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Warthog 2.0
Will the USAF premier tank killer ever get modernized?
By Steven Lewis

 

            The Vietnam Wars showed the United States Air Force just how vulnerable aircraft are to AAA when flying close air support missions. As a result of this, it change the viewpoint of what is needed out of an aircraft to conduct such a mission. What is needed is an aircraft that is heavily armed, be proficient at destroying tanks, excellent maneuverability in addition to be able to loiter time over the battlefield for an extended periods of time. The aircraft must be highly survivability, maintenance uncomplicated and have a quick turn around time to operate during daytime hours in fair weather. March 6, 1967 such a request from the USAF went out to 21 companies. After six years of research and design the Fairchild-Republic’s A-10 was selected.  This was the birth of by far the best close air support aircraft in history.

Warthog 1.0

            The A-10 is neither the sexiest nor the fastest aircraft in the Air Force. Some say it have a face only a mother could love. Officially it’s called the “Thunderbolt II’ but most call it the “Warthog”.  But what the Warthog lacks in beauty and speed it makes up with sheer firepower. The General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon the most loved feature of the Warthog. Calling the Avenger a beast is an understatement. It‘s a 19 foot long, seven barrel tank killer that fires armor-piercing depleted uranium rounds at a rate of 70 per second. With a muzzle velocity of 3,240 ft per second, Hog Driver can disable just about any main battle tank from 4 miles away. The front fuselage of the A-10 is literaturely built around it; the nose gear is offset to starboard so that the gun's firing barrel is aligned on the aircraft's centerline. There’s no doubt that the Warthog is a tank killer.

 

 

Click on thumbnails to view larger image.





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               During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was able to mass more than 20,000 main battle tanks in Europe. NATO’s always feared if the Cold War ever heated up, those tanks would start their push into West German. The USAF based A-10 in Europe to try to counter the Soviet tank thread. At one point more than 100 Warthogs was based at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge and was frequently deployed to forward operating locations in West German. The Cold War never heated up and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty destroyed more Soviet tanks than any A-10 pilot ever dreamed.





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             The Warthog first saw combat in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm (ODS). The deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq was a far different landscape than of the US or Europe. Never the less, the A-10 performed extremely well during the conflict. Of the 144 Warthogs deployed only 5 were lost. The A-10 put up some big numbers after all is said and done, destroying more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces. The Hog also manage to get two air to air kills, 2 Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 Avenger. Of the 5,500 AGM-65 Maverick anti-tank missiles fired during ODS, the Warthog fired 90% of them. A-10 pilots and crews maintain one of the highest (if not the highest) mission capable rate of the conflict, 95.7%.
 
           After Desert Storm, the A-10 was last on the Air Force’s “To be upgraded” list and on the top of their “To be retired” list. The Warthog found itself being a low-tech warrior in a new high-tech Air Force. Fortunately, the Warthog was saved from an early retirement. But the A-10 than still lacked the ability to compute a targets range as well as its weapon impact. This hampered the Warthogs ability to deliver guided weapons other then the GAU-8 Avenger and rocket fire If it is not a “point and shoot” weapon, the A-10 can not use it. The AGM-65 Maverick is “point and shoot” weapon, no systems onboard the A-10 is use to guide it. It is a self-guided TV or Infra-red anti-tank missile. During Desert Storm, A-10 pilots use the seeker heads of Maverick as a “Poor Man’s” Forward Looking Infra-red.





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            The first major improvement was the low altitude and targeting enhancements system. The updated hardware included a ground collision avoidance system to warm pilots of imminent ground collision. This adds to the pilots’ situational awareness when flying at low altitudes. Other improvement, an Enhanced Attitude Control for aircraft stabilization during gunfire and a low altitude autopilot system, and computed weapon delivery solutions for targeting improvements. These all eased the workload of the pilot. By turn of the new millennium, the Warthog had a night vision capable cockpit along with a new embedded global positioning system/Inertial navigation system.





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Warthog 2.0

          When the A-10 was designed, its service life was 8,000 hours, which equated to approximately FY2005. Since then the USAF wants to fly the Warthog until 2028, roughly 16,000,  twice as longer then the original service life. To insure that the A-10 fleet can meet its new service life, a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) nicknamed “Hog Up” was started in 2001. Hog up was intended to extend the Warthogs service life to 16,000 hours by replacing the outer wing panels as well as adding a series stainless steel straps to the center wing box. The majority of the work was done at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration center at Davis-Monthan Air Force base. During testing of the SLEP repairs, the wings failed. Catastrophically at 14,500 hours, short of the 16,000 hour requirement. Consequently, the wings of the Warthog will need to be replaced. In January of 2007, Boeing placed a bid of $1.5 Billion to compete in the manufacturing of new wings for the Warthog fleet. This program, the A-10 wing replacement program, calls for the replacement wing sets to be delivered in parts and prepared for trouble-free installation. But it may be 5 years before the fleet even sees these new wings. There is talk of a SLEP II program but it will not start up until 2009.





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             For 30 years the Warthog has been flying on the same engines since its’ first flight, the General Electric TF34-GE-100. Originally designed for the US Navy S-3A, the TF34s’ allows the Warthog to operate from undersized and isolated airfields. In it’s class; the TF34s' have the lowest specific fuel consumption rate as well as the highest thrust-to-weight ratio. In 2006, the Propulsion upgrade Program (PUP) started. The program goals was to overcome the limitation the A-10 has when operating in a high altitude, high temperature environment. Able to double the hot day thrust output and eliminating the current gross weight take off limitations, the General Electric TF34-GE-101 was chosen. The -101’s would reduce the take off run during hot day conditions moreover; they would also add nearly 30% more acceleration. The new engines would increase the full combat time-to-climb rate by 3 times. Deployments from the continental US to Europe could be done in one/third the time. It is said that an A-10 with TF34-GE-101 engines could out load a Block 40/50 F-16 for a close-air support mission. But installing and operating the -101 would be a challenge for engineers. Any weight difference from the old engine to the new engines would change the A-10s' center of gravity and would mean a shift and or the addition of ballast. Furthermore, any addition of thrust will add to the Warthogs already nose-down attitude. Sadly, “PUP is suspend…. On hold.”, Lt Col Don Henry, the A-10’s Modernization requirements Director for Air Combat Command. “There’s no money to develop the change, but the requirement is carried as a high priority if funds do become available.” According to Henry.





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            Of the other programs to update the A-10, “Precision Engagement” is a true success. Not only does the Warthog get it teeth sharpen but it gets a new set of claws. Along with a new designation, the upgraded hogs are now A-10C’s. “Precision Engagement will provide the A-10 with all-weather capability to detect and strike target from greater altitudes and distances using precision guided weapons.” Chris McGee, Aeronautical System Center Public Affairs. Most of the modification is internal; the C’s look identical to A’s. All 356 Active, Reserve and Air National Guard will be updated to C’s .





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            Hog Drivers are brought into the digital age, improving the pilot-to-aircraft interface with two new Raytheon 5 X 5 color multifunctional displays and a new central interface control input with three new digital processors. Other new goodies include a situational awareness data link, digital stores management system, an integrated flight and fire control computer along with a new Sniper XR or Litening AT targeting pod. With Precision Engagement, A-10 pilots will enjoy HOTAS (hands-on-throttle-and-stick) control of weapons, targeting and navigation systems. Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser (WCMD) and Laser-guided bombs has been added to the A-10s' arsenal. The 175th Fighter Wing at Warfield, Maryland was the first unit to convert their Warthogs from A’s to C’s in August 2006. 





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With programs falling short of their goals or being canceled, the Air Force has some major issues that have to be sorted out. Such as, will Congress approve funding to re-engine the A-10 fleet? How long with the Warthogs’ strengthen wing last? Will the F-22 start to fly close-air support missions. A very complicated, very fragile aircraft and just so happens to be the most expensive fighter in history. It has been proven in the past, the aircraft best suited to fly close-air support missions is one that is simple, well armed, slow yet maneuverability and able to take triple A punishment. In WWII, the P-47 Thunderbolt, Korea the P-51 and F9F-2 Panther, In Vietnam the AD-1 Skyraider. The A-10C Thunderbolt II, present day until …..?

 






 

I would like to thank Major Robert DeCoster and Staff Sgt. Alec Lloyd
for my visit to the 110th Fighter Wing,
172nd Fighter Squadron at
Battle Creek Air National Guard Base.

 

Equipment use:
Canon EOS 20D
Canon EF-S 17-85 mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Canon Telephoto EF 400 mm f/5.6L USM
All pictures were resized for the web.
All pictures taken by: Steven Far148 Lewis
All pictures are protected by US copyright.

 





Bibliography

Archer, B, Chant, C, Donald, D, Dorr, R & Peacock, L (1992). US Air force: air power directory. London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd.

Boeing (Jan. 24, 2007). Boeing to Compete for $1.5 Billion A-10 Wing Contract. Press release.

Parsons, Gary. "Hog's back."  April 2005 June 26, 2007 http://www.airsceneuk.org.uk/hangar/2007/429a10/hog.htm.

A-10 Thunderbolt II. (2007, June 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:48, June 17, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A-10_Thunderbolt_II&oldid=138640724

A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II. December 01, 2005,from http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/a-10.htm

TF34 Engine. March 15,2006, from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/systems/tf34.htm

McGee, C (2006,October 17) A-10 Upgrade Effort Transforms Warthog Capabilities, from http://www.defenselink.mil/transformation/articles/2006-10/ta101706a.html

Tirpak, John (2007, March). Making the Best of the Fighter Force. Air Force Magazine Online, Vol. 90, No. 3, Retrieved May, 2007, from Vol. 90, No. 3. from http://www.afa.org/magazine/march2007/0307force.asp









 
©Steven Lewis/Far148studio