The A-10 Warthog is the only aircraft built for a close air support (CAS) mission. It was literally designed around its distinctive 30mm gatling gun. The gun is more than 19 feet long and weighs more than 4,000 pounds. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (aka the BRRRRRRRRRT - created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), is music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so, the plane sometimes called "the grunt in the air." A-10 pilots often find themselves providing support at Danger Close distances.
"They love this airplane," says one Air Force A-10 pilot, referring to units on the ground. "They trust us. For them to trust to do that is very gratifying."
Recently, the John Q. Public blog, run by retired Air Force officer Tony Carr, came across a video he suspects was produced by the Air Force's Combat Camera units, lauding the A-10, its crews, its pilots, and the capabilities of its support for ground troops.
"ComCam is perhaps alone in its possession of the unique combination of access and capability to create something this close to the mission with such superior production values," Carr writes. "A ComCam airman risked mortal danger to make this film and tell this story, getting immersed in a firefight along the way (you'll see him drop his camera and hear him discharge his weapon in the video)."
Combining ground combat footage with access to the aircrews who run and fly the Warthogs, Carr believes the video has "unmistakeable importance," but wonders if the video is being suppressed by senior Air Force leaders for political reasons.
The controversy stems from the Air Force's repeated attempts to retire this relatively young fleet of aircraft. The A-10 first appeared in the Air Force arsenal in 1972 and was used with great effect in Operation Desert Storm. Comparatively, the Air Force's B-52 fleet was first introduced in 1955 and is still in service.
"It's not a political statement," says a pilot in the theater. "I'm not saying air interdiction isn't important ... but the benefits [of close air support] are right there."
The Air Force aims to replace the A-10 with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a trillion-dollar weapons system that is the most expensive in history, which is extremely over-budget and experiencing an uncanny number of development setbacks. While retiring the A-10 would save many billions of dollars annually, that money would likely go to further developing the F-35. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says the F-35 is designed "for the whole battle space" and would replace the A-10's CAS capabilities.
But politicos and ground troops are not buying it.
"When you're talking to a 19-year-old man with a rifle, who's scared on the other end of a radio," another Air Force A-10 pilot says in the video. "You know he doesn't care about fiscal constraints, 'big picture' Air Force policy, the next fancy weapons system coming down the pipeline. He cares about being saved right then and there."
The heartfelt, informative A-10 video is below, and is worth a watch for anyone with an interest in the importance of close air support.