The A-10 Warthog
The A-10 was the first Air Force jet plane in service that was specifically designed for the close air support mission. Low-altitude daylight attack with a heavy load of conventional weapons was its role, and no compromises in favor of high speed or nuclear delivery were made.
Preliminary design study contracts for specialized close air support aircraft had been awarded to General Dynamics, Grumman, Northrop and McDonnell on May 2,1967. The preliminary data received was used to prepare new requirements, and a request for proposals was issued May 7, 1970, for competitive prototype development.
Six companies responded by August 10, and on December 18, the Republic Aviation Division of Fairchild Industries, Farmingdale, New York, and the Northrop Corporation, Hawthorne, California, were selected to build two competing prototypes each. The plan was to “fly-before-buy”, as had been done before World War II.
The designations A-9 and A-10 were given the California and New York contenders on March 1, 1971. Both were to be single-place, with two turbofan power plants chosen for fuel economy, not speed, and straight wings to ease into short field landings. A new 30-mm Gatling-type gun was carried, along with ten hard points under the wing for up to 16,000-pounds of mixed ordinance. Low cost was preferred to performance over stated requirements, and high survivability against enemy ground fire was important.
Fairchild Republic’s A-10 flew at Edwards AFB May 10, 1972, and Northrop’s A-9 on May 30, both ahead of schedule. An intensive competitive flyoff of the four prototypes, involving 635 flying hours, was completed by December 9. In many respects they were similar, but the lighter Northrop had two Lycoming engines under the roots of a high wing and had a single tail. The A-10 had two General Electric turbofans in pods above and behind the low wings and had twin tail fins.
Fairchild was announced the winner January 18, 1973, and on March 1, a $159 million cost-plus incentive fee contract for ten preproduction aircraft was made, while General Electric won the engine and gun system contracts. Comparing the prototypes, then designated YA-10A, to the A-7D, led to release of funds for 52 production aircraft July 31, 1974. The first preproduction aircraft flew February 15, 1975, and the first production aircraft, October 21, 1975.
Anti-tank operations were the major A-10 mission, and the seven-barrel 30-mm GAU-8/A cannon and its 1,350 rounds of armor-piercing explosive ammunition, combined with six AGM-65A Maverick missiles, demonstrated a lethal effect on hostile armor. Eight 530-pound bombs were carried on escort missions, and 18 on close air support missions with a 250 nautical mile (288 statute mile) radius and two-hour loiter time. Twenty-eight such bombs could be carried with reduced fuel load, or three 600-gallon ferry tanks, or many other stores options.
Survivability was promised by high maneuverability at low speeds, redundant structural and control elements, foam-protected fuel cells, a titanium armor plate “bathtub” to protect the cockpit, and ECM devices. A two-place all-weather version with radar was converted from a preproduction aircraft and flown May 4, 1979, but was not repeated.
The 354th Tactical Fighter Wing was the first to replace its A-7Ds with A-10s, having one 24-plane squadron fully operational by October 15, 1977, and all 72 planes a year later. Next came the 81st TFW, stationed in Britain, with three more TAC wings and ANG units scheduled. Thunderbolt II, the name given by the company, was somehow replaced by the pilots by Warthog.
Production of 713 A-10As was completed on March 20, 1985, and none were transferred to other countries. Gulf War deployment of the A-10 included the 10th, 23rd, and 354th TFW, as well as the 706th TFS and 23rd TAS, the latter with OA-10s fitted for FAC work.
A-10s flew 8,100 sorties, firing over 5,000 AGM-65 Maverick missiles, dropping Mk 82 bombs and CBUs, and even two hostile helicopters fell to guns, although no enemy fighters were engaged. Among the score of ground targets claimed were nearly 1,000 tanks, over 3,000 other vehicles, 190 radar sites, and mobile Scud missile launchers.
Of some 144 Warthogs in the Gulf War, only five A-10s were lost in combat and 367 still remained in the active Air Force, ANG and Reserve fleets on September 30, 2000.
A rejected program
A Navy two-seat attack type designated A-12 on October 3, 1988, was designed by a General Dynamics/ McDonnell Douglas team. As a delta-wing design with internal bomb bays and folding wingtips, the A-12 had a 10,800-pound thrust F404-GE-400D turbofan and a potentially stealthy airframe.
Although a program was considered for 858 Navy and Marine aircraft at an estimated cost of 96.2 million each, delays and cost increases discouraged the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney canceled the A-12 on January 12, 1991. While a six-year legal battle over some three billion dollars in development costs occurred, the most important result was that there would be no new carrier-based attack plane for the rest of the century.
Instead, the Navy would rely on the strike fighter concept, completely removed from the slow torpedo seaplanes of the first World War. This book has also shown how the Air Force advanced from 1920’s twin-engine GAX ground attack to the A-10’s power to strike surface forces, a factor forever changing warfare.
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