Will the A-10 `Lazarus’ Cheat Death Once Again?

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Air Force photo by Master Sgt. William Greer

An A-10 Warthog over Afghanistan

The Air Force has never particularly cared for its A-10 aircraft. After all, its mission is to fly low and slow to defend soldiers in the mud, not fly high and fast to blast enemy aircraft from the sky and guarantee American air superiority.

Looks like the Air Force’s desire – made clear in 2003 — to ground the A-10 once and for all may be coming true. Recently revealed Air Force plans to scrap nearly a third of the stubby-winged warplane suggest its days are numbered.

After publicity aborted that scheme to kill the ground the plane for good nearly a decade ago, the Air Force seemed to “make nice” with the slow, low and homely warplane (officially called the Thunderbolt II, but known affectionately to all protected by it on the ground as the Warthog).

As Flight International reported in 2007:

The US Air Force may seek to retain and continuously upgrade its Fairchild A-10 fleet far beyond its currently planned retirement date of 2028. “There are bigger numbers throwing around that are much [later] than that,” Air Combat Command chief of requirements Lt Col Ralph Hansen told Flight International on 21 August. Armed with a nose-mounted 30mm cannon, the A-10 was first deployed in 1976 to destroy enemy tanks, but its mission has been expanded since the end of the Cold War to also include close air support duties and co-operating with special forces for combat search and rescue purposes.

That was nearly five years ago, amid wars and the fat budgets that accompany them. Things have changed. Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has told Military Times that the soon-to-be-released 2013 defense budget will call for scrapping five A-10 squadrons. Its replacement will be the faster, costlier, multi-mission F-35 fighter.


Venerable A-10 Warthog Faces Extinction

Those commenting on the story are pretty much unanimous:

— the A-10 saved my life in afghanistan once, ever since that moment i love that thing. I think they are making a huge mistake by eliminating The Warthog, i hope that does not happen.

— The Air Force as been trying to get rid of the A-10 for a long time. The fighter mafia is out to get their way no matter what. the F-35 can not replace a bit like the A-10. It is simply not designed to handle the job!

— Fast movers as ground support normally suck and are as big a danger close in as your foe- you don’t always have time to pull back a click so they can try to hit their tgts.

You can glean the Air Force’s priorities by looking at what else it plans to jettison along with those A-10s – a single F-15 squadron and single F-16 squadron. In other word, the A-10 accounts for more than 70% of the grounded aircraft. The Air Force currently has nearly 350 A-10s split between active duty and reserve forces, meaning those five squadrons represent about 30% of the total. But the coming budget vise apparently signals the beginning of the end for a venerable warplane.

As the A-10 cycles out of the fleet, its close-air support mission is to be picked up by the new, troubled, and as-of-yet untested, F-35. The move could trigger opposition from the Army and Marines, who like having the A-10 overhead. It is the lone plane in the Air Force dedicated to CAS: protecting troops on the ground with its fearsome nose-mounted GAU-8/A Avenger gatling gun that fires more than 3,000 rounds a minute. Its single pilot is protected by a so-called “titanium bathtub” in the cockpit that lets him, or her, get down low to take out the bad guys.