A government watchdog group on Monday accused the Air Force of manipulating data to skew the record of the A-10 "Warthog" when it comes to civilian casualties and friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan.
Recently declassified Air Force data said the A-10 attack jet has killed more U.S. troops in friendly fire incidents and more Afghan civilians than any other aircraft flown by the U.S. military, USA Today reported last week.
But the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) said the statistics were skewed to bolster the Air Force's campaign to retire the A-10 in favor of the costlier F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“The Air Force cherry picked and doctored the data that it released in an attempt to build a false narrative against the A-10,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at POGO.
“The Air Force is resorting to dirty tricks because it can’t make a valid argument against the A-10, proven to be reliable, effective, and a favorite of troops on the ground," she said.
For example, POGO said the data excluded an event in 2009 where a B-1 bomber killed up to 147 civilians and wounded many more. The Air Force data reported by USA Today showed that the A-10 only had a "slightly lower" percentage of civilian casualty incidents per missions flown than the B-1.
The group said its own analysis found that the A-10 is "significantly safer" than most of the other military planes, and is urging Congress to ask the Government Accountability Office to review all of the Air Force data before making any decisions about the aircraft in the 2016 defense policy bill.
The Pentagon is proposing as part of its 2016 budget request to retire the A-10 to save $4.7 billion over five years. Pentagon officials say the aircraft should be retired since it only performs one mission — supporting ground troops in combat — versus the multiple roles served by other aircraft.
They also say manpower used to maintain the A-10 is needed for the F-35, and that other aircraft can perform the close air support mission.
Opponents of retiring the A-10, including members of Congress, say ground troops prefer close air support from the aircraft over other platforms, since its pilots can lock eyes on ground targets versus relying on radars that could be prone to accidents.