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Once at risk of extinction, iconic Warthog plane lives on

The Warthog is sitting pretty. Once on the brink of forced retirement, the A-10 attack plane with the ungainly shape and odd nickname has been given new life, spared by Air Force leaders who have reversed the Obama administration’s view of the plane as an unaffordable extra in what had been a time of tight budgets. In the 2018 Pentagon budget plan sent to Congress this week, the Air Force proposed to keep all 283 A-10s flying for the foreseeable future.

Three years ago, the Pentagon proposed scrapping the fleet for what it estimated would be $3.5 billion in savings over five years. Congress said no. The following year, the military tried again but said the retirement would not be final until 2019. Congress again said no. Last year, officials backed away a bit further, indicating retirement was still the best option but that it could be put off until 2022.

Now the retirement push is over, and the Warthog’s future appears secure.

“The world has changed,” said Maj. Gen. James F. Martin Jr., the Air Force budget deputy, in explaining decisions to keep aircraft once deemed expendable. The Air Force has similarly dropped plans to retire the iconic U-2 spy plane amid prospects for bigger budgets under President Donald Trump. It also reflects the relentless pace of operations for combat aircraft and surveillance and reconnaissance planes that feed intelligence data to war commanders. The service had complained for years that its inventory of aircraft was getting dangerously small and old. Gen. Mark Welsh, who retired as the top Air Force officer last year, was fond of describing the service as having 12 fleets of aircraft that qualify for antique license plates in the state of Virginia.

The A-10 is a special case. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona who flew the A-10 in combat and commanded a squadron in Afghanistan, speaks of it with obvious affection.

“The A-10 is this badass airplane with a big gun on it,” she said she told Trump in a recent conversation, explaining why the Warthog is unlike any other attack aircraft. The “big gun” to which she refers is a seven-barrel Gatling gun that is nine feet long and fires 30mm armor-piercing shells at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. Also armed with Maverick missiles, the A-10 is effective not only in a conventional battle against tanks and other armored vehicles. It also provides close-air support for Iraqi and other U.S. partner forces taking on Islamic State fighters in the deserts of Iraq and Syria. A number of A-10s fly missions in Syria from Incirlik air base in Turkey.

McSally is among members of Congress for whom elimination of the Warthog carried political risks back home. Sen. John McCain, a fellow Arizona Republican, joined her in strenuously arguing against the plane’s early retirement. Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is home to an A-10 unit; retirement of the aircraft might have made Davis-Monthan more vulnerable to closure. A veteran of combat in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and beyond, the plane entered service in 1976. It is among Cold War-era icons like the venerable B-52 bomber that have exceeded expected lifespans and are likely to remain central to U.S. air campaigns for years to come.

Specially designed for the Cold War mission of attacking armor on the front lines of a potential European war with the Soviet Union, the A-10’s air crews considered it so ugly they called it the Warthog. Its official nickname is Thunderbolt II. The plane has been out of production since 1984 but has received many upgrades over the years, most recently with new electronics.

Rucker now in charge of local Coast Guard station

The Eufaula Coast Guard station has a new Officer in Charge by way of Hawaii and Mississippi, and BMC E. William Will Rucker III says he feels at home.

Eufaula kinda reminds me of where I grew up, said Rucker, a native of Oxford, Mississippi. It s a small southern town that s holding on to its roots. Rucker replaces BMC Holly N. Burgrabe, who reported to the Eufaula Aids to Navigation Team Eufaula in March 2016. She will now reports as the Officer in Charge of Aids to Navigation Team Fort Lauderdale in Dania, Flroida. Rucker reported to work in Eufaula on Tuesday.

I don t plan on changing a whole lot, Rucker said of taking over in Eufaula. I am looking forward to continuing the Coast Guard legacy that we have in Eufaula and continuing to support the community as Holly had done.

Rucker enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2001, completing basic training in New Jersey. His assignments include the Coast Guard Cutter STINGRAY home ported in Mobile and Coast Guard stations in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Sandy Point, New Jersey, southwest Asia, Burlington, Vermont, Galveston, Texas, Baltimore, Maryland, and most recently as the Officer in Charge of Aids to Navigation Team Honolulu, Hawaii. Rucker s awards include the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (5), Commandments Letter of Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Global war on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Award Ribbon, and Sea Service Ribbon.

Rucker holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Cyber Security from the University of Maryland.

Silence Is Falling on the South China Sea

Philippine China relations have taken a decidedly friendly turn since the South China Sea arbitration concluded with the Annex VII tribunal ruling mostly in favor of the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has completely upended the country s foreign policy with its powerful neighbor, starting with a soft landing approach to the ruling, and following up with friendly overtures, solicitation and acceptance of pledges of financial assistance, loan packages and infrastructure projects all punctuated with expletive-laden jabs at Western allies. China also increased imports from the Philippines, notably on agricultural products from Mindanao (tying up support from the southern economic elite), opened the tap on Chinese tourists, and invited the country to join the ranks of beneficiaries of China s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative. Renewed Chinese beneficence has had its intended impact: by thawing formerly ice-cold ties, emphasizing cooperation in other areas and drawing attention away from the maritime disputes, the Duterte administration has noticeably muted its reactions to Chinese assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea. During the term of Benigno Aquino III, Duterte s predecessor, even the slightest new development merited a highly-publicized response. Since the victory at the arbitration, serious changes in the situation at sea have merited a helpless shrug and sometimes permissive deference. When news broke in December of the installation of anti-aircraft weaponry and close-in weapons systems on China s artificial islands, then-Secretary Yasay simply conceded that there was nothing that [the Philippines] could do , that China could take whatever action is necessary in pursuit of their national interest and the Philippines will leave it at that. Yasay even took it a step further by saying that the Philippines wouldn t have anything to do with allies interests in the South China Sea, and that the latter should act on their own without Philippine involvement. When a Chinese ship captured a US underwater drone off Subic Bay, the government was quick to distance itself from its erstwhile ally, professing ignorance of US operations. There wasn t even an official response to the reported near-collision between a US aircraft and a Chinese airborne early warning and control system aircraft patrolling near Scarborough Shoal, notwithstanding the obvious implications of apparently regular Chinese long-range aerial patrols over its claimed territory. Silence on the part of the Philippines seems to have become the new normal, even in the protection of its claims. The Philippines isn t raising the alarm over the continuing destruction of marine habitat, despite Chinese fishermen repeating their patterns of coral cutting and giant-clam harvesting in Scarborough Shoal and incessant fishing activities within its EEZ. Elsewhere, its fishermen have to fend for themselves and fish where their presence is tolerated. Philippine offshore petroleum exploration in the West Philippine Sea has ground to a halt with a self-imposed and official moratorium on account of the disputes. Chinese marine scientific research activities encroaching within the Philippine EEZ have increased in scope, frequency and proximity to the Philippine mainland, not only to the west but also to the east despite the absence of Philippine consent or participation. Only a much-publicized order for the country s Armed Forces to occupy the Philippine islands in the Spratlys and an announcement that President Duterte would raise the flag at Pag-asa Island seemed to briefly shatter the quiescence, although it turned out to be very short-lived.

Muting the disputes has resumed; recent published reports of Chinese personnel threatening and firing warning shots at Philippine fishermen in Union Bank (which straddles the Philippine EEZ) were brushed off by President Duterte as a misunderstanding. He even laid blame on the fishermen for testing the waters and tempting the gods. Silence seems to have even expanded to the last ASEAN summit where the Philippine Chair s Statement retreated from the previous years extended expressions of concern over developments in the SCS, shying away from previous clauses about militarisation, escalation and reclamation. The draft framework for a Code of Conduct recently agreed between China and ASEAN reportedly indicates the latter stepping back from any role by expressly preventing the code from being a basis for dispute settlement in the SCS.

Although the Duterte administration portrays this all as part of a grand independent foreign policy that would take the Philippines away from the US orbit and move closer toward China and Russia, it s risking a yet-unaccounted price: the potential collapse of fisheries and habitats along its western shores, loss of energy security and increased dependence on energy imports, financial bondage for infrastructure development, and political restraint to ensure uninterrupted benefits. Unless it takes care to moderate its latest radical foreign policy swing, the Philippines may find itself steadily sacrificing its ability to secure its maritime interests in order to achieve an illusory peace. Eventually, silence may fall upon its claims in the South China Sea.

This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here[1].

References

  1. ^ here (www.aspistrategist.org.au)