Close-air support (CAS) is carried out by a variety of aircraft, including helicopters, the A-10 and fighter jets like the F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. As the A-10 is retired, the Air Force will tap some fighter squadrons to primarily be close-air support units, and move A-10 pilots to them.
“We’re going to take those aviators, and we’re going to have designated predominantly CAS squadrons in the F-15s and the F-16s, and eventually in the F-35,” Carlisle said. “We want those CAS expertise to go to those squadrons that are dedicated to CAS to keep that expertise, that knowledge base, that culture alive.”
The formation of the integration group follows a week-long summit the Air Force held this week to examine close-air support. It was attended by senior officials from all branches of the military, as well as rank-and file troops closely involved in the close-air support mission. It focused on a variety of issues, Carlisle said, including an ongoing shortage in joint terminal attack controllers and the perceived need to sharpen training for close-air support in environments where pilots face threats in the air.
The A-10’s retirement comes despite a strong record during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its use now against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. This video, for example, shows it attacking positions near Rawah, Iraq, in December:
Carlisle said the Air Force hasn’t ruled out pursuing a new “A-X” plane, an eventual replacement for the A-10. If the world changes to require the service to have more planes that can perform close-air support at a cheaper cost, it would require a change in strategy, he said.
The Air Force’s argument has been challenged repeatedly, including in a widely read analysis written by an Army officer, Maj. Benjamin Fernandes, for the Council on Foreign Relations this week. If the Air Force wants to save billions of dollars, it would be wiser to retire a different fleet of aircraft like the F-15, F-16 or the B-1B bomber, he wrote.