Here are the aircraft that could replace the A-10 Warthog in the CAS mission

The U.S. Air Force has launched a study to find the A-10 Thunderbolt II replacement.

Given the U.S. Air Force plan to retire its A-10 fleet in 2022, the service has recently announced that has launched a study aimed to find a Hog replacement in the close air support (CAS) role.

Finding a replacement for the Warthog will be indeed a difficult task: in fact even if the CAS mission has been handled by several other tactical aircraft (such the F-16) in the recent years, the A-10 ability to loiter over the battlefield remains unrivaled.

But since the USAF is looking for an aircraft able to perform counterterrorism operations rather than one able to destroy tanks and armoured vehicles, as explained by Flight Global, several platforms might be up for the role.

Super Tucano

One aircraft that could fulfill the mission is the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Recently delivered to the reborn Afghan Air Force and already in service with other ten air arms around the world, this propeller-driven aeroplane is a valuable close air support platform thanks to the chance to outfit its airframe with a wide variety of bombs and machine guns.

Another turboprop plane that could be chosen to replace the A-10 is the Beechcraft AT-6.

This aircraft is a derivative of the USAF T-6 Texan II trainer tailored for the CAS role: in fact, like the Super Tucano, the AT-6 can carry a wide variety of weapons under its wings.

Moreover both the aircraft can be armed with the Raytheon AGM-176 Griffin missile. Designed around a small warhead, this weapon is a precision low-collateral damage missile that makes the A-29 and the AT-6 very effective also in irregular warfare scenarios.

The Textron AirLand Scorpion could perform the CAS mission too. The Scorpion as A-10 replacement would offer high-end capabilities: in fact this plane is not only a tactical strike aircraft for irregular warfare, border and maritime patrol but also an ISR (intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance) platform able to perform air defense operations.

Scorpion Jet

However, although these aircraft are highly maneuverable weapon systems capable of delivering precision guided munitions in a low intensity conflict, none of them could survive in a less permissive environment, USAF deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements Lt Gen James Holmes explained on Mar. 8, 2016.

Holmes said that the T-X advanced trainer program contenders will not be suitable since they will not be ready until 2024.

Holmes also explained that using the F-35 in the A-10 role would be too expensive.

Nevertheless replacing the A-10 with the JSF seems being the answer to the problem for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter who, on Feb. 2 announced: “The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on a squadron-by-squadron basis, so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today conflicts.”

Eventually, given the F-35 vulnerability over the battlefield in the CAS role in addition to its high operating costs, the best solution could be to postpone again the retirement of the A-10 fleet and beginning the process of developing a dedicated CAS platform to replace the Hog.

An opinion shared also by the former A-10 squadron commander and current U.S. Congresswoman Martha McSally who told to NationalInterest.com: “The U.S. Air Force needs a next-generation A-10 before attempting to mothball any further A-10s. The specific mission set for CAS/FAC-A/CSAR requires a specific aircraft, not one that is a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none.”

F-35 CAS

Image credit: Airman 1st Class Chris Massey / U.S. Air Force and Textron AirLand

6 Comments

  1. A-10s can’t withstand the kind of punishment the A-10 is reputed to withstand.

  2. The Tucano and Scorpion are great when you’re fighting against people who can’t fire back. Those are great for beating up on folks in the Middle East, but will be useless when acting against a real state. We should have a minimal number of of the Tucano, or Scorpion, and re-open the A-10 production line.

  3. What about panavia tornado ? It is not exactly an a10 replacement, but it is decades ahead of mentioned su-25,even if it is operative from 40 years…

  4. Why do they need to fly at low level? They can hit just as hard, and just as accurately, at higher altitudes. Their loiter capability is FAR superior and they have more than enough ordinance to keep flinging ammo long after the A-10s had to go home.

    I did half a dozen deployments and witnessed all manners of CAS. I would say the majority of the hits we called in came from strategic bombers, followed by our legacy fighters, then rotary wing, then AC-130s, and finally the A-10. To put that in perspective, I personally witnessed more F-14 Bombcat CAS than I did A-10. Unless they’re on already on station, supplying CAS for a specific hit, the A-10 can be a pain in the ass. When we called TIC and had air sent our way, with the A-10 it usually meant a pretty long wait. Then when they finally did show up they’d spend another ten minutes trying to figure out exactly where we wanted ordinance, which way we wanted them to come in, proximity of friendlies, etc. At that point, after running at full throttle to get to us, they’d hang around for 20 minutes then need to go tank. The BS about ground troops being adamant that they need the A-10 is bullshit. All the ground troops care about is that it’s on time, and on target. If i wasn’t listening on the net, often times I wouldn’t even know or see which aircraft were in the stack. You’d just hear that they released, an ETA on impact, and then the explosion.

    The days of desperately needing a CAS aircraft that can get down in the weeds and knife fight is over. WIth precision weapons just about anything can get the job done. The advantage of the strategic bombers is that they can get as many jobs as they have ammo for…which is plenty.

    I’ll miss the A-10 but it’s time. It’s cool factor doesn’t negate the fact that we’re intentionally deploying an aircraft that is nowhere near as survivable as any of the legacy fighters, the strategic bombers, or an F-35. And we’re doing this based purely on that fact that it’s cheaper than other aircraft to operate, and because of the old school stigma that we need an A-10 as nothing else can do that job.

    It boils down to this: Let’s say that all the other platforms are an 80% solution compared to the A-10’s 100% solution. Is that twenty percent worth intentionally deploying an aircraft that is incapable of operating outside of a MANPAD envelope? That is completely incapable of protecting itself from other aircraft? That doesn’t have a chance in hell of surviving on Day One of a conflict against a peer or near-peer opponent? Of course it’s not worth it. As a grunt, I’m more than willing to have an aircraft providing acceptable CAS while being FAR more survivable. The A-10 was designed to shrug off light to medium AAA fire. It was designed in a day when SAMs were nowhere near as capable and had much smaller engagement envelopes. They were not designed to be in the thick of things, at low altitude and low speed, against an extremely potent modern IADS. Is that twenty percent worth it when we lose one over somewhere like Syria? Is that twenty percent worth it when you now have to risk another half dozen airframes and 75 people to go pull that pilot out of the shit?

    Of course it’s not worth it. They’re paid for, so there isn’t a whole lot of reason to force them out. And, so long as it’s a permissive environment, it could still fill the FAC-A/CSAR role very effectively. But, it’s career as a day one, hardcore CAS platform, against any modern military, are long over. If you want to use it in one of those environments it’s still going to need massive ECM support, as well as that F-35 leading them in in a SEAD/DEAD role (something the F-35 is going to be absolutely amazing at).

    • “Why do they need to fly at low level?” They don’t, hence the reason the A-10 needs to go.

      A comment like yours is truly rare, but each and every time I see an actual soldier, who has actual experience and knows what he is talking about, they typically repeat the same sentiment you are here. The A-10 was not their initial choice if CAS is what they needed. When they needed CAS, they couldn’t give a shit who delivered it so long as, like you said, it was on time and on target.

      So tired of all these A-10 fanboys spreading misinformation. The A-10 was built for a different threat environment, and it is simply obsolete in a majority of environments today.

  5. Both the Apache and the A-10 are incapable of providing CAS in anything but a permissive environment.

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