So I have raised the hackles of my esteemed Warthog (A-10) brothers and sisters and Army and Marine
ground pounders before in an article entitled “The A-10 and Reality.” In that article I took the position that the A-10, even though it was a good airplane for its time (first flown in 1972), should be retired. I still believe that its time has come. You can read the details by going to the link, but my opinion is still that while it would be nice to have if the Air Force had unlimited amounts of money, it doesn’t. The A-10 is expensive to fly and maintain, it takes lots of logistics and people support and I question its survivability at low altitudes, given the proliferation and availability of hand-held SAMs. As I recall, there are usually altitude restrictions put into place in most combat situations to keep the aircraft out of threat envelopes, and I would submit these restrictions negate many of the advantages of an A-10 in a close air support role (CAS).
So why am I messing with this still festering wound? I just read about the impending (if you can define 3 years as impending)fly-off between the JSF and the A-10 to see which jet will win the CAS Crown. It’s been amusing to sit on the sidelines and see how this fandango developed. First, the Pentagon’s Test and Evaluation gurus, bowing to the extreme pressure from the Hill to keep the A-10, announced that sometime in 2017 or 2018 they would evaluate the JSF’s ability to be an effective CAS platform…Don’t you think it’s a little late to be thinking about that? I am just stunned that we would get this far without already knowing the answer to that question. Never mind that no matter what the outcome, we will still buy all the JSFs our increasingly limited defense dollars will buy (to the detriment of all other weapons systems, I might add). And because of all the other pressures, we will most likely have to retire the A-10 anyway. And this will be even more true three years from now when we finally get around to doing the tests.
Given all the problems we have in DoD acquisition, I think we could be putting our limited dollars and unlimited talents towards just getting the JSF delivered with some sort of combat capability, or figure out how to recapitalize the nuclear deterrence force, or figure out how to prevent some rag-tag bunch of cyber terrorists from obtaining every bit of personal/private information that I put on my security clearance application. Or figuring out how to actually win the PR war against ISIS…After all, isn’t this the land of Mad Men, Cyber-superiority and endless imagination? I just can’t figure out how those ISIS characters continue to scoop the US in the world of social media. A cynic might think we should hire ISIS to do the recruiting ads for us…(that’s just a joke for you NSA guys monitoring my web site!!)
The point is it is stunning to me that we have only decided to look at JSF CAS capabilities decades into its development and well past the point of no return. We will spend Tens of Millions of dollars to find out the answer to a question to which we already know the answer. I guess that I’m not surprised since given the copious quality of cash flowing through the JSF coffers, a few Tens of Millions of dollars probably don’t even break the event horizon.
But I digress….To continue the JSF/A-10 CAS saga, after the OSD poobahs announced the “fly-off”, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh says, “I think is would be a silly exercise.” YA THINK???? Of course, after he made those remarks, I’m sure he had a little one-on-one counseling over at the Pentagon. Hence, a few days later it was announced that the Air Force leadership is “fully on-board with the planned test schedule.” Sigh, you can’t make this stuff up!
I guess you are wondering which jet I think will win. The Warthog, of course. The A-10 was designed with a single purpose in mind…CAS. You know what? my guess is that if they did a fly-off between the JSF and the A-6 Intruder for gunsight bombing, the A-6 would reign supreme!
This whole episode reminds me of a quote by Emerson,”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” I’m all for protecting our brave troops on the ground,but I think that there will be plenty of 21st Century weapons system available to do that without the A-10.