The bipartisan defense budget that passed through the House Thursday includes strict language mandating the Air Force not execute any plans to retire the A-10 Warthog. The legislation specifically blocks the Air Force from spending any money to divest A-10s through calendar year 2014.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has said the service needs to retired older, single mission aircraft like the A-10 in order to reserve funding for newer aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is slotted to take over the A-10’s close air support role.
In service since the 70’s, the twin-engine jet aircraft is designed to provide ground troops with close air support by using its armored fuselage for protection, flying low to the ground to track and hit enemies and firing deadly 30mm rotary cannons.
Lawmakers have pushed back against any talk of the A-10's retirement. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., blocked the nomination of the Air Force secretary, citing her concerns about Air Force’s A-10 plans and Defense Department struggles to bring the Joint Strike Fighter online.
Air Force has not formally made a decision about whether to retire the aircraft. However, Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, Military Deputy for Air Force Acquisition, made clear that budget restrictions have forced the service to consider cutting entire programs to save money.
“Everything that we have is being effected by sequestration right now – satellites, missiles, air frames have already been cut 13 percent. Do you try to retire something so that you get rid of the entire logistics trail and the depot? You can save a lot of money. That is the discussion that is going on right now,” he said.
The potential budget deal that still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama would reduce sequestration cuts and add $3 to $7 billion to the Air Force's budget. However, Davis said the service would not prioritize saving the A-10 and instead listed funding more flying hours and the Joint Strike Fighter program has higher priorities.
Davis did say that technological advances such as sensors and laser-guided weaponry have made it possible for a number of aircraft, such as F-16 fighter jets, to successfully perform close air support. F-16s have regularly provided close air support in Afghanistan, service officials specified.
“F-16 does a wonderful close air support mission. You don’t need to fly slow with a lot of titanium armor with a 30-mm gun just to be able to do close air support. We’ve got B-52s and B-1s doing close air support. The weapons have changed the game,” Davis said.
Furthermore, Davis emphasized that close air support in potential future conflicts will likely require different technologies than are currently needed in Afghanistan today.
“Close air support is not hovering close with a gun anymore. That works great in a situation like Afghanistan -- but if you assume that we are not going to fight that way all over the world you are going to do close air support much differently. Your ultimate close air support weapon would be something above the earth with a pinpoint accuracy laser that can pick off a person individually when they get too near our troops and do it repeatedly,” Davis added.