Although the Pentagon has considered retiring the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” attack jet, much to the dismay of its many fans in and out of the military, the Air Force says it will request funds in the 2019 budget to expand its efforts to keep the aircraft flying.
Originally conceived as a tank buster during the Cold War, the A-10 was designed to take on Soviet armor in Europe. It found new uses in Iraq and Afghanistan flying close support missions for U.S. troops, and its strength and durability have become legendary. Its seven-barrel, 30mm canon shoots 4,200 rounds per minute, providing devastating firepower against entrenched defenders as the jet flies “low and slow” over the battlefield.
The basic problem facing the Air Force is the age of the A-10 fleet and the need to install new wings on the aircraft. There are 283 A-10s in service, but only 173 have had their wings replaced. The remaining 110 aircraft, about three squadrons worth, need new wings, but Congress has not provided funds to do the work. Additionally, the Air Force has said that the existing contract with Boeing for wing replacement is no longer cost effective, so it needs to hold a “new and open competition” for any additional refurbishment.
The Air Force’s 2018 budget request includes $103 million for new A-10 wings, but Congress has not yet appropriated the money, which would pay for just four wings in any event. The 2019 budget will request more funds to continue the re-winging project, though the final number still needs to be hashed out between Congress and the Pentagon.
Whatever money gets appropriated for next year, the Air Force is making it clear that it wants to keep the A-10 flying for a long time to come. Speaking at the Brookings Institution Thursday, Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said “we plan to maintain the A-10 into the 2030s at least.”