Just about 10 days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated that he was “not aware of any current plan, or even discussion of a current plan to field or provide A-10s to the Ukrainians. This was when the Pentagon was predicting that Kyiv would fall within days and the entire country within a week or so. What a difference five months makes. Months that pointed to two distinct failures of the intelligence agencies of the US and NATO. One of those failures was to grossly overestimate the capabilities of the Russians and the other was to grossly underestimate the fighting capabilities of the Ukrainians.  The reasons we so overestimated Russia comes as some surprise as it is no longer closed to the West in the way it was during the Soviet Union and we had few eyeballs on the ground in that country to give us first-hand knowledge of the condition of the Russian army, navy and air forces.  People from the West can travel pretty freely to Russia now and it’s really surprising we seem to not have any human intelligence assets in the country.   During the Cold War, most of the Russians who spied for the US did so for ideological reasons, they hated Communism.  Today, Russia is a kind of kleptocracy within a police state and has its ideological dissenters that might help the West with intelligence (if we asked).  The other option is paying cold, hard cash in a country that is notorious for its deep, systematic corruption (if we offered to pay).

We also got the fighting ability of Ukraine all wrong as well.  This one is more disturbing because we actually have intelligence assets in the country and even working with the Ukrainian armed forces.  Since 2014, the US and NATO have had a permanent training mission inside the country working with all of Ukraine’s uniformed services. Somehow all these US and NATO military personnel working side by side with the Ukrainian military for 8 years all came away with the impression that Ukraine would be all but helpless against a Russian invasion.

These two faulty intel assessments led to some unfortunate consequences for Ukraine. For years before the latest invasion, both NATO and the US refused to provide Ukraine with the offensive weapons they were begging for. It seems the general attitude was that any weapons sent to Ukraine represented throwing good money after bad and would only result in upsetting Putin.

Even after Ukraine showed they could hold their own against what was believed to be the second most powerful army in the world, the US and NATO have rummaged around in the bargain bin giving Ukraine mostly obsolete and discontinued weapons systems like the Javelin ATGM, Stinger missile, Harpoons Anti-ship missiles, aged howitzers, self-propelled guns, and fighting vehicles like the M-113.  Even with the very limited numbers of HIMARS missile artillery we have sent over there are about two generations behind the curve in terms of the missiles it fires. The administration refused to give Ukraine the 300km range M-48 (ATACMS Quick Reaction Unitary (QRU)) missile with GPS-aided guidance for fear Ukraine would shoot them into Russia to target their cruise missile launch sites.

We also balked at the idea of providing Ukraine with F-16s which are well past their freshness date as we replace them with variants of the F-35.  While it’s true that training pilots and ground crew to operate the F-16 does take months to do, the US has now had months to do it. Had we started immediately when the invasion began in late February, F-16s would now be in the skies over Ukraine.

Now, the latest Bargain Bin War idea has the idea of sending A-10s to Ukraine back on the table.  On July 20th at the Aspen Forum reporters were told that the Air Force planned again to retire the A-10s after spending a small fortune on upgrading them in 2020 after the last time they tried to get rid of them, promising that the F-35 could fill that role.  There are very good reasons to doubt the Air Force would ever be willing to let a $110 million dollar fighter like the F-35 fly low enough to the ground to do effective Close Air Support(CAS).  The Air Force generally hates the idea of dedicated CAS role aircraft and squadrons(it is a specialty) and wishes the army would just do with Apache helicopters and leave them alone to do air superiority at 35 thousand feet.

The F-35, with its amazing Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire control radar, could perform CAS from high altitude but it would have to first develop guided munitions with low explosive yields under 100lbs to drop bombs danger close to the troops. So far, the Air Force hasn’t shown much interest in doing that.

In Aspen, Secretary Kendall told reporters that they were now open to “discussions” with Ukraine as to what their requirements might be and how the A-10 might help meet them.