A government watchdog has accused the U.S. Air Force of using “cherry-picked” and “cooked” data as part of a smear campaign against the popular A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-support plane.
The Project on Government Oversight, the organization that exposed $436 government hammers in the 1980s, said this week that data used for a recent USA Today story were skewed to make the aircraft look like a battlefield liability.
“Those cooked statistics excluded — and kept classified — data that is essential for a basic understanding of the issue,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at POGO, wrote Monday.
Military.com reported Tuesday that the controversy comes as Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, warned officers that praising the A-10 to lawmakers would amount to “treason.”
The A-10 “Warthog” has been used since the 1970s and is widely popular among ground troops, because they can see it flying — low, slow and protected — and its guns make an intimidating sound that they say affects enemy morale independent of all effects.
However, the Air Force has been pushing to retire the Thunderbolt as it attempts to bring the F-35 stealth fighter online.
“Like all effective platforms, we need to upgrade and modernize,” outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of the Thunderbolt on Jan. 14. “So, what we’ll need to do is we’ll need to phase out the A-10 as we make room for the F-35, which has more precision and more versatility.”
POGO’s analysis asserted that Air Force data used to show a high rate of civilian casualties did not take into account the number of missions the A-10 took part in relative to other aircraft.
“The Air Force data show the A-10 was involved in missions that killed 35 civilians in the five years through 2014 — more than any other aircraft. However, they also show the Warthog flew almost 2,700 combat missions, or kinetic sorties, during that period — far more than any other plane,” Military.com reported.
POGO’s analysis concluded that the A-10 is actually one of the safest aircraft flying combat missions.
“The A-10 produces nearly five times fewer civilian casualties per firing sortie than the B-1 bomber,” the watchdog’s report concluded.
Lt. Col. Christopher Karns, a spokesman for the Air Force at the Pentagon, said the service wasn’t trying smear the A-10’s battlefield performance.
“The A-10 is an effective platform. There’s no denying that,” Col. Karns told Military.com on Tuesday. “However, with the fiscal realities of the day, we have to be responsible and take a look at actions that may help us ensure an affordable Air Force in the future.”
However for decades, there has been considerable talk in military discussion groups and among defense intellectuals that the Air Force culture never really loved the A-10 because it’s a big, ungainly behemoth primarily useful as ground support for the U.S. Army.
“The Air Force, with its scarves, pressed flight suits, and polished hangar floors, are in this for speed. They Aim High, go off into the wild, blue yonder, are Above All. They don’t wallow in the mud, chewing up tanks and spitting out fire. They don’t fly pigs. They fly Eagles and Falcons and roar past you at Mach 2 and 50,000’ … They’ve kept the A-10 at the kids’ table since they were saddled with it, trying to flick it off their finger like a booger since the Soviets pansied out. The reason it’s taken so long to rid themselves of this anachronism (and it’s not gone, yet) is that the Army makes them keep it — and let’s face it, they still have a weird relationship after that nasty divorce in ‘47,” wrote Tim Hibbetts, who identified himself as a former Navy F-18 pilot, at the social-discussion forum Quora a couple of weeks ago.