The A-10 Warthog has been a favorite among ground troops since its introduction in 1977.
The aircraft's official name is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thuderbolt II. It was named after the legendary P-47 Thunderbolt from World War II. However, the close air support jet's bulked-up - and frankly ugly - appearance helped it earn its more commonly used monicker - the 'Warthog.'
Many American ground troops will tell you that this is the most beautiful thing in the sky:
Enemy ground troops - particularly those in tanks and armored vehicles - have had a somewhat different perspective. The A-10 Warthog, whose typical missions include supporting ground troops, attacking armored vehicles and providing forward air control for fighter/attack aircraft attacking ground targets, is renowned both for its ability to lay down heavy firepower and exceptional survivability for its crew.
Now, it looks like the future of the A-10 is in jeopardy.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed the likelihood that the A-10 wold be nixed as part of the Pentagon's 2015 budget. According to a Fox Business report, Hagel claims that sending the Air Force's over 300 A-10s out to pasture will save the United States $3.5 million over five years. Other cuts in the 2015 Pentagon budget include replacing U-2 spy planes with Global Hawk drones and reducing Army personnel below 450,000 - pre World War II levels.
The A-10 is slated to be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II fighter/attack aircraft. According to a Business Insider report, the F-35 is the most expensive military purchase in US history.
Critics point out that while the F-35 is faster and more versatile, it is not as heavily armored or equipped to handle the close air support mission traditionally carried out by the A-10.
There are plenty of critics of the decision to ground the A-10 on both sides of the political aisle. According to Fox Business, Rep. Ron Barber (D, Ariz.) said:
"(The F-35) is a long way off and isn't designed to do what the A-10 does best. I have consistently fought that proposal (to ground the A-10) and will continue to do so. (The A-10) plays a crucial role in protecting our troops on the ground -- a role that cannot be suitably replicated by any other aircraft in the military inventory."
The report also quoted Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H) - the wife of a former A-10 Warthog pilot:
"Instead of cutting its best and least expensive close air support aircraft in an attempt to save money, the Air Force could achieve similar savings elsewhere in its budget without putting our troops at increased risk."
Pierre Sprey, a member of the A-10 design team, explains the unique features of the A-10 and why its mission is critical in this PBS interview:
It's important to note that while the A-10 Warthog is being grounded, there are no immediate plans to scrap the aircraft. Should the US military have later need of the A-10, they could theoretically be recommissioned.
What do you think? Can the F-35 adequately replace the A-10 Warthog or is the Pentagon making a potentially costly mistake by kicking the Warthog to the curb?