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You CAN teach an Old Hog New Tricks, Part II

Timothy LeeApr 29, 2022 (0)

I ask the reader's indulgence. Now that I have reached Ukraine and am assigned to a unit of English speakers, an emotional note might creep in. I've just lost a comrade in arms, the first American, although not the first Westerner, to be killed here. If you detect a moment of despair, I beg you to please understand that I have begun to think Vladimir Putin is a modern Hitler, or Stalin, and that this is an epic battle. We need the air support, and I respectfully ask anyone who reads this to not dismiss my plea.


In the first of these two articles on the changes and updates to the A-10, possibly extending its service life for 20 years or beyond, I wrote about the difference between the A-10A and the A-10C. The Air Force has basically upgraded all the remaining A-10s to A-10C capabilities. Furthermore, a tanker version is in the works that will extend the all-important loiter time of the aircraft beyond what it has now. Current tankers like the KC-135, which provide aerial refueling, cannot be expected to survive in the environment where the Hogs do their business.

As for the vaunted F-35, it shares traits with a Lamborghini. I do not own one and have only driven in one once, but their owners tell me they drive a mass market car to the store or train station, because the sophistication and specialization makes the Lamborghini a pain for short distances. Danica Patrick, the great modern-day Shirley Muldowney, owns one, yet she drives an SUV practically everywhere she is not going to be photographed (I suspect). And this is not even a fair comparison, for SUVs are specialized in their own way, but the analogy is one that people who are not aviation buffs will understand.

As I wrote previously, in some ways an airplane is nothing but a wing with parts attached, and there are even flying wings, such as the B-2. Although A-10s had previously received wing upgrades, at the end of July 2019, we saw a subsequent (to the 2005-6 rewinging) installation of new wings built by Boeing on 173 A-10s, 162 of which were installed by the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron; the remaining 11 were re-winged at Osan Air Base in South Korea. According to the Air Force Materiel Command, the upgraded wings should last for up to 10,000 flight hours without requiring a depot inspection. One month later, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a second contract, worth up to $999 million, that will provide up to 112 new wing assemblies, completing the re-winging of all 281 A-10s currently in inventory.

Much of the above information was gleaned from an article in The Aviationist, an on-line magazine for aircraft buffs and professionals. If, however, there are 281 A-10Cs on duty currently, since there were over 700 built, where are the rest? Perhaps they are sitting in the high Arizona desert, either in Pima County or in and around Kingman, where the climates are ideal for storing aircraft. But sitting there while Russian tanks invade Ukraine? It makes me want to cry, or rant, or both. Are we so afraid of Putin that we cannot see to the transfer of some aircraft, post-haste, to the Ukrainians?

It took me only a day or so to get to Warsaw, and when people heard that I was on my way to the border, at Pryzmysl, there to continue to Lviv, and from there to the office of the Legion, I was taken out to dinner, and warned on pain of, well, not a thrashing, but of being forced to drink -- and I'm a teetotaler -- many glasses of vodka, that I WAS NOT to attempt to pay. I saw people in a surplus store buying boots and gloves for their loved ones now serving in Ukraine. The Poles have awakened to the threat. And that is why these moribund A-10s must be sent, and quickly. Storm clouds are gathering.

This is the right solution, at the right time. The Russian army has been extremely tank-heavy ever since the Second World War, when they fielded a tank far superior to that of the American Army, and equivalent to the Panzer 4 of the Reichswehr and Schutzstaffel. The Battle of Kursk was perhaps the largest tank battle to ever take place, with the excellent 88mm German cannon, used for antiaircraft, antipersonnel, and antitank warfare having greater range than the guns of various sizes mounted on the T-34s.

Russian design tends to be top down. A story that has always made me laugh is the development of the Tu-4, which to most observers is indistinguishable from the Boeing B-29 of Enola Gay fame. Some American crews, damaged by fighters or flak over mainland Japan, elected to keep going and landed in the Soviet Union, our ally at the time (and in a strange historical note, not an enemy of Japan until the nuclear bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; one could be forgiven for thinking that maybe such bombs were dropped to give Uncle Joe a little warning about the true power of the American war machine). Stalin allowed the crews to return to the United States but kept the B-29s and ordered aircraft designer Andrey Tupolev to reverse engineer that exact plane. He did so, down to the bullet holes on the bottom of the fuselage. When Stalin had ordered, “make the exact aircraft,” the operative word was “exact,” and not desirous of long Arctic vacations, the designers included the bullet holes.

This is also true of tank design: the tanks now operated by both the Russians and Ukraine are direct, lineal descendants of the T-34's. But they inherited a flaw that has been exploited by anti-tank missileers and gunners: they have multiple rounds in the turret at one time. Hitting one invariably causes the other to cook off in what the mad scientists of military language call a force multiplier. Our tanks, the German Leopard, and the fearsome Israeli Merkava isolate the rounds that are not being expressed into the breech away from the one that is for precisely that purpose of avoiding a chain reaction that causes the turret to blow off. And there is no weapon on earth that is made to exploit this flaw like the A-10. One or two depleted uranium 30mm rounds into the turret, and any munition present will blow, causing a chain reaction and thus destroying the tank. The rounds – depleted uranium as they are – are so hard that even with increased armor around the turret, they slice through like butter.  

What does this mean? It means that somewhere, sitting around, are some 300 or more aircraft that could turn the tide of the war. They may not have the upgrades from 2019; research doesn't suggest that they do, but it does suggest that they are there, and amenable to any upgrade their active brothers have received. Even without the new wings, they are still the most formidable ground attack aircraft on earth.

Even as we continue to upgrade them to extend their life, the ones that we have chosen to let sit are needed to stop the greatest evil to arise since Hitler. Again, being in a pair of boots that are on the ground and wishing to hear the noise of the stanchion mounted turbofans again has made me emotional. So I beg all of you who read this: forgive me for my vehemence, and do what you can to make some noise, because like Bonhoeffer said, when they came to take him away, there was no one left to speak. Let our voices be heard before we hear less pleasant sounds.


Send the A-10s now. We need them…and Slava Ukraini : glory to Ukraine, and God bless us all. We need it, even foxhole atheists like me. 

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


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