Obscene Butchery in Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac
- Should the Air Force Retire the A-10 - A Seminar on a Seminal Question (11 November 2013)
The AF intends to prematurely retire the most effective close air support plane in the world — the A-10 Warthog, known affectionately to its supporters as “The Hog.” Its effectiveness in real war is unquestioned by those in the best position to know the truth: the grunts on the ground who need help in deadly firefights. Over the years, I have talked to many soldiers and marines with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all who have seen the Hog in action attest enthusiastically to this unique effectiveness. Even the AF commander in the First Iraq War, General Charles Horner, said publicly at its conclusion, “the A-10 saved my ass.” The Hog’s effectiveness in real war is not some arcane point in the printout of a theoretical computerized effectiveness model — it is a fact.
Yet in the middle of another war, with lives again at stake, the Air Force is literally telling Congress and the American people to believe that a bird in the hand (the A-10) is worth much less than a bird in the bush (the F-35) — i.e., the AF is making the outrageous claim that spending hundreds of millions to keep the combat-proven effectiveness of the A-10 in the fleet is less important than spending tens of billions for the unproven, hypothetical effectiveness of the over-cost, behind-schedule, underperforming, problem-plagued F-35, which if its schedule does not slip again, will not have an initial operational capability before 2019.
If Congress goes along with the AF plan to kill the Hog, it would explicitly affirm the sick set of priorities that are the central corruption in the Military-Industrial-Complex (MICC): namely that the MICC is a domestic political-economic faction willing do anything to shovel money to itself, while hypocritically wrapping itself in the flag of sacrifice and patriotism of others. By making the 'Hog kill' the law of the land, Congress would affirm that the MICC's corrupt value system is more important than the welfare of the troops Congress claims to support and the taxpayers it claims to protect.
More important is the symbolism of the kill: It would affirm in the clearest way how the MICC has become the nightmare version of the kind of faction James Madison warned about in Federalist #10. It is a nightmare, because it is out of control, in ways even worse than President Eisenhower suggested in his farewell address. The MICC preys on the cracks and fissures in Madison's sacred system of checks and balances, in a way that Madison could not have possibly imagined, as I explained in my 1990 pamphlet, Defense Power Games. That is why the A-10 has become the poster child for the MICC at its worst. The corruption is front and center for anyone with a discerning mind and a desire to see the MICC’s value system for what it really is.
Andrew Cockburn* explains brilliantly in the LA Times op-ed attached below how this obscenity is now unfolding, and he shows how the Congress is showing signs of going wobbly.
Thanks to Cockburn, that poster child is in full view before Congress votes; but Congress is in need of some corset stays to stiffen its spine; it remains to be seen if propping up high cost MICC boondoggles at home is more important than fielding low-cost weapons that work in real war.
* Cockburn is a long time friend of mine.
Op-Ed Saving the Warthog to save troop lives
THE A-10 Warthog, whose program may be cut, has drawn praise for its close support of ground troops. (Staff Sgt. Jeremy Wilson / U.S. Air Force)
By ANDREW COCKBURN, Los Angeles Times, 2 December 2012
The A-10 Warthog is the only aircraft specifically designed to support ground troops in combat
Scores of combat veterans ascribe their survival in firefights to intervention by one or more A-10s
Reminiscing about his service in the Korean War, a veteran once remarked to me with wonder how his Army boots were so inadequate in the freezing conditions of winter combat that he and his comrades would compete for the fur-lined boots of dead Chinese soldiers and even mount dangerous trench raids for that purpose. “How was it,” he said, “that I, as a soldier of the richest nation on Earth, was having to steal the boots of soldiers from one of the poorest countries on Earth?”
The campaign against the A-10 has been ongoing for decades but has taken on new urgency as the Air Force defends its treasured F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The answer was not that the U.S. military was too underfunded to buy proper boots for its men. After all, the military budget shot up to World War II levels once the war started. It was because senior commanders preferred to spend the money elsewhere, mostly on a variety of strategic nuclear bombers and other aircraft that never reached Korea.
U.S. military footwear has improved since those days, but the overall mind-set has not changed, as glaringly demonstrated by the Air Force's current efforts to junk the A-10 Warthog, the only aircraft specifically designed to support ground troops in combat. The plane is devastatingly effective in this role, thanks to its ability to maneuver close to the ground in the face of hostile fire while accurately targeting enemy positions with its lethal 30-millimeter cannon. Scores of combat veterans ascribe their survival in firefights to intervention by one or more A-10s, accolades accorded no other combat plane.
This simple fact of life cuts no ice with Air Force planners, traditionally disdainful of the close support mission, as they pursue a furious campaign to discard the A-10. They justify their plan with excuses, including that the plane is “40 years old and designed to fight Soviet tanks” and therefore obsolete. But they studiously ignore its vital contributions in every war since 1991.
Lacking experience in, or at least uncaring of, current combat realities, commanders tout multi-role substitutes, such as the B-1 bomber, which depend on video screens and map coordinates to place their bombs. Reliance on such means has left a trail of collateral damage across recent war zones, not only dead civilians by the score, but also U.S. service personnel. In June, a B-1 killed five American soldiers because the crew did not know that the plane's technology could not detect markers for “friendlies.”
The campaign against the A-10 has been ongoing for decades but has taken on new urgency as the Air Force defends its treasured F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. This gold-plated clunker, years late and staggeringly over budget, is today's equivalent of the Korean War-era nuclear bombers that ate up all the boot money. Although the program is years behind schedule because of its shortcomings, the Air Force shamelessly claims that the principal obstacle to imminent deployment is a suddenly discovered shortage of mechanics that can be alleviated only by reassigning personnel from a junked A-10 program.
“Are we going to delay the Joint Strike Fighter?” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said recently. “That would be awful. Are we going to underman the very aircraft that are most needed in this latest fight” against Islamic State?
The delay of which secretary James complained in this fatuous statement (the F-35 will not even complete operational testing until 2019) has been brought about by congress. Impelled by well-informed arguments from combat veterans and the clear political logic of sticking up for the grunts on the ground, the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the full House and relevant Senate defense committees, voted overwhelmingly this year to prevent the Air Force from retiring the plane.
That should have been the end of it, but the service chiefs refuse to concede defeat. The Senate and House committee bills expressed the same intent but in different ways. The final 2015 defense authorization bill is therefore being negotiated behind closed doors by the committees' leadership. It is here, secluded from public scrutiny, that the will of the wider Congress and the lives of soldiers may be ignored in favor of obliging the generals' demands. The respective Armed Services Committee chairmen, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), have shown little interest in the case for the A-10. Rumors on Capitol Hill do not bode a good result.
Let us hope that common sense and simple humanity win the day.
Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor of Harper's magazine, is the author of the forthcoming "Kill Chain: Drones and the Rise of the High-Tech Assassins."