Happy Father’s Day Fighter Sweep community.

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the new Assistant Editor for Fighter Sweep. We are incredibly excited to add someone with “Smokin” Joe Ruzicka’s experience and credentials.  Smokin is a former Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) in the F-14 Tomcat and Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) in the F-18 D/F.  He was selected as the Legislative Fellow for Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2011. Smokin has accumulated over 2000 hours, holds a FAC(A) “Forward Air Controller Airborne” designation and was the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) to fly the final F-14 Tomcat Demonstration in September 2005.  You can follow him on Twitter at @smokinjoe96 and contact him directly at [email protected].

Smokin

 

As you can see by his first post, Smokin brings a wealth of experience from the Fleet and DC to his work here at Fighter Sweep.  We’re lucky to have him and excited to see what he brings.

Welcome Smokin Joe!

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Two A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft fly a flight training mission March 16, 2010, over Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The A-10C is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close-air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman)
(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman)

Recent SASC hearing Brings Up Questions on A-10 Warthog: Continuation vs Replacement Challenge

Yesterday’s Armed Services Committee hearing for the confirmation of General David Goldfein to become the next US Air Force Chief of Staff was an easy breeze through the Senate for the General. Goldfein, currently Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and a former F-16 and F-117 pilot, answered Senate questions in both pre-hearing testimony and during the live interview portion without much argument.

That likely won’t happen again soon.

A-10 Maverick

With many competing issues at the forefront of the USAF’s budget cycle over the next few years, one of the more controversial issues is what to do about the A-10 Warthog and how to go about eventually replacing it.

“I’m actually as concerned about the A-10 community as I am about the A-10 platform, because the A-10 community is actually our PhD course when it comes to close-air support,” Goldfein said.

Goldfein told lawmakers that the USAF would remain committed to the close-air support mission even though the current USAF Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh has admitted the service currently lacks the funding necessary to buy a new close-air support (CAS) plane before the A-10 Warthog retires (which is expected around 2022).

Welsh was recently asked by reporters what features the A-10 replacement aircraft would need to posses in order to be a successful platform.   Welsh surprised them with the term “flying Coke machine”.

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“You have a Coke machine overhead, you put in a quarter, and you get whatever kind of firepower you want when you want it. In a perfect world that’s close-air support of the future,” he told reporters during a June 15 breakfast meeting.

 

While using the term “flying Coke machine” is as illustrative as it is tongue-in-cheek, both Goldfein and Welsh bring up excellent points on what the eventual A-10 replacement concerns will be in the coming decade.

The current and interminable threat of ISIS and other terrorist cells will likely call for CAS “On Demand”.  In other words, there will always be a need for a platform that can loiter above a threat area 24/7 to provide immediate support with a variety of weapons.  With current technology limits, budget issues, and a roughly ten-year time constraint, it would appear that the USAF’s best option for timely replacement of the A-10 would be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with a multiple payload option.

A-10 Gun

However, General Goldfein’s point about making sure the USAF does not lose the CAS experts (who mainly come from the A-10 community) is a considerable one.  The CAS mission is arguably the most dynamic flying mission with the most real world consequences.  CAS missions require a pilot to know where the friendly forces and civilians are within the battle space, find moving or hidden targets, and avoid the threat of anti-aircraft fire.  Every single time.  Being able to see the battlefield from the cockpit in real time is indispensable. The A-10 community has practiced this role as its primary mission for years and they have become pretty darn good at it.

Boeing_X-45A_UCAV

Reducing the role of the human in the CAS mission and replacing it with a more myopic UAV platform must be carefully coordinated and thought through.  While not impossible, it’s a little more involved than putting quarters into a coke machine.   Unfortunately, current budget constraints do not seem too favorable for any replacement option at the moment.

“I’d like to build a new CAS airplane right now while we still have the A-10, transition the A-10 community to the new CAS airplane, but we just don’t have the money to do it, and we don’t have the people to fly the A-10 and build a new airplane and bed it down,” Welsh said.

One thing is clear: whatever type of coke machine the A-10 replacement eventually becomes, it should have a human flavor to it.