Thunderbolt II Tuesday

Thunderbolt II Tuesday

The A-10 isn’t an airplane. It’s a terrifyingly effective ball peen hammer designed from the onset to do one job and one job only: support the guys on the ground. At the beginning that meant it was to blunt the tank attacks cold war planners knew the Russians would send rolling across Europe in waves. At the end, that mean the Wart Hog would be called upon to elminate anything on the ground the Army wanted removed from its path.

In reality the A-10 is a cannon. A 20 foot long, 4,000 pound multi-barreled 30 mm Gatling gun with wings. It’s a rudimentary delivery truck that can hose a target with 60 rounds of ammunition a second while carrying 16,000 pounds of bombs, several times the bomb load of a B-17, under it’s Hershey bar wings. The cannon shells laugh at armor plate and the bombs, all delivered low and slow, always come right down the targetís throat.

Today, the A-10, formally known as the Thunderbolt II, is the darling of the battlefield, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, if Saddam had kept his mouth shut and his head down, the A-10 would have been totally retired in 1992.

The Air Force adapted the airplane much against the wishes of a huge number of commanders who thought only in terms of high-and-fast. What, they asked, was the mighty Air Force doing with a 450 knot, hyper-ugly, ungainly toad that was designed to get low, stay low and, like it’s WWII namesake, the Thunderbolt, always bring its pilots home? The military was in love with fast-movers and accepted the A-10 only under immense pressure from forces outside its own command structure.

When the threat in Europe evaporated, the Hog was doomed and its retirement papers were drawn up. It was official: it would be eliminated and thankfully hidden from sight by 1992 Then Saddam decided to be a bad boy and the A-10 was back in business. Iraq has proven over and over that the original concepts of the airplane were not only sound, but much needed.

The A-10 is rudimentary for a lot of good reasons. A weapon is only of value if it can survive the battlefield and be easily maintained. It has been said that a .22 bullet can bring down most jets because of their complexity and dense systems. Not so the A-10. It’s systems are few, extremely simple, widely space and have mechanical back-ups. Its engines and pilot are wrapped in titanium armor and it from the drawing board it was designed to come home with half of one wing missing.

The Wart Hog is also not fast for a lot of good reasons. In battle, accuracy reigns supreme and speed works against accuracy. The ability to get right in the bad guy’s face without him hearing you coming with enough hang-time to make certain every bullet and every bomb counts means you don’t have to come back a second time. And the bad guy doesn’t get a second chance.

The good guys on the ground love the Hog. The bad guys hate it. And, by the way, now even the Air Force loves it. Nothing like a couple of wars to prove the effectiveness of a weapon is there? Current plans are to keep it onboard until at least 2028. So, any dictator or foreign government who is reading this and has the urge to thumb their nose at freedom had better be careful: the Wart Hog is watching.

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