first published on October 1, 2015 by Will
President Obama plans to veto a defense bill that would not only save the A-10 from retirement, but restore its combat capability as well. The Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act is a rare piece of legislation that made congress seem almost functional. There was compromise, input from constituents, and common sense support for our troops taken into account.
The bill would deny the Air Force’s attempts to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) close air support aircraft. In addition to blocking the aircraft from retirement, the legislation goes further to ensure that the A-10 is kept in a constant state of combat readiness requiring the Air Force to keep the Warthog’s maintenance and support units fully staffed and funded.
As an ultimate slap in the face to the Air Force’s “misguided” plan to retire the bird, the new defense bill also requires the Air Force to consult a third party (outside of the Defense Department) to analyze and assess how the Air Force will successfully replace the platform with an aircraft that is able to fill all of the close air support requirements.
The Air Force had intended to retire its fleet of ~300 Warthogs because of the setback-riddled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, a program that Air Force brass have gambled their careers on. The retirement of the A-10 aircraft would free up $4.2 billion a year and entire units of support and maintenance airmen that would be repurposed to the F-35 fleet.
While that may sound like a fiscally responsible decision to some pressed-uniform, high ranking POG desk-jockey that wouldn’t know combat if it shot him in the ass… but, in fact, it is actually a wholly irresponsible action to shelf the A-10, because the F-35 is not a close air support aircraft, and it could never fully fill the role of one, especially in the brunt manner the Warthog does.
In an article on John Q. Public, the F-35 JSF is described as a high-tech, over-budget, under-performing fighter. The article goes on to describe the necessary requirements for a an effective CAS aircraft… requirements the F-35 doesn’t reflect. From the article:
Key requirements contemplated by Congress include the ability to engage moving, camouflaged, or dug-in troops; the capacity for armor-piercing weaponry, including cannons and missiles; the “ability to remain within visual range of friendly forces and targets to facilitate responsiveness to ground forces and minimize re-attack times”; the ability to operate beneath low cloud ceilings, at low speeds, and within the range of typical air defenses found in enemy maneuver units; and most critically: The ability to deliver multiple lethal firing passes and sustain long loiter endurance to support friendly forces throughout extended ground engagements.
To paraphrase: Not the F-35.
It’s incredible that lawmakers have been able to agree on something based on the input from their constituents, practicality, and the common sense of not retiring an effective aircraft for which there is no replacement at this point. Yet, it’s ridiculous that the President, with the input of Defense Secretary Ash Carter (a civilian who has never had the honor of being a grunt in need of close air support), would veto a bill that supports our warfighters as a cheap political stunt.