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Super Warthog: The U.S. Military’s Plan to Save the A-10 Warthog?

A-10 Warthog
A-10 Warthog. Image Credit: Creative Commons/Computer Generated.

Shortly after yours truly became a full-fledged member of the 19FortyFive crew, I wrote an article on the 50th birthday of the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, known far better to her crews and the general public as the “Warthog.” My concluding words to that piece were “Happy BRRRT-Day, A-10 Warthog.” 

The piece discussed the plane’s legendary abilities both to take brutal punishment and to dish it out. However, the article also acknowledged that the Warthog’s birthday party wasn’t all happy times ‘n’ pass the Jeremiah Weed shots, as many of the U.S. Air Force brass have not only been pushing to retire the plane, but trying to force the issue by starving the Warthog of funding. That said, in the past few days, one of our readers brought to my attention an upgrade program that may save the venerable tank-buster for at least a few more years: the so-called Super Warthog

Why Waylay the Warthog?

Before we discuss the protective improvements the Super Warthog program brings into play, we should ask why the brass want to retire the A-10 in the first place, especially when it is still such an effective combat aircraft. Age alone does not provide an adequate answer. There are several warplanes in the U.S. arsenal that are even older than the A-10, and that are still kicking ass and taking names

Kyle Mizokami reveals part of the rationale: “The service has consistently argued that the A-10 cannot survive on the modern battlefield and that A-10 funds are better invested in newer planes such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon — and, now, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.” 

Of course, in the case of the F-35, given what a money pit that plane has turned out to be thus far, any savings/offset provided by nixing Warthog would probably be a mere drop in the bucket. 

In addition, there are concerns that the A-10, tough old bird though she is, would not be able to stand up to the modern air defense systems wielded by Red China and Russia. Given the losses suffered by the Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” — the Warthog’s Soviet-designed counterpart — in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, there is at least some validity to this concern. 

Super Warthog to the Rescue

The Super Warthog program — officially dubbed the A-10 Common Fleet Initiative — is meant to address these concerns. In the process, the initiative hopes to keep the old girl going until sometime in the 2030s. 

Chief among the upgrades in terms of countering adversary air defenses is the addition of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), which has a range of over 60 miles and would therefore give the Warthog previously unpossessed standoff attack capability. Conceivably, SDB-laden A-10s could work in tandem with Unmanned aerial vehicles to do double-duty, performing a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses role in addition to tank-plinking. 

Another new arrow in the Super Hog’s quiver is BAE’s AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, which not only “smartens”2.75-inch (70mm) unguided rockets, but might even enable the A-10 to carry out maritime strike missions. This sort of capacity could (ahem, cough cough), come in handy for a concerted effort to break a naval blockade in the Black Sea…strictly hypothetically speaking, of course. 

And then there’s the High Resolution Display System. As described by USAF Maj. Matthew Kading, A-10 Test Director for the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, the HRDS “is a 11.6-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel Multifunction Color Display that replaces [the cockpit’s central ‘six-pack” of analogue instruments] with a digital primary flight display. This will display high definition targeting pod footage and a new map engine. It is the most significant cockpit modernization since the A-10A to A-10C conversion.”

Among the first A-10 units to receive these “Super” upgrades were the “Blacksnakes” of the Indiana Air National’s Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing

An Anonymous Friend’s Assessment

A friend and former colleague from my damn dirty mercenary, er, privateer, er, private military contracting days who happens to be a retired USAF Warthog driver, agreed on condition of anonymity to provide me with his own views on the viability of the Super Warthog:

If you’re talking about some new version of the A-10 that is not yet fielded, Not a chance it will even get done. However, If you’re talking about the current version the A-10C with the upgraded avionics, smart weapon capabilities, etc. Then it is viable for a bit longer. The AF has never wanted it, or the mission, so they keep pushing to get rid of it. Politically, it had been protected by AZ Sen. McCain and McSally, but now that they are no longer there, the pressure is increasing to shorten its expected life span. We’ve already seen a sizable cut in the fleet size a few years ago and I suspect that by 2030 it will be retired, give or take a year or two. Officially, I think it is supposed to go to 2035 or 2036, however, the scuttlebutt on the streets is the 2030 mark unless somebody in congress gets some backbone to prolong it.

Time will tell. Stay tuned, ladies & gentlemen.

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Tomb

    August 10, 2022 at 11:52 am

    Logic is missing here.
    A10 gets new bomb and new
    Display in cockpit ???
    Vulnerability to modern missiles remains and increasing….

  2. Scottfs

    August 10, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    This is the classic ugly duckling story, beloved because of its unattractiveness. And its brutality in the airspace.

    There is a role for this plane, when a nation has air superiority, ie the enemy’s air capability and potent missle defense has been knocked out. That’s difficult in a modern war space, but if it’s safe for a ‘chopper’, it’s safe enough for the Warthog.

    No other plane is as effective in close air support. It can take out tanks and chew up infantry like nothing else. Sometimes down and dirty is the way to go.

  3. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 10, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    The A-10’s GAU-8 30mm cannon is a dumb weapon requiring a predictable flight profile to use, and high skill from the pilot to hit anything. Smart weapons have made dumb weapons obsolete. A drone loaded with Hellfires, Griffins, SDBs, is more useful than an A-10 because losing a drone, doesn’t cost America a pilot.

    Combat Power rule of thumb: 1 smart weapon = 500 dumb weapons

  4. Trojan

    August 10, 2022 at 10:47 pm

    If you don’t want them any more send them to Australia we’re used to making old equipment work to their full potential and then some.

    1. Freedom is never free.

    2. Freedom comes from the barrel of a gun.

    Nothing expresss the sound of freedom more than the BREEEERT sound from the GAU 8 30mm rotary chain gun saving your unit after being caught out in a compromised situation,chopping up your opponents into pink mist.

  5. Gooseman2448

    August 11, 2022 at 8:02 am

    They need to establish the Army Air Corp again. Let the Air Force have their bomber and fighters and let the Army decide how to support their troops.

  6. W. Bradley

    August 12, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    Turn the mission and the dollars that go with the mission over to the army. They’ll know what’s needed and get it done and the troops on the ground will feel more secure.

  7. ConsultantInAction

    August 13, 2022 at 11:36 am

    Once again it’s those in the D.C. Military Establishment making decisions without considering what the Officers flying the A-10 Savior… The Men and Women in the Field those men and women on the ground fighting in the trenches. Ask them about Close Air Support saving many from being overwhelmed by outnumbering forces. The US Military has been Politicized by first Obama/Biden Administration. In fact so much so, America’s seen it play out. Critical Race Theory, Equity and Racial Disharmony in the ranks. Our military’s lost in Obama’s tenure over 500 Field Grade Officers, Battle Hardened and Trained to stand and Fight. We also lost several Battle Hardened Generals who’s Fighting men and women would follow into the fight. Then we have WOKE Milley, who gave into ANTIFA, BLM and the Marxist that rule the Socialist Democratic Party. We’re losing so many from the ranks, not to mention just how broken and lost Recruitment is.

    Just as the DOJ, FBI has been Politicized so has the DOD. Save America’s vital institutions and let’s make America Great Again. Vote integrity for Americans VOTE. GOP and let’s get rid of the Socialist and RINO’s in our government. House Cleaning at FBI, DOJ, and DOD

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