Venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) gets reprieve?

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DAYTON, Ohio -- Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio — Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

12th December 2014 (Updated 21st January 2015) | Washington, DC. Often described as “ugly but invaluable,” the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II will for a time continue to support troops on the ground.

An A-10 at SUN 'n FUN 2015. Photo: J.R. Hafer

An A-10 at SUN ‘n FUN 2015.
Photo: J.R. Hafer

It took recent action by concerned members of Congress to save the ‘Warthogs’ and the battle to save the birds continues. The Pentagon bureaucrats have long desired the homely planes’ removal from the USAF’s inventory.

A-10 fully armed in 2000. Photo: USAF/MSgt Blake R Borsi.

A-10 fully armed in 2000. Photo: USAF/MSgt Blake R Borsi.

In 1976 an early production variant of the A-10 began public appearances. Many who witnessed flying demonstrations later that year were impressed. The Thunderbolt II was armored, could turn on a dime, and the 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun could undoubtedly quickly destroy tanks and vehicles. Yet, questions remained.

P-35 of 27th PS 1st PG in flight. Photo: USAF.

P-35 of 27th PS 1st PG in flight.
Photo: USAF.

The following July, during a demo flight near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, one civilian Airframe and Powerplant mechanic mused, “Could the type survive in a ‘low and slow’ combat environment, and what about those exposed tires? If A-10s ever saw intense action would there be many crash landings as a result of punctured tires?”

Boeing B-17G. Photo: USAF 060518-F-1234S-016.

Boeing B-17G.
Photo: USAF 060518-F-1234S-016.

The man was referring to the fact that, like the Seversky P-35 and Boeing B-17, both designs from the 1930s, after the landing gear was retracted the main wheels partially protruded from beneath the wings!

A-10 Thunderbolt II in 1988. Photo: USAF/SRA Greg L Davis.

A-10 Thunderbolt II in 1988.
Photo: USAF/SRA Greg L Davis.

When A-10s entered service in March 1976 it was envisioned as a counter to enemies’ numerical advantage in tanks. Europe and Korea were the envisioned areas in which the unattractive ‘Warthogs’ were expected to be battle tested.

A-10 over Afghanistan in 2011. Photo: USAF/MSgt William Greer.

A-10 over Afghanistan in 2011.
Photo: USAF/MSgt William Greer.

A-10s were initially somewhat unwelcome. Pilots assigned to the Thunderbolt II were unhappy because they wanted to fly an aircraft possessing sleek lines and a capability for high speed flight.

Nevertheless, without firing a shot in anger, A-10s provided a potent deterrent during the Cold War. However, the Thunderbolt IIs remained unproven.

The 1991 Gulf War would change perceptions and demonstrate the potency and value of the design, which is credited in part to colleagues and devotees of Colonel John Boyd‘s revolutionary design theories.

A-10 combat damage. Photo: USAF/SSgt Jason Haa.

A-10 combat damage. Photo: USAF/SSgt Jason Haa.

Warthogs flew many thousands of missions, destroying scores of Iraqi armored vehicles and artillery pieces in addition to downing at least two helicopters. All this was accomplished with the loss of only two A-10s.

Iraq highway Desert Storm 8 March 1991. Photo: DOD/SSgt Dean Wagner.

Iraq highway during ‘Desert Storm’ on 8 March 1991.
Photo: DOD/SSgt Dean Wagner.

Decades ago a teenage girl commented to a television news reporter about the appeal of the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger: “He’s so ugly he’s cute!” In a similar vein U.S. airmen suddenly found Warthogs very attractive and desirable mounts.

Infantrymen possess something akin to the aforementioned individuals’ sentiments when speaking of the aged ‘Warthog,’ for the U.S. Air Force’s premier Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft has saved many a soldier from a dangerous situation. Additionally, enemies possess a deadly fear of the straight-winged harbinger of death and destruction.

Demolished vehicles line Highway 80 on 18 Apr 1991. Photo: USAF/TSgt Joe Coleman.

Demolished vehicles line Highway 80 on 18 April 1991.
Photo: USAF/TSgt Joe Coleman.

Early in the Vietnam Conflict USAF leaders discovered the service lacked an adequate CAS support aircraft; supersonic fighter-bombers could not get down low and slow enough to repeatedly put ordnance directly onto enemy troops and equipment and afterward loiter in the area while ground forces slowly advanced past and through hindrances. Furthermore, pinpoint accuracy is required during CAS and lives are at stake when delivering munitions.

An interim solution was found and pressed into service. Rugged Douglas Skyraiders, designed for the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II, began to wear USAF livery. A National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Skyraider factsheet records the results:

Douglas A-1E Skyraider“Its ability to carry an immense amount of weapons and stay over the battlefield for extended periods of time made it a powerful weapon. This aircraft provided close air support to ground forces, attacked enemy supply lines, and protected helicopters rescuing airmen downed in enemy territory.” The aforementioned essential capabilities and tasks are currently provided by A-10s. Warthogs are their worthy successors.

Rockwell International B-1BIn dispatching a Rockwell B-1B Lancer in 9 June 2014 to support ground forces, tragically resulting in friendly fire deaths (see article A-10 Warthog Retirement Debated After Replacement’s Role in ‘Friendly Fire’ Deaths), some would say that USAF forgot the wisdom contained in the following Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás (aka George Santayana) quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” A significant number of vocal and influential Congresspersons have decided that controversial budgeting goals and proposed changes in priorities should not risk a reduction in efficiency and effectiveness relating to the protection of American and allies’ lives. As a result, one can only hope that the beloved ‘hogs’ will hopefully continue to fly.

________________

The author (John Stemple) thanks William Commerford for supplying information related to the damage inflicted by A-10s and other coalition aircraft on enemy vehicles moving along the ‘Highway of Death‘ in Iraq.

Sources, Suggested Readings and Viewings

A-10 Thunderbolt II

http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104490/a-10-thunderbolt-ii.aspx

A-10 Warthog Retirement Debated After Replacement’s Role in ‘Friendly Fire’ Deaths

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/30/a-10-warthog-retirement-debated-after-replacements/

A-10 Warthog, The Hand of God (Combat footage)

A-10 Warthog: Attack Run

A-10 Warthog Thunderbolt II – Dylan “Habu” Thorpe of A-10 East Demo Flight at Manitowoc WI 2011

Air Force: A-10 cuts would save $3.5 billion

http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20131017/NEWS/310170027/Air-Force-10-cuts-would-save-3-5-billion

Airpower Survey, Vol. 5.

Bill Blocks Air Force from Retiring A-10 Warthog

http://defensetech.org/2013/12/13/bill-blocks-air-force-from-retiring-a-10-warthog/#ixzz3MLGLTHzN

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=512

Coram, Robert, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Coyne, James P. “Total Storm,Air Force magazine, June 1992, “Fixed-wing Combat Aircraft Attrition, list of Gulf War fixed-wing aircraft losses.”

Douglas A-1E Skyraider

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=297

Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=413

Friedman, Norman. “Desert Victory.” World Air Power Journal.

George Santayana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana

Highway of Death
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_of_Death

How the A-10 Warthog became ‘the most survivable plane ever built’

Legendary A-10 ‘Warthog’ sends ISIS fleeing even as it faces Pentagon cuts

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/01/21/legendary-10-warthog-sends-isis-fleeing-even-as-it-faces-pentagon-cuts/

Rockwell International B-1B

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=2753

Senate Approves Defense Policy Bill

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/12/12/senate-approves-defense-policy-bill/

Senator Says Air Force Misleading Congress in Pitch to Kill A-10

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/11/13/senator-says-air-force-misleading-congress-in-pitch-to-kill-10/

Seversky P-35

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=469

Soldiers Fight to Save the A-10 Warthog

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-15/soldiers-fight-to-save-a-10-warthog-jet

Spectacular A-10 Live Fire Action in the Desert

U.S. Troops Revisit Scene of Deadly Gulf War Barrage
http://www.stripes.com/military-life/u-s-troops-revisit-scene-of-deadly-gulf-war-barrage-1.5305

 

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