Head of Air Combat Command Gen. Hawk Carlisle informed reporters on Friday that, despite a week of deliberation, the Air Force is still unclear as to what next-generation aircraft would replace the A-10‘s much-needed close-air support capabilities.
The week-long summit, which brought together leaders across all branches of the military to discuss close-air support, concluded on Friday with broad agreement that the Air Force’s position on the matter is correct: the A-10 needs to be retired in order to cut costs and make way for the expensive F-35, Defense News reports. Currently, the Air Force’s budget exceeds sequestration limits by $10 billion dollars, and one of the justifications given by Air Force leadership for retiring the A-10 stems from the toll it takes on the budget.
But as Ben Fernanes writes for the Council on Foreign Relations, “the Air Force budget argument fails to address total defense expenditures. The A-10 is, by far, the cheapest CAS platform to operate. In Afghanistan, the military can fly five Afghan-based A-10s for the cost of one Qatar-based B-1B bomber and two A-10s for the cost of an Afghan-based F-15.”
Carlisle forwarded the idea of an “A-X” system to eventually replace the functions of the A-10, but then quickly noted that because of F-35 procurement, the A-X is nothing more than a possibility, which might not even be available a decade from now.
But in the meantime, the Air Force still remains committed to shelving the A-10s and taking whatever steps it can to speed along the process. In early March, a group of Republicans protested Air Force Secretary Deborah James’ decision to move 18 A-10s into backup status, saying that now is not the time to unnecessarily cut close air support. James responded by pointing out that Republicans had already implicitly agreed to the move by signing off on the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act which contained a provision allowing up to 34 A-10s to be moved to backup status.
The reason only 18 were moved at this juncture, according to James, was simply out of respect for Congress. (RELATED: Congress Fights Against Subtle Move To Sideline 18 A-10s From Service)
A more immediate replacement of the A-10 might take the form of the Textron Scorpion jet, which was first introduced in September 2013. The Scorpion has so far been unable to find its first launch customer, meaning its capabilities are untested, although the manufacturer is hoping the Air Force will bite. F-15Es and F-16s in the interim will likely take the lead on close-air support in the A-10′s absence.