Terminate the Hog that Saves the Grunts!!!

May 27, 2003

Comment:  #483

Discussion Threads - Comment #s: 481

As my good friend Robert Coram writes below, the Air Force hates the A -10 attack plane. In fact, the AF has tried to terminate with prejudice its ugly duckling on several occasions reaching back to its development years in the early 1970s.

Like its more glamorous and far prettier sisters, the F-15 and F-16, the A -10 went into production in mid 1970s, but unlike those aircraft, it went out of production in the early 1980s, while Ronald Reagan was throwing money at defense budget 1982 was the last year of its purchase, although production of the F-15 and F-16 continued well into the 1990s (and the F-16 is still in production). Indeed, the A-10 was the only major weapon system that went into production in the mid -1970s that was cancelled during the the Reagan spend up of the 1980s. By the late 1980s, however, the AF succeeded in building a consensus in Versailles to gradually whittle down the A -10s remaining in its inventory via a strategy of sending A -10s to the bone yard before they reached retirement age. Nevertheless, a few A -10s have managed to survive.

If Coram's stunning essay is correct, the A -10's days are now numbered ... AGAIN ... and this time the threat is real, because like era of Ronald Reagan, George Bush II is throwing money at the Pentagon. Put starkly, the A -10 is too cheap and it works. To make matters worse it is ugly.

Alas for the Air Force. It may well succeed in getting rid of the A-10 and leaving the Army high and dry as Coram says. Like its failed efforts to turn Colonel John Boyd into a non-person thanks be to dark and satanic genius of the same Robert Coram, the AF will not be able to turn the A-10 into a non-airplane.

Read Coram's excellent op-ed. It is the opening shot in a coming battle. The 16" guns of the Naval Institute Press are about to unload with the publication of an excellent history of the airplane the Air Force loves to hate.

May 27, 2003

The Hog That Saves the Grunts
By Robert Coram
New York Times [Op-Ed]



In early April, Maj. Gen. David Deptula of the Air Combat Command ordered a subordinate to draft a memo justifying the decommissioning of the A-10 fleet. The remaining eight active duty A-10 squadrons (in 1991, the number was 18) could be mothballed as early as 2004.

About the same time that the general's order was issued, a crucial battle of the Iraqi war was unfolding. The United States Army had arrived at a Tigris River bridge on the edge of Baghdad to find Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers positioned at the other end. A deadly crossfire ensued. A call for help went out, and despite heavy clouds and fog, down the river came two A-10's at an altitude of less than 1,000 feet, spitting out a mix of armor-piercing and explosive bullets at the rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. The Iraqi resistance was obliterated. This was a classic case of "close air support."

It is cheap, slow, low-tech, does not have an afterburner, and is so ugly that the grandiose name "Thunderbolt" was forgotten in favor of "Warthog" or, simply, "the Hog." What the airplane does have is a deadly 30-millimeter cannon, two engines mounted high and widely separated to offer greater protection, a titanium "bathtub" to protect the pilot, a bullet- and fragmentation-resistant canopy, three back-up flight controls, a heavy duty frame and foam-filled fuel tanks - a set of features that makes it one of the safest yet most dangerous weapons on the battlefield.

However, these attributes have long been ignored, even denied, because of the philosophical aversion to the close air support mission. Couple that with the Air Force's love affair with the high technology F/A-22 ($252 million per plane) and the F-35 fighter jets (early cost estimates are around $40 million each), and something's got to give.

The Air Force is promoting the F-35 on the idea that it can provide close air support, a statement that most pilots find hilarious. But the F-35's price tag means the Air Force will not jeopardize the aircraft by sending it low where an enemy with an AK-47 can bring it down. (Yes, the aircraft will be that vulnerable.)

In the meantime, the Air Force is doing its utmost to get the public to think of the sleek F-16 fighter jet as today's close support aircraft. But in the 1991 gulf war and in Kosovo, the Air Force wouldn't allow the F-16 to fly below 10,000 feet because of its vulnerability to attack from anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

Robert Coram is author of "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War."

Chuck Spinney

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