CAS in Context

Marc V. Schanz

Feb. 23, 2015: Focusing on airframes is the wrong way to look at the effectiveness of the close air support mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, USAF spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Karns told Air Force Magazine.

His comments came in response to a query regarding a recent news article by USA Today, which cited declassified Air Force statistics and claimed the Air Force’s A-10s are responsible for the most civilian casualty deaths in Afghanistan airstrikes since 2010—a disclosure the Project on Government Oversight claims is based on “manipulated data … intended to bolster the Air Force’s campaign to retire the A-10 Warthog in favor of the much costlier and unproven F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

Karns said the data also shows incident-free rates of the A-10, B-1, F-15E, and F-16 are all “relatively comparable” due to the reliance on precision weapons. While the F-15E had the top incident-free rate in the 2010-2014 timeline, cited in the report, each of the four aircraft had an incident-free rate above 99 percent.

Of the 140,000 sorties examined from 2001 to 2014, Karns noted, the newspaper pointed to a total of 45 friendly fire incidents, which comes to an incident rate of 0.0003 percent.

“This speaks to the precision of each aircraft in the hands of highly skilled and trained airmen of all services,” Karns noted.

In each instance of fratricide or civilian casualties cited in a recent news report, lessons learned were applied to CAS procedures, he added.

“Incidents are remarkably low because everyone works hard to keep them low,” Karns said, adding that the development and refinement of precision-guided munitions over several decades has allowed USAF to “capably perform CAS with a wide variety of platforms, including some not originally designed with the CAS mission as a primary role.”

Budget limitations, combined with the need to better operate in a “high-end threat environment,” means the Air Force must focus resources on “survivable platforms capable of providing CAS in future conflicts.”

The Air Force plans to use the A-10 while it remains in its inventory, Karns noted (as evidenced by recent deployments to both Europe and the Middle East). However, divestment plans will eventually give the service the resources needed to “further support combatant command priorities while still providing [CAS] using multi-role aircraft.”