The A-10 Thunderbolt AKA “Warthog” is a flying farm tractor. Slow, brutish, but reliable as the tide and endearingly indestructible and incredibly effective. Strategists have feared that the jet will be axed in favor of funding the F-35, but the U.S. Air Force recently confirmed that it plans to keep the A-10 flying “indefinitely.”
While the Air Force is theoretically supposed to be diverting the A-10’s operating expenses to feed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the people in charge are now planning to keep the plane running.
“They have re-geared up, we’ve turned on the depot line, we’re building it back up in capacity and supply chain,” Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski told AviationWeek in a interview. “Our command, anyway, is approaching this as another airplane that we are sustaining indefinitely.”
While the beancounters and product planners are trying to push the A-10 off the board, Materiel Command is going to keep on keeping the planes in peak condition, which will give the A-10 it’s best chance of proving its worth over and over again.
And it seems to be working– the A-10 posted a five percent increase in its availability rate from 2014 to 2015, and the Air Force seems to keep postponing its demise.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is supposed to be a do-it-all combat aircraft that can engage other planes in the sky, make long-range bombing runs and come in low and slow to support ground troops. It hasn’t gotten off to a great start, to put it lightly, and so far its effectiveness in any of those roles has yet to be truly tested in combat. That last move especially is the A-10’s specialty, and a big part of the reason the plane is so beloved by servicemen and women.
To embattled soldiers on the ground, the only sound more reassuring than an A-10’s engine is the BRRRT of its massive front cannon providing you with cover fire. At least that’s the prevailing lore you’ve probably already heard about this plane already.
The F-35 on the other hand, has established a reputation of being over budget and underperforming.
“My approach from a sustainment perspective is to approach this as if we’re just going to continue to keep these airplanes operating.” Pawlikowski continued in her AviationWeek interview. “We will wait as the dust settles as far as what the strategy will be; that discussion continues to go on and I think it always will as we look at the fact that our demand signal for our airplanes continues to be high.”
As it stands on paper, the A-10 fleet is apparently slated to start standing down in fiscal year 2018 and parked in boneyards by 2020. But Secretary Deborah Lee James has already told AviationWeek that the service is “considering keeping the jets in inventory longer than planned.”
To that end the Air Force is said to be in the process of putting new wings on its fleet of A-10s under a $2 billion contract with Boeing that was written up in 2007 and supposed to keep the planes going to 2028.
It sounds like the next big hurdles for the A-10 are the Air Force’s fiscal year 2018 budget and a defense policy bill that includes a provision to keep the A-10 active. Specifically, Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally wants to put one last barrier between the A-10 and retirement: a jet-vs-jet flyoff against the F-35.
We’ll be there with popcorn.