The current Hawgsmoke competition could be one of the last
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
Every two years, dozens of A-10 Warthog pilots go head-to-head in Hawgsmoke, the U.S. Air Force’s sporting event for its sole dedicated close-air support aircraft.
Hawgsmoke is not just a competition, but a tactical training event that places Warthogs in scenarios requiring what the plane does best — sending a lot of gunfire down-range in a short amount of time. The event also helps build comaradery in the tightly-knit world of A-10 pilots.
We probably won’t see many more Hawgsmokes. The Air Force plans to retire the A-10 in 2022, if Congress doesn’t object. Top brass have, for decades, disliked the concept of a dedicated close-air support plane, which by definition supports troops — Army ones, specifically — on the ground.
Inter-service rivalries aside, the flying branch wants to free up money to replace the Warthogs with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But the public debate about the A-10’s future didn’t seem to affect the pilots at Hawgsmoke.
“The same way they approach this event is the way they will approach every tasking that is given to us until the day the very last A-10 rolls into the Boneyard,” Lt. Col. Brett Waring, an A-10 pilot, told Air Force Times.
This year’s Hawgsmoke, which went from June 2 to June 4, took place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona — the home base of the Air Force Reserve’s 47th Fighter Squadron. Under the rules of Hawgsmoke, the winner of the previous event hosts the following one on its home turf.
Hawgsmoke will stay in Arizona two years from now. In 2016’s competition, the 47th Fighter Squadron — nicknamed the “Terrible Termites” — won for the second time in a row.
For aviation enthusiasts, the event is a source of some excellent photos and videos of the A-10 in action. There is also a pretty rad t-shirt and patch for sale. There is a lineage of Hawgsmoke patches featuring surreal (and awesome) cigar-chomping warthogs.
An unofficial history notes that bad weather forced the cancellation of 2004’s exercise, but “was declared a success for the opportunity of the Hog community to get together, share experiences and party like rock stars.”
This year, the competition pitted 13 Warthog teams — a total of 48 A-10s — against each other in a series of exercises involving “high-altitude dive bombs, low-altitude delivery, long-range and low-angle strafe,” Waring told the Air Force Times.
He added that this year’s focus was on “precision engagement and the ability for a four-ship of A-10s to mass fire in a short amount of time.” An official 355th Fighter Wing article described the priorities as “tactical massing of fires in minimum time in an opposed environment.”
The event is rich in symbolism.
The Top Tactical Team trophy is named for Capt. Stephen “Syph” Phillis, an A-10 pilot who died when Iraqi troops shot down his A-10 during the 1991 Gulf War. Before his death, Phillis heroically provided air cover for his downed wingman, 1st Lt. Robert Sweet, who was later captured.
Only one other fighter unit besides the 47th has won Hawgsmoke more than once — the Idaho Air National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron, or “Skullbangers,” which placed first in 2008 and 2010.
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