The A-10 Warthog is probably the greatest tank killer that ever existed.
Have you ever watched one, at an airshow? Floating effortlessly, in flat, menacing trajectories.
Known for an ability to keep flying after taking multiple rounds of enemy machine gun fire, it can land and operate in rugged terrain, destroy groups of enemy fighters with a 30mm cannon and unleash an arsenal of attack weapons, National Interest reports.
The A-10 is described by pilots as a “flying tank” in the sky — able to hover over ground war and provide life-saving close air support in high-threat combat environments.
“It is built to withstand more damage than any other frame that I know of. It’s known for its ruggedness,” A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Ryan Haden, 23rd Fighter Group Deputy, Moody AFB, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The pilot of the A-10 is surrounded by multiple plates of titanium armor, designed to enable the aircraft to withstand small-arms fire and keep flying its attack missions, he said.
“The A-10 is not agile, nimble, fast or quick,” Haden said. “It’s deliberate, measured, hefty, impactful calculated and sound. There’s nothing flimsy or fragile about the way it is constructed or about the way that it flies.”
So why, does the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, want to kill it, along with the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30.
Both military men clearly knew they’d face criticism from lawmakers at the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) — people who really don’t like change because it can affect jobs and cash in their districts and states, Breaking Defense reported.
The SASC isn’t keen on the US Air Force’s plans to retire legacy aircraft in favor of new technology, putting a stop to some proposed aircraft retirements and delaying others.
In the committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers say that the service must operate a minimum number of aircraft for each major mission set.
The legislation also “prohibits the divestment of aircraft until the minima are reached to ensure that [the] Air Force can meet [National Defense Strategy] and combatant command requirements.”
North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer questioned them about plans to retire the RQ-4 Global Hawk. His state, unsurprisingly, is host to Global Hawks at Beale Air Force Base.
“It has to do with relevance and pivoting to the future,” Milley explained.
Ah yes, the dreaded “pivot” word — used by media and Pentagon officials alike, in various transposing situations, that ultimately yield nothing.
“This budget biases the future operating environment, the change in the character of war and against the pacing threat of China,” Milley said.
“That’s not to say that we’re going to stop everything with respect to A-10s, MQ-9s or some of these systems, but we’ve got to make that turn.”
And, of course, some members of the SASC defended the A-10 as the best Close Air Support plane, one without peer.
They ran right into Milley, who admitted he was fond of the Warthog, having been in combat a fair amount, but the Army general defended the decision.
He also mentioned, obliquely, a fact A-10 supporters don’t discuss much — it’s vulnerability in a major war.
“We’ve got to recognize and begin to shift toward a future operating environment and the changing character of war, and we must shift the capabilities that are going to be relevant, survivable and effective against a tier one adversary sometime in the future.
“This is a modest decrease in the number of A-10s. I think it is an acceptable risk and I support the Air Force’s recommendation,” Gen Milley said.
The A-10 Thunderbolt has been in service since the late 1970s and served as a close air support combat aircraft in conflicts such as the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, among others.
It has earned a solid reputation as a hunter killer. It’s not a hangar queen, like some “other” American fighter jets, which shall remain nameless.
In fact, if the aircraft loses all of its electronics including its digital displays and targeting systems, the pilot of an A-10 can still fly, drop general purpose bombs and shoot the 30mm cannon.
By the way, that cannon has 7 barrels. They are centered the way the aircraft fires.
The firing barrel goes right down the center line. You can point the aircraft and shoot at the ground.
Armed with 1,150 rounds, the 30mm cannon is able to fire 70-rounds a second.
“I’ve seen this airplane land on a desert strip with the main gear buried in a foot of sand,” Haden said.
“On most planes, this would have ripped the gear up, but the A-10 turned right around and took off.”
Perhaps Milley is right, when it comes to the A-10’s vulnerability. But that doesn’t take away, from its overall effectiveness.
By virtue of being able to fly at slower speeds of 300, the A-10 can fly beneath the weather at altitudes of 100 feet.
“We shoot really close to people,” said Haden.
“We do it 50-meters away from people. I can sometimes see hands and people waving.
“If I get close enough and low enough I can see the difference between good guys and bad guys and shoot,” Haden explained.
Meanwhile, hundreds of A-10s in the fleet have received new wings or are in the process of receiving upgrades to their wings despite the battle over how many aircraft the service can retire in coming years.
The Air Force has repeatedly stressed it can maintain roughly six of its nine A-10 combat squadrons through 2032.
Former Air Force Col. Martha McSally, now a Republican senator from Arizona, has been a steadfast supporter of keeping additional squadrons of the A-10 — the aircraft she flew during her time in the service.
“Why would we want to get rid of that until we have a suitable alternative?” she recently told Military.com.
“It’s got the ability to fly well into the 2040s, and we’re going to keep fighting to make sure it does.”
Milley also had a message for America’s enemies.
“The US military is the most capable force on Earth, and any country that doubts the effectiveness of the military or the will and grit of the American people would be wrong,” Milley said.
“Alongside our allies and partners, American troops are currently training or conducting combat operations or other operations in 165 countries to keep Americans safe.
“We are conducting major exercises as we speak in Europe. We are monitoring the [demilitarized zone] in Korea. We are conducting freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterways of the global commons,” he said.
“We are sustaining operations in space, and cyberspace. We are supporting our allies and partners in Africa, Asia and Europe, and we are patrolling the skies of the Middle East.”
It is also interesting to note, that the Air Force’s last serving prisoner of war, shot down in Desert Storm, retired after 33 years in the service.
Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Sweet, an A-10 pilot with the 476th Fighter Group, survived 19 days as a prisoner of war after being shot down outside Basra.
“I thought to myself ‘this is it — I’m a dead man,’” the pilot recalled, after being hit by a surface-to-air missile (SAM).
The SAM had taken out Sweet’s steering, and all his attempts to recover the aircraft failed. Left with no other options, the pilot punched out using the A-10’s ejection seat.
It was quiet after Sweet’s parachute deployed and he floated down to earth, but he realized with horror that he was going to land close to the tanks he had been trying to kill just a few minutes earlier.
“That’s when I said. ‘Oh, man, this is not looking good,’” Sweet recalled. “Before I hit the ground about 200 guys came out of these little holes. I didn’t even have a chance to get my radio out of my survival vest and talk to anybody.”
Over the next 17 days, Sweet endured beatings, starvation, diseases, and just plain boredom sitting on the stone floor of his 8 by 15 foot prison cell.
Thankfully, Sweet was released along with 15 other American prisoners, 19 days later and 13 pounds lighter than when he was captured.
Sources: National Interest, Breaking Defense, Task & Purpose, Scout Warrior, Military.com