November 20, 2018

Did the 2018 Election Kill the Warthog?

With McSally defeated, the Air Force’s A-10 has lost is best advocate in Congress.

Lost in the 2018 midterms that have increasingly looked like a loss for conservatives was the fact that our troops may have taken a hit on Capitol Hill. In the election for the Senate seat in Arizona once held by Jeff Flake, former Air Force fighter pilot Martha McSally lost to Kyrsten Simena.

McSally was perhaps the biggest advocate in Congress for the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support plane. This plane has never really been a favorite of Air Force brass. But the A-10 earned its reputation as the best close-air support plane in history during Desert Storm and the War on Terror. Recently, it has been upgraded to carry Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Yet plans call for the A-10 to be replaced by the F-35. While the F-35 is a good multi-role fighter, it can’t do what the A-10 does as well as the A-10 does it. Nor can the OA-X Program.

Furthermore, when it comes to deterring Russian intervention, the A-10 can help American and NATO troops hold the line, and the pilots have been training to do so. This plane was designed to take out hordes of Russian tanks coming through the Fulda Gap (and elsewhere in Europe), and the souring of relations with Russia over the last decade makes having this capability important. The failure of many NATO countries to maintain their military forces places even more reliance on the Warthog, especially when bad biofuels ground combat jets.

Ultimately, the price will be paid by the grunts on the field. While the GAU-8, a 30mm Gatling gun, is what the A-10 is most famous for, it is also capable of carrying a lot of bombs. These could be the latest JDAMS, cluster bombs or napalm. In any event, the A-10 carries a lot, and can get up-close and personal. Remember the photos of the plane that then-Captain Kim Campbell brought back during the liberation of Iraq? Let’s see a pilot try that with the F-35.

At present, according to Flight Global, the Air Force has all 287 A-10s in active service. So, it is needed and used. We know planes can’t fly forever, but given that American forces depend on this plane, and the proposed replacements are coming up short in key aspects, the fact of the matter is that the only replacement for the A-10 will be another A-10.

Sadly, with McSally out of office, and incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith planning cuts in defense spending, “oversight,” and seeking to undo efforts by Secretary of Defense James Mattis to restore readiness for real war, the A-10 could be on the chopping block when perhaps production of this valuable plane should be restarted. It may fall to “We the People” to demand that Congress provide the funds to restart production instead of deciding to stick the troops with more belt-tightening, especially when unit readiness is already suffering.

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