Will the A-10 Be Shot Down?

The Air Force is looking to trim older platforms (that’s airplanes to you and me) from its inventory to free up money to operate and maintain the rest of its fleet. We wrote briefly a couple days ago that the KC-10 was among the platforms being considered. Heck, the Air Force is even looking at retiring the F-15C fleet. But no proposal will generate more howls of outrage among the public and especially among the ground pounders than the thought of retiring the A-10 Warthog fleet.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As an old Warthog pilot, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III spoke in near mournful tones Wednesday of the likely mothballing of the venerable A-10 close air support aircraft and tank killer.

“Can we save the A-10?” was the question from the audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference here.

Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, came at the question in roundabout fashion. He loved flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, better known as the “Warthog,” Clarke said. He noted that the plane was “near and dear to land warriors” for its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm rotary cannon that is the heaviest such weapon mounted on an aircraft.

But the Air Force was “looking at reducing single mission aircraft,” Clarke said, and under the sequestration process “we’re not getting any more money – that option is out.”

The Air Force “has to have a fifth generation force out there” of stealthy, fast and maneuverable aircraft, and the low and slow A-10 just didn’t fit in, Clarke said.

“We’re on board with moving towards Air Force 2023,” the concept for the future of the force which has no room for the A-10, Clarke said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, also declared his affection for the A-10, which happens to be an aircraft he has 1,000 hours flying.

“I love that old ugly thing,” Welsh said.

However, the chief of staff explained the service has to take part in finding over a trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget over the next ten years because of sequestration. In this budget environment, he said the Air Force will likely be unable to afford the Warthog.

http://blastcache.com/files/2012/08/A-10_firing_AGM-65.jpeg

I think this is pretty dumb. The Air Force just spend a ton of money on refurbishing most of the active Warthog fleet to extend their service lives and make them capable of employing modern smart weapons.

But I can also see why the Air Force thinks this is a viable option. And a large part of it is the existence of those smart weapons.  When the A-10 was conceived and bought almost 40 years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of smart weapons, and the few that existed were hideously expensive.  Most Close Air Support missions would rely on old fashioned dumb bombs and cluster munitions (and yes, of course, the gun).  To be at all accurate, you had to get down in the weeds, which suited the A-10 just fine. Other jets, such as the F-4? Not so much.

Fast forward to today, and virtually no CAS missions are flown that don’t employ a precision guided weapon, most commonly the JDAM GPS guided bomb. With JDAM and similar weapons, there’s no real need to get close. The pilot doesn’t have to see the target. He simply has to have the coordinates, plug it into the bomb, and he’s reasonably assured a direct hit. That’s something other jets like the F-16, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and soon the F-35 are more than capable of doing. And have been doing for some time now. Heck, the B-1B has been doing it over Afghanistan for years now, and is a popular weapons because of its huge payload and good endurance.

Further, we’ve had the luxury in the wars of the past decade of almost total air dominance, with virtually no enemy air defense capability. But the Air Force knows this will not always be the case. The proliferation of modern MANPADS short range air defense missiles will make future COIN battlefields hazardous to low flying aircraft.  Syrian rebels have had some success against Assad forces, downing both helicopters and jets.  So using a high altitude jet flying above MANPADS range with some standoff capability via JDAM or other weapons makes a lot of sense.  Conversely, a lot of the CAS capability, ISR capability, and long loiter time ground commanders ask for can be provided by assets like the MQ-9 Reaper. And if a Reaper is shot down, you don’t have to go rescue the pilot. And should a more conventional war break out, the A-10 would be at even greater disadvantage against a wider array of air defense systems.

So while I think retiring the A-10 would be a bad idea, I don’t think it is an indefensible one.

But I know I’m gonna need earplugs for the howls of outrage about to come.

US Army Leaders Give Subordinates Just Weeks to Cut Staffs, Budgets by 25 Percent

The Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff have given their staffs just weeks — until Sept. 11 — to report back with “a comprehensive set of recommendations” as to where the service can make 25 percent cuts in funding and manning levels at all Army headquarters elements at the 2-star level and above.

The “2013 Army Focus Area Review Group” plan was spelled out in an August 14 Army document obtained by Defense News.

In some of the strongest language yet about how seriously Army leadership is taking the cuts, the memo bluntly says that “Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity

to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities.”

The Group is being led by Deputy Undersecretary of the Army Thomas Hawley and head of Army’s Office of Business Transformation Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr. The memo states that the group will have seven “Focus Area” teams, each tasked with developing “bold executable recommendations which will be used to balance the already directed reductions” in the budget projections from 2015-2019. The initial focus areas are:

■ Institutional Headquarters Reductions

■ Operational Headquarters Reductions

■ Operational Force Structure and Ramps

■ Readiness

■ Acquisition Work Force

■ Installation Services and Investments

■ Army C31 [sic] and Cyber

via US Army Leaders Give Subordinates Just Weeks to Cut Staffs, Budgets by 25 Percent | Defense News | defensenews.com.

I think the very first thing I’d do is close anything named even remotely like Office of Business Transformation and get rid of that 3-star slot.

On the institutional side, we’ve already seen the Armor Center and the Infantry Center consolidated to the Maneuver Center. I can think of some other arms and services that might consolidate as well.

The Conservative Wahoo: Why the GOP is Sticking to Its Guns on Sequestration

Former George W. Bush speechwriter and current slightly-right-of-center pundit/gadfly David Frum posted a Tweet a few hours ago that referenced his article “American Hawks: Behaving Badly” in Canada’s National Post. It caught my attention, as I have recently been deluged by questions from those on the left of the seeming hypocrisy of the GOP, claiming to be pro-defense while at the same time participating in a process that will so clearly weaken the military. Seeing David Frum pick up this line of argument is not surprising to me, as he appears these days to make his bread from a continuous string of articles and appearances that can best be summed up as saying “Republicans would be much better off if they thought and acted like Democrats”.

That said, Frum (and others) raises a good point, one that has to be addressed. Why would GOP legislators be prepared to allow the sequester to continue and accelerate the ongoing hollowing of the U.S. military?

via The Conservative Wahoo: Why the GOP is Sticking to Its Guns on Sequestration.

I had planned on writing about sequestration and its impact on the DoD last night, but as it turns out, Bryan McGrath has already done that for me.

A few thoughts on the implementation. If you didn’t notice, one of the major concerns about sequestration has been that between it, and the fact that DoD is operating under a Continuing Resolution, DoD has virtually no authority to shift funds from one account to another.

This is by design. The sequestration was a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff. As such, both sides strove to impose political costs on the other should sequestration actually come to pass. The GOP strove to minimize any possible loopholes that would render it toothless. The Democratic party strove to  make any cuts to budgets as painful to GOP interests as possible. Fully half of the sequestration cuts come from DoD, which the Dems figured the hawkish GOP would move heaven and earth to avoid, lest they be called soft on defense.

Having said that, there was some discretion in how the cuts were to be made.  While the sequester law calls for across the board cuts among all DoD accounts, it also allows the President to exempt certain accounts, provided the dollar amount exempted is made up elsewhere. For instance, the funding for personnel was, by law, to be cut by the same amount as any other. The President, however, has already signaled to Congress that he has exempted that account (otherwise, troops would either have to be summarily discharged, or go without pay). This was expected. But that dollar amount has to come from somewhere. With most of the procurement and R&D budgets already obligated during the first half of the Fiscal Year, virtually the only accounts left to raid were the various Operations and Maintenance accounts.  These are big accounts, larger than the R&D and procurement budgets, th0ugh smaller than the personnel accounts.

Worse yet, DoD, via the White House, ordered the services to assume that sequester would not be implemented. Modest savings that might have been made in the first half of the year were not to be had.

In the short term, the effects will be awful. As Esli noted, his battalion simply won’t be able to roll any tracked vehicles for the rest of the year. No training above the squad level will take place.  Having just finished a rotation at the National Training Center, the highly perishable skills they have will quickly atrophy. And indeed, the frustrations of many of the best and brightest will cause them to leave the service, in spite of the daunting civilian job market.

Worse, short term savings tend to have long term costs. The disruptions in depot level maintenance for major systems will mean the lifetimes of several platforms will be shortened. Replacement costs for those platforms will have to be paid sooner rather than later.

But as Bryan notes, for all the doom and gloom, it’s not the end of the world. The immediate impact this year is bad, but next year won’t be quite as bad.

Further, and more importantly, the GOP (and I!) see the explosive growth in government as the true threat to the United States. Our federal spending is 40% higher than it was in 2007.  Do you really feel like you’re getting 40% better government?  The effective taxation rate is currently running at about 25%, which is above the long term historical average of 20%, and history suggests it cannot long remain that high. Borrowing to fund this massive increase in government cannot go on forever.

Americans have always asked its servicemen and women to make great sacrifices in the defense of our nation. And this is one more. And it may be the most important one yet.

Because if we can’t get our obscene addiction to spending under control, there soon won’t be a Republic worth defending.