Congress has finally agreed to bid adieu to nearly two dozen A-10 Warthogs, after lawmakers fervently defended the aging aircraft and stopped the Air Force from retiring the aircraft. It marks the first time in decades that lawmakers have agreed to put A-10s out to pasture.
The 57-foot, 6-inch wingspan close-support aircraft has been in service since the 1970s. The signature "brrrttt" noise emitted from its 30 mm Gatling-style guns, which aided troops extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to playing a key role in the first Gulf War, helped garner a fanatic following among service members, as well as Washington lawmakers who have fervently protected it from retirement.
But under the latest defense budget agreement, which was passed by the House on Thursday and is expected to pass the Senate soon, 21 A-10s from the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing will be retired and sent to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base boneyard in Tucson, Arizona.
Dan Grazier, a senior policy fellow with the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group, told Military.com in an interview Friday that the A-10 program has experienced divestments and retirements before, primarily after the Gulf War in the 1990s. He said the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) agreement, if passed, would mark the first A-10 retirements in the 21st century.
Military.com previously reported that the 122nd Fighter Wing will replace those A-10s with F-16 Fighting Falcons. That Air National Guard wing previously flew earlier models of the F-16 until they were replaced -- to much fanfare -- with the Warthog back in 2010.
But even the fanaticism of the A-10 was short-lived for the Indiana Air National Guard.
By 2018, U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., in a letter to then-Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, pointed out the service branch "confronts a significant challenge in maintaining A-10 readiness," adding that the "Fort Wayne community would eagerly welcome the return of F-16s."
Young told Military.com in a statement Friday that he hopes replacing the A-10 could make Indiana a possible candidate for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter base in the future.
"I'm glad to see Congress finally making it a reality," Young said in an emailed statement. "The Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act will permit the divestment of the Indiana Air National Guard's A-10s and clear the way for the adoption of the F-16, a move which will make the 122nd better equipped for future fights and a more viable candidate for the Air Force's future basing decisions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter."
The retirement of the 21 A-10s is a notable turnaround. Just last year, Congress rejected the Air Force's request to retire 42 A-10s in the 2022 annual defense policy bill.
Overall, Congress has come to the rescue of the A-10 at least five times since 2014 by adding provisions in the NDAA to either prohibit the Air Force from retiring the aircraft or approving projects to keep it in the sky, according to the Project On Government Oversight.
Air Force officials have said publicly that the slow A-10, often called a tank in the sky, would not be advantageous in a fight against a country such as China.
The future of the remaining 260 A-10s in the service's fleet is still up in the air, but the move shows that lawmakers could be warming up to the idea of slowly scrapping the aging aircraft.
This past July, however, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr. seemingly hinted that America could potentially supply Ukraine with older aircraft, including the A-10, to aid in the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
But even Ukrainian officials didn't seem interested in the A-10 Warthog. Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of defense, told Military.com in July it wouldn't really help in their fight against Russia.
The A-10s "will not close our sky, they will not stop bombers and missiles," Sak said. "They will be a target for Russian jet fighters and anti-aircraft defense, because we don't have the means neither to effectively cover them, nor to break through the enemy anti-aircraft defense."
Dave Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and dean of the nonprofit Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Military.com on Friday that the fact that Ukraine was vocally uninterested in the A-10 should be a sign to lawmakers that there are newer aircraft that could do the same close-air support mission.
"The A-10 is over 40 years old, bordering on 50 when it comes to design," Deptula said. "There are more survivable, effective and lethal modern aircraft that can provide the ability the A-10 was able to provide. If the Ukrainians don't want it, that sends a message."
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.