Commentary: The A-10 Needs To Go | Defense News | defensenews.com

The US Air Force is correct in trying to kill the A-10 fleet. It is an archaic vestige reflecting a technology, and a style of warfare, that is outdated by a generation.

It fulfilled the purpose for which it was procured: Killing the Army’s AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter program. As a secondary purpose, it has served reasonably well as an interdiction, combat-search-and-rescue (CSAR), escort and close-air support (CAS) platform. Befitting its unique role and visage, it is surrounded by rumors and myths. These myths need to be dispelled so the US Air Force can do the right thing for the nation, its taxpayers and the infantryman on the ground.

Myth No 1: The A-10 is the best aircraft at CAS. The A-10 is in fifth place, at best. The king of CAS is the AC-130. The attributes listed as critical to effective CAS platforms are lethality and loiter. The AC-130 has the competition beat by a country mile. The AC-130 has a 105mm cannon, dual 40mm rapid firing cannons and a 25mm machine gun capable of over 2,500 rounds per minute. It can fly for hours, has pinpoint accuracy and is able to self-target. Unlike the A-10, there is no need for airmen on the ground to control it. Any infantryman asked to pick a support aircraft would choose the AC-130. Incredibly, the AC-130 is normally available only to special operations troops for reasons that remain a deadly mystery to conventional forces.

The A-10 is lauded for its firepower. Firepower is only relevant, however, if it is lethal. The mighty 30mm cannon on the A-10 was designed to kill Soviet armor, not men. The 30mm is surprisingly ineffective against dismounted enemies. The 25mm on the AC-130 is more effective against all but the stoutest armor.

The A-10 was also designed to take advantage of the revolutionary AGM-65 Maverick missile. Today, however, this missile is only one of a myriad of precision weapons available on virtually all combat aircraft. As long as the infantryman knows the location of the enemy, a wide array of ground and air weapons can destroy them. The runners up to the AC-130 in the CAS competition, the Kiowa, Apache, and Cobra attack helicopters, all have guided missiles.

via Commentary: The A-10 Needs To Go | Defense News | defensenews.com.

Note that this rather controversial position is staked out not by the Air Force, but by a National Guard Infantryman.

I can explain why AC-130s usually support SOF forces. Because they’re incredibly expensive planes, and there just aren’t a lot of them. And SOF forces are incredibly fragile. As badass as they are, they’re still mortal. And when they need firepower, they need a lot, right then. This need for on call dedicated assets means AC-130s can’t really be tasked for general support of other forces. Whether that’s the best way to do business is an open question. But that is the way things are now.

As to LTC Darling’s other points (read the whole thing, it’s quick) it falls in line with our repeated argument that the A-10 in CAS is not so much being replaced by the F-35 as it is by precision guided munitions.

He also has a good point on the antiquated method of terminal control. I’d like to hear from my fire support and maneuver guys what they think about that, and the pros and cons of updating how we do terminal control of CAS.

12 thoughts on “Commentary: The A-10 Needs To Go | Defense News | defensenews.com”

  1. The A-10 is, hands down, the best platform for RESCORT (ie. the “Sandy” mission) that has ever flown. Believe me, I’ve worked with them all as an MH-53J/M flight lead. A-10s, F-18s, F-16s, AV-8Bs, even AH-1Ws and AH-64s. A-10s are the kings of that mission, they have the perfect balance of traits needed to escort helicopters into and out of hostile airspace.

    And as much as I enjoyed working with AC-130s, they ain’t perfect when it comes to CAS. For one thing, they are night time only, full stop. I was the SOF planner in 2004 at the CAOC in Qatar that had to explain to Big Army why we were not going to fly AC-130s over Fallujah at 10,000 feet in broad fucking daylight. They complained, of course, but finally backed off when they realized that every A-10, AH-64, F-18 and AH-6 within a 1000 miles was at their disposal during daylight. AC-130s also require permissive environments to work in (ie. no MANPADS or AAA), something that the 1st Gulf War should have settled (we lost an AC-130 to an SA-7), but hey, that was ancient history, right? This light colonel reminds me of the ground planners I butted heads with back in the CAOC, and not in a good way….

  2. Holy Moley…where to begin. I’m going to plug the veteran owner of Antioch Liquor here in Overland Park, KS into this as he’s a former F-16 & A-10 stick and he loves his days as an A-10 jock. There is no way I’d put any rotor winged A/C ahead of an A-10 just because of rotor survivability factors…there’s more but enough for that (and SFC Dunlap loves him some hela-ma-copters being an old grunt). Think Cobras are up to it LTC Darling then you should check your attrition rates from the 1970 incursion into Cambodia. Absolutely don’t get the 25 mm goes better than 30 mm on dismounted…by any stretch. I have to wonder if this was the “Light Colonels” graduation paper from C&GS and somebody’s told him far too much what a brilliant darling he is there in the AKARNG. I’ve got no issues with opinions and I hold his to be very red and nasty. No Infantryman I know, given the choice of a “5 minutes away” A-10 or a tube artillery battery would prefer the latter (and SFC Dunlap loves himself some 105 mm/155 mm indirect). If nothing else the question of whether the A-10 stick can see/look for what you want blown to the next plane of existence becomes mute. Bombers won’t see, rotor heads won’t (quickly enough), as they’re low and slow. Lastly I’m putting my money on an A-10 when it comes to self defense…rotors, bombers, fast movers, and not Specters. Now I must consume alcohol as I’m feeling very emotional now.

    1. No Infantryman I know, given the choice of a “5 minutes away” A-10 or a tube artillery battery would prefer the latter

      I would think Infantry would love artillery more than aircraft…
      – owned and controlled by the Army (maybe even by your own unit)
      – available 24/7 in all weather (great “loiter” time!)
      – in most cases, much higher volume of fire available sooner
      – enemy can’t shoot down incoming rounds
      – doesn’t need air superiority

  3. Strike the fast movers part if you please…I was rolling too fast, of course they can defend themselves.

  4. The key issue ignored here is Survivability, specifically platform vulnerability reduction. CAS requires the delivery of accurate munitions up to, and at times inside, Danger Close limitations. Without GPS, the absolute easiest signal to jam, all the F35s in the world aren’t going to protect anyone from anything. If that F35 has to go into small arms range of the ground to visually separate the good guys from the bad guys and deliver eyeball guided munitions they are probably going to take hits. You cant go faster than a bullet. Without balistic protection they will be damaged and possibly shot down. Ask about the history of the F105 in Vietnam Nam. Great aircraft, Mach 1+ on the deck back in the 1950s, but half of the Thuds ever built are in North Vietnam right now- shot down. Why, because they were designed to drop nuclear weapons not dual with 37mm anti-aircraft guns. The Air Force, somebody, needs a fixed wing, survivable, CAS aircraft. Helos don’t have the loiter time, maybe in 2040, but not yet. Oh and the comment about the A-10 GAU-8 30mm not being useful against troops is hysterical. Two flying machines worry the Taliban, Apaches and A-10s. The issue is the USAF can have only so many aircraft and they want more fighters.

  5. GPS ain’t gonna replace CAS. It’s too vulnerable. The F-35 ain’t gonna replace the Hog either. It’s too vulnerable. What will kill CAS is missiles and MANPADS particularly.

  6. A good battery can’t get post “splash” rounds impacting within 5 minutes, the layering of comms prevents that, then there’s the cutting of charge(s), first round out, adjusting and then fire for effect. No way tube artillery can do all that in a no-s@$t-five minute period. I’m talking a no kidding 5 minutes, no swedge straight up 5 minutes. To be honest 60 mm’s would be first as they are (to your point), organic and with the 60’s case at the company level.

    1. My guess would be that an A-10 is not normally “5 minutes away”…

      I’d be interested to see stats for various wars on average time to get an air support request answered versus average time to get requests for battalion / division / corps artillery support answered.

    2. “In about 1970 a US review team visited Vietnam and found US batteries generally took about five minutes from receiving a call for fire to firing the first round… They then visited the Australian and New Zealand batteries using British procedures, they had plotters, used full prediction, had gun rules for their 105-mm M2A2, and found them never taking more than 90 seconds to be ready to adjust fire, usually delayed by the need for air clearances… And in March 2003 a UK battery in Iraq reported taking 45 seconds from receiving a call for fire to the ‘splash’ of the adjusting shell, but a more interesting and historically consistent comparison was at Al Nasiriyah. A UK 105-mm battery under control of a US marine’s FDC was reporting ‘battery ready’ on average 1.75 minutes after the call for fire, the US 155-mm batteries were averaging 8 minutes.” (http://nigelef.tripod.com/maindoc.htm#OPERATIONAL%20METHODS)

    3. ” US batteries generally took about five minutes from receiving a call for fire to firing the first round…”

      I am a bit baffled by this. I only did FDC for mortars, but 5 minutes is a loooong time to calculate range and deflection and get a round out of the tube. Perhaps it is because they needed to clear their targets with BN or BDE HQs or the local Vietnamese authorities, which could take quite a while if you were not in a free fire zone.

  7. I concede your point Tarl…if I called & got an A-10 in 5 minutes twice in one year I’d be writing family to immediately go buy lottery tickets! Canuckistan is to be thanked for his wealth of information provided this subject. The skills of Kiwi Arty is legendary going back at least to Korea and that if British Army, Aussie, and Kiwi have such a short response time then I think they need to be “sharing.” BTW I read just his morning that the House Armed Services Committee (by a 60-2 vote) passed the Defense Measure in part which mandates the USAF retain the A-10!

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