Above: Wikipedia, 2022
On this day half a century ago, I wasn't yet a glint in my father's eye. The Beatles still thought they were more popular than Jesus, the Watergate burglars were preparing for their first break-in, and the XA-10 Thunderbolt II took to the skies for the first time.
The Air Force had come to realize that WWII technology in the form of the Skyraider was not going to be able to do the job given the development of man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADs, such as the Stinger or Grail shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles. So, it launched a competition called A-X, or the Attack Experimental program, which ultimately resulted in the A-10. And as you can see from the above, courtesy of Wikipedia, the very first XA-10 flew fifty years ago today.
Production roll-out took several years. The first two were built on Long Island, home of much WWII aviation, and the rest were built in Maryland. The A-X competition set difficult benchmarks: the plane had to go 460 mph, take off in a short distance, carry up to 16,000 lbs. of external stores, and cost less than $2 million per copy, or about $19 million today.
Ultimately some 715 were produced, with the last one rolling off the Hagerstown, MD assembly line in 1984. The Hog of today looks very much like the piglet of the 1970s, but so many upgrades and changes have been made that it is difficult to recount them all in one short article. But all Hogs in current service bear the designation A-10C and have undergone revisions and upgrades to practically every part of the aircraft, from the wings to the sighting system. In 2005, the entire fleet of 356 A-10 and OA-10 aircraft began receiving the Precision Engagement upgrades, including an improved fire control system (FCS), electronic countermeasures (ECM), and smart bomb targeting. And as the military always moves to the tune of the bean counters, in 2007 the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost of service life extension plans for the A-10 to total $2.25 billion through 2013. In 2010, Raytheon was given a contract to integrate a Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT) system into the A-10C. The next upgrade was done in-house: the Air Force Material Command's Ogden Air Logistics Center completed work on its 100th A-10 precision engagement upgrade in January 2008, with the last aircraft being upgraded to A-10C configuration in June 2011. In this significant upgrade, the aircraft received all-weather combat capability,] and a Hand-on-Throttle-and-Stick configuration mixing the F-16's flight stick with the F-15's throttle. Other changes included two multifunction displays, a modern communications suite including a Link-16 radio and SATCOM. Even the LASTE targeting system has been replaced, as formidable as it was; the integrated flight and fire control computer (IFFCC) was included in the PE upgrade, replacing the formidable LASTE system.
Software upgrades have taken place as well, such as the “Suite 8 software” that includes IFF Mode 5 modernizing the ability to identify the A-10 to friendly units. Lastly, the Pave Penny pods and pylons are being removed as their receive-only capability has been replaced by the AN/AAQ-28(V)4 LITENING AT targeting pods or Sniper XR targeting pod, which both have laser designators and laser rangefinders.
An attempt to extend the A-10's loiter time, or time over target, took place in 2012, at the request of Air Combat Command, with the introduction of a 600-US-gallon external fuel tank which would increase loitering time by 45–60 minutes. Flight testing of such a tank was conducted in 1997 but did not involve combat evaluation. Numerous tests were conducted by the 40th Flight Test Squadron to gather data on the aircraft's handling characteristics due to these changes. It was reported that the tank slightly reduced stability in the yaw axis, but there was no decrease in aircraft tracking performance, meaning that the change was worth making once funds became available. No funds have yet become available, which is unfortunate, because every minute the Hog has over the ground means another infantryman goes home to his family.
The A-X program was created in specific response to the Soviet threat. While the above does not come close to describing all the changes that have taken place since the Hogs were young, those changes, plus the original design, mean that for terrain like Ukraine and enemies like the Russians, nothing could be better. The Hog was purpose-built to destroy Russian tanks, and tanks are in many ways the primary instrument of the Russian Army. Yesterday, on Victory Day, some 110 tanks and other vehicles rolled past the podium in Red Square. The Red Army fought the greatest tank battle in history, at Brody, in western Ukraine. Some historians believe it was at Kursk, also between the panzers and the Red Army, but either way, it was in the east, against Russians. This means that the A-10 was designed to kill Russian tanks, on Russian or Ukrainian soil, and do so better than anyone or anything had done so before.
I have written that if 720 or so A-10s were produced, with the current USAF complement standing at about 280, plenty are floating around. And while they may not have received the upgrade to C status that frontline-deployed A-10s did, they would work just fine against the T-72, T-82 and even the fearsome T-90 and T-92 tanks that are spearheading each new incursion into Ukraine. We just sent M777 howitzers. We have provided intelligence that allows for the destruction of ships, generals, and everything in between. If we fear Putin's wrath, we have invoked it already, and slight rattlings of the scariest saber around – the nuclear threat – are coming from the east.
We need to act. Putin needs a crippling blow that shuffles him off the podium and into a guarded dacha on the Black Sea, where he can do no harm. The US needs to get with the program before we find ourselves deploying the Marine Corps and the Airborne to the Fulda Gap, and backing them up with A-10s. Why wait? The time is now.
Ukraine – and the A-10 – could not hope for a better birthday present.
HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY, WARTHOG.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
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