Despite a climate of “intimidation,” numerous current U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog pilots showed up at a seminar hosted by organizations determined to save the Warthog from the budget axe.

Off-duty and wearing civilian clothes, the airmen arrived at the pro-A-10 confab co-hosted by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 22.

It’s been widely reported that the Air Force is planning to retire all 351 of the twin-engine Warthog attack jets in order to save money and protect new stealth warplanes still in development.

Speaking at the conference on behalf of his active-duty compatriots was retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Smith, who flew the A-10 over Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Smith said that while his former colleagues were unable to speak out due to a “climate of intimidation,” he had been well briefed on current Warthog capabilities for his presentation.

Among the other attendees were numerous Congressional staff.

Other speakers included Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon official who originated the A-10 concept, and Winslow Wheeler, who heads the Center for Defense Information. Also presenting were Thomas Christie, a former head of operational testing at the Pentagon, and aerospace consultant Chuck Meyers.

Most of the speakers praised the tough, heavily-armed Warthog. But a couple of attendees were invited specifically to offer an opposing view.

Legendary aerospace journalist Bill Sweetman from Aviation Week and Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, were on hand to offer what organizers called “skeptical push-back.”

Gunzinger said that holding a conference to save the A-10 was premature, since the Air Force has not announced any final decision to retire the aircraft. Moreover, he encouraged the audience to take a wider view of the close air support mission rather than focusing on any one particular aircraft.

Also invited to speak were a number of veterans of ground combat—ranging from the Vietnam era to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—who stressed the importance of close air support. But there were no active-duty offers on hand from the Army or Marine Corps, the military services the most directly benefit today from the A-10's ground-support prowess.

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