America’s ancient but venerable flying tank, the A-10 Warthog, is on the budgetary chopping block. Congress is fighting to keep it flying, and has laid out exactly what they want to see out of any potential replacement jet.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (H.R. 1735) proposed by House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry proposes that the A-10 be protected from retirement until the end of 2016, with $682.7 million allocated to its continued upkeep and upgrading.
Addressing the criteria for a replacement aircraft, H.R. 1735 details specifically what standards such a plane would be measured against. The exact language in the bill is below, but the main takeaway is that the HASC wants the Warthog’s replacement to be able to fly slow and low for long periods of time with a focus on air-to-ground assault abilities while being able to land without a paved runway.
Here’s how the “test” is officially spelled out in H.R. 173, Section 142:
(A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of the Air Force shall commission an appropriate entity outside the Department of Defense to conduct an assessment of the required capabilities or mission platform to replace the A–10 aircraft. This assessment would represent preparatory work to inform an analysis of alternatives.
(B) ELEMENTS.—The assessment required under subparagraph (A) shall include each of the following:
(i) Future needs analysis for the current A–10 aircraft mission set to include troops-in-contact/close air support, air interdiction, strike control and reconnaissance, and combat search and rescue support in both contested and uncontested battle environments. At a minimum, the needs analysis should specifically address the following areas:
(I) The ability to safely and effectively conduct troops-in-contact/danger close missions or missions in close proximity to civilians in the presence of the air defenses found with enemy ground maneuver units.
(II) The ability to effectively target and destroy moving, camouflaged, or dug-in troops, artillery, armor, and armored personnel carriers.
(III) The ability to engage, target, and destroy tanks and armored personnel carriers, including with respect to the carrying capacity of armor-piercing weaponry, including mounted cannons and missiles.
(IV) The ability to remain within visual range of friendly forces and targets to facilitate responsiveness to ground forces and minimize re-attack times.
(V) The ability to safely conduct close air support beneath low cloud ceilings and in reduced visibilities at low airspeeds in the presence of the air defenses found with enemy ground maneuver units.
(VI) The capability to enable the pilot and aircraft to survive attacks stemming from small arms, machine guns, man-portable air-defense systems, and lower caliber anti-aircraft artillery organic or attached to enemy ground forces and maneuver units.
(VII) The ability to communicate effectively with ground forces and downed pilots, including in communications jamming or satellite-denied environments.
(VIII) The ability to execute the missions described in subclauses (I), (II), (III), and (IV) in a GPS- or satellite-denied environment with or without sensors.
(IX) The ability to deliver multiple lethal firing passes and sustain long loiter endurance to support friendly forces throughout extended ground engagements.
(X) The ability to operate from unprepared dirt, grass, and narrow road runways and to generate high sortie rates under these austere conditions.
(ii) Identification and assessment of gaps in the ability of existing and programmed mission platforms in providing required capabilities to conduct missions specified in clause (i) in both contested and uncontested battle environments.
(iii) Assessment of operational effectiveness of existing and programmed mission platforms to conduct missions specified in clause (i) in both contested and uncontested battle environments.
(iv) Assessment of probability of likelihood of conducting missions requiring troops-in-contact/close air support operations specified in clause (i) in contested environments as compared to uncontested environments.
(v) Any other matters the independent entity or the Secretary of the Air Force determines to be appropriate.
(A) IN GENERAL.—Not later than September 30, 2016, the Secretary of the Air Force shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report that includes the assessment required under paragraph (1).
(B) FORM.—The report required under subparagraph (A) may be submitted in classified form, but shall also contain an unclassified executive summary and may contain an unclassified annex.
This is of course contingent on Rep. Thornberry’s defense spending plan being approved, which might be a tough sell since Defense Secretary Ash Carter has already spoken out against it.
Congress has made it clear that they want to keep the A-10 in the American military’s active roster, and the language in this part of their budget plan shows exactly what they like about the longstanding airplane.