The A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” has been a mainstay of the Air Force since the 1970s -- a versatile and high-endurance aircraft ideally suited for taking out armored vehicles and fortified installations. The Warthog has seen extensive action in the Middle East during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just recently, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson praised the Warthog in an interview, declaring it a “pretty phenomenal machine.”
So it was something of a relief to Warthog admirers that the House Armed Services Committee this week took an important first step towards preserving three A-10 squadrons that have been targeted for retirement beginning in the mid-2020s unless funding can be found for replacement wings.
The committee chairman’s mark of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act released on Monday includes $103 million that can be used by appropriators, if they choose, to restart production of A-10 wings and to manufacture four wing sets, as was reported by Defense News.
The newspaper previously reported that three of the nine A-10 squadrons were slated to go out of service unless the Air Force came up with funding to pay for new wings. Gen. Mike Holmes, the head of Air Combat Command, disclosed that new wing sets had been ordered for only 173 of 283 Warthogs, or the equivalent of six squadrons.
Members of Congress and other Warthog boosters have long opposed any move to retire even a fraction of the A-10 inventory, though the Air Force in the past had considered phasing out the Warthog and turning its responsibilities over to other aircraft to save $4 billion in annual operating costs.
So the budgetary action this week portends good news for the Warthog -- provided that the congressional appropriators agree with Armed Services Committee chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX) to provide the money for the project.
Earlier this month, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), a former A-10 pilot, raised strong objections to mothballing a third of the Warthog inventory. “From my view and my experience, if we need that capability until a proven, tested replacement comes along, nine squadrons is the absolute minimum,” McSally said during a hearing.
Boeing in the past has had the contract to re-wing the A-10, but the Air Force has indicated that any future contract would be open to bidding by other companies, according to Defense News.