Reports state that Boeing is looking at reselling refurbished and upgraded A-10s, many of which may be idiotically orphaned by the USAF, to foreign countries. Although it sounds intriguing, the idea to offload the A-10 to allies is really nothing new. I pitched it years ago.
As the A-10 remains mired in a fight to the death on Capitol Hill, the re-winging effort for the older ‘thin wing’ A-10s has seen its 105th modification, with 68 more to go under the original contract. This will take the effort through 2017. There are options for another 69 Warthog installed wing-sets after that.
Today, there are about 300 A-10s in the USAF’s inventory, with a portion of this number already in reserve aircraft storage. This number is constantly under pressure via the USAF who continues to push for retiring the Warthog fleet as whole. Even if funding continues through the end of the decade for 300 active A-10s, dozens of surplus airframes still exist.
If the A-10 fleet were reduced or totally retired, throngs of fully upgraded jets with decades of life left on them would be sent to bake in the desert, or even worse, some of them may be destroyed. No other country operates the A-10, so even spare parts reclamation would be very limited for these retired airframes. As such, Boeing says they already have customers for surplus A-10s, with the plan being that the unloved (by USAF brass at least) ‘Hogs would get the upgrades they have always deserved. These include upgraded displays, even improved over the A-10C Precision Engagement Package upgrade that occurred in the mid 2000s, new targeting pods, defensive systems and, yes, new engines.
The idea of providing our allies with surplus US hardware, including A-10s, even for free, is an underutilized foreign policy tool. This is why I wrote the following on the very subject in early 2012, when the A-10 was already under attack from USAF leadership:
February 12th, 2012
We are retiring good airframes at such an alarming rate now that stories like the one linked here have been popping up left and right. Literally, business is booming at AMARG in Tucson, and they are about to get a lot busier when another squadron of F-16s and over a hundred A-10′s hit their doorstep over the coming year. These cuts, among others, are all part of the DoD’s cost cutting and restructuring plan aimed at trimming half a trillion dollars in defense spending over the next decade.
I realize that it is good to keep aircraft and plentiful parts in war reserve, but from what I can tell, we are going to have such an abundance of airframes baking in the Arizona sun that really, they are going to the bone yard to die frivolously as a waste of money. This is ridiculous.
Currently, a huge push is underway to arm our allies in troubled regions, especially in the Pacific and Middle East, so that we don’t have to do, or pay for, all the fighting ourselves if a conflict were to arise. Instead of giving away mass sums in foreign aid to many of these countries we should give them a sizable portion of our recently retired hardware instead. Yes, I know that this already does happen under limited circumstances, but we need to really invigorate the process not just to countries who receive US foreign aid, but to wealthier ones as well.
The legendary A-10 is the perfect aircraft to kick this effort off. With about 1/3 of the fleet stated to be retired soon, most likely some of the A+ models that have not received the full Precision Engagement Package and many of the earlier thin-winged airframes that are in need of new wings-sets, we should market these incredibly effective aircraft to our allies, at no cost. Why give these aircraft away for nothing you ask? Here is why:
- These jets are incredible counter insurgency and close air support machines. Both roles are tactical in nature and thus the A-10 offers little threat to neighboring countries when it comes to offensive deep strike or surprise attacks on strategic targets.
- They are able to loiter for long periods of time and deal a devastating blow on the battlefield. In other words they are not as tanker dependent like F-16s or Hornets, and thus perfect for countries who have limited aerial refueling assets. Also, a probe could be easily fitted for probe and drogue tanking off of prop-driven tanker aircraft such as a C-130, or even buddy tanking could be developed.
- The A-10 is easily supportable and does not require heavy infrastructure to operate, perfect for smaller countries will limited aerospace infrastructure.
- They are fuel efficient and relatively inexpensive to operate.
- They can carry a wide variety of munitions, from dumb bombs to the latest Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) and deliver them accurately.
- In the Middle East they could provide incredible effectiveness against desert anti-tank operations, urban close air support scenarios, as well as counter helicopter operations. Two areas of which the A-10 has proven it’s prowess time and time again
- The A-10 would be the aircraft to have when fighting against small boat swarms and other asymmetric tactics in Straits of Hormuz and the littorals of the Pacific Theater. The A-10 was envisioned as a sea control platform early on, now that concept’s time may have finally come.
- The A-10 Precision Engagement Package and further “Charlie” model upgrades have married modern systems to a robust, simplistic and survivable bomb-truck, thus giving countries with limited means modern precision attack capabilities.
- Modern miniaturized PGM such as the Griffon Missile and laser guided rockets will offer lower collateral damage precision weapons, of which many more can be carried at a single time, and at lower costs than currently fielded more elaborate and powerful PGMs. These new munitions will truly unlock the incredible urban warfare and asymmetric threat countering capabilities of the A-10.
- Operators do not have to only drop PGM’s at a minimum of $20k per bomb kit, they can use the GAU-8 Avenger cannon for persistent precision target destruction on the cheap.
- A structural and technological ongoing upgrade pipeline is already in place in the US, thus new operators will have little if any operational test and developmental costs with such a mature system.
- Full interoperability with US A-10 and fast jet units as well as data-link connectivity would be a potent byproduct of such a plan.
- With another perspective on A-10 operations by an entirely different user than the USAF, new tactics development and certain multinational intellectual synergies can be realized.
- Very low export risk to the US, only targeting pods and a few key “black boxes” would possibly need heavy export controls and monitoring.
- By keeping the number of operational airframes high, even if the US is not the only user, costs can be diffused across a wider multinational fleet, saving the tax payer money in the long run.
- Americans will continue to support the airframes long into the future which means importation of wealth into America and the retention of key aerospace jobs here in the US.
- It costs the US major dollars to park an airframe in the type of storage where it could be re-animated in the span of a couple months. Why pay this cost when we can give these aircraft to a close allies with common interest who will fly and utilize the airframe for years to come?
- We are not going to use them anymore so why not give them to someone that we can work with when we do need such a capability in the future? Let the recipient ally pay for their gifted A-10s upgrades, fuel, maintenance and training, and in the process we will not experience a “net loss” of available airframes should we need to go to battle under common interests in the recipient county’s neighborhood.
- Military trade and cooperative training is one of the best ways of tightening alliances and bonds with key overseas allies. Further, by giving them such a capability for only the cost of ownership and upgrades sends a strong message to our friends and enemies alike that we reward our allies and thus can more effectively punish our enemies if need be.
- Do not limit such gifting to just allied nations, departments inside the US Government and out should also have a fare shot at keeping the A-10s flying in a multitude of roles. Special Operations Command, the US Forestry Service, NOAA, the Coast Guard, or even private industry, whoever can make use of the still going strong A-10s should have a go at continuing operations with them.
Sadly, the US has become the kid who throws away his toys every year around Christmas time in the hopes that he will get new ones from mom and dad. Other nations have learned to make use of what they have by upgrading older aircraft or buying used airframes instead of costly new ones. While we may continue with this ridiculous practice in the foreseeable future, let’s at least give our lightly used toys in need of some new batteries and a bit of paint to our less fortunate best friends who live down the block. Almost nothing but good can come of such a plan and the A-10 is just the perfect platform to start out this new initiative, especially if the idiotic USAF ends up getting its way and retires the fleet as a whole.
With any luck, our used F-15s and F-16s will follow quickly on the A-10s heals under such a concept.
Looking back, 2012 was a much simpler time than today. With Russia threatening Eastern Europe, ISIS ravaging the Middle East, Iran backing fighters throughout the region, and the Pacific becoming a hot spot with China’s growing military might, arming our allies with our hand-me-downs makes more sense than ever. This is especially true when it comes to our Eastern European allies and those countries fighting ISIS, especially Jordan.
The A-10 is deployed to both those theaters right now and it remains the close air support giant that it was decades ago. The A-10 is a capability that can be feared, not just because of its deadliness over the battlefield, but because of its survivability, durability and simplicity of operations. These attributes makes the A-10 even more ideal for cash-strapped countries that are not accustomed to operating high-end and relatively delicate western fighter types.
In the end, if we cannot keep the A-10 in sufficient numbers to keep the force relevant within the USAF, than the jets should be distributed to our allies. The idea of Boeing selling them at the cost of upgrades and service contracts is fine, but anything over that is a barrier to their distribution and should not be allowed. The tax payer would be paying for them to bake in the desert anyway, so giving them away is a win and it would cost us a lot less to arm our allies with A-10s, or any other surplus fighters for that matter, than to operate our own from their bases half way around the world, on a rotating basis with no end in sight.
So what are we waiting for? The DoD should immediately tally available A-10s, and other aircraft such as F-15s and F-16s, for distribution to our allies, even if it is just a few dozen jets to begin with. If the ax ever actually falls on the USAF’s active A-10 fleet, then hundreds more Warthogs should be available for gifting immediately. A wall off A-10s lining the border with Russia and flying against ISIS is a good thing no matter what flag is on the tail, and it is a lot cheaper having our allies create such a persistent presence than us.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.