Small Wars Journal

General Welsh Criticizes A-10 Supporters, F-35 Critics

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 9:34am

General Welsh Criticizes A-10 Supporters, F-35 Critics by Stew Magnuson, National Defense Magazine

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh has heard one too many times that his service doesn't care about close-air support missions.

"Really? I'm kind of tired of hearing that," he said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association conference.

The Air Force has averaged about 20,000 CAS sorties per year for the last seven years. "At what point do we get a little bit of acknowledgement for that?" Noting that airmen who require protection serve on the ground, as well as his own son who is a Marine Corps infantry officer, Welsh characterized the notion that the Air Force puts a low priority on close-air support as "silly."

He has answered those who have told him to his face that the Air Force doesn't care about CAS by taking out his phone and showing them a picture of his son.

His comments come during a public debate over the retirement of the A-10 Warthog, a Cold War era aircraft that the service wants to retire to make way for the F-35 joint strike fighter. Congress so far is not allowing that to happen. While he did not wade into the specifics of the arguments, he ran a short video of a former A-10 pilot who is now putting the F-35 through close-air support test and evaluation…

Read on.



Sun, 09/20/2015 - 12:42am

The Air Force does not like the CAS mission, they think the Army needs an Artillery Division to do the job instead of using planes as flying artillery pieces. The best solution is to let the A-10 wings be transferred to the Army and Marines.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 09/19/2015 - 6:54am

Ok, guys, we are talking the A-10, not the OV-10. The A-10 was not introduced until after the Vietnam war was over, and was designed to destroy tanks in the face of Soviet air defense systems in Europe.

It would not likely be used to fly a mission from the Philippines to the Taiwan straits; and it is equally unlikely that the computer generated fantasy of two F-35s having such an easy day against the Chinese in the midst of a full blown invasion of Taiwan.

The truth is the Air Force is all in on this gamble, and I hope they have the cards they think they do when a major opponent calls.


Fri, 09/18/2015 - 12:08pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

That question is as irrelevant as the defendant's lunch choice. Would you have the Army Chief of Staff cede to the Air Force the choice on what armored vehicles they'd like the Army to use to defend airbases? Are Vietnam-era stories of A-1s howling in low enough to count rivets relevant to a combat environment where low-altitude air defenses are both denser and more lethal than they were 50 years ago? The real question is: "Can the Air Force show how they will deliver effective close air support under all conditions without the A-10?" The CSAF will tell you that the Air Force is using a variety of aircraft to conduct CAS, and as far as any data show, effectively. Argue that point if you will -- it's the only one that matters.

The A-10 was designed during a period in which weapons for effective CAS weren't much different from those in 1945 -- eyeball-aimed guns, rockets, and bombs. That meant 1945-era tactics, too, so the A-10 was designed with an expectation it would be hit by ground fire. But an aircraft -- even the A-10 -- isn't a tank. When it's hit, it doesn't keep fighting; it goes home before it stops flying. From the trenches, it doesn't matter if it's damaged or shot down -- it's no longer available to provide CAS. And even for A-10s -- an aircraft designed to be hit and rapidly repaired -- anything beyond a couple of minor flak holes takes at several days to fix (based on Desert Storm data), during which it's not providing CAS, either.

If there were no alternatives to flying low and slow through increasingly dense anti-aircraft and missile fire, then so be it. But the combination of relatively cheap and accurate guided weapons, better fire control systems, and better tools for joint terminal attack controllers/forward air controllers means we can do better, using more and different aircraft to provide more rapid response under a wider array of conditions, not the least of which is providing more options than low-and-slow. Weather, communications, a shortage of JTACs, distance to targets, and the factor everyone loves to hate, prioritization (normally determined by the joint force commander or the joint land force commander), conspire against perfection. But assertions that the Air Force doesn't take CAS seriously simply because it doesn't renew a 30-year-old aircraft designed around 60-year-old weapons and tactics is both laughable and a distraction from real discussions about improving CAS effectiveness.

Move Forward

Fri, 09/18/2015 - 8:24am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ, General Welsh is merely speaking truth to naysayers who deny or refuse to learn about/acknowledge current and future threats and F-35 capabilities. The following scenarios are based on fictional speculation with no access to actual past or present OPLANs:

1) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from small airfields in the south Philippines and Japan making it to the Taiwan Straits to engage landing craft approaching the shore from 20-40 miles away using gliding small diameter bomb II (SDBII). A-10s using a far larger airfield targeted by PLA missiles, take twice as long to reach Taiwan at 300 knots. They cannot launch SDBII from as far due to much lower speed and altitude attempting to fly under PLAAF aircraft and long range mainland S-400s. They cannot fly low to perform line-of-sight gun runs without being downed by PLAN air defenses.

2) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from an amphibious ship well off Syria’s shore and bypass Russian/Syrian air defenses en route to Syrian ISIL targets. Turkey has pulled our airspace access when we set up coalition FOBs inside Syrian Kurd territory. A-10s attempt the same thing flying from Italy and are shot down by Russian or Syrian radar air defenses or fighter jets. Alternately, they require F-22 escorts tripling the flight hour expense. USAF Reapers flying over ISIL targets provide grid coordinates and laser designation for F-35B bombs.

3) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from small airfields and amphibious ships off Korea to support DMZ close air support. At the DMZ their advanced IR systems allow combat ID of friend and foe from altitude to include numerous DPRK artillery positions. A-10s that survive earlier missile attacks on the ground in Japan and Korea require an hour to reach CAS targets compared to minutes for the F-35. DPRK AAA shoots down many A-10s but cannot reach the medium altitude and standoff of F-35Bs launching SDBII.

4) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from small airfields in East Europe and from amphibious ships in the Mediterranean off Turkey en route to Baltic NATO state being invaded by separatist and Russian elements. F-35Bs support allies and coalition ground forces and survive highly advanced Russian air defenses. They also avoid Iskander missile targeting through small airfield standoff and frequent location changes. Russian Su-35s are downed from afar by F-35B AIM-120D missiles that earlier had shot down low-flying A-10s. F-35s also target air defenses that shot down other A-10s and 4th generation fighters.

5) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from amphibious ships well offshore from Iran and close rapidly on the coast where a Marine amphibious invasion is occurring in Baloch territory of South coastal Iran. The intent is then to fight north up the coast to seize the Iranian side of the Straits of Hormuz. The Marine Lightnings take out coastal air defenses and anti-ship missiles and destroy any small boats venturing out from the shore. They destroy coastal ground forces with bombs and also penetrate deeper to protect SOF forces farther inland watching for IRGC ground reinforcements that promptly are eliminated by F-35s. The advanced IR sensors on the F-35 also assist identification and destruction of Iranian missile launch locations. A-10s could not provide CAS without risking targeting on the ground in Saudi Arabia or destruction by Russian radar air defenses sold to Iran.

6) Pairs of F-35Bs launch from amphibious ships off Pakistan en route to Afghanistan to support Afghan security forces involved in a major battle with massed Taliban/ISIL forces near Kandahar. With our complete withdrawal in 2016, Pakistan had withdrawn overflight rights (as they could of if we had left Afghanistan prematurely in 2002) so stealthy overflight was required to avoid Pakistan air defenses and fighter jet attacks. A-10s could not reach Afghanistan from the sea (no base) or Kandahar very rapidly at 300 knots if taking off from northwest “stan” countries.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 1:42pm

General Welch,

The question not asked and not answered: "Sir, would your son prefer to receive close air support from an F-35 or an A-10?"

This reminds me of a driving under the influence case I tried long ago. The defendant had blown a .12, and was literally hanging out of the window of his car throwing up as the police pulled him over. In trial his attorney paraded his lovely wife and family before the jury; brought in his respected boss and showed photos of the magnificent river barges they manufactured; and even told a tale of how he had foolishly ordered a tuna melt sandwich the night of the incident at the shady strip club where he had "a couple of beers" with his boss and co-workers.

In closing argument I sent the jury to deliberate with a smile on their faces as I wrapped up with, "bad tuna may have made the defendant blow chunks - but it didn't make him blow a point 12."

Like the defendant in my tale, I don't think General Welch has much choice but to attempt to distract the American jury from the facts of the case, with warm stories and irrelevant facts. I just hope he is right, as our national security depends upon it. My guy was simply trying to avoid an ugly reality through lies, denies, and misdirection. That is the right of every American in a court of law, but it is not a right that is extended to our public officials.