A-10s are the right thing for Ukraine, as we've written on this site. Former Assistant Navy Secretary Everette Pyatt thinks so too, and he spelled out his reasons in a March 3 article in Defense News (Transfer three A-10 aircraft squadrons to Ukraine now (defensenews.com).)
The article quoted Winston Churchill asking for materiel before the U.S. got involved in WW2. “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job,” said the U.K. Prime Minister in February 1941. America went through all manner of subterfuge to get weaponry to the Brits, including landing fighters near Canada and hitching them to teams of horses that dragged them across the border, whereupon Canadian or British pilots flew them to port for shipment to England. I can't quote the precise laws mandating that process, but Roosevelt was a lawyer, and lawyers are known for craftiness with respect to regulations.
Churchill also said the combination of British officers, Canadian soldiers and American technology would create a fighting force like none other. I take issue with that, but Churchill was half American and likely half drunk when he said it, so he gets a pass.
The long and short is that ever since I started to research this topic, I have come to believe that less than half of the A-10's produced are currently in service. I suspect many sit in the boneyard, at Davis-Monthan AFB, and believe, as does former Secretary Pyatt, that it would be relatively easy to transfer three squadrons to Kyiv, where the lives they save would number in the thousands.
Russian tanks – all modern tanks, really – are fearsome beasts, weighing around 80,000 pounds and able to travel 70 miles an hour or more, depending on terrain. The 88mm guns of WW2 have been replaced by 120- or 130-mm cannons with a variety of munitions, all fine-tuned for different jobs. The Ukrainians are rightly scared of them. Included with this article is a picture I took in Kyiv of tank traps, and the story on the street is that they come from the WW2 museum, formerly called the “Great Patriotic War Museum,” as that is what the Soviet Union called it. The Red Army used these traps to repel the Germans, and now, eight decades later, they have been pressed back into service. The picture is the median strip in one of the larger boulevards in Kyiv. Although it is not the Donbas, or Mariupol, Russian tanks could be here tomorrow if nothing was to stop them. And while missileers are busily firing RPG-7's and U.S. and other NATO ally supplied shoulder-mounted missiles, the best thing – the best of the best – would be A-10s. Su-25s and 24s and helicopters such as the admittedly fearsome Mi-24 are excellent anti-tank weapons, but the A-10 is in a class by itself.
Recently, another defense journal released information regarding a flaw in Soviet – now Russian – tank design: the automatic reloaders, designed to make it easier to fire quickly, also make it easier to blow the turrets off, because a hit to the reloader causes the round that is on deck to cook off. We know the reloader is on the right side of the turret, when looking at the tank from the front. A depleted uranium 30mm shell would slice through the turret like butter and cause a force-multiplier effect. One way to go about attacking a tank column is to knock out the first two and the last, in effect trapping the ones in the middle between fatal bookends, unless they are on a road or path where they can simply turn off. Still, it would be so much easier and more efficient to have the Warthogs do it. Rarely in war do you see such a situation where the weapon is so suited to the fight. We almost owe it to the Warthogs.
Mr. Putin is threatening to expand the war to other countries, and potentially to NATO countries, which would trigger mobilization across the globe. Mr. Putin is also unguarded with the word “nuclear.” True, he is talking about tactical and not strategic nuclear weapons, but some weapons – nuclear, biological and chemical – have taken on an aura that perhaps they don't deserve. Conventional bombs in our panoply are as powerful as tactical nukes. Remember the MOAB, the mother of all bombs, the BLU-82? It is so powerful that it produces a mushroom cloud. The same is true of amazingly fearsome weapons called fuel-air explosives, which release droplets of combustible material into the air that then ignite in a firestorm. In truth, it would be better if we demythologized those weapons and saw them for what they are. Modern nuclear bombs are basically big bombs. They are much cleaner than the bombs of the 1960s and earlier, and do not create massive amounts of fallout. Biological weapons at least give an infected soldier time to get treatment. Chemical weapons have been used consistently since World War One, when gas seeped into the trenches and choked the soldiers sheltering within. Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurds, Assad against his own people, and so did the Russians against the Mujahideen, forerunners of the Taliban in Afghanistan during the ten-year Russian incursion.
Rattling the nuclear saber often has its desired effect and it seems to be having it now, although Biden just authorized some $40 billion in aid, which might go some of the distance towards shutting Putin up. Already the U.S. howitzers are having an effect: artillery is not called the “King of Battle” for nothing. But modern warfare on open ground like that of Ukraine is best conducted with air, armor and ground elements working together in a coordinated effort. Artillery followed by precision delivery of tactical munitions from the air as the prelude to an infantry assault can be horrifying but effective.
I have not discovered precisely what the $40 billion will comprise, but it does not include A-10s. Why not is anyone's guess. Putin is already angry at Washington for the intelligence and military aid it has provided. Are the A-10s such a step up that we are afraid to send them for fear of triggering escalation? We contemplated a swap of F-16's to Poland, which would have transferred their MiGs to Ukraine. It didn't happen, but it proves that planes are not enough to automatically raise the stakes. Perhaps we are reluctant to send A-10s because these are the only planes the United States produces that are operated by the U.S. and the U.S. alone, to the best of my knowledge. We have sold F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, and now F-35s to whoever brings cash to the table. So why not?
It's not as if JetsForUkraine opinion writers are the only ones who think it's a good idea. The former Assistant Navy Secretary knows their utility, even though he likely had very little involvement with Warthogs, since they are Air Force only planes. Many others think the same, and the planes are available. We must see what this aid package includes, and then, perhaps more targeted pressure is in order.
But one thing is for sure: if a country must empty a war museum to defend itself, it is time for the international community to step in. We have, but we need to do more.
Give the Ukrainians the tools and they will finish the job.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the discussion.