Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: The Impact of Service Culture on DoD Materiel Decisions: The Case of the A-10 Warthog

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jeffrey D Beck, George Mason University
In this paper, I will examine the Organizational and Political dimensions of Defense Acquisition decision-making, using the case of the A-10 “Warthog”. Just over a year ago, the U.S. Air Force submitted their Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal. Included within this proposal were a number of new programs, changes to existing systems, and various cost cutting measures. One of these cost cutting measures was the retirement of the nation’s entire fleet of A-10 “Warthog” planes. This proposal has caused a great deal of opposition from Congress, A-10 Pilots, as well as the Marine Corps and the Army. Nonetheless, the Air Force is moving forward with their proposal. So, why has the Air Force decided to cut the A-10 out of their inventory?

Is this proposal the result of Fiscal necessity? Has the A-10 become so expensive to operate that the only option is to retire it and procure a replacement? The Air Force argues that the F-35A can fill the Close Air Support (CAS) role and that they can no longer afford to operate single mission aircraft. This doesn't seem to wash; the A-10 is one of the most affordable planes in the Air Force inventory.  In fact, by some accounts the A-10 costs less per flight hour to operate than its proposed replacement. Perhaps the issue is the A-10 will be less effective as a CAS plane then a replacement currently being procured. According to Capability Based Planning, the procurement decisions made today should fill any capability gaps that exist so we can meet current and future strategic challenges. Has the A-10 become so ineffective that it can no longer execute the CAS missions that a replacement could? When compared against current requirements the A-10 is both more survivable and more capable in its execution of CAS then its proposed replacement; its main gun alone makes it far superior.

So why is the Air Force proposing to remove the A-10 from its inventory? Does it simply not fit the vision the U.S. Air Force has for the future? According to Morton Halperin, a prominent researcher of bureaucratic politics, “The stand of bureaucrats on a policy issue is influenced by its impact on the ability of their organization to pursue [what they consider to be] its essential programs and missions.” Could it be that this decision is purely political? Could the Air Force be eliminating a plane because it doesn’t fit within the traditional image of the Air Force as a bomber and fighter force? 

In order to answer these questions I will begin by exploring the origins of the A-10, from the initial requirements to the procurement of the A-10.  I will then examine current strategic guidance. Have the missions changed since the A-10 was purchased? Finally, I will conduct an in depth examination of the current organizational and political culture of the U.S. Air Force. Is the nation's military losing a powerful tool solely as a result of the political maneuvering of different communities within the Air Force?