How to Save the A-10 Warthog: Give It to the U.S. Army Now


How to Save the A-10 Warthog: Give It to the U.S. Army Now

The Army possesses a limited aircraft fleet. Although culturally the Army eschews an air role – especially a fixed-wing air role – the A-10’s mission and capability is less of an Air Force mission set and more of a ground support role.

While working on Capitol Hill, I was asked to participate in discussions over funding for the F-35 Lightning II and the A-10 Warthog. During those days of defense budget sequestration, funds were limited by an agreement made between Congress and then-President Barack Obama. Because of the limits, the Pentagon was being forced to choose between funding pre-existing systems, such as the A-10, or newer systems that would define the future, such as the F-35. 


Walking into the first meeting, my bias was toward the F-35. The meetings changed my mind.

As part of our meetings, proponents for both platforms were asked to make their cases for why one of these systems should be prioritized over the other. The most impressive arguments came from the A-10 supporters. A group of former Special Forces operators came armed with gun camera footage from an A-10 to describe in detail how the Warthog saved their lives during an ambush conducted by the Taliban against their unit in the dusty foothills of Afghanistan. 

For hours, the A-10 hovered over the battlespace, getting within virtual spitting distance of the entrenched Taliban positions, and rained down a hellfire of molten lead and explosives. 

The A-10 Saves Lives

According to the Special Forces operators who were recounting their tale to us, the A-10’s persistent presence over their heads saved their lives. What’s more, that platform allowed the commandos to achieve their objectives. 

Similar stories can be found in just about every ground campaign this country has been involved in since the A-10 Warthog first flew. As one of the Special Forces operators quipped to us, “No other bird – not even an F-35 – can do for ground forces what the A-10 can.”


The A-10 Warthog II is an interesting warplane. It first hit the unfriendly skies in May 1972. A total of 713 units were produced by Fairchild Republic, which is now part of Northrop-Grumman, and the A-10 production line ended in 1984. Boeing was given contracts by the Air Force in 2013 to modernize the planes. For example, new wings were added, extending the lifespans of these aging birds by many years. 

The A-10 was designed to conduct “close-in air support” missions. As such, it is not exclusively an Air Force plane. Tactical Air Control Party airmen work on the ground to coordinate A-10 airstrikes directly with American ground forces who need the air support. This creates a symbiotic relationship between ground personnel fighting, and the Air Force operating the A-10. 

To ensure these planes survive such dangerous missions, they are heavily armored ground-pounders. The cockpit, for example, is surrounded by what’s known as a titanium bathtub that is up to 3.8 cm thick, to better protect the pilot from enemy ground fire. Similar protections are afforded to the plane’s flight systems, to ensure that an enemy doesn’t score a lucky shot, given how low and vulnerable to enemy ground fire the A-10 is. 

One Amazing Warbird 

The A-10 is known for its endurance as a fighting aircraft. As the Special Forces operators explained to me, these planes can dish out an unbelievable amount of firepower while loitering over a battlefield for protracted periods of time – far longer than any other plane. The firepower, the armor, and the duration in combat are decisive factors justifying the continued operation of this bird. 


No other warplane can operate as close to the enemy for as long as the A-10 can. Most other birds, such as the F-35, would need to leave the battlespace to refuel. And for all the talk about the F-35’s capabilities at a distance, when you’ve got U.S. ground troops at risk, there’s nothing quite like having a warplane that can get right into the enemy’s face and give it to him good and hard.

A-10s are mean warthogs indeed. They are armed with their iconic 30 mm GAU-8/A cannon, as well as a mixed ordnance package. The bird is a bomb carrier of epic proportions. It has three under-fuselage pylon stations along with eight under-wing stations. These carry weapons such as the 500-pound Mk-82 and the 2,000-pound Mk-84. They can also fly with the AGM-65 Maverick and the AIM-9 sidewinder missile.

The A-10 trades speed for endurance. It can barely reach Mach 0.75. The F-35 is considerably faster. But the A-10 has an astounding range of 2,580 miles. What’s more, the A-10 can fly in degraded environments. These birds can take off and land from short runways at forward operating bases. Given the kind of wars the U.S. military found itself fighting, such as in Afghanistan, it’s astonishing that the Pentagon even thought to retire this bird. And if a great power war erupts between the United States and a near-peer rival like China or Russia, the A-10 will be instrumental in punching holes through enemy air defense bubbles.

Give the A-10 to the Army

While the F-35 is a modern marvel and can conduct similar mission sets to the A-10, the fifth-generation warplane lacks the kind of endurance and durability that the A-10 has proven time and again it possesses. 


Back when I was in government, some A-10 enthusiasts suggested the Air Force should simply transfer the A-10 program over to the U.S. Army. The Army possesses a limited aircraft fleet. Although culturally the Army eschews an air role – especially a fixed-wing air role – the A-10’s mission and capability is less of an Air Force mission set and more of a ground support role. Thus, to save the storied warbird, the Army should take over the program. It should do this before the A-10 is retired and a critical capabilities gap is created – just when a great power war is around the corner.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.