As I've said previously, the Air Force has no real plan to replace the A-10. They've said so often enough. And so, wisely, they quietly decided to keep it. At least for a while:
On paper, the Air Force plans to start mothballing the A-10 in 2018, with the last Warthogs sent to the boneyard by 2021. But last month Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said that the retirement of the A-10 would likely have to be delayed further as the military continues to rely on the low-and-slow attack plane for close-air support (CAS) missions flown against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Even more telling, the Air Force Material Command (AFMC) is bringing the depot line for A-10 maintenance and repair back up to full capacity, according to Aviation Week.Well, whatta ya know? The Air Force leadership wants to get rid of the nasty old Warthog so they can spend more money on far more glamorous planes, such as the F-35:
The Hawg isn't going anywhere.
Much of the leadership within the Air Force is keen to retire the A-10 so that the resources used to maintain the fleet can be pumped into the fifth-generation F-35 program. However, the A-10 is the Air Force's only plane with the sole purpose of CAS to protect ground troops. In the current struggle against the Islamic State, a heavily armed and armored attack plane with a long loiter time—and the GAU-8 Avenger 30-millimeter gatling gun that holds 1,350 armor-piercing rounds—is significantly more useful than a stealthy, fast, software-laden fighter like the F-35.And yet, nothing in the Air Force arsenal does what the A-10 does. Like it or not, ground support is part of the Air Force mission. They gave up on that issue in 1948 when the Air Force was able to significantly limit the Army's aviation capabilities, taking on most aviation roles for itself. Now they find themselves stuck with a role they don't really want, because it isn't glamorous, nor does it require expensive multi-role aircraft.
It seems to me that a perfectly acceptable solution would be to transfer A-10 squadrons to Marine Corps control. The Marines and their pilots have no problem with flying aircraft that come home with mud in the engine intakes -- that's the kind of missions the Marines fly. They pretty much invented close air support. I'm sure they wouldn't mind delivering CAS for their Army brethren, especially since it would demonstrate how much wiser the Marines were in 1948 when they declined to give up their air assets the way the Army did. Because this solution makes sense, don't expect to see it implemented anytime soon. Or ever.