Lieutenant General Mike Holmes, the U.S. deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, says that the Air Force is looking at the future of the A-10 Warthog. The A-10 is a close-air-support aircraft first flown in 1975.
“My requirements guys are in the process of building the draft requirements document for a follow-on [close air-support] airplane,” Holmes said.
The general was speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association. The Air Force will use that list of requirements to determine what aircraft would best meet its needs. Potentially, it could build an entirely new aircraft, use an existing one or extend the life of the A-10.
The Air Force had intended the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt, nicknamed the Warthog. That project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The fight against ISIS has caused the Pentagon to rethink its plans for the 2017 budget.
The A-10 is the only air-support aircraft the Air Force has that is specifically designed for close combat. It has been used in Afghanistan, Iraq and now, Syria. It is able to fly slow enough that the crew can visually distinguish friendly forces from enemy troops, thereby eliminating friendly fire casualties.
Representative Martha McSally, R-AZ, called the Air Force’s plans “a big victory.”
McSally is a retired Air Force colonel who flew missions in the A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan. She told reporters that she was “glad to see the [Obama] administration recognize the flaws in seeking to eliminate the A-10 before we have a tested, proven replacement.”
“As a result of our advocacy, the Air Force will begin consideration of the follow-on platform to the A-10, including upgrading our current fleet to extend its service life. This is the exact approach for which I have advocated,” said McSally, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
An A-10 can carry up to 8 tons of bombs and missiles and has a 30mm, seven-barrel Gatling gun which can fire depleted uranium bullets at 3,900 rounds per minute.
Holmes stated that part of the requirements determination will be a study of affordability. He said that it will be a key consideration in finding the next generation of close-air-support aircraft.
The F-35 replacement is expected to cost $135 million per plane. The A-10 costs $18.8 million.
Retired naval aviator Cmdr. Chris Harmer told CNN in March that using an F-35 to fly close-air-support against insurgents would be akin to “buying a brand new Rolls Royce to take the garbage to the dump.”
An A-10 costs a third of the expected $45,000 per flight operating costs of the J-35.
The already existing A-29 Super Tucano or the AT-6 Wolverine have been mentioned as possible replacements for the A-10.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently deployed a pair of Vietnam-era OV-10 Bronco turbo prop planes against ISIS to see if they work as well as an F-35.
Holmes cautioned that a final decision is still “a long way off” and that future budgets would determine what the future of the close-air-support aircraft will look like.
However, in the present international environment, there will be a need for such a plane.