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

7 Comments

  1. They’re also actually testing the OV10G Combat Dragon potential in this kind of role, the Bronco’s career might not be over yet. Quietly, with two planes, but thing are under way, like someone else pointed out on the comments thread.

  2. Most buyers these days prefer to have 1 plane that can do everything in peace time and in war. specialized platforms are for big guys with long on-going conflicts like WWII, Vietnam, and such….

    Aside from that…. Scorpion is too slow to do any air interdiction(it’s slower than a Citation X loaded with cocaine), and it doesn’t even have a gun on board to do any warning shots, or god forbid…. actual CAS missions.

    I really don’t know what they were thinking, if these small country can’t afford the big jets, somehow they expect them to be able to afford dropping precision guided weapons for these small skirmishes?!

    • Yes, they are expensive. Accuracy means you can use smaller weapons to hit a target. That increases the number of weapons a given airframe can carry and reduces collateral damage. There are less expensive guided glide bombs under development for going after personnel and light equipment. Shooting them with machine guns or cannons is both accurate and inexpensive but if you’re close enough to shoot them, you’re close of them to shoot back with similar caliber weapons. Check the history of the AC-130 gunships. When first fielded in the Vietnam War, they were armed with 7.62mm miniguns, 20mm Vulcan cannons, and maybe 40mm cannon. They suffered 6 losses to antiaircraft fire. Another one was shot down during the first Gulf War. Over the years, the caliber of the weapons has kept increasing in part to increase standoff range. Some of those glide bombs are being developed for the latest version of the AC-130 to both hit moving targets and to increase standoff range.

  3. Yes, A-10s had the highest loss rate, whereas the F-16 flew more missions and against much heavier defenses (daylight raids over downtown Baghdad). A-10s got yanked from the low-level interdiction mission when a bunch got shot up by the Republican Guard and two shot down in one day. The ones that got shot up had to be repaired – meaning time and manpower had to be diverted from turning around the good jets and keeping them in the fight. Even if an A-10 makes it home, you still lose overall combat effectiveness.

    A-10s are made from the same materials as F-15s, F-16s, & F-18s are; when an A-10 takes a hit, it goes home like everyone else does. Everyone brags about the A-10 losing a wing and staying in the fight, but it’s never happened. They go home when they get hit with far less. I’ve seen F-15s missing an entire wing, a “fragile” F-16 lose half it’s right wing and they both made it home (in the case of the F-16, over 100 miles, and it was flown by a rookie pilot) because their airframes designs have *so much* lifting area. A-10s don’t have that. Hell, I’ve seen an F-14 missing about 1/4 of one of its wings make it home and an F-18 take a SAM hit to the engine and make it home.

    Survivability isn’t about getting shot up, limping home, spending days/weeks being repaired, it’s not getting shot in the first place. If you’re getting shot up, you’re doing it wrong.

Comments are closed.