Sunday, March 14, 2010

Delivering close-air support - U.S. needs aircraft to replace the A-10

By Robert F. Dorr - Special to Air Force Times

Close-air support — the job of delivering ordnance to support ground troops — is a mission that the Air Force needs to relearn.

Proof is the service's lack of a realistic plan to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which it stopped buying 26 years ago. There are only 325 Warthogs still on duty, fewer than half of the 715 purchased from 1972 to 1984.

Today, in the combat zones, aircrews are dropping satellite-guided munitions from the F-15E Strike Eagle and B-1B Lancer, flying at high altitudes.

These airmen are saving lives, but they can't possibly meet the expectation set for them because of the pinpoint accuracy of their munitions. They cannot blow up the enemy without any collateral damage.

Given the nature of the wars, U.S. strategic goals suffer — big time — when even a few innocent civilians die. Responding to bad publicity over civilian deaths, the brass in Afghanistan have stiffened the rules of engagement, so troops in contact sometimes don't get air support at all.

The answer is a low-level close-air support capability that puts a combat pilot eyeball-to-eyeball with the foe. To be more specific, the Air Force needs either more A-10s or to come up with an alternative.

One aircraft that isn't a viable replacement is the troubled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter — "unless you entertain the delusion that bombing map coordinates from 20,000 feet is close-air support," said analyst Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information.

The A-10 and its 30mm GAU-8/A cannon are unbeatable.

"Nowadays, with the technology we've got, you can roll in, put the gun pipper on the target and squeeze the trigger on the grip of the stick," said Lt. Col. Ryan Odneal, commander of the Idaho National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron. "You're going to hit him and pull off the target before he can do anything about you."

Capt. Jeff Sliwoski, another A-10 pilot with the 190th squadron, is a former special operations soldier, a Green Beret combat veteran. The physical sight of an A-10 overhead "has an instant effect on the battlefield," he said. Using the sudden appearance of a warplane to disrupt an enemy is a key tactic that can't be performed from 20,000 feet.

Since the F-35 is unproven, over budget, behind schedule, and isn't expected to be very good at air-to-air combat either, the Air Force should dump it. U.S. air-to-air needs can be handled by adding more F-22 Raptors.

Close-air support needs can be bolstered in the short term by bringing more A-10s back from the boneyard — expensive and difficult but necessary. In the long run, the U.S. needs an aircraft tailored to replace the A-10. It must be a new aircraft, designed to provide close-air support at low altitude, day and night.

The B-1B and F-15E have other work to do.


Robert F. Dorr is an Air Force veteran in Oakton, Va. His latest book is "Hell Hawks," a history of an American fighter group in World War II. His e-mail address is


Note: I just found this by trying Google News for A-10 Thunderbolt II. And Google News found this six hours ago. It's published by Air Force Times, but not as one of their news. It's published as an opinion on their community section.

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