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Thunderbolt

Thomas LeeMar 31, 2022 (0)

The philosopher Hobbes, who had seen the slaughter at the dawn of the era of modern small arms, called life “nasty, brutish and short.” One can only believe that this came in part from seeing the horrors of Drogheda, and other battles where technology existed to drive a 300 grain piece of metal at 1500 feet per second, but without the benefit of medevac choppers, still three hundred years away. And if it is nasty, brutish and short to a philosopher-soldier, who survived war, and is writing safe in his armchair, it is even more so for the eighteen year old grunt, cut off from his side, waiting for relief, and proving that foxholes and atheists don't mix.

Even that grunt crouching behind a wall with his buddies has things that will pick his mood up. And of those, perhaps the thing that delights the heart of the Marine, the Ranger or the plain old leg infantryman best is the sound of an A-10 on the way, the radioman talking him in, and the buzz of the Avenger cannon as it solves problems at a rate of 4,000 per minute. Attack helicopters rate high on the infantry wish list, and of course reinforcements, but the A-10, which looks like it was designed by a very smart but demented child, is the stuff of infantry dreams.

One thing many civilians forget is that since the end of the second World War, the entire driving plan behind the United States military was the Soviet Union, and how to stop the Red horde from pouring through the Fulda Gap, across the Pripet Marshes and into Western Europe, repeating the route they took to Berlin. It is one of the reasons the US excels at warfare when we can use our assets in situations that mimic those of that particular part of Europe; the Gulf War, for instance, allowed us to use the flat ground to our advantage, using machines precisely for what they were designed: to turn Soviet equipment into scrap metal. And the images from 1991 tell precisely how well it worked: the Apaches, the Cobras, the fast movers, and the A-10 all excelled at turning Saddam's Soviet built tank armada into Fresh Kills Land Fill east.

Now the Russians have risen again, and while they do so at the orders of a wanna-be czar and not the mad dictates of a crazy, long dead economist – Marx – we have a war machine designed precisely to counter their aggression. And out of every piece of materiel a soldier waiting for a Motor Rifle Division from Moscow to come down the road could wish for, the first, in my humble opinion, would again be the Warthog. Named after the equally jug-like and ungainly looking P-47, the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, also called the Warthog – lovingly – is a flying gun platform with virtually no rivals in the world. The pilot sits surrounded by a titanium bathtub, so thick and strong it can stop a direct hit from a 20 mm cannon shell. It can carry a range and amount of ordinance that dwarfs the load of a B-24, and has, right at the business end, the most formidable machine gun, perhaps, in the world – the Vulcan rotary cannon, which is only limited in destructive power by the amount of ammunition the plane can carry.

An infantryman likes weapons simple, durable and reliable. A classic example is the 1911A1 pistol, designed by John Browning himself. Since it was designed over a century ago, it has had one upgrade, and since then, has been produced without any substantial changes. Almost no other machine can boast such longevity…but the A-10 is working on fifty years itself since its first flight. It was designed as the successor to the Skyraider, itself basically a WWII era propeller-driven close air support aircraft, used extensively in Vietnam, but because of weaponry problems and other snafus, had mixed performance. The A-10 was developed when the battle was raging between the Army and the Air Force about who should and would have the primary anti-tank interdiction role. The Army wanted it all, and for it to be helicopter based; the Air Force too wanted it, but put forth the A-10 as the cure-all for the T-72 and its progeny. And the fight developed even more, based on the results of the battles fought by the Israelis against Soviet equipment in 1967 and '73; while it wasn't clear whether helos or planes would answer, it was apparent that we needed something that would.

What did emerge was a hybrid answer: the AH-1 developed to the point where the ones flown now by the Marines are just barely the same thing as the Army flew first in Viet Nam, the AH-64 proved its worth, and the Army and the Marines have developed many different ways of up-gunning everything from OH-58's to the venerable Huey: the Marine Corps operates one designated the Venom, more a 212 than a Huey, but so much more powerful in terms of munitions and engine that like the AH1Z, it is barely a Huey at all. But all of these, except the Cobra and the Apache, are modifications of current designs; with respect to fix winged stuff, only the A-10 was designed specifically for close air support, and not just any close air support: close air support against Russian made machines, employing Russian tactics, in Eastern Europe. Like Ukraine.

 

That is precisely why we should be sending over A-10's in droves. With the introduction of the F-35, which this writer personally reviles as expensive, difficult to maintain, and meant to fill so many roles that he doubts it fills any of them perfectly, the debate arose: should we scrap the A-10? No, no, no, we should not. But what the debate did do is move many to reserve status, and send them to Davis-Monthan, where they sit, when they could be saving the Ukraine…doing, in other words, precisely what they were meant to do. Not only that, but they are simple and straightforward enough that Ukrainian pilots, who would take months to convert to F-16's, could be gotten up to speed on them in a month or so. The Vulcan could, if necessary, be replaced with a 12.7 mm machine gun, or a Soviet/Ukrainian made three barreled gatling gun, and the pylons on the wings changed without too much difficulty…if that was necessary. But there is almost no other machine that we could send that would bring joy to the heart of the Ukrainian infantryman, under heavy Russian fire, like the sound of an A-10 with yellow and blue roundels on its wings, coming at 25 feet off the deck, hot, loaded and ready to go.

 

Logistically, they can take off from anywhere and land in the same place…a soccer field, a road, a general aviation runway. With a few advisors, we could train the Ukrainian ground crews very quickly in their maintenance, and even from looking at one, a layperson can see that it was designed for ease of maintenance: the engines sit on stanchions, accessible to the ground crew; the avionics are pretty straightforward, and even more so on the earlier versions, and that would be what we would likely send. Certainly, attack helicopters would help, but they are maintenance intensive, needy of spare parts, and difficult to adapt to Soviet munitions in a way the A-10 would not be. I read a study about the potential adaptation of the A-10 to Soviet and European guns and droppable munitions; according to the ex-Fairchild author, it was designed to have easily removeable weapons pylons, and many of the releases are manual…pull the servo lever, and the bomb falls off. Adaptable and simple.

One argument that has been advanced against them is that they would have trouble mixing it up with SU 27's and newer MiGs. Probably true, although a longtime A-10 pilot, Major Mike Blair, USAF (R) tells me that since dogfights happen at relatively low speeds, as long as there was an air to air missile or two on the pylons, and of course the bandsaw of a gun, they would do better than one might think, especially at low altitude. They would indeed be vulnerable to long-range air to air munitions – something like our Phoenix, and even the more advanced Sparrows and Sidewinders. But the Ukrainians have the same Sukhois and MiGs, and putting a few of those as the shepherd for the A-10 flock downstairs, waiting hungrily for the tanks to roll into their heads-up display would be…well, using the A-10's precisely as they were designed.

 

We need to send them and we need to send them now. They are a purely tactical weapon, so no one can cry “strategic wolf,” and use their presence to escalate. They are not heavy bombers; they aren't going to Moscow with a nuke slung under them. Simply, they are the best tank killing aircraft in the world, and for them to be baking in the Arizona sun while the army they were designed to fight is fighting in the place they were designed to fight them is wrong and irresponsible.

 

One ironic note: the plane I would compare them to historically is the Sturmovik IL-2. Built by the Russians specifically to destroy ground targets, and even more so destroy Panzers and Tigers, the SS and Wehrmacht landsers on the Eastern Front hated them like nothing else.  They were purpose built to kill them, and kill them they did. So there is an historical irony in the fact that the plane that is the closest modern analog to the Sturmovik is designed to be used against the same people who designed the Sturmovik…let us hope that our politicians can unclog their ears for long enough to realize that these older planes, sitting in the sun, could be the saviors of Ukraine…and get the prep crews out there.

 

Let's stop this before it goes to World War III…and let's use what we designed to do it: the A-10 Warthog/Thunderbolt II, bane of tanks, troops and trucks from Baghdad to the Eastern Front.


The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to lhaesten@gmail.com

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