A-10s Return to Europe to Stare Down Russia
It’s what America designed the Warthog to do
The snub-nosed A-10 Warthog spent years in Germany as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Now a dozen of the tank-smashing planes are back in their original stomping grounds—and on a mission to counter Russia.
On Feb. 10, U.S. Air Forces in Europe announced that the A-10s and their crews from the 355th Fighter Wing touched down at Spangdahlem Air Base. More than 30 years ago, the flying branch first sent A-10s to Europe in case of a Soviet invasion.
The heavily armed and armored planes will help “reassure our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority,” said Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, the second-in-command at the Air Force’s European headquarters.
After Russian forces invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in February 2014, the U.S. responded by sending troops, tanks and warplanes to Europe. Since then, American troops stepped up training sessions with both NATO countries and other allies—including Kiev.
However, the Warthogs’ six-month deployment marks the first time the Air Force sent A-10s to participate in the mission, known as Operation Atlantic Resolve.
This event marks the return of A-10s to the region. Two years ago, the last Warthog unit stationed in Germany stood down.
“Today, the climate has changed in this part of the world,” 81st Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Clint Eichelberger said at the time. “And so has the need for conventional forces like the A-10.”
The Arizona-based attack jets and their pilots will join up with other members of the North Atlantic alliance. The slow- and low-flying planes will then depart for “Eastern European NATO nations,” explains the official news release.
We don’t know where exactly in Eastern Europe the Pentagon will send the A-10s. Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the most obvious choices.
U.S. F-16 fighters and C-130 transports regularly practice with their Polish counterparts at Lask Air Base. The Air Force’s jet fighters help patrol the skies over the Baltic States from various European bases. But unlike the fast-flying fighters and lumbering transports, the Warthogs are specifically designed to attack ground troops.
With Moscow and its proxies fighting a brutal war in Ukraine, leaders in neighboring countries worry the fighting could spread to their borders. That’s one reason leaders of France and Germany rushed to broker a Feb. 12 peace agreement with Ukraine and Russia.
The Kremlin has supplied T-64 tanks and other armored vehicles to rebels in the disputed Donbass region. In January, video footage emerged of World War II-era T-34 tanks and SU-100 assault guns loaded on trains and possibly on their way to the front.
In December 2014, Russia announced a new over-arching military doctrine that included a responsibility to protect its citizens around the globe. Baltic governments are concerned this pledge could extend to ethnic Russian communities in the region, some of whom have Russian passports.
But if the peace deal breaks down, the Pentagon is unlikely to send the planes—or any other forces—to join in that fight. Washington is still divided on whether it’s a good idea to even provide weapons and ammunition to Kiev’s troops.
For at least the last seven years, the Air Force has regularly sent similar “theater security packages” to Japan and South Korea. Despite a number of deadly provocations, American and her Pacific allies have thankfully avoided a shooting war with North Korea.
The A-10’s latest deployment also comes as a debate heats up around the its future. Air Force leaders who dislike the A-10 are locked in a political duel with the plane’s numerous, outspoken supporters in Congress.
The Air Force wants to retire the entire Warthog fleet by 2019. At the same time, A-10s have begun flying combat missions in Iraq and Syria.
So the flying branch would have you believe—falsely, and clumsily at that—that the planes are particularly dangerous to friendly forces and innocent civilians. And airmen who tell Congress about the aircraft’s impressive capabilities are effectively committing treason, according to one of the service’s senior generals.
“The A-10 is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stressed to reporters back in Feb. 2014. “It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses.”
And yet in spite of all of this, the straight-winged jets are right back in the same neighborhood helping NATO allies stand up to Moscow again.