The A-10 Warthog may not be pretty, but it is effective.
The A-10 Warthog As a Weapon
The Warthog was so named by those who used it because of its tough appearance, and this appearance isn’t deceiving. The A-10 Thunderbolt is a twin-engine, turbofan-powered two-seater aircraft manufactured for the specific roles of providing CAS and carrying out ground-attack missions against tanks and other armored vehicles. This aircraft’s subsonic speeds and its big, straight wings grant it tremendous low altitude maneuverability and permit it to maintain extended time on target or to simply loiter near the battlefield.
From the very beginning, the airframe for the Warthog was intended for short takeoff/landings and to serve as a flying platform for the massive and devastating 30 mm cannon it carries mounted in the nose. This GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon is designed to fire up to 3,900 shells per minute. To maximize the effect on tanks and other armor, the shells are made of depleted uranium (for now). Given that it also has the ability to use the surface-to-air AGM-65 Maverick and laser-guided bombs, the Warthog has the capacity to annihilate enemy armor from either a standoff position or from close range.
The A-10’s Rugged Durability
But there’s more to the A-10 than just its weaponry. It’s also made to be highly survivable in a combat situation. It has high redundancy in its hydraulic systems and its surface controls. In addition, the engineers included heavy duty titanium armor to protect the pilot, the control systems and the ammunition, making it very difficult to knock the Warthog out of the sky.
The A-10’s design and development
The concept for the A-10 grew out of the A-X (Attack-Experimental) program, which was launched in the mid-1960s to create a new aircraft for the ground attack role, replacing Douglas’ aging A-1 Skyraider. By the early 1970s, the threat represented by the massive number of tanks deployed by the Soviet Union along their borders with Western Europe convinced the Air Force that it was time to call for proposals from contractors for an aircraft that would have the specific role of carrying out CAS missions and destroying enemy armor.
The aircraft requirements that created the A-10
The call for proposals mandated that the weapons platform the government was expecting should have the ability to loiter over the battlefield and engage enemy targets – including armor – at very low altitudes and low speed with its high-speed rotary cannon. It was to do all of this while still offering enhanced aircraft and crew survivability. More than this, it was to be relatively inexpensive, coming in at no more than $3 million per aircraft. These criteria were later expanded to require that the aircraft have a maximum speed of around 450 miles an hour, as well as an operating speed of 300 mph so that it could more easily engage ground targets.
It was also required that this new aircraft have the ability to take off from runways no more than 4,000 feet long. This would allow for operations from short airfields near the front lines. In addition, it was mandated that the aircraft should be able to carry a load of 16,000 pounds with a mission radius of at least 285 miles. Then, the cost per aircraft was further reduced to $1.4 million. The Air Force received six proposals and chose Fairchild Republic and Northrup to construct prototypes. In the end, Fairchild Republic won the contract, and the very first of the legendary A-10 Warthogs was delivered to the Air Force in early 1976.
The A-10’s deployment and use
The A-10 Thunderbolt received its official name as homage to the P-47 Thunderbolt, produced by the same manufacturer during World War II. The P-47 began service in Europe as a bomber escort and fighter, but quickly gained a reputation as a tough and very effective ground attack aircraft more than capable of dealing with German artillery and armor. It also created chaos along railroad lines and in assembly areas for enemy forces. So it’s not surprising that this new CAS aircraft was named for its predecessor.
The A-10’s armor-busting capabilities
The A-10 is an aircraft that was designed entirely around its principal weapon, the 30 mm Avenger high-speed cannon. This is the weapon that provides the Warthog with its close-range tank-busting reputation. However, while initially developed to provide the Air Force with the capability of taking out Soviet tanks along the borders with Eastern Europe, the A-10 Thunderbolt saw no combat prior to the 1991 Gulf War.
It was at this point that the Warthog truly earned its name, frequently bringing pilots back home despite heavy damage caused by enemy ground fire. During this war, Warthogs destroyed 2,000 armored vehicles, over 1,000 artillery pieces and some 900 tanks. In the thousands of sorties carried out during the Iraq War, only four A-10s were shot down by Iraqi missiles. Later, the A-10 saw combat in the Balkans in the 1990s and was deployed in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. It also took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to carry out operations today against ISIS.
While there have been multiple talks of retiring the aircraft, it is repeatedly delayed. This is largely because of the remarkable capabilities this aircraft offers the United States Air Force.