Fairchild A-10 THUNDERBOLT II / WARTHOG gallery 2

The A-10 was equipped with armour in some vital parts such as the fuel system and especially around the cockpit. About 1,313 kg of titanium plates were installed, of which about 617 kg were in the cockpit and almost 500 kg over the fuel tanks. In addition, the shield of the gun also protected the pilot.
The pilot was sitting inside a titanium “bathtub”, built with plates between 13 and 38mm thick, which is capable of withstanding impacts of 23mm, and even 57mm. Both were the calibers most used by the Warsaw Pact anti-aircraft artillery. The A-10 is known to withstand a lot of damage, including the loss of an engine and important parts of the hydraulic controls.
In addition to its appearance, if something has made the A-10 famous, it has been its superb 30mm rotary gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The gun system has a total length of 6.60 meters and a weight 1.8 tons without ammunition. It is probably the most powerful gun installed in an attack aircraft and originally can fire up to 4,200 rounds per minute. When entered service two different rate of fire can be selected, 2,100 or 4,200 r.p.m., but later the rate of fire wax fixed in 3,900 r.p.m.
The GAU-8 is composed by seven 30mm barrels that have their own butt and hammer and is fed from a drum loaded with 1,174 rounds, although the total capacity reaches 1,350 rounds. The projectiles are arranged in a spiral and with a full drum, about 10 bursts of 2 seconds can be fired before it runs out.
The barrels measure 80 calibers, which is 2.40 meters long and has an average life of 3,000 shots, or about 21,000 for the complete system. Although it seems that in reality from 18,500 shots the GAU-8 is prone to breakdown. The effective range against main battle tanks is around 1.2 km and against armoured vehicles it reaches 3 km. Usually the gun is fired in short bursts of between 1 and 1.5 seconds, during which between 65 and 100 rounds are fired to the target.
The gun uses high explosive PGU-13/B (HE) and armour piercing PGU-14/B(AP) rounds of about 0.9 kg in weight. The latter have a depleted uranium core and are capable to penetrate armour plates directly without having an explosive charge. A characteristic of these 30mm projectiles is that they have a perfect straight trajectory up to 3 km of distance, falling only 43 thousandths, just one degree. It also has the PGU-15/B practice rounds without warhead.
When the gun is fired, the shot exerts a force against the aircraft of 5,400 kg and slows the aircraft about 5 knots (9 km/h). The pilots should aim directly with the aircraft’s nose towards the target in a dive of about 30 degrees if possible, so the rounds hit the weakest area of the tank, the roof. According to a pilot: “…the aim in the A-10 is a mixture of coordination between the hand and the eye, and of aggressiveness, and for this the human being is faster than any sensor on the aircraft”.
Normally the A-10s act in pairs, covering blind spots, warning of the arrival of anti-aircraft missiles and coordinating the attacks. Normally, while one aircraft makes a bombing pass, the other usually uses the gun from an angle of 90 degrees to the axis of the attack so that the attacked keep “head down” and cannot respond to the attack.
In addition to the gun, logically the A-10 has a really large panoply of weapons. It has all kinds of rockets and bombs, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles and air-to-surface Maverick missiles up to 7,257 kg of maximum weapon load. It also carries up to 480 chaffs and 240 flares to protect itself from air defense missiles. Such a large number of weapons and the ability to “loiter” over the combat zone make the A-10 Warthog a fearsome attack aircraft.
In 1987 some A-10s were redesignated OA-10s to carry out forward air control (FAC) missions. For this purpose, the aircraft was usually armed with 70mm Hydra rocket pods loaded with white phosphorus or smoke to signal targets to attack aircraft.
The A-10 has been receiving improvements and modernizations to keep it as efficient as possible during its very long career. Already in 1978 it received the Pave Penny laser receiver to be able to use laser-guided munitions and in 1980, following complaints from the USAF, an inertial navigation system was installed, especially to make low-altitude flights safer in adverse weather conditions.
In the early 90’s the A-10 received one of the most useful systems installed to date. It was the Low-Altitude Safety and Targeting Enhancement (LASTE), which had a ground collision warning system, an autopilot and a computerized weapon-aiming system that greatly increased its effectiveness in combat.
In the late 90’s, a multi-function display and a GPS navigation system was included and the LASTE system was complemented with an Integrated Flight & Fire Control Computer (IFFCC). In addition to modernization of the electronic equipment the A-10 has always been carefully checked regarding the fatigue of the wings and the airframe.
Due to the design of the A-10 and the type of flight it performs during its missions, with constant tight turns and changes in direction and height, the materials suffer enormous G loads. This aircraft was designed to withstand a maximum of 7.3 G’s positive in “clean” configuration and up to 5 positive G’s fully loaded. Thanks to its huge wings it can withstand a 3.25 G’s turn at 500 km/h, which is a huge stress for the aircraft and the pilot.
In 1979, small cracks were detected in the wings of some aircraft, so a program to reinforce certain parts was started during production, which has been extended over time with constant improvements. Finally in the mid-1990s, Grumman, who took over the maintenance of the A-10s in 1987, had to come up with a more in-depth plan to solve the problem.
In 1999 an improvement program called “HOG UP” was started, which mainly acted on the nacelles, the flight control system and parts of the fuel system, but the wings were of increasing concern. In 2003 a report concluded that further modifications were no longer useful and should be changed as soon as possible. In 2006 Boeing won a contract to manufacture 242 new wings, to be installed from 2011, when the USAF would end the stock of replacement wings.
With the new wings the A-10 could continue in service until 2035 or 2040, although by that time the newest planes will be over 50 years old !!, something totally unique for a combat aircraft if that time comes. Considering that in 2017 the USAF announced that: “…the A-10 will now be kept in the air force’s inventory indefinitely” ……, who knows, what is certain is that at least it will remain in service until 2028 or later.
In 2005 the only variant of the A-10 appeared to date, designated as A-10C (on the image). It is not really a new plane, but a deep modernization made to the entire fleet, called “Precision Engagement upgrades”. Initially new equipment for smart bomb targeting, an improved fire control system (FCS) and new ECMs were installed, but these improvements have later been extended with the Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT) system, a Hand-on-Throttle-and-Stick system, modern communications including a Link-16 radio and SATCOM and 2 multifunction displays.
With all the improvements applied the A-10C received the all-weather combat capability in 2011, but upgradings have continued. The LASTE system was replaced by the installation of a new integrated flight and fire control computer (IFFCC) and the Pave Penny system has been replaced by new Sniper XR and AN/AAQ-28 (V) 4 LITENING AT targeting pods, that includes laser designators and laser rangefinders. Its defense systems have also been reinforced with the installation of a Missile Warning System (MWS) and an ALQ-184 ECM Pod that work together to detect missile launches. In the case of enemy missiles, the ALQ-184 proceeds to jam them and automatically dispense flare and chaff.
The A-10 received its “baptism of fire” in October 1983 during Operation Urgent Fury, although it did not fire a round as no resistance was encountered during the invasion. But its authentic baptism would come in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm where A-10/OA-10s were able to demonstrate their lethality as a tank destroyer and erased all the arguments of those who always doubted them.
Different USAF units, under the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing (provisional) were deployed in King Fahd Airport, Saudi Arabia. A total of 144 A-10/OA-10s carried out 8,100 sorties during which they destroyed about 900 tanks, 2,000 vehicles of all kinds, 1,200 pieces of artillery, 2 helicopters and an unknown number of SCUD missile launchers. They also carried out “Wid Weasel” type missions against early warning radars and all kinds of military installations.
The 2 Iraqi helicopters were shot down with the GAU-8 gun by two Warthogs from the 10th TFW and the 708th TFS, the only two gun kills of the war. The A-10s were actively involved throughout the war, constantly carrying out missions. The record is held by the A-10 “Fortune Teller” (78-0593/MB) of the 353 TFS that carried out 86 missions.
Two aircraft of the 76th TFS claimed the destruction of 23 Iraqi tanks in a single day. This happened on February 25, 1991, when both aircraft operated together with an OA-10 that operated as forward air controller (FAC). In the more than 8,000 sorties the A-10 suffered 5 kills in combat and 3 more were lost due to the damage suffered, although they managed to reach the base. Its availability throughout the conflict was more than 95%, which demonstrated the resistance and its valid design to face long deployments.
So spectacular was their performance in the 1991 Gulf War that the USAF definitively scrapped the project to replace the A-10 with a F-16 specific variant for close support. The next destination would be in a totally different area of the Planet, the Balkans, in a similar environment and against a similar armament to that used by the Warsaw Pact, the entity against which the Warthog was created.
On August 28, 1995, the Serbs attacked a market in Sarajevo with mortars, causing 38 civilian deaths. This was the final straw and made NATO launch Operation Deliberate Force. During the same USAF deployed a good number of aircraft within the 16th Air & Space Expeditionary Task Force, framed the deployed A-10 within the 52nd Air Expeditionary Wing.


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