A-10 Pilot’s Compelling Case For Replacing Warthogs With Super Hornets

The U.S. Air Force wants to retire the A-10 Warthog, an aircraft I have flown for years around the globe, by the end of the decade. While many may think all of us in the A-10 community want to hold onto our beloved mount for dear life, that isn’t necessarily the case. What many of us do want is a suitable replacement, of which there is none currently planned. This new aircraft should be relatively economical while also bringing additional capabilities to the fight, especially one in the Pacific against China. That aircraft should be the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for a slew of reasons, some of which may be surprising.

Author’s note: the opinions and personal views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views or opinions of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the United States Space Force.

The U.S. has been historically unlucky in predicting its next conflict. Understandably, one way to hedge the risk is to prepare for the most dangerous conflict — one against China. This would be a high-end, heavily contested, and largely air and maritime fight. Unlike many issues circulating in Washington, China’s rapid modernization and the threat that it poses to the international order has gained bipartisan recognition as the key strategic challenge for the U.S. over the next decade and beyond.

Chinese H-6 and Flanker derivatives fly in formation. (PLAAF)

Understandably, the threat of conflict with a peer adversary has resulted in a change in strategy. The services — in particular the Air Force — have chosen to “buy risk” and divert funding away from legacy airframes in exchange for the promise of future advanced capabilities like Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), autonomous Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA), and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). But these capabilities likely will not be fielded en masse until well after 2030. So, the question is, what happens if conflict comes sooner? In particular, will a gutted fighter force be able to meet the adversary and claim victory, or even avoid defeat?

In the current geopolitical environment, ‘do more with less’ is a potentially untenable corner for our military. What follows is a plan to efficiently divest the A-10C (and potentially other tactical jet types) while preserving the community’s unique knowledge and charting a path toward a more lethal, connected, flexible, capable, and above all else, relevant joint force via the USAF’s acquisition of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Keeping The Brainstrust Intact

July 26th, 1947 marks the date President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9877. Though it has been amended slightly, this document, embedded within the Key West Agreement, still

represents the mandate for the USAF to provide close air support (CAS) to the U.S. Army. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this article.

The Air Force has been trying to divest the A-10 for decades. Article after article lays out the argument for why senior Air Force leaders want to move on. While the original A-10A may be a ‘Cold War relic,’ the A-10C of today is hardly the same airplane. It brings capabilities far beyond what Pierre Sprey dreamed it would. Nevertheless, the sentiment from Air Force leadership isn’t entirely misplaced either.

The common misconception between USAF leadership and we, the A-10C community, is that we are ready to die on the hill to keep the A-10 alive forever.

The reality is quite the opposite.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs assigned to the 355th Wing taxi in formation on the runway at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex Miller)

What we care about most is keeping the corporate knowledge of counter-land tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) alive regardless of the airframe. Presently, the threat of that knowledge dying off is very real given that the A-10C is being divested with no plan for follow on aircraft.

As the RAND Corporation concluded, “we recommend fielding a viable replacement CAS capability before eliminating the capability the A-10 provides to minimize risk to ground forces.” While the F-35 was originally intended to fill the void left by the A-10, and is an amazing aircraft in its own right, its crews are not mandated to train to close air support. Furthermore, at current production rates, the F-35 cannot absorb the A-10 community’s pilots.

Additionally, within the USAF, the A-10C community is the only one that still produces Forward Air Controllers (Airborne), known as FAC(A)s. This is a skill set whereby aircrews direct close air support for troops on the ground from their aircraft by coordinating strikes from other aerial platforms sometimes in very hectic airspace. It is a highly challenging mission that can result in disaster if not executed competently.

This is a troubling data point not because FAC(A) missions have been on any recent Air Tasking Orders (ATOs), but because it signals that the USAF is willing to let that skill set die with the A-10C.

An A-10 pilot prepares to launch on a sortie. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton)

The F-16 FAC(A) schoolhouse stood down several years ago, and even the Navy is considering doing away with the mission. Interestingly, the 16th Weapons Squadron (F-16 Weapons Instructor Course) at the USAF Weapons School still takes the initiative to train two to three FAC(A)s per year because they believe it is important.

The skills learned and honed by practicing the FAC(A) mission set are invaluable in any counter-land operation. The F-35 could do this mission, but they don’t. The F-16 has done this mission, but they don’t today. Between all the other high-end missions they must maintain proficiency in, CAS and other counter-land competencies are now relegated to “just-in-time” training for the USAF’s multi-role fighter communities.

Will we be FAC’ing in China? Maybe not, at least at first. But can we afford to completely discard the body of knowledge accumulated over the course of 60+ years while banking that the Army will never fight again?

That seems like a big losing bet.

A 25th Fighter Squadron’s A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its 30 mm gun during routine training over Pilsung Range in Gangwan Province, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Nash)

Anyone looking for a case study in why FAC(A)s and their skills are critical should read the three Distinguished Flying Cross citations of Col. (Ret) “Soup” Campbell. In the future, FAC(A) qualified aircrew would make excellent Kill Box Coordinators (see Kill Box joint doctrine). Airspace control, deconfliction, integration of joint fires, and information packaging are just some of the skill sets honed by FAC(A)s. Utilizing FAC(A)s as Kill Box Coordinators will undoubtedly yield a more efficient environment for dynamic joint fires to take place.

This is just one vignette into why it is critical to keep the counter-land community and its mentality alive and together. Whether we’re talking about CAS, FAC(A), or Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR), practice makes perfect, and specialization is a big part of that.

But replacing the A-10 with the F/A-18E/F is not just about retaining knowledge and expertise, it’s about acquiring an aircraft that can bring absolutely critical capabilities to the USAF’s most pressing combat doctrine.

Why The Block III F/A-18E/F Makes Sense


The Block III Boeing Super Hornet — also lovingly nicknamed the ‘Rhino’ — is a true multi-role, twin-engine tactical fighter with advanced data link, Infrared Search and Track (IRST), AN/APG-79 Actively Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, and all in a 10,000-hour airframe. The Rhino is configured with robust landing gear for carrier-borne operations and a probe/drogue refueling system. It boasts 11 stations and serves as a threshold platform for future weapons. The Rhino is a 7.5G airplane with a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and some reduced radar signature characteristics.

Why does that all matter?

In terms of looking for a replacement aircraft for the A-10C, the Rhino offers an airframe that can do much of what the A-10C does, particularly in a precision-guided munition employment sense. It offers similar loiter time, is able to fly at slower speeds when necessary, but can also fly much faster, making it more responsive when required — which is especially important when troops are in contact and air support is needed now. But the real plus of the Super Hornet is what additional capabilities it brings over the A-10C.

A very heavily-laden F/A-18E is prepped for a mission over Syria. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Matlage)

With the AN/APG-79 AESA, the Super Hornet has one of the world’s top performing radars, capable of tracking and employing weapons beyond visual range (BVR), producing high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) maps, and sharing data over advanced data links. The Rhino comes ‘standard’ with not only modern Link 16, but Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) and Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N), both enhancing data throughput and enabling sensor fusion, making the Rhino one of the most capable and connected fighters on day one of any fight.

The addition of a centerline-mounted IRST pod gives the Rhino a long-range passive detect capability against even low observable (stealthy) aerial adversaries. It also has wide area cockpit displays to make the best of all this information.

The F/A-18E/F Block III’s wide area display offers a huge upgrade in user interface over the multi-function displays found in previous iterations of the jet. (Boeing)

The Super Hornet has also tested LITENING Targeting Pods, something A-10C pilots are very familiar with. Having the ability to view LITENING in color on the large area display would be a huge plus for air-to-ground (A/G) targeting pod work. The Kuwaiti Air Force has also made efforts to integrate SNIPER targeting pods. Both are good options with their own advantages.

The 7.5G limit of the aircraft conveniently aligns with the centrifuge profile that every A-10C pilot undergoes — no pilot converting from the A-10C to the F/A-18E/F would have to requalify in the centrifuge, saving time and money for the USAF.

The robust landing gear and tail hook, as well as the drogue refueling capability of the Rhino make it ideally suited for austere and forward operations in any theater, but especially the Pacific.

As a vignette, consider Super Hornets based forward, sitting Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) alert with HC-130s as part of an island hopping Agile Combat Employment (ACE) team. Super Hornets could take off with reduced fuel loads, maximizing short field performance, then refuel enroute to their operating location from the same HC-130s or other aerial refueling-equipped C-130 variants or MQ-25 drones below the radar horizon.

Even for standoff strike or anti-surface warfare, and other missions, a forward deployed aerial refueling equipped C-130 could immediately refuel the Super Hornet loaded with weapons once airborne to maximize its short field abilities and combat radius.

Super Hornets refuel from a KC-130T. (U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Ian C. Anderson)

The Rhino can then recover after its mission with the help of its hook and a mobile arresting gear, making very short field operations not just more achievable, but also safer. This is something the Marines are increasingly training to do, leveraging their carrier-capable types’ unique short-field abilities — ones that Air Force aircraft lack, aside from for emergency purposes. These concepts already resonate with A-10C pilots as squadrons typically look for opportunities to perform landings on austere airfields (and is accomplished during each A-10 Weapons School class).

All of this would enable independent distributed operations closer to the forward edge, causing major issues for adversary calculus and opening up new, survivable tactical opportunities.

A USMC Hornet executes short-field recovery operations using a mobile arresting gear system on the island of Tinian. (U.S. Marine Photo by Lance Cpl. Antonio Rubio/Released)

While A-10C pilots are familiar with ACE, once airborne they are reliant on boom refuelers that will be far from the forward edge of the fight. A-10Cs can land in very short distances under ideal conditions, but takeoff thrust is a limitation forcing tradeoffs in fuel and weapons loads.

Super Hornets would be able to provide a more robust combination of standoff weapons while still being able to contribute meaningfully to the air-to-air (A/A) fight in either an offensive or defensive role, all while maintaining survivability. Super Hornets may also be receiving more advanced electronic warfare suites in the coming years that could prove highly useful.

The Super Hornet would fit the USAF’s ACE concept better than any asset currently in the service’s inventory. The possible weapons configurations and robust landing gear and hook paired with the ability to refuel from a variety of less-common tanker aircraft (to include other Super Hornets) would enable island hopping operations previously unthinkable for Air Force tactical jet aircraft.

A-10s were built for austere operations, but other limitations curtail their flexibility compared to the Super Hornet. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

On top of island-hopping ACE, Super Hornets could also perform the aforementioned Defensive Counter Air (DCA) mission, as well as Anti-Surface Warfare, and general reconnaissance. All of these roles could prove invaluable to protecting even a temporary island outpost.

Flight Characteristics

Maneuverability wise, the A-10C and Super Hornet perform very similarly in downhill turning engagements. The Super Hornet’s engines (22,000lbs of thrust each) would be a welcome change to any A-10C pilot, allowing energy management options that are unattainable with high-bypass turbofans. Boeing has had options for engine/software modifications to significantly increase the Super Hornet’s thrust in the past that could potentially be included in a USAF buy.

Due to canted pylons, the Super Hornet is subject to increased parasitic drag at higher speeds, particularly above Mach 1. For normal flight operations below Mach 1, this is of negligible concern. With 14,500lbs of internal fuel and a large wing, the Super Hornet is right at home at a variety of airspeeds and altitudes.

An F/A-18E executing a high-speed flyby. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cameron Stoner)

The US Navy elected not to purchase Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) for its Block III Super Hornets due to compatibility issues during carrier operations. Based on operating from land-based runways, the USAF could potentially choose to buy CFTs and add precious fuel (3500lbs or 18,000lbs total) and range without sacrificing any of the jet’s 11 weapons stations. Up to five additional tanks can be added for extremely long endurance or buddy-tanking missions. Extra combat radius would be particularly valuable in the Pacific.


The additional air-to-air (A/A) weapons the Super Hornet brings to the fight would be a big step up over the A-10C’s AIM-9M. AIM-120 and AIM-9X are already fully integrated, and the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM) will be integrated, as well as possibly a few others in development.

On the air-to-ground (A/G) side of the house, the Super Hornet can carry just about every weapon in the U.S. inventory, and what follows is not the full list. AGM-65 Maverick, MK-82/83/84 series of bombs to include Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and laser guided versions, Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW), Harpoon anti-ship missile, Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) and its follow on variants to include Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) / AARGM-ER (Extended Range), and possible integration of Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW). Small Diameter Bomb II provides standoff, all-weather, moving target engagement capability. Though the Super Hornet doesn’t possess the 30mm GAU-8 of the A-10, it has a 20mm M61 Vulcan Gatling gun with 412 rounds. It is optimized for use against aircraft, but can be accurately employed against ground targets.

Super Hornets can carry a massive array of weapons in many different configurations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb)

Further anti-ship and long-range standoff strike capabilities are resident in the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a derivative of the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). Each Rhino can carry 4x LRASM, each weapon possessing a range of around 500 nautical miles. Having more assets that can carry a wide variety of munitions based on the tactical scenario is never a bad thing. While some USAF assets can carry some of the same munitions, none can do so from forward locations like Super Hornets could.

The best part is the USAF could leverage everything the U.S. Navy has already done and paid for, and continues to pay for in terms of weapons and upgraded systems integration! But above all else, the multi-role Super Hornet’s ability to operate from austere short airfields — from islands to roadways — and refuel from tankers that can do the same, meets one of the Air Force’s biggest tactical imperatives at this time.

Again, USAF Super Hornets could provide enormous impact in the Pacific Theater.


Speaking of the Pacific Theater, the Super Hornet would bring huge advantages in terms of interoperability with our own U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The Australians have been operating Super Hornets for years, performing a wide variety of missions. The U.S. Navy has hundreds of Super Hornets in service and not only gave birth to the type, but have been working with Boeing hand-in-hand to perfect it over nearly three decades.

The RAAF has been flying the Super Hornet and Growler for years. (RAAF)

This means that USAF pilots operating Super Hornets would have built-in expertise in the Pacific Theater for basing, maintenance, and general troubleshooting, not to mention an existing supply chain that could be leveraged in emergent circumstances. The Navy’s own supply chain and unique logistics distribution network could also be leveraged, as they would be operating forward in the Pacific, too.

The value of this is hard to overstate, particularly when one acknowledges that U.S./RAAF TTPs are regularly rehearsed not only in the Super Hornet, but in the F-35, as well, via exchange officer programs.

Capacity Is Key

Given the current geopolitical environment, the USAF must ensure it maintains mass sufficient to handle its responsibilities. The commander of Air Combat Command, General Mark Kelly, has previously alluded to the problems he faces, saying, “I’m trying to pay that bill [of 60 multirole fighter squadrons] with 48 fighter squadrons and nine attack squadrons [consisting of A-10 Thunderbolt II planes].” The same article goes on to note that, if A-10 squadrons were either divested or unable to contribute to a high-end fight, the USAF would need “at least a dozen fighter squadrons” to close the gap. That begs the question, what can we [America] produce in a year in terms of fighters?

Based on the fiscal 2024 budget proposal, the USAF plans to retire 310 aircraft, 42 of which are A-10Cs. The proposed budget plans to buy 72 fighters, comprising 48 F-35As and 24 F-15EXs.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas. (Lockheed Martin photo by Alexander H. Groves)

Those 48 F-35As are just the ones the USAF is getting. The production line is also responsible for providing various models to our allies, with foreign order books increasingly packed. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume 48 F-35s and 24 F-15EX is the maximum production capacity of those two production lines for jets that end up in service with the USAF.

As of now, the USAF plans to buy 104 F-15EXs. That’s just over four years of total procurement, starting from zero. Two F-15EXs already exist. The total number of F-35s the Air Force will purchase is unknown presently. We know we would like to have over 1,000, and more is better given the jet’s capabilities. Meanwhile, the Super Hornet line can currently produce at least 24 jets per year. In the past, Boeing has produced up to four jets per month. Navy production is currently slated to end in 2025 if nothing changes. Without foreign orders, this would mark the end of the F/A-18E/F line.

Cost Per Aircraft

Based on the latest Department of Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2024, “flyaway” costs for each airframe are as follows (rounded to the nearest million):

F-35A: ~$92 million

F-15EX: ~$97 million

F/A-18E/F: ~$75 million

If the USAF buys 104 F-15EX, the unit cost will continue to decrease, but the contract specifics are also unknown. That price includes CFTs. The F-35A cost doesn’t include likely hidden (and hard to quantify) costs associated with Block 4 upgrades. Given the research and development (R&D) that is going into Block 4 and the new hardware that goes with it, the unit cost could be substantially higher than the number above. Things like external targeting pods and fuel tanks are not part of the F-35 acquisition cost as the design does not use them.

Assuming the Air Force buys Block III Super Hornets in the same configuration the US Navy is currently buying, the costs are known and are likely to benefit from land-based operations. That’s the beauty of such a mature production line and airframe. Even if the Air Force decided to buy CFTs for the Super Hornet, the unit costs would still very likely pale in comparison to the other two jets in question. A large order this late in the aircraft’s production cycle will also probably decrease unit cost markedly.

The first new-build Block III Super Hornet fresh off the line. (Boeing)

Then there are costs per flight hour from a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office. These numbers are based on FY21 data:

F-35A: $41,986

F-15EX: Assessed cost per flight hour is $29,000. The F-15E, which is a middle-aged aircraft featuring a less advanced Eagle airframe and older technologies is $33,177

F/A-18E/F: $30,404 (includes carrier-borne operations and maintenance)

A-10C: $22,531

It stands to reason that Super Hornets operating from land-based locations would yield lower operations and maintenance costs than those operating from aircraft carriers.

Common Sense Congressional Leadership

Given the cost figures above, why are we standing by quietly when Boeing has announced they will likely close the production line at such a critical time? The Super Hornet program is one of the most successful fighter programs in recent memory, with U.S. inventory still around 598 Super Hornets in service and 690 produced. The production line is mature, costs are a known quantity, and the aircraft is extremely capable.

Our fighter numbers are dwindling at the worst possible time given China’s messaging and widespread predictions that China could invade Taiwan by 2027, right as our tactical jet inventory is bottoming out. Allowing the Super Hornet line to close is a national security vulnerability that we can avoid altogether by purchasing more aircraft and replacing older jets.

F/A-18E Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 “Knighthawks” fly in formation during a photo exercise off California. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

A possible lifeline for the Super Hornet production line in the form of the Indian Navy selecting it for its future carrier fighter program looks very unlikely now, but either way, the U.S. Congress should intervene as they have in the past and keep this critical production capacity open. The American taxpayers will thank us after we win the next war despite experiencing the highest attrition since World War II.

Let’s not relearn old lessons.

We need more squadrons. We need more fighters. We need to preserve the A-10’s land attack brain trust. The F-35 and F-15EX production lines, and even the F-16 line, are all maxed out or very close to it. The F/A-18E/F line is not and it’s a great replacement for the A-10C.

Let’s seize this opportunity and do the right thing for our national defense.

The Divestment And Transition Plan

Out With The Old, In With The New

The USAF wants to divest 42 more A-10Cs in FY24. Let’s do it! But let’s also keep the counter-land community alive and replace those A-10Cs with new Block III Super Hornets.

Given the Rhino production line capacity, we could backfill at least one squadron per year. Cost wise, if there is a time to invest more money into procurement, it’s now. The Commander of Air Combat Command needs at least 72 new fighters per year to make ends meet. Why not go above and beyond given the looming national security threats we currently face? Plus, Super Hornets would be able to help with the defense of the homeland mission in ways the A-10C cannot, making them an ideal choice for Air National Guard units, as well.

Uncrewed Collaborative Combat Aircraft and their integration with manned aircraft are no doubt a huge part of our warfighting future, but the timeline to initial and full operational capability is indefinite right now. We need to take maximum advantage of known quantities. But when they do arrive, USAF Super Hornet squadrons would be able to make great use of CCAs, drastically expanding the capability, survivability and flexibility of the platform.

Concept imagery showing Ghost Bat loyal wingmen drones teaming with Super Hornets. (Boeing Australia)

Maintaining the Super Hornet production line would also help in a scenario where we must replenish aircraft following a conflict with a near peer adversary or even during a very prolonged one.

If the FY24 budget proposal is successful in terms of A-10C divestment, 218 A-10Cs will remain. The USAF Chief of Staff recently said the USAF wants all A-10s retired by 2029, if not sooner.

The base timeline assumes the retirement of 30-40 A-10Cs per year through the end of the decade. Given the Rhino production capacity, 30-40 is a great number. If we then program money to buy 24 Super Hornets per year through 2029, we end up with a yearly procurement cost of $2 billion for a total of 144 Super Hornets by 2029. That’s enough to fill six full squadrons plus an Operational Test (OT) Division (assuming 21 jets per squadron / 6 jets for OT). That would also leave 12 jets to stand up an initial Flight Training Unit (FTU).

Super Hornets and A-10s taxi during a unique set of drills at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb)

If money were programmed and allocated in the FY24 NDAA, it is possible that first deliveries could be ready by calendar year 2026. Between 2026 and 2029, the A-10C community could transition to the Super Hornet as described below.

Period Of Transition

Once units begin taking delivery of new aircraft, pilots would gain initial qualifications. It is likely that some units would have mixed fleets of A-10Cs and F/A-18E/Fs until 2029, and that would be a good thing tactically. Having those two assets co-located and able to train together would yield a mutually beneficial situation for both.

Based on manning in A-10C squadrons, it makes sense that most aircraft should be the E model single-seat variant. However, having up to 10% F model two-seat variants could yield positive results in certain mission sets like CSAR or FAC(A). Two-seat models would be flown by two pilots, with the back seat pilot able to focus on non-flying tasks (i.e. CSAR Rescue Mission Commander etc.). The USMC is moving to a similar model with its Legacy F/A-18 Hornet force.

For a short period of time, A-10Cs would benefit from having an asset that can provide localized air superiority, an advanced radar, and anti-radiation munitions for targeting tactical surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The Super Hornet would benefit from having an asset with up to 16,000 pounds of mixed bombs, missiles, rockets, and a 30mm cannon for attacking ground targets. Additionally, the asset pair could work in ‘hunter/killer’ teams, with the Super Hornet passing targets to the A-10C. An example of this is Super Hornets directing the targeting of A-10C’s Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs) via SAR map. This would enable A-10Cs to gain access to areas they otherwise could not and would allow greater mass attrition of enemy forces.

A-10s and a Super Hornet perform an overhead formation break after a sortie from Gowen Field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras)

In this notional scenario, the USAF would have divested 260 A-10Cs (218+42 requested in FY24 budget proposal) and gained 144 Super Hornets over a roughly 6-year period. That would still yield a net outflow of pilots from the Warthog/Super Hornet community into, presumably, the F-35 community.

The F-35 community would be able to more effectively manage the lower outflow of pilots versus having to absorb an entire community all in a very short period of time. This would also likely keep fighter pilots where we need them — in fighter cockpits. More importantly, it keeps the counter-land expertise alive and in a viable fighter/attack platform.

Without the ability to smoothly transition everyone to another community, inevitably we lose people to non-fighter assignments. For those that wish to stay, this would provide another avenue, increasing retention during a time when we cannot afford to sustain the outflows of trained pilots. The solution to the root cause of that problem is certainly beyond the scope of this article.

Pilot Qualification

Initial instructor cadre would be trained by the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) in a modified syllabus based on USAF aircrew operating from airbases vs. aircraft carriers. Following qualification, those instructors would train units receiving airplanes until eventually converting the A-10 FTU into the Super Hornet FTU. The timeline for establishment of the Super Hornet FTU would be up to Air Force leadership and dependent on aircraft delivery timelines and locations.

A VFA-105 ‘Gunslingers’ F/A-18E takes off on a training sortie. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

As more jets arrived and as the A-10 Weapons School neared its final months, USAF Weapons School Instructors could begin their transitions to the Super Hornet as well, boosting collective experience and integration opportunities at Nellis Air Force Base. The USAF should also consider absorbing TOPGUN graduates who are separating from the Navy, as well as former RAAF exchange officers.

Eventually the 66th Weapons Squadron could transition to a Super Hornet squadron and continue the legacy of being the USAF Weapons School’s champion of counter-land dominance. As a collateral benefit, this would also guarantee the path forward for the Joint Terminal Attack Controller Weapons Instructor Course (WIC), which is part of the 66th Weapons Squadron.

The close relationship between the A-10 and JTAC communities was forged over two decades of the Global War on Terror. (USAF)

Challenges To Overcome


The first major challenge this plan will face is establishing new supply chains for the USAF. Luckily, the USAF started the U.S. Air Force Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School (AMMOS) in 2003 that serves as the maintenance equivalent to the USAF Weapons School.

The maintenance professionals that graduate from this school can establish new supply and logistics chains all over the world, including in austere environments. Given the tasking, AMMOS will lead the way on the logistics front. How? AMMOS could task the next several classes to come up with the way forward for U.S.-based and deployed operations for the Super Hornet.

A good starting place would be for AMMOS to examine stateside Super Hornet locations, like those of the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadrons, tailor the processes to the Air Force’s logistics system, and build a phase-based plan that can be adapted to different locations as required. The Navy’s own logistics operation could potentially be leveraged as well in a joint manner. As such, there is an opportunity to strengthen multi-service supply chains with this plan.

In the last two years, AMMOS has been tasked to figure out three key problems:

-5th generation [fighter] sustainment.

-Logistics under fire.

-Operating within austere environments.

All of these are critically important in the Pacific Theater where Super Hornets could be used to provide dispersed, joint combat power.

Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Alexandra Mimbela performs maintenance on an F/A-18F Super Hornet. (USN)

The logistical argument could also be made stronger by investing more heavily in the Super Hornet. The Air Force could have the option to divest certain blocks of F-16s, ones that are older and not slated to upgrade to the AN/APG-83 radar. Doing so would consolidate supply chains in the long run.

It is at least a course of action worth considering while we have the Super Hornet production line open and producing. Again, the Block III Super Hornet is also a 10,000 hour airframe and would be able to serve as a bridge to the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) combat jet, its closely related Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) initiative, and beyond.

Recent reports have mentioned concerns related to Super Hornets aging less gracefully than legacy Hornets. While this is worth paying attention to, the stresses of operating from aircraft carriers are the primary concern. Operating Rhinos from land-based airfields would likely yield better availability rates. And the Block III has updates that make these issues largely moot.

The USAF would be getting the best Super Hornets ever built.

The Path Forward Without Rhinos

Should this effort fail to succeed, the path forward for maintaining counter-land expertise is murky. Once the A-10C is divested, the responsibility will fall fully on the F-35, F-15E/EX, and the F-16 communities. Those communities are already spread thin in terms of taskings and mission sets. The F-15EX is already absorbing the F-15C community, and with only 104 aircraft planned to be purchased, the likelihood of the F-15EX taking over the counter-land role is low. In fact, procurement documents indicate that the F-15EX will be used “predominantly in defensive and offensive counter-air missions.”

As the number of 5th generation fighters increases and as the NGAD combat jet comes online, the F-35 community will presumably pick up more of the counter-land responsibility. In that case, what must happen in the F-35 community is what has happened in parts of the F-16 community: specialization.

If the A-10 bows out without a replacement, it’s mission will be passed on to the F-15, F-35, and F-16 communities. (Tech Sgt. Nestor Cruz/USAF)

We need F-35 units to train and employ in non-stealthy, “beast mode” configurations. This will require changes to the Ready Aircrew Program Tasking Memorandum. Without specialization of some F-35 units to the CAS/counter-land mission set, we run the risk of not being ready and able to provide meaningful support to the other services and our partners and allies.

The USAF needs a fighter/attack community that is accustomed to planning with and understanding the Army as well as the ground scheme of maneuver. Right now, that is the A-10C community.

In the future, who will it be?

Seize The Day

The current geopolitical climate is one of great uncertainty. As a military and as a nation, we must take full advantage of the opportunities we have. The Super Hornet and its production line are one of those opportunities.

The Rhino’s blend of flight characteristics, weapons, sensors, and world class radar make it a force to be reckoned with – even for fifth generation aircraft. Above even that, it is the forward-operating tactical jet the Air Force is saying it needs without actually stating it. It simply can operate out of airfields existing USAF fighters cannot.

An F/A-18E in burner during departure from the boat. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Snyder/Released)

So, this is a rare case in which we have the right platform, whose development has already been paid for in full, with production capacity at our fingertips. It has proven combat capability, comparatively high-efficiency, is packed with updated technologies, and is serving in the multiple hundreds worldwide.

It is just sitting there ready to step into this new role.

Let’s keep the community of counter-land experts alive. Let’s invest in known-quantity production lines, and let’s bring the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to the U.S. Air Force.

Patrick “BURT” Brown is an Air Force weapons officer with more than 2,000 hours in the A-10C, 690 of which have been in combat in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He has served as an instructor at the USAF Weapons School, as well as abroad in the Office of the US National Military Representative (US NMR) to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) as the US liaison to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for air and space operations.

Tyler Rogoway, the Editor Of The War Zone, contributed to this feature.

Contact the editor: Tyler@thedrive.com