Saving ‘The Warthog’ could delay new Air Force fighters
WASHINGTON — The Warthog is not dead yet.
Despite attempts by the Air Force to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II, nicknamed for its toughness and one of the military’s most beloved airplanes, a scrappy band of lawmakers has put up a fight that has started to yield some results.
But if the A-10 survives, the Air Force warns, the already delayed introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could have another setback.
For months, the Air Force has said it can no longer afford its fleet of A-10s, a decision that came to symbolize the effects of the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. But recently it has been forced to soften its stance and is now suggesting compromises that would slow down the aircraft’s retirement.
But it has also warned that if Congress does not allow it to retire the fleet, the Air Force won’t be able to transfer hundreds of maintenance workers from the A-10 to the F-35, as originally planned, which could further delay the program just as manufacturer Lockheed Martin is ramping up production.
“We’re really in a crunch now,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in an interview over the weekend at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “We’re looking at, are we going to delay the Joint Strike Fighter? That would be awful. Are we going to underman the very aircraft that are most needed in this latest fight against” the Islamic State?
The A-10 is a slow-flying aircraft designed to stay close enough to the ground so that pilots can distinguish friend from foe, even with their own eyes. Often called the military’s ugliest aircraft, it is armed with a 30mm cannon that can destroy a tank, and a “titanium bathtub” belly designed to absorb ground fire.
It is beloved by soldiers and airmen alike, who say that it saved countless lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and that its ability to take out the enemy at close range is unparalleled.
A group of former service members who served as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs), who advise ground commanders on how best to deploy air power in combat, recently wrote in a letter to senior Pentagon leaders that the elimination of the A-10 “will cost American lives.”
“When under enemy fire and about to be overrun, JTACs look over their shoulders and pray an A-10 is there — knowing that nothing reassures and protects friendly forces and scatters and destroys enemy forces like an A-10,” they wrote.
But the Warthog is aged and has only one mission, Air Force officials say: providing close-air support to troops on the ground. Other aircraft can perform that mission – in addition to an variety of others,