Now that the Air Force has placed the A-10 Thunderbolt II under consideration for cuts in a worst-case budget scenario, a grassroots movement is building to keep the aircraft, flying since 1977, around longer.
The A-10 is not one of those programs, like theJoint Strike Fighter or the tanker, that the service wants to protect. In fact, a chart from Air Combat Command shows the entire fleet of close-air support aircraft may be divested by 2015.
The A-10, affectionately known as the Warthog, does have a following. The lumbering aircraft was designed to loiter over the battlefield until it unleashes firepower that can shred through tanks. Originally made by Fairchild Republic, it carries a 30 mm Gatling gun that can fire up to 3,900 rounds per minute. The service's A-10s can carry all kinds of bombs, including laser-guided ones, joint direct attack munitions, and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Ground troops love it.
They are not alone. From a Save-the-A-10 Facebook page with 2,722 likes, to the back room of a military base bar and even on Capitol Hill, the proposal to scrap the aircraft is meeting resistance.
The up-with-the-A-10 crowd was present at a recent 40th anniversary gathering of the “Fort Myer Round Table,” a Wednesday night happy hour at a bar on the Virginia military base that many of the Joint Chiefs of Staff call home.
The Pentagon's former top testing and evaluation official, Tom Christie, organized the event that was attended by generations of Pentagon watchdogs, including Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey. After having met for 40 years, Christie encouraged some of the younger, active-duty members of the crowd to continue working within the Pentagon to change the process of buying weapons. And he urged those currently working in the Pentagon to find “top cover” for their efforts.
Discussion at the long-running meeting centered on two topics: A book by Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War, that many there see as a handbook to navigating the Pentagon bureaucracy and buying less costly weapons that make more sense. The second, related topic was how to promote alternatives to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—namely the Navy's F-18 and the Air Force's A-10.
Coram himself recently published a column on the Project on Government Oversight's website articulating the case: “No $160 million F-35 is going to get down in the weeds where a single bullet can take it out. A host of small arms fire hitting an A-10 can be fixed with what amounts to duct tape,” Coram writes. “No F-35 can maneuver under an 800-foot ceiling with two-mile visibility as can an A-10. No F-35 has more than three combat trigger pulls before running out of ammo. The A-10 has twenty. No F-35 has the battlefield survivability of the A-10.”
Whether the efforts will make a difference within the Pentagon remains to be seen as high-level budget politics on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration are sorted out.
But lawmakers have been working to maintain the A-10 fleet, at least in the short term.
Last year the Air Force recommended carving out nearly a third of the A-10 fleet, much of it from the Air National Guard. Congress slowed that suggestion by creating the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.
This year, the Senate Armed Services Committee is already looking for a definitive comparison between the F-35 and the A-10. The committee's version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill calls for a report on whether retiring A-10s would lead to a gap in close-air support for troops beforeand F-35s can pick up that mission.
That is the same line of questioning that led Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to placed a hold on the nomination of Deborah Lee James to replace Michael Donley as secretary of the Air Force.
During James's confirmation hearing, Ayotte said 60 soldiers were saved in Afghanistan in July because of the close-air support provided by A-10s. She asked about an Air Combat Command slide showing the A-10 fleet would be divested by 2015.
“I am a strong supporter of the F-35,” Ayotte said. “But until the F-35 is operational, we can't be giving up our important capacity that protects our troops.”