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    Irreplaceable? Pentagon to Keep Cold War-Era A-10 Until at Least 2021

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    The US Air Force has decided to not retire the A-10 Warthog jet, until at least 2021, pushing back the original cutoff date by three years. The platform’s future is uncertain, as officials grapple with questions such as whether the aircraft should be replaced to begin with.

    On Tuesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters "We’re going to keep them until 2021, and then as a discussion that we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis and the department and the review over all of our budgets, that is what will determine the way ahead," according to Defense News.

    Goldfein said that, in the coming years the discussion around close-air support missions (CAS) should move from being "platform centric," focusing on how to sustain the Warthog, to how to develop a "family of systems," in which other aircraft can show their ability to support ground forces.

    The general explained, "That starts with an understanding of how we do the business today of close-air support, because the reality is it’s changed significantly, and it will change significantly in the future if we get this right, because this is something we’ve got to continue to think about."

    Goldfein noted that, as head of Central Command’s air component in 2011, he was able to successfully use different aircraft during an Afghanistan CAS mission, though sometimes different terrain called for different tactics.

    Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the delay in February 2016, after complaints from officials that a "valuable and effective" CAS would be lost if the A-10 went out of service as planned. 

    Military.com quoted Goldfein saying, "We're going to keep them through 2021. Then, as a result of a discussion we'll have with [Defense] Secretary Mattis and the department, and review all of our budgets — that's when we'll determine the way ahead."

    In July 2016, writer Loren B. Thompson called tentative plans to replace the A-10 "incoherent" and "foolish," writing in National Interest, "With the Air Force already planning to buy a new bomber, tanker, fighter, trainer, radar plane and rescue helicopter at a time when federal deficits are surging back to over a trillion dollars per year, the A-X2 is unaffordable. And it is unneeded: the A-10 can do the close air support mission better than any low-cost replacement by relying on upgrades that are already in progress.  It's an exceedingly tough plane, and the Air Force's contention that it costs more than a high-end fighter to operate simply isn't believable."

    Though Goldfein said he intends to hold a demonstration for a light attack CAS plane dubbed the A-X2, the Air Force has not decided whether it will consider the craft for future use.

    "Show me what you got that's off the shelf, that's shovel-ready, that can contribute right now without research-and-development dollars, that we can get into the fight right now," said Goldfein.

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    Tags:
    close air support, Warthog, A-10, US Air Force, United States
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