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Air Force open to giving A-10s to Ukraine in latest move to get rid of them

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft assigned to the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron sit on the flightline at Amari Air Base, Estonia, Sept. 21, 2015. (Andrea Jenkins/U.S. Air Force)
July 21, 2022

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall indicated on Wednesday that he would be open to giving retirement-bound aging A-10 Thunderbolt IIs in the U.S. fleet to Ukraine to assist in its ongoing war against invading Russian forces.

During an interview on the topic of Air Force modernization efforts during the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, Kendall was asked about recent comments that modernization “means letting go of familiar systems and concepts.” When the Washington Post’s David Ignatius asked Kendall what specific systems he was referring to letting go of, Kendall immediately brought up “the venerable A-10.”

“The venerable A-10 — which is an Army officer I supported for many many decades — actually um is not a system that we’re going to need against the kinds of adversaries where we’re concerned about most now.”

When Ignatius then asked about transferring retiring A-10s to Ukraine, Kendall said “General Brown addressed that question this morning about what fighters Ukraine might be interested in.”

“That’s largely up to Ukraine,” Kendall continued. “Older U.S. systems are a possibility. We will be open to discussions with them on what their requirements are and how we might be able to satisfy them.”

Kendall has repeatedly called for the Air Force to retire the A-10. In December, he said the Air Force is ready to fund the development of two new combat drones, but said the Air Force needs to be able to get rid of aging aircraft like the A-10 because “they’re aging and their utility against the pacing challenge is very limited.”

When the Department of Defense submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2023, the Air Force included a request to retire 21 of its A-10s, which would bring the total number of A-10s in the Air Force fleet from approximately 281 to 260.

While the Air Force has repeatedly signaled its desire to get rid of its A-10s, the request has been repeatedly denied by lawmakers. According to Politico the Air Force requested to retire the entire A-10 fleet in 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets, but with no success. The Air Force then offered to only retire portions of the fleet in 2021 and 2022, but Congress still blocked the move.

Even without the Congressional resistance to retiring A-10s, President Joe Biden has shown resistance to calls to supply western military jets to Ukraine. In March, the Biden administration turned down a proposal by Poland to send Ukraine some of its Soviet-era MiG fighters in exchange for the U.S. backfilling Poland’s aircraft fleet with equivalent western aircraft. Then-Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the idea of sending fighters from a U.S./NATO base “to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”

Kendall’s comments about potentially sending A-10s to Ukraine are different from his own comments in March when the same idea was proposed.

“I’m not aware of any current plan, or even any discussion of a current plan to field or provide A-10s to the Ukrainians,” Kendall said at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in March, Breaking Defense reported.