It seems that men have always dreamed of an end to war. Or if not an end to war, an end to the icky parts of war, you know with the blood and rifles and starving civilians stuff. Making war more like a game with tragically high consequences instead of a life and death struggle for political primacy between nations.
In WWII the US Military became wedded to the coordination of attack aircraft and ground forces. The Thunderbolt was often the unsung hero for the Army Air Corps, and while not as sexy as the Mustang it served well. Later on in Korea the Mustang would be revived to support the bulk of Close Air Support missions because of the fast flying jet battle for air superiority would take the bulk of the effort by the new US Air Force. The Mustang (now with an F designation) would be relegated to the same role the Thunderbolt played a few years earlier. The Mustang was a decent choice because it carried a lot of guns, flew slow enough to accurately identify targets, and freed up the fast moving jets to battle it out with the Migs in the skies over the Korean peninsula. But the Mustang played second fiddle to the Corsair and Skyraider with their bigger payloads and 20mm cannons.
Fast forward to another conflict, another decade down the line, and the A-1 Skyraider, an aircraft that first flew in the waning days of WWII, became a legend for providing the same “low and slow” CAS support for ground troops, again in the insatiable monster of southeast Asian conflict. The Mustang and Corsair were out of the picture, but in the maelstrom that was Vietnam the CAS mission was evaluated again. What is necessary for effective CAS?
It has to be able to fly slow, and be very maneuverable at slow speeds.
It has to be able to coordinate with the forces on the ground, in essence give the pilot excellent situation awareness with the mark one eyeball.
It has to hold a lot of boom, explosive shells, bombs, rockets.
It has to have good loiter time, a few runs and then bingo on fuel doesn’t cut it.
It has to be able to take a hit, flying into small arms range in the era of MANPAD missiles requires armor, multiple engines, and as much countermeasures as you can fit on the frame.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka the Warthog) is the result of those lessons learned. And as a purpose built aircraft it is unrivaled in performing CAS. The “hawg” is everything that those who dream of sanitized, safe, pushbutton warfare despise. It is ugly, mean, and meant to fly in support of men under fire. It personifies the necessity that the boots on the ground are how wars are won (two years of ineffective air strikes against ISIS/Daesh versus putting in ground forces to train and advise should tell you something).
Now there are those who say that the Hawg is not survivable in the future battlefield. Of course this is true, but the flip side is that nothing is survivable over the long term. Technology marches on and MANPADs are much better than they were before, and opponents of the A-10 like to point out how many were shot down in Desert Storm. I like to point out that none of the A-10s shot down were doing CAS, they were supporting the “battlefield interdiction” mission the Air Force prefers.
More recently in Ukraine, the Soviet era analog to the A-10, the Su-25 “Frogfoot” has been used and shot down, although quite often damaged planes made safe landings. Given the positive impacts of the Frogfoot versus the impact of attack helicopters in that conflict, there is still a place for a low, slow, cheap, tough jet aircraft.
The argument that the Air Force has made is that it can’t afford a single mission airframe, in the same budget request that authorizes the U-2, spy satellites, Rivet Joint, AWACs, multiple drones. The hypocrisy of that is not lost on those who pay attention. Evidently being single mission is a good thing when it’s high tech and shiny.
Another argument used by the Air Force is that even a B-1 can provide CAS! Which unfortunately is all to often a lie swallowed whole by a gullible public. Bombers, and strike aircraft, at best can do “precision bombing.” Precision bombing is not CAS the same way vegetarian soy bacon isn’t bacon. It might resemble bacon from a distance, but it ain’t bacon. You want bacon, you need a hawg in the process. The reason why this is not CAS is because the pilot is simply servicing a target at this point, at best with a bombardier looking at the target through a soda straw without any situation awareness of the tactical reality on the ground. Precision bombs are only as good as the GPS coordinates plugged into them, and on multiple occasions in the “War on Terror” ground forces have called “precision bombing” down on themselves and the pilot/crew serviced the target because they couldn’t tell friend from foe at altitudes requiring oxygen supplementation.
For further reading into why the A-10, or a purpose built CAS platform, is important to tactical victory for the Army: http://www.ausairpower.net/air-land-battle.html
For further reading on what the Air Force wants without regard to actual war fighting: http://warontherocks.com/2015/06/the-future-of-close-air-support-is-not-what-the-air-force-thinks/ , https://defenseissues.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/fast-jets-as-close-air-support-cas-aircraft/#more-2143 , and http://warisboring.com/articles/the-u-s-air-force-has-loathed-close-air-support-since-the-beginning/
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