Friday, January 22, 2016

US Air Strategy: Did They think This Through? (Update: Warthog Saved till 2022)

CNN is running an article that says Daesh may have saved the A-10 "Warthog" close-air support (CAS) craft, which flies at slow speed and can linger over battlefields to deliver precision fire on targets too close to friendly forces to employ artillery or guided bombs (e.g., within twenty meters).  For the uninitiated, the A-10 is essentially a Gatling-style cannon with stubby wings, capable of shooting through tanks with depleted-uranium rounds with which it can strafe at 65 rounds per second.  It has a reputation for being extremely resilient to enemy fire (can return to base having lost an engine, or having lost half a wing), and pilots have used its resilience to advantage by, for example, intentionally attracting enemy fire to protect embattled ground forces.  The Warthog protects its pilot with a 1200-pound titanium-armored cockpit, which reduces pilot risk while operating (if needed) below 1,000 feet in altitude – below cloud cover in foul weather or into the teeth of small arms fire, places where other craft tasked with CAS could not or would not venture but Warthogs did.  Defense One reported the Air Force had not planned requesting funds to operate A-10 units when it presented its 2017 to Congress in February of 2016.

The A-10's close-air-support won't even be tested until 2018.  One wonders how the Air Force planned providing CAS between 2016 (when A-10 money would have run out) and 2018 (when the Air Force first learned what further help the F-35 would need to accomplish the CAS mission) before it suddenly noticed ground forces remained in danger from active hostiles. Does Air Force budget brass care if ground forces survive what they prefer to send as a CAS substitute for the proven A-10?

UPDATE: The first week in February, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed the Air Force would continue to fly, and week funding for, the A-10 "Warthog" for another six years until 2022.

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