Thursday, February 27, 2014

Requiem for a Warthog.

Icon of ugly, the A-10.
It won't be long now.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II a.k.a "The Warthog" will soon be retired from active U.S. service.

The Pentagon's upcoming budget needs to direct funding to more "vital" projects like the F-35 and "Next Generation Bomber".  The only way to make up that money is not just by grounding aircraft, but entire fleets of aircraft.  By retiring the A-10, the USAF can save $3.5 billion.



The plan has met with quite a bit of resistance.  The A-10 is loved by ground troops, and many are skeptical about whether its replacement, the F-35, will be able to fill the Warthog's shoes.

It's easy to see why.  The F-35 looks like Miley Cyrus compared to the A-10's Rampage Jackson.  While one is known for its immaturity and controversy, the other is known for its ability to give and take a beating.

"Who you callin' 'ugly'"?

Developed in the early 70s as a close-air-support (CAS) "tank killer", the A-10 is pretty much the antithesis to sleek and fast interceptors.  It almost looks like it was cobbled together using parts from other aircraft.  The tail section looks like it came off a WWII era B-24 or Lancaster bomber, the non-afterburning turbofans from a LearJet, the long, straight wings of a Skyraider, main landing gear that seemed to be added as an afterthought, and a nose that almost resembled Groucho Marx smoking his cigar.

Attempts to mount the GAU-8/A onto a VW Beetle proved unsuccessful.

That "cigar" was the A-10's signature 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger gatling cannon.  In essence, the aircraft was more or less designed around this massive gun.  That gun can fire up to 3,900 rounds per minute.  Each of those bullets is about the size of a beer bottle, filled with depleted uranium, and burns hot enough to set things on fire.  Each round is capable of taking out a tank, and the A-10 carries almost 1,200 of them.

Big guns need big bullets.
But wait!  There's more!

The A-10 has 11 hard points, capable of carrying 16,000 pounds worth of missiles, bombs, rocket pods, targeting pods, or extra fuel.  Not that it needs much extra fuel, as it can loiter around a combat zone for almost two hours, providing cover as needed.

Spending all that time in a combat zone could be dangerous for most aircraft.  Not so the A-10.  I could go one about the titanium bathtub surrounding the cockpit, or the self-sealing fuel tanks...  But instead, I'll just direct you to here.

Best of all, the A-10 is cost effective.  It has a low cost per flying hour when compared to faster jets like the F-16.  It is designed to be maintained using minimum equipment.  Its 30mm cannon rounds are a might cheaper than sophisticated anti-tank missiles.

While the aircraft has been in use for close to 40 years now, it has been kept current with a slew of upgrades.  The fleet has also recently received a service life extension program (SLEP), and Boeing was recently contracted to build new wings for the A-10s, allowing them the stay in service until 2035.

Do you think we'll ever see nose art like this on the F-35?
So why retire the Warthog?

To save the USAF $3.5 billion over the next 5 years.  That's 700 million a year.  That' a whopping 2% of the $75 billion the Pentagon needs to cut over the next 2 years.  By that time, the USA will be spending only as much as the next 9 countries combined instead of the current 10.

With such a drastic cut to their defense budget, sacrifices must be made.  The head of the USAF believes that the A-10 has had its day and newer, more sophisticated, and more expensive aircraft like the F-35 and "Next Generation Bomber" are the priority.  It's odd that the A-10 would be considered of little use when it took part in combat operations over Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya recently.  Meanwhile, the USAF's poster child, the high-zoot F-22 Raptor, has been conspicuously absent.

How many F-35's can be bought with the money saved from retiring the A-10?  This year the USAF will acquire 19 spanking new F-35As, at the cost of $172.7 million each.  Total cost:  $3.282 billion.  That's roughly the amount saved over 5 years for retiring their entire fleet of 326 A-10s.

So...  There you have it.  The USAF is killing their entire A-10 so it can afford about 20 new F-35s.  An aircraft that is twice as expensive to fly as well as much easier to shoot down.

Imagine if you will, an alternate reality where the JSF program was two separate programs.  The first, to design a stealthy, supersonic fighter to replace the F-16 and F/A-18.  Call it the modern, smaller version of the F-4 Phantom II.  The second program would find a replacement for the AV-8 Harrier and the A-10 in the close-air support role.  It likely would have been a far less controversial program, and we might have seen something like this:

A-10+AV-8 = Cobra Rattler?


So what will the USAF do with its fleet of Warthogs?  These iconic aircraft will likely be sent to the AMARG "boneyard.  Some have suggested that the USAF would be better off to simply "give them away" to friendly nations looking to boost up their Counter Insurgency (COIN) capabilities.  This could include newly "liberated" nations like Iraq or Afghanistan, or coalition partners looking to add some "bang for the buck" into their militaries.

It makes you wonder what the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a.k.a "The Warthog" would look like in RCAF colors.


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