On Tuesday this week the House approved $570 billion dollars in Pentagon spending for 2015. Conspicuously absent from this budget was a $339 million dollars to fund “sustainment for the A-10 aircraft operations”. The amendment proposed by Congressman Jack Kingston R-Ga was defeated by a vote of 13 to 23 in the House Appropriations Committee. Congressman Rodney Freylinghuysen R-NJ and Congressman Pete Visclosky D-Ind led the effort to defeat continued funding for the A-10 Warthog.
Supporters of the A-10 direct attention to recent tragic events in southern Afghanistan to make their point. Five U.S. Special Forces operators were killed this week by an errant bomb delivered by a B-1 Lancer bomber that is touted by Air Force officials as highly capable in the Close Air Support mission. The Special Forces operators who were ambushed by Taliban forces were in desperate need of rescue and turned to the Air Force for assistance when they were killed by the air strike.
Joint Terminal Attack Controllers serve as liaisons and air strike controllers to ground forces understand the difficulty in this type of engagement very well. The JTAC’s job is to control air strikes and coordinate the effects of air to surface fires and effects and serve alongside their joint service partners. They have a great deal of respect and affinity for the A-10 and its performance. Amongst this small cadre of service members from the joint armed forces community is widespread support for the A-10 and dismay at the Air Force’s action to kill the A-10. As a community they feel their voice has not been heard.
The A-10 is preferred by JTACS and the troops in the close “troops in contact” fight where enemy positions are often difficult to determine and the confusing swirl of battle limits technology. In these missions the A-10s and their aircrew’s vast and singular experience in delivering air to ground fires act as an extension of the JTAC and aids them in sorting out the battle below the aircraft and in front of the JTAC. This air – ground team solves the most complicated targeting and has rescued many a JTAC and their soldiers they support. JTACs point to A-10’s effectiveness in virtually any and all situations where other CAS platforms have significant limitations.
The Air Force contends the B-1s, F-15Es, and F-16s can carry the Close Air Support mission until the F-35 Close Air Support variant is produced sometime in or after 2022. However many JTACs contend that “fast moving” aircraft such as the F-35 are ill suited for the Close Air Support role and are often ineffective in delivering ordnance against maneuvering or close targets. Such as demonstrated by the tragic B-1 airstrike in Afghanistan this week. You simply cannot take “close” out of Close Air Support. A-10 critics point to the A-10s age at nearing forty years old and its systems obsolescence. However supporters point to the far cheaper economic cost of flying the A-10 and its recent $2.5 billion dollar upgrade that make it a viable aircraft for many years to come. Supporters also point to the aircraft’s singular ruggedness to take a punch and get low enough to sort through the haze of battle. Something technology, the pilots and JTACs contend, simply cannot do.
The U.S Army brass has largely stayed out of this fight due to budgetary considerations across service lines. For instance if the Army criticized the elimination of the A-10 fleet this might call into question other capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets that are capabilities shared by both services. These cross service capability redundancies would prove problematic in an era where many lawmakers are looking for cuts and efficiencies.
In garnering Senate support the JTACs face long odds but the entire community of pilots and air strike controllers are determined to take a stand. There are the lives of countless soldiers that hang in the balance. JTACs point to the A-10s unique ability to make up for a variety of “sins on the battlefield”. These combat sins can be bad weather, bad terrain to fight in, mobile targets, close contact targets, a bad operational plan, the “enemy vote”, high threat environment or literally hundreds of other variable mission factors. JTACS have routinely sent many a fast moving jet back to orbit points and waited for the A-10s because only the A10 could engage targets that close. These same JTACs have been called to task for it by angry fast mover aircrew when we returned from those missions. However, the JTACs simply are in the best position to judge what is most effective and what is safe for the Close Air Support missions they execute. For JTACs the lives they save and the enemy they kill with their highly capable A-10 are worth any cost. Lawmakers simply say that cannot pay for everything. JTACs contend that this is one bill you must pay and pay this bill first.
Today we face the fact that the A-10 is widely recognized as the Air Force’s most capable Close Air Support aircraft but now is under the budget ax. This ax will surely fall unless the Senate Appropriations Committee votes to restore funding for the A-10 in the near future. JTACs and A-10 pilots are anxiously rallying support and working actively to sway their decision.
Russell B. Carpenter, CMSgt (R)
JTAC (30 Years Experience)