The A-10 Thunderbolt II -“WARTHOG”

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The warthog is the only pig species that has adapted to grazing and savanna environments, and its diet includes grasses, bark, berries, and occasionally carrion. The hardy creatures can eat bulbs, rhizomes, and nourishing roots even during droughts.

That bit of history on the beast is significant since the US Air Force is currently attempting to starve out its Warthog fleet.

According to a report released this week, the Air Force is “starving” its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, affectionately known as the Warthog, of crucial maintenance and upgrades. According to the Pentagon’s recent fiscal 2023 (FY23) budget request, the Indiana Air National Guard would retire 21 A-10s.

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A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft

Officials with the Air Force have stated that the old close air support workhorse must be retired in order for the service to invest in weapons capable of combating modern-day threats presented by near-peer rivals such as China and Russia. The retirement ban in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2022 (FY22) was the fifth time since 2014 that the US Congress had rejected all or part of the Air Force’s A-10 retirement attempts.

Last year, Congress halted an Air Force plan to sell 42 A-10s, including 35 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) near Tucson, Arizona. With 83 Warthogs operated by two active-duty squadrons under the host 355th Wing and one Air Force Reserve A-10 squadron, the base currently has the biggest contingent of A-10s in the fleet.

Last year, the Air Force announced intentions to keep only 218 combat-capable A-10s in service into the 2030s. However, the majority of those are still “non-deployable,” as the planes don’t have enough flight hours before major maintenance is necessary to serve a six-month overseas cycle.

According to a September 2021 analysis by the NGO Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the US Air Force has effectively hollowed out the A-10 fleet by depriving it of crucial maintenance such as new wings and computer system updates.

“The renowned A-10 is the first, and so far only, aircraft developed expressly for close air support missions from the start. Air Force chiefs “typically choose high-altitude, high-speed aircraft to bomb targets deep within an enemy territory in the false idea that they can win wars without ground forces,” according to the report.

“Armed history has demonstrated that military forces are significantly more effective when they work together closely, which is exactly what the A-10 is designed to do,” the paper stated.

However, by failing to maintain the fleet as lawmakers have requested, the Air Force is effectively forcing the planes to retire. Some argue that this is a mistake.

The Air Force’s activities, according to Dan Grazier, senior military policy fellow at POGO’s Center for Defense Information, are “demolition by neglect.”

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According to Grazier, a former Marine Corps tank captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military has no alternative platform dedicated to close air support of ground forces, and there’s no reason why the A-10 can’t continue to serve in that role.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with old aircraft — if an aircraft was well-designed originally and then maintained properly over time, you can get a lot of use out of it,” Grazier explained, citing upgrades to the 1950s-era B-52 bomber that are expected to keep the bomber flying well into the 2050s.

Worse, according to Grazier, the Air Force has failed to follow up with more improved variants of the A-10.

“Rather than retiring the A-10, we should be retiring the A-30 right now,” he continued. “By now, we should be two or three generations past the A-10.”

 

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