Nominee for Air Force chief of staff calls out A-10 shortcomings
June 16, 2016
WASHINGTON — The A-10 might be the current champion of close air support but the 1970s-era aircraft is starting to show its age as the Air Force eyes a more high-tech battlefield, the service’s vice chief of staff said Thursday.
Gen. David Goldfein, who is nominated to replace Gen. Mark Welsh as the Air Force’s top officer, ran down a list of questions over the aircraft’s capabilities — limited firing time, inability to distinguish friends and foes, collateral damage — during testimony to a Senate committee.
The Air Force should be looking to do better with its hardware, according to Goldfein. It was another indication that the end of service is approaching for the Thunderbolt II, despite widespread devotion from infantry troops and an Air Force decision to temporarily hold off on retiring it.
“Why is it I only get a minute and a half of trigger pull on a 30mm bullet, why don’t I get 10 minutes? Why is every bullet not precision guided? Why do I spend so much time in having to figure out who’s actually friend and foe on the ground when we have technology to be able to help us do that?” Goldfein said. “Why is it that I have to do all the work on collateral damage estimates when I have a machine that can help me do that?”
Still, Goldfein assured lawmakers he does not support immediate retirement of the A-10 and instead wants to weigh better options and upgrades.
“What is the future of close air support? That is the discussion we need to have,” he said.
Goldfein’s nomination is now before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other senators have wrestled with the Air Force over the future of the A-10.
The committee must approve Goldfein’s nomination as chief of staff before it can move to the full Senate for a vote and his vow to support the so-called Warthog – and A-10 crews he called masters of close air support operations – could keep him out of a heated political battle.
“In other words, from your comments on the A-10, at this time it’s best not to retire them but to look at other options for follow on,” McCain said.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the military’s great hope for a follow to the A-10.
The fighter jet is billed as the most technologically advanced fighter jet in the world – it is estimated the program costs will reach $1.4 trillion -- but questions remain about whether it can take over the role of the aging Warthogs, which have titanium armor and powerful Gatling-style nose cannons that are now being used in the war against the Islamic State group.
The two aircraft are set for side-by-side battlefield testing this year as the Air Force is working to bring the F-35 into its fleet. But the showdown might not settle the debate among lawmakers over keeping around the older aircraft.
“The Air Force seems to have at least temporarily adjusted to keeping it but, longer term, this debate is going to come up again and again,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.