The Air Force has changed the earliest retirement date of the famed A-10 Warthog to 2021, the Air Force’s Chief of Staff said Tuesday.
The close-air support plane was set for retirement as early as 2018, but with the announcement, the plane’s service extends an additional three years at the least. The future of the platform is uncertain as the service still needs to decide if they will need a program to replace it.
“We’re going to keep them through 2021. Then, as a result of a discussion we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary Mattis and the department, and review all of our budgets — that’s when we’ll determine the way ahead,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters during a breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Goldfein said that he hopes the discussion on close-air support moves from “platform-centric” to a “family of systems” approach that utilizes many aircraft to support ground forces.
“That starts with an understanding of how we do the business today of close-air support, because the reality is it’s changed significantly, and it will change significantly in the future if we get this right, because this is something we’ve got to continue to think about,” Goldfein continued.
Goldfein added that there were a number of situations in Afghanistan where the A-10 wasn’t the right aircraft to be used for close-air support.
He said that the A-10 performed well in southern Afghanistan where open terrain was plentiful, but they would not do as well in other parts in Afghanistan. He said the unmanned MQ-9 Reapers were optimal for close-air support in the mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan while B-1 bombers were the right fit for northern Afghanistan because of their endurance. He added that the F-16 was crucial in western Afghanistan.
Goldfein said that the Air Force intends to conduct an experiment of a potential “OA-X” light attack fighter aircraft that the service could use to supplement the A-10 in counterterrorism campaigns.
The experiment is currently in its early stages, but has yet to receive funding.
“Show me what you got that’s off the shelf, that’s shovel-ready, that can contribute right now without research-and-development dollars, that we can get into the fight right now,” Goldfein said.