By AARON MEHTA
WASHINGTON — The A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka the Warthog, is a venerable close air support platform, beloved by its pilots and troops on the ground. But it has also been targeted for potential cuts as the Air Force looks to save funds amid sequestration.
Supporters of the plane gathered in downtown Washington on Nov. 13 both to decry the idea of abandoning the A-10 and to discuss the future of close air support.
The event, hosted jointly by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project on Government Oversight, was heated at times, with current and former pilots speaking passionately about the Warthog. It also provided an opportunity to discuss what a next-generation A-10 replacement could look like.
To be clear: An A-10 replacement is unlikely to show up anytime soon. The Air Force is looking to cut the A-10 as a cost-saving measure, and top service officials have been open that few new-start programs are expected in the coming years if sequestration stays in place. The service insists other aircraft, including the F-35, can perform the close air support mission, a claim attendees at the event dismissed.
When asked what he would do to upgrade or change the A-10 design, Pierre Sprey, who helped design both the F-16 and A-10, said, “In a lot of ways, the A-10 was actually a disappointment to me when it came out, in three areas.”
Those three areas? Thrust, maneuverability and size. Sprey would like to see an aircraft with increased thrust and a tighter turn, allowing the plane to get out of dangerous situations while reducing the time needed between attack runs.
Sprey would also like to see a new design with a smaller body.
“It’s too damn big,” Sprey said. “To me, that was a crushing disappointment because I see that in terms of vulnerability.”
Other improvements could be made with existing technologies, such as lighter armor, newer engines and different kinds of ammunition for the A-10’s famous 30mm cannon. The latter could also be tweaked to accelerate the rate of fire.
“Those seven barrels take a little time to get up to rate,” Sprey explained. “In general, the earliest rounds are the most effective, so if you can get to rate instantly or very close to it, it would increase the effectiveness of the gun at no extra cost or rate of ammunition.
“Very simple things like that can add up to major improvements and a much better airplane,” Sprey concluded.