The Infeasibility and Non-Ideal Use of A-10 Warthogs if Operated by PAF

Having a close air support aircraft like A-10 Thunderbolt that a respective country has is something a fanboy is imagining about, only considering its sheer firepower and setting aside other technical areas which are important as well. Here, though, each reader needs to understand the factors that predetermine the feasibility of an aircraft within an armed force through parameters that will give clarification, as well as some harsh truths for the fans wherein it comes to the analytical knowledge that is primarily needed in defense avenues (with references as well).

(Pitz Defense Analysis Note: This article is to provide a trickle knowledge for a reader who has a little idea about defense technicalities, and to get an idea, or to be enlightened for a bit, where the information given out serves as a guide for any interested in defense to understand the concepts which help people to engage in every discussion with the right mind and knowledge. It goes on with this adage: "Read more, post less")

A-10 Thunderbolt II. Something that a fanboy dreams about. Source.

A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, is a U.S. Close Air Support aircraft which is a jet-powered, versatile aircraft with GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun as its main weapon (also used in Goalkeeper CIWS) alongside air-to-surface missiles like AGM-65 Maverick missiles.

It entered service in 1972, and they produced around 713 units of this aircraft. It saw action in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and recently in Syria, which gives its combat performance into test in actual scenarios. Through the years, operating A-10s are becoming a financial burden for the U.S. Air Force that is presently opting for light aircraft such as A-29 Super Tucano which at present is still at the post-qualification phase in the Philippines' Close Air Support Aircraft procurement program. The scenario alone within the U.S. Air Force is simply the tip of the iceberg regarding the aircraft's ever-growing infeasibility in operating it. 

Going on, misinformation, as well as the fanaticism of having A-10s for the Philippine Air Force, is getting stronger, wherein it, sad to say, involves a mainstream media outlet that makes a mistake regarding having it as "wish-listed". Other sophisticated weapons are also wish-listed by many uninformed fanboys for the AFP, which, because of the numbers, we cannot mention them all. Here, the so-called "wish-listing" of having A-10 Warthog becomes much worse back then wherein it screws up people's minds, especially the ones who have a little idea about defense issues and the gullible ones.
This infographic from PDI shows the aircraft's PAF gets concerning the Marawi crisis sorties. There is one mistake there.

The sheer intensity of misinformation among the people who have a first peek at the said infographic is great which definitely fuels the orgasm of those who are interested in such an aircraft but don't have an idea about the technicalities and factors that prevent the armed forces into obtaining the Warthog. To get things clearer, the armed forces themselves aren't interested in gaining it considering that there are better alternatives that also enhance the capabilities regarding close air support operations such as the Super Tucano aircraft. Matters such as these need to get clarified for us to understand things further regarding close air support.

We based the information and thoughts about this matter out on references given, as well as having an informative viewpoint that can provide out from such references. Also, it is for each reader to understand the concepts regarding the considerations needed for procuring military equipment.

Textron Airland Scorpion jet. It is just one out of many candidates showcased for the Fairchild A-10 Warthog replacement program in the U.S.

Here are some but the important factors regarding why A-10 Warthogs are infeasible and not ideal for an air force, such as those for the Philippine Air Force. In this manner, it is worthy to take these notes up to understand. Notwithstanding, this is to debunk the minds that "having a popular aircraft" in mind does not mean it is ideal for an air force to have...

1. Cost of the procurement and airframe life. Buying the Warthogs alone isn't that expensive, which will not eat the portion of the defense budget, which there will be no more left for other projects to have (unless if it is on operating costs). To be specific, check its general characteristics as got from the U.S. Air Force page below.
Click larger for clearer details. 

Given the details, the cost per unit is at an estimated cost of around US$18.8 million. To take note, this is as per September 2015, where, if based on the September 2015 exchange rates, it is at around Php841,235,400.00. Take note, the data provided isn't just based alone on price per unit considering that in any procurement contracts, factors such as warranty, freebies, add-ons, maintenance cost, inflation rate, and exchange rates can make such pricing higher or lower depending on the terms given in it. 

Here, though, the pricing at present will be higher than it is previously because of the factors like a depreciating peso which as per posting, it is at Php51.00 per US$1.00. Concerning its airframe, we expected it to get expanded so as the U.S.A. F overhauls its existing A-10s with its wing replacement program, which will delay its decommission until 2021. In it comes value-added attributes, and in it influence the price to increase if Boeing itself offers overhauled ones to the Philippines (in which it did).

It shall be not that bad considering the price where brand new FA-50PH fares at around Php1.6 Billion as per its contract and the provisions that are attached to it. However, the pricing isn't also the factor aside from the ones that are affecting it when considering "buying A-10s" that goes with the gleaming eyes of the fanboys. Things like logistics are also at play as well.

2. Logistics, Maintenance, and the Number of Users. This is another consideration for considering any kind of military equipment and not just the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II. Given its number of users, alone is an obstacle where there is only a sole source of spare parts and any other amenities should an air force consider it, and with that comes the laws of the user country that are needed to comply. That branch of the United States military is the United States Air Force.

Being the sole user of the Thunderbolt Warthog, the United States is relying on its very own regarding its spare parts which comes with problems especially if it considers selling such jets to international users like the Philippines (IHS Janes reported it at one point saying that the congress might not agree to it). Here, there is at one time that Boeing, through the reports given by Air International Magazine, offers 12 overhauled former the United States Air Force A-10s with another 12 being spare parts hulks, coming at overall 24 units. See the article below.

Taken by the context of the Air International Magazine Article once again, it sounds promising wherein the deal Boeing offer for the Philippines is good of its own worth where aside from Warthogs being overhauled, it also comes with spare parts hulk for the jets to operate further considering the wear and tear that takes place on the jet's parts. 

But then again, it doesn't go with the guarantees considering the mere fact that the United States Air Force, in its worth is only the sole user of these jets and at present, they themselves opt for a more light Close Air Support Aircraft like the Super Tucano that the Philippine Air Force preferred and to be having soon. From there, it goes hand-in-hand to these two fundamental factors, which are the operating costs and the better alternatives that it coincides with.

3. Increasing and Unaffordable Operating Costs. This is the very main reason it is infeasible for the Philippine Air Force to get the aircraft with logistics, and procurement cost concerning airframe being its following attributes. 

Considerably, the United States Air Force is in fact considering decommissioning its inventory of said jets because of this very reason. Due also to this, the USAF almost decommissioned these out, but the legislators saved the Warthog from getting into the chopping block, with its airframe life extended further because of lobbying that counters such a proposal. 

Adding things up, this article from Foxtrot Alpha may explain the rationale regarding these considerations. Take note, what will consider as cost effective among the Americans may not be that cost-effective for the Filipinos given the disparity of the financial status these nations comprise. 

Just take the F-16 for instance, it may be cost-effective and battle-proven as well as being used by neighbors like Indonesia and Thailand, but is not ideal for the long term because of its airframe especially if it is a refurbished aircraft which DND soured a lot in its time way back 2012 as the FA-50 LIFT program is still at the negotiation stage. 

To have some oversight in operating cost, National Interest in its article gives a detail where the USAF gives figures that the Warthogs has an operating cost of estimated US$20,000 per hour which equates to around Php1,020,000 per hour given the approximate exchange rate as per posting. The cost is greater than OV-10s like the Philippine Air Force gets where it runs at an estimated US$1,000 per hour or only approximately Php 51,000 and further, the EMB-314/A-29 Super Tucano with an operating cost of approximately US$430 ~ US$500/hr or Php29,930 ~ Php25,500 as per posting's exchange rate.

The disparity of the cost between the Warthog and its predecessor is large wherein the Philippine Air Force at present is comfortable with the old OV-10 it presently gets that it is still effectively capable of doing its sorties in combat where they opt to look for its equivalent replacement such as A-29 Super Tucano.

4. Performance. The Warthog, throughout its history, proved itself in several theaters of combat, where its agility and survivability as what the U.S.A.F. is explicating goes to the extreme with favorable results.

Aside from the GAU-8 Avenger Main Gun that gives fanboys the chills, the Warthogs also carry various munitions to achieve its primary mission objectives. Munitions include AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, Mk-82 bombs, Mk-84 bombs, AGM-65 Maverick, among others. 

Some side note, the FA-50s of the Philippine Air Force possess this capability of carrying such bombs, with the Maverick being the newest addition in its guided munitions arsenal. Not to mention that the Super Tucano Close Air Support Aircraft can carry these weapons as well. 

Add to these the considerations of having pilots trained to operate these aircraft which an obstacle where in Close Air Support Aircraft terms, PAF pilots honed their skills more on helicopters and slow, propeller-based aircraft like SF-260s and OV-10s. The Super Tucanos, meanwhile, may be the closest one there is to these aforementioned aircraft where the experience and skills of operating OV-10s and SF-260s can get applicable to the Super Tucano with minor adjustments in understanding its avionics.

Simply put, the OV-10s and A-29s may provide the same capabilities that the Warthog has at a cheaper operating cost per hour. Not to mention that the Philippines, being an archipelago, doesn't have any internal adversaries that get armored units, which the Warthog designs for in-part. With internal OPFOR units being comprised men, as well as these parties, don't have anti-air capabilities, having OV-10s at present or A-29s for some time may suffice the needs.

5. Alternatives. Given the sour F-16 deal, it might as well go hand-in-hand with the overhauled A-10s wherein like the deal back 2012, the Defense Department sees for a better alternative which settles for FA-50s which shares several attributes with the F-16 considering that the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) helped manufacture these indigenous light jets with the help of Lockheed Martin. 
Brazilian Air Force EMB-314 Super Tucano. Credits to its owner.

Many alternatives are there in the market that also caters to Close Air Support Aircraft that the Philippine Air Force can choose from for its program to enhance its COIN or Counter-Insurgency Operations like those presently taking place in Marawi. One of the said aircraft is the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which won the Philippine Close Air Support Aircraft bid and is present at the post-qualification stage. That is aside from the active units of OV-10s, which already proves its worth through the years within the Philippine Air Force. 

These planes are more ideal for the Philippine Air Force to have than the Warthog, where its cost-effectiveness is essential to keep the operations going at the lowest cost possible in terms of maintenance as well as enhancing capabilities further where it gets the results intended. With OV-10 getting replaced eventually, the EMB-314, being used by Brazil and Indonesia, may get the fair share for PAF as soon as they will do a contract signing and if gets pushed through.

As much as fanatics may want it, the Defense Department has no plans of having it. Photo Source.

With good aircraft in the market like the EMB-314 Super Tucano and the points given above, having A-10s is not viable for the Philippine Air Force in both the short and long terms.

These near 40-year-old aircraft, just like the second-hand F-16 deal way back in 2012, are nearing its life where the United States Air Force is planning to ax it in favor to either the F-35s entering the service or candidates such as the AT-9 Texan or the Super Tucano that the Philippine Air Force may have later on. 

Given these circumstances, with the threat of terrorism in the country, having A-10s is a bit of an expensive gambit which can equatable to an overkill if used where operational costs and maintenance gives a headache for the decision-makers considering that aside from the enemies not having anti-air capabilities, the Warthog's jet-powered engines are not well-verse in local areas which the Turboprop OV-10 gains a lot. Not to mention that the pilots can adapt better to Super Tucano than the Warthogs considering that the former, being a turboprop aircraft, is something that PAF pilots are familiar with because of the use of OV-10s. 

Speaking of China, it is better to leave that matter to the Multi-role fighters which will get gained in Second Horizon, and to the Navy which will have more assets later on with the frigates getting processed for construction in its way to active use by 2020.

Overall, the Warthogs are simply not ideal. Something clearly known that the Defense Department nor the Philippine Air Force doesn't ask about procuring this aircraft, whereas the EMB-314 Super Tucano has the chance of getting got. The bottom line is that the main point of these things is more of practicality, where pilot training, maintenance, operational costs, logistics, and airframe life do matter for the viability of the Air Force's capability.

(c) 2017 PDA, 2021 edition.


Anonymous said...

Nice blog! An adjustment in your writing structure and it is as good as it is. Keep up the good work!


Nicky said...

IMO, I think the Philippines should look at the SU-25 as an Alternative to the A-10. Though them getting the A-29 Super Tucano is good enough for COIN and CAS Missions. As for MRF's, since they can't afford the F-16, I think they should talk to France on the Mirage 2000 or Israel on the IAI Kfir block 60 or even used F-16 A/B Netz from Israel or even Russia with the MIG-35 or Su-30. Though if they want to stay aligned with the west, the used Mirage 2000, IAI kfir block 60 or used F-16 A/B Netz from Israel is one option.

Pitz Orpiano said...

The A-29 Super Tucanos will soon be provided to the Philippine Air Force, so CAS aircraft will be lesser of concerns now. So as for the MRF, it is at best to wait and see since it is slated on the Horizon 2 of the Modernization Phase covering from next year 2018 up to year 2022.

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