Monday, April 14, 2014

It's About Trust

I appreciate that Air Force fire support specialists are upset at the retirement of the only dedicated ground support aircraft that the Air Force has. Leadership isn't as interested in that mission, unfortunately.

As a ground guy, the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns eliminated the basic mistrust I long had of the Air Force's ability and interest in supporting ground troops. Troops learned to count on and trust the Air Force to put ordinance on target when it was needed.

Sadly, Air Force leadership is showing exactly what it thinks of the ground support mission by deciding to get rid of the A-10:

Oh sure, the Air Force promises that multi-mission aircraft will continue to support the "mission" of ground support even when the asset designed for that mission is gone.

Yeah, I'm sure when the Air Force is prioritizing missions for their scarce multi-mission aircraft that ground support will be high on the list.

But by killing the only aircraft specifically designed just for ground support, the Air Force is very clearly telling us what their priorities are. The Air Force is essentially telling the Army (while denying this to Congress) to have a nice life--but goodbye. To think they were once the Army Air Force.

Yes. Jointness talks. But money walks. And there is no money for the A-10.

But the ground coordinators who embedded with the grunts who did the work of supporting ground forces aren't happy with this decision:

The Defense Department decision to retire an Air Force plane built specifically to support ground forces has ignited a firestorm of criticism from the airmen whose job is to embed with Army ground forces and spot enemy targets. Meanwhile, one top Air Force commander is defending his service’s decision to eliminate the A-10 Warthog, despite acknowledging the aircraft’s value.

Even when I was in basic training, these pilots took the time to practice their missions using the training company I was in as a prop. When we went on night fire, A-10s practiced strafing runs (well) in front of us so they could learn what a line of US troops firing looked like while cruising by.

But the Air Force says that the platforms that also have the missions of air superiority, deep strike, and whatever else the Air Force planners come up with to win the war on their own will be responsive to Army needs for ground support--with a caveat:

“If I have to sacrifice something in order to be able to fight the range of military conflict,” [Air Force General] Hostage said, “I’d rather have the F-35 and be able to fight the full range, than have an A-10 and be world class at close air support, and then lose completely in any kind of high-end fight.”

Already, we see other missions have higher priority. He has a point. But the fact is the Air Force will be deciding when close air support priority justifies using his multi-role aircraft for that mission.

The Army will have better luck responding to a Nigerian email scam. And lots of luck with the Air Force keeping the trust with the Army that was built up through years of effective Air Force close air support.

UPDATE: In the opening sencence I mistakenly wrote "pilots" are upset at the A-10 retirement. While they probably are, the story was about the Air Force personnel who move with ground troops to call in fire missions. I knew that and wrote about that in the post but mistakenly wrote "pilots" in the first sentence by mistake.