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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Is the A-10 Warthog Finally Headed for Retirement?

A-10. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

Say it ain’t so! After all these years of the U.S. Air Force brass on the one side and Congressional advocates on the other hand going back and forth on the debate on whether to save the A-10 Warthog or retire it, it looks like the pro-retirement crowd has just won a major victory.

At least that’s the indication I get from an article sent to me by one of my dear old friends (herself a  big fan of the A-10 from my U.S. Air Force Security Forces Academy glory days (“HOOAH!”), published in Air & Space Forces Magazine and titled “New ‘Power Projection Wing’ to Replace A-10s at Davis-Monthan.”

I myself must admit a wee bit of personal sentimental attachment to the A-10. After all, shortly after I joined the 19FortyFive staff 11 months ago (times sure flies – bad pun intended – when you’re having fun), I wrote an article celebrating the Warthog’s 50th birthday, and judging by the number of likes and views I got for it on my LinkedIn Profile, it’s one of my all-time most popular articles. (As a quick aside, hardly anybody calls the Warthog by its proper official name, the Thunderbolt II, named after the legendary WWII fighter plane.)

But alas, all good things must come to an end, so now we’ll take a closer look at the article which indicates that the end for the A-10 is indeed drawing nearer.

The Basics

The article, authored by Air & Space Forces Magazine’s News Editor Greg Hadley, provides the following essentials:

 “The Air Force plans to put a new Special Operations power projection wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., replacing A-10s that have been there for years…The base is also slated to receive new EC-37 Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft and HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters as upgrades for its other missions. …As recently as two years ago, Congress shot down Air Force plans to retire 42 A-10s. But this year Congress is letting the Air Force cut 21 of the beloved close air support jets from the Indiana Air National Guard, and as Congress starts work on the 2024 National Defense Authorization bill, Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), along with Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.), released a joint letter saying they were ‘encouraged by the Air Force’s intention to bring new, durable flying missions’ to Davis-Monthan.”

Davis-Monthan AFB (sometimes referred to as “DM” for brevity), which is in the vicinity of Tucson, Arizona,  has one other big claim to fame besides hosting the A-10, that being its “Boneyard,” described by one touristy website as “the destination for all American excess military and aerospace craft.” Now it looks like at least a few of the Warthogs will soon be taking up residence in that Boneyard.

The Replacements

The incoming aircraft that will be replacing the A-10s are worth a deeper dive.

Built by Lockheed Martin – the same company that gave us both the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II among other famous warbirds – the HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopter is the latest & greatest iteration of the MH-60G/HH-60G Pave Hawk – in turn a souped-up version of the tried-and-true U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk – that has faithfully served the U.S. Air Force for clandestine operations and combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions since 1982.

Jolly Green II builds and improves upon the time-honored and venerable platform by doubling the internal fuel capacity without the use of space hungry auxiliary fuel tanks, providing a robust weapons suite, and integrating defensive systems and sensors to provide an unprecedented combination of range and survivability…all the while retaining 100% commonality with all UH-60M engine and dynamic systems.

As for the EC-37 Compass Call, a separate Air & Space Forces Magazine article informs us that it is the intended replacement for the aging EC-130H Compass Call; based upon on the ultra-long-range Gulfstream G550 business aircraft, the EC-37 is a next-generation, tactical jamming platform tasked with disruption of enemy C3, radar, and navigation that will also offer offensive counterinformation, electronic attack (EA), and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) support.

Conspicuous by its absence from the list of AFSOC warbirds slated for the new “DM” mission is the A-29 Super Tucano.

Looking Ahead: Not Quite Totally Dead Yet?

So then, the A-10’s illustrious career is dying…but not truly dead yet. This is self-evident by another article sent to me by the same USAF buddy that had sent me the aforementioned Greg Hadley piece. Titled “A-10 Warthog To Soon Carry 16 Small Diameter Bombs In Combat,” authored by Oliver Parken, and published on April 25th in The Drive, it discusses how the Warthogs will be packing 16 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

In the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Or to put it another way, the A-10 Warthog won’t be going out with a whimper, but rather…(wait for it)…with a bang.

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).