The A-10 Thunderbolt II may be slow and old, but this dedicated close air support aircraft is still an infantryman’s best friend… and the enemy’s worst nightmare. First fielded in 1975, the A-10 was designed from the ground up for one mission: penetrate heavily defended airspace and sweep the battlefield of enemy tanks in case the Cold War ever turned hot. Almost 40 years later, the Warthog continues to serve as a lethal guardian angel, protecting coalition troops in trouble throughout the Middle East and Afghanistan.
With a top speed of only 0.75 Mach, climb rate just 1/8th of an F-16 and combat range of barely 300 miles, the A-10 Thunderbolt sure wasn’t designed as a nimble fighter plane. On the other hand, no other jet aircraft in the world can match the straight-wing Warthog’s accuracy and precision when strafing or bombing at treetop height.
The Thunderbolt’s unique ability to loiter right over the shoulders of ground troops, choose its own targets with advanced onboard sensors and then engage “in the weeds” is the primary reason the Pentagon has yet to find a reliable replacement for this old warhorse.
Each A-10 Thunderbolt can haul 16,000 lbs of just about every missile, bomb and rocket type in the Air Force’s inventory, or the equivalent boom boom gear of four AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. And that’s just the secondary armament.
The Warthog’s raison d’être is to deploy the gargantuan 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun at close quarters. Making up 16% of the A-10’s weight and firing depleted uranium tipped shells, the Avenger weapon system is the only machine gun in the world capable of shredding the heavy armor of main battle tanks.
While A-10’s skip the sensitive fly-by-wire controls found in most modern combat aircraft, they are equipped with the latest AN/AAQ-28 LITENING AT targeting pods. These Israeli-built sensors combine an infrared radar, laser designator and laser rangefinder into one unit, allowing the Warthog to mark its own targets without a ground spotter.
For self-defense, besides the standard complement of chaff and flares, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is armed with an AN/ALQ-184 ECM Pod. This cutting-edge electronic countermeasure system can jam multiple incoming threats at once, with near 100% reliability against MANPAD surface-to-air missiles.
In case enemy fire does get through, the A-10 Thunderbolt lives up to its reputation as a true flying tank. The pilot sits in a titanium-armored bucket, rated to stop up to 23mm ground fire, plus every other vital component of the aircraft is protected by several layers of Kevlar and steel plating. As a final fail safe, all hydraulic and electric flight controls have backup manual systems to keep the plane airborne even after a catastrophic hit.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is relatively cheap to operate, costing only $11,500 per flight hour. A considerable savings over the $58,000 an hour rate for its eventual replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Thunderbolts made their combat debut during Operation Desert Storm and were a massive “hit” from the first shots fired. In that short conflict, A-10’s managed 8,100 combat sorties and destroyed over 4,000 Iraqi armored vehicles and artillery pieces. To put that in perspective, the Warthog fleet alone wiped out the equivalent of 2-3 armored divisions while only suffering four losses of their own.
In every major operation since then, A-10’s have bore the bulk of the close air support role for the US Army. Even in the 21st century, Warthogs have flown 32% of all combat sorties in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Unity.
See more incredible A-10 Warthog images.
See A-10 Warthog Specifications
|Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches (17.42 meters)|
|Length: 53 feet, 4 inches (16.16 meters)|
|Height: 14 feet, 8 inches (4.42 meters)|
|Empty Weight: 29,000 pounds (13,154 kilograms)|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight: 51,000 pounds (22,950 kilograms)|
|Fuel Capacity: 11,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)|
|Powerplant: 2 × General Electric TF34-GE-100A turbofans, 9,065 lbf (40.32 kN) each|
|Armament: 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun|
|Payload: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)|
|Payload Locations: 8 under-wing, 3 under-fuselage pylon stations|
|Speed: 450 nautical miles per hour (518 mph, Mach 0.75)|
|Rate Of Climb: 6,000 ft/min (30 m/s)|
|Wing Loading: 99 lb/ft² (482 kg/m²)|
|Range: 2240 nautical miles (2580 miles)|
|Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,636 meters)|
|Unit Cost: $18.8 million (2015)|