We are retiring good airframes at such an alarming rate now that stories like the one linked below have been popping up left and right. Literally business is booming at AMARG in Tucson, and they are about to get a lot busier when another squadron of F-16s and over a hundred A-10′s hit their doorstep over the coming year. These cuts, amongst others, are all part of the DoD’s cost cutting and restructuring plan aimed at trimming half a trillion dollars in defense spending over the next decade. I realize that it is good to keep aircraft and plentiful parts in war reserve, but from what I can tell we are going to have such an abundance of airframes baking in the Arizona sun that really, they are going to the bone yard to die frivolously. This is ridiculous.
Currently a huge push is underway to arm our allies in troubled regions, especially the Pacific and Middle East, so that we don’t have to do, or pay for, all the fighting ourselves if a conflict were to arise. Instead of giving away mass sums in foreign aid to many of these countries we should give them a sizable portion of our recently retired hardware instead. Yes I know that this already does happen under some circumstances but we need to really invigorate the process not just to countries who receive US foreign aid, but to wealthier ones as well.
The legendary A-10 is the perfect aircraft to kick this effort off. With about 1/3 of the fleet stated to be retired soon, most likely some of the A+ models that have not received the full Precision Engagement Package and many of the earlier thin winged airframes that are in need of new wings sets, we should market these incredibly effective airframes to our allies, at no cost. Why give these aircraft away for nothing you ask? Here is why:
- These jets are incredible counter insurgency and close air support machines. Both roles are tactical in nature and thus the A-10 offers little threat to neighboring countries when it comes to offensive deep strike or surprise attacks on strategic targets.
- They are able to loiter for long periods of time and deal a devastating blow on the battlefield. In other words they are not tanker dependent like F-16s or Hornets, and thus perfect for countries who have limited aerial refueling assets. Also a boom could be easily fitted for probe and drogue tanking off of prop-driven aircraft and even buddy tanking.
- The A-10 is easily supportable and does not require heavy infrastructure to operate, perfect for smaller countries will limited aerospace infrastructure.
- They are fuel efficient and relatively inexpensive to operate
- They can carry a wide variety of munitions, from dumb bombs to the latest Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs).
- In the Middle East they could provide incredible effectiveness against desert anti-tank operations, urban close air support scenarios, as well as counter helicopter operations. Two areas of which the A-10 has proven it’s prowess time and time again
- The A-10 would be the aircraft to have when fighting against small boat swarms and other asymmetric tactics in Straits of Hormuz and the littorals of the Pacific Theater. The A-10 was envisioned as a sea control platform early on, now its time may have finally come with our attention being drawn to the Pacific and the littorals of the Persian Gulf
- The A-10 Precision Engagement Package and further “Charlie” model upgrades have married modern system to a robust, simplistic and survivable bomb-truck, thus giving countries with limited means modern precision attack capabilities.
- Modern miniaturized PGM such as the Griffon Missile and laser guided rockets will offer lower collateral damage precision weapons, of which many more can be carried at a single time, and at lower costs than currently fielded more elaborate and powerful PGMs. These new munitions will truly unlock the incredible urban warfare and asymmetric threat countering capabilities of the A-10.
- Operators do not have to only drop PGM’s at a minimum of $20k per bomb kit, they can use the GAU-8 Avenger cannon for persistent target destruction on the cheap
- A structural and technological ongoing upgrade pipeline is already in place in the US, operators will have little if any operational test and developmental costs with such a mature system
- Full interoperability with US A-10 units and Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL) connectivity would be a potent byproduct of such a plan
- With another perspective on A-10 operations by an entirely different user than the USAF, new tactics development and certain multinational intellectual synergies can be realized
- Very low export risk to the US, only targeting pods and a few key “black boxes” would possibly need export controls
- By keeping the number of operational airframes high, even if the US is not the only user, costs can be diffused across a wider multinational fleet, saving the tax payer money in the long run.
- Americans will continue to support the airframes long into the future which means the importation of wealth into America and the retention of key aerospace jobs here in the US.
- It costs the US major dollars to park an airframe in the type of storage where it could be re-animated in the span of a couple months. Why pay this cost when we can give them to a close allies with common interest who will fly and utilize the airframe for years to come?
- We are not going to use them anymore so why not give them to someone that we can work with when we do need such a capability surge in the future? Let the recipient ally pay for their gifted A-10s upgrades, fuel, maintenance and training, in the process we will not experience a “net loss” of available airframes should we need to go to battle under common interests in the recipient county’s neighborhood.
- Military trade and cooperative training is one of the best ways of tightening alliances and bonds with key overseas allies. Further, by giving them such a capability for only the cost of ownership it sends a strong message to our friends and enemies alike that we reward our allies and thus can more effectively punish our enemies if need be.
- Do not limit such gifting to just allied nations, departments inside the US Government and out should also have a fare shot at keeping the A-10s flying in a multitude of roles. Special Operations Command, the US Forestry Service, NOAA, the Coast Guard, or even private industry, whoever can make use of the still going strong A-10s should have a go at continuing operations with them.
Sadly the US has become the kid who throws away his toys every year around Christmas time in the hopes that he will get new ones. Other nations have learned to make use of what they have by upgrading older aircraft or buying used airframes instead of new. While we may continue with this ridiculous practice in the foreseeable future, lets at least give our lightly used toys in need of some new batteries and a bit of paint to our less fortunate best friends who live down the block. Almost nothing but good can come of such a plan, and the A-10 is just the perfect platform to start this new initiative with. Hopefully our lightly used F-15s and F-16s will follow quickly at it’s heals…