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

12 Comments

  1. I thought the major use for A-10s in recent years were to provide a survivable low-and-slow aicraft with a decent loiter time (at least more than most helicopters, which are also low-survivability) for CSAR missions and FAC Missions, which can’t be done from the altitudes or speeds that the new “sexy” (I think the F-35 looks ugly compared to an F-18, F-16, or F-22) fighters operate at.

    • Survivable? The A-10 hasn’t encountered any sort of air defense over Afghanistan, and we’ve been very, very, very lucky about that. The Taliban didn’t have MANPADs

      As for Low-and-Slow… CAS isn’t done that way any more and it hasn’t been done like that in decades. The only reason it was done that way in the first place was because the pilot had no other way to ID and hit targets because they lacked the sensors, lacked the communications infrastructure, and lacked the precision weapons needed to accurately hit targets. That’s how it was done 45+ years ago.

      In 2016, we have the sensor pods (LITENING, Sniper) that can enhance a pilot’s ability to see what’s going on. PGMs can hit a target with unprecedented accuracy that didn’t exist 25 years ago.

      USMC’s Harriers – a single-engine aircraft with a very limited weapons capacity and an optional external gun pod – are CAS assets, but what did the Marines do to them starting a couple of decades back? Add night vision, then radar, then the ability to carry GPS guided bombs. They gave up the Low-and-Slow approach to CAS. Why? Because of lessons learned in the Gulf War.

      The USAF (F-16, F-15E, AC-130, B-1B, A-10) provides CAS, the USN (F/A-18, F-14D before it was retired) provides CAS, the USMC (F/A-18, AV-8B, AH-1).

      Interesting facts:
      1. The USAF has more A-10Cs than it has “sexy” F-15Cs that the generals “love” so much.
      2. All A-10, F-16, F-15 pilots are required to undergo air-to-ground gunnery qualifications before being deployed to a combat zone. Even F-15C pilots have to do this, just in case there’s no one else around. This training requirement has been in place for over a decade, so that means that every pilot of those aforementioned platforms has trained to strafe.
      3. The Chief of Staff of the USAF, Mark Welsh? He’s a former A-10 pilot.

      Who *doesn’t* provide CAS? That’s right, the US Army. They invented rotary CAS during Vietnam, but abandoned it in favor of killing Soviet tanks and later, deep strike missions. They’ve been pushing a doctrine called CCA, which is just like CAS except the ground controller has zero responsibility. Before you say “That sounds like a good idea!” I should remind you that the USMC – who does this organically (meaning they have both ground troops and air assets in the same branch and command structure) – think it’s bullshit and they’re not adopting it. And no one complains about the Marines using the F-18 or F-35B for CAS.

      CAS is a mission, not an aircraft. It’s a training curriculum, not an aircraft. If you train your pilots how to do it, how to use their aircraft how to do it right, have them practice it, then guess what? You’ve got a LOT more CAS-capable aircraft than just a few A-10s.

      A-FAC (Airborne Forward Air Controllers) is just like CAS in that it’s a training curriculum. The Marines have been using the “sexy” F-18 for this ever since they retired the OV-10 two decades ago. BTW, why did you put “sexy” in front of the F-18 and F-16? Because if you’re trying to suggest that because they can break the sound barrier and carry AAMs, they’re somehow “lesser’ aircraft, then you’re an idiot. Because the Marines have been using the Hornet for 30+ years for their air to ground missions and the F-16 is the workhorse of the USAF’s air to ground support.

      Low-and-slow is terrible for loiter time. If you want loiter time, call an AC-130 or B-1B. The A-10’s reputation for loiter time comes from having engines that don’t have afterburners, but the TF34 has always been underpowered. That means the A-10 has to always fly at full power whenever it’s carrying any weapons. That limits its combat payload, that means it loses energy very quickly (which is NOT a place you want to be if you get a warning of a missile launch, or someone on the ground that you didn’t see starts shooting at you as you’re coming off a target) and most importantly, it slows down the entire package and puts other aircraft at risk.

      A couple of years back, during a Red Flag training exercise, one of the missions was CSAR of a downed pilot. A column of tanks was X miles to one side of the pilot, and a mobile SAM launcher was Y-miles to the other side of him. Not a good place to be. The rescue package included HH-60G Pave Hawks, A-10Cs flying Sandy, F-16CMs acting as SEAD, F-22s acting as top cover, C-130 to refuel the Pave Hawks and at least one tanker to refuel the A-10s, F-16s and F-22s.

      The A-10s took charge of planning the actual rescue (much the the chagrin of the Pave Hawk guys for reasons that will soon become all too clear). The insisted that they’d go in first. F-16 guys said “Hey, let us roll in and kill that SAM site. (SA-10 btw. Very nasty) Hog drivers replied, “Nah, we got it! We’re A-10s, they can’t hit us!” They were going to go in, BRRRT the tanks and escort the Pave Hawks in and out. They didn’t need anyone else ’cause they were Hawgs! (read that last part in Larry the Cable Guy’s voice).

      Missions like these are planned down to the minute. If you’re going in guns blazing, you’ve done something wrong. Remember, you’re fighting in the enemy’s home, so he’s got a LOT more assets then you do. Go in, get your guy, and get the hell out of there. Well, thanks to the A-10’s lack of speed, the overall mission duration was increased buy at least half an hour. That’s more time spent in red air during the ingress and more time spent in red air during the egress FOR EVERYONE, not just the Hogs (because you don’t want your tankers or fighter cover leaving you behind). Hell, even an Aussie C-130J-30 outran the A-10s at one point during that week on another mission.

      Ok, so what happened when the A-10s got on scene? They’re gonna go in, strafe the tanks and save the day, right?

      Wrong. Their RWRs went off like a Christmas tree when the SA-10’s fire control radar locked onto them and before they knew what was going on – they were getting shot down left and right. See, your modern SAMs have no problem engaging targets that low. So now instead of ONE downed pilot, now add 8 more downed Hog pilots that need to be picked up.

      So, who killed the tanks you ask? Wasn’t the Hogs. Wasn’t the F-16s since they were carrying HARMs to engage the SA-10 site. It was the F-22s. They used their radar (which can ID something as small as a jet ski from more then 50 miles out. Just think about that for a moment; that ought to keep you up at night.) to paint the tanks and put the locations into the targeting system, And since the F-22 can carry JDAM and SDBs…. BOOM

      Does this mean the F-22 is going to be the tank killer of choice? No. They didn’t rehearse that, but they knew their systems well enough that they could work out a solution on the fly.

      The rest of the week didn’t go any better for the A-10s. They had a LOT of incomplete missions because they either ran out of gas or they couldn’t see the targets.

    • And FAC’s not the most accurate term. Joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support and other offensive air operations from a forward position. They’re trained to work with strike aircraft to coordinate strikes. They know the aircraft, they know the weapons. They’re as “low and slow” as you can get.

      The Marines’ internal requirements for their candidates is that they must be winged Naval Aviators or NFO with at least 2 years operational flying experience, and must have attended and graduated from the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group (EWTG) Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) course.

      The Navy trains theirs at Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada by SEALs assigned to NSAWC.

      The USAF trains theirs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. At Nellis, the 6th Combat Training Squadron has two JTAC courses; Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course, Joint Terminal Attack Controller Instructor Course. The JTAC course at Spangdahlem is through the Joint Firepower Center of Excellence (JFCOE). Nellis is also home to the graduate-level JTAC Advanced Instructor Course through the U.S. Air Force Weapons School which is open to TACPs/ALOs and Combat Controllers/STOs. The course requires applicants to be qualified JTACs for three years and a JTAC Instructor for one year. The 5.5 month-long course is held twice per year and includes 752 total hours in classrooms and on ranges. They train in conjunction with pilots attending the Weapons School.

      Members of special operations units may attend the Special Operations Terminal Attack Control Course (SOTACC) at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. SOTACC was established 2003 under the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and was subsequently transferred to the Air Force Special Operations Command’s Special Tactics Training Squadron in 2008.

      The future of CAS is DCAS. That includes a new pocket-sized laser range finder and a new smartphone-like device that can digitally relay targeting information. Instead of relaying information over radio, the pilot repeating the information to confirm it, etc, the JTAC would data-burst the strike coordinates to the strike aircraft’s computers. Each aircraft on station is represented by an icon in the lower corner of the smart device’s screen. A user can tap any one for more information, including its time left on station and the munitions it carries, before returning to a map view that also displays the locations of friendly forces. The user then taps the aircraft of his choosing and drags it to the target to assign the mission. Need a bunch of 2000-pounders to kill a mountain? Tap on the B-1B. Need a single 500-pounder to take out that treeline? Tap on the F-18.

      In the blink of an eye, the information is transmitted to integrated avionics in the aircraft, or in some cases an off-the-shelf Android-based consumer tablet used as a pilot’s knee board. The pilot decides whether to accept the mission (because he/she may be engaged in another mission). If he agrees, he can tap “accept” and his aircraft’s sensors are automatically trained on the target he is supposed to hit. Once cleared-hot, it’s bombs away.

      While the final call to fire on a target will remain a pilot’s prerogative, the more human input is eliminated, the less the chance for errors that cause civilian and friendly casualties. Because the digital devices operate on the existing radio network, voice communications, which are still used on the front and rear ends of a call for CAS, can serve as a backup should devices fail.

  2. What about CSAR? The F-35/F-18 ( a superior aircraft in my opinion)/F-16 cannot take part in CSAR and FAC Missions, which require a low, slow, and survivable profile. Unless you think they should just phase the A-10 out of CSAR and rely on helicopters.

  3. “With the Lightening and Sniper targeting pods, and other advanced friend or foe ID systems, the A-10 will be able to standoff further and still perform VERY close air support. Nothing beats the gun for close, accurate, and lethal.”

    So which is it then? Standoff from further away, or still perform very close air support?

    BTW, A-10C carries LITENING and Sniper already, so….yeah; standoff hasn’t increased like you claim it would.

  4. CAS is an unwelcome stepchild of the fighter mafia. But it is needed and nothing shown so far can “replace” the A-10. It can kill tanks or simply murder truck convoys with a burst of it’s massively penetrating gun. New ammo and mini missiles for it would make it an even more capable convoy killer and CAS champion. Everything that people say can replace, it show it to be more and more capable with those “replacements” technologies simply grafted on to the A-10.. .

    • Did you read the article. Super Tucano, Texan and Scorpion could replace the A-10 in CAS role any day. Mind you they are not a 100% solution since they don’t have that massive gun but any future possible near peer conflict would decimate A-10s in seconds. They are simply not survivable against any modern SEAD. Anyway, 80% of CAS missions in Iraq and Afghanistan was done by B-1/F-16 and F-15 platforms so I guess we’ll survive without the Hog.

      • Well said.

        In a peer or near-peer war with modern IADS those a/c would die.

        Those aircraft are for bush wars or COIN work at best and modern CAS is done as you said from higher altitudes with JDAM/PGM weapons.

        • So, we buy all these high-dollar aircraft for peer or near-peer war with modern IADS and burn the airframe hours by using them to be “bomb trucks” over places like Afghanistan and Iraq instead of having something that can actually perform better at “bush wars or COIN work.” I am not against modern, high-speed, high tech aircraft for national defense, but the A-10s are fully amortized, tremendously capable, and relatively inexpensive to operate in “bush war or COIN work” scenarios. The so-called “replacements” would better be considered augments to the A-10 and aircraft suitable for use by our less well-financed allies.

    • A-10 style CAS has been REPLACED with PGMs like JDAM.

      Go educate yourself about modern 2D/AD systems.

      • Nope, it hasn’t. A-10s are going great guns in Iraq against ISIS. None of the aircraft touted as “A-10 replacements” would fare any better at “A-10 style CAS” in a non-permissive environment than the A-10. What the A-29 Super Tucano, the AT-6 Wolverine, and OV-10 Bronco could do better than the A-10 is save operating dollars, provide ISAR and “right now” firepower pending the arrival of the “big guns,” and provide longer loiter time to keep eyes on the enemy while big guns and fast movers cycle in and out.

        Burning airframe hours on the high-tech, very expensive to purchase and operate, sexy fighters over places like Afghanistan and Iraq is one of the stupider thing we’ve had to do.

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