Adding to the Absurdity

One of my frequent reads over at PJ Media is fellow (former) St Louisan Stephen Green at VodkaPundit (who “Covers the absurd in American politics,” and does it quite nicely from a libertarian frame of reference). I finally got a chance to weigh in at the comment section on a short article he posted about the probable pending retirement of the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II (better known as the “Warthog” or just simply the “‘Hog.”)

The A-10 is an amazing airplane piloted and maintained by great folks, several of whom I’m proud to call mentors and friends. As of now, I don’t believe Congress has given its approval to retire the jet from the fleet; the proposal to retire it has been made by the Air Force and seems to have been ratified by the Executive branch in the 2015 budget proposal. In the VodkaPundit article commentary, I attempted to explain a couple of the reasons the A-10 is likely to get the axe. It’s an imperfect, incomplete explanation, but I felt it was best to leave it where I did.

Whether it retires sooner or later, the ‘Hog has certainly earned its place in the annals of aviation history as a close air support all-star. It will be a fitting testament to the patriotism and dedication of the Americans who designed, built, maintained, and flew it. It will be great to keep it in place for a little while longer. But when its time comes, I hope it retires with its record intact.

There have been precedents for obsolescent technology hanging on just a bit too long, to the detriment of the system as a whole. For the most recent examples, take a virtual tour of the Saddam-era Iraqi Air Force; or walk the ground of the Beka’a Valley circa June 1982 (if you dare), and try to not let your feet get cut on the shards of the decimated Syrian Air Force. Granted, the technology in those instances was operated poorly. But fleets of third generation fighters with support from single-digit surface to air missile (SAM) batteries were no match for well-flown fourth generation fighters.

Aviation history is ushering in its fifth generation fighters. The sixth generation went onto the drawing board several years ago. The historical lesson needs to be taken to heart. The A-10s time is nearly spent, along with the rest of the fourth generation jets.

I’ve seen a lot of jets that were fine for their time flown one last time to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s “Boneyard.” It was the right thing to do, even if it was a little sad to know that birds like the Phantom, the Corsair, the Intruder, the Raven, and the Tomcat put their gear down for the final time.

One final “Base, Gear, Stop” radio call to D-M Tower is certainly better than the alternative radio call in combat.

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2 Responses to Adding to the Absurdity

  1. Jim says:

    Nice writeup. It’s hard to get the delicate balance between, homage and reckless nostalgia. Yes, it was a good plane. Yes it still is a good plane, but it’s showing its age. Better to retire it before we start getting people killed. Makes me wonder about the deal to push new M1’s onto the Army.

    “We have enough! Stop sending us tanks!”

    “But tanks are good.”

    “Yes, there are. In fact, they are great for fighting what is now an obsolete engagement. Put your Tom Clancy novel down and step away from the procurement order.”

  2. Chris Penningroth says:

    Good points, Jim, thanks for making them.

    There will always be a need for tanks for the foreseeable future, just as there will be a need for the Air Force to use some of its assets to support the Army’s scheme of fire and maneuver; that scheme often being to defeat enemy tanks, as it happens, so our tanks have an easier time. One could argue that the A-10 will still be the best platform for the job once a notional enemy’s dangerous air defense systems have been rolled back. The problem becomes one where the Army has to ‘Plus-up’ (more tanks, artillery, etc) to be more combat-effective during the early phase of the war while our asymmetric advantage is temporarily neutralized.

    Also, we can’t assume the next war will be fought in the same sort of permissive environment the last two were. A notional opponent’s “Most dangerous course of action” is based on its capability. We’ve been fortunate for the past decades that most of the time the “Most dangerous course of action” hasn’t been threatening the Westphalian order of nation-states with utter upheaval. We may have turned that corner again and perhaps need to plan for “Most likely courses of action” that include invasions and state-toppling efforts; much less “Most dangerous courses of action,” I’ll leave those to your imagination.

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