The US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey kill the Republic A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft, they announced during a press briefing at the Pentagon on 24 February 2014.
The US Air Force was just continuing to prepare the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft – nicknamed Warthog for its looks – for at least 30 years more in service. As late as September 2013 Boeing was ordered to deliver another 56 new wings, out of a total request of 242 new wings for a total fleet of up to 343 aircraft, including 49 with the USAF Reserve and 107 with the Air National Guard.
Many critics say the US Department of Defence is making the same mistake as 25 years ago, when the strong close air support aircraft was deemed to disappear due to budget restrains and Pentagon top brass that thought the aircraft were not fit for modern combat. But then the A-10s performed majestically well against Iraqi armour during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and the American generals decided to keep the formidable air weapon.
The A-10 is a twin-engine jet designed for close air support of ground forces, technically built around the GAU 8 rotating nose gun. It can be used against all ground targets, but is especially lethal against tanks and other armored vehicles. Moreover, it can sustain much more substantial damage and still fly than any other combat aircraft apart from maybe the Russian-made Su-25 Frogfoot. Compared to the A-10 the officially announced successor, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, will prove to light for the close air support battlefield, many feel. That includes counter-insurgency and anti-terror operations. If a majority of US Congress agrees with this theory, the A-10 might be spared after all.
Apart from decommissioning the Thunderbolt fleet, the US DoD will also take out the legendary Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady in favour of unmanned aerial vehicles. Moreover it will reduce the size of the Army to 450,000 or even 440,000 troops, from the current level of 520,000. It will mean the smallest US Army since 1940. What this will mean exactly to the Army Aviation components is yet uncertain, but plans call for the decommissioning of the entire Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout and light attack helicopter plus the transfer of the AH-64 Apaches from the Army National Guard to the active force in return for active UH-60 Black Hawks to the Guard.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger