CLOSE AIR SUPPORT WITH AND WITHOUT THE A-10 — WILL US TROOPS GET THE HELP THEY NEED?
A Seminar on Supporting US Ground Forces in Combat, Fighting Effectively in Future Wars, and Acquiring Effective Hardware at Affordable Prices
Sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight
Time: Friday, November 22, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Root Room 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW,Washington DC Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; seating may be limited.
The Air Force has decided to retire the A-10 from its inventory. To people who follow defense closely, this cynical move is hardly surprising.
Addresses on this email are cordially invited to attend a seminar discussing some of the issues raised by this decision.
The RSVP details are attached in a pdf file attached to the end this message … but first a little background, admittedly from the perspective of a long-time supporter of the A-10, dating back to my involvement as an Air Force officer in vulnerability studies and (peripherally) in some gunfire testing of late 1960s and later as a civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The A-10 is arguably the most effective airplane ever designed to provide close support to ground troops in combat, especially when they are in trouble. Its pilots are trained specifically in this mission, and the A-10’s staying power over a battlefield (i.e., long loitering capability), low speed maneuverability, and low vulnerability make it the most responsive and capable CAS weapon in our air inventory. It is no secret that ground troops in the dusty of battlefields of Afghanistan love the A-10.
But the AF hates the A-10 with passions rooted deeply in its culture of strategic bombardment.
The history of this hatred goes back to the doctrinal debates in the Army Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s, the so-called precision bombardment of Germany and Japan, and the evangelism surrounding the AF’s fight for institutional independence that ended with its successful secession for the Army in 1947. If you doubt the AF’s evangelism surrounding the claim of the independent war winning capabilities of strategic bombing, watch and listen carefully to the dialogues in the movies “12 O’Clock High” or “Command Decision.” (available on Netflix)
Fundamentally, the AF’s animosity to the A-10 is rooted in the fact that the A-10 works for the Army, and it subordinates its operational art to that of the Army. This combined arms outlook stands in sharp contrast to the Air Force’s view of itself. Since before WWII, the AF has promoted its independence from the Army by claiming it could provide a unique independent war winning capability — strategic precision bombing. This claim is diametrically opposed to one of being part of a combined-arms team. Its old motto, ‘Victory Through Airpower Alone,” may have fallen into disuse after its litany of failed promises, but it has never been forgotten, and today, it remains deeply rooted in the AF’s cultural DNA.
Before rejecting this argument, readers should remember: The A-10 had to be forced upon the AF by the Secretary of Defense in the aftermath of the AF’s poor performance in the ground support mission during Vietnam, where it chose to concentrate the bulk of its efforts on the strategic bombing of North Vietnam — far more heavily, in fact, that when it bombed Germany.
One should also remember the fact that the A-10 production line was the only AF fighter/attack airplane production line that was shut down at the end of its production run in the early 1980s, during the glory days of the Reagan spending spree, when everything got funding extensions. The higher cost F-15 and F-16 production lines, in contrast, were kept open, and the AF bought far more than these fighters than originally planned.
Also, remember how tens of billions were spent in those glory days restarting the flawed B-1’s production, producing only 21 super expensive B-2s, and even restarting the troubled C-5.
Yet, despite the unconstrained programmatic hijinks in the 1980s, routine efforts to replace the A-10 in the mid-to-late 1980s with a more modern version of itself (i.e., a low-cost dedicated CAS platform) were sabotaged by the AF after the initial work was approved by the Secretary of Defense.
Finally, consider the fact that while the AF now says it must trash the A-10 for what it says are budgetary reasons, it plans to start a $500 billion next generation strategic bomber program that will suck money out of the taxpayer for the 50 to 75 years.
Despite the AF’s long-term opposition, it should be remembered that the A-10 has been a stunning — some might say embarrassing — success in every war in which it has been employed, beginning with the First Gulf War in 1991 — a war, it should be remembered, where the AF reluctantly deployed the A-10 only after the theater commander, an Army general, insisted on it being deployed. And in today’s wars, Marines and Army grunts in Afghanistan will tell you, as they have told me, they love the A-10.
Yet, an AF that wants to spend $500 billion on a new bomber claims it is being forced to retire the A-10 as cost saving measure. This assertion is made even more bizarre by the fact that retiring the A-10 won’t even save much money, because it has, by far, the lowest operating costs per flying hour of any fighter/attack aircraft in the AF inventory.
The current ‘plan’ — really a ludicrous rationalization — is that the AF will replace the low-cost A-10’s low-cost, proven capability to support ground troops with the high-cost, highly problematic, multi-mission capabilities of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The F-35, as just about everyone knows, is a deeply troubled, super high cost stealth fighter that is way behind schedule. The F-35, predictably, is plagued with a host of technical problems. If the F-35 ever becomes operational, it will be completely unfit for the kind of knife fighting the A-10 excels at — low and slow, jinking around a battlefield saturated with small arms threats. The F-35 will be far too vulnerable to these threats (including light machine guns); its poor thrust to weight and high wing loading guarantee poor agility at low speeds and long re-attack times; it will have nothing comparable in offensive capability to the A-10’s 30mm gun; its low fuel fraction guarantees it will have no loitering capability; and any battle damage the F-35 somehow manages to survive will be almost impossible to repair at the field level, because of its high complexity systems and exotic stealth structures. Moreover, the F-35’s high cost and complexity will guarantee reduced inventories, poor availability, and low sortie rates coupled with very high operational costs.
Addressees on this email who are interested in learning more about these issues are invited to a seminar discussing them and questions surrounding (1) the vital importance of the Close Air Support mission, (2) the controversial decision to retire the A-10 in favor of the F-35, (3) what it will take to provide a CAS capability in the future, and most importantly, (4) how the Defense Department should proceed to insure our ground troops will be given the support they need and deserve.
The seminar will take the form of a discussion among people having long experience in this mission area — from a variety perspectives — from aircraft designers to pilots with A-10 combat experience and, most importantly, the views soldiers and marines on the receiving end of close support in ground combat operations. In the interests of having a vigorous debate, pushbacks by people supporting the AF decision will be not only welcomed but emphatically encouraged.
This seminar will take place on 0930 Nov. 22 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and will be sponsored by the Project on Government Oversight. The details of the seminar and a list of relevant reading materials are attached to this email.
In the interests of promoting the free market of ideas, all recipients of this email are encouraged to the attached invitation to interested parties on all sides of the issue.