The Air Force may have found a politically irresistible way to get rid of at least part of its fleet of A-10s. The New York Times is reporting Air Force brass has been floating the idea of donating some or all of the close support “cannon with wings” aircraft to Ukraine and to train its pilots to fly them. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall says he’s considering the idea but it’s still in the discussion phase.
From an operational point of view, the aircraft is well suited to Ukraine’s need. The grinding war against Russia has morphed primarily to a game of inches on the ground with tanks leading the charge. A-10s were designed specifically for this kind of conflict and carry weapons to kill tanks and give close support to ground troops. The Air Force has long considered this kind of battle obsolete and said the A-10 is irrelevant and extremely vulnerable in the types of conflict it envisions in the future. It wants the money it spends to keep the A-10s flying used to support modern aircraft better suited to those future missions.
The Ukrainians will not be getting basket-case third-string equipment, however. Just about every time the Air Force has tried to send the Warthogs to the desert, Congress has responded with billions of dollars to upgrade and modernize the 50-year-old platform. It recently approved $1 billion to put new wings on half the fleet. The other half had already been done.
Kendall remains circumspect about the deal, but the Air Force has already accepted that Ukraine will need U.S. equipment as its Russian-made aircraft are lost or grounded because of a lack of parts. “Older U.S. systems are a possibility,” Kendall said. “As Ukraine, which is pretty busy dealing with the right-now problem, tries to sort out what its future will be longer term, we will be open to discussions with them about what their requirements are and how we might be able to satisfy them.”