The Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, is the first USAF aircraft developed specially to provide aerial fire in support of ground troops. The aircraft is designed to be re-fuelled, re-armed, and serviced with minimal equipment.
Its short take off and landing capability permit operation from airstrips close to the front lines. The A-10 Thunderbolt II is also known as the Warthog, the Flying Gun and the Tankbuster.
USAF AX (Attack-Experimental) program was initiated in 1967 to obtain aircraft optimised for close air support and antitank operations. Fairchild-Republic YA-10A won fly-off competition against Northop YA-9A. Deliveries to USAF started in march 1976- 5 months behind original schedule. The A‑10 is designed around the GAU-8/A 30 mm seven- barrelled cannon, which is the world’s most powerful airborne gun. The GAU-8/A fires armour-piercing rounds with depleted uranium cores.
The gun has a maximum effective range of about 1800 m. However, the principal weapon of the A-10 is the AGM-65 Maverick missile. Survivability is the key to the shape of the A-10. Engines are mounted high on the rear fuselage where they are shrouded from ground fire from most angels by either the wings or tailplane. Turbofan engines were chosen to power aircraft because they give off less heat than conventional engines. Titanium armour bathtubs protect pilot and the central controls against enemy fire. The aircraft can survive direct hits from armour-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm.
Self-sealing fuel cells are filled with a foam to prevent tank explosion. All A-10’s controls are duplicated and designed to work even when hydraulic pressure is lost due to enemy fire. The A-10/OA-10 have excellent manoeuvrability at low air speeds and altitude. A-10 was designed for rapid and easy maintenance. The Thunderbolt II can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. A built-in ladder allows the pilot to enter or exit the aircraft without assistance. Many of the aircraft’s parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers.
Delivery of aircraft to USAF units began in 1976 and ended in 1984.Over 350 A-10 aircraft are in service with the US Air Force, Air Combat Command, the US Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. In 2005, the US Air Force officially launched the Precision Engagement Program for upgrade A/OA-10 fleet to A-10C version. War service
The A-10 was first time in combat during Persian Gulf War in 1991. In the Gulf War, A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles. Thunderbolts were credited with destruction of about 1000 Iraqi tanks and over 1000 artillery pieces. Two Thunderbolt II air-to-air kills during Gulf War were gained using the 30 mm cannon. Only six aircrafts were lost in the war, all to ground-launched enemy missiles.
A-10s again saw combat service in the 1999 in Kosovo, in later stages of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and in the invasion of Iraq.