Weapon Systems

US Air Force sees A-10 as necessity


Designed to provide close air support, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is ideally suited for the future of Agile Combat Employment.

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A-10 Thunderbolt IIs sit on the flight line in Wyoming July 20, 2020. [US Air Force]
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs sit on the flight line in Wyoming July 20, 2020. [US Air Force]

In service for over 40 years, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is a versatile subsonic attack aircraft suited for the US Air Force's Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concept.

The ACE concept shifts emphasis from centralized, large bases to dispersed cluster bases. It organizes the Air Force's fleet around versatile aircraft that are both easy to repair and maintain and capable of conducting all-weather operations, day or night.

The concept focuses on smaller scale ground operations augmented by close air support from fighter and attack aircraft, such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

This innovative approach fosters a flexible force that can respond rapidly to a diverse array of threats, anywhere in the world, according to the Air Force.

Dispersed bases complicate adversary planning and further the survivability of US forces.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II's short take-off and landing (STOL) capabilities in austere environments make its integration into the ACE concept a necessity for the US Air Force.

The A-10 was specifically designed to provide close air support, and its STOL capabilities permit operations near front lines.

Flying Tank

The aircraft's ruggedness also contributes to its ability to operate under ACE.

Affectionately nicknamed the "Flying Tank," the A-10 Thunderbolt II is encased in 540kg of titanium armor, which enables it to absorb damage while returning fire.

The A-10 can survive "direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm," according to the Air Force.

The aircraft possesses a range of 1,287km and is capable of both long loiter times and operations under 304-meter ceilings.

Its armament includes general-purpose bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, (JDAMs), AGM-65 Mavericks, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, rockets and illumination flares, as well as the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary autocannon.

While prized for its attack capabilities, the A-10 Thunderbolt II can fulfill a second, critical role as a Forward Air Controller-Airborne (FAC-A) becaue of its ruggedness and advanced survivability.

FAC-A aircraft are responsible for directing attacks by other close air support aircraft on ground targets -- a vital capability as the ACE concept emphasizes high levels of communication and coordination by close air support aircraft.

The A-10's ability to withstand direct hits, combined with its long loiter times and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, makes it ideal for directing operations by fighter aircraft and monitoring action on the front lines by ground forces.

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