The US Defense Department put out this video last night of Captain Josh “Juice” Jones of the 81st Fighter Squadron flying a training mission over Germany in a Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II–better known as the Warthog.
Despite the US Air Force’s reluctance to operate the dedicated close air support machine when it first entered service in 1977, the Hog has proven time and again to be an invaluable asset. For the soldiers and Marines on the ground, “we’re your best friend,” an A-10 pilot once told me a few years ago. Indeed, those words have repeatedly proven true over the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The same pilot had also told me: “Friends don’t let friends drive tanks.” During the first Persian Gulf War, that also proved to be true.
But as budgets come down, the USAF is shifting away from single-role aircraft and more towards multi-role machines. Earlier this year, the USAF proposed to cut five squadrons of A-10 as part of its contribution to DOD-wide budget cutting efforts.
The USAF plans to eventually replace the A-10 with the Lockheed Martin F-35. The argument is that the battlefield of the future, the A-10 won’t be able to survive amidst the array of surface-to-air threats that are expected to be present. Instead, the stealthy F-35 will drop weapons from higher altitudes using its powerful array of sensors to pinpoint the enemy and data-links to coordinate with ground forces.
But, the idea does have its detractors… and even top DOD leaders concede the F-35 won’t be as good a close air support machine as the A-10.
“Is the F-35 going to be as good a close-air support platform as an A-10? I don’t think anybody believes that,” said Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, himself a former Grumman F-14 Tomcat pilot and instructor at TOPGUN in January. “But is the A-10 going to be the air-to-air platform that the F-35 is going to be? So again, the Air Force is trying to get as much multi-mission capability into the limited number of platforms it’s going to have.”
In the meantime, the A-10 will continue to soldier on though…