Should Canada Buy America’s A-10 Attack Jets?
Is Canada better off with rugged Warthogs or stealthy F-35s?
The U.S. Air Force wants to get rid of its legendary A-10 Warthog tank-killers. Should Canada buy them?
Ottawa Citizen’s “Defense Watch” column posted a letter last week from a reader who strongly argued that the Royal Canadian Air Force should buy the dirt-cheap A-10s instead of the very expensive F-35s the government said it wanted.
“There is little doubt that our aging F-18 Hornet fighter jets are in need of some refurbishing and perhaps even some upgrades,” Dave W. Palmer wrote. “At the potential to save billions of dollars, the acquisition of the A-10 … would be a significant move to outfit our nation’s fleet of fighters at a fraction of the cost of the F-35.”
“Canada could possibly acquire a majority or most of the A-10 fleet at a bargain,” Palmer continued. “What an opportunity to save billions!”
But the 1970s-vintage A-10 is a slow, low-flying ground-attack jet. How would Canada fight air-to-air? Palmer suggested that Canada modernize its F/A-18s or replace them with newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
Some “Defense Watch” readers seconded Palmer’s Canadian A-10 idea. “I will feel safer if I know we have an A-10 in the air to cover me instead of a Griffon [CH-146 helicopter] with only a 7.62-millimeter machine gun,” one reader commented.
Others blasted it as a lunatic move. “Are you kidding me?” one commenter cried. “Why would we purchase an orphaned platform with limited tactical use either in Canada or deployed? The airframes are even older than the [F-]18s.”
“Probably one of the dumbest ideas I have heard in a while,” another reader wrote. “We have a navy that will soon be without supply ships, an army with no anti-armor or air-defense capability, an air force without attack helicopters or any working maritime helicopters and you want to go out and procure used airframes that offer what is really a niche capability.”
“This idea makes absolutely zero sense from a logistical standpoint and is essentially pissing money down the toilet,” the commenter continued.
The Canadian Warthog idea comes as the country struggles to replace the aging fleet of around 80 F-18s. In 2010, the government announced that it would buy 65 F-35s, only to back away in 2012 when it learned the stealth jets would cost $45 billion over their lifetime.
The Ministry of National Defense examined alternatives, and its report is due soon. The choices could boil down to either a competition for a new plane—the Super Hornet, Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen are options—or a continued F-35 purchase.
However, the F-35 lost even more of its appeal recently when U.S. Air Combat Command chief Gen. Michael Hostage told Air Force Times that the F-35 “is not built as an air superiority platform.” Hostage added that the F-35 needs the F-22 stealth fighter to protect it during intensive combat.
Since the U.S. isn’t likely to sell the ultra-high-tech F-22s to other countries, Canada would still need a dogfighter—or wage war without overhead fighter protection.
Canada has bestowed many gifts upon the United States, including ice hockey, the garbage bag and William Shatner. The Warthog would be a strange return gift.
The commenters are right that the A-10 is a close-support plane that’s best suited for strafing enemy tanks and lightly-defended ground troops. How likely is Canada to battle tank columns in the Yukon—or even to get involved in another long counterinsurgency campaign?
Ottawa’s next conflict is more likely to be in the Arctic, where several nations—including Russia and the United States—are vying for natural resources and strategic shipping routes. True, the A-10 could sink lightly armored warships with its 30-millimeter cannon.
But long-range patrol planes and multi-role strike fighters would be even more useful. Which is not to say the fighters should be stealthy F-35s. The Super Hornet or another less expensive plane should be perfectly adequate.
Canada has a small military and a modest defense budget. A 40-year-old specialized ground-attack aircraft—however legendary in the U.S.—is probably not the thing.