Thunder alley

WASHINGTON: The A-10 Warthog is ugly, tough, lethal, and fairly flexible. Its famous 30mm gun can destroy tanks or other armored vehicles with remarkable efficiency, not to mention enemy troops. Its titanium tub of a cockpit protects the plane’s pilot from most ground fire. Its pilots are trained to fly low and slow and to kill the enemy even when he is within yards of US forces. The Army and Marines love the Warthog.

In short, the A-10 appears to be the exemplar of Close Air Support, protecting Marines and Army troops when they face being overwhelmed by the enemy. Some members of Congress, with an eye on bases in their states and districts, love the plane as well and have championed legislation blocking the plane’s retirement.

Why, then, people ask, is the Air Force seriously considering sending the Warthogs to the great boneyard and their pilots to other missions? The answer is complex, but it boils down to three things: money, smart bombs, and threats.

First and foremost, retiring the entire A-10 fleet would save the Air Force $3.7 billion from 2015 to 2019. Retiring just some or even most of the A-10s wouldn’t reap nearly the same savings, because there are fixed costs in training and maintenance you can’t get rid off as long as you keep any planes.

Second, thanks to the wonder of smart bombs, most of the A-10′s mission can be done by other, less specialized aircraft. That wasn’t technologically possible when the A-10 first entered service in 1975. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, precision-guided munitions from faster-flying fighters and even heavy bombers have actually provided the overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of close air support.

Third, we’re not the only people with smart weapons. The Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents had at most a handful of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles — known in the trade as Man-portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS — but an unknown number of MANPADS were smuggled out of Libya after Qaddafi fell, and the missiles on the black market are getting more sophisticated all the time.

That’s why the Air Force has planned for at least the last 15 years to replace the A-10s with the F-35A, its version of the JSF, which will reach initial operational capability (IOC) by the end of 2016. The F-35A will not only carry smart bombs but also have new, sophisticated sensors to guide them to ground targets — and it will fly much faster and higher than the A-10 can, making it a much harder target. While the JSF can’t carry the Warthog’s massive 30 mm gun, it does have a highly accurate 25 mm gun and 182 rounds of ammunition. (I asked Gen. Robin Rand, head of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, last Friday if the F-35 carried enough ammunition to do the CAS mission. He said yes.)

A-10 gunThe B and C F-35 models can be fitted with a gun pod that carries 220 rounds but the pod disrupts the plane’s stealthy profile.

The Air Force has a long history of appearing to want to abandon the Close Air Support mission and stick with fighters and bombers, though there is no sign of that from the current Air Force leaders or their immediate predecessors. This unfortunate history means many observers still distrust the Air Force rationales for shutting down the A-10 fleet.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and his colleagues argue that in these days of declining budgets and the demands of enormous theaters such as the Pacific they must buy multi-role aircraft like the F-35 and the new Long Range Strike system. Single-mission aircraft, no matter how well suited they are to that mission, are just too expensive and limited.

A-10 from belowThose don’t seem unreasonable arguments, on their face. But the Air Force’s history of institutional indifference to the CAS mission combines with the broadly-held belief that no aircraft can do the CAS mission as well as the A-10 to spark opposition from ground pounders and Congress in particular.

We spoke with the Army, the service with the most to lose should close air support diminish in effectiveness, and Air Force pilots who fly CAS missions to get both the official and off-the-record views. The official Army, in the form of Maj. Gen. Bill Hix, deputy director of the influential Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Army Capabilities Integration Center, was surprisingly understanding of the Air Force’s idea to shutter the fleet. But Hix also offered a nuanced critique of the current CAS capabilities, in particular the A-10′s ability to fly low and slow and deliver firepower in bad weather.

“If the [A-10] aircraft and the specifically trained pilots go away, this mission will become a distant requirement hastily met with pilots who have been brought up on OCA [Offensive Counter-Air] and DCA (Defensive Counter-Air operations], and CAS that is provided will consist primarily of fast air-dropping JDAMs and other smart bombs on targets designated from the ground and then transitioning out of the area due to limited loiter time,” Hix said in an email.

He listed some very specific conditions where the A-10 and its ordnance are awfully useful:

  • When ”flying cover over outposts where attack helicopters can’t get (high altitude areas [e.g.] above 10,000 feet in the mountainous areas of Eastern Afghanistan for instance) and other USAF aircraft cannot get down/under the weather or fly in tight spaces (F-16, et al) or are too limited in numbers (AC-130).”
  • When “there is little to no air-to-air/IADs [integrated air defense system] threat and its use eases the demand for artillery and ground logistics requirements to support that artillery (cannon or rocket)[:] think of the support provided by Warthog pilots during the march to Baghdad in 2003); and the 30mm [gun], which is unique and intimidating to those on the receiving end, but not as precise as the gun on the AH-64 or the AC-130.”
  • He also made the crucial point, unaddressed by most in the Air Force, that the A-10 also serves as flying artillery, which is very useful in some situations. “CAS,” he writes, “is a complement to artillery and other indirect and air to surface fire support.”

Bottom line for the Army, per Hix: “That complementary mix of precision, area fires, sustained coverage, persistence, responsiveness and moral and physical effect remain important to success in ground combat; the A-10 carries a heavy complement of ordnance, while many other alternatives, like armed UAS, are more limited in their payloads; the A-10 is a good capability to have in the mix and even in limited numbers can continue to provide very useful and hard to replicate support on to ground troops.”

Note that reference to “limited numbers.” That seems to indicate the Army would accept retirement of much of the fleet but really wants the Air Force to keep some A-10s. But the Air Force makes the simple point that its big savings of $3.7 billion come only when it retires the entire fleet and gets rid of fixed overhead costs. As any student of aircraft acquisition knows, buying the planes is pretty cheap. More than three-quarters of a airborne weapon system’s costs typically come from parts, operations and maintenance.

The background view from a senior Army official was surprisingly accepting of the Air Force’s dilemma: “Tough times for all services and we have to leave it up to our counterparts to identify the best way forward to meet the CAS demands from the ground.”

Requests for air support, of course, aren’t the only thing coming from the ground. There’s also anti-aircraft fire — everything from MANPADS to sophisticated air defense missiles.

“I didn’t see the missile coming[;] my flight leader didn’t see the missile coming; my first indication of a missile launch was when it impacted my aircraft,” recalled Lt. Col. Kim Campbell, whose A-10 was hit over Baghdad in 2003. Fragments shredded much of the aircraft and cut its hydraulic control lines. But the plane’s famous titanium bathtub around the pilot kept Campbell alive, and amazingly, she managed to fly the wounded plane back to base.

Campbell argues the latest model, the A-10C, has better sensors and self-defense systems. “The A-10 has improved significantly,” she told Breaking Defense. “We’re better able to operate in these threat environments.”

But while the A-10  has been upgraded to handle some anti-aircraft threats, they still fly low and slow right into the enemy’s defenses. And in the air combat game, speed and advanced electronics are life.

To get a multi-role fighter pilot’s perspective, I spoke with an Air Force F-15E pilot (now a B-2 pilot), Capt. Michal Polidor, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a 2009 close air support mission  in Afghanistan. The F-15E was not designed for CAS but neither was the B-1 bomber, which along with the F-18 and other multirole aircraft, have provided more than three quarters of close air support since the terror attacks of 2001. Laser-guided and GPS-guided bombs and rockets have made this possible, along with intensive CAS training for multi-role pilots and greatly improved coordination with ground forces through Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs).

Joint Terminal Air Controllers and A-10Polidor was called by a JTAC to support 80 troops in danger of being overrun by massed Taliban forces eager to destroy Outpost Keating, a badly positioned base in Afghanistan that the enemy threw an estimated 300 fighters at in hopes of destroying it. He strafed a switchback road and dropped a mix of four bombs. Polidor was part of a fleet of 19 aircraft, including Army helicopters, that helped the men on the ground kill half the enemy force.

Since the Strike Eagle, as the F-15E is known, usually concentrates on OCA and DCA, Polidor said he received six months of CAS training before he deployed to Afghanistan, where he was based at Bagram Air Base. That training was crucial because, in addition to strafing and bombing, PoIlidor had to set his plane up as a communications relay between the JTAC and the other aircraft. His backseater became a JTAC for 19 aircraft. According to his citation for the DFC, Polidor (on his first day of combat), ”took control of the 19 aircraft on scene and orchestrated air strikes from six F-15Es, four A-10s, two AH-64s and a B-1.”

Polidor DFC award

He would not offer an opinion as to whether the A-10 should be retired or not (he is a captain, after all) but he did note that other Air Force fighters simply have to fly much faster to be safe and maintain maneuverability than does the A-10. While that means the F-15 can get to the scene more quickly, it also means it must leave more quickly and cannot fly as low and slow as can the A-10. He said an A-10 could probably execute two strafing runs for each one he can do because of that slower speed and lower altitude.

The circumstances of Polidor’s operation offer a window into just why the Air Force thinks it may be able to replace the A-10 even before the F-35A is available in late 2016. (The Marine Corps F-35B will be available earlier, in late 2015, and the Navy F-35C model by February 2019).

His aircraft executed a complex strafing run of a twisting valley road and dropped two laser-guided bombs and two GPS-guided bombs and did not injure any US or allied solders. The aircraft he and his weapons officer directed killed 72 Taliban, almost half the enemy deaths, a fine demonstration of what Gen. Hix meant when he cited the value of Close Air Support as airborne artillery. The fact that Polidor was able to execute such an array of complex maneuvers on his first day of air combat is testament to the CAS training he received.

So what does all this say about the A-10? Certainly, many of its effects can be duplicated by other, newer aircraft and usually are. Its psychological or morale effect on ground troops — fear for the enemy and jubilation for Americans and our allies — cannot readily be duplicated since the other aircraft do not fly low and slow. The A-10 is more vulnerable to sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses than the other multi-role aircraft (although recent upgrades have improved the odds) and Air Force officials believe it will be too vulnerable within 10 years.

Richard Aboulafia, one of the deans of aerospace analysts at the Teal Group, aptly summed up the A-10s prospects:

“It has faced dangerous moments before, it has faced retirement before, and it’s pulled through. You can make an argument for it either way, it’s not a dumb plane to have around by any means, it’s a very useful plane; the argument is in a time of austerity no service can afford single mission aircraft.”

The Air Force can probably retire the entire A-10 fleet in several years, but neither Congress nor the Army will be completely comfortable with that. But the $3.7 billion the Air Force estimates it could save will be very tempting to harvest, especially once we have largely withdrawn from Afghanistan and the F-35s reach IOC. Our bet: retirement starting in fiscal 2016. That leaves time to educate and mollify Congress and to demonstrate to the Army its soldiers won’t be left without effective protection.

Comments

  • PolicyWonk

    “The answer is complex, but it boils down to three things: money, smart bombs, and threats…”

    The reliance on smart bombs is a concern. What happens if GPS goes away? They’ve only been proven against unsophisticated adversaries, while the belligerent ones in Asia already tested their ASAT capabilities against a “weather satellite”.

    “While the JSF can’t carry the Warthog’s massive 30 mm gun, it does have a highly accurate 25 mm gun and 182 rounds of ammunition. (I asked Gen. Robin Rand, head of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, last Friday if the F-35 carried enough ammunition to do the CAS mission. He said yes.)”

    182 rounds? A lousy 182 rounds? Did Gen. Rand answer the question with a straight face?

    And while I appreciate the desire of the USMC to have the F-35B in service in 2015, given the history of the program (and the recently released inspector generals report), I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it (or for that matter, the lives of our ground-pounders). The A-10 shouldn’t be replaced *until* the F-35 is *truly* ready, AND it proves itself capable of performing the mission (*if* these great events ever occur).

  • Jon C

    How about bringing back, in some form or another, the A-20 series from WWII. Or if too large, the A-1 Spad/Skyraider?

    • Gary Church

      I have read comments like this before and the answer is they got rid of them for a reason. Actually, they got rid of them for many excellent reasons and replaced them with aircraft that were superior in every way. These “bring back the old airplane” comments are…..not really practical. The main example being the radial engines on those old planes; completely inferior to a turbine and far more maintenance intensive. The stories of getting cylinders shot off and making it home are entertaining but are really exceptions.

  • TerryTee

    The “Junk Strike Fighter ” with it’s 182 rounds for CAS is a Really Bad Joke, with 1-2 passes what can it do, NOT MUCH! The guys on the Ground are Screwed. But the “White Scarf” crowd will have their new aircraft that’s equal to the 1960′s F-4 in turning ability, and it take how many seconds on afterburners to reach Mach 1 (43 seconds because of the new lowered requirements). It may have nice sensors, but only being Stealth from the front and a engine that’s so hot any fighter with advanced IRST will see it 40-50 nm miles away and shoot it down. They don’t care that the Ground Pounder’s will end up getting Killed because of the lack of the A-10C ( recently upgraded to last well into the 2030-40′s) as long as they get to have their Scarfs fluttering in wind at 30,000 where they are far away from the real action on the ground.
    ( Censored ) !!!!!!

  • MBP228

    This focus on conventional aircraft has lost sight of a major shift over the last ten years. The CAS mission has been largely transferred to the predator/reaper fleets. While they don’t have the gun and payload of the A-10, their loiter time is at least an order of magnitude greater, and the combination of their weapons and sensor suites make them a very effective replacement.

    • Gary Church

      That is reality but most of the A-10 fans here are commenting on a more emotional level I think.

      • Larry A. Altersitz

        I see the problem with UAVs as one of limited effectiveness in other than good conditions and someone guiding them onto a target. Remember the loss of that “sophisticated UAV” that was spoofed and landed in Iran? Loss of commo, no guidance feedback, no automatic plans to send a UAV back to a safe location, and no back-up method to destroy sensitive equipment will limit UAVs for a long time.

        We have not heard GPS jammers in action that have made the news or blogs. How much back-up equipment will be needed to prevent a single point of failure in a UAV and what will it do to payload? We end up going eyeball to eyeball with an important client state of the PRC or Russia, don’t you think they will try to test all their ideas in the field?

        And just how happy would YOU be if a Predator/Reaper was coming in on a gun run for you, controlled by some pilot in Nevada? And how big is that “gun” with how many rounds in the magazine? Questions that need to be addressed by the USAF leadership and voiced by the Army leadership.

        • Gary Church

          “I see the problem with UAVs as one of limited effectiveness in other than good conditions-”

          Others see the problem as zero effectiveness when all your piloted aircraft have been shot down.

          • Larry A. Altersitz

            I was unaware that UAVs were invulnerable to ADA weapons.
            If ADA is that effective, almost no aerial platform can be used for offense.

          • Gary Church

            Larry, we lost 50 planes a day in WW2. We CAN burn drones like we burn cruise missiles if we have to. But no one can seriously put forward the notion we are going to fight a battle like the 8th air forces Black Thursday again.

          • Gary Church

            This thing has been upgraded several times since I first read about it Larry.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starstreak_%28missile%29

          • Larry A. Altersitz

            Gary, thanks for the link. Hadn’t heard or thought about Starstreak in a while. At the moment, no one has any current data on the effectiveness of modern MANPADS on CAS, to my knowledge. We can say that UAVs have a smaller overall signature than an A10, which should make acquiring them more difficult. The Iraqi ADA during OIF in 2003 was considered a decent Soviet-style ADA system IIRC, but how effective was it? I think density of systems, training and target acquisition assets will have a lot to do with effectiveness. Was the USAF pilot shot down over Kosovo going against a system similar to the Iraqi system?

            I can see a situation where armed UAVs can be very useful in support of ground operations. If accuracy can be as reliable as manned planes, it would be one more good old card. Might have been nice to have had something like a UAV at COP Keating.

          • Gary Church

            “If accuracy can be as reliable as manned planes,-”

            How accurate is the 30 mm gun on the A-10 Larry? Probably depends on the pilot and how many people are shooting at him. I for one have never been that shocked when friendly fire casualties happen; it is a part of war. Police kill other police all the time when they happen upon an officer in civilian clothes with gun drawn- they shoot first and ask questions later. Tragic but what is the solution? Do not get me wrong, keeping friendly fire losses low is extremely important for morale of course, but those who have any kind of zero tolerance policy are not dealing with reality.

          • Gary Church

            Gosh, I did it again, (shooting at “him”) and every time I do this I always post this video which I got a huge kick out of. Our women dropping bombs on tribesmen who think of women as domestic animals. Some things do make sense.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4f-yYSVZCE

        • MBP228

          The conditions you’re describing, a contested electromagnetic battlefield, actually provide very similar problems for the CAS mission with manned aircraft.

          Without guidance from the ground, through a forward air controller, an A-10 won’t risk friendly casualties and initiate an attack on its own. Careful coordination is required, through multiple radio links, GPS coordinates for the troops in contact, and on the aircraft involved, along with any guided weapons.

          The problem here is legacy aircraft, both manned and remotely operated, that are only prepared for a permissive electromagnetic and anti-aircraft environment.

          As far as caring who’s providing me air support, I was happier in Kandahar to have a UAV overhead than fast air. With an MQ-9 we got remote feeds and air support, A-10s just blew things up (which is required less often than surveillance during a COIN operation).

          • Larry A. Altersitz

            “As far as caring who’s providing me air support, I was happier in
            Kandahar to have a UAV overhead than fast air. With an MQ-9 we got
            remote feeds and air support, A-10s just blew things up (which is
            required less often than surveillance during a COIN operation).”

            Should the Services opt for more UAV assets for maneuver forces/aerostats for base defense with CAS in an on-call role? Or should maneuver forces have more portable firepower in terms of Field Artillery (cannon/MLRS/mortars) in lieu of CAS?

  • Gary Church

    Retire it. It is a cool plane but like the F-14, all things must come an end. Sooner or later some kind of MANPADS is going to show up and end the party; it is much better to end the party now without killing any more pilots.

  • UnrepentantLib

    Don’t retire the A-10s. Give them to the Army and Marines. Oh, wait. That’s too logical. Nevermind.

    • Barath

      The Army and the Marines would have to pay for it then. The DoD budget doesn’t go down (and in fact, army and marines would likely pay a little more to sustain a unique – for them – capability, with less synergy for basing, maintenance etc.). Unless the Army/Marines cut something else from their kitty.
      Small wonder that the Army is surprisingly understanding.

  • RJP

    There Are Some Fates Worse Than Death:
    A-10 Pilot Mike Drowley
    http://youtu.be/5WtQqKrbmKc

    • Gary Church

      “I am now executing weather let-down.”
      Only a pilot or aircrew knows how scary this is. I never pissed my pants but I did pray. And this was over the ocean without any mountains to run into. I think this guy earns his paycheck. And his hair does look good.

      • Gary Church

        All the Coast Guard Rescue Helicopters that have been lost have been on rescue missions to vessels that eventually made it safely to shore if I am not mistaken. No doubt we save many lives but so far those we have lost have been on the cases that no one should have died on. It’s a messy business, believe me. But someone has to do it. If anyone knows different please correct me, Semper Paratus!

  • bobsomm

    Yes, let the Army and Marines pick up part of the $3.7 Billion and hold on until there is an operational replacement. But, a lot more can be saved by more effective and efficient procurement procedures and other cuts on some bad programs, like the F-22, which is curtailed. Navy can reduce the litoral ships because they are not survivable but rather, offer targets and distraction while being unable to survive. So many places to cut. An aside, we cut Medicare and Medicaid but never cut Entitlement programs. Our “leaders” in congress need appetite suppression, a balanced budget etc. Our first priority is to defend our Nation. All else is secondary if we lose our world leadership position. A sorry adjunct is that in lowering the value of our dollars by printing fiat currency, we are weakening the USA positions for many decades to come. Good luck A-10 pilots and your troops on the ground. Protect the troops before cutting without a viable replacement. Why have we not devised a newer, better A-10 concept airplane?
    Sie vis Pacem, Para Bellum. Merry Christmas Heros! Peace, bob

  • mijsenrab

    Over the years Air Force has tried to eliminate the “Hog” by forcing it into “fly-offs” against anything and everything they could put in the air. They lost every time. I say let’s have another fly-off. Put the Politicians and the Air Force white scarfs on the ground in Afghanistan and let them depend on the F-35 for CAS. If they come back with no WIA or KIA let them have their way. Then try the same situation with Hogs and then make their final choice. By the way the A-10 packs many more rounds of 30mm than the F-35 and can loiter over the target for several hours.

    • SMSgt Mac

      The only ‘fly-off’ the A-10 ever faced after the A-X competition that selected it was against the A-7 (more of an analysis-off), It was held against the A-7D by a mandate from Congress. The AF, who pursued the A-X even as it was buying the A-7, didn’t want to do it, and in the end stood behind its decision to proceed with the A-10 in the face of that mandate. As the A-10 was actually designed for a permissive environment, it was seen as life-limited in a high-threat environment by the late 70s. The Air Force, for various reasons, not the least of which was cost, sought to rebuild it’s A-7s into A-7Fs to overcome all the shortcomings of the D model and replace the A-10 at that time. That Congress had actors meddling in affairs they did not comprehend as well. (From Rep Otis Pike in the 60′s to today’s Rep ‘Mrs A-10 Driver’, this topic has been more a political issue than a defense issue.)

      Later, running up to DS, the Air Force tried to shift to A-16s, which would have been equipped specifically for CAS and put in units dedicated to CAS, because the A-10 was already obsolete in a high-threat environment. DS showed that it wasn’t survivable over the long-term against modern weapons operated by elite turd-world forces.Learn some real history. But that Congress slow-rolled the A-16, and vivid Army mythology enveloped the A-10.

      A modern jet with modern weapons, sensors and comms doesn’t need a lot of cannon rounds to do CAS. Usually putting an SDB, or 500lb, 1000lb, or 2000lb JDAM on the precise point needed obviates the need for spray and pray. And weapons technology is also moving forward. Don’t be surprised to see the APKWS or other advanced precision system you haven’t heard of yet integrated on the F-35 and other fast jets someday.

      The A-10′s only advantage is in the low-intensity conflict airshow that it provides the ground troops. The Cult of the Gun is all about the visceral. Grunts like the A-10 because it gives them a tingle up their leg and makes them feel less vulnerable. The Air Force should care about that right after the Army lists ‘morale building’ on the requirements list and not a second before.

      Time marches on. It marched past the A-10 a long time ago. People need to dig into the actual history and stop aping Army mythology.

  • Brandyjack

    Long memory, the Air Force tried to dump the entire cost of the F-4, Phantom II, on the Navy. Saying it didn’t meet their criteria for a single aircraft for all the Services. Navy follows through, and Air Force gets the F-4. Marines got the AV-8 for CAS. Get rid of stupid rules and allow the Army Air Corps to fly fixed wing, CAS, then slip them the A-10. The Air Force can go pay DoD Airlines, and rocket boys. Letting the real Armed Forces do their missions.

  • http://gruntsandco.com/ MajR0d

    The authors make two fatal errors in their understanding and analysis of CAS, the environment it is delivered in and the unique utility of the A10.

    First in reference to “the wonder of smart bombs”, many anti A10 commenters and armchair analysts of CAS fail to realize or conveniently ignore the “danger close” requirements of ordnance. Even a precision guided 500lb bomb is not to be used closer than about 500m because the danger of blast and shrapnel to friendly troops while cannon fire has been employed up to 50m from friendly troops. Even with the wonder of “smart bombs” the enemy is afforded a 500m deadspace when they don’t have guns/cannons to support the ground troops and while they may “check the block” in providing CAS the quality of that CAS is exponentially less than the A10 that can employ those same “smart bombs”.

    The second fatal issue is that of MANPADS. The F35 is as vulnerable to being hit by MANPADS as the A10 but much less survivable. Many A10 detractors often cite the danger of MANPADS to the A10 while not applying the same standard to their aircraft of choice.

    A less fatal faux pas is the non-comparison of the F35’s 182 rounds of 25 mm to the A10’s over 1100 rounds of 30mm. The A10 brings SIX times the basic load to the fight than the F35 with an aircraft designed to take punishment vs. the relatively fragile F35.

    • Gary Church

      It is not a question of the A-10 or F-35; it is really a question that is being asked about the entire subject of manned combat aircraft. That question is of course about drones. Since the 1950′s the missile threat has been creeping up on manned combat aircraft and now der tag seems to have arrived. I am not really a “A10 detractor.” I think it is a great plane but so was the sopwith camel.

      • Gary Church

        Breaking Defense should do an article on this stubborn stereotypical “must have a pilot” bias. If the day of piloted combat aircraft has passed then…….it has passed. Those who accept unmanned craft as the future may have an unbeatable advantage over those who do not. We should be very careful. I lament the passing of the fighter pilot as much as anyone; they are an icon of the twentieth century. But we should remember the reason behind all this hardware is violence against other human beings and in the end those who are spared for whatever reason are the winners.

        • Gary Church

          Future historians may call this era of 1915 to 2015 “the century of the fighter pilot.” I think the Sunburn missile may have signaled the end of the surface warfare era and I wonder what will do the same for piloted combat aircraft? Are we entering the “age of the drone”? Will the appearance of high performance MANPADS in the hands of insurgents signal the end of an age?

    • Another Guest (from Australia)

      @ MajR0d
      Good on you, your argument is well said.

    • SMSgt Mac

      You’re not bad when you stay inside your box. Your first clue you are outside your box should be ‘you know who’ agreeing with you from Down Under.

      We’ve danced on this subject before and you are STILL overblowing the issue. ‘Danger Close’ isn’t a restriction but a tool:
      “Aircraft ordnance delivery inside 0.1% PI distances will be considered danger close. This is simply A WARNING and not a restriction to the maneuver commander and the FDC to TAKE PROPER PRECAUTIONS.” — FM 3-09.32. (caps emphasis mine)
      Per FM 3-09.32 you also grossly overstate (by ~3x) the DC distance criteria for a 500 lb precision weapon. It is not 500m. For the GBU-12 LGB it is ‘worst case’ 170m, for the 500lb GBU-51 Low Collateral Damage (LCDB) LGB and GBU-38 LCDB JDAM it is ‘worst case’ 100m. BTW and as an aside, you casually throw out 50m distance for employing the GAU-8, which is interesting because that is considered worst case ‘danger close’ at 65m.
      For the GBU-39 contact (vs airburst) 250lb SDB it is 139m, which means the GBU-39A/B FLM (Focused Lethality Munition) should be significantly less than 100m (As far as I can tell, its not in documents released to the public yet.). If the upload function works for ‘guests’, here is the SDB FLM and placard for it at the AF Armament Museum.
      Which is a nice segue into highlighting why MANPADs aren’t an issue for the F-35 or other aircraft dropping SDBs or other ordnance. Note the release altitude and ability to stand off and glide into the target. They are outside of effective MANPAD range.

  • Araya

    I good Article but it didn’t change my opinion why the A10C is too costly and to vulnerable and should replace by nothing. Sorry but this is the truth because why it didn’t exist a replacement for the A10C. And I never heard what the Air force or the Navy/USMC have planes to buy additional 180 to 300 new F35A/B/C as replacement. To scarp the A10C just be to have a much smaller and much less capable fleet to do the job. The USAF have already not enough Air Superiority Fighter because why they have kill the F22 by just 183 airframes as consequence the significantly less capable will have to do fell the large gap in the Air to Air Fight Area and this with the same number of planned airframes. Now this same relatively small Number of F35 should now also replace a more them 200 strong A10C Fleet how are in there mission much more capable and also much cheaper. Just an example in order to illustrate what I mean with the small since of a less the Fleet how is forced to feel more and more gaps, hear the original plan as the Air Force should look like to the times of the Bush Senior/Clinton Administration.

    Strategic Air Strike:

    100-120 B2 Spirit

    60 -80 B1 Lancer

    For Air Superiority:

    600 to 750 F22

    For Tactical Strike:

    Around 3000 JSF of all versions

    Total: 3760 to 4000 airframes

    Today the future plans looks about as:

    Strategic Air Strike:

    20 B2 Spirit

    80-100 LRS

    For Air Superiority:

    183 F22 (only
    178 operational/ remain because of accidents)

    For Tactical Strike:

    2400 F35
    (for all kind of mission’s)

    Total: 2600-2700 airframes under the best imaginable
    scenario

    With other Words the Air Force/Navy/USMC has to face increasingly better enemy weapons systems with a decreasingly and less capable fleet of airframe’s. So the F35 was never designed to replace the F22 everybody and should know this and the F35 was also not designed to be used against High End Air defense Systems liek (S300PMU2,S400, S500) or to be used as a CAS airframe to replace the A10C simply because of the Unit price.The mission of the A10C was and remain to kill the enemy one the ground and support the troops in the most effective and cheap way exactly as the F22 how has to face and beat the most superior enemy in the Air in order to give the rest of Fleet (including the F35) the chance to do is job. Now the F35 should do both missions (CAS and Air Superiority) for what it was never designed and you didn’t most be a clairvoyant to foresee how this attempt will finally end.

    • Another Guest (from Australia)

      @ Araya,
      With the proposal you posted below

      For Tactical Strike:

      2,400 F-35
      (for all kind of mission’s)
      I scrap the F-35 programme. Instead acquire the combat proven advanced F-15/F-16 fighters and improve them with 5th generation avionics/sensors and other features to include 3D thrust vectoring nozzles with supercruising engines and IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track).

      • Araya

        Sorry but this (scrap the F35) is the stupid think what you can do in the moment. Look I’m not a fan of the F35 to be serious I consider the F35 one of the biggest military mistakes of the last 30 years. But even with is problems, cost overruns and the changed threat environment the F35 remains the only western fighter what will be able to survive against the growing Russian and Red Chines threat. No 4, 5 generation fighter even the EF2000 has a chance to survive against actual High End Air Defense and future enemy 5. Generation fighter. Forget the F15SE or the F16 as the EF2000 or the Rafale this designs are simply too limited to be competitive in the environment around 2020 to 2040. You buy the F35 not for today or for the threats you do it for the next 25 to 30 Years all legacy fighter have already reach the maximum of their useless lifetime it is impossible to get more of them. The best example is the mighty F15SE or the newer EF2000 both there rejected by country’s how have real problems with their neighbors expectedly with Russia and Red China for example Japan and South Korea.

        I also know Dr. Carlo Kopp and is “famous” webpage “Air Power Australia” at the beginning some of his argument’s there considerable but by a closer look they lost all credulity this guy is obsess by the idea what the F35 is the worst aircraft ever built. A F35 will kill all existing Legacy fighter including Russian made Su35BM despite of is lacks the real questions is them the F35 will be able to penetrate High End Air Defense Systems like the S300PMU2, S400, S500, HQ9 and also them the F35 will be capable to stay superior the PAK FA and J20 and J31 this are the important questions. But it is already clear that even the most improved legacy jet like the F15SE or the F18 E/F Block 3 or the F16Blacok60 has no chance to face the PAK FA or the J20 like even the most recent Air Defense Systems. The only alternative to the F35 is the F22 and the F22 line was unfortunately shut down by “War on Terror” idiots how reduced the World threat environment to insurgent’s and Afghanistan alone.

        So how I say it simply no exists an alternative to the F35 because why even them you restart the F22 Line in order to replace the F15C/D and F15E with a real Air Superiority fighter you will also have to replace the thousands of middle/low end F16 and F18 with an modern airframe. In an ideal world with no Budget restriction I will replace the entire Air force and Navy Tactical Fighter Fleet with 3500 F22 derivates like a F22A for the Air force, a F22N for the Navy and a F22B for the F15E and also procure 500 new Next-Gen Bombers for Long Range Strikes like an even better armed replacement for the A10C but they didn’t live in such a World. Actually the US Air Force has to deal with fallout of the Obama Administration like as the misguided build up during the War on Terror campaign under Bush Jr. and is Sec.Def Rumsfeld and not to forget with the consequences of idiotic Clinton peace dividend how had cost the USA around 20 Years in development and modernization.And when all this would not be enough also with the outcome of Tea Party isolationist how had hijacked the GOP and lead to insanity like sequestration. In this toxic environment the Air Force, Navy and USMC can be happy them the can protect the F35 from deeper cuts. But to scrap the A10C will not help them to protect the F35 or the LRS it will just lead to the loss of another capability like with the scrap of the EF-111A Raven how lead to the loss of the entire Electronic warfare Capability of the USAF.

        • Another Guest (from Australia)

          @ Araya,

          What I’m doing is certainly not stupid. There’s a bunch of them that know the F-35 is a dog, ok. They’ve told me, they’ve told acquaintances of mine, friends of mine and other folks out their that they are very terribly concerned about it. But it was the decision taken by the Ministers at very short notice for whatever reasons and foisted on them….”

          The acquaintances, friends and other folks have been saying the same thing too. The information we’ve got about Modernising Fighter US and other Forces agreed the plan on Alternative No.3: Cancel the JSF program and Satisfy Inventory Requirements by Purchasing Improved Legacy Aircraft such as the either the F-15E+ or F-15SE, F-16E/F Block 60 or Block 70 and also restart the F-22 production?

    • Another Guest (from Australia)

      @ Araya,

      “Now this same relatively small Number of F-35 should now also replace a more them 200 strong A-10C Fleet how are in there mission much more capable and also much cheaper”.

      The F-35 is too incapable and extremely expensive aircraft. No matter how many countries are committing to this boondoggle the cost of the F-35 will continue to climb handsomely and will never be reduced.

      The F-35 will have no internal “dogfight” air-to-air missiles; the helmet doesn’t work; the software is not reliable; the F-35 lacks performance compared to peer threats or their Western analogue (the F-22 and Typhoon.). If the jet is a B or C, it may have left the deck that day without a gun.

      The F-35 is detectable. Especially the Nebo-M series and L-Band AESA’s on the Sukhois.

      The F-35 is not a “fifth-generation” fighter. It isn’t supportable. It isn’t affordable. It isn’t survivable. It isn’t lethal (because of the other points).

      Finally, people like Welsh are unreliable at making sure America can maintain air supremacy. His statements on the F-35, getting rid of the A-10, and the dumb long-shot…getting rid of the KC-10, verify that he lacks sensible air power thinking needed to protect our forces in a war.

      Besides the idea of the “fifth-generation” term being nothing more than thana marketing, in order for Welsh’s statement to be true vs. air-to-air, a final…working…post SDD F-35 would have to take on and BEAT, two Western reference threats we already have:

      The F-22 as the PAK-FA and the Typhoon as the Su-35.

      The F-35 will be unable to do this. If the mission is to take on anti-access & area denial threats, the F-35 is unable to do it. If the mission is anything else, current aircraft like the F-15, F-16, F-18 and A-10 are more than enough for low to medium threat environment.

      Welsh and other pro-F-35 advocates/fanboys statements on the F-35 make “analysis” the same quality as that of the model aeroplane glue sniffing brigade.

      • Araya

        The F35 is not so bad how Mr. Carlo Kopp claims lets took an objective look one the F35 in compare to other airframes. So let’s start with the cooperation:

        1. The Avionic: The F35A/B/C will have the complete packaged of the most advance Avionic how was ever integrated in a Fighter only the F22 Block40 will have comparable avionic with other Words the F35 will have everything what the most advance legacy fighter (like the F16Block60 and the F15SE, EF200) from the beginning and all this integrated in is stealthy flight cell not one external pots like the F16Block60 or the F18E/F Block 3.

        2. Stealth: This is a big question the stealth characteristics of the F35 are classified like the characteristics of the F22 and the B2 Bomber no one’s know the truth and even them this one will not speak about. But estimations believe what the F35 should have a RCS of 0.0015m2 this is around 5 to 10 time larger them the estimate frontal RCS of the F22 but in compare to the RCS of every other legacy fighter in clean configuration around 1000 to 400 times smaller. So for example the EF2000 has a RCs of around 0,6m2 in clean Configuration with other words with no weapons with 4X AiM120 and 2XAIM9 the RCS of the EF2000 surpass the 1,5m2 Level. The RCS of the F18 E/F and the F16Blcok52++ are even larger them the RCS of the EF2000 and what means the RCS of Russian build Fighter like the Su30 so the estimation reach from 15m2 to 5m2 for the SU30 and 5m2 to 1,2m2 for the SU35Bm in Clean Configuration. With other Word’s the F35 is even with is to the F22 much inferior stealth far superior to any other Russian, Chinese or western 4.5 Generation Fighter.

        3. Top Speed: Now this is another example for Mr. Carlo Kopp disinformation Campaign, first the F35 is clear inferior to the F22 how can with armament fly Super Cruise and reach Top Speed of Mach 2+ the F35 can only reach Mach 1.6 with internal weapon load but this is faster them all Legacy fighter with external Weapon’s . I speak with an EF200 pilot about the Top speed level of the EF2000 with armament and they are far different from them in Clean Configuration and the EF2000 is the fastest of all legacy Fighter. With other Words F22 beat the F35 in Speed like in any other Category with exception of the Avionic and it is likely what the PAK FA will also be 0,2 to 0,4 Mach faster them the F35.

        4. Maneuverability: Possible the most overestimated property in the time of Air to Air Missiles how can fly 50g maneuver. I didn’t claim what Maneuverability is not important but at is the least important Area in modern Air Combat because why BWR Missiles and highly maneuverable Short range Missiles like the AIM9X are the main armament of all modern fighters. Even the best Su35 or EF2000 Pilot will have o chance to escape an AIM9X Block 1 or 2 one short Range only is countermeasure device will determine is fate. Them you ever see a AIM9X in a Live Fire test you will understand what I mean and the AIM9X is further enhanced for example to the Block 2 standard what give the missile even BVR Capability.

        5. Weapons/Armament. Here are the F22 like the PAK FA and the J20 better they can all carry more AA weapons in there internally the F22 for example ca carry 6 AIM120 and 2X AIM9 the F35A just 4-6 AIM120 depends one the source. I saw a weapon configuration how allows to put 6 AIM120 in the internal bay of the F35 but I didn’t know then it will be become operational. But despite of this with exception of the F15SE no other Legacy Fighter has internal weapons and them you really need Firepower you can put national AIM120 and AIM9 externally one the F35. It is also to say what the F35 can already or better said will be able to use form the beginning the latest weapons for example the AIM120D or the AIM9X something what the F22 can’t. So for example the F22 just can fire the AIM120C5 and C7 in them moment and only use the AIM9X with limited function.

        6. Radar Technology: The Radar of the F35 is smaller them the Radar of the F22 and the PAK FA but only the F22 radar AN/APG-77v1 can be considered superior top the AN/APG-81 of the F35 because why it has 500 emitter’s more and use also the same technique. But what means other ASEA Radar Systems so they still far inferior to the AN/APG-81 how is at last just a smaller but improved version (better Software) of the Radar AN/APG-77v1 of the F22. The USA has already around 20 Years in experience with ASEA radars the Russian, Chinese and European’s have no experience with ASEA radar technique so even them the Russian claim what they have better or comparable radar Systems it remains highly unlikely what they say the truth. And what means the L-Band AESA what the Russians claim to e a stealth killer and Mr. Carlo Kopp use it as is strongest argument so this is also not so easy how the most people believe. For example the L-Band Radar Emitter of the PAK FA are weak and limited in their range and even them you detect a F35 or F22 with this L-Band System you just get inaccurate data because why the L-Band is not ideal to get a fire-solution. But this is not the only problem them you activate your Radar system you always lose your stealth because of the energy emission. So PAK FA how fly with activated L-band ASEA or X-Band ASEA are non-stealth fighter and easy targets for a F35 how has like the PAK FA an IRST System and likely also AWACS support.

        7. IRST: IRST is a future how is not new but deadly against Stealth Fighter because why it is much harder to make a Fighter less hot them to make it less visible for the Radar. But exactly hear is the F35 superior to all pother existing and future fighter for example the F22 didn’t have a IRST System the EF2000 and the most Russian have IRST Systems but it is unlikely what this Systems should be
        better them the System of the F35 how is much newer and also with a much 360 degree detection in compare to the not-stealthy forward positioned PAK FA IRST System.

        • Another Guest (from Australia)
          • church

            That is a beautiful plane, no doubt.

          • Araya

            Sorry for my late replay to you “Another Guest”. Look a saw the Su27 with my own eyes on air shows but this is just show. Since the Soviets/Russians appear one Air Shows they permanently impress the people with the superior maneuverability of here planes and well trained pilots how take high risks and sometimes is ends in tragic crashes but this is not the point. In War all this nice Tricks how you see one Air Shows and Mr. Carlo form Air Power Australia fear so much are useless, forget the Top Gun style Movies and everything what you saw in Hollywood Films or Video Games the reality is completely different. The Su27SM/Su35 are beautiful aircrafts and them they are equipped with improved avionics they are deadly enemy’s for any 4 to 4, 5 Generation fighter like the F18E/F ,F16 Block 52++,F15SE, EF2000 and Rafale but against the stealthy airframes like the F35 or the F22 it looks different. But just to put it clear even the F22 is inferior to the Su35 them you consider maneuverability as key to success in air combat something what Mr. Carlo form Air Power Australia conceals. Stealth and Sensor Fusion combined with superior Radar Technique and capable Air to Air Missiles are the key to victory in combat. The F35 is stealthy in compare to any Legacy Fighter and also to the PAK FA how will have inferior stealth to the F35 how Russian sources have already confirmed. The F35 has also with the AN/APG81 an advance ASEA Radar System based on the AN/APG77 of the F22 how is the first generation of operational US ASEA Radar technology was and has also a greater computational power them the F22. The AN/APG81 has also the same functions as the AN/APG77V1 for example a LPI-Modus something what the Russians didn’t even claim to have in there PAK FA. But this is by far not all the F35 has also the actual most advanced IRIST System and also Superior and stealthy Communications Technology. Hey didn’t know much about the Russian skills to mask there electromagnetic emission and I saw nothing what suggesting what they can even keep up with the actual Western Standard one this area. Now how a real combat will look like them for example two Su35S has to deal with two F35C supported by an E2D Hawkeye, the Russian and Chinese’s have also AWACS Airframes but they lack of capability comparable to their US/western counterpart’s. The frontal RCS of the F35 lay down by 0.005 m2 or even less with full internal armament in compare the RCS of the Su35S is without any Arms higher them 1,2 m2 even with minimal armament you can expect what the Su35S should have a RCs around 2,5m2 to 3m2 full armed 5m2 are likely. This means what the AWACS can detect the SU35S them they flay without active radar by up to 400 kilometer them they activate there Radar System they can be detected even by the F35 by the same range. In compare the SU35S can detect the E2D one the same range but the F35 remain undetectable for their Radars possible even at 80 Kilometer. As consequence the F35 have the first shout against the SU35S in any Scenario this means they can fire Four AIM120D one the SU35 without even to activate there radar System simply by using the E2D Radar Data. At 80 to 60 kilometer the Su35S should be able to see the incoming AIM120D and start countermeasures against this mean turn off, ECM and Chaff and pray to good with luck they survive the attack or at least just one Su35S goes down. Them the remaining Su35S decide to fight they have to deal with AIM9X Block III how can now also be used as a BVR Missile it will be funny to see how an Airframe tries to escape an AIM9X by maneuver. The Pilot support around max 6G the Airframe 9G the Missile 50G and fly up to 4,7 Mach fast. And the biggest Problem is what the F35 the can give the AIM9X a 360 degree target acquisition so it is irrelevant from what angle the AIM9X Block II was fired by the F35 because why the AIM9X Block 2 has a data link with the F35 and so the F35 is able to use LOAL (lock-on after launch) you’re SU35S is simply toast.

        • Another Guest (from Australia)

          @ Araya,

          The F-35 will have trouble countering these aircraft in BVR and WVR. The Su-27/30 Flanker family and the PAK-FA will be able to run rings around the F-35, both from the performance point of view and the tactics point of view.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyrM3VHst1k – Su-35S Super Flanker-E

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSkdEXkyZ_w – Su-30SM Flanker-C

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjQG1s3Isgg – T-50 PAK-FA

  • Another Guest (from Australia)

    Dear Colin Clark and Sydney J. Freedberg Jr

    Low & slow acceleration works extremely well supporting the ground forces. You need a
    single purpose aircraft for that mission. So now the USAF wants to spend multi-billions for a fast-high flying aircraft that is not suited for the close air support mission. An F-35 would cost much more to purchase & support. The life cycle cost will be much greater expense over the years than the A-10.

    This is completely insane as it was just reported on 4th September 2013 that Boeing had just finished building 56 new wings for the A-10 as the 56 is part of an order of 242 sets of wings which was supposed to keep the A-10 flying for the next 30 years as talk about the right hand not know what the left hand is doing.

  • Another Guest (from Australia)

    There is nothing far more survivable for the F-35 that is supposed to
    replace the A-10 Thunderbolt.

    I reckon the test office’s conclusion is misleading. The vulnerability has decreased 25 percent focused on a small area “if the aircraft is hit.” The probability is actually high, classified number. This means the overall impact to aircraft’s survivability is high, higher than 0.5 percent.

    Why is the survivability higher than 0.5 percent?

    To restore a 2 lb safety valve system part of 43 lb (20 kg) equipment will increase more weight on the F-35 affecting the aircraft’s flight performance parameters, making it draggier that can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run to escape enemy fighters/guns/missiles, terrible acceleration, limited range/endurance and doesn’t have enough motor for the weight. Lockheed Martin has done very little with major safety precautions on the F-35 which is a very delicate aeroplane that makes it more vulnerable (if flown at low altitudes when performing close air support missions) from a high-explosive round such as .22 Rifle, or any form of gunfire that will disable or destroy an engine and fuel tank and the F-35 has no armour cockpit tub to protect the pilot if hit by a bullet or fragment. The F-35 doesn’t carry flame-retardant foam in its fuel tanks because the foam displaces fuel. The fuel tanks are not equipped with self-sealing membranes to plug bullet or shrapnel holes.

    Also the F-35 is a single engine which gives it little margin for error. The large exhaust nozzle of the F-35 will be extremely hot, fuel guzzling and has a very big heat signature. The back end of the F-35 in full afterburner is something like 1600 degrees (Fahrenheit). In terms of temperature, aluminum combusts at 1100. You are talking about something really, really hot. If you have got a dirty big sensor on the front of your Su-35S or your PAK-FA or whatever, it lights up like Christmas lights and there is nothing you can do about it. And the plume, because of the symmetric exhaust, is all over the place. It is not shielded; it is not ducted in any useful way. The F-35 will be like a “blow torch” if detected and hit by high explosive rounds.

    As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades. The F-35 will be ineffective against the anti-access & area denial threats with current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.

    So if you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the anti-access & area denial threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will fail the air defence program.

    All its about is to spend money and that is a mission of the aeroplane it’s for the US Congress to send money to Lockheed Martin to produce this “Flying Pentagon Pork”. That’s a “real mission” for the aeroplane to fail any combat mission requirements that can’t do air superiority, deep interdiction bombing and close air support roles.

    The F-35 will also be a widow maker.

  • Another Guest (from Australia)

    @ Colin Clark and Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

    How can you say the A-10 is more vulnerable to sophisticated anti-aircraft defences than the other multi-role aircraft.

    Fast jet aircraft are the ones that are more vulnerable to sophisticated anti-aircraft defences. Both of you should’ve tested the data’s, facts and evidence of the previous conflicts rather than drinking the Kool-Aid.

    The A-10 is exceptionally tough aircraft. Its strong airframe can survive direct hits from armour-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23 mm. The aircraft has triple redundancy in its flight systems, with mechanical systems to back up double-redundant hydraulic systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power or part of a wing is lost. Flight without hydraulic power uses the manual reversion flight control system; this engages automatically for pitch and yaw control, and under pilot control (manual reversion switch) for roll control. In manual reversion mode, the A-10 is sufficiently controllable under favourable conditions to return to base and land, though control forces are much higher than normal. The aircraft is designed to fly with one engine, one tail, one elevator, and half of one wing missing.

    Its self-sealing fuel tanks are protected by fire-retardant foam. The A-10′s main landing gear is designed so that the wheels partially protrude from their nacelles when the gear is retracted so as to make gear-up belly landings easier to control and less damaging to the aircraft’s underside. Additionally, the landing gears are all hinged toward the rear of the aircraft, so if hydraulic power is lost the pilot can drop the gear and a combination of gravity and wind resistance will open and lock the gear in place.

    The cockpit and parts of the flight-control system are protected by 1,200 lb (540 kg) of titanium armour, referred to as a “bathtub”. The armour has been tested to withstand strikes from 23 mm cannon fire and some strikes from 57 mm rounds. It is made up of titanium plates with thicknesses from 0.5 to 1.5 inches (13 to 38 mm) determined by a study of likely trajectories and deflection angles. This protection comes at a cost, with the armor making up almost 6% of the aircraft’s empty weight. To protect the pilot from the fragmentation likely to be created from impact of a shell, any interior surface of the tub that is directly exposed to the pilot is covered by a multi-layer nylon spall shield. In addition, the front windscreen and canopy are resistant to small arms fire.

    Proof of the durability of the A-10 was shown when Captain Kim Campbell, flying a ground support mission over Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq on 7th April, suffered extensive flak damage to her A-10. Iraqi fire damaged one of the A-10′s engines and crippled its hydraulic system, which required the aircraft’s stabilizer and flight controls to be operated via the back-up mechanical system, this being known as ‘manual reversion mode’. Despite this damage, Campbell managed to fly the aircraft for nearly an hour and landed safely.

    There are several reasons for the unusual location of the A-10′s General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines. First, the A-10 was envisioned to fly from forward air bases, often with substandard, semi-prepared runways that present a high risk of foreign object damage to the engines. The height of the engines decreases the chance that sand or stones will be ingested. This also allows engines to keep running while the aircraft is serviced and rearmed by ground crews, reducing turn-around time. Without the limitations imposed by engines, the wings could be mounted closer to the ground, to simplify servicing and rearming.

    The engines’ high 6:1 bypass ratio provides the A-10 with a relatively small infrared signature, and their position directs exhaust over the tailplanes further shielding it from detection by heat-seeking surface to air missiles. The engines are angled upward by nine degrees to cancel out the nose-down pitching moment they would otherwise generate due to being mounted above the aerodynamic centre of the aircraft. This avoids the necessity to trim the control surfaces against the force. The heavy engines require strong supports, so their pylons are connected to the airframe by four bolts.

    The A-10′s fuel system components are protected in multiple ways. All four fuel tanks are located near the centre of the aircraft, reducing the likelihood that they will be hit or have their fuel lines severed. The tanks are separate from the fuselage; thus, projectiles would need to penetrate the aircraft’s skin before reaching the outer skin of the tank. The refueling system is purged after use so that all fuel in the aircraft is protected from fire. All fuel transfer lines self-seal if they are compromised; if a tank is damaged beyond its ability to self-seal, check valves prevent fuel flowing into the compromised tank. Most of the fuel system components are inside the tanks so that fuel will not be lost in case a component were to leak. Most importantly, reticulated polyurethane foam lines both the inner and outer sides of the fuel tanks, retaining debris and restricting fuel spillage in the event of damage. The other source of possible combustion, the engines, are shielded from the fuel system and the rest of the airframe by firewalls and fire extinguishing equipment. Even in the event of all four main tanks being penetrated and all contents lost, sufficient fuel is carried in two self-sealing sump tanks to allow flight for 230 miles (370 km).

    Read more about Fast Jets Not Ideal Choice for Close Air Support
    http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2004/April/Pages/Fast_Jets3594.aspx

    • tipp

      “Fast Jets Not Ideal Choice for Close Air Support”

      yeah ok as long as the enemy doesn’t have good, coordinated AAA

      “Fast jet aircraft are the ones that are more vulnerable to sophisticated anti-aircraft defences.”

      Are you high? Fast movers have the electronics, speed, altitude, and agility to NOT GET SHOT in the first place. That is why they are more survivable. In the first gulf war the air force had to pull A-10′s back from attacking disciplined republican guard troops simply because they were taking too many hits. The same thing was happening to Russian Su-25′s in the afghan-russian conflict and they are even faster than the A-10. A-10′s are great for CAS but just like AC-130′s you need to suppress all ground fire less they start getting shot down. I don’t know about you man, but I would rather not get hit in the first place than to have a manpad ran up my ass and spend the next 20 in the Hanoi Hilton.

      • Gary

        You don’t need to suppress all AAA, it was designed to fly into a heavy AAA environment. All the A10s shot down during the gulf war were hit by missiles. That was in 8,100 sorties, they fired 90% of the Maverick missiles shot in the war. Oh, during the gulf war….AAA did shoot down some aircraft….including….and F15, F16, F4, AV8, A6…but not one A10. Also, most of the damage a10s took could be fixed in a couple hours. People seem to thing when your in CAS, everyone is vulnerable to getting hit, It’s the nature of CAS. If you’re sitting at 20,000ft dropping bombs that’s not true CAS.

  • Jacobite

    The 30MM cannon on the A10 is more than suitable for destroying/decrewing probably all APCs/IFVs and smaller whelled vehicles like Humvees given the relatively little Armour on these vehicles, especially at the top. The only downside is the increasing prevalence of much larger (think 30/40MM+) cannons on many IFVs which allow them to shoot back, and the foreseeable emergence of Active Defence Systems like LEDS-150 which will be used on all of indias T90s, which can destroy ATGMs. Somehow I don’t think the author was refering to these when he mentioned IADS.

    Nor did he mention that the B1 could be equiped with about 150 SDBIIs (which are self-guiding and have a range of 120KM), that JDAM-ER might extend the range of JDAMS up to 80KM and that powered upgrades could possibly extend the ranges further. Additionally there are weapons like the Sensor Fused munitions, a more ‘stand-off’ version of this weapon could be very lethal. Imagine 4 B1s each dropping 150 (600) SDBs on your mechanized formation, outside of the range of the majority of your air defense.

    But no aircraft can do what the A10 can do with its 30mm cannon and its large A2G missile payload, technology moves forward, and the foreseeable advent of large electronically assisted cannons and missile interception systems means the future of such CAS is dubious, especially given the price differential of ground/air vehicles. A A10 might have to kill 6-10 modern IFVs for it to be cost nuetral, but with each IFV having an ADS with 6-12 intercepts, and at least some featuring large cannons the prospects seem dubious. Still we are not there yet, and the A10 is much better armoured than the F35.

  • Curtis Conway

    Anyone who believes the F-35A/B/C will replace the A-10 as the preferred Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft to support US Army operations, lives on a “River in Egypt” and is selling Snake Oil.. Every operator in the Joint Operations Center will tell you this. So the USAF, by making the mere suggestion of retiring the A-10, is sacrificing future troops in the field out of budgetary expediency.

    • Gary Church

      Bob, Curtis,

      Fighting insurgents is one thing, going up against MANPADS in another thing entirely. What changed the Russian situation? Stingers. Are we so arrogant and stupid that we honestly believe the same thing cannot happen to us? So all the resources expended on keeping this force in the air could turn out to be a complete waste in a single day of shootdowns because after that day there would be no more CAS with piloted aircraft- no matter how well armored or stealthy or whatever.

      Budgetary expediency or reading the writing on the wall? I like the A-10, but I like to win more.

      • Richard

        What makes you think the F35 is any more survivable against MANPADs than the A10 which has a documented history of surviving missile hits.

        • Floydii

          This has already been discussed, but.. The F35 does not need to fly into the MANPAD engagement zone to accurately deliver its ordinance (which will primarily be a mix of small precision munitions). Survivability is more than taking a hit, its avoiding it in the first place.

          • Gary

            That’s not completely true. A-10s can drop from outside the MANPAD engagement zone also, they just don’t because usually when they’re in there, it’s a tight fight and you want to be low and slow. To do a gun run an F35 is going to have to get in there just like the A-10. Once they’re low and slow for the gun run they loose almost every advantage they have over the A-10 for MANPADS, and if you take a hit it’s going to get ugly for the F35. This is the same thing the AF had going into the Vietnam in regards to guns on fighters. They swore up and down the day of a gunfight between fighters was over, and it would be all missile engagements. We learned really quickly it needed a gun.

          • Floydii

            No, my statement is entirely true. The F35 does not need to fly into MANPAD engagement zones to deliver its ordinance (which will primarily be a mix of small precision munitions). I never said that the gun would be employed as a weapon of choice against ground targets and the argument around removing the gun is moot as all variants of the F35 are fitted with them (albeit the B carries it in a pod when required). T

            These munitions can be delivered from high altitude or tossed from outside the MANPAD engagement zone. The whole concept of standoff munitions is that the delivering aircraft is able to engage its target without coming into the effective engagement envelope of the defending forces. This increases survivability by avoiding engagement in the first place rather than seeking to survive hits as a result of flying into the engagement area.

            he ‘tight fight’ is a very subjective term and is largely predicated on the capability of the sensors on the aircraft concerned. If targets can be resolved from altitude by an attacking aircraft, there is no requirement to come down into MANPAD engagement envelopes.

            Yes, the A10 is able to engage with PGM outside of the MANPAD envelope, but it still has to descend into the engagement envelope to use the GAU-8. Utilisation of guided 2.75inch rockets is a better option if the objective is destruction of a point target. They are less expensive than larger guided munitions, will destroy anything short of a bunker/MBT with a single rocket and are able to be mounted in large quantities. Finally, they do not require the aircraft to get anywhere near as low, or close, as the gun does.

          • Gary

            You just made my point. No other aircraft can do what the A10 can in the low level MANPAD zone. It’s also the zone where AAA is the biggest threat. There are time when a gun is your only option. Standoff weapons are great when you can use them, but the bad guys on the ground aren’t stupid, they know if you get close enough to our guys you can’t use most of the ordinance we carry. You don’t use A10s when you need to drop a bomb, you use them when you need a gun some rockets….or even a Maverick. Look at pic and videos of the A10s in Iraq of Afghanistan. They’re carrying really light wind loads. They’re not dropping bombs all that often. Usually that only happens when they’re on target to use the gun and the ground controller wants some bombs on a target too. When you’re having to pop smoke and Willy Pete to mark your position, standoff weapons are pretty useless.
            The AF has always hated CAS, the brass doesn’t understand it, and A10 pilots have always been the unwanted brothers. It’s the same problem the Marines have with the Navy. Navy says big guns are useless on ships, and aren’t needed anymore. Then we the subject of fire support for an Amphib operation comes up, they get a dumb look on their face, and say we’ll figure out how to do it with we what we have……trust us…it’ll be ok…….. and now we’re having to build a ship with a big gun to do it.

  • k9usafret

    Ask the AF to release the documentation on the 1st Iraqi war, and how they had to ground the A-10 so that the F-15/F-16 brass could show they did something(???). Ground (read “fire”) the generals in the Pentagon, that might actually do something constructive.

    • PolicyWonk

      Indeed, the A-10′s performance in the first gulf war was *stunning*.

  • fistv

    There is nothing more reassuring in an immediate suppression than getting pelted by empty 30mm shell casings as one or three come in from your 6 and plows a field in a danger close where you can’t use bigger guns or smart bombs, that is close air support, knife fighting range, low slow and deathly quiet with those high mounted engines, though an AC 130H comes in a close second but at least with a hog you can eyeball the pilot.

  • idahoguy101

    Replace the A-10 fleet with aircraft with minimum A-10C specifications and the ability to upgrade.
    And…. Buy a cheaper light attack aircraft that has lower operating costs also. Argentina’s Pucara comes to mind. They can be deployed into forward areas for FAC and quick strikes. The RAF and USAAF in Europe excelled at this WW2

    • Mitchell Fuller

      Cheaper light attack aircraft, Super Tucano, modern and in production.

      Agree, let’s make waging war / defense more cost effective, fast movers used for CAS against Taliban, in most circumstances that’s a waste of airframe hours….

      • Gary Church

        Cheaper lighter attack aircraft still have the same extremely expensive pilot. Take out the pilot and guess what you have? A drone.

        • Gary

          Because drones haven’t progressed to the point where you have the ability to get in close. They can drop a bomb, or fire a missile if they have someone to light it up for them. But you’re very limited in natural low level flying to do a gun run. Maybe the next generation will allow that with 3D flying technology. Also, drone pilots are about as expensive to train.

  • Mitchell Fuller

    1. F-35 is not ready and may never be based on failure to perform and expense per unit. And then if 3/4 of expense of a aircraft (per article) are other then airframe how much is it really going to cost?? It is already causing severe budget issues in services and it is not even operational yet ( flying with all types of restrictions and unable to perform all functions does not count as operational).

    2. Stealth is a moment in time and in this case a particular view of aircraft. I’m sure we and our potential enemies are developing ways to detect stealthy aircraft and then this edge will be lost.

    3. Smart bombs, air superiority jets being used for CAS, and unproven costly airframes being developed to fill CAS role, we are pricing ourselves out of second and third world conflicts and due to expense cannot purchase enough depth in numbers to project and defend against first world threats……….

    4. Transfer A-10 fleet to Army and workout budget agreement, Army Reserve or National Guard could also take fleet and fulfill mission.

  • bridgebuilder78

    My God, F-35 is about as well armored as a Mitsubishi Zero. I can’t imagine the ‘FUELdraulic’ system is going to react well to even small arms fire, let alone something more substantial.

    Although it’d be fun to see the JSF attempt to fly with one wing sheared off.

  • Pavel

    The Texas National Guard would do well to procure as many A-10′s & parts as the budget will allow. These platforms can be refitted with environmentally friendly armament(s). Reduced ammunition costs should offset the expense of refitting; over time. It behooves TXARNG to consider all of the operational costs, relative to fixed wing aircraft, & the A-10′s low slow long range real world applications on our border.