army and Marines who recognize how to best use them.

    • A-10 carries a 30mm gun, not 35mm. F-16 and F-35 actually have pretty much the same max payload as A-10. A-10 does very badly in a contested environment because it’s too slow to defeat missiles kinematically and can’t defend itself from air threats.

      I’ve been seeing this a lot in these comments and I’m getting real tired of it. Planning for war against a peer or near-peer threat is not a problem, it is vastly preferable to just assuming that we will never face anyone that can fight back. If you want to know the reason Russia is doing so poorly, it’s exactly this. They got complacent after never fighting against anyone that could shoot back and now it’s getting them slaughtered. Their tactics and capabilities were not designed against people that can shoot back.

  15. Long time fighter pilot here, CAS qualified.

    Everyone constantly complains that the military is always fighting the “last war”. Keep that in mind.

    The US has been engaged in the past two decades in a conflict where there the surface to air threat has been rocks and poorly aimed 7.62×39 small arms. Performance wise, an AD1 Skyraider with updated sensors and weapons could have performed the typical CAS mission.

    “But it’s tough, it has a titanium bathtub!” Yeah right, an aircraft that takes hits becomes unable to perform the mission. It goes home and his out of the fight. Hitting it with a current SAM or AA missile isn’t survivable. Hitting with large caliber AAA isn’t survivable either. Sorry, make up your own reality if you like, pretend the Hog is a flying tank, but radar guided SA or AA missile warheads are very effective.

    Troops naturally love anything that scares the enemy away, however, when fighting the next war, the mean old A10 likely won’t survive to answer the call of the FAC. Analyze the employment of the Su25 on both sides of the Ukraine Conflict. The A10 is marginally better than the Frogfoot in terms of resistance to threat systems. It lacks speed, energy sustainment, and the ability to kinetically deliver many systems from combat survivable ranges. Neither side has been able to effectively employ slow ground support aircraft due to the presences of SAMS and Mig/Su’s.

    If you have studied even the employment of the A10 against Soviet Bloc systems during the Iraq wars, you’ll realize that it is time to look ahead, and employ systems that are effective in fighting the next war, which won’t take place against tribal warriors.

    • Finally someone sane. Using A-10 below 10,000 feet where the gun might come into play is suicide against anyone that has more than an AK and using it above 0 feet is suicide against anyone that has more than a Strela or Stinger.

  16. The ground troops certainly appreciate the up close & personal support the A-10 provides and among both pilots & the general public there is a visceral delight in dishing it out in A-10 fashion, but the higher-ups, IMHO with justification, clearly have accepted that the days of using manned aircraft in that fashion are over. In fact, it has already been bandied about that there will likely be only one more generation before the end of the air combat fighter itself.

    As we are seeing, the participants in every significant armed conflict are now going to come equipped with defensive hardware that is deadly at close range to every manned aircraft that flies, so it isn’t simply a matter of substituting a different fighter in the role but a need to come up with hardware/systems that can perform the function without unacceptable losses in either manpower or material. This is not a simple problem by any means.

  17. Any entity that wants to end the A 10 program should simply put together a collage of Russian/Ukraine videos of aerial shoot-downs now occurring in that conflict. Both sides have withdrawn the SU 25 Frog Foots after the initial slaughter from both effective AA/missiles and simple stinger-like platforms. The only appropriate approach to replace CAS A 10s is to develop relatively cheap, expendable, unmanned attack platforms that can do the same things, and do not sacrifice a pilot in the process.

  18. It is not about whether one platform is actually better in battle; it’s about which generates more kickbacks because it has a bigger line in the budget.

    War is a business and the more things cost the better off for the brass.

    What would you want to do if it were your budget? Get a new toy along with all the accessories and increase your budget 10, 20, 100x as well as your organization size, or just keep ordering spare parts and maintain a product you already have?

  19. I’ve never understood the Air Force’s “need” to retire the A-10 without having a replacement. Too cheap, too low tech? Not interested in providing ground support. Like the C-130 and B52, the A10 fills a unique niche that no other airframe can.

    When I was assigned to a Tactical Control Squadron in the 80’s, Warthogs out of Spanghdalem Air Base would regularly fly under our radar and suddenly appear above the treeline at our station. Their combination of low and slow flight along with relatively quiet engines when cruising at low speed made them the most stealthy aircraft at the time.

    By the time A-10’s show up on the battlefield with ground troops, air superiority has been established it is no longer a contested environment. Only 7 Warthogs have been lost in combat

    While the Warthog’s cannon is ineffective against modern armor it carries plenty of ordinance that is and when it comes to ground support, heavy armor is rarely the primary target.

  20. I agree with or can sympathize with most of what is said here. But I also know that most of us can’t have a useful opinion on this because we don’t know enough about the critical issues and their relative importance. And that is no disrespect to those here with direct experience. Even they are mostly just a bright spot in a huge, dark cave.

    The only thing I suspect we can all agree on with confidence is that military acquisitions have become progressively less efficient and more suspect over time. We’re getting less and less for more and more.

  21. The thing I don’t understand is why the leadership thinks it is necessary to do away with the A10 just because it is excessively vulnerable in contested airspace. Sure, the A10 cannot be used effectively if enemy fighters are present, or if the enemy still has functioning SAM or heavy AA installations, or even decent MANPADS. You know what else is excessively vulnerable in contested airspace? Helicopters, none of them can be relied on to survive AA fire or evade MANPAD or SAM. Tanks too, if you haven’t established air dominance they’re basically the easiest target on the battlefield for enemy air to ground munitions. They aren’t saying we should get rid of those just because each one is no more than a hapless target if air dominance hasn’t been established and SEAD complete, so what gives? Not every weapon is going to be useful 100% of the time. I will note that the MANPAD threat to our A10s is only going to get worse with our supplying of them to Ukraine. Ukraine isn’t the paragon of eastern europe that it is being painted as and it is a good entry point to the black market for our weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find some of the weapons we’ve been providing to Ukraine in enemy hands in our next proxy war or invasion of a low quality adversary.

  22. Is the A-10 the machine that forest fire fighters want?

    Maybe:
    https://theaviationgeekclub.com/the-story-of-the-a-10-warthog-firefighting-aircraft-that-never-was/

    Weight and balance has to be checked after removal of armament, and drop method.

    (Some aircraft like 10Tanker use slipper tanks tucked up to the belly, others use cutouts in fuselage, some use chutes. USFS has a process to verify drop pattern, the belly-dump Mars passed it, I don’t know if the side-door Mars did.

    Some technology is being used – Coulson has night vision, datalink, navigation accuracy, …… in service today.

  23. The real problem is the F 35. The USAF can’t afford the F35 without divesting other platforms. CAS has always been the lowest priority for the USAF so it is not surprising the only USAF platform that is dedicated to the CAS role is going to be on the chopping block

    Unfortunately if the A10 was retired it won’t get replaced by an equivalent number of other aircraft. History has shown that it is always better to have more tools in the war fighters toolbox.

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