The A-10 is one of the more popular aircraft among Filipinos, if you look at the comments on defense-related Social Media sites, every now and then you will come across somebody writing, “let’s get the A-10” (yeah, sure, let’s). This possibility has come closer to reality though as the United States Air Force (USAF) is now seriously considering retiring some of its A-10 aircraft, and the manufacturer of the A-10 has announced plans to sell them off in case it does happen. So, the big question now is, should the Philippine Air Force (PhAF) try to get some of these aircraft in its inventory? Is the A-10 a good “fit” for the PhAF?
’The A-10 Warthog and COIN’
The A-10 is a subsonic, straight-wing, twin-jet engined aircraft designed for Close Air Support (CAS) and built by the American company Fairchild Aircraft. It first entered service with the USAF in 1972 and is so far is the only air force using it. Around 716 A-10s have been built, and its official name is the Thunderbolt II although it is better known by the nickname its pilots gave it, the Warthog.
It is a COMBAT-PROVEN design, destroying thousands upon thousands of Armored Vehicles, Trucks, Artillery, etc. in the various wars in the Middle East that the US has participated in the last 2-3 decades. The latest version is the A-10C with improved avionics like a “Glass Cockpit”, etc. 
As a ground attack aircraft, one of the main roles for the A-10 in the PhAF would be for Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations. However, in that role I feel that the A-10 would be sort of an “overkill”. For one, our insurgents do not have sophisticated Anti-Air weapons like Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) or even Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) which the A-10 was designed to survive against. In the last 1-2 decades, even if we were using only relatively simple MG-520 Defender Helicopters or SF-260TP Jaguar Light Attack Aircraft against insurgents, none has ever been shot down as far as I know.
Second is that with its twin jet engines, maintenance and logistics will be more difficult and expensive compared to a single-engined propeller driven aircraft designed for COIN operations like, say, a A-29 Super Tucano (ST). And not only that, the A-10’s engines are bigger and a lot more powerful, resulting in higher fuel consumption which in turn adds up to the operating costs even more.
’High Operating Costs’
A couple of years ago, the USAF Comptroller’s Office provided Time Magazine the ACTUAL CPFH for the A-10C, which from 2008 to 2012 averaged USD 18.5k (approximately P 830k). I find this data to be quite high, but this could be due to a couple of factors:
– A good number of these aircraft were deployed overseas, mainly in the Middle East, and these foreign deployments does increase the operating costs;
– These A-10s averaged around 335 Flight Hours Per Year, way higher than the NATO minimum standard of only 120 FHPY.  More flying hours in shorter periods of time could ultimately result in higher maintenance costs;
– Since the A-10s are participating in actual wars, they are expending large amounts of expensive LIVE AMMUNITION, which will increase the Variable Cost per aircraft.
It’s likely that in a non-foreign deployment, non-war scenario with less FHs, the actual CPFH will be much lower. That being said, even if we cut the A-10’s CPFH by HALF to around USD 9k as a rough estimate, it will still be nine times higher than the available CPFH data for the ST which is only USD 1k (approximately P 45k).  Also, if we do go into an actual war with China, we will need to use a lot more Flight Hours and we will be expending a lot of live ammunition, hence we can expect the CPFH to be closer or at the level of the USAF data.
’A-10 versus the A-29’
Below are some more important comparative statistics between the A-10 and the ST.  For more information on the terms used on the table below, refer to my “Aircraft Comparison Notes and Details Page”.
As we can see, the A-10 has vastly more range and payload than the ST, indicating that it will enable our PhAF to deliver an unprecedented amount of ordinance against the insurgents at any given time. But then again it would only be able to do this at a much more expensive rate because of its higher operating costs, and I’m also not sure if we really need that much firepower against insurgents. I feel that for our COIN purposes, advanced COIN aircraft like the ST with its advanced sensors and guided weapons that are a lot cheaper to operate would be more than enough.
What about China, would the A-10 be more worthwhile to use against them? Well the thing is that the area we are contesting against China is the West Philippine Sea (WPS), hence naturally any conflict there would mainly be MARITIME in nature, and as such we will need an aircraft that first and foremost must have good maritime strike capability, with ground attack capability coming in only as secondary.
In a maritime strike role, the A-10 is hampered by its lack of RADAR and that it has not been qualified yet to carry large Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs). Of course it can use other sensors like pods with Infra-Red (IR) optical capability and weapons like its powerful GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon or the AGM-65 Maverick missiles, but these IR pods have lower detection ranges than radar, and the cannons/Maverick missiles don’t have the range of larger AShMs like the Harpoon or even medium sized missiles like the Penguin, for example. This means the A-10 will have to move in closer to attack enemy ships, making them more vulnerable to enemy Surface to Air Missile (SAM) defenses.
The FA-50PH with its ELM-2032 Multi-Mode Radar (MMR) would be able to detect ships on its own at much longer ranges. Of course like the A-10, the FA-50s are also not yet qualified to carry larger AShMs, but that is an easier problem to fix than trying to put an MMR on the A-10, and I think it’s just a matter of time before the FA-50s end up with better AShMs.
’Ground Attack Against China’
The A-10 would be most useful to us when repulsing Chinese Amphibious forces invading mainland Philippines or our territories in the Spratlys, and for attacking Chinese military installations in the WPS. In such situations, “Bbbrrrrrrttttt” (the sound of the GAU-8 Avenger cannon makes when being fired) will be the sound of DEATH for Chinese forces.
But I am not too worried about China invading our mainland (i.e., Palawan, etc.) because if they do so, they will have to contend with Uncle Sam, who I really do believe will help us if that happens. Besides, we should be able to mobilize quicker and better our approximately 90,000 Infantry soldiers to go against them due to our shorter supply lines, and I don’t think their amphibious forces are anywhere near that number.
What we are not so sure about, though, is the US’ commitment in the Spratlys Islands as I had blogged about before.  I think we will be pretty much on our own there, and if so the A-10s would then be useful. HOWEVER, there is one big problem for the A-10s when attacking ground targets in the WPS, and that is ENEMY AIRCRAFT. The A-10 was NOT designed to fight against enemy aircraft (although it has shot down a number of rotary-wing aircraft/helicopters), hence would be easy pickings for such.
I also don’t like the fact that to reach the WPS, the A-10 will have to cross hundreds of kilometers of ocean where it is exposed out in the open, unlike when flying over land where it can “hide” around and in between Hills, Mountains, and other geographic features. And remember that this is a subsonic aircraft, it won’t be able to travel very fast, increasing its exposure time to threats.
Below is a comparison of the A-10s Air Combat capability against aircraft like the FA-50PH and the SU-30MKK Flanker-G, which currently is the most capable aircraft for air combat in the inventory of the Chinese Air Force (or the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, PLAAF). 
The A-10 has no radar to detect enemy planes on its own, no medium/long-range or Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, and has a very low thrust to weight ratio making it vulnerable in air combat situations. About the only advantage the A-10 has over the FA-50PH are its Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) and High Off-Boresight Missiles, but if the FA-50PH are fitted with that also then the A-10 will have problems matching up against our FA-50PHs, so how much more against the Chinese Flankers?
Hence to be effective and survive an attack against Chinese military assets, it will need an effective AIR COVER. With the USAF, the A-10 almost never had to worry about enemy aircraft since the USAF have very capable fighter aircraft like the F-15C Eagle or F-22 Raptor to sweep the skies and keep opposing aircraft away. The problem for us is that we don’t have any aircraft with similar capability yet, and even if we do eventually get aircraft like the JAS-39 Gripen to support the A-10, it will only be in limited numbers and we may not really be able to establish the same kind of air superiority that the A-10 was used to operating under with the USAF.
’Specialized Ground Attack Aircraft’
To summarize the pros and cons of the A-10:
– Large payload, long range and long loiter time
– Excellent ground attack aircraft
– High operating and maintenance costs
– Lack of MMR means limited maritime strike and anti-air capability
– Needs effective air cover against enemy aircraft to operate well
The A-10 is a SPECIALIZED ground attack aircraft that only does one job and doesn’t other jobs as well. But that one job it does, it does it VERY WELL. In a rich air force like the USAF, it is just another tool in their inventory, they have many other “tools” or aircraft designed for specific purposes, like “Air Superiority”, for example, or “Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD)”, etc. They then COMBINE all these elements together to form an effective aerial attack force.
The US can afford to have these specialized planes for each given task, but not us. We only have a limited number of aircraft, and we need them to be able to do one or two other things as much as possible. Ironically, the US is also moving away from using specialized aircraft, which is one reason it is thinking of getting rid of its A-10s.
So, should the PhAF get the A-10? I have mixed feelings about this, and my initial opinion would be … No. The A-10 has limited Maritime Strike capability; Its Ground Attack Capability would be an overkill for COIN, and would only be secondary priority in any war with China. It will need an effective air cover when operating against an adversary with a strong Air Force, and with its high Operating Costs, it’s hard to justify the limited role it will have in our Air Force.
However, if the US gives it to us for a very low price, or better yet if they give them for FREE, then maybe we can get a couple. We will still have to worry about its high operating cost, but if there aren’t that many we may be able to maintain them.
I think specialized aircraft that are cheap to maintain are okay, OR aircraft that may be more expensive to maintain but can at least do a couple of other jobs relatively well will be worth it. If we get too many of these A-10s, we may have problems keeping them in the air, and they will just eventually end up being wasted as non-flying assets like what happened with our F-5 and F-8 aircraft.
If the A-10 is not ideal for us, then what aircraft would be ideal for attacking Surface or Ground targets? I think it should be something that is fast, has an MMR, and can defend itself from enemy aircraft, meaning basically any Multi-Role Fighter aircraft out there. If we can buy more Gripens, then good, but if not then maybe we can adopt a “Hi-Lo Concept”.
This concept means getting aircraft with different levels of COSTS and CAPABILITY, but as applied to us we could look more towards at different levels of costs rather than different levels of capability. For example, the Gripens/Other New MRF could be our “Hi” end aircraft while lower cost MRF would be our “Lo” end aircraft.
The FA-50PH would be a good candidate for the “Lo” end aircraft, but if more range and payload is needed then we can look at other cheaper MRFs for that also. An upgraded F-16A Netz that the Israelis are offering now will be a good idea for a “Lo” end aircraft as it can defend itself being an excellent dogfighter, and still have good Payload-Range combination …
^ Boeing touts A-10s for international customers should USAF divest fleet,
^ Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II,
^ USAF Comptroller’s Office CPFH Data,
^ Tweaking NATO: The Case for Integrated Multinational Divisions,
^ First Super Tucano Accepted Into U.S. Air Force,
^ A-10 Thunderbolt II Specifications,
^ The US will not help the Philippines defend the Spratlys,
^ FA-50, the first light attack aircraft made in the Republic of Korea,
^ Sukhoi Flanker Program Dossier, by the Aviation Week Intelligence Group,
^ Israel details F-16 ACE bid for Croatia,