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Embracing the Absurd

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An A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to the 74th Fighter Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, GA, returns to mission after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, over the skies of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, May 8, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. William Greer)

This was probably inevitable.

U.S. Air Force leaders have raised the possibility of training Ukrainian pilots in the United States and giving Ukraine the American fleet of A-10 Warthog ground-attack planes — an idea that could solve a problem for both countries.

The notion is a classic trial balloon. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall this week entertained the idea of giving the A-10 planes to Ukraine, while adding that it was still in the discussion phase.

Such a plan could make sense. Ukraine needs more air power and more ways to destroy Russian artillery and tanks, and the Warthog was designed during the Cold War for that very purpose.

And the Air Force has for years wanted to get rid of the A-10s. That would free up maintenance money for new planes that can be used for multiple purposes, and would be more effective in a possible conflict with China.

If the Air Force pulls this off, look to Odessa to see the Navy trying to give away all of its Littoral Combat Ships and Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

I think that there are circumstances under which an aircraft like the A-10 could contribute to high intensity conflict, but I am far from certain that A-10s are the best way to expend the lives of Ukrainian pilots fighting in this war. And of course it would take quite a long time to train the pilots and the aircrew and to get the logistics sorted out. FWIW the Su-25 Frogfoot (similar in many respects to the A-10) has suffered significant attrition on both sides of the war.

In other news some further thoughts on airpower:

The air war over Ukraine has not been decisive in any of the ways that we normally use the term. Neither Russia nor Ukraine can claim decisive victory, as the former has not destroyed the latter and the latter has not insulated the airspace from the former. At the same time, it would be wrong to argue that airpower has failed. The success of airpower missions (from long-range strike to close air support to reconnaissance to transport) have been critical to local victories (the defeat of the offensive on Kyiv, the success of the Russian offensive in the Donbas) if not to the war as a whole.

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