Two years after the Air Force tried to force its aging A-10 Warthog fleet into retirement, officials are exploring whether to procure a potential replacement for the aircraft famed for its powerful defense of troops on the ground.
But whether the service chooses a clean-sheet design or tries to modify a currently available jet, experts say the service will face an uphill battle in terms of getting funding during a tight fiscal climate where it may have to battle other modernization programs for money – despite hopes that foreign customers may be interested in such an aircraft.
The Air Force in recent years has had a complicated relationship with the Warthog, the common name given to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. The service attempted to retire the plane in fiscal 2015 and 2016 due to the spending constraints caused by mandatory budget cuts, and was rebuffed by Congress both years. Finally, in its fiscal year 2017 budget request, it opted to retain the aircraft until 2022 in part due to the platform’s utility in the fight against the Islamic State.
Both the outgoing and incoming Air Force chiefs of staff have been banging the drum for a follow-on close air support (CAS) aircraft in recent weeks, describing one that would be cheaper to operate and incorporate modern technologies. That would require an expansion of the service’s budget, former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters days before his June retirement.
“I’d like to build a new CAS airplane right now while we still have the A-10, transition the A-10 community to the new CAS airplane, but we just don’t have the money to do it, and we don’t have the people to fly the A-10 and build a new airplane and bed it down,” he said.
Starting a new program is never easy, but the service doesn’t necessarily have to spend huge amounts of time and money to develop a new platform, he told Defense News in an exclusive interview earlier in June.
“I think you can do it much quicker than people think you can,” he said. “We don’t have to come up with sensors and weapons that are cosmic. That’s not what we need. We’re talking about something that can do the bulk of the low threat, maybe a little bit of medium threat work in rugged environments all over the world.”
But it all comes back to that “we don’t have enough money” bullshit. Woe is us, the Congress won’t fund out stupid fifth generation warfare video games. Oh, oh, whatever shall we do?
In his interview with Defense News, Welsh said he believed the development of a new close air support platform could generate numerous foreign military sales.
“It’s something we can teach our allies to fly, something we could probably sell overseas. There’s lots of air forces looking for this kind of capability,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of interest in lots of places to developing this kind of a platform.”
Analysts, however, were skeptical that an A-10 replacement would find a wide market, particularly if it was a single-mission aircraft.
“The A-10 is arguably the best CAS aircraft of its generation, yet to date the U.S. has remained the only operator,” Douglas Barrie, IISS senior fellow, said in an email. “At a time when defense spending in many countries remains under pressure, finding the resource for a single-role platform, rather than a multi-role combat aircraft, strikes me as a challenge.”
Talking up the export potential of a new CAS plane is beneficial to the Air Force if it can get industry to start investing their own funds into new designs or concepts, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group. However, most countries would rather funnel their money to multi-mission fighter jets.
Some analysts even suggested the Air Force’s newfound enthusiasm for replacing the A-10 with a new CAS plane should be understood as a backdoor approach to finally mothballing the Warthog for good.
That’s because it is, and mothballing the A-10 and pouring money into that piss-poor aircraft, the F-35 – that sucks at everything and costs virtually everything the Air Force has, from first born to right testicles – is stupid to everyone who has two brain cells. But it has the Air Force and Pentagon hooked like a cheap hooker and drugs, to the point that they want a inspired manufacturer to market a small prop plane for CAS that would get shot out of the sky to the point that pilots would refuse to fly it, if it didn’t get laughed out of the sky first.
This is all a solution in search of a problem. I recently spoke to a retired A-10 mechanic, and almost the first words out of our mouths was what a bad ass aircraft the A-10 was. It is the manliest, best designed air frame in history for what it does. It makes enemy troops tremble in fear and run for their lives. The F-35 cannot ever be a replacement for the A-10. The Air Force isn’t interested in the A-10 anymore because the Air Force couldn’t care less about supporting ground troops with CAS. They want to play video games.
Got it, Soldiers and Marines? By trying to kill the A-10, the Air Force is saying you can die for all they care. The next time you see a fly boy, let him know what you think of their disdain for you.