The Government Accountability Office have filed a report saying that the US Air Force and Department of Defense lack the information and capabilities to make an informed decision in regards to divesting the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet.
In a recently declassified and scathing report, the GAO criticized the two defense entities’ abilities to understand the full consequences of getting rid of the Close Air Support aircraft, which are -for the most part- bought and paid for in full and have no worthy replacement in sight.
“The Department of Defense and Air Force do not have quality information on the full implications of A-10 divestment, including gaps that could be created by A-10 divestment and mitigation options,” the GAO reported in the declassified version of the report, which was originally released through limited channels in July.
Since then, the USAF and DoD responded with fierce disagreement of the report’s findings, with much of the commentary leaning towards scrapping the A-10 to clear up more funding for the expensive F-35.
The report went on to state that “the Air Force has not established clear requirements for the missions the A-10 performs, and in the absence of these requirements, has not fully identified the capacity or capability gaps that could result from the A-10 divestment.”
The GAO claims that the USAF have not properly evaluated what loss of performance and capability could occur if the A-10 is removed from the roster, mainly due to the USAF’s lack of interest in defining clear roles for the platform and what positive impact it has in combat operations.
“Without a clear understanding of the capability or capacity gaps and risks that could result from A-10 divestment, it is also unclear how effective or necessary the Air Force’s and the department’s mitigation strategies will be,” the report continued.
The GAO pointed out that the A-10 is ideally suited for the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions, particularly when combined with Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) flights, as this would allow the A-10 to loiter over the area of downed aircrew or surrounded soldiers, providing precise and dedicated close air support until rescue could arrive.
The Air Force has not formally determined what aircraft, if any, will replace the A-10 for the CSAR Sandy mission,” the report said. “Should the Air Force remain committed to this mission it will need to identify another platform to take on this responsibility, but, according to Air Force officials, there is no obvious replacement for the A-10.”
White it could be argued that other aircraft could take over the role, the report noted that “the Air Force assessed the feasibility of using F-16s or F-15Es for the [CSAR] role and concluded that aircrews for both aircraft would require extensive training and that their existing missions would prevent such training.”
In short, “Hog drivers” are still the most capable friends a downed pilot or surrounded unit could have overhead until rescue can arrive.
The GAO stated that removing a critical component in operations could cause a domino effect in other areas, leading to the reduction of capability in the overall force.
“Divestment decisions can have far-reaching consequences and should be based on quality information,” the report said. The Air Force “does not have guidance identifying the factors it must consider before choosing to divest a major weapon system before the end of its expected service life.”
Ultimately, the GAO recommended that the Secretary of the Air Force “Develop quality information that fully identifies gaps in capacity or capability that would result from A-10 divestment, including the timing and duration of any identified gaps, and the risks associated with those gaps.
In addition, the Report said that the SECAF “Use that information to develop strategies to mitigate any identified gaps” and make better-informed, more fiscally responsible decisions.
“In our report, we identify numerous areas where significant gaps in knowledge persist years after the Air Force decided to pursue A-10 divestment,” the report said. “For example, we found that the full extent to which the divestment proposals create capacity gaps and increase risk is difficult to determine, because DOD does not have a clearly established Air Force fighter aircraft capacity requirement.”
According to National Defense Magazine, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James fired back at the GAO, condemning their insinuations that the USAF did not use high-quality date to come to their conclusions about the A-10. She went on to cite two reports which indicate the divestment “was the most acceptable strategy to remain within the Air Force budget authority while controlling risk across all Air Force mission sets.”
The A-10 has been in the sights of the USAF nearly as long as it has been in service, with talks of phasing it out coming up since before the Persian Gulf War in 1991. During that time, F-16s with 30mm gun pods were proposed to replace it- and failed spectacularly. Since then, the idea of scrapping the A-10 has come up several times, although those ideas often meet stiff resistance from congressmen and combat troops alike.
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