The "Warthog" is term of endearment in the U.S. Air Force's line up of fighter jets. Its firepower capability, speed and accuracy, frequent war use, and the oft-painted teeth on its nose cone have made it one of the military's most popular aircraft. I am humbled and honored that many have called the Warthog: "the Chuck Norris of airplanes." But what you might not know is that its entire fleet right now runs the risk of landing in the U.S. airplane scrapyard, if the government has its way.
Technically known as the A-10 Thunderbolt, it is the U.S. Air Force's primary low-altitude close air support aircraft. The Warthog was originally built four decades ago to destroy Soviet tanks in Europe, but has been since used in a wide range of U.S. wars and operations.
Military.com explains, "Its combination of large and varied ordnance load, long loiter time, accurate weapons delivery, austere field capability, and survivability has proven invaluable to the United States and its allies. The aircraft has participated in operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom."
Military.com also details its wide range of firepower capabilities: "The Thunderbolt II can employ a wide variety of conventional munitions, including general purpose bombs, cluster bomb units, laser guided bombs, joint direct attack munitions or JDAM, wind corrected munitions dispenser or WCMD, AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, rockets, illumination flares, and the GAU-8/A 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute to defeat a wide variety of targets including tanks."
In May 2014, the 300 planes in the fleet nearly suffered a collective fatality due to the Obama administration budget cuts, which desired to cut the program to the tune of about $4 billion over a five-year period.
But last September, Republicans in Congress temporarily saved the A-10 Thunderbolt by allowing it to join the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Congress' rationale was simple, according to the International Business Times: "Cutting it would lead to the deaths of U.S. servicemen on the ground."
Those fighting to save it, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., explained that: "the aircraft was the only U.S. jet to offer tactical and accurate support close to the ground. Other aircraft, they argued, flew too fast and too high and were not as accurate in taking out the enemy in close confines."
So Congress continued its program and use until 2015 with the help of a $635 million budget taken from its war fund. But the Warthog is back on the chopping block.
In May 2014, Air Force Col. Robert S. Spalding III argued that the Warthog had no place in the future of the Air Force, and advocates for it were "missing the point." It was the Obama administration, however, that missed the point and boat by concluding that the Warthog's utility was passé with fading wars in Afghanistan. In underestimating foes like ISIS, who are spread out in terrain like al-Qaida and the Taliban, the A-10's utility is warranted even more now than ever.
Those like ACC chief Gen. Herbert Carlisle might say about the A-10: "There's only so much you can get out of that airplane. Those airplanes are gonna wear out." But that statement is true of every airplane in existence, and even the sun! The question is: Is the fleet of A-10 ready for retirement? I just celebrated my 75th birthday, but I'm nowhere near ready to head to the scrapheap. Some things improve with age, and the A-10 has done just that, too.
The 300 A-10s are not like old passenger jets with archaic technology. For example, according to Military.com, the A-10 fleet has received a host of upgrades allowing them to remain one of the finest fighting machines around:
- "The Low-Altitude Safety and Targeting Enhancement (LASTE) upgrade provided computerized weapon-aiming equipment, an autopilot, and a ground-collision warning system."
- "In 1999, aircraft began to receive Global Positioning System navigation systems and a new multi-function display."
- In 2005, the entire A-10 fleet began receiving the Precision Engagement upgrades that include an improved fire control system, electronic countermeasures, upgraded cockpit displays, the ability to deliver smart bombs, moving map display, hands on throttle and stick, digital stores management, LITENING and Sniper advanced targeting pod integration, situational awareness data link or SADL, variable message format, or VMF, GPS-guided weapons, and upgraded DC power."
- "The entire A-10 fleet has been Precision Engagement modified and now carries the A-10C designation."
That is why Col. Craig E. Ash, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Wing Maintenance Group that sent the A-10s to the Middle East, summarized: "We have the best training, equipment and aircraft in the world; we've been preparing and training for this deployment for the past few months; and I am fully confident in our ability to deploy one of the country's most lethal fighting forces to support and defend US efforts abroad."
As a way of further supporting for the preservation of the A-10 program, my wife, Gena, and I have partnered with "Save the A-10" by announcing the production of a new shirt that proudly displays the words, "Save the A-10." And the added bonus is that all the proceeds for the shirts go to help save at-risk kids in our nonprofit foundation and charity, KickStartKids (Kickstartkids.org). You can order the new shirt here.
My passion to save the A-10 fleet comes from a long lineage of patriots and advocates for the U.S. military, our troops and their families. I not only visited the troops a couple times during the Iraq war, but I also served for four years in the Air Force in South Korea. My father fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. My brother, Aaron, served in the Army in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. My other brother, Wieland, was killed in action in Vietnam when he walked point alone and drew out enemy fire so others in his platoon could fight their way out to freedom. Many souls were saved on that day because of my brother's bravery. (My mom wrote a chapter on each of us and our military service – and for the first time tells Wieland's war story at length – in her autobiography, "Acts of Kindness: My Story," available at ChuckNorris.com.)
Friends and fellow Americans, send a message to the White House and your representatives: "Save our troops! Save the A-10 Thunderbolt!"