What should the United States do with its A-10 Thunderbolts?

After years of obstruction, the United States Congress has finally approved the Air Force’s plan to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt. This is a wise decision, as the A-10 no longer meets the geostrategic needs of the United States. However, this venerable aircraft should not be thrown away out of hand; in the hands of international partners, it can continue to advance American interests.

The US government created the A-10 in the 1970s to provide close air support for US ground troops. In its time, it was an effective counterbalance to the threat of Soviet tanks, and in the decades since it has served the military faithfully.

What should the United States do with its A-10 Thunderbolts?

The A-10 proved especially useful in the Gulf War, when it flew 8,100 times and destroyed thousands of Soviet-era combat vehicles and equipment. Subsequently, he helped the United States destroy hardened enemy positions in the war on terror.

However, major military operations in the Middle East have ceased. Today, America’s greatest adversary is communist China, whose tanks and emplacements are far more advanced than those used by the Soviets or Islamic terrorists.

In order to counter Beijing in a future conflict, one must make the best possible use of limited hangar space and procurement dollars. For this, the A-10 must be withdrawn, as requested by the high military commands. This will make room for aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II, and will free up funds for the development and construction of next-generation missiles and anti-missile defense systems, which will be invaluable in any future conflict in the Indo-Pacific, whether in Taiwan, the South China Sea or the Korean Peninsula.

However, the A-10 can still do a lot of good if transferred to allies and partners in need. The most obvious example is Ukraine, which is preparing to mount a counteroffensive against Soviet-era tanks and entrenched Russian positions.

What should the United States do with its A-10 Thunderbolts?

At the recent G7 summit, President Joe Biden declared himself in favor of training Ukrainian forces to operate F-16 Fighting Falcons, a first step for allies to provide the plans to Ukraine. But even if the president’s position is accepted, there are good reasons to wonder whether an air-to-air fighter makes more sense. 

The head of Ukrainian defense intelligence, for example, believes that Ukraine would do better with A-10s. Additionally, F-16s require 6,000 tons of fuel. Also, to take off and land, the F-16s need 1,200 meters of asphalt, increasingly scarce in the bombed-out Ukraine, while the A-10s only need 1,200 meters of dirt runway.

In addition to Ukraine, potential beneficiaries of an A-10 transfer program include African countries in the Sahel fighting ISIS and Boko Haram, or even Latin American nations fighting paramilitary rebels and drug cartels in the jungle. .

Such a program would be neither unprecedented nor unusual. The United States manufactures and sells vehicles and platforms that the US military no longer uses on a semi-regular basis. For example, production of the A-29 Super Tucano employs hundreds of Floridians in Jacksonville and supports antiterrorist operations in Africa and Colombia.

Simply phasing out the A-10 by transferring it to allies and partners is the smart thing to do. It would not only help the United States adapt to the challenges of the 21st century, but it would also help its friends meet their own challenges without deep American intervention. That is killing two birds with one stone: the best public policy.

Senator Marco Rubio