For the first time in recent history, the USAF is going to take its aircraft out onto highways in the US for an exercise. Four A-10C Warthogs and a pair of C-146A Wolfhounds are due to take part in Operation Northern Strike. Photo: Handout

Russian fighter jets have practiced this for decades — landing and taking off from highways, that are sometimes only 18 meters wide.

For the basic reason that, in time of war, airbases might be completely destroyed, and highways might be the only thing left.

In an obvious case of monkey see, monkey do, the US Air Force is taking a page from the Russians — god forbid — to see if they too, can use highways as an alternative landing sight.

According to a report in The War Zone, for the first time in recent history, four USAF A-10C Warthog attack aircraft and a pair of C-146A Wolfhound special operations transports are taking part in exercise Northern Strike.

As well as being a unique event in the US, the upcoming highway deployment reflects the ever-increasing importance of dispersed operations for the US military, including as part of the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment (ACE) initiative.

ACE aims to ensure that airpower can be sustained even without access to regular airbases, which are likely to be high-priority targets for the enemy in any peer conflict, whether in Europe or the Pacific.

The highway exercise will take place August 5 and is being run by the Michigan Air National Guard, with the help of the Michigan Department of Transportation, the War Zone reported.

A stretch of the Michigan State Highway M-32 near Alpena will be closed off for five hours, as the A-10s and C-146s touch down there.

“This is believed to be the first time in history that modern Air Force aircraft have intentionally landed on a civilian roadway on US soil,” said US Air Force Colonel James Rossi, Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center commander.

“Our efforts are focused on our ability to train the warfighter in any environment across the continuum so our nation can compete, deter, and win today and tomorrow.”

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The highway drills will be conducted by the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing, which flies A-10Cs from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, The War Zone reported.

Also involved is the Air Force’s 355th Wing, which also operates A-10Cs, as well as combat search and rescue assets from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

Finally, there is participation by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), from Duke Field, Florida, which is responsible for the C-146A.

For its part, the Michigan Air National Guard will also bring useful expertise to the drill.

A-10s from the 127th Wing’s 107th Fighter Squadron having operated from austere locations in the past, among them various deployments from highways in Estonia, as part of operation Saber Strike in 2018.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II — affectionately nicknamed the “Warthog” by pilots — entered service in 1977, National Interest reported.

It is a single-seat, straight wing plane, powered by twin TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines.

What’s more, the feared “tank buster” was designed to undertake just these kinds of missions as part of its requirement to keep fighting on the Cold War-era battlefield.

It’s optimized for short takeoffs and landings (STOL) and its landing gear boasts low-pressure tires for operating from highways and even rougher non-standard surfaces.

For an aircraft with such a simple battlefield purpose, the Warthog is filled to the brim with sophisticated technology.

The A-10’s hydraulic flight system is both double-redundant and backed by a manual system. Intentional structural redundancies built into the plane’s armor allow it to withstand impact from armor-piercing projectiles.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II gets an aerial refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker onMarch 5, 2021. Photo: Air Force Senior Airman Mary Begy

A high-tech “titanium tub” envelops the pilot, providing an additional layer of protection to what is already an exceedingly survivable airframe design. 

This impressive survivability allows the A-10 to do what it does best: namely, delivering a staggering degree of firepower against anything that moves.

Its imposing, nose-mounted GAU-8/A Avenger 30 mm cannon can immobilize well-armored main battle tanks (MBT’s) from a range of 6,500 meters with its armor-piercing rounds, while easily shredding light armor.

This has earned it the well-earned nickname “tank-buster.”

And if that is not enough, its eleven hardpoints support a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, guided and unguided bombs, and Hydra 70 mm rockets.

While much of its work is cloaked in secrecy, the C-146, which is a militarized Dornier Do 328, is also known to operate from austere locations with some regularity, fulfilling tasks such as discrete movements of special operations forces teams.

Experts say this is all part of a move toward dispersed operations in times of tension, moving precious aircraft away from vulnerable established airbases.

Sources: The War Zone, Air Force Magazine, The National Interest