A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog"): Aircraft profile

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Mission

A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. They can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings (303.3 meters) with 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) visibility.

A-10 Thunderbolt II: Three A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly in formation. A-10s provided close-air support for a scout team that received small arms fire Feb. 11 near Balad, Iraq.A-10 Thunderbolt II: Three A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly in formation. A-10s provided close-air support for a scout team that received small arms fire Feb. 11 near Balad, Iraq.

Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles, A-10/OA-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.

Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems, or NVIS, goggle compatible single-seat cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision. The pilots are protected by titanium armor that also protects parts of the flight-control system. The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft.

A-10 Thunderbolt II: Capt. Dustin Ireland fires a missile as his A-10 Thunderbolt II breaks over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex April 24 during live-fire training.A-10 Thunderbolt II: Capt. Dustin Ireland fires a missile as his A-10 Thunderbolt II breaks over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex April 24 during live-fire training.

The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.

The Thunderbolt II can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. Many of the aircraft's parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia, April 5, 1999. Members of the 81st Fighter Squadron are deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in support of NATO Operation Allied Force. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia, April 5, 1999. Members of the 81st Fighter Squadron are deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in support of NATO Operation Allied Force. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Avionics equipment includes multi-band communications; Global Positioning System and inertial navigations systems; infrared and electronic countermeasures against air-to-air and air-to-surface threats. And, it has a Pave Penny laser spot tracker system; a heads-up display to display flight and weapons delivery information; and a low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system, which provides constantly computed impact and release points for accurate ordnance delivery. There is also a low-altitude autopilot and a ground collision avoidance system.

A-10 Thunderbolt II: A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex April 24 during live-fire training. The A-10s are from the 355th Fighter Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.A-10 Thunderbolt II: A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex April 24 during live-fire training. The A-10s are from the 355th Fighter Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

The A-10 is currently undergoing the precision engagement modification, which adds upgraded cockpit displays, moving map, hands on throttle and stick, digital stores management, LITENING and Sniper advanced targeting pod integration, situational awareness data link or SADL, GPS-guided weapons, and upgraded DC power. Precision engagement modified aircraft are designated as the A-10C.

The Thunderbolt II can employ a wide variety of conventional munitions, including general purpose bombs, cluster bomb units, laser guided bombs, joint direct attack munitions or JDAM), wind corrected munitions dispenser or WCMD, AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, rockets, illumination flares, and the GAU-8/A 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute to defeat a wide variety of targets including tanks.

Background

The first production A-10A was delivered to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in October 1975. It was designed specially for the close air support mission and had the ability to combine large military loads, long loiter and wide combat radius, which proved to be vital assets to the United States and its allies during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Noble Anvil.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany, drop away from a refueling tanker during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany, drop away from a refueling tanker during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

The upgraded A-10C reached initial operation capability in September 2007. Specifically designed for close air support, its combination of large and varied ordnance load, long loiter time, accurate weapons delivery, austere field capability, and survivability has proven invaluable to the United States and its allies. The aircraft has participated in operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom..

General Characteristics

Primary Function: A-10 -- close air support, OA-10 - airborne forward air control
Contractor: Fairchild Republic Co.
Power Plant: Two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans
Thrust: 9,065 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches (17.42 meters)
Length: 53 feet, 4 inches (16.16 meters)
Height: 14 feet, 8 inches (4.42 meters)
Weight: 29,000 pounds (13,154 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 51,000 pounds (22,950 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 11,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Payload: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Speed: 420 miles per hour (Mach 0.56)
Range: 800 miles (695 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,636 meters)
Armament: One 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations, including 500 pound (225 kilograms) Mk-82 and 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) Mk-84 series low/high drag bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, combined effects munitions, mine dispensing munitions, AGM-65 Maverick missiles and laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs; infrared countermeasure flares; electronic countermeasure chaff; jammer pods; 2.75-inch (6.99 centimeters) rockets; illumination flares and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Crew: One
Unit Cost: Not available
Initial operating capability: A-10A, 1977; A-10C, 2007
Inventory: Active force, A-10, 143 and OA-10, 70; Reserve, A-10, 46 and OA-10, 6; ANG, A-10, 84 and OA-10, 18

Source: USAF

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Staff Sgt. John Deyoung, an aircraft mechanic from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is from the Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Penn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Staff Sgt. John Deyoung, an aircraft mechanic from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is from the Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Penn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)

Detailed background

(Source: wikipedia.org):

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is an American single-seat, twin-engine, straight-wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic for the United States Air Force to provide close air support (CAS) of ground forces by attacking tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets, also providing a limited air interdiction role. It is the first U.S. Air Force aircraft designed exclusively for close air support.

The A-10's official name comes from the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt of World War II, a fighter that was particularly effective at close air support. However, the A-10 is more commonly known by its nickname "Warthog" or simply "Hog". As a secondary mission, it provides airborne forward air control, guiding other aircraft against ground targets. A-10s used primarily in this role are designated OA-10.

Development

Criticism that the U.S. Air Force did not take close air support seriously prompted a few service members to seek a specialized attack aircraft. In the Vietnam War, large numbers of ground-attack aircraft were shot down by small arms, surface-to-air missiles, and low-level anti-aircraft gunfire, prompting the development of an aircraft better able to survive such weapons. In addition, the UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra helicopters of the day, which USAF commanders had said should handle close air support, were ill-suited for use against armor, carrying only anti-personnel machine guns and unguided rockets meant for soft targets. The F-4 Phantom was pressed into close air support, but usually in emergencies, as its high cruising speed and fuel consumption hindered its ability to loiter, and the lack of a gun on most F-4 variants coupled with the relative ineffectiveness of the standard 20mm Vulcan round against hard targets made strafing runs either ineffective or impossible.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

On 6 March 1967, the U.S. Air Force released a request for information to 21 companies. Their objective was to create a design study for a low-cost attack aircraft designated A-X, or "Attack Experimental". The officer in charge of the project was Col. Avery Kay. In 1969, the Secretary of the Air Force asked Pierre Sprey to write the detailed specifications for the proposed A-X project. However, his initial involvement was kept secret due to Sprey's earlier controversial involvement in the F-X project. Sprey's discussions with A-1 Skyraider pilots operating in Vietnam and analysis of the effectiveness of current aircraft used in the role indicated the ideal aircraft should have long loiter time, low-speed maneuverability, massive cannon firepower, and extreme survivability; an aircraft that had the best elements of the Ilyushin Il-2, Henschel Hs 129 and A-1 Skyraider. The specifications also demanded that the aircraft cost less than $3 million. In May 1970, the USAF issued a modified, and much more detailed request for proposals, as the threat of Soviet armored forces and all-weather attack operations became more serious. Six companies submitted proposals to the USAF, with Northrop and Fairchild Republic selected to build prototypes: the YA-9A and YA-10A, respectively.

The YA-10A first flew on 10 May 1972. After trials and a fly-off against the YA-9A, the Air Force selected Fairchild-Republic's YA-10A on 10 January 1973 for production. (There was an additional fly-off against the A-7D Corsair II, the Air Force attack aircraft at the time, to prove the need to purchase a new aircraft) The first production A-10 flew in October 1975, and deliveries to the Air Force commenced in March 1976, to units at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The first squadron to use the A-10 went operational in October 1977. In total, 715 airplanes were produced, the last in 1984.

One experimental two-seat A-10 Night Adverse Weather (N/AW) version was built by converting an A-10A. The Night Adverse Weather (N/AW) aircraft was developed by Fairchild from the first Demonstration Testing and Evaluation (DT&E) A-10 for consideration by the USAF. It included a second seat for a weapons officer responsible for ECM, navigation, and target acquisition. The variant was canceled and the only two-seat A-10 built now sits at Edwards Air Force Base awaiting a spot in the Flight Test Historical Foundation museum. The proposed two-seat A-10 trainer aircraft did not go into production, as it was felt that the A-10 was simple enough to fly that a trainer version would not be required.

The decision to make the 30 mm GAU-8 gun the main anti-tank weapon of the A-10 was influenced by Vietnam A-1 pilots and by Hans-Ulrich Rudel and his book, "Stuka Pilot". In World War II, Rudel flew the Ju 87G Stuka and destroyed many tanks using its two underwing 37 mm guns. His book was required reading for members on the A-X project. The JU-87G was an outmoded airframe with ersatz anti-tank weapons attached, yet still inflicted impressive casualties on Soviet tank forces.

A-10s were initially an unwelcome addition to the arsenal in the eyes of Air Force brass. The Air Force prized the high-flying, high-performance F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon air-superiority jets, and were determined to leave the dirty work of close air support to Army helicopters (the development of the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missile and AH-64 Apache attack helicopter having since provided the Army with a viable anti-tank aircraft). Attempts to transfer the A-10 to the Army and the Marines were at first prevented by the 1948 Key West Agreement, and then by the A-10's impressive combat record during the Gulf War in 1991. Shortly after the war, the Air Force gave up on the idea of replacing the A-10 with a close air support version of the F-16.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare over here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare over here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)

Upgrades

The A-10 has received many upgrades over the years. Aircraft were upgraded with inertial navigation and a Pave Penny laser sensor (marked target seeker) pod that allowed the pilot to detect laser energy for PID (Positive Identification) of an illuminated target. The Pave Penny is a passive seeker and cannot self-designate a target for a Laser Guided Bomb (LGB). Later, the Low-Altitude Safety and Targeting Enhancement (LASTE) upgrade provided computerized weapon-aiming equipment, an autopilot, and ground-collision warning system. The A-10 is now compatible with night-vision goggles for low-light operation. In 1999, aircraft began to receive Global Positioning System navigation systems.

The A-10 is scheduled to stay in service with the USAF until 2028. In 2005, the entire A-10 fleet began receiving upgrades to the "C" model that will include improved fire control system (FCS), electronic countermeasures (ECM), and the ability to carry smart bombs. The A-10 will be part of a service life extension program (SLEP) with many receiving new wings. A contract to build 242 new A-10 wing sets was awarded to Boeing on 29 June 2007. Modifications to provide precision weapons capability are well underway. Hill AFB has completed work on its 100th A-10 precision engagement upgrade in January 2008. The C model upgrades are to be completed in 2011.

The A-10 has superior maneuverability at low speeds and altitude, thanks to straight, wide wings with downturned "droop" wing tips. These also allow short takeoffs and landings, permitting operations from rugged, forward airfields near front lines. The aircraft can loiter for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000 feet (300 m) ceilings with 1.5-mile (2.4 km) visibility. It typically flies at a relatively slow speed of 300 knots (345 mph or 555 km/h), which makes it a much better candidate for the ground-attack role than fast fighter-bombers, which often have difficulty targeting small and slow-moving targets.

Engine exhaust passes over the aircraft's horizontal stabilizer and between the twin tails, decreasing the A-10's infrared signature and lowering the likelihood that the aircraft can be targeted by heat-seeking missiles. The placement of the engines partially shields them from anti-aircraft fire behind the wings. Honeycomb panels of this type on the A-10 include the flap shrouds, the elevators, the rudders and other sections of the fins. The leading edge of the mainplane is honeycomb to provide strength with minimal weight compromise.

The A-10 has integrally machined skin panels. Because the stringers are integral with the skin there are no join or seal problems. These panels, fabricated using computer controlled machining, reduce the time and hence the cost of manufacture. Combat experience has shown that this type of panel is more resistant. The skin is not load-bearing, so damaged skin sections can be easily replaced in the field, with makeshift materials if necessary.

The ailerons are at the far ends of the wings to gain greater rolling moment as with most aircraft but there are two distinguishing features. First, the ailerons are larger than is typical, almost 50% of the chord, providing improved control even at slow speeds. The aileron is also split, making it a deceleron.

The Thunderbolt II can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. An unusual feature is that many of the aircraft's parts are interchangeable between the left and right sides, including the engines, main landing gear, and vertical stabilizers. The sturdy landing gear, low-pressure tires and large, straight wings allow operation from short rough strips even with a heavy ordnance load, allowing the aircraft to operate from damaged airbases. The aircraft is designed to be refueled, rearmed and serviced with minimal equipment. Operating from a forward area is both useful for close air support and necessary due to the A-10's relatively low cruise and top speeds.

Because of the close proximity of the front landing gear and the A-10's main cannon, the landing gear is offset to the aircraft's right and cannon slightly to the left (see schematic below). The offset front landing gear causes the A-10 to have dissimilar turning radii. Turning to the right on the ground takes less space than turning left.

Durability

The A-10 is exceptionally hardy. Its strong airframe can survive direct hits from armor-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 favorable 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 a wing torn off. Self-sealing fuel tanks are protected by fire-retardant foam. Additionally, the main landing gear is designed so that the wheels semi-protrude from their nacelles when the gear is retracted so as to make gear-up landings (belly landing) easier to control and less damaging to the aircraft's underside. They also are all hinged toward the rear of the aircraft, so if hydraulic power is lost the pilot can simply 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 900 pounds (408 kg) of titanium armor, referred to as a titanium "bathtub". The tub 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 ½ inch to 1½ inches determined by a study of likely trajectories and deflection angles. This protection comes at a cost, though; the armor itself weighs almost 6% of the entire 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 Kevlar spall shield. The canopy consists of a bullet-proof diffusion-bonded stretched-acrylic to withstand small arms fire and is resistant to spalling. The front windscreen offers shielding resistant to 20 mm cannon fire.

Recent proof of the durability of the A-10 was shown when then-Captain Kim Campbell, USAF, flying a ground support mission over Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, suffered extensive flak damage to her A-10. Enemy fire damaged one of the A-10's engines and crippled its hydraulic system, forcing the back-up mechanical system to operate the aircraft's stabilizer and flight controls. Despite this, Campbell managed to fly it for an hour and landed it safely at the air base in manual reversion mode.

Powerplant

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 expected to fly from forward air bases, often with semi-prepared substandard runways that presented a high risk of foreign object damage to the engines. The height of the engines lowers the chance that sand or stones will enter the inlet. This also allows engines to remain running, allowing for shorter servicing and rearming turn-around times by ground crew. Servicing and rearming are further helped by having wings closer to the ground than would be possible if the engines were wing-mounted. The position also reduces the IR signature, which starts low anyway due to the engines' 6:1 bypass ratio. Because of their high position, the engines are angled upward nine degrees to bring the combined thrust line closer to the aerodynamic center of the aircraft. This avoids trimming measures to counteract a nose-down pitching moment if the engines were parallel to the fuselage. The heavy engines require strong supports, so their pylons are connected to the airframe by four bolts.

A-10 Thunderbolt II: 1st Lt. Dale Stark fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile from an A-10 Thunderbolt II April 24 over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex during live-fire training.A-10 Thunderbolt II: 1st Lt. Dale Stark fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile from an A-10 Thunderbolt II April 24 over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex during live-fire training.

All four fuel tanks are near the center of the aircraft, reducing the likelihood that they will be hit or separated from the engines. The tanks are protected by several measures. The tanks are separate from the fuselage and so projectiles would need to penetrate the skin before reaching the tank. The refueling system is purged after use so that there is no fuel unprotected anywhere in the aircraft. All pipes self-seal if they are compromised. Most of the fuel system components are inside the tanks so that if a leak were to occur from the component the fuel would not be lost. If a tank does get damaged, check valves ensure that fuel does not flow into the compromised tank. Most importantly, reticulated polyurethane foam lines both the inner and outer sides of the fuel tanks, holding 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.

Weapon systems

Although the A-10 can carry considerable disposable stores, its primary built-in weapon is the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun. One of the most powerful aircraft cannons ever flown, it fires large depleted uranium armor-piercing shells. In the original design, the pilot could switch between two rates of fire: 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute; this was changed to a fixed rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. The cannon takes about half a second to come up to speed, so 50 rounds are fired during the first second, 65 or 70 rounds per second thereafter. The gun is consistently accurate; it can place 80% of its shots within a 40-foot (12.4 meter) circle from 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) while in flight. The GAU-8 is optimized for a slant range of 4,000 feet (1,220 m) with the A-10 in a 30 degree dive.

The fuselage of the aircraft is built around the gun. For example, the nose wheel is offset to the right so that the gun's firing barrel at the 9 o'clock position is aligned on the aircraft's centerline. The gun's drum holds 1,174 rounds of 30 mm ammunition. The early A-10s carried 1,350 rounds, but were replaced because the helix was susceptible to damage during loading. The 1,174-round drums were reinforced. The damage caused by a portion of those rounds firing prematurely due to impact of an explosive shell would be catastrophic. It is for this reason that a great deal of effort has been taken to protect the 5 ft (1.52 m) wide, 9 ft (2.74 m) long drum. There are many plates of differing thicknesses between the skin and the drum. These plates are called trigger plates because when an explosive shell hits a target it first penetrates its armor, then detonates. As the drum has many layers of thin armor, the shell's detonation is triggered before reaching the drum. A final layer of armor around the drum itself protects it from fragmentation damage. The gun is loaded by Syn-Tech's linked tube carrier GFU-7/E 30 mm ammunition loading assembly cart; a vehicle unique to the A-10 and GAU-8.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm.A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm.

Another commonly used weapon is the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, with different variations for either electro-optical (TV-guided) or infra-red targeting. The Maverick allows targets to be engaged at much greater ranges than the cannon, a safer proposition in the face of modern anti-aircraft systems. During Desert Storm, in the absence of dedicated forward-looking infrared cameras, the Maverick's infra-red camera was used for night missions as a "poor man's FLIR". Other weapons include cluster bombs and Hydra rocket pods. Although the A-10 is equipped to deliver laser-guided bombs, their use is relatively uncommon; at the low altitudes and speeds of typical A-10 operations, standard unguided bombs provide adequate accuracy at far lower cost. In any event, the guided weapons would provide little benefit, as there would be nearly no time for the weapons to steer onto a target. A-10s usually fly with an ALQ-131 ECM pod under one wing and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles under the other for self-defense.

Modernization

The A-10 Precision Engagement Modification Program is an estimated US$420 million program that will see 356 A-10s upgraded with a new flight computer, new glass cockpit displays and controls, two new 5.5 inch color displays with moving map function and an integrated digital stores management system. A second DC generator will be installed to provide the additional power these systems consume.

Other funded improvements to the A-10 fleet include a new data link, the ability to employ smart weapons such as the JDAM and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispensor, and the ability to carry an integrated targeting pod such as the Northrop Grumman LITENING targeting pod or the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP). Also included is the ROVER or remotely operated video enhanced receiver to provide sensor data to personnel on the ground.

Structural improvements will feature an all new wing for the 242 A-10s that were originally built with "thin skin" wings. Long lead funding has also been provided for an improved higher thrust engine.

On 2 April 2007 the Government Accounting Office estimated the potential total cost of upgrading, refurbishing, and service life extension plans for the A-10 force at up to $4.4 billion.

A-10 Thunderbolt II: An A-10 Thunderbolt II moves into position behind a KC-135 Stratotanker on a combat mission over Afghanistan.A-10 Thunderbolt II: An A-10 Thunderbolt II moves into position behind a KC-135 Stratotanker on a combat mission over Afghanistan.

Operational history

The first unit to receive the A-10 Thunderbolt II was the 355th Tactical Training Wing, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona in March 1976. The first unit to achieve full combat-readiness was the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina in 1978. Deployments of A-10As followed at bases both at home and abroad, including England AFB, Louisiana, Eielson AFB, Alaska, Osan Air Base, Korea, and RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge, England. The 81st TFW of RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge operated rotating detachments of A-10s at four bases in Germany known as Forward Operating Locations (FOLs): Leipheim, Sembach Air Base, Nörvenich, and Ahlhorn.

The A-10 saw combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles, and 1,200 artillery pieces. A-10s shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 gun. Seven A-10s were shot down during the war. A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7%, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict.

In the 1990s many A-10s were shifted to the forward air control (FAC) role and redesignated OA-10. In the FAC role the A-10 is typically equipped with up to six pods of 2.75 inch (70 mm) Hydra rockets, usually with smoke or white phosphorus warheads used for target marking. OA-10s remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation.

A-10s again saw service in the 1999 Kosovo War, in the later stages of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in the 2003 Iraq war. In Afghanistan the A-10 is based at Bagram.

On 30 April 2003, USCENTAF issued Operation Iraqi Freedom: By the Numbers, a declassified report about the aerial campaign in the conflict. Sixty A-10s were deployed in Iraq; one was shot down near Baghdad International Airport by Iraqi fire late in the campaign. Of the A-10s deployed, 47 were Air National Guard aircraft, and 12 were from the Air Force Reserve. The A-10 had a mission capable rate of 85% in the war, and fired 311,597 rounds of 30 mm ammunition. The A-10 also flew 32 missions in which the aircraft dropped propaganda leaflets over Iraq.

The A-10C first deployed to Iraq in the third quarter of 2007 with the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. The jets include the Precision Engagement Upgrade.

The A-10 is scheduled to stay in service with the USAF until 2028 and possibly later, when it may be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II. The entire A-10 fleet is currently undergoing upgrades. The A-10 could stay in service longer due to its low cost and its unique capabilities — such as its cannon, ruggedness and slow flying capabilities.

Variants

YA-10A
The first two prototypes.
A-10A
Single-seat close air support, ground-attack version.
OA-10A
Single-seat forward air control version.
YA-10B Night/Adverse Weather
Two-seat experimental prototype, for work at night and in bad weather. Later redesignated YA-10B. Only one example was built, which is now on static display.
A-10C
A-10As updated under the incremental Precision Engagement (PE) program featuring a new glass cockpit (including digital moving map displays), advanced datalink, and all-weather multi-mission precision weapons and laser targeting capability.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Two P-51 Mustangs, an A-10 Thunderbolt II and an F-15D Eagle team up during an air show here Nov. 13 and 14. (U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Ray)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Two P-51 Mustangs, an A-10 Thunderbolt II and an F-15D Eagle team up during an air show here Nov. 13 and 14. (U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Ray)

Operators

The A-10 has been flown exclusively by the United States Air Force and its Air Reserve Components, the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and the Air National Guard (ANG). As of March 2008, 20 squadrons operate the A-10 or its OA-10 variant (nine USAF, six ANG, and five AFRC).

United States Air Force

* 23d Wing - Moody Air Force Base, Georgia
o 74th Fighter Squadron
o 75th Fighter Squadron
* 51st Fighter Wing - Osan AB, South Korea
o 25th Fighter Squadron
* 52d Fighter Wing - Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany
o 81st Fighter Squadron
* 53d Wing - Eglin AFB, Florida
o 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron (Nellis AFB, Nevada)
* 57th Wing - Nellis AFB, Nevada
o 66th Weapons Squadron
* 354th Fighter Wing - Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
o 355th Fighter Squadron (inactivated 2007)
* 355th Wing - Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona
o 354th Fighter Squadron
o 357th Fighter Squadron
o 358th Fighter Squadron

Four A-10s of the 111th Fighter Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, fly in formation during a refueling mission.
Four A-10s of the 111th Fighter Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, fly in formation during a refueling mission.

Air National Guard

* 103d Airlift Wing - Bradley ANGB, Connecticut (BRAC 2005 removed A-10 aircraft, given C-21 in 2007)
o 118th Fighter Squadron
* 104th Fighter Wing - Barnes ANGB, Massachusetts (BRAC 2005 saw unit transition from A-10 to F-15C in 2007)
o 131st Fighter Squadron
* 110th Fighter Wing - Battle Creek ANGB, Michigan(BRAC 2005 moves aircraft to 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge ANGB, Michigan)
o 172d Fighter Squadron
* 111th Fighter Wing - Willow Grove ARS, Pennsylvania (BRAC 2005 sees unit losing aircraft in 2012)
o 103d Fighter Squadron
* 124th Wing - Boise Air Terminal, Idaho
o 190th Fighter Squadron
* 175th Wing - Warfield ANGB, Martin State Airport, Maryland
o 104th Fighter Squadron
* 188th Fighter Wing - Fort Smith, Arkansas (Transitioned from F-16s to A-10s due to BRAC 2005)

Air Force Reserve Command

* 442d Fighter Wing - Whiteman AFB, Missouri
o 76th Fighter Squadron (Moody AFB, GA)
o 303d Fighter Squadron
* 917th Wing - Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
o 45th Fighter Squadron (Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ)
o 47th Fighter Squadron
* 926th Fighter Wing - NAS JRB New Orleans, Louisiana
o 706th Fighter Squadron (deactivated 2007 due to BRAC 2005)

More photos:

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany flies over central Germany on Feb. 17, 2000. Spangdahlem AB consists of the 81st Fighter Squadron, which flies the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and two F-16 Fighting Falcon squadrons, the 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Blake R. Borsic)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany flies over central Germany on Feb. 17, 2000. Spangdahlem AB consists of the 81st Fighter Squadron, which flies the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and two F-16 Fighting Falcon squadrons, the 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Blake R. Borsic)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia, April 5, 1999. Members of the 81st Fighter Squadron are deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in support of NATO Operation Allied Force. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia, April 5, 1999. Members of the 81st Fighter Squadron are deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in support of NATO Operation Allied Force. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, flies over southern Germany. A-10s are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. The A-10 has excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, flies over southern Germany. A-10s are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. The A-10 has excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany takes-off. A-10s are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. They can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings with 1.5-mile visibility. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles pilots can conduct their missions during darkness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stan Parker)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany takes-off. A-10s are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. They can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings with 1.5-mile visibility. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles pilots can conduct their missions during darkness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stan Parker)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Thurow)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Thurow)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo Staff Sgt. Steve Thurow)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo Staff Sgt. Steve Thurow)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OVER ALASKA -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska moves into position behind a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 168th Air Refueling Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard to commence refueling operations in support of Exercise Northern Edge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Richards)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OVER ALASKA -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska moves into position behind a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 168th Air Refueling Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard to commence refueling operations in support of Exercise Northern Edge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Richards)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- SUWON AIR BASE, South Korea -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II from the 25th Fighter Squadron taxies to a parking spot here after weapons load crew members safe the weapons and armaments Thursday, May 17, 1999. Units of the 51 Fighter Wing are normally based at Osan Air Base, but several currently operate at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea during runway renovations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Lance Cheung)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- SUWON AIR BASE, South Korea -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II from the 25th Fighter Squadron taxies to a parking spot here after weapons load crew members safe the weapons and armaments Thursday, May 17, 1999. Units of the 51 Fighter Wing are normally based at Osan Air Base, but several currently operate at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea during runway renovations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Lance Cheung)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Senior Airman Eric Garcia, an A-10 Thunderbolt II crew chief from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. It can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Senior Airman Eric Garcia, an A-10 Thunderbolt II crew chief from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. It can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany, drop away from a refueling tanker during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany, drop away from a refueling tanker during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission. The "Warthogs," deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II flies over a practice range near Al Udairi, Kuwait in support of Operation Southern Watch. This Maryland Air National Guard A-10 is dropping inert bombs during a practice run. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Orville Desjarlais)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II flies over a practice range near Al Udairi, Kuwait in support of Operation Southern Watch. This Maryland Air National Guard A-10 is dropping inert bombs during a practice run. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Orville Desjarlais)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Staff Sgt. John Deyoung, an aircraft mechanic from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is from the Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Penn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- Staff Sgt. John Deyoung, an aircraft mechanic from the 65th Operations Support Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, completes a post-flight inspection of an A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft in support of Operation Southern Watch. The A-10 is from the Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Penn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott W. Johnson)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron banks to the right after take off. Coalition forces in Afghanistan launched another offensive, dubbed Operation Valiant Strike, on March 20, aimed at villages and cave complexes east of Kandahar in the Sami Ghar mountains, defense officials said. A-10 pilots provide close air support for Army forces here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron banks to the right after take off. Coalition forces in Afghanistan launched another offensive, dubbed Operation Valiant Strike, on March 20, aimed at villages and cave complexes east of Kandahar in the Sami Ghar mountains, defense officials said. A-10 pilots provide close air support for Army forces here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Maintenance troops work on an A-10 Thunderbolt II on March 23 at a forward-deployed Operation Iraqi Freedom location. The tank-killing A-10 is affectionately known as the Warthog. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Maintenance troops work on an A-10 Thunderbolt II on March 23 at a forward-deployed Operation Iraqi Freedom location. The tank-killing A-10 is affectionately known as the Warthog. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An Air Force crew chief from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing inspects the cockpit of an A-10 Thunderbolt II on March 23 at a forward-deployed Operation Iraqi Freedom location. The A-10, known for its tank-killing prowess during Desert Storm, is a key ally for coalition ground forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An Air Force crew chief from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing inspects the cockpit of an A-10 Thunderbolt II on March 23 at a forward-deployed Operation Iraqi Freedom location. The A-10, known for its tank-killing prowess during Desert Storm, is a key ally for coalition ground forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing takes off for a mission into Iraq, March 29, 2003, from a forward-deployed location in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to end the regime of Saddam Hussien. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing takes off for a mission into Iraq, March 29, 2003, from a forward-deployed location in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to end the regime of Saddam Hussien. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot taxis into position for a "hot" refuel of his A-10. This was the first A-10 hot refuel in Iraq and the first time the R-14 fuel hydrant system was used in the hot-refuel process. The pilot and aircraft are with the 442nd Fighter Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which is deployed to Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot taxis into position for a "hot" refuel of his A-10. This was the first A-10 hot refuel in Iraq and the first time the R-14 fuel hydrant system was used in the hot-refuel process. The pilot and aircraft are with the 442nd Fighter Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which is deployed to Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II rolls to mark a target with simulated M-156 white phosphorus rockets as part of an aerial demonstration held here. The demonstration was for visiting U.S. civic, business, and industry leaders on the 2003 Joint Civilian Orientation Course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael D. Morford)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II rolls to mark a target with simulated M-156 white phosphorus rockets as part of an aerial demonstration held here. The demonstration was for visiting U.S. civic, business, and industry leaders on the 2003 Joint Civilian Orientation Course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael D. Morford)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly over the desert with LITENING, a precision targeting pod system. The pod, externally mounted to the aircraft, is equipped with a laser designator for precise delivery of laser-guided munitions and a laser rangefinder that provides information for various avionics systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly over the desert with LITENING, a precision targeting pod system. The pod, externally mounted to the aircraft, is equipped with a laser designator for precise delivery of laser-guided munitions and a laser rangefinder that provides information for various avionics systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- First Lt. Erik Axt, 81st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, touches down in his A-10 Thunderbolt II after flying a mission here Aug. 14 supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- First Lt. Erik Axt, 81st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, touches down in his A-10 Thunderbolt II after flying a mission here Aug. 14 supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Municipal Airport, Westfield Mass., Massachusetts Air National Guard, banks while flying accross the Mediterranean Sea enroute to a forward operating base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Municipal Airport, Westfield Mass., Massachusetts Air National Guard, banks while flying accross the Mediterranean Sea enroute to a forward operating base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA -- A pair of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Municipal Airport, Westfield Mass., Massachusetts Air National Guard, fly over the Mediterranean Sea enroute to a forward operating base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA -- A pair of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Municipal Airport, Westfield Mass., Massachusetts Air National Guard, fly over the Mediterranean Sea enroute to a forward operating base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bucher)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off here Nov. 17 to provide close-air support to the Army's 10th Mountain Division as they pursue Taliban and al-Qaida forces during Operation Mountain Resolve. The A-10 is from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off here Nov. 17 to provide close-air support to the Army's 10th Mountain Division as they pursue Taliban and al-Qaida forces during Operation Mountain Resolve. The A-10 is from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare over here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- A pilot in an A-10 Thunderbolt II drops a flare over here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- The pilot of an A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its cannon at a strategic target here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: KIRKUK, Iraq -- The pilot of an A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its cannon at a strategic target here Nov. 17 during Operation Ivy Cyclone. The operation is a combined-arms operation designed to root out and crush insurgents in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft takes part in a mission during Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft is armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and Mark 82 500-pound bombs.A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1990's -- An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft takes part in a mission during Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft is armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and Mark 82 500-pound bombs.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: ALEXANDRIA, La. -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fires its 30mm GAU-8A seven barrel gatling gun on targets at Clairborne Bombing and Gunnery Range in support of Hawgsmoke 2004, a biannual A-10 bombing and tactical gunnery competition. Severe weather canceled the competition April 30. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Conception)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: ALEXANDRIA, La. -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fires its 30mm GAU-8A seven barrel gatling gun on targets at Clairborne Bombing and Gunnery Range in support of Hawgsmoke 2004, a biannual A-10 bombing and tactical gunnery competition. Severe weather canceled the competition April 30. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Conception)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1970s -- The A-10 Thunderbolt in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: 1970s -- The A-10 Thunderbolt in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NAVAL AIR STATION OCEANA, Va. -- A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off for a flight demonstration at the 2004 "In Pursuit of Liberty" air show here Sept. 25. The air show showcased civilian and military aircraft from the nation's armed forces, which provided many flight demonstrations and static displays. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NAVAL AIR STATION OCEANA, Va. -- A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off for a flight demonstration at the 2004 "In Pursuit of Liberty" air show here Sept. 25. The air show showcased civilian and military aircraft from the nation's armed forces, which provided many flight demonstrations and static displays. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II releases chaff and flares during a close-air support mission May 5. A-10s are specially designed for close-air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. This aircraft is assigned to the 66th Weapons Squadron here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- An A-10 Thunderbolt II releases chaff and flares during a close-air support mission May 5. A-10s are specially designed for close-air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. This aircraft is assigned to the 66th Weapons Squadron here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: Four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly into Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Wednesday, March 22, 2006, to kick off the beginning of "Hawgsmoke 2006," the 30th anniversary of the Warthog. Hawgsmoke is a biennial bombing and tactical gunnery competition of the A-10, in which 20 squadrons worldwide come together to fly the Warthog and compete for the honor of the "Best of the Best" in ground attack and target destruction. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: Four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly into Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Wednesday, March 22, 2006, to kick off the beginning of "Hawgsmoke 2006," the 30th anniversary of the Warthog. Hawgsmoke is a biennial bombing and tactical gunnery competition of the A-10, in which 20 squadrons worldwide come together to fly the Warthog and compete for the honor of the "Best of the Best" in ground attack and target destruction. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its 30mm gun at a low-angle strafe as part of the 2006 Hawgsmoke competition, Thursday, March 23, 2006, at the Barry Goldwater Range at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its 30mm gun at a low-angle strafe as part of the 2006 Hawgsmoke competition, Thursday, March 23, 2006, at the Barry Goldwater Range at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II receives fuel from a KC-135E Stratotanker during a training mission Friday, April 14, 2006, over Tucson, Ariz. The A-10 is from the 358th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and the KC-135E is from the Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing at Bangor, Maine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II receives fuel from a KC-135E Stratotanker during a training mission Friday, April 14, 2006, over Tucson, Ariz. The A-10 is from the 358th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and the KC-135E is from the Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing at Bangor, Maine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., approaches a target on May 16, 2006, called in by a joint terminal air controller during urban combat air support training. The training took place in Deridder, La., where the 458th Combat Training Squadron from Fort Polk, La., has an agreement to allow flights over the city for more realistic urban conditions. The controllers are from Detachment 1, 458th CTS. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Jack Braden)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., approaches a target on May 16, 2006, called in by a joint terminal air controller during urban combat air support training. The training took place in Deridder, La., where the 458th Combat Training Squadron from Fort Polk, La., has an agreement to allow flights over the city for more realistic urban conditions. The controllers are from Detachment 1, 458th CTS. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission Oct. 29th from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") fighter: An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission Oct. 29th from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)

More images: A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") photo gallery


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