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A-10's for Ukraine

Mar 2, 2022 Updated May 24, 2024 (0)


A-10: the plane that helped win the Cold War

During the Cold War, Western military planners were faced with a tough dilemma: How to counter and deter the overwhelming Soviet advantage in armor and tanks in Eastern Europe, short of using or threatening to use nuclear weapons? The problem was a serious one, with, "..the Warsaw Bloc ground forces outnumbering the West by more than three to one in tanks alone and seven to one in manpower," (FAIRCHILD REPUBLIC A-10 THUNDERBOLT II The ‘Warthog' Ground Attack Aircraft Peter C Smith, 2020, p. 191). This was not just about superpower rivalry or Cold War rhetoric, but how to avoid even so-called limited tactical nuclear exchanges, that 1. would occur on the soil of the very countries we were trying to protect, and 2. even more importantly, could easily escalate in ways no one could predict, including the dreaded Mutually Assured Destruction doomsday scenarios.

A-10s in Europe helped successfully deter the Soviet Union - an adversary with many more tanks and much more conventional military power than NATO

The A-10 was the answer - designed and purpose-built for close air support and to counter the Soviet armor advantage, its first major assignment was as a defensive and deterrent weapons system, designed to destroy attacking Soviet tanks, armor and artillery - basically, a flying tank killer. As such, it was a tremendous success: it helped win the Cold War, bring down communism and prevent World War III - without a single shot being fired!

A-10: tough, proven battlefield survivor

Since the Cold War, the A-10 has proved itself to be a remarkably effective warplane in more conventional confrontations. Stories abound of its legendary survivability in combat, with the pilot shielded by armor and able to fly home even after taking heavy damage - and its effectiveness in close-air-support missions on the battlefield is second to none. 

A-10: the flying tank killer

Its tank-killer credentials were tested in actual battle during the Gulf War, where 987 Iraqi tanks were destroyed by A-10s (Smith, p. 171) - as well as fifty-one Scud-B launchers and numerous air defense and electronic warfare installations - and not one A-10 was lost in combat to enemy fighters (Smith p. 263). Some surviving even surface-to-air missile hits, flying home on one engine and having taken damage that would destroy most faster, more advanced fighters.

It is however no match for the current generation of air superiority fighters, and not an offensive threat to any modern air force.

The U.S. Air Force, therefore, has A-10's that it wants to mothball, and instead focus resources on supporting the F-35. Why not send them to Ukraine? Such was suggested in retired General and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (NATO) Philip Breedlove and Ambassador Paul Volker's excellent article "Six Ways to Help Ukraine Survive Right Now".

So far, the U.S. government has not sent any jets, and most notably blocked Poland sending MIG-29s, to Ukraine, for fear of escalating the conflict.

But the A-10 is different: their only real use in this conflict would be to destroy attacking tanks, armor and artillery. In combination with shielding air defense systems, and air cover from more advance fighters like the F-16s Europe will, hopefully, start providing in June, they could perform exactly the role they were designed for - defend against and destroy enemy armor - and give the Ukrainians a fighting chance to save their own country - quite possibly avoiding the need for a greater, more dangerous escalation if the West comes to face a stark choice between allowing Ukraine to fall under even more brutal, ruthless and massive attacks, and direct military involvement.

As well as being engineered and proven to be able to take hits and keep flying, protecting the pilot and critical controls with titanium shielding, redundant systems, fire resistant fuel tanks, and even battle-tested manual controls for an emergency, the A-10 was also designed to be easy to fly, maintain and repair: an engine can be replaced in half an hour, for example (Smith, p. 144). And it's said to be as easy to fly as a Cessna - so easy that there's no training version - a pilot with some experience will be able fly the A-10 alone, even on their first training flight (Smith p. 211).

The latest version has many of the advanced systems and defenses of more modern fighters, but mostly the A-10 is tough, designed to survive in the deadly environment of close air support where the only way to protect friendly forces and attack the enemy is to get right down to the battlefield -something both Ukrainian and Russian pilots have been loathe to do, with their modern battlefield filled with drones and deadly smart weapons. "You really think they're going to allow a $200 million airplane to get down in the weeds where it's extremely vulnerable?" as Colonel William Smith, an A-10 pilot, remarked about using the new F-35 for close air support. (Peter C. Smith, p. 358).

As it has proved itself to skeptics in the past, the A-10 may well be an even greater help to Ukraine than much more modern, fast, and unfortunately - when they descend to the battlefield where they're really needed -vulnerable warplanes.

Mothballed A-10s could be used to help Ukraine

There are reported to a hundred-plus A-10s just baking in the Arizona sun (Smith p. 314) - why not put those legendary, tough flying tank killers to good use helping Ukraine to control the battlefield, protect its soldiers - and pilots - and defend and eventually liberate their country.

Ironically, though the US Air Force has been trying to get rid of the A-10 for decades, and has paradoxically resisted selling or supplying them to allies, or even the army, the very threat of a larger land war in Europe may make them even more reluctant to share, and "The few [A-10s] that remain," author Peter Smith wrote when contacted by email, "will probably be held back until Putin goes into Estonia or Latvia, both NATO members." Once again, the A-10, despite all its critics, has proven itself to be needed - this time perhaps too needed to share.

Combined with F-16s, more air defense and robust supplies, A-10s could help make the difference for Ukraine - try the VR demo!

But rather than just prepare for World War III, let's do Cold War 2.0 - we know how to win that one. The A-10 alone is not enough, but combined with fighter jets, much better and more air defense, more supplies and the efforts already underway, it can be part of a smart, steady and effective strategy - as it was during the Cold War - to provide the absolute maximum defensive and deterrent capability to allies like Ukraine before the conflict escalates to levels that threaten us all.


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