Affectionately known as the a10 warthog or Tank Buster, the A-10 Thunderbolt is arguably the United States’ ugliest yet most tried-and-true military aircraft. It’s been around for more than thirty years and has played a critical role in several military conflicts, including Desert Storm, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Allied Force, Provide Comfort, Enduring Freedom, Deny Flight, and Iraqi Freedom. Its size, durability, and design make it a prime war machine, beloved by service members, and yet constantly under threat of retirement especially with the new military drone technology. But to the delight of many, we’ve yet to see the last of the a10 warthog in American warfare. Let’s take a look at its history and what makes it so special.
What Does the A-10 Thunderbolt Do?
The purpose of such a big honking plane like this one is simple: to decimate as many enemy units as possible. In technical terms, this is known as close air support. The Warthog’s job is to barrel down battlefields at low-altitude and deploy some of the deadliest weaponry that only it can carry. In order to easily maneuver obstacles at low altitude and low air speeds, the Warthog’s weapon delivery systems can take a lot of heat, and despite its size, the plane is rather agile, able to bob and weave, enter and exit combat zones with ease, and even loiter.
History and Development of the A10 Thunderbolt
1972: The United States Air Force commissions the first A10 Thunderbolt, looking for a new kind of durable, effective attack aircraft that could hold its own against anti-armor weapons.
1976: The first A-10A is shipped to the 355th Tactical Training Wing based at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
1978: The A-10 receives the Pave Penny laser receiver pod upgrade sensitive to laser-radiation. This same year, the first combat-ready unit of A-10s emerges: the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing from South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
1980: The A-10s are upgraded with inertial navigational systems and Low-Altitude Safety and Targeting Enhancement (LASTE). They are also equipped with autopilot, aiming equipment, and collision warnings.
1990: GPS is installed in the A-10.
1991: During the Gulf War, the A-10s have their first experience in combat. They decimate 900 Iraqi tanks, 2 helicopters, and nearly 4,000 other enemy vehicles. In Kuwait, A-10s achieve their first air battle victory.
1995: NATO launches operation Deliberate Force, in which A-10s serve as close air support and patrol units.
1999: A-10s participate in Operation Allied Force in the Balkan regions, assisting in search-and-rescue missions and ground attacks.
2002: A-10s are deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in Operation Anaconda.
2003: Starting this year, A-10s are set to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom for the next several years.
2005: A-10s receive Precision Engagement upgrades, which include new cockpit and map displays, advanced targeting, GPS-guided missiles, new fire control systems, and digital storage.
2011: A-10s participate in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya.
2015: A-10s destroy ISIS oil tanker trucks in Syria.
The government has considered retiring the Warthog several times, but given the aircraft’s successful campaigns against ISIS in recent years, plans are changing. Now, instead of swapping out the Warthog for the AT-6 Wolverine or the A-29 Super Tucano, newer and better versions of the Warthog are in the workshop, and any retirement plans have been pushed back to 2022 or later.
Anatomy and Systems of the A10 Thunderbolt
Perhaps the Warthog’s most famous feature is the mounted GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Gatling gun on its nose. The GAU-8 can fire 3900 rounds per minute—that’s 70 rounds a second—taking out targets as big and as durable as tanks. This gun fires explosive incendiary rounds and depleted uranium rounds that can pierce most armor. Overall, the A-10 can deploy 16,000 pounds of rockets, flares, laser-guided bombs, cluster bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, joint direct attack munitions (JDAM), and wind-corrected munitions dispensers (WCMD). Without any armament, the A-10 weighs about 29,000 pounds, with an 11,000-pound fuel capacity, and is capable of lifting 51,000 pounds of weaponry on 11 different mounts.
Navigation and Communications
A-10s are equipped with GPS, inertial navigation, and multi-band communications and a data-link called LINK 16. Surprisingly, some of the navigating of an A-10 can be done with the naked eye. Because of the A-10’s ability to travel at slow speeds, pilots often fire rockets at targets just 50 meters away using their own eyes, and can even make out the loyalties of the people on the ground, whether they’re friend or foe, simply by looking out the window. The cockpit is fit with a Common Avionics Architecture System, which showcases various information on digital screens, which can then be transferred to the pilot’s high-tech helmets.
A10 Warthog Cost
As of 2015, a Warthog can end up costing between $18.8 million and $26.6 million to construct. Scrapping the model would probably save the government about $4.2 billion a year, but military officials don’t know exactly when that time will come.
Body and Armoring
The a10 warthog is designed to be low-maintenance insofar as servicing or refueling goes. Most of the plane’s parts, like the landing gear, vertical stabilizers, or even the engines, can be interchanged in-field, whether from the left or right side. The large area and high aspect ratio of the A-10’s wings make it excellent at maneuvering at low altitude and low speeds. Its wingspan is about 57 feet.
It’s also capable of short landings and takeoffs, so it can jump easily in and out of various combat zones. The average speed of the a10 warthog is about 300-450 knots, or 350 miles per hour, and it has a flying range of about 2,580 nautical miles. It’s General Electric TF-34-GE-100 turbofan engines can each shell out 9,065 pounds of thrust, and they’re positioned in such a way that their exhaust confuses infrared missiles.
Targeting and Vision
The Warthog’s targeting systems are very accurate, even in low-visibility or low-ceiling settings. In addition to having Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), the pilots often wear night vision goggles, and are seated in a bubble canopy which gives them optimal 360-degree vision outside the aircraft.
Durability of the A-10 Thunderbolt
A-10s are designed to take a lot of heat during battle. They’re covered in 1,200 pounds of 1.5-inch thick titanium armor, sometimes called a “bathtub,” that can withstand direct hits from armor-piercing projectiles and explosives up to 23 to 57mm. This armor alone makes up about 6 percent of the aircraft’s total weight without mounted weaponry. Its fuel cells are protected by an internal foam, and many of its systems are redundant to account for damage and system failure. If hydraulic systems fail, pilots can land the plane manually with little trouble. To further protect the fuel systems, the four fuel tanks are clustered and separated by a fuselage near the center of the aircraft. The tanks themselves possess self-sealing technology and check valves ready to stop fuel from flowing into damaged tanks.
The edges, flap shrouds, and rudders of the Warthog’s wings are protected with honeycomb paneling, which provides maximum defense while weighing very little. The skin panels themselves are equipped with computerized machinery that makes them cheaper and easier to produce. Because the skin of the A-10 isn’t load-bearing, damaged sections can be quickly and easily swapped out mid-combat. A-10s also have larger ailerons than most aircraft; they measure nearly half the distance of the total wingspan. Overall, the a10 warthog is equipped and ready to fly with only one engine, half a tail, and half a wing.
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