The Best Aircraft for Close Air Support in the Twenty First Century
Joint Military Attache School, Defense Intelligence Agency Washington United States
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In a presentation to a Senate-led defense appropriations hearing, the incumbent Air Force secretary, Deborah Lee James, painted a very grim picture in the face of economic sequestration. Todays Air Force is the smallest its been since it was established in 1947, she explained, at a time when the demand for our Air Force services is absolutely going through the roof.footnote1 Because of far-reaching governmental budget constraints, the Air Force is being forced to make strategic decisions regarding the levels of manning and aircraft to maintain tactical readiness. In 2013 the service responded to a 12 billion budget reduction by cutting nearly 10 percent of its inventory of aircraft and 25,000 personnel, necessitating the reduction of flying squadrons and overall combat capability.footnote 2 With sequestration scheduled to last until 2023, however, the budget shows no sign of being restored any time soon. Consequently, Air Force senior leaders must continue to make tough decisions.footnote 3 A number of military experts have proposed eliminating less important missionsets by retiring aging airframes and replacing them and their single-role effectiveness with multirole aircraft.footnote 4 To meet mounting budget demands, the Air Force chose the A-10 Thunderbolt as the first aircraft to place on the budgetary chopping block. This exclusive air-to-ground asset specializes in delivering multiple forms of munitions to provide close air support CAS and protect ground operations. Highlighting the potential savings of 4.2 billion in operations and sustainment costs, Gen Mark Welsh, the former chief of staff of the Air Force, wanted to reinvest those savings in multirole aircraft like the F-35 that can not only do CAS, but can also survive in a high-end fight.footnote 5 He argued that the F-35 is just as capable as the A-10 in delivering CAS and that it offers more incentives, such as fewer operating hours, stealth capabilities, and enhanced speed.
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