Well, the United States Air Force’s campaign to divest itself of the A-10 has taken another step forward. On Tuesday the USAF’s Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr., announced that the service would likely retire all of the A-10s in service by 2029.
This will no doubt upset a lot of folks out there watching, and likely some in Congress too, as that body has consistently blocked attempts by the USAF to divest themselves of their dedicated ground pounder over the last few years. But now it seems that the battle for the A-10, nicknamed the “Warthog”, may finally be drawing to a close.
The A-10 was designed in the light of experience from the Vietnam War, entering service in 1977. A low-level, heavily armed specialist ground attacker, the A-10 evolved primarily to be a tank killer for going up against hordes of Soviet armoured forces in the event of the Cold War in Europe going “hot”. In fact, the aircraft never got to see use in this role but did see combat in the Gulf War and then in the post-9/11 campaigns.
Despite having been a critical air asset in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria where it provided low-level air support to American soldiers and their allies on countless occasions, the USAF has long viewed the A-10 as a bit of a one-trick pony and wants to invest resources spent on it on other multipurpose aircraft, principally the F-35.
Its extensive combat record has made it a firm favorite with soldiers across the world, and I count myself in that number, but the age of the A-10, despite expensive overhauls, does mean the aircraft is flying on borrowed time. Additionally, while the A-10 will always be a legend for its combat service in the afore-mentioned conflicts, the USAF has grave doubts about its ability to operate effectively in the high-risk scenarios it is currently contemplating against technologically advanced potential opponents such as China and Iran.
In fact, it is entirely likely that the current conflict in Ukraine has provided further evidence to the USAF of the dangers posed for ground support aircraft, with losses to both sides air forces in the face of extensive anti-aircraft defences proving a major impediment to the effectiveness of air support in the conflict. In fact, it is possible that the USAF might offer the A-10s to Ukraine, an option that has been mooted for several months now, and gives the service a bit of a convenient way to dispense of the aircraft in a useful manner, though again the actual ability of the Warthogs to operate in such a high-risk area and be able to do anything worthwhile without suffering disproportionate loss is open to debate.
This attitude was summed up by General Brown when he stated that:
“The A-10 is a great airplane…in an uncontested environment. The challenge is, we’re going to be in more contested environments in the future.”
He also added that, quite simply, at the moment the various regional Air Commands were not requesting A-10s be supplied for usage, instead requiring other aircraft with multirole capability. And that makes the A-10, in the current climate, an extravagant expense.
Now, the USAF has infamously had a checkered relationship with their A-10 fleet, and have sort to divest themselves of the type for a while, as I have reported on previously. But now, it really looks like 2029 will see the final Tankbusters sent to the bone yards.