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Air Force To Hold Close Air Support Summit; May Need New Weapon

Posted by Colin Clark on

Gen. Hawk Carlisle

ORLANDO: The Air Force, under heavy pressure from Congress to keep the A-10 Warthog in the air, will hold a mini-summit with the Army, Navy and Marines to figure out the best ways to do Close Air Support, the politically sensitive mission of aircraft protecting troops on the ground.

Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, told reporters here at the Air Force Association’s annual winter conference that the service would be looking at all manner of ways to kill enemy troops shooting at American and allied troops. Carlisle said the service would consider buying a new weapon to do CAS.

“What does the Army think? What do the Marines think? We are looking at all of that,” he said. “Another weapons program may be what we need to consider.”

An A-10 "Warthog" flies low over two ground troops.

An A-10 Warthog flies over Joint Terminal Air Controllers

If you want to get some idea as to why the Air Force really wants to retire the A-10 and save an estimated $4.2 billion over the next five years, look at what is happening in Syria and Iraq.

Air Force Central Command confirmed today in an email that A-10s have “conducted a small number of missions in Syria (few dozen), primarily airborne interdiction on the Syrian side of the border. The vast majority of their strikes/sorties are in Iraq.”

So A-10s are striking targets in Iraq but they have tackled only a few operations against ISIL in Syria. Why was that, I asked Carlisle?

He pointed to the shoot-down of the F-16 Jordanian pilot, who was so horribly murdered by ISIL after his capture.

“The A-10 is significantly more vulnerable in a contested environment,” he noted. Its range and speed (and speed is closely related to one’s ability to survive an attack by a ground to air missile) limit its use.

Carlisle was careful to say there was no line drawn barring the A-10 from the area, but he made clear other newer and more advanced aircraft are much better suited to operating across most of the Syria, which is protected by advanced Russian-built air defenses.

One path that is highly unlikely to be taken is trying to use drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper to do CAS. Carlisle made clear the drones are just too vulnerable to being shot down to be considered for that mission.

Congress will have much to say about the way ahead, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whose husband is a former A-10 pilot, and Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, continue to oppose all efforts by the Air Force to retire the aging but beloved Warthog

What do you think?