10 Good Reasons to Save the A-10

By J. Furman Daniel, III

As the FY15 defense budget is finalized and the fiscal pressure of sequestration endures, there has been informed speculation that the Air Force will seek to retire its A-10 Warthog fleet. Congress has already prevented such a move in the National Defense Authorization Act, but yet the fight continues. Last week, RCD featured a proposal to transfer the A-10 to the Army. This week, J. Furman Daniel, III offers ten good reasons to save the beloved A-10.  

1. It is proven

The A-10 is a tried and true design that has served our nation well.  In an era of increasingly complex, expensive, and troubled weapons procurement, it is essential to have some systems that are solid and reliable. With only modest changes to the original design, the A-10 has been upgraded to meet the challenges of the future and deliver its trademark firepower, durability, survivability, and persistence to battlefield hotspots for decades to come.

2. It is cheap

The A-10 is and will continue to be cheap. While it is ugly, slow, and old fashioned, it remains the most cost effective way of delivering aerial firepower to the battlefield. While it is possible to drop ordinance and provide suppressive fire with other fighter platforms few would consider the F-22, F-35, F-15, or F-16 as ideal ways of performing this essential mission. In fact, the F-22 has been excluded from such missions and is in danger of becoming a “force in being” for “big wars” rather than an asset that can actually be used in the conflicts we are currently fighting. A rational force structure would retain the A-10 as the unglamorous but necessary “low” component of a “high-low mix” and would thus free our more expensive platforms for missions such as air superiority and strategic bombing that demand higher performance.

3. It is survivable

Especially in our wars of choice, the American public is notoriously casualty adverse. We will continue to send our brave men and women into harm’s way for the foreseeable future, so it essential to provide them with the best tools possible to allow them to complete their mission and return safely home. Survivability is the hallmark of the A-10 and many of our pilots owe their lives to its rugged construction. Other low cost options such as the Apache helicopter, Super Tucanos, and the Textron Scorpion do not have the total package of survivability of the A-10.

4. It does things that current aircraft, helicopters, and drones cannot do

The A-10 does a few things better than any other platform in existence.  While ground pounding may not be glamorous, it is a function that will not simply go away. If the Air Force eliminates the A-10, it will replace the core competency with some combination of bad options. First, the military could have other fixed-wing aircraft filling the void, but (as described above) this would likely not be the most cost effective option. Second, we could increase the burden on helicopters to perform this task, but they would likely suffer from their inherent limits of speed, payload, and survivability. Finally, force planners could gamble that some as yet unproven combination of drones or smart artillery could provide this firepower for the battlefields of the future. In each of these scenarios, a significant risk is assumed and it remains unclear that the proposed solution could either accomplish the mission or do so at an acceptable cost in blood or treasure. Given the A-10’s demonstrated speed, maneuverability, ruggedness, redundant systems, and combat record, why take such risks?

5. Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy!

Unfortunately, the US military has a poor track record of predicting when, where, and how the next war will occur. Given this uncertainty and the costs of guessing wrong, the redundancy provided by the A-10 seems like a very good safety net provided at a very attractive cost. While all defense budgeting and planning assumes some degree of risk, it seems very premature to assume that this capability is no longer needed.

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J. Furman Daniel, III is a Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs in the George Washington University Security Policy Studies Program.

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