Why Congress May Let the Air Force Retire the A-10 by Colin Clark, Breaking Defense
Aside from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the reaction from Capitol Hill to the Air Force plan for retiring the ugly and beloved A-10 has been relatively muted and may remain so. Why would Congress, beloved for going slightly nuts whenever the military tries to retire a ship, aircraft squadron, or anything else that means jobs in their districts or states, not rail against this sweet plane going quietly into the night? They will be replaced at most A-10 bases by F-16s, C-130Js or KC-135s so few or no jobs or money will be lost.
The Air Force has crafted a plan in stark contrast to its efforts last year to trim assets. And the reaction to this one has, so far, been quite muted…
The blood seeped bandage truth of the matter is they don't care. The pilots who fly the A-10 and the mechanics who maintain it care, a lot; but the Air Force as an institution and the generals who run it, they don't care. That is what the bloodless phrase 'the Air Force isn't interested in that mission' actually means, they don't care about the infantry. Infantryman after infantryman could testify as to how vital the A-10 is but the Air Force won't listen because they don't care about infantrymen, not about their lives nor their deaths.
Someone in the Infantry needs to speak up before congress. In my experience of long ago, ground troops in close contact want something overhead that can put bullets/rockets/cannon rounds on the ground in friendlies-close situations. That is what the A10 is all about, no? Even when a soldier is not in direct combat, it's a morale booster to know there is a heavy-hitter aircraft just waiting to take your call. How does that compute in dollars. And in armored warfare I understand the A10 is an excellent tank-killer. If all our other aircraft can do the A10's job just as well as it can, why haven't they been used that way? Using a B1 to do the A10 task? Please!
"Siege of the Haditha Dam:
As operations began, Army Rangers embarked on a mission to protect the Haditha Dam from being destroyed by Iraqi forces. The Rangers expected the operation to last approximately 24 hours. Instead it took them more than 12 days. The dam is a critical source of water and electrical in western Iraq. If the Iraqis succeeded in blowing up the dam, the releasing waters would flood the down-river areas, causing a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
The Rangers expected the dam to be well defended. In preparation for the assault on the dam, fighters assigned to the 410th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) conducted preparatory air strikes against Iraqi forces in the dam’s vicinity. Air support for Special Forces in the battle came from various coalition aircraft including U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation units. However, that battle became one of the more unique operations for the AEW, and in particular, Air National Guard pilots. The 410th was responsible for providing combat search and rescue capability for western and central Iraq. During the month-long air campaign over the western Iraqi desert, the A-10 and F-16 Air Guard pilots assigned to the AEW were involved in countless missions supporting Special Forces teams in need of close air support. The highly experienced Air Guard pilots assigned to the AEW, especially the A-10 pilots, helped insure the successful employment of close air support for friendly forces fighting to retain the Haditha Dam.
Special Operations AH-6s and F-16s from the 410th AEW provided air cover as the Rangers took their convoy to Haditha. During the night of 1 April 2003, with support from the 410th, the Rangers seized the dam, a power station, and a transformer yard while facing light to moderate enemy resistance. Several Iraqis were killed and wounded; others, including 25 civilian workers, were taken prisoner. As daylight broke over the dam, the Rangers began taking increasing enemy fire from the south as well as coordinated attacks at both ends of the dam. Although the Rangers repelled the initial assault, Iraqi counterattacks continued with heavy mortar and artillery shells that rained down on the Rangers. Fortunately, the Rangers had ample air support from the 410th which attacked several mortar positions. Even without the protection of darkness, the Air Guard A-10s attacked numerous enemy positions. At nightfall the Iraqis resumed their attacks against the Rangers, but once again close air supported the U.S. forces. A single bomb obliterated the attackers and shattered every window in the dam complex. Nevertheless, the siege continued for ten more days.
The Rangers on the dam were greatly outnumbered. Nevertheless, the combined efforts of a Forward Air Controller-qualified pilot (FAC), a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) pilot, and observation posts manned by additional Rangers and Air Force enlisted terminal attack controllers (who cleared airborne weapons for release) ensured the Rangers on the dam would not be overrun. That operation reflected the typical attitude held by Air Guard aviators, especially A-10 pilots, who believed that when ground troops needed help, the pilots would remain as long as possible to “lay it on the line more and expose themselves more over the target area.” Even when the Rangers were not taking enemy fire, the A-10s provided cover so the Rangers could catch a few hours of sleep. The 410th fighters also supplied air cover during medical evacuation missions for killed and wounded Rangers.
During the twelfth day of the siege, the outnumbered Rangers continued to face repeated attacks by the enemy force. The Air Guard A-10 and F-16 pilots realized early in the battle that the close air support they provided was the vital element that kept the Iraqi forces at bay, a matter of life and death for the Rangers. In the end the coalition forces prevailed. Military experts believed that without the air support, especially the A-10s, the Rangers would not have won the battle. Not only did the coalition forces secure the Haditha Dam complex, but they seriously reduced the fighting effectiveness of the Iraqi Armored Task Force in the Haditha area."
This is a much more relevant question, and I suspect that the answer is simple: there isn't one. The Air Force has never been interested as an institution in this part of their mission. They'll claim that the F-35 can replace the A-10, just like they claimed in the late '80s that the F-16 could replace the A-10.
And the initial question also misses something...what modern a/c can survive a solid AAA hit? Fly-by-wire stuff (in other words every modern fighter) is pretty fragile, and AAA will remain a threat. The AF will likely prove reluctant to risk more expensive aircraft in such an environment, leaving the ground pounders on their own.