My twenty-two years in the Army was as an artillery officer and my first combat tour in Operation Desert Shield/Storm was as the Task Force 2-16 infantry fire support officer. In my early years, I had the pleasure of calling in strikes in training and coordinating strikes of the most potent close air support platform perhaps since the P-51 Mustang — the A-10 Thunderbolt, aka the “Warthog.” There is no greater sound to a ground combat soldier than the high pitched whine and the “blurp” sound of the Gatling Gun cannon in its nose. Here it is in all its glory:
And so I find this story particularly disconcerting.
As reported by the UK Daily Mail, “An Air Force major general has been formally reprimanded and removed from his job for telling a group of officers that talking to Congress in a bid to block retirement of the A-10 Warthog amounted to ‘treason,’ the Air Force said on Friday. “
“An investigation of remarks by Major General James Post III, who was the vice commander of Air Combat Command, found that his words to some 300 airmen at Nellis Air Force Base on Jan. 10 may have had a ‘chilling effect’ on some of them, convincing them not to speak with lawmakers. Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said the Air Force action against Post was ‘important and correct.’ ‘Members of Congress must be able to receive unfiltered facts and opinions from service members…,’ he said in a statement. ‘Attempts to prevent or restrict that communication cannot be allowed.”
Let me make one thing clear, no senior officer should impart such undue command influence against any member of our Armed Services. The A-10 is a potent aircraft and should not be retired and should undergo a service life extension program.
I would recommend that the Secretary of Defense make the decision to transfer the A-10 from the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. Army and here’s why.
We are currently under the belief that air power can defeat an enemy — that has only been the case with the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You cannot defeat a ground enemy from 20,000 feet. And an F-16 or an F-18 are not primary close air support platforms. The F-35 has had major cost overruns.
In combat, when a ground force engages the enemy, it is a tactical imperative to bring to bear all weapon systems in order to destroy the enemy force — while maintaining ground engagement. Currently, when calling in for F-16 and F-18 platforms, ground elements must disengage because of the risk of circular error from the munitions being dropped and collateral damage — fratricide, friendly fire. The enemy knows that when the ground force stops engaging they are repositioning for just that reason — and so the enemy does the same. And the enemy tactic is, if possible, to flee into villages resulting in civilian deaths — which then become tools of propaganda.
The A-10 allows for the ground combat force to maintain engagement with the enemy as it comes in low and slow to deliver its weaponry — namely the 30mm rotating cannon in its nose. This is the perfect system to defeat engaged Islamic jihadist groups and the A-10 is well equipped to get into some tough terrain.
Here is why this system should be transferred to the Army. The U.S. Marine Corps fights in what is called the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). It is composed of three elements as part of the task organization: a Ground Combat Element (GCE), a Air Combat Element (ACE), and a Logistics Support Service Element (LSSE).
The potent force deploys and fights as an integral unit, providing complete and total combat power to accomplish the mission. This is the model that should be utilized to develop a new Army combat capable force, the Brigade Air Ground Task Force (BAGTF), a self-contained combat force.
The MAGTF employs the AV-8B Harrier so the new BAGTF should employ the A-10 Thunderbolt. Currently the Army has Air Force liaison teams — tactical air controllers — that are attached whose purpose is to coordinate close air support strikes. Why not have the brigade commander in the Army just as the MAGTF commander owns these resources for his battle planning and execution — and have them not just attached, but assigned? They are immediately responsive.
The great thing about Marine aviators is they are trained first as Marine ground officers under the mantra, “Every Marine a rifleman.”
I love A-10 pilots, which I why I supported Air Force COL (Ret) Martha McSally so strongly to be a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She knows what this platform that she once flew and commanded is capable of doing. And for any Air Force officer to condemn speaking of retaining this weapon system as amounting to treason is heinous.
“Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh, himself a former A-10 pilot, has said that given budget and personnel constraints, the Air Force needs to retire the plane to save money and free up people to learn to maintain the new F-35 joint strike fighter. MAJ GEN Post made his remarks while fielding questions from the airmen. He was asked about the status of the A-10 and began to discuss budget constraints facing the department and the reason for the decision to retire the plane. The inspector general’s investigation interviewed several witnesses who remembered Post using the word ‘treason’ to describe efforts to oppose the Air Force leadership’s decision to retire the plane, either via a social media campaign or by talking to Congress.”
“In his own written account, Post said he told the group the Air Force didn’t want to get rid of the plane but needed to because of budget constraints. He acknowledged using the word ‘treason.’ General Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, gave Post a letter of reprimand due to the findings and removed him from his position as vice commander.”
If we are to be successful on this 21st century battlefield, it means thinking outside of the proverbial box and doing things which operationally and tactically make sense. Instead of cutting the A-10 program, let’s get rid of the respective Service Secretariat offices that have become nothing more than bureaucratic, political playgrounds for cronyism. As well, why not look at the growing civilian staffs at the respective Geographic Combatant Commands? Focus on supporting the warfighter and stop tying the hands of our men and women in combat to artificial budgetary constraints.
God knows, we can’t cut food stamps, but we can doggone sure cut the capability, capacity, and benefits to the best our country has to offer — the legacy of bravery, service, sacrifice, and commitment.