Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin turbofan engine, straight wing jet aircraft developed for the United States Air Force. It is commonly referred to by the nicknames `Warthog’ or `Hog’, although the A-10’s official name comes from the World War II Republic P-47. The A-10 was designed for close air support (CAS) of friendly ground troops, attacking armored vehicles and tanks, and providing quick-action support against enemy ground forces. It entered service in 1976 and is the only production-built aircraft that has served in the USAF that was designed solely for CAS. Its secondary mission is to provide forward air controller – airborne support, by directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10. The A-10 was intended to improve on the performance of the A-1 Skyraider and its lesser firepower and was designed around the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, more of this later. Its airframe was designed for durability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds of titanium armour to protect the cockpit and aircraft systems, enabling it to absorb a significant amount of damage and continue flying. Its short take-off and landing capability permits operations from airstrips close to the front lines, and its simple design enables maintenance with minimal facilities. The A-10 served in the Gulf War, where the Warthog distinguished itself. The A-10 also participated in other conflicts such as in Grenada, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against Islamic State in the Middle East.

The A-10A was the only version produced, though one pre-production airframe was modified into the YA-10B twin-seat prototype to test an all-weather night capable version. In 2005, a program was started to upgrade remaining A-10A aircraft to the A-10C configuration, with modern avionics for use with precision weaponry. The first unit to receive the A-10 was the 355th Tactical Training Wing, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in March 1976. The first unit to achieve full combat readiness was the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina, in October 1977. Deployments of A-10As followed at bases both at home and abroad, including England AFB, Louisiana; Eielson AFB, Alaska; Osan Air Base, South Korea; and RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge, England. The 81st TFW of RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge operated rotating detachments of A-10s at four bases in Germany known as Forward Operating Locations Leipheim, Sembach Air Base, Nörvenich Air Base, and RAF Ahlhorn. A-10s were initially an unwelcome addition to many in the Air Force. Most pilots switching to the A-10 did not want to because fighter pilots traditionally favoured speed and appearance. In 1987, many A-10s were shifted to the forward air control (FAC) role and here the OA-10 is typically equipped with up to six pods of 2.75-inch (70mm) Hydra rockets, usually with smoke or white phosphorus warheads used for target marking. OA-10s are physically unchanged and remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation.

A-10s of the 23rd TFW were deployed to Bridgetown, Barbados during Operation `Urgent Fury’, the American Invasion of Grenada. They provided air cover for the U. S. Marine Corps landings on the island of Carriacou in late October 1983 but did not fire their weapons. Although the A-10 can carry a considerable amount of munitions, its primary built-in weapon is, as noted earlier, the 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon, one of the most powerful aircraft cannons ever flown and fires large depleted uranium armour-piercing shells. The GAU-8 is a hydraulically driven seven-barrel rotary cannon designed specifically for the anti-tank role with a high rate of fire. The cannon’s original design could be switched by the pilot to 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute, and this was later changed to a fixed rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. The cannon takes about half a second to reach top speed, so fifty rounds are fired during the first second, sixty-five or seventy rounds per second thereafter. The fuselage itself is built around the cannon, which is mounted slightly to the port side with the barrel on the starboard side at the nine o’clock position, so it is aligned with the aircraft’s centreline. The ammunition drum can hold up to 1,350 rounds of 30 mm ammunition, but generally holds 1,174 rounds. To protect the GAU-8/A rounds from enemy fire, armour plates of differing thicknesses between the aircraft skin and the drum are designed to detonate incoming shells.

The AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile is a commonly used munition for the A-10, targeted via electro-optical (TV-guided) or infra-red. The Maverick allows target engagement at much greater ranges than the cannon, and thus less risk from anti-aircraft systems. During Operation `Desert Storm’, in the absence of dedicated forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras for night vision, the Maverick’s infrared camera was used for night missions as a `poor man’s FLIR’. Other weapons include cluster bombs and Hydra rocket pods. The A-10 is equipped to carry GPS and laser-guided bombs, such as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, Paveway series bombs, JDAM, WCMD and glide bomb AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon. A-10s usually fly with an ALQ-131 ECM pod under one wing and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles under the other wing for self-defence. Throughout its life, the platform’s software has been upgraded several times, and their original Pave Penny pods have been removed and replaced by the AN/AAQ-28(V)4 LITENING AT targeting pod or Sniper XR targeting pod, which both have laser designators and laser rangefinders. The A-10 is exceptionally tough and is able to survive direct hits from armour-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23mm. It has double-redundant hydraulic flight systems, and a mechanical system as a backup if hydraulics is lost. Flight without hydraulic power uses the manual reversion control system; pitch and yaw control engage automatically, roll control is pilot-selected. In manual reversion mode, the A-10 is sufficiently controllable under favourable conditions to return to base, though control forces are greater than normal. The aircraft is designed to be able to fly with one engine, one half of the tail, one elevator, and half of a wing missing. The cockpit and parts of the flight-control system are protected by titanium aircraft armour, that has been tested to withstand strikes from 23mm cannon fire and some strikes from 57mm rounds. Any interior surface of the cockpit directly exposed to the pilot is covered by a multi-layer nylon spall shield to protect against shell fragmentation. The front windscreen and canopy are also resistant to small arms fire.

As noted, the A-10 was used in combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 other military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces, and also shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 cannon. The first of these was shot down by Captain Robert Swain over Kuwait on 6 February 1991 for the A-10’s first air-to-air victory. Four A-10s were shot down during the war by surface-to-air missiles, and another two battle-damaged A-10s and OA-10As returned to base and were written off, while some sustained additional damage in crash landings. The A-10 had a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict. Shortly after the Gulf War, the Air Force abandoned the idea of replacing the A-10 with a close air support version of the F-16. The A-10 fired approximately 10,000 30 mm rounds in Bosnia in 1994-95 and following the seizure of some heavy weapons by Bosnian Serbs from a warehouse in Ilidza, a series of sorties were launched to locate and destroy the captured equipment. On 5 August 1994, two A-10s located and strafed an anti-tank vehicle. Afterward, the Serbs agreed to return remaining heavy weapons. In August 1995, NATO launched an Operation `Deliberate Force’, and A-10s flew close air support missions, attacking Bosnian Serb artillery and positions. A-10s returned to the Balkan region as part of Operation `Allied Force’ in Kosovo beginning in March 1999, and escorted and supported search and rescue helicopters in finding a downed F-117 pilot. The A-10s were deployed to support search and rescue missions, but over time the Warthogs began to receive more ground attack missions, and they remained in action until late June 1999.

During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, A-10s did not take part in the initial stages. However, for the campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda, A-10 squadrons were deployed to Pakistan and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, beginning in March 2002. These A-10s participated in Operation `Anaconda’. Afterwards, A-10s remained in-country, fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants. Operation `Iraqi Freedom’ began on 20 March 2003with the A-10s again seeing action. A single A-10 was shot down near Baghdad International Airport by Iraqi fire late in the campaign. A-10s also flew thirty-two missions in which the aircraft dropped propaganda leaflets over Iraq. In September 2007, the A-10C with the Precision Engagement Upgrade reached initial operating capability. The A-10C first deployed to Iraq in 2007 with the 104th Fighter Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard. The A-10C’s digital avionics and communications systems have greatly reduced the time to acquire a close air support target and attack it. In March 2011, six A-10s were deployed as part of Operation `Odyssey Dawn’, the coalition intervention in Libya. As part of Operation `Inherent Resolve’, A-10s to hit IS targets in central and north western Iraq on an almost daily basis. On 15 November 2015, A-10s and AC-130s destroyed a convoy of over 100 ISIL-operated oil tanker trucks in Syria. The attacks were part of an intensification of Operation `Tidal Wave II’ in an attempt to cut off oil smuggling as a source of funding for the group. On 19 January 2018, 12 A-10s from the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron were deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to provide close-air support.