The Origins of the A-10
With Pierre, supported by three of Col. Kay’s officers, most fortunately each of them an A-1 pilot just returned from close support combat in Vietnam, the A-X concept formulation team began work. Intending to make a far more lethal and survivable A-1 Skyraider, Pierre reached out to Boyd to better understand and utilize Boyd’s newly developed Energy Maneuverability design tradeoff techniques, applied to close support attack profiles rather than air-to-air dogfight maneuvers. Pierre used the EM approach for re-attack profiles to keep ground targets within sight and minimizing rearming and reattack times. Low wing loading and good thrust-to-weight to enable high G roll-ins and pull-outs with quick maneuvering climb-outs were key tenets for the new aircraft. All of this was folded into the performance and armament requirements of the final A-X concept formulation package as well as the request for proposal specifications that went out to the companies competing for the A-x design and prototyping contracts.
Pierre tried multiple times to bring Boyd into the A-X design. Whenever Pierre tried to get Boyd to look at some A-X tradeoff charts, Boyd always slapped him on the back and said “You’re doing great tiger, keep it up.” There was simply no way to break Boyd’s laser focus on air-to-air and honing the F-16 Fighting Falcon to perfection.
Prototyping Becomes Fashionable
Taking advantage of a new interest in prototyping in Pentagon R&D circles, Pierre pushed hard to make the A-10 prototype program into an unprecedented live-firing, head-to-head shootoff between two competing combat-ready prototypes- something never before attempted in Air Force procurement history. With the fortuitous help of the Deputy Secretary of the Air Force, the entrenched opposition within the USAF procurement bureaucracy was overcome to enable Northrop and Fairchild/Republic to be placed under contract for the shooting flyoff between the A-9 and the A-10.
How to Source Two Highly-Capable Jets at the Same Time
As development of the A-10 continued, the fate of both the future A-10 and the new Lightweight Fighter/F-16 converged. At the time, several lucky key events facilitated approval of prototypes for both airframes. The new Assistant Secretary of Defense, David Packard, an electrical engineer who helped start Hewlett-Packard in his garage, thought that lots of simple prototyping would reduce the widely-criticized failures of the Pentagon’s big weapons programs (Packard had no idea of competitive shootoff prototyping). Packard set aside a $200 million dollar pot that the military branches would compete to use for new prototypes. Each branch would forward their designs to a selection committee.
Choosing the F-16
The Air Force, serious about the desire to obtain as much of the prototyping pot as possible, formed a Prototype Board to select their designs to promote. Fortunately, an officer that had worked side by side with Pierre on the C-130 analysis, Col. Lyle Cameron, just happened to be the board Chairman. With the lightweight fighter/F-16 concept formulation essentially complete, the Air Force Board picked the LWF/F-16 as their candidate–and the Air Force went on to garner much of the Packard pot largely based on that.
Once the A-X prototyping had helped kill the Cheyenne, the Air Force did not intend to put the A-10 into production. In 1973, a new Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, very intentionally made it happen.
A Combat Vet to Help Improve the Services
Schlesinger, knowing that he soon would be appointed, called in his longstanding confidante and military adviser, retired Col. Richard Hallock, a highly decorated WWII Airborne officer that survived and won some 40 platoon-size firefights- probably more than any other infantry platoon leader. Fortunately, during Pierre’s first year with the Whiz Kids, Hallock had mentored Pierre in the basics and little-known subtleties of ground warfare and as a result they became close friends and colleagues. Desiring to leave a legacy of having strengthened all the military services, Schlesinger tasked Hallock with recommending what organizational and hardware changes would improve each service- a weighty charge indeed.
Making the Deal of the Century
Nearly working around the clock for Schlesinger, Hallock needed help and consulted Pierre for the air portion. Pierre developed justification papers for putting both the F-16 and A-10 into production- neither of which the Air Force had any interest in funding. The F-16 was too small and too cheap and threatened the Air Force’s favorite, the F-15. The A-10 was intended for the despised close air support mission. Knowing this, Hallock proposed that Schlesinger would offer the Air Force Chief of Staff a deal he couldn’t refuse: A five-wing increase in the USAF’s force structure and a 1,000+ increase in aircraft inventory in return for accepting the unwanted F-16 and A-10. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. George Brown couldn’t resist and accepted. To make sure the Air Force couldn’t back out, Schlesinger obtained NATO’s commitment to buy F-16s before the end of 1973.
Pierre continued to consult for the Whiz Kids from 1971 to 1986. Primarily assisting on the F-16 and A-10 projects, Pierre also aided in tank acquisition projects, given his interest in land warfare. Faced with the impossibility of developing superior and needed replacements for the A-10 and F-16 due to deteriorating Pentagon politics, Pierre exited the defense consulting business in 1986 to pursue his longstanding passion for recording music. Starting a jazz/blues/gospel recording studio and label, Pierre soon expanded into designing and manufacturing upgrade products for the niche home audio aficionado. Pierre continues to work with his old military reform colleagues and, through congressional lobbying and work with the media, is very actively pressing to keep the most effective close support plane ever designed in the inventory- at least until a far better one is designed and tested.
Pierre Sprey’s music studio and label: https://www.mapleshadestore.com/