Defense Media Network

Why the A-10 Thunderbolt II Is Staying in the Fight



For years, Congress and Air Force officials have debated the venerable A-10’s fate.

The service has repeatedly requested to send the airframe – fondly nicknamed the “Warthog” by its pilots and ground crews, and well liked among much of the public – into retirement because the Air Force maintains other aircraft in its inventory can provide close air support for combat units, such as the F-16 fighter, the B-1 bomber, and the new F-35 Lightning II, the A-10’s replacement that will be phased in on a case-by-case basis. Doing so, service leaders say, will free up maintenance crews for the F-35.

Congress sees it differently and Defense Secretary Ash Carter made clear Feb. 2 in his preview of the FY 2017 defense budget that the A-10 will continue to support warfighters for another six years.

“Not only has the Air Force decided to keep the A-10 flying through at least 2022, but it has also pledged to replace it on a squadron-by-squadron basis – ensuring we won’t be left with a capability gap as we confront a complex array of conflicts and crises.”

“We’re also investing to maintain more of our fourth-generation fighter and attack jets than we previously planned, including the A-10, which has been devastating to ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] from the air,” Carter said. “The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on a squadron-by-squadron basis, so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflicts.”

The $582.7 billion defense budget proposal, which will be released this week as part of the administration’s FY 17 budget request, brings the Pentagon’s long-term defense strategy front and center.

“In this budget, we’re taking the long view. We have to, because even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for the fights that might come, 10, 20, or 30 years down the road,” Carter said.

A little more than a year ago, the Air Force’s top brass defended the service’s attempts to retire the A-10.

“It’s not about not liking or not wanting the A-10,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said at a State of the Air Force briefing on Jan. 15, 2015. “It’s about some very tough decisions that we have to make to recapitalize an Air Force for the threat 10 years from now.”

The Air Force had estimated that divesting the airframe would save approximately $4.2 billion.

The Government Accountability Office, in its “Preliminary Observations on Air Force A-10 Divestment” report released June 25, 2015, was not clear that the service’s statement that retiring the A-10s would save billions of dollars. “The Air Force has not fully assessed the cost savings associated with A-10 divestment or its alternatives,” the agency reported. “Our analysis found that the Air Force’s estimated savings are incomplete.”

Following Carter’s budget preview, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., supported the decision to keep the A-10 in the fleet in a Feb. 2 press release.

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