For years, the US Air Force has been trying to kill the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the service’s close-air-support workhorse. Officials have cited budget constraints and the need to save money to invest in other platforms as reasons to get rid of it. Congress has kept the plane alive, but service leaders are already thinking about what comes next.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh is talk about firepower on demand or a flying vending machine with different missiles on request. The A-10 eats up about $20,000 per flying hour, he noted. “Let’s find something that’s $4,000 or $5,000 a flying hour that brings more firepower, that is more responsive,” he said. The Air Force is trying to procure additional F-35 joint strike fighters, a new KC-46 tanker and a new B-21 long-range strike bomber. Finding an A-10 replacement is “not the highest priority".
Under current plan the Warthog will be gone from the USAF’s inventory by 2023. This is long before the USAF could develop and field anything even closely adequate. Basically they are saying, “we’ll study the problem and get back to you.” In other words they are waiting out the A-10's shot clock.
The Air Force likes to say that the A-10 is not survivable in a war against a modern peer-state competitor, or in layman’s terms, a country with power on par with America’s. That is debatable on many levels, but the same can largely be said for the F-16 or F-15.
Additionally, the A-10 still has not reached its survivability potential. The addition of towed decoys, updated jamming pods and directed energy infrared countermeasures, when paired with the A-10's low-flying mission profile, would likely make them more survivable than any sub 5th generation fighter aircraft. But all this is irrelevant because no American tactical aircraft fights alone, and deploying troops to areas where the enemy has uncontested aerial supremacy is a suicidal tactic.
The A-10 fleet costs less than two percent of the Air Force’s entire budget to operate annually. Surely that is a small price to pay for such an effective and historically useful capability. One that is currently being used to devastating effect against ISIS in the Iraq and Syria and to deter Russian aggression in Europe.
The Turbo prop OV10 Bronco are efficient and capable but they do not bring nearly the same combat punch or survivability to the fight that the A-10 does. They are strictly low-intensity counter-insurgency aircraft, not tank busters. They also lack the Warthog’s payload and most importantly its cannon, the most precise and deadly aerial fire support tool on any jet in the Pentagon’s stable.
The US Army and the marines needs to be given authority to acquire any replacement for the A10. The US Air force interests are not aligned on close air support.
SOURCES- Fox Trot Alpha, Youtube