Earlier this month, various media outlets (including the Washington Post) noted that fighting in Iraq was drawing closer to U.S. advisers in that country.
Of course, that depends on how you define the terms “close” and “fighting.” While ground advisers officially aren’t involved in combat, A-10 pilots from the Indiana Air National Guard (ANG) are carrying the battle to ISIS on a daily basis. At our Twitter account (@NateHale) we noted this development two weeks ago, and just yesterday, there was another reminder that Americans are in combat against terrorists in Iraq (and quite possibly), Syria as well. From DefenseWorld.net:
Airstrikes carried out by the US on ISIS positions using the A-10 Warthog aircraft killed and wounded a number of terrorists near the village of Sultan Abdullah near Moshul in Iraq at dawn yesterday, Iraqi News reported.
Quoting an unnamed source who witnessed the action, the report said that the aircraft carried out four airstrikes sparking panic in the ranks of ISIS after flying close to the ground.
“Elements of the terrorist organization retaliated with 4 Strela missiles and but that did not cause the aircraft any damage, prompting the remaining elements to leave the bodies of their dead and carry the wounded to escape towards the Shirqat district (120 km north of Tikrit), the report said.
And that’s exactly the kind of reaction we should strive for; after all, it’s tough to plot your next bombing or mass slaughter of innocent civilians while the GAU-8 is working its magic.
Once upon a time, the Air Force had large A-10 wings at places like Myrtle Beach AFB, SC; England AFB, LA, and RAF Bentwaters, UK. The fact that all three of those installations were closed years ago speaks volumes about what has happened to the “Hawg” since its triumph in the first Gulf War, where it destroyed hundreds of Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, with minimal losses.
Unfortunately, the A-10 has long been the jet that the “Air Force loves to hate,” not sexy or stealthy enough for the fighter jock community that still dominates the service. But the Hawg persists, largely because the bright boys and girls on the Air Staff haven’t found anything that can adequately replace it. Current plans call for the remaining A-10s to be eventually replaced by the F-35 stealth fighter.
But the Lightning II has several drawbacks in the CAS role. First, it is not as rugged as the A-10, and its ability to absorb battle damage–and live to fly another day–is unknown. Secondly, the F-35 does not have an internally-mounted cannon that is capable of destroying armored targets. Eventually, the jet will be equipped with a center-line mounted 25mm gun pod, but it won’t carry nearly the rounds–or the punch–of the GAU-8. And did we mention that when you hang stuff on the F-35’s external pylons, the jet’s radar signature increases? So much for stealth.
Interestingly, the A-10’s latest encounter with terrorists was witnessed by “reliable sources,” which begs another observation. As we’ve noted before, the Hawg is most effective when working with ground controllers, making us wonder if the personnel who watched ISIS flee from the battlefield were U.S. special forces, who are qualified to direct air strikes against enemy targets.
Admittedly, the currently conflict in Iraq presents a much different target set than the first Gulf War, but it makes you wonder: how much more effective would our “campaign” be with more A-10s in the air? The Hawg’s forte is working in concert with friendlies on the ground, obliterating anything that might pose a threat. We currently have only 12 A-10s in the region (all assigned to the Indiana ANG); that’s equivalent to half of one active duty squadron that deployed from Myrtle Beach almost 25 years ago. Who knows? Send a few more squadrons and pair them with surveillance drones and SF teams on the ground. We’re guessing that ISIS would decided to hunker down during the day–making it more easy to locate and target them. And, if they decide to venture forth at night, there’s always Spooky.
But for many missions, the A-10 remains the perfect choice. Besides, there is a certain delicious irony at the thought of hard-core jihadis being dispatched by an aircraft nicknamed for a wild pig.