Why Won’t the A-10 Warthog Ever Go Away? Following years of debate, Congress has finally approved a U.S. Air Force plan to begin the retirement process for its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolts. Since these formidable ground-attack airframes represent the only aircraft flown by the U.S. military designed specifically for close air support, Congress has been reluctant to approve their decommissioning.
The Thunderbolts were instrumental assets to America’s counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly two decades. However, since the U.S. no longer has large units of ground forces deployed in those theaters, the need for the Thunderbolts’ extended use is dwindling.
Regardless of the A-10’s eventual retirement timeline, the plane will always retain its legendary status.
Introducing the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog”
Designed as a World War II-era fighter bomber, the Warthog has been dubbed the ‘titanium bathtub.’
The nickname stems from titanium reinforced armor all around the cockpit to protect the crew from ground fire when they perform strafing runs against adversarial targets.
The twin-turbofan, subsonic aircraft was developed by Fairchild Republic for the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970’s and ultimately entered service in 1976.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. lost over 350 of its Korean-era Douglas A-1 Skyraider airframes. The need to replace these ground-attack airframes led to the creation of the Thunderbolt.
Why U.S. officials love the “Warthog”
The U.S. Air Force selected the A-10 based on the airframe’s lethality, extremely low altitude maneuverability, survivability and mission-capable maintainability.
The aircraft can hover near battle areas for extended periods of time, at low air-speeds and low altitudes, making it an asset for ground troop protection.
The protection the A-10 enjoys from its “titanium bathtub” allows crew members to survive direct hits from high explosive projectiles and armor-piercing rounds at very close ranges.
Over the years, the A-10 has undergone a few major facelifts, including the incorporation of improved fire control systems, electronic countermeasures and cockpit displays.
The entire A-10 fleet has been Precision Engagement modified and carries the A-10C designation.
Armed to the teeth with weaponry, the A-10 has an impressive rate of fire. The hydraulically-driven GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling-gun can fire at a rate of 4,200 rounds per minute under the nose of the airframe.
As explained by Military.com, “The Avenger fires a mix of 30mm electrically primed PGU-13/B High Explosive Incendiary (HEI) rounds and PGU-14/B Armor Piercing Incendiary (API) rounds. While the HEI rounds provide the Avenger the ability to destroy light skinned vehicles, the weapon’s real punch is delivered by the API rounds, each of which incorporates over half a pound of super-dense Depleted Uranium. At 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) a 2-second burst from the AN/GAU-8 will deliver 100 rounds containing 65 pounds of DU and place 80 percent of these projectiles within 20 feet of the target.”
Even Ukraine wants a fleet of A-10s to aid its defensive efforts
The A-10’s excellent track record in combat operations has contributed to Congress’s reluctance to send the aging fleet to retirement. Thunderbolts have served with distinction in deployments ranging from the Gulf War, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Afghanistan and Iraq.
In fact, the A-10’s powerful history has placed the airframe at the top of Ukraine’s wish list – at least for a time – for defending against the ongoing Russian invasion.
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Author Expertise and Experience
Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.
March 9, 2023 at 4:52 pm
Yep, The A-10 was, and still is, a great piece of kit to have. The major caveat is that it can only be used when Air Superiority/Dominance is achieved. Unless Air Superiority/Dominance can be achieved in Ukraine, they would be much better off with other Air craft.
March 9, 2023 at 7:49 pm
It is easier when they have air superiority. But not required. Ukraine is using old helicopters quite effectively in the battlefield. If they had A-10s they could keep them off the deck and called in quite easily when needed as long as they watch the skies. If Russia had air superiority, that would be a different thing. In fact if Ukraine was smart, A-10s could lure in Russian Su-34s and then Ukraine could hit them with their Migs.
Keith Harris, USAF Retired
March 9, 2023 at 10:32 pm
There was also a squadron of A-10’s at Howard AFB Panama where I was stationed in the 90’s.