Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Scandal of the Anti A-10 Campaign

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It’s been read that, within the US military, the true enemy is not some foreign power, but the other branches of the service: if you’re Navy, the enemy is the Army and the Air Force and the Marine Corps; if you’re Air Force, the enemy is the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps; and so on.

The budgetary fights and the deep-seated desire to dominate and control the other service branches is profound. The Coast Guard, as part of DHS and not DOD, stands somewhat aside.

In particular, the Air Force resents being tasked with close air support—supporting the troops on the ground feels to Air Force brass like having their wings clipped. So the Air Force has fought to kill the A10 Warthog from the outset. The fact that the A10 is a low-cost and highly effective combat aircraft is irrelevant: the Air Force does not want to do close air support. Period.

James Fallows has a good column on the intense fight—which may be successful—to kill the A10.

I argued that the importance of the A-10/F-35 story had relatively little to do with the comparative virtues of either airplane—one relatively cheap but battle-proven and very effective, the other increasingly expensive but also fragile and increasingly difficult to keep out of the repair shop. Rather the real significance was what their stories showed about the cultural and even moral characteristics of the way we think and act on national defense.

Moral?  Yes, moral. In public we generally talk about defense as if it were mainly a matter of bombs, machines, and the dollars that buy them. Of course those matter. But from Napoleon (“in warfare the moral is to the physical as three is to one”) to Air Force strategist John Boyd (what counts in combat is “people, ideas, and hardware — in that order!”), students of conflict have emphasized the crucial role of character and integrity.

Character and integrity are involved in this battle-of-the-warplanes in the following way (as sketched out in my story): The A-10, which is flown by the Air Force, has always had a strange stepchild status there. It is truly beloved by the Army, whose ground troops the A-10 has saved or protected in so many engagements. To the Air Force, in contrast, this mission of “close air support” has never been a budgetary or cultural priority—as opposed to bombing, aerial combat, “air superiority” in general, and even transport.

In a rationally organized defense system, the A-10 would belong to the Army, which needs and loves it. The Army could include it in its budgets, keep as many flying as possible, make it the center of its close-air-support arsenal. But for bureaucratic reasons known in shorthand as the “Key West agreement,” the Army directly controls armed helicopters but not many fixed-wing airplanes. Thus through the decades we’ve seen a long push-pull struggle between the Air Force, chronically eager to dump the A-10 and make way for other models, including now the troubled F-35, and the Army, which wants the A-10 but has no direct way to keep it in the budget.

Several weeks ago I mentioned the truly alarming news that a three-star Air Force general had warned his officers against speaking up about the A-10’s (very strong) combat record. As the Arizona Daily Independent reported, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Post told officers that if word of his views ever got out he would deny it, but he wanted them to know that passing information to Congress about the A-10’s effectiveness constituted “treason.” When the news came out, the Air Force didn’t even deny the comments; a spokesperson just called them “hyperbole.”

Since then, news continues to emerge of the institutional military—some people in uniform, others in the contractor diaspora—trying to make the A-10 look worse than it really is, and the F-35 look better. For what these episodes show about military-industrial-political culture, here is a reading list:

Lying to Win: Air Force Misrepresents Combat Records In Campaign to Retire A-10.” This is a report last month from a retired Air Force officer named Tony Carr at his John Q. Public blog.

The Little “Fighter” That Couldn’t: Moral Hazard and the F-35,” a John Q. Public update by Carr yesterday on the mounting bad news about the F-35 and military efforts to contain it.

Not Ready for Prime Time,” a report by the Project on Government Oversight(POGO) on problems, failures, and deception involving the (favored) F-35.

Now the U.S. Air Force Wants You to Believe the A-10 Is Too Old to Fight,” byJoseph Trevithick this week for the War Is Boring site on Medium. You’re getting the drift of these news reports.

The F-35 Is Still FUBAR,” by A.C. Vicens yesterday in Mother Jones.

Operation Destroy CAS Update,” by the Arizona Daily Independent, which has been all over the A-10 story. CAS is, again, close air support, the mission at which the A-10 has been unexcelled, and the story details Air Force efforts to blunt that fact.

U.S. Rep. McSally Urges Halt to ‘Disproportionate’ A-10 Cuts.” Martha McSally, a first-term Republican Representative from Arizona who is herself a former A-10 pilot (and was the first woman in U.S. history to fly combat missions), writes to the new Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, to complain about the anti-Warthog effort.

The Monthly Newsletter, by Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group.  My friend Richard Aboulafia is an always-quoted expert on aircraft issues both civilian and military. He devotes his latest newsletter to putting the A-10 debate in strategic perspective.

As I say, it’s a debate that matters in the short- and medium- term for the aircraft the military uses, and in the long term for the way the country thinks about its defense. More links after the jump. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 10:15 am

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