(Not sure why the article image doesn’t show up…but let’s get rid of the white space)
The short list in the article:
Embraer A-29 Super Tucano
Textron AirLand Scorpion
Why not just re-start the A-10 production line? I mean, it does what it does very well. Of all the ones above…I like the AT-6B the most (dunno why…I just do). But I’m guessing that if I’m a dude with a rifle on the ground, the one I’d like to see most rolling in would be the brrrrrrrrrp of the A-10… Why do politicians and the military hate it so much? Is it just not enough techno-whiz therefore not enough bucks for the defense industry?
Yeah, the only current plane that can replace the A-10 is either the A-10 or the SU-25! They should copy ARMA3 and make a new A-10, make it “stealthy” and drive up the price enough to make it acceptable…
No. Tyler Rogoway’s been trying to hammer this point home for years now, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Bearing in mind that:
The existing A-10 airframes are starting to become fatigued enough that upgrade or revitalization programs will have dubious or lackluster results.
Air defense solutions of a technological level that are at or beyond the A-10’s era of technology are becoming less expensive and more frequently exported, including MANPADs and self-propelled systems.
The A-10’s ability to survive in a heavily defended airspace minus extensive support from SEAD/DEAD aircraft is steadily declining as Fact #2 becomes more prevalent.
The USAF is trying to move more towards advanced battlefield datalinks and precision guided weaponry in order to both increase CAS effectiveness and decrease the risk of friendly-fire.
Considering all the above (ESPECIALLY #2), you can start to get the gist as to why the USAF is trying to move away from the A-10.
Restarting the A-10 production line-
…would be a massive effort. The plane hasn’t been in production since 1984, and Fairchild Republic doesn’t exist anymore. It was acquired by M7 Aerospace, which in turn has been acquired by Elbit Systems of America. The process alone of gathering all the old documentation, engineering drawings, and manufacturing notes from no earlier than 30 years ago would be mind-numbing and time consuming, not including effort that would need to go into:
-Modernizing the production process
-Vetting the production process with modern standards and laws
-Vetting the aircraft design with modern standards and laws
-Modernizing the aircraft design in accordance to modifications and upgrades that have come along with the A and C models.
-Figuring out what standardized parts in the design are no longer made and finding suitable replacements
-Finding and refurbishing all existing production tooling and/or making new tooling
And that’s just stuff I can think of off the top of my head.
Replacing the A-10 with the F-35 does leave a bunch of A-10 shaped blank spots, but I’m guessing some generals have realized that, which is why the A-10’s phase-out process is going to be nice and slow while the USAF looks for alternatives.
I’ll grant you that it’s complicated - but I also don’t underestimate the military-industrial complex for their predilection for graft, corruption, and putting complicated weapons on the table to suit their desires (profit) versus what is needed on the ground or over the battlefield. Even General Odierno recently said:
“We are still having to procure systems we don’t need…hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”
To keep the assembly lines going and the jobs, and the profits, we gotta keep pushing through those orders even if we give them away to Afghanistan or Iraq or whoever. That also helps make room for newer, better, faster, costlier.
And while I get that we might end up in a shooting war with China at some point, I’m not totally sold that the A-10 type mission isn’t the more realistic type scenario we’ll face over the next three decades. For decades we’ve been told we need to keep pace with the Russians and yet look at the footage we’ve seen from Syria - they can barely seem to put “smart” bombs within an 200 meter CEP. Most of the videos look like they are practically dumb bombing without CCIP.
Now the S300/400 type threat…yeah, I can see that - but isn’t that why we have the F-35, B-2, and B-1, and cruise missiles for? The F-22 has been around forever now, and what has it done…I guess it’s a deterrent, but it really hasn’t helped us win any of the last two decades of warfare. I guess I’m just not all that impressed with the beating of the war drums that says we are falling behind Russia and China with regards to military might. They put out cool videos once in awhile, but you can’t extrapolate that into what their daily operations are when compared to the incredible precision and professionalism of the U.S. and other western forces.
As for restarting the A-10 production line - I’m guessing all of that equipment has been idled and in storage, but the production is not that distant of a memory…plus the A-10 is a nuts and bolts, metal and pushrods type of aircraft. If our country is good at anything, it is building stuff that lasts (re: B-52s, KC-135s, etc…).
All your points are valid, but I just see it as a continuation of the modernization mantra that seems like mostly justification for spending more money. At the same time, I get that we have to be prepared to fight the war we haven’t fought in the past several decades…but I just don’t believe the hype about our possible enemies that fall in that category (Russia and China).
The F-35 just seems like a bad choice all around - and that’s not from reading Tyler’s articles…it just doesn’t seem to provide value for the cost. And like it or not, that is also what taxpayers would like to see. I don’t want to send anyone to war with inadequate equipment, but I also don’t want to see our country go broke (you should see my kid’s school) because we haven’t struck a balance between the reality of security and the reality of fear.
Very complex situation that goes beyond even the A-10 of course. I just don’t trust the whole military industrial complex much anymore - not that anyone is paying attention since the Kardashians probably did something this morning that rates higher than the fact we still have wars going on in several countries right now. Sigh…
I’m a member of the defense military industrial complex, and I resemble that comment!
In all honest Aero’s done a better job articulating the points I’d make than I can, but I’d like to touch on these two points.
For the first, for a multitude of reasons, I would not equate what Russia has accomplished in Syria with what Russia can accomplish. The Syrian “expedition” was largely a strategic political gesture to buttress domestic opinion and try to reassert Russia’s prerogative to exercise military power in defense of foreign interests, with a secondary gain of drumming up sales of aircraft and military systems.
The actual war fighting for most part was an exercise in inflicting maximum harm on rebels with minimum cost. Turns out when you completely disregard collateral damage, you can manage this. Russia has the technology and know how to develop PGMs, at what point they feel it necessary to use them, I don’t know.
Even then, the more pertinent part of this is Russian air defense systems, and while the S-300 and S-400 are definitely dangerous, as you say they are something that is degraded or destroyed before the A-10 is sent in. The bigger threat to the A-10 is the latest generation of TACSAMs, think the SA-22, The SA-15, SA-17, and even the SA-13. The missiles themselves are extremely deadly, the launch platforms are flexible and mobile, and they’re all data linked into the IADs. You fly into their WEZ, you’re going to have a very, very bad time.
These are the systems that would protect the frontal echelons of a Russian armored thrust, and they’re deployed in great enough numbers that you can’t simply kill all of them at once. In a CAS situation you can only hope to at best suppress them locally, and stay the hell out of their threat rings. You do this either by using a stand off weapon (Maverick, JSOW, SDB), going fast enough to fling the bomb far enough you don’t actually enter the WEZ, or both. The F-15/F-16/F-18/F-35 can do this, and in a well rounded fashion.
The A-10 on the other hand has its viable weapons list reduced to the Maverick. The gun is useless against anything newer than a T-62 frontally, the plane cannot go fast enough to release CBUs or GBUs outside of a WEZ, and if you venture into the WEZ you’re going to get spanked, and it cannot carry the latest generation of stand off weapons. In this situation the A-10 has basically become an F-16C Blk 40 circa 1990, and a slow one at that.
If you want to try, you can basically demonstrate this in DCS. Try setting up a multiple tiered SAM umbrella with SA-19s and SA-13s at the front, backed up by SA-15s, with SA-11s supporting from the rear, liberally sprinkle Sborka radars for flavor. Now try attacking targets that are intermixed with the SA-19s. It is maddeningly difficult.
The military defense industry / military industrial complex discussion is a long, bitter, and mind-bogglingly deep subject, and to boot is dangerously close to politics… so I think I’ll refrain from that and instead focus on the more interesting discussion on tactics and doctrine. [quote=“BeachAV8R, post:4, topic:1639”]
Now the S300/400 type threat…yeah, I can see that - but isn’t that why we have the F-35, B-2, and B-1, and cruise missiles for? The F-22 has been around forever now, and what has it done…I guess it’s a deterrent, but it really hasn’t helped us win any of the last two decades of warfare. I guess I’m just not all that impressed with the beating of the war drums that says we are falling behind Russia and China with regards to military might…[/quote]
[quote=“near_blind, post:5, topic:1639”]
Even then, the more pertinent part of this is Russian air defense systems, and while the S-300 and S-400 are definitely dangerous…[/quote]
@near_blind pretty much hit the nail on the head- The A-10 is extremely vulnerable to modern front-line air defenses, which realistically is what it would be going up against. Furthermore, consider that Strela and Igla SAMs had confirmed kills against A-10’s in the Gulf War- that variety of tech was cheap back then, and has only gotten cheaper.
The fact remains that an $80,000 MANPAD presents a very high threat to the A-10, a multi-million dollar aircraft carrying a couple million worth of weapons and targeting systems, not including the pilot who’s had multiple years and millions of dollars worth of training invested in him.
Like near_blind said, there are ways you can minimize your exposure to such weapons which are readily carried out by the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-22, and (soon) F-35, all of which require operating in flight regimes the A-10 cannot reach or carrying weapons the A-10 cannot carry.
This is actually the basis for an extremely interesting or terrifyingly dry conversation on manufacturing, depending on your perspective.
Thirty years believe it or not from an engineering perspective is an eternity- you would hope the equipment and documentation are neatly stored away somewhere, ready for reactivation, but that’s rarely, if ever, the case. The relatively recent shut-down of the F-22’s production line is a good example of what’s involved here: they went through massive pains and spent a lot of money attempting to shut things down as cleanly as possible which included things like interviewing line workers on the nuances and “unwritten notes” of each step and video-taping every process.
I seriously doubt the A-10’s production was taken offline with the same level of care, doubly so now that the original corporation went through two acquisitions after the fact. Technical data and so-called “tribal knowledge” (things like assumptions and standards for a given program) vanishes shockingly fast even within a single company following a shut-down.
EDIT: Whoops! This is actually a great discussion point too: US combat ops for the past decade have been counter-insurgency, so why are we still demanding our entire armed forces are at a level of tech and capability (read: expensive) which can take on another advanced nation instead of being oriented towards fighting the wars we are going to fight?
This goes back to the proliferation and lowering cost of air defense systems, the problem of the $80,000 MANPAD versus the multi-million A-10. The other side of the coin here (no pun intended) is that the attributes which make the A-10 such a successful COIN aircraft can be executed in an even lower cost platform, hence why the AT-6, Scorpion, and T-X are all under consideration.
Good post…and all seems in-line with what you’d face against a full scale war against Russia or China - but we keep getting involved in the Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria type wars where air superiority over the battlefield is never in doubt. The largest slice of the pie right now is going toward counter-terrorism interdiction and close-air support. For the money, I just can’t see how the F-35 is going to economically fill that roll. I’m sure the Air Force is terrified that the Army might continue to chip away at their role with Apache’s and the like, but I get the feeling that the costs of the A-10 are overstated simply because there is no long-chain supply benefits that can be made to generate cash for the companies that have an interest in these things.
Restarting a production line is no doubt a time and money intensive process. So is R&Ding a new platform, developing new technology, and finding out that you are so deep into the program that you’ve reached the point of no return, despite what you are getting. When you see stories of the OV-10 being sent to places to do combat and cheerleaders for the AT-6B and Tucano, you know there is a place in the military for the A-10, and one that I’m not sure that the F-35 will ever fill. There is an endurance and psychological impact (both for the troops it supports, and fear by the enemy) that the A-10 has that I doubt the F-35 will ever possess. I’d argue if you are going to go that route, might as well skip over the F-35 and just start pouring money into the drone that shoots laser beams of death (I’m sure it’s already in testing at DARPA).
Just like Apple though - planned obsolescence is definitely part of the defense industry - as is whipping up the fear (credible or not) that what we have just isn’t going to be good enough now or in ten years.
Shrug - I’m a fan of military technology (obviously), but recognize that many of the procurement decisions are not based on the needs of our military.
This is going to be a long thread…because we won’t find out until 2018…
“The comparison tests on the close-air support mission will reveal how well the F-35 performs and whether there are gaps, or improvements in capability, compared to the A-10,” Gilmore told reporters during an Aug. 27 gathering at the Pentagon. “There are going to be differences, absolutely, in the way the F-35 conducts CAS in comparison to the A-10, and that’s yet another reason to do this comparison test, to understand what those differences mean.” The comparative tests are slated to take place in 2018 during the formal initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase of F-35 development, Gilmore said. The exercises will use the F-35’s final Block 3F software, which provides the jet’s full combat capability, he noted.
My favorite phrase in that article “permissive environment”…LOL…it almost drips from the Lt. General’s lips in my mind…
Actually…the reps and generals use some really IT words: holistic, battlespace, workspace. Oh man…I think the F-35 might get a LinkedIn profile soon!
Yeah, it is insanely complex. I saw a lot of this unfold before I retired so here is the HQ weenie perspective…
The A-10 retirement is going to free up about 800 maintainers that will eventually transition into the F-35 training pipeline or go straight into operational squadrons. With the A-10 still around, there is a shortfall of maintainers to man the F-35 squadrons and maintain all the aircraft. This is happening right now. The choices on this budget cycle are either to retire some A-10s to free up those personnel or to slow F-35 production. The choice for now looks like it is to slow the F-35 production and enable the A-10 units to remain manned.
Even if an A-10 replacement or light recon/attack aircraft materializes right now, we are in the same boat. There is nowhere to pull pilots or maintainers from without a huge gap in capability somewhere else.
You could also argue for pulling maintainers from F-15/16/22 but those units are in even higher demand and are just as stressed from the manning point of view as A-10 or F-35.
The rest is borderline off topic but important when considering why a replacement is/is not needed:
A lot of this also has to do with ISIL popping up when it did. The last job I was hired for was in support of base closures around the mid-east and Afghanistan, to include sending the last of the A-10s home. (Boy, did that change in a hurry.) This was three years ago, pre-ISIL, and ancient history but we were only months away from having zero requirements from any geographic combatant commanders for that specific capability and none foreseen in the near future. That is really what the budget folks were banking on and justification for retiring some older assets including the A-10.
There are really two separate discussions going on; one covering what commanders on the ground need right now and one covering what the AF Chief of Staff needs to sustain the force 10-40 years from now. We don’t hear much about the first one because it trumps everything else and just sort of happens. (i.e. need a couple of OV-10s to play with? here you go…) All we really hear about is the more politicized long term planning that is often just a general direction to go in rather than a specific set of events that must happen on a set timeline.
The bottom line is that the A-10 is not and was never intended to go away as long as the geographic combatant commanders express a requirement for a specific capability and the A-10 is the only platform that can meet their exact intent. Their requirements could change tomorrow or could change 10 years from now but that, contrary to what we often read, is the factor that carries the most weight.
Great perspective bunyap - and that is a good reminder that sometimes geo-politics don’t adhere to our R&D, in-service, and phase-out schedules. I honestly hadn’t thought about how the rapid takeoff of ISIL must have thrown a real wrench into the planning for drawing down. As you say…three years ago the threat wasn’t even recognized as something that would bloom into what it is.
I like this comment in the comments section of the article:
…the A-10 ability to loiter over the battlefield remains unrivaled.
Commentor: B-1B and AC-130 crews might have something to say about that.
I’m guessing the operating cost of the B-1B is quite a bit more than the A-10… I’d love to see one of those neato big format charts that shows the entire inventory and their operating cost per hour (fuel, mx, mx reserves)…
The A-10 is a great platform for these limited assymetric wars, but as already discussed it is old, is not survivable, and is approaching the end of its service life. Part of the issue is that it is going to guard units and getting congressionally mandated(almost) to stay in service, which requires money and time to get pulled from other programs, which throws a wrench as said in the modernization program.
That decision has affected me since I joined up because upgrades for the mudhen have been pushed back so that the a-10 can stay in service
JHMCS for WSO’s , 9X, AESA, Newer jammers, new RWR, better screens, upgrading our computer from a 286 to a 486 and giving it more than 8 Kb of ram, All of these things are nice, and have been to some extent delayed till nobody knows when, partially because funding was cut to support the congressional mandated A-10 save a year or so ago.
Also, A-10s don’t survive in any kind of modern contested environment with double digit SAMs. There are ways for F-15E’s, and F-16’s and F-18’s to mitigate, or even directly target something like an Sa-15, Sa-11, Sa-19, Sa-17, Sa-22, Sa-8, Sa-13. An A-10 is inside their Wez with a missile on the way no matter what ordnance it has best case. And then it cant escape!
There are right now two things the A10 can do that are unable to be done by any other (non rotary) aircraft and they are absolutely perfect for a troops in contact type CAS situation, otherwise, nice to have but not really needed for anything else.
1: High visual SA on the ground fight. Mudhens can do this as well with the Sniper, but the Hog is better at it.
2: Getting good PK on strafe passes with low collateral. The gun on the A-10 is very accurate and very powerful, its great for a danger close situation, or shooting up lightly armored stuff or infantry in the open. Other aircraft can do it, but the A-10 reigns supreme here.
With the proliferation of weapons like SDB’s (mudhens can carry 20 of them ) and the proliferation of Snipers and the like of very good TGPs these characteristics are becoming less and less necessary as fights progress.
About the only role that I think is currently 100% the A-10s and I think is the toughest to give away is Sandy, this is mostly due to the fact that the only community that does that role or trains to that role is the A-10 community. There has been talk of bringing A-10 aircrew over to the mudhen and seeing if they can transition us into that tasking, but I have yet to see it materialize.
I cant think of any other (currently employed) aircraft we have that can do that.
I’m not a subject matter expert in any way and much has already been addressed right here, but a few things I’d like to point out:
The A-10 was intended to work as part of a team. That means people on the ground, other aircraft, etc. Otherwise, there’s no point to assets like J-STARS, AWACS, tankers, and so on. To say that the A-10 is no good because it can’t face off against all these SAM systems by itself is ignoring how wars are fought and won. This is why I don’t understand why the Navy are the only folks with a tactical jamming aircraft nowadays. Money is tight, budgets are cut, I get that - but an F-35 is still pushing it’s luck when we expect it to do the above, same as the A-10. Those SAM systems become far less effective when they’re dealing with jamming, aircraft shooting at them, and stealth, all combined. Take out one element and their effectiveness goes way up. Lest we forget, an F-117 was shot down by an antiquated SAM system not only due to failure of technology, but of planning.
The reason the A-10 keeps sticking around has more to do with it’s reputation as opposed to raw capability. The A-29 could likely do the same tasks asked of the A-10 for cheaper. The gun is effective, but so are a pair of .50s if you’re trying to kill a few folks on the ground. Payload suffers a bit, but you gain a bit in loiter time and an extra dude in the back - which means way more than the payload in my book.
‘Do we need the A-10?’ is really ‘Can we afford to take the risks of not having the A-10?’ The USAF seems to believe that it’s a risk worth taking, as the risk of more fantastic threats materializes and trickles down to the rest of the world, justifying an aircraft like the F-35. Others seem to believe that the fantastic threats are less likely than realistic ones, and opt to retain the A-10. The budget doesn’t allow for both, plus everything else - tankers, upgrades, training, health care, etc. So a hard decision has to be made: retain the A-10 and hope the fantastic threat never materializes (or at least materializes much later), or get rid of the A-10 and be prepared for the fantastic threat while taking the risk presented by realistic threats.
Perhaps the USAF leadership believe that rotary wing platforms can make up the shortfall presented by the lack of a fixed wing CAS entity. Further, rotary wing attack doesn’t come out of their budget, so it’s not really something they care about right now… Unless rotary wing gets advances that threaten fixed wing. Until then, the USAF will have to keep the A-10 per the mandate by Congress, and hope that the fantastic threats stay further in the future.
Personally, as much as I like the A-10, I will admit that it is getting old and there’s no way to get around that. No mobile armored threat in the world can withstand a 500lb LGB smacking onto it from 30,000ft in the sky. I believe that it would be better to operate a number of lower cost aircraft such as the A-29 for the situations needed while retaining the F-35’s fielding schedule. But by the same token, I would prefer the F-35 to have been a R&D aircraft, with the technology developed going into upgrades for previous generation aircraft and the research going into future systems. Further, I would soak up as much institutional knowledge from the A-10 crews as I could; the knowledge ranging from how to perform CAS to FAC operations cannot be lost even if the A-10 goes away.