The A-10s saved themselves from retirement for years

US lawmakers are set this year to allow the Air Force to retire more A-10 Warthogs under a defense policy bill, a sign that past struggles to keep the legendary aircraft in the fleet may start to lose strength.

A draft of the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act – which is being finalized this week – would allow the service to reduce the number of A-10s to 218, reducing the fleet by more than 40 aircraft from the number of 260 last year.

The military has used close support aircraft with a wingspan of more than 57 feet since the 1970s. The distinctive sound of its Gatling-style 30mm cannons protected troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in the first Gulf War, he helped build a passionate fan base among service members and Washington lawmakers, who have fervently shielded him from retirement.

For decades, the Air Force’s efforts to retire its A-10s have been stymied by Congress. However, last year, in the 2023 NDAA, Congress finally allowed 21 of the planes to be retired, marking the first retirement of that aircraft in the 21st century.

It should be noted that the NDAA project for 2024 doubles the number of withdrawals to 42 aircraft.

The A-10 provision in the mammoth defense bill still needs to be approved and possibly amended by the full House, then reconciled with the Senate version before becoming law. The legislation is not likely to be finalized until the fall or winter.

However, if Congress passes it, there are still conditions for the Air Force to get rid of those planes.

If Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall wants to reduce the number of A-10s below 218, the service must submit a detailed report on how it will conduct close air support missions.

“The Secretary of the Air Force may not reduce the total inventory of A-10 aircraft below 218 until a date that is 180 days after the date the Secretary files the report,” the NDAA draft says.

Before last year, Congress had rescued the A-10 at least five times since 2014 by adding provisions in the NDAA to prohibit the Air Force from retiring the plane or passing projects to keep it in the sky, according to Project On Government Oversight. , a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group.

Air Force officials have said publicly that the slow A-10, often called a tank in the sky, would not be advantageous in a more modern fight against a country like China.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, who has been nominated as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Association of Air and Space Forces Air Warfare Symposium in March that he expected the service to retire all A-10s by 2028 or 2029.

“I would say in the next five or six years, we’ll probably [have] the A-10 out of our inventory,” Brown told reporters. “The A-10 is a great plane. It’s a great place in an uncontested environment. The challenge is that we are going to be in more contested environments in the future.”

Thomas novelly