Giving A-10 Warthogs to Ukraine is not irrelevant

US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall did not outright reject the idea of ​​transferring A-10 Warthog ground-attack jets to Ukraine when asked about the possibility earlier in the day. His comments came after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown separately said the Ukrainian Air Force will eventually have to start moving away from its Soviet-era fighter jets and that everything that follows will be “something un-Russian”. .”

Both Kendall and Brown made their comments at the annual Aspen Safety Forum today. The conference opened yesterday and is expected to run through the end of the week. To date, only the US Air Force has operated A-10s, an iconic close support aircraft known primarily for its massive 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger cannon and heavy armor.

“What does the Air Force…have to give up?” The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, who was Kendall’s speech moderator in Aspen, asked the Secretary of the Air Force.

“The venerable A-10…isn’t a system we’ll need against the types of opponents we’re most concerned about right now,” Kendall replied in part.

In its most recent budget request for fiscal year 2023, the Air Force requested authority to retire 21 Warthogs during that period. These aircraft have certainly proven useful over the past two decades or so in supporting low-intensity combat operations in permissive environments, but there are growing questions about their usefulness in any future high-level space conflict. contested air.

“A parenthetical thought. Why don’t we give those A-10s to Ukraine?” Ignatius then asked after Kendall finished his full answer to the original question.

“General Brown answered this question this morning about which fighters Ukraine might be interested in. A lot of it depends on Ukraine. … Older US systems are a possibility,” Kendall said in response. “We will be open to discussions with them about their needs and how we could meet them.”

You can watch the whole discussion between The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall at the 2022 Aspen Security Forum below.

“I can’t speculate what plane they might go to,” General Brown had said when asked about training in the United States for Ukrainian pilots during his own separate interview in Aspen. “It will be something un-Russian.”

Brown noted that European offers, as well as American offers, could be possibilities.

Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to include funding approval for Ukrainian fighter pilot training in an annual defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act ( NDAA), for fiscal year 2023. This legislation still needs to be finalized and then reconciled with a separate version that is currently moving through the Senate, before Congress can bring it to a final vote, after which it could be forwarded to the office of the President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Kendall and Brown’s remarks today are particularly different from the responses they gave to questions about the A-10 dispatch to Ukraine in March, where the two individuals specifically pointed out that there was no no active plans to make or even discussions of the possibility of such a transfer.

“I’m not aware of any current plans, or even any discussion of any current plan, to deploy or provide A-10s to the Ukrainians,” Kendall told reporters at the U.S. Air Warfare Symposium. ‘Air Force Association, according to breaking defense.

“I am not aware of any discussions or plans within the US Air Force to supply A-10s to Ukraine,” Brown said at the same event.

The issue of sending A-10s, along with other Western fighter jets, to Ukraine has certainly been raised many times since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February. So far, the Biden administration has resisted those calls, which have come from members of Congress, Ukrainian officials and members of that country’s military, and the general public, among others. US officials have generally raised concerns about how these deliveries could escalate the conflict and increase the risk of spillovers outside Ukraine.

This attitude has continued to change over the past few weeks, notably with the transfer of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) as well as precision-guided shells and plans to send ground-to-air missile systems. Air National Advanced Medium Range (NASAMS). The potential delivery of systems like these to Ukrainian forces had been deemed completely prohibited just months ago.

On Monday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted that he had spoken with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and that his US counterpart had “very good news, but details will come a bit later”. This, of course, could simply be a reference to the US government’s new promise today to send more HIMARS, which have already had a noticeable impact on the conflict.

Not so long ago, the very idea of ​​sending A-10s to Ukraine, or elsewhere, would have been a largely moot conversation. Congress has for years blocked the Air Force from divesting one of its Warthogs, with lawmakers continually demanding assurances that the service will not lose its critical close air support capabilities as a result of any decision. This long-standing position is now softening. The current version of the House’s NDAA accepts the Air Force’s proposal to retire 21 A-10s in the coming fiscal year. The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Monday that theirs was doing it too.

Other potential political obstacles also seem to have disappeared. In 2003, the Air Force opposed a possible lease of A-10 aircraft to the Colombian Air Force in part because of concerns over State Department blowback, who had requested the acquisition of a fleet of Warthogs for conversion into armored platforms for spraying herbicides. in support of counter-narcotics operations in Latin America.

By all indications, the State Department’s Air Wing, a large obscure organization which you can read more about here, seems to have outgrown any interest it might have had in using A-10s for this purpose. It acquired a number of ex-U.S. Army OV-10 Broncos and converted them into armored spray planes before disposing of them in favor of modified commercial dust collectors.

Of course, much remains to be seen whether or not Ukraine will receive A-10s. The Air Force’s concerns about the Warthog’s vulnerabilities in environments filled with high-end air defenses apply to the conflict in Ukraine, where aircraft on both sides face significant threats daily. At the same time, the A-10 was built to survive heavy battle damage and be quickly repaired and returned to service. They can also operate from austere airfields with a relatively small footprint. These characteristics suit Ukraine perfectly. It should also be noted that the Ukrainian Air Force still flies much less capable Su-25 Frogfoots – a very rough Soviet-era counterpart of the A-10 – on daily missions.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials would have to decide how other factors, such as training and logistical requirements, might affect the practicality of transferring any number of A-10s, as well as what weapons would be at their disposal. available if they were provided to Ukrainians. . The aircraft also has some sensitive systems that would probably need to be removed prior to such a transfer.

Regarding training demands, “thanks to past military exchange programs, Ukraine already has a small number of pilots trained to fly the A-10,” the retired general said. Air Force Philip Breedlove, who served for a time as the head of U.S. European Command. (EUCOM) and Kurt Volker, former US special representative for negotiations with Ukraine, wrote in an op-ed that the European Policy Analysis Center think tank published in March. The war zone was unable to confirm this.

That being said, if A-10s do end up appearing in the skies over Ukraine, it may well help end the debate about their ability to operate in higher threat environments for the better, for the better. better or for worse. At the same time, sending A-10s to Ukraine could finally give Air Force chiefs the cover they need to downsize the fleet once and for all.

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