Savannah, my hometown, is also home to the 1st Ranger Battalion. I have many young friends here who are Rangers with multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When I ask them about the utility of the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog,” they unanimously sing its praises.
As a former Ranger myself in the 70’s and then as a platoon leader in Germany during the Cold War years of the 80’s, I recall the immense enthusiasm that accompanied its introduction as the US Air Force’s premier close air support aircraft. A twin-engine, straight-wing jet aircraft, it remains the “best of breed” even today.
I have not met a Ranger, Marine or Green Beret who does not have a dramatic story of a Warthog saving the day in one of those two theaters.
It is a formidable weapon system, designed specifically to destroy targets on the ground: armored vehicles, convoys, fortified buildings and massed troops.
Built around a powerful 30mm automatic cannon, it can carry a wide array of weaponry to support the mission on the ground.
It is heavily armored to resist moderate weapons fire and has the ability to fight “low and slow” when necessary, an attack pattern that faster aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter cannot match. It is truly the infantryman’s friend!
So why did Defense Secretary Hegel put the A-10 program on the chopping block last year?
The rhetoric coming out of the Air Force was that the F-35, as a multirole fighter, would replace it.
In interviews with USAF jet pilots, they all admit that it is far inferior to the A-10 in the ground support role. As the Joint Chiefs strategize the battle field of the future, it is hard to imagine that a robust close air support aircraft would not be necessary. After all, the A-10 has proven itself on the asymmetric battlefield time and again, and is a lifesaver.
As Putin rattles sabers in Eastern Europe, it is hard to imagine our NATO allies not speaking up in support of the best tank killing machine in the world.
And it’s a bargain. An A-10 currently costs about $20 million, but the F-35 is over $90 million. Following recent upgrades to the fire control system, smart bomb capabilities and a new wing structure, the A-10 has an extended functional life to 2027. These investments have already been made.
Perhaps defense lobbyists are pushing this agenda, knowing that building more highly sophisticated and expensive aircraft will be more rewarding to their industry.
Or maybe it was a bargaining chip to increase the Defense budget.
Or maybe...the people making this decision, although undoubtedly individually smart, are just as stupid corporately as the VA, or the Dept of Energy, or any other alphabet soup appendage of the Federal Government.
I suspect all three of the above options were at play to some degree.
So it was with great relief to read this week, that thanks to Rep. Candice Miller (MI-10), an amendment to protect the A-10 program for the foreseeable future was added to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 with strong bipartisan support and this Act was easily passed in the House.
Let us pray that the Senate will be equally wise.
On a personal note, I have two sons who are soldiers. My oldest was an infantry soldier, a West Point Cadet, and is now a physician. My second son, in his third year at West Point, will soon face the unpredictable battlefield of the future. I hope that the “infantryman’s friend,” the “Warthog”, is there to protect him.
Dr. Bob Johnson is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District of Georgia. The 1st District is home to Moody Air Force Base which houses two A-10 Squadron.