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The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate (Book Review)

6/12/2006 • Book Reviews

Reviewed by Walter J. Boyne
By Douglas E. Campbell
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2003

Focusing on the development of the A-10 Warthog, a new book gives an inside view of Pentagon politics.

The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2003, $34.95) should be required reading for every student of military history for three reasons. The first two reasons are alluded to in the title, for author Douglas E. Campbell, a fan of the fabulous Fairchild A-10, provides a balanced portrait of the advantages (many) and disadvantages (relatively few) of the Warthog as he outlines the debate over close air support that has raged since World War II. The third reason is perhaps the most important, for The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate also gives an extremely accurate insider’s view of the way the Pentagon operates, with all its faults (many) and all its virtues (relatively few). Campbell’s analysis of the way the Pentagon’s advocacy system works illustrates the many constituencies that operate in the five-sided building, each with its own agenda, operating methods and interests. The author seems to describe this almost inadvertently as he details the background of the close air support debate and the emergence of the A-10 as an initially unwanted child of the U.S. Air Force.

Campbell writes very well, reflecting his extensive background as a Vought A-7E and A-10 pilot and his doctorate in history from Texas Tech. It’s a good thing that he does, for the story he tells is immensely complicated and far more involved than the title indicates. This is a story that could easily get bogged down in the inevitable obscurity of acronyms and titles of office, as well as the numerous personalities involved.

A strong proponent of the A-10, Campbell keeps his prejudice for the airplane in check as he dispassionately discusses its pros and cons against the background of the great Army/Air Force debate over close air support. At the heart of this is the basic dilemma of the Air Force. It wants above all things to assist the U.S. Army, which would like to have the organic air support enjoyed by the U.S. Marine Corps, where Marine pilots support Marine ground units. And while the Air Force believes that it can do the job of close air support best by interdiction, i.e., the suppression of enemy forces and supplies at distances far beyond the front lines, Air Force officials know that Army units want to see their close air support “down in the weeds,” killing the enemy in the immediate front lines.The Air Force also knows that if it does not provide such close air support, the Army will seek to provide it and, horror of horrors, do it with fixed-wing aircraft as well as its own rotary-wing force. Under these circumstances, the Air Force is forced into the position of allocating a portion of its budget to a mission that it believes in — but believes in less than some of its others, including strategic bombardment and interdiction.

The A-10 debate was also affected by a man who did more harm to the United States and its armed services than any hostile foreign government: former Secretary of Defense Robert S. MacNamara. A brilliant self-promoter who could out-quantify anyone in the room, MacNamara had a genius for insisting on the wrong aircraft at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. (His genius for getting the United States into a ground war in Southeast Asia won’t be covered here.) MacNamara’s forte was not in listening to the generals and the admirals who had spent their lives fighting and who knew which equipment was best for their services. Instead he relied on his mathematical computations of which airplane would cost the least, whether it was effective or not.

Among MacNamara’s brilliant choices was his insistence on his TFX program, which was supposedly going to outfit the Air Force and the Navy with a common swing-wing, air-superiority fighter, reconnaissance and close-air-support airplane. Another was his forcing the procurement of 225 General Dynamics FB-111As (stretched and re-engined F-111s) as strategic bombers instead of the demonstrably more efficient Rockwell B-1As. And in this book, we find the willful secretary demanding a dedicated close-air-support aircraft that would replace both the Air Force’s Republic F-105 and the Navy’s Douglas A-4.

MacNamara accepted the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II as an interim replacement but pressed for the Vought A-7 as the premier close-air-support airplane, despite strong Air Force opposition. The opposition was based on the fact that the A-7 had no air-to-air capability. Air Force General Gabriel P. Disoway, a man with considerably more experience in close air support than MacNamara possessed, once likened the A-7 to the German Junkers Ju-87, which proved a formidable opponent to Allied aircraft so long as the Luftwaffe had air superiority.

The author handles the emergence of the A-10, its operational use and its possible future in an engaging, informative style. Most people have an instinctive liking for the A-10, and Campbell’s presentation makes it evident why they do. It is the kid from the other side of the tracks who tackles the establishment and makes good — always a heartwarming story.

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7 Responses to The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate (Book Review)

  1. TUCKER says:

    Has the U.S. Marine corps ever flown the A-10 warthog??

  2. Kurt says:

    The A-10 is an artifact of circus psychology. So ugly it can only
    be redeemed by it’s one-trick pony gun system and macho
    muchacho approach to overhead CAS. It was obsolescent the day
    the SA-7 showed up on the HCMT.
    If the Author truly flew the A-7 and has /anything/ good to say
    about the A-10, he is a fraud. Something readily proven by the
    use of Air To Air capability as the nominal measure of the A-7’s
    utility as a CAS platform.
    The A-7 could dominate vertical _energy tactics_ against the
    Hog. Which is indeed saying something.
    The A-7D also had working HUDWAC and ‘digital’ bombing from
    the start in SEA and would pick up TISL and LANA within a
    decade, enabling it to fly at night and in weather which grounded
    half of NATO in Germany, including the A-10.
    With no INS, no TISL for the first 2 years, no autopilot or moving
    map, no radar altimeter and no Sidewinder for about the first 7
    years of duty with USAFE, the A-10 is a complete joke of an air to
    mud aircraft in Europe and little better for the original
    environment of SEA.
    As far as fighting the CAS fight with enemy jets overhead, let’s
    put this in perspective: the FA jets we faced were largely MiG-
    21/23 throughout the 80s and as such were nearly blind at night
    with minimal LDSD and tail-aspect only IRST. They had cheap
    vector which would not have survived the opening hour under
    jamming and lousy weapons. If you have a working TFR and a
    sustained 450 knot capability, you can lose any threat air out
    there at night which is the only time the enemy will move.
    While going BEYOND the FLOT is the way you beat battlefield AS
    sweeps. Something the A-10 would be lucky to do with the FOLs
    being overrun within 2-4hrs of conflict start and so little speed
    that it couldn’t even fall back to French and Low Country
    alternatives and still make useful radii in useful time.
    The only saving grace for the A-10 was the D-Maverick and even
    that weapon was too little, too late, being sent back to the labs
    until 1986 when essentially the Cold War was dead and everyone
    knew it.
    You want to fight WWIII in Europe in the ‘window of
    vulnerability’ from 1979 to 1984, you do it at night with a jet
    that can automate enough of the nav/attack process to lay down
    or loft conventional ordnance without getting nailed by
    groundfire. That certainly is NOT the A-10.

  3. mark says:

    …..and meanwhile your fast movers take 45 minutes to get a single JDAM on the ground in the middle of an ECAS then bingo out to the tanker while a Hog would be winchester x2. Hi-tech crapology and insane budgets don’t always solve everything

  4. Steve Huse says:

    This book just goes to show that weapons systems are more determined by what is need to combat the competing services rather than what is needed to fight the enemy.

    Until Gates forced their hand the Air Force wouldn’t have Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They were to help the Army not fight the cold war tyep Air War – so the Air Force didn’t want any part of them. They still require that pilots fly them and then complain they have too few operators.

  5. […] this day many in the Army and outside the DOD feel that the Air Force is still trying to ditch the A-10. When I heard about this I almost dropped out of college to join the army. With my hopes of A-10 […]

  6. Paul B says:

    I though I saw a new book about the development of the A-10. I thought I saw it in Costco. Recently I’ve been looking for the book but can’t seem to find anything close to what I remember. Is my memory playing tricks or was a new book published earlier this year (2010)?

    • Brian says:

      What Mark says is COMPLETELY TRUE. Kurt you are obviously in involved with life in the the current GWOT. Your opinions are those of the dinosaur who feels that the little mammals living through the ice-age are going no where.

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