Champions of the Fairchild Republic A-10 may be able to eke out a few more years for the Warthog following the release of a government report criticising the US Air Force’s plan to retire the aircraft.
The Government Accountability Office released a 24 August report stating the USAF does not have enough information to support an A-10 divestment. The GAO report criticises the Air Force’s recent A-10 retirement plan, which would postpone full divestment until 2022. While that plan could mitigate some near-term capacity gaps, the service has not considered the consequences of retiring the A-10 before its expected service life and has not outlined the risks of divestment, the report states.
That news will likely fuel support on Capitol Hill, where US lawmakers have already fought the USAF to keep the A-10 in its inventory. The Air Force and Congress have sparred for years over whether to retire the aircraft and language in the Fiscal 2017 National Defence Authorization Act prohibits the A-10 divestment.
In addition to its close air support role, the A-10 also performs air control, combat search and rescue and air interdiction missions. But with tightening budgets and decreasing manpower, the USAF argues it cannot support both the 283 A-10s and the incoming Lockheed Martin F-35As, which are also intended to fulfill a close air support mission.
While the USAF’s original divestment plan projected a drop in fighter capacity following A-10 retirement, the 2017 budget proposal would have replaced the A-10 one-for-one with the F-35 squadrons in an effort to mitigate the drop.
“However, Air Force documentation reveals that the loss of A-10 squadrons will outpace the F-35 squadron gain, with eight A-10 squadrons divested by the end of the five-year budget plan but only six F-35 squadrons stood up,” the report states.
An A-10 divestment could also affect readiness on the Korean peninsula, where 24 aircraft are stationed at Osan AB. The USAF’s current proposal would divest that squadron in Fiscal 2019 with no replacement.
Meanwhile, the service has tossed around a potential A-10 replacement known as the AX-2, and OA-X, a light-attack aircraft for permissive environments.