Army's Odierno: Troops 'believe' in the A-10

Anne Wernikoff

An F-16 fighter does not provide the same kind of close air support to troops on the battlefield as the endangered A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“It is not the same,” the four-star general said when pressed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on which platform soldiers on the ground would prefer.

Odierno said troops “believe” in the A-10, affectionately known throughout the armed services as the “Warthog,” because “they can see it, they can hear it.” Support offered by the F-16, he said, “is not visible to them.”

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Ayotte, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has railed against an Air Force budget proposal to retire the A-10 fleet in order to save $3.5 billion. The service argues that the Warthog’s mission can be carried out by other aircraft, including F-16 and the B-1 bomber.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that was supposed to focus on military compensation, Ayotte also grilled Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on whether his service preferred the A-10 to the F-16.

Amos hedged, saying Marines would like to see a “blend” of F-18 fighters and Harrier jets to provide close air support. But “that doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate the hell out of the A-10,” Amos added.

Earlier in hearing, McCain asked the service chiefs if it gave them “comfort” that the B-1 was being offered as a replacement to the A-10.

Odierno said he believed the Air Force would find the right mix of aircraft to make up for the Warthog, while Air Force chief Gen. Mark Welsh tried to make case for the B-1, arguing it can linger over targets for up to five hours at a time.

McCain retorted that it costs $54,000 per hour to fly the bomber, while the Warthog only cost $17,000. He also renewed a challenge he made to Welsh last week that Welsh find an Army or Marine Corps commander on the ground who would feel comfortable with the B-1, a test Welsh happily accepted.