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Like a hoarder with separation anxiety, Congress just can’t let go of the A-10 Warthog, the aging but legendary attack plane the Air Force has tried and failed for years to start to get rid of.

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In its most recent attempt, the Air Force tried to cut 42 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft from its fleet of 281 airframes. The move was supposed to free up maintenance costs on the aging platform which the branch could then use to buy more advanced aircraft like the F-35A, which the Air Force thinks has a better chance of surviving against high-tech anti-aircraft weapon-equipped countries like China.

But not if Congress had anything to say about it, which it did. In its proposal for the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the bill which will set the funding levels for the U.S. military next year, the Senate Armed Services Committee prohibited the Air Force from retiring any A-10 aircraft in fiscal year 2022.

While the House Armed Services Committee has yet to release its proposal for the 2022 NDAA, the Senate’s version does not bode well for the Air Force, which has been trying to retire A-10s at least as far back as 2013.

A 357th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II sits on the flight line at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., April 27, 2015.

Lovingly known by its nickname as the ‘Warthog’ or ‘Hog,’ the A-10 has a 45-year history of saving ground troops right in the nick of time with precise and overwhelming firepower. Designed around its 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun, the Hog is slow, stable and when it opens fire, it makes a sky-ripping BRRRT noise that troops have come to associate with salvation from enemy fighters.

But as the machines age, their maintenance costs are soaring, according to a Government Accountability Office report from November. While the Air Force has bought new wings for many A-10s, there are fewer replacement parts to go around and it takes longer to inspect aircraft systems and keep them running, which consumes resources that the Air Force needs to keep other aircraft flying too.

But year after year, passionate lawmakers whose states host A-10-equipped Air Force bases spoil the branch’s plans to cut planes loose.

“As someone who has flown close air support in combat, I know that the A-10 is unmatched in carrying out its mission and provides an invaluable capability to protect American service members on the ground,” wrote former astronaut and Navy A-6 Intruder pilot Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) in a statement sent to Task & Purpose earlier this year.

“Removing A-10s from the fleet when there is not another aircraft capable of performing this mission takes a vital tool away from our military and is the wrong step for our national security,” he added.

Not all lawmakers were happy with the Senate’s plan though. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose state is slated to host new F-35A squadrons at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, urged his colleagues to support the Air Force’s proposed A-10 retirement, which would spare resources for the more advanced fighters.

“I urge the committee to remove, or reject, any provision or funding that would jeopardize the strategic basing of three F-35 squadrons at Tyndall,” he said, according to Defense News. “Including such language would have significant impact on the Air Force’s F-35 pilot output, our strategic capacity to field F-35s in the event of a conflict, and have grave, long-term implications for the national security of the United States.”

An A-10 Thunderbolt II prepares to land at Misawa Air Base, Japan, May 26, 2021.

The Air Force’s plan would have retired 42 A-10s and moved several other A-10s and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, to form a close combat “Center of Excellence.” But those plans are now on hold as the service awaits Congress’ decision in its 2022 NDAA, the Air Force announced last week.

The Center of Excellence plan may not have made much sense in the first place, according to one analyst. While the military has no definition of such a center, the business sector describes them as a place to proliferate best practices and address issues in the field, Air Force expert Mike Benitez said in his newsletter The Merge in July.

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The problem is, part of the reason why the Air Force wants to cut A-10s is because the branch says they are no longer relevant to a war with China, which has high-end anti-aircraft weaponry that can shoot down the slow-moving Warthog.

“It’s one thing to be trepid about losing a ton of experience and lessons learned as the military winds down the Middle East operations after a generation when almost everything with wings was doing [close air support],” Benitez said. “But it’s unclear why now is the time for the Air Force to declare it has a knowledge deficit or skills proliferation issue that a Center of Excellence exists to solve.

“More importantly, a Center of Excellence that is solely comprised of A-10s is the exact opposite of the diversity that is the strength of a Center of Excellence,” he added. “[A]nd it unwinds years of Air Force ‘CAS is a mission, not a platform’ talking points.”

What happens next may depend on what the House Armed Services Committee publishes in its version of the 2022 NDAA. Then the House and Senate will produce a joint bill before sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature or his veto.

Whatever happens though, the A-10 still has many years of BRRRTing ahead of it. The Air Force hopes to keep the Warthog flying into the 2030s, and the service has invested $880 million in re-winging the fleet and modernizing its avionics, which are the electronic systems that keep the aircraft’s various functions running.

All of this is to show that truly nothing can kill the hardy A-10, not even the U.S. Air Force.
 

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Logisticians' and Systems Engineers' nightmares. Working my 3rd Sundown of a US aircraft, I'm sure the expense of finding replacements for obsolete parts is already high and going to be higher. It isn't cheap to run a program to re-engineer hydraulic actuators, electrical and electronic components, airframe parts, old design engine parts, canopy latches, heck, just about anything you can think of the OEMs don't make anymore and nobody can tool up and start producing in relatively small quantities at a reasonable ROI. Does anyone believe Lockheed, Grumman, or their vendors kept tooling (that wore out decades ago or was changed over to new products) ready to go on idle production lines? Any new replacement component needs to go through some expensive design engineering and testing prior to approval for flight, plus all the tech directives and Pubs changes, training, blah blah blah.
Nostalgia aside, there is a point where you can't keep putting new radios in Model Ts and driving them everyday. New wings only fix part of the problem.
Call me "BTDT" for a career.
 

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I think getting rid of all of them would be stupid but just getting rid of 42 out of 281 doesn't seem bad, they could obviously kill the worst 42 and use them for parts. China isn't the only threat, and threats seem to rise up out of left field sometimes and I imagine some turd world country will pull something in the next 10 years..
m14brian
 

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While it has proven to be a sturdy craft and all, advancement she be a pillar of the Airforce. Reading article days ago about how utin is touting his new aircrafts. I also think we should focus on new Military tech too.
 

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Right now, the A-10 is what we have that will fill the CAS need. Until something else is available, we need the A-10. Fast movers just can't do the job and China isn't the only place we have to fight. Don't cut off nose to spite face.
You just saved me some typing. This is EXACTLY what I was going to say.

In Vietnam, USAF was sure glad that the "ancient" A-1 Skyraiders were available. The A-10 is the modern equivalent of the Skyraider.
 

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Logisticians' and Systems Engineers' nightmares. Working my 3rd Sundown of a US aircraft, I'm sure the expense of finding replacements for obsolete parts is already high and going to be higher. It isn't cheap to run a program to re-engineer hydraulic actuators, electrical and electronic components, airframe parts, old design engine parts, canopy latches, heck, just about anything you can think of the OEMs don't make anymore and nobody can tool up and start producing in relatively small quantities at a reasonable ROI. Does anyone believe Lockheed, Grumman, or their vendors kept tooling (that wore out decades ago or was changed over to new products) ready to go on idle production lines? Any new replacement component needs to go through some expensive design engineering and testing prior to approval for flight, plus all the tech directives and Pubs changes, training, blah blah blah.
Nostalgia aside, there is a point where you can't keep putting new radios in Model Ts and driving them everyday. New wings only fix part of the problem.
Call me "BTDT" for a career.
Few parts are lying around anywhere. they must be made new. CNC machining and 3d printing, plus old fashioned manual skills can keep the A10 in service as long as it serves a purpose. High tech manufacturing should result in less expensive parts than refurbishing the old tools and 1970's manufacturing technology.
The initial excuse for the AF desire to dump the aircraft was that the Army is now providing CAS and they simply wanted out of the business.
Given that many of our automated system components are made in Unowhere, it may be prudent to retain dumb weaponry.
 

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I also hope they feel the same way about funding its up-keep.

Actually, I see this as a way to reduce the actual capability of the USAF. By forcing them to keep the A-10, but not increasing their budget, means they cannot field newer better aircraft due to havig to spend more on aging aircraft upkeep.

Maintaining old aircraft gets expensive fast, the Navy maintenance cost for the F/A-18C and D were 50% to 75% more than the newer F/A-18E and F, and they did share some parts, and the Cs and Ds were not really that old, most were built in the 1990s. Ever wonder why major airlines seem to be always buys new aircraft and selling the old ones off? It is because as expensive as a new aircraft is, it is cheaper to buy and new one, with its reduced maintenance cost, than pay for the increasing maintence of an aging fleet.

Sorry for all you A-10 fans out there, I think it is a great piece of hardware, but its time has come and gone. The B-52 and B-1 remain in service because there are not enough aircraft that can carry the payload they can, nothing that can do that job, except 20 B-2. The A-10 is a one trick pony, whereas its replacement is multi-role. There is literally no mission an A-10 can perform that many other aircraft cannot perform.
 

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I scrolled past most of the comments because I was an aviation mechanic. There comes a time when the limits of an aircraft and combat capability is outclassed by a cheaper and smarter aircraft that is thought to be capable. I love the A-10 simply because it was an airplane built around a big 30mm gun and I've seen and heard them sounding off. I also love the UH-1H and spent many hours working or flying in them, I felt comfortable enough that either would bring me home, but, times are a changing for air support of ground operations and it's mostly drones now...
 

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Few parts are lying around anywhere. they must be made new. CNC machining and 3d printing, plus old fashioned manual skills can keep the A10 in service as long as it serves a purpose. High tech manufacturing should result in less expensive parts than refurbishing the old tools and 1970's manufacturing technology.
The initial excuse for the AF desire to dump the aircraft was that the Army is now providing CAS and they simply wanted out of the business.
Given that many of our automated system components are made in Unowhere, it may be prudent to retain dumb weaponry.
EDIT: I'm Sundowning USN/USMC aircraft not the A-10
Listen, this is the 3rd USN/USMC aircraft I have been one of the people keeping it flying until it is totally retired. You can't keep taking tired parts off old airframes and reusing them.
Believing high tech makes manufacturing simple is naïve. You can't just copy something and put it in. It has to be tested multiple ways to Sunday and that is expensive. Companies can't just copy a design and sell it to the gov.
We've got parts that no-one, and I do mean no-one is willing to make. And parts that there are no drawings for. Yep, that's the US Gov. No drawings can be found.

Just a reminder: I been Sundowning USN/USMC aircraft for over 25 years. It ain't simple, and it ain't cheap. It's my profession. Old planes die just like old cars and old soldiers - at some point you need new ones. You can't keep plugging in parts. What happens when your keel starts to delaminate or crack? Airframe is done guys. Ain't no "fixin" short of a new airframe.
Imagine and wish all anyone wants, old planes can't and shouldn't be kept. Build something new.
I loved my F-4s and A-6s, but they weren't worth the cost to keep them flying.
 

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Not going to disagree with those who point out the cost of keeping the A-10 flying but what are you replacing it with?? F-22's, F35's ? Can't do the job, a couple pass and the're gone. Drones ? Not what we currently have flying. Can't carry the payload. "One trick poney" yes, CAS when and where it is needed. Lot of ground pounders butt saved with that old model "T".
 

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Right now, the A-10 is what we have that will fill the CAS need. Until something else is available, we need the A-10. Fast movers just can't do the job and China isn't the only place we have to fight. Don't cut off nose to spite face.
Ask any Grunt on the ground, A-10s in CAS is a Godsend. Agree dont cut your nose off to spite your face!

You just saved me some typing. This is EXACTLY what I was going to say.

In Vietnam, USAF was sure glad that the "ancient" A-1 Skyraiders were available. The A-10 is the modern equivalent of the Skyraider.
Exactly what I always felt as a Grunt, the A-10 was the modern day equivalent to what the Skyraider was to a Grunt then!
 

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Great discussion, and I really love to think: just take all the original drawings and tool up and make new ones .... but having managed engineering projects through my career, I sadly have to agree with the logistical truths that you cannot keep an ageing fleet going forever.

There ought to be a way to make an A-10v2 using original design concepts, though the challenge here will not be engineering, but political, like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, where politics and differing opinions will allow scope creep to poison the design, so what comes out is something that is a compromise based on negotiation, not performance.
 

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I'm in no way connected to the military's R&D dept., but I think the future is in pilotless drones. Build one around a 30mm canon or one that carries hellfires or any other weapon system that works.
 

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Not going to disagree with those who point out the cost of keeping the A-10 flying but what are you replacing it with?? F-22's, F35's ? Can't do the job, a couple pass and the're gone. Drones ? Not what we currently have flying. Can't carry the payload. "One trick poney" yes, CAS when and where it is needed. Lot of ground pounders butt saved with that old model "T".
Why can't they do the jobs?

Yes they fly faster, and they can detect targets at longer ranges. But, because they fly faster that means they are less prone to enemy intervention. Further, in a pinch they can defend themselves.

" . . . a couple pass and they're gone . . ."

Any ground support aircraft ability to remain on-station is governed by its ordnance load-out. The number of bombs, rocket pods, or missiles is about the same.

In WW2, the absolute best close air support bomber was the Ju-86 Sturzkampfflugzeug (Stuka). It could drop a bomb down a chimney with the right pilot, and had enough machine cannon to tear-up a convoy of soft skin vehicles.

In contrast, the allies used less capable, more survivable, multi-role aircraft for the close air support mission. P-47s, P-38s, Typhoons. These aircraft were much faster than the Ju-87 and even with modest propeller speeds had difficulty identifying enemy targets compared to the German dive bomber. These re-purposed fighter aircraft did not have sights required for dropping bombs or firing rockets, the pilot just made a best guess, same with the rockets, and if you watch enough gun camera films, you can see their aim is terrible.

Please remind me who had the more effective close air support during the war?

If the Germans had 6,000 more fighters instead of Stukas, might they had a better chance of maintaining at least parity in the sky?
 
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