A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

In Can the Air Force Contribute to Counterinsurgency, I reiterated some of the exchange that Major General Dunlap and I had concerning air power and counterinsurgency over a commentary at the Small Wars Journal Blog.  I concurred with Dunlap’s opinions, and have encouraged the consideration of the increased use of air power in small wars in order to effect the kinetic part of counterinsurgency more rapidly and efficiently.  Of course, on cue, the objection came that the increased involvement of air power would lead to greater collateral damage.

In Air Power in Small Wars, I extended this discussion to include accounts that despite the tardy debates back home in the states, the Air Force was already finding a way to contribute to the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq.  I also linked video showing anecdotal evidence of the hazards associated with the use of stand-off weapons such as artillery, pointing out that the objection to the use of the Air Force was equivalent to an objection to any stand-off weapon, whether Air Force or Marine and Army artillery.

Even this discussion is a bit tardy.  In A-10s Support Marines in Anbar, I discussed the fact that as of January 2007, the A-10 (438th Air Expeditionary Group) was going back into action to provide close air support for Marines in the Anbar Province.  This relationship with the A-10s to assist with counterinsurgency might be about to become more formal (h/t SWJ).  The USAF is considering a new A-10 COIN Squadron.

Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley has told Jane’s he is considering the creation of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) squadron of A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

Gen Moseley said he is mulling the possibility of putting a squadron of A-10A close-support aircraft inside AFSOC to serve the Special Operations Command, which has the lead engagement role in the US-declared global war on terrorism.

“There’s a variety of … counterinsurgency aircraft and other things out there that we’ve been looking at that would facilitate AFSOC’s partnership with the Special Operations Command,? Gen Moseley told Jane’s on 12 July.

“I’ve even asked: is it reasonable to put a squadron or so of A-10s into Special Operations Command??

The A-10 is widely used to provide close air support to coalition and friendly forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it can be used against all ground targets including armoured platforms.

Gen Moseley’s interest in a new A-10 COIN squadron follows recent reports of a new AFSOC proposal for an “irregular warfare? wing. Possible aircraft being floated to fill a strike role in the wing have ranged from a modified air-to-ground Beechcraft AT-6B to an Embraer Tucano or Super Tucano.

However, Gen Moseley cautioned that he is not yet fully committed to the idea of a COIN air unit but is considering it because he believes the USAF needs to be able to meet the “full spectrum? of threats — from COIN to state-on-state conflict.

“I don’t know if I’m wedded to [the COIN unit] so much as I would like to know the pluses and minuses,? said Gen Moseley.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft — known informally as the Warthog — may offer some key advantages if Gen Moseley decides to establish the COIN squadron. The A-10 was specifically designed to be highly survivable in close air support missions. It is highly maneuvrable at low air speeds and altitudes, boasts a long loiter time and also a titanium cockpit and redundant flight controls.

If established, the A-10 COIN squadron would be the first dedicated strike aircraft unit for COIN since the Douglas A-1 Skyraider: a propeller-driven ground-support aircraft used in the Vietnam War. The aircraft made a name for itself carrying large bomb loads, absorbing heavy fire and demonstrating prolonged endurance — traits similar to those possessed by the A-10.

“We fought all the way through Southeast Asia with A-1s living in the special operations world,? noted Gen Moseley.

Some A-10s have been modified with precision engagement technology, and these are the aircraft that should be considered for the COIN operations.  The A-10 is a magnificent aircraft with its Gatling gun, Titanium “bathtub” surrounding the pilot, redundant controls, etc.  Its retirement would be a bad thing: it can loiter and lumber over over the battlespace, it can take rounds and still limp home, it can deliver a huge amount of ordnance down range, and it has a proven track record of infantry support and pilot safety.

But even the A-10 will have its limitations.  Redeployment of this beautiful aircraft will require the involvement of engineering.  The age of the materials will cause the need to examine for metal fatigue, stress corrosion cracking, and component malfunctions among other considerations.  Despite these hindrances, the A-10 should perform well into the coming decades with the right refurbishments and care.  The final steps will be to convince both the USAF and the professional counterinsurgency community that use of the A-10s can be employed to our advantage in the battlespace without big increases in collateral damage.

  • http://www.noangst.blogspot.com Mike

    My thoughts on the matter are here.

    A quick summary: I’m not sure the A-10 is the best aircraft for the job because it is too complex, too expensive, and (most importantly) not still in production. It makes a great CAS aircraft, but CAS and COIN don’t necessarily go hand in hand. More over at my place.

  • http://www.noangst.blogspot.com Mike

    Oh, meant to add…sorry for putting the comment up so late. Had a bit of trouble registering and then got caught up in some other stuff and only got around to it now.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    This post has been updated with “Faster Kill Chain”:


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This article is filed under the category(s) Air Force and was published July 25th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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