A-10 Warthog: Would Russia massacre them if WWIII started?
Yes, the A-10 Warthog is a close air support legend and deserves its place in the history books. However, how would this aircraft perform against an enemy with modern air defenses like Russia or, say, China? One of the most iconic aircraft in the US Air Force’s flight inventory is the A-10 Thunderbolt, also affectionately known as the “Warthog.” Designed to mow down rows of invading Soviet tanks during an anticipated World War III, the A-10 saw service in most of America’s post-Cold War conflicts, from the Balkans to Afghanistan. A recent Pentagon contract to manufacture new wing sets promises to keep a decent amount of planes flying for the foreseeable future, although questions linger over whether the A-10 can survive the fields. modern battles.
A-10 Warthogs: the story
In 1967, the US Air Force launched the AX program, designed to field a next-generation close air support (CAS) aircraft. It was the first for the Air Force, which had traditionally used fighters and light bombers (including the A-10’s namesake, the P-47 Thunderbolt) in the CAS role. Although the Air Force’s current stable of fighters, including the famous “100 series” aircraft, valued speed above all else, the AX traded speed for survivability, maneuverability at low speed, loitering time and, above all, lethality. After a flyoff against the Northrop A-9, the Fairchild A-10 was chosen and the first jets delivered in 1974.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is unlike any “fighter” before or since, with survivability features designed to keep it airborne during an attack run and get it back to base. The aircraft featured redundant engineering features designed to keep the aircraft airborne even if parts of it were shot down. The two General Electric TF-34 non-afterburner turbofans were moved behind the wing, to reduce the aircraft’s infrared signature and protect it from Soviet air defenses such as the SA-7 shouldered surface-to-air missile system Grace. The pilot of the A-10 sits in a titanium “bathtub” that protects him from anti-aircraft guns up to twenty-three millimeters, the main armament of the ZSU-23-4 mobile air defense system. The flight control systems and motors are also encased in a titanium plate.
The A-10 is also designed to be flexible and maneuverable, both in the air and on the ground. The aircraft’s design emphasizes maneuverability at slow speeds, allowing the pilot to fly extremely low “over the neck” missions to conceal their approach from the enemy and avoid enemy anti-aircraft fire. The A-10 is also designed to operate from short, unimproved airstrips in the event that regular airbase airstrips are taken out of service.
The Thunderbolt II’s best attribute is its weaponry. The aircraft has eleven external hardpoints to carry electronic countermeasures, fuel tanks, bombs and missiles. The A-10 can carry up to twenty-four five hundred pound bombs, four two thousand pound bombs, or six AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles. This allows the A-10 to perform a number of frontline missions, from close air support to suppressing enemy air defense, and to strike key enemy targets such as fuel storage depots. , radar installations and field headquarters.
The weapon that sets the A-10 apart from the rest of the aviation world is the nose-mounted GAU-8/A cannon. The big seven-barreled Gatling gun can fire armor-piercing rounds at up to 4,200 rounds per minute, saturating a target area with deadly cannon fire. The GAU-8/A is mounted two degrees nose down to the left, so that the firing barrel is always on the centerline.
The GAU-8/A was an effective weapon for strafing Soviet armored units advancing in single file, especially with depleted uranium ammunition specially developed to kill tanks. Even armor-piercing ammunition without depleted uranium could penetrate ZSU-23-4 mobile air defense systems, BTR-70 armored personnel carriers and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles that made up the Soviet motorized rifle regiments , all of which could be opened by the GAU-8/A like sardine cans.
In wartime, the A-10 was supposed to operate alongside US Army Apache attack helicopters in a so-called Joint Air Attack Team (JAAT) to kill advancing Soviet armor. JAAT doctrine called for Apaches to suppress enemy air defenses, identifying and killing threats to the A-10. The A-10s would then dive at a thirty degree angle, showering the Soviet forces with their Gatling guns. In hindsight, this often would not have worked, as Soviet forces would have advanced too quickly for interservice teamwork to stop the enemy in time.
The A-10’s first war was the Persian Gulf War of 1991, when Warthogs were used to kill Iraqi armored units. 132 A-10s flew 7,983 combat missions during the war, killing 987 tanks, 926 artillery pieces, 1,355 armored vehicles, ten ground planes and even two flying helicopters shot down with the GAU-8A.
After the Gulf War, the Air Force planned to phase out the A-10, replacing it with the F-16, but the A-10’s success on the battlefield earned it a constituency in Congress. In 1999, A-10s flew over Kosovo as part of NATO’s Operation Allied Force, and after 9/11, A-10s flew over Iraq and Afghanistan. A-10s flying from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey have carried out missions against ISIS since at least 2014, and in January 2018, A-10s returned to the skies over Afghanistan after a hiatus of several years.
The Air Force tried to retire the A-10 for more than a quarter century. The service has always maintained that the A-10 cannot survive on the modern battlefield and that A-10 funds are better invested in newer aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and, now, the F -35 Joint Strike Fighter. Under pressure from A-10 fans in Congress and the military, the US Air Force is keeping the planes, for now anyway.
A-10 Warthogs against Russia or China in a war (who wins?)
Is the A-10 viable on today’s battlefields?
Against low-tech enemies with mediocre air defense weapons such as ISIL or the Taliban, the A-10 remains a capable platform.
Against other more modern threats such as Russian or Chinese air defenses, the A-10 cannot survive on its own. One solution could be to pair the A-10 with air defense suppression drones. Once the drones neutralized the air defense threat, the A-10s could conduct ranged attacks, loitering at a safe distance while identifying enemy targets and taking them out with weapons such as new versions of the missile. Maverick or the small diameter bomb. Strafing with the GAU-8/A would be less common, but the guns would still be useful against massive undefended targets.
The A-10 is one of the most successful post-Cold War weapons and has won legions of fans both inside and outside the armed forces. The temptation is to fly the plane as long as possible. The trick is to only keep the plane as long as it’s relevant to the modern battlefield. If the A-10 can fight and win for the next generation, so be it. If not, it must be removed and a better plane – or solution – takes its place. There is no room for feelings in the murderous sky of the battlefield.
Kyle Mizokami is a San Francisco-based defense and national security writer who has appeared on Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch.