A key military group responsible for guiding fighter jets toward their battlefield targets is trying to keep the legendary A-10 "Warthog" from flying off into the sunset.
With the Pentagon set to ground the A-10, the Tactical Air Control Party Association, the group which represents battlefield spotters, wrote a letter to outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging the Pentagon to reconsider. The letter mentioned a June incident in Afghanistan in which five U.S. service members were killed by friendly fire from one of the planes that would replace the A-10, according to The Washington Times.
“We believe that F-15s, F-16s, and B-1s cannot replicate the CAS capabilities of the A-10, and we know from combat experience that the elimination of the A-10 before a viable replacement achieves full operational capability will cost American lives,” read the letter in which the association described the unique challenges of close air support.
Battlefield spotting involves a pilot circling overhead and a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground, who collaborate to find the enemy.
“When under enemy fire and about to be overrun, JTACs look over their shoulders and pray an A-10 is there — knowing that nothing reassures and protects friendly forces and scatters and destroys enemy forces like an A-10,” the letter said.
The TACP association is comprised of United States Air Force Tactical Air Controllers and their endorsement of the Warthog is considered significant because of their ability and knowledge in how to protect ground troops under fire as they guide fighter jets to their targets.
Lawmakers also are fighting the Air Force’s plan to scrap about 300 A-10s, also known as the Thunderbolt II, to save a projected $4.2 billion for use on other projects. House and Senate negotiators have been working on a fiscal 2015 defense budget and the outcome will determine what happens to the fighter jets. For now, the A-10s will evade retirement for at least another year after the Senate recently approved language to prevent it.
The Defense Department intends to replace the Cold War-era A-10s with the B-1B, which was involved in the friendly fire incident on June 9, in which a plane dropped a 500-pound bomb near five U.S. soldiers protecting a helicopter landing zone.
“Look back at the unfortunate but completely preventable fratricide incident in June that killed five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said at a press briefing in November, according to the Washington Times. “If that had been an A-10 providing close air support that day, we might have avoided that tragic friendly fire incident.”