Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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The Air Force’s Argument to Retire the A-10 Warthog Doesn’t Add Up. Here’s Why.

by Ben Fernandes
March 5, 2015

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft from Bagram Air Base flies a combat mission over Afghanistan, in this handout photograph taken on June 14, 2009 and obtained on May 20, 2014. (Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson/Courtesy Reuters)


The U.S. Air Force and the rest of the military desperately need to cut billions of dollars while minimizing the loss to combat capabilities. Eliminating platforms provides the greatest cost savings due to the fixed costs associated with each platform. The Air Force plan: retire the A-10 Warthog. As an Army officer relying on anecdotal experience and public evidence, I find this decision perplexing, as do Air Force ground controllers, Senator Kelly Ayote (R-NH), and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I cannot find systemic evidence articulating the impact of losing the A-10 on the Air Force’s close air support (CAS) capability because the Air Force has failed to articulate this information. Instead the Air Force provides irrelevant or misleading information.

CAS protects troops and influences adversaries—often by killing—and these measures of effectiveness should drive Air Force equipping decisions. Troops who have seen combat strongly advocate for air power that changes the enemy behavior. However, frequently used Air Force statistics such as the number of missions flown and tons of ordnance dropped have no relevance because they measure activity not impact. These measures equate to a business making decisions based on gross revenues instead of profits. Recently released fratricide statistics have more value but the Air Force appears to have used them in a manipulating and misleading manner. The Air Force could convince me and a skeptical Congress to retire the A-10 by using systematic measures of effectiveness if the evidence supports A-10 retirement. However, if the evidence suggests the A-10 is more effective and less expensive, then the Air Force should retire one of its six active fighters (F-15, F-16, F-22) and bombers (B-1, B-2, B-52) or end F-35 procurement.

Many, myself included, believe the Air Force decisions lack systemic analysis because the Air Force justifies its decision with flawed cost comparisons, loaded language, and irrelevant measures of performance. Important questions addressing effectiveness and marginal cost include: What is the operational and structural cost difference for a legacy F- or B-series aircraft instead of the A-10? What are the rates of fratricide, responsiveness, and collateral damage for all Air Force CAS platforms? Like other platforms, the A-10 has committed fratricide, but under what conditions and at what rate compared to the others? The Air Force fails to answer these questions and makes arguments that appear disingenuous, fail to address important factors to ground troops (fratricide, enemy impact, etc.), and increase perceptions of the Air Force’s reluctance to make CAS a priority.

Savings of $3.5 billion over five years remains the Air Force’s primary justification for retiring the A-10, which they allegedly want to keep but cannot afford. However, the Air Force budget argument fails to address total defense expenditures. The A-10 is, by far, the cheapest CAS platform to operate. In Afghanistan, the military can fly five Afghan-based A-10s for the cost of one Qatar-based B-1B bomber and two A-10s for the cost of an Afghan-based F-15 (full cost comparison chart below). In 2012, a B1-B squadron kept at least one B-1B aircraft over Afghanistan for their entire six-month deployment, which conservatively cost $258 million more than flying two A-10s from Afghanistan or $334 million more than flying one A-10, ignoring tanker costs. If forced to choose, I prefer coverage by 1 A-10 over one bomber because by the time a bomber’s greater capacity matters, I’m dead or the enemy is so close I need strafing, not bombing, runs. Over five years, flying one A-10 instead of one B-1B for Afghan missions saves an estimated $3.4 billion. Unfortunately, these savings may not resonate with Air Force decision makers because overseas contingency operations funding, not the Air Force budget, generally funds operational costs and future operational requirements remain unknown.

While the cost argument appears disingenuous, the effectiveness issue generates great resistance from CAS customers – Air Force ground controllers (not pilots), Army Soldiers, Marines, and Navy SEALs. While the Air Force Chief of Staff agrees the A-10 remains the best CAS platform, the Air Force uses the frequency of CAS coverage by non-A-10s and the amount of ordinance dropped to demonstrate their ability to provide CAS without the A-10. However, these statistics mean little to ground troops who prefer a well-placed—and low weight—strafing run over “smart” 500-pound bombs. Bombs, regardless of accuracy, provide less utility against a very close enemy due to a bomb’s blast radius. Additionally, an A-10 loitering over the battlefield adds a more significant psychological impact on the enemy than unobservable bombers. Anecdotally, ground forces have cancelled missions and operated differently based on the availability of A-10s because CAS provided by other aircraft changes a ground unit’s risk calculus. CAS is a mission, not a platform, but different platforms provide different CAS capabilities.

Fratricide remains a key concern to ground troops and the A-10 appears better equipped to avoid fratricide even in danger close situations—when the enemy moves so close to friendly forces that a bomb hitting the enemy could also injure friendly forces. The A-10’s ability to fly low and slow combined with its strafing capacity make the A-10 ideal for danger close support. Despite Air Force Statements, recently released Air Force fratricide statistics support this argument – the A-10 caused 1.4 civilian casualties per 100 sorties from 2010 to 2014, less than any other fighter or bomber. These numbers likely understate the A-10’s superiority because the A-10 tends to provide CAS in more difficult circumstances than other planes, excepting the AC-130.

For example, on 6 August 2013, A-10s rescued 60 soldiers who could not confirm the enemy’s position by finding the enemy and providing “danger close” fire support. The A-10s used virtually all their 30mm ammunition but few bombs – F-series planes would have run out of ammunition and bombers lack a strafing capability. Additionally, F- and B- series pilots would have had more difficulty identifying enemy and friendly forces due to their speed and aircraft design. Finally, F- and B- series pilots must spend significant time training for their primary, non-CAS missions that provide the U.S. with air superiority. Unfortunately, this prioritization, correct though it may be, hinders a pilot’s ability to excel at difficult CAS missions though they can complete simple missions adequately.

Less capable equipment and lower levels of training cause F- and B- series aircraft to require greater direction from the ground and limit a pilot’s ability to correct mistakes or changes occurring on the ground. These factors led to disastrous results in June 2014 when a B1-B mission killed five U.S. Special Forces soldiers. B-1Bs fly wide circles around a ground location preventing them from identifying friendly force markings. In this case, neither the ground controller nor pilots realized the B-1B could not see friendly force markings and the ground controller failed to realize a ground element split from the main body. Mistakes and limited equipment capabilities led to the disaster and the grounding of the B-1B crew. In this case, greater focus on CAS-training and the A-10’s CAS-relevant capabilities would likely have provided an A-10 pilot with opportunities to correct mistakes made by ground forces. Anecdotes like these explain the broad resistance to retiring the A-10 from Air Force ground controllers, who are enlisted and lack robust representation in the Air Force’s senior ranks.

Many ground troops and some NGOs believe Air Force senior leaders are misleading the public, based on recently released fratricide data and continued claims that the A-10 is a “single-role” aircraft unable to survive on the modern battlefield. The recently released data uses mismatched time periods that appear to intentionally increase the A-10 casualty incidents relative to other platforms. The Air Force could have minimized this perception by using rates of fratricide and civilian casualties per engagement—a better measure of effectiveness.

“Single-role” provides pejorative connotations when compared to “multi-role” and this characterization provides particular annoyance to A-10 supporters who believe the A-10 serves at least as many roles as the three B-series bombers. A-10s destroy helicopters exceptionally well and have the ability to conduct combat search and rescue, battlefield search, and limited suppression of enemy air defenses, as they did in Desert Storm. A-10s also demonstrated a strong maritime capability during Pacific Command exercises and combat operations near Libya. While A-10s cannot conduct strategic bombing missions, B-series bombers cannot effectively destroy helicopters, serve as forward air controllers, or provide combat search and rescue. The A-10 is effective at these missions because it flies low and slow with greater survivability than any helicopter.

The A-10 has the ability to operate in more environments due to its ability to fly from rough, unpaved landing strips and operate under 1,000 feet—below cloud cover. The A-10’s ability to fly below cloud cover in hostile conditions and identify enemy forces saved the lives of six Marines in 2008 after two sections of F-18 fighters could not reach the Marines. The A-10’s ability to use rough runways made it the primary CAS platform early in the Afghan fight before the Air Force could bring runways to F-series standards. This rough runway capability offers great potential for combat operations globally to include the Asian Pacific where islands could relatively quickly become forward bases. Furthermore, the A-10 lacks the hanger and weather restrictions required to maintain sensitive stealth aircraft and does not require special fuel trucks like the F-35. Unlike other aircraft, the A-10 can provide more sorties with its “hot load” capability—refueling and rearming with the engines running.

Air Force leaders quickly point out the A-10 will take casualties in a high threat environment; however, “more advanced” aircraft will also take casualties as demonstrated in the Balkans when the relatively primitive Yugoslavian military shot down an F-117 stealth fighter. Stealth technology and speed make aircraft harder to target and more fragile; an A-10 may have been similarly hit but would have flown home. Furthermore, claims the A-10 cannot operate in a high-threat environment ring hollow because the Army and Marine Corps expect to fly less survivable helicopters. The A-10, like the Apache helicopter, was designed to fight the Soviets under questionable air superiority circumstances and its upgrades have improved that capability.

The Air Force needs to retire an aircraft platform for budgetary reasons. However, the Air Force opens itself to skepticism by using statistics that appear misleading and measures of performance to justify retiring the upgraded A-10 instead of legacy fighters (F-15 or F-16) or long-range bombers (stealth B1-B, stealth B-2, or non-stealth B-52). The other fighters and bombers have replacement programs and are often older—the last B-52 was produced a decade before the first A-10 test flight. The anecdotal evidence above undermines Air Force justifications using measures of performance and suggests the Air Force’s actual justification remains assigning a low priority to the CAS mission. However, these anecdotes also lack the validity of systemic analysis based on measures of effectiveness.

Air Force spokesmen correctly articulate aircraft retirement decisions are “about the budget.”  But these “tough decisions” require systematic analysis comparing how well different platforms perform the CAS mission by cost and measures of effectiveness—from the customers’ perspective. The Air Force, Government Accountability Office, or a joint entity could carry out a systemic analysis. Systemically analyzing measures of effectiveness offers the best chance of influencing key Congressional members. Senator Kelly Ayotte has led the Senate fight and appears focused on CAS effectiveness, which potentially contradicts her political interests—her state has no A-10s but is the fourth largest U.S. recipient of F-35 funding. If, as I suspect, measures of effectiveness show the A-10 to be more effective and less costly, then the Air Force should change its decision and retire one of the six operational F- or B- series platforms.

For more information, please see the below chart on comparative CAS costs per aircraft. Unfortunately, comparative F-35 information is unavailable using Air Force data.


Major Benjamin Fernandes, U.S. Army, is a CFR Term Member and PhD student at George Mason University.  His studies focus on security assistance, principal-agent theory, and grand strategy.  He is currently assigned to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).  The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government, U.S. Army, or TRADOC.

Post a Comment 19 Comments

  • Posted by Col Clint Hinote

    Major Fernandes,

    It is fruitless to get into inter-service rivalries over decisions forced by sequestration. These across-the-board cuts are the real enemy. As General (ret.) Mattis writes: “No foe in the field can wreck such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving.”

    Sequestration forces our Service Secretaries and Chiefs of Staff to balance risk across all mission sets. No military leader wants to take risk, but that is what they have to do in this budget environment. Retiring a specialized platform can be less risky than retiring a more general platform in today’s uncertain world. Secretary James and General Welsh have decided that retiring the A-10 is the least bad option. They are doing everything they can to maintain a force that can meet multiple challenges, not just those in conflicts where we have unchallenged air supremacy.

    I know there is a perception that the Air Force doesn’t want to make sacrifices to fulfill the CAS mission. As a leader of fighter pilots, I can also tell you that I don’t believe that is the reality. I’ve seen pilots risk everything to provide CAS, and when they do it, they are the best in the world (as you attest in your article). I’ve also seen the Air Force spend precious money to put new wings on old A-10s (I was on the staff that wrote this requirement). Before sequestration, the AF commitment to the A-10 was resolute.

    You’ve done a good job of focusing on the CAS mission set, and as a CAS-trained pilot and former leader of a CAS-ready wing, I think the CAS mission is vitally important. I also think it is important to put the A-10 decision in the overall context of sequestration and the risk to the nation if the Air Force cannot accomplish all its missions. That is what our leaders have had to do, and I think that is why GEN Odierno has refrained from criticizing the Air Force on this decision. He understands how tough these choices are.

    Colonel Clint Hinote, USAF
    2014-2015 Military Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
    shinote@cfr.org @clinthinote

    P.S. As a USAF Weapons and Tactics officer who flew the F-117, I think your assertion about the F-117 shootdown over Serbia is dangerously ill-informed.

  • Posted by Ted Danson

    The A-10 does need to be retired. It isn’t very effective at what it does now. But complete concurrence that the AF’s concept on replacing it with F35s is stupid.
    Analysis of various CAS platforms should also include Apaches/Kiowas/Cobras. The figleaf differentation of close combat attack (CCA) and CAS only exists in the joint publications realm. If you want to talk, “effects” they all need to be compared. At least you included the AC-130. An analysis of the KC-130 with Harvest HAWKs should also be included.

  • Posted by andy

    On fratricides. RAND conducted a study of CAS from WWII to Vietnam. The key point was that the faster the aircraft had to fly due to its airframe the higher the rate of fratricides. Low and slow the pilot has time to see the enemy. The faster and higher, the less time and fuel he has. I haven’t seen an update to the report.

    However, a F16 missed his target by 2 KM and dumped his 500 lbs bombs on my position. Lucky for us no one got killed but my ears are still ringing. And as I write this I can still feel my chest caving in due to the pressure and the intense heat. Even though we had marked the target with smoke and tracers and fully described it to him and yell ABORT, ABORT when we saw that his attack profile was wrong. He still dumped his bombs on us.

    A10s, never a problem. On target, sometimes less than 500m from my guys. Sorry my vote is on the A10.

  • Posted by Systemsguy

    Let’s have a fly-off under actual combat conditions and let’s let the guys on the ground score the effectiveness.

  • Posted by J Ragman

    The problem with modern high performance jets such as the F-35, F-15, F/A-18 etc is that their survivability in a high threat CAS environment is dependent on high speed and/or staying out of range of ground fire (basically staying as high above the fight as possible). If they do come down to the fight they come through as fast as possible to reduce the time the bad guys have to aim and shoot at them. The problem with these types tactics is that they require good communications and very good targeting data; which works fine as long as there is enough physical separation between our troops and the bad guys. When that separation goes away (in other words when it get close and personal (and very dangerous) for the ground troops) it becomes very difficult to provide CAS from standoff ranges. That why the A-10 and Army/USMC Attack Helicopters are so loved by the Grunts – they’re designed to and will come in as close as necessary to do the job when the Grunts really need them in order to survive. Modern high performance jets are just too vulnerable to something as basic as rifle fire in those environments – if they get hit they will go down. Additionally something like the F-35 is just plain too expensive and hard to replace to expose to that high a risk. 

    CAS is something the Air Force has only been interested in doing when forced too after combat has started and their Jet Fighters and Bombers can’t find a mission to justify the Air Force’s existence. While the Air Force Fighter and Bomber Communities can and will do CAS it has never been their priority. CAS is not only dirty, dangerous work, but for the Air Force to acknowledge it importance would also force them to acknowledge that Air Power on its own does not win wars. 

  • Posted by GI Joe

    Col. Hinote,
    Sequestration has become an enemy. A domestic enemy. Who is fighting this enemy? Has our government been usurped by bean counters? This is fubar sir.

  • Posted by kyle wallace

    You are an idiot. This is a terrible argument. Continue to fight for mediocrity.

  • Posted by John Ruths

    I am a US Army officer so it’s no surprise that I really liked this article. It supports my point of view, so of course I like it! I have always wondered why there has been a push to get rid of the A-10.

    For what it’s worth, my vote is to keep the A-10 as long as it’s a viable close air support platform. From my point of view, because of the way we conduct operations in depth and that our goal will always be full spectrum dominance, the A-10 should be viable for at least a few more years. In other words, A-10s will always be protected by multiple F-series aircraft much the same way A-1s usually were in Vietnam. The A-10 is a purpose built aircraft meant to support folks on the ground and not one that can do it all. I think that’s okay. In the Army we certainly do not have one type of vehicle/weapon that can perform all tasks. It always takes a smart combination/organization of equipment for any unit to be effective and flexible. A Bradley can’t do what an M1 can and vice versa.

    It also seems to make a great deal of sense to design a CAS aircraft around things like the weapon system and cockpit. I don’t know how many other aircraft were engineered with a similar technique, but I’d guess not very many. There is no reason that more technology could not be introduced, but would also reason that a CAS aircraft benefits more from an excellent pilot than what the airframe allows him/her to do.

    I have also seen the comments of many pilots who have flown the A-10 in combat. They seem to feel the same way that P-51 pilots felt about their warbirds—that should also say something. Being in the Army, there are certain equipment and weapon types that you really feel good about and it’s nearly always because they perform well in tough conditions.

    I have also found that nearly anytime I read about the A-10, the word “loiter” is used frequently and this may be the number one reason that Army folk likes it so much. It can hang around in the same way that rotary wing aircraft can and that is a superb feature. Given this, I think it’s important to identify that any future CAS aircraft needs to be able to do the same. Aircraft overhead that can “hang around” for some time gives the guys on the ground time to do what they need to. Taking care of casualties, recovering inoperative vehicles, consolidating/reorganizing convoys, and any other task that must be done.

    I appreciate everyone’s opinion; I am not in the Air Force so naturally my likely narrow perspective here is based on what I do. You’ll find it tough to find anyone in the Army who would disagree. The A-10 is one of our favorite aircraft for the reasons above. They’re good reasons and I sure hope the A-10 continues to “loiter” in the Air Force.

  • Posted by Liam H Dooley

    Great, quantitative study and article. A plane traveling at 400 mph (such as an F-35) is necessarily less accurate than one flying at 150 mph (such as an A-10). Slight shifts in aircraft movement have a much greater impact on the shooting angle. The A-10, so much more survivable and cheaper than an F-35, can fly lower and slower to search for the enemy, confirm bombing and gun targets and paths, and return for multiple strikes.

    I wouldn’t question the commitment of senior AF leaders or pilots to CAS, but they are wrong – because of their own biases and preferences. They want a high performance aircraft – it is what the USAF has almost always built, and has done pretty well. But given we have a fairly substantial inventory of B-class and F-class aircraft, if cuts need to be made I think that we can give up a number of F-15Cs, F-15Es, and/or F-16s. These multirole aircraft are fairly interchangeable, and with the F-22 being brought on board in principle the requirement for dedicated air supremacy and superiority missions for these older aircraft will be reduced. So cut them if something needs to be cut, and keep the A-10.

  • Posted by Mike Bobrick

    It’s very easy to understand the Air Force position if you start with the knowledge that Air Force pilots don’t like to fly the A-10 because it’s slower and flies lower (in mission situations), than the other fighter jets and bombers discussed in the article; of course that’s also why it’s the best CAS platform. The Air Force is simply not being a team player; rather, they want to keep flying high, in more “high performance/higher cost” aircraft, regardless of the lack of punch available to support the grunts on the ground who need reliable CAS. Congress should teach the Air Force a lesson, go ahead and cut the A-10, but also cut fighters and bombers and instead increase the $’s invested in helicopter gun ships flown by Army and Marine Corps pilots, to supply the vital CAS.

  • Posted by GLAAAAR!

    The 70mm TALON, DAGR, APKWS, LOGIR and many others (success breeds imitation) will give any F-jet the equivalent hitting power of a GAU-8 run with all 70rds of a full burst. It will come off the jet from 4-5km out. And it will hit within 1m of target, even on movers.

    The A-10 is a dedicated gun platform that was unsurvivable in it’s designed for A-X CAS mission role in 1968 when it was used to kill the AH-56 after the LARA OV-10 had already shown that the low level AAA environment was untenable and MANPADS were in the process of driving mid-level AC-119/130 gunships from over the HCMT.

    In it’s updated anti-armor role in Europe it was even worse as the AGM-65B had a shorter lockon range than the gun’s minimum (2,500ft) during many late afternoon summer and ALL winter conditions while the AGM-65D could not be launched from LAU-88 (massive drag and electrical problems with the mount) and was itself sent back to the labs after initial testing in 1979-81 proved it inadequate at looking through cold, damp, air.

    The total lack of such ‘nice to haves’ as Autopilot, INS (first three years) LST (first two years), GCAS (first 10 years) and a targeting pod to help work at night (the only time the A-10 was survivable) along with Hellfire and MAWS systems which _remain_ unintegrated (though they were fine on the stick and paper A-UAVs, from first entry to service), to this day.

    As a result, the contemporary A-10 remains incredibly vulnerable under all but the most forgiving of GBAD environments and has actually /lost/ Mavericks as LITENING and Sniper pods displace even the single rail LAU-117.

    It’s sole smart pylons with 1760 power and databus for J-weapons are on the inboard wing stations and this basically confines it to 1-2 Mavericks and 2 GBU-12 or 38. Roughly what an F-16 could carry as guided shots but with no burner to take it’s nose rapidly back above 10,000ft after burying it to do the boresight attack run (AGM-114P/R now have 270` engagement capability from any height).

    The A-10 can take upwards of five minutes to climb back to altitude in hot’n’hi conditions and has absolutely awful performance in the tanker track where the wing is borderline compressibility and the TF34s have no power.

    It has no combat tanks which means that not only is it slower to get to an urgent Ambulance CAS request but it is low on loiter when it gets there or while it’s waiting in the CAS Stack.

    It is utterly helpless vs. any condition where you face threat air and because it has no radar it is equally worthless in an ASB condition where it faces more than boghammar threats.

    Before anyone screams SBD II! Let me remind folks that that weapon has not yet entered service and will likely run upwards of 263,000 dollars when it does. Guided FFAR and Hellfire run 21,000 and 60-100,000 apiece (variant depending).

    There are roughly 330 A-10s in service. They deploy one squadron at a time to ensure rotation and a mission reserve. Fairchild Republic hasn’t made any others since the early 1980s and indeed is no longer in the aircraft prime game.

    The MQ-9 has about 16-23 hours of endurance, depending on how you load it and in the Blk.5 ER version has 35-42hrs, thanks to the external tanks and longspan wings. It can carry as many as six Hellfire and has both a superb lower hemisphere EO capability in the AAS-52 MTS-B and a backup Lynx SAR radar with accuracy so fine it can see footprints in sand from 15km out. Most importantly, it is in production and it has the ability to be an _on scene_ CAS effector, catching the enemy on-approach in the pre-contact phase, whether that be an ambush of a walking patrol or an IED placement to kill a convoy.

    MQ-1 and 9 are _the most_ requested S-CAS assets in all of SWA because of this and even the services like them because when we were trying to sustain 120 CAS orbits per day in response to Surge demands for constant coverage of maneuver units away from their FOBS doing aggressive patrol and OP work, they could generate sroties at the rate of 1,000 dollars an hours (Predator) and 3,500 dollars an hour (Reaper) at a time when the F-16C and A-10A+ were tied at about 5,700 dollars an hour and F-18 and F-15E were all up there in the 14-18,000+ range.

    The F-35 is a failure as a design as much as a CAS specific platform. But don’t let that keep you from taking off the rose tinted spectacles and seeing the A-10 for what it is.

    If there are things that the CAS mission needs it is continuing shift to mass-carriage, drop-fire capable, micromunitions of the type associated with Griffin, Viper Strike and Scorpien. This will allow them to be internally carried in low drag pods or weapons bays as well as providing similar total-pass counts to APKWS (14 from the LAU-131, 38 from the LAU-61) without having to bury the nose below the horizon as even guided rockets now require.

    What people also need to realize is that a cardinal point CAS system (such as the Marines use) is vastly more useful than ‘overhead’ styled A-10 work because, as each jet reaches the inside end of it’s station point orbit offset from the quarters around the target (you can further ‘quarter the quarters’, with altitude, almost infinitely) they can each release a PGM which, with just a 2-3 miles of flyout, can hit and kill targets roughly every 10 seconds.

    This is -vastly- superior to the A-10 whose typical 30-35rd burst is over-and-under sprayed far too near to friendlies to be used, even from a parallel and whose pass interval is typically 30-40 seconds.

    If you have one guy handing out GPS coordinates as FLIR points from a UAS high over the target and four shooters pushing even just 10lb warheads onto target from the quartering compass points around the target, you can service a LOT of threats.

    So it comes down to just how many engagements your fighters can carry. Using a cassette cell system similar to the He-111 or Vebal Syndrom, a modern fighter should be able to loft with 20-30 separate engagements AND have room for fuel and self defense ordnance, easy.

    Couple this with GFAS/MAWS to pinpoint _all_ shooters (the Viper system was designed to detect enemy snipers but was found to do just as well in helping commanders place their own troops).

    And TADIRCM to suppress AAA and Shoulder Fire threats and you will have a lot more robust CAS agency than the A-10 could ever hope to be.

  • Posted by Jeff L

    Unfortunately we will see more of this in the future as domestic programs begin to demand more and more of the budget. Congress in 2009 passed a law requiring that the Defense Department be audit-ready by 2017 and DOD needs to fix its accounting system to reverse the systemic waste that pervades today.

  • Posted by GACuster

    Great detail presntation from GLAAAAR and close combat comments from Ruths & Dooley. It is clear that the A-10 is the best airborne ground fighter in existance today. It is now time to modify the target assignments for direct support and ground attack operations from the air. How? Move the A-10 into a new Army organization in support of an Army designation to be identified as DIRECT AIRBORNE ARTILLERY, different from high speed fighter bomber support. The arrival of ISIS created this open ground management of rapid moving targets beyond artillery and mortar operations. The A-10 is the equalizer not the retiree.

  • Posted by E. ATKINS


  • Posted by Richard Mattingly

    The supersonic fighter nearly has to stall in order to even try close ground support since the beginning. Vietnam proved this fact time and again as propeller driven aircraft showed superiority to their jet powered kin in CGS. The A10 is that “damned pane” that the Marines and Army Infantry loves when all hell breaks loose, but USAF wishes never left the drawing board. While F35s, 22s, and the B1 are squatting on distant airfields refueling, the ugliest girl at the dance is flying up valleys with a Gaitling Gun in her purse.

  • Posted by Ben Fernandes

    Tue evening Secretary James gave a good speech at CFR laying out AF goals and priorities. I asked her about the increased operational cost of using bombers instead of A-10s and the potential billions of dollars in operational savings for overseas contingency funds. She provided one good reason (measure of effectiveness) to retire the A-10– U.S. war plans require more bombers. Unfortunately, she failed to address the cost issue and restated Air Force activity – non-A-10s flew 80% of CAS missions – without regard for the impact those missions had. Her commonly used 80% figure measures flights without regard for 1) the frequency of enemy engagement or 2) the impact on the enemy when engaged. This statistic also fails to differentiate between providing CAS to troops in contact (difficult CAS mission) or bombing fixed points on the ground (easy CAS mission). The CAS mission should be measured by troops protected and enemy affected, not hours flown.

    On her MOE, if war plan requirements for bombers are the real reason to retire the A-10, then the AF should clearly articulate 1) the increased risk to war plan execution without the B-52 or B-1, 2) the increased cost associated with using bombers instead of the A-10, and 3) how the lumbering, non-stealthy, 70-year old B-52s can survive in a high air threat environment (that I assume these war plans predict) while the 48-year old A-10 cannot (which is what many AF officials keep repeating).

  • Posted by John Schubert

    I would like anyone who dismisses the A-10 ability, or forwards the idea of a F-, or B- platform (or anything that just drops GBUs) to spend more than 4-5 hours watching ACTUAL CAS missions from ISR. Syria and Iraq, right now, are a great opportunity. I can not tell you how many dozens, if not hundreds, of strikes that stretch out to 20-30 minutes which an A-10 would resolve in 1-2 gun runs, or, 5 minutes tops. This isn’t conjecture, but actual cases.

    For example, ISIS is running a tanker which is ID’d as a threat. A-10 finished the job in 2 mintues. First run was a mobility kill. Two squirters run from the disabled truck, and 2nd run removed the threat (dismounted enemies). Now, let’s look at similar run with F-18 and F-16s (two different situations, same results as each other).

    Target identified: Enemy combatants in a Technical (truck modified with weapon system in bed). F-18 drops first GBU, scored mobiliy kill. Two squirters dismount and run. 2nd GBU stuns them, but they get up and run. 3rd GBU misses (or, in few cases a dud) by only 3-4 feet, and they continue to run. Combatants run into situation (for OPSEC reasons I won’t post), due to time, and authority to fire is revoked. You dropped 3 bombs, took over 20 minutes, and didn’t complete the mission.

    This happens.. all.. the… time. You can argue loiter times, survivability, MANPADS, and all the aspects of things we deal with today, but the simple fact of the matter is this: In a CAS environment, the A-10 gets the job done quickly. Unfortunately, when it’s a F-15, F-16, F-18, B-1, or F-35, dropping a GBU (any 500lb variant) you’re rolling dice. I don’t want dice rolled. I want sustained, reliable, lethal application of force when called upon. Simple.

    If you tried to forward the position the AC-130s would be expanded to fill this roll, I’d be more inclined to be agreeable. However, using a fast mover is just not rooted in reality which I’ve watched in intimate detail over the last 5 years in Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria.

  • Posted by BMiller

    No other platform delivers the scope an A-10 does. I believe the A-10’s with upgrades and material upgrades will keep them in the fight for decades to come. Before putting them to bed show us any platform that can take a beating, pick out the enemy from a cluster of those on the ground and turn on a dime and readdress the enemy like the Wart Hog can as they take out tanks, helicopters, gun placements and artillery in one encounter. There is no other platform this capable. Modernize it and be that much better without taking anything else away.

  • Posted by Nick Hurst

    As a JTAC, the bottom line is the A-10 is tried and true. I have dropped with many platforms, but A-10s just “get it.” They are dialed into the ground situation and require the least amount of effort to receive the maximum amount of desired effects on the ground. Most A-10 drivers train to the FAC(A) standard and are essentially all Airborne JTACs. This makes them irreplaceable. The mentality that it’s a “one trick pony” is short-sighted considering how relevant the Hawgs continue to be and how much death and destruction they rack up against the enemy. Unmatched in the CAS business. Thanks for your article. XIV.

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