After five decades of loud, effective, and noisy service, the A-10 is retiring. Air Force fans will miss the ugly S.O.B.
Last week, the Air Force announced its plans to replace two remaining A-10 squadrons with more modern F-16s or F-35s. Yahoo News reports that “this is in line with the Air Force’s goal to divest the last A-10s by the end of this decade, if possible.” Air Force brass has been trying to retire hogs for years, but Congress keeps telling them no. This announcement suggests that the A-10 won’t be flying until 2040 after all.
But what a jet, even if it had a face that only a mother could love.
In the late 1960s, with the Vietnam War raging, it was time for the Air Force, which had been focusing on ground-attack missions, to develop a replacement aircraft for its prop-driven A-1 Skyraiders, almost from WWII. The best anti-tank weapon, it is said, is another tank. When developing the A-10 the Air Force seemed to have asked: “What if, instead of adding wings to a tank, we added a few big engines?”
The requirements for the Air Force’s new ground attack jet were developed during Vietnam. However, planners had another enemy in mind: the Soviet tank. The plan was to equip a heavy-armored, slow jet with a powerful gun that could tear through Russian armor like tuna cans.
Fairchild-Republic responded to the Air Force’s needs and created the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The Thunderbolt, which is neither sleek nor sexy in appearance, is often called the Warthog (or just Hog). The entire jet was built around the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger autocannon, whose (airborne!) The ammo magazines are the size of Volkswagen Beetles. It can fire depleted-uranium shells at speeds of 3,324 feet per second, which is faster than a hot knife cutting through butter.
This is what an autocannon sounds like.
The A-10 is designed to be able to fly close. To do this, the pilot sits inside a titanium “bathtub”. I remember watching a CNN report on a jet that had returned from a mission with a missing wing. It was during the Gulf War when the Warthog captured the public imagination. I’ve been searching for this clip for years but without success. The Hog, when fully loaded, can carry up to eight tons more missiles and bombs.
The Hog’s engines are mounted at the rear, high up with a slight tilt towards the front. This is to prevent the Hog from sucking up debris from damaged airfields. Fairchild engineers thought of everything.
In 1977, the first version of Warthog was put into service. Only a handful of the 700 units built are still operational. A-10s were built to combat Soviet armor but our reduced A-10 force found many jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan that they alone could perform.
The Air Force never really got excited about the ground attack. The “fighter mob” that has ruled the USAF for the past few decades is more interested in sleek, sexy fighters with air dominance capabilities like the F-22 Raptor. The Army was supposed to take over the remaining Warthog squadrons, but this is not possible for many reasons, including the lack of experience, training, and personnel to maintain and fly jets.
The Air Force has long maintained that the F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole fighter is better equipped for ground attacks in the 21st Century.
It pains me, as a Warthog enthusiast, to admit that they are probably right. Years ago, I wrote at VodkaPundit.com’s original site that “stealth was the price of entry into the modern battlespace”. Non-stealth aircraft simply do not stand a shot against the latest air defense systems. They barely have a chance against an older air defense system.
The war in Ukraine proved me (and others) right on this score. Even though Russia had a larger and more modernized air force, it was unable to achieve superiority in air power, even during the early months, before Western antiaircraft weapons were deployed with Ukraine. Russia does not have any combat stealth aircraft, and even its most advanced Su-34 jets are limited to launching dumb bombs at safe distances that are beyond the reach of Kyiv’s air defenses.
The A-10 is unlikely to survive a conflict with China or Russia. If — and it is a big “if” — there is still a place for manned ground-attack planes, they will be stealthy aircraft like the F-35, which are difficult to spot, more difficult to kill, and have a wide range of stand-off weapons that can reach long distances.
But everybody who ever served alongside the A-10, or saw one flying, or even just heard the sound of that glorious cannon, will miss it when the Hog is gone.