Go Ugly Early [A-10 Thunderbolt]

I have finally found the strength to admit it.

I was 25 years old when I realized that I’m not really a man at heart, but rather a 5.8m long Gatling gun strapped onto an 11 ton airframe. All my life has been a lie but I’m setting that right today. I was designed to kill Soviet tanks. From now on, call me “Warthog”. That’s my real name. I’m having plastic surgeons attach a GAU-8 Avenger 30 millimeter rotary cannon, 540Kg of titanium armor, and two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines to my body. Sgt. Major Fairchild said I’m fucking stupid and I can’t be a jet, but I’m beautiful and I AM a goddamn jet. I present to you, the Ugly Early:



Let me give you a little background on this beast, and what's happening around it. The A-10 Thunderbolt 11 is a ground-attack airplane — the Air Force’s only jet designed solely for such missions. The twin-engine fighter was developed during the Cold War to destroy Warsaw Pact armor in the event of a large scale war in Europe. Basically the Soviets had good tanks, and more importantly, they had them in vast quantities. Its arsenal of rockets, missiles, bombs and mainly the powerful 30-millimeter cannon destroyed huge numbers of Iraqi tanks during the first Gulf War, and the plane went on to fly regular missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
 
 
The A-10 Warthog, an endangered species

The Warthog flies slow and looks ugly as Hell (this is the general opinion, I love this plane), but it was cheap to build — about $13 million in the early 1980s — and its turbofan engines sip small amounts of fuel. The best feature is that the plane is essentially a flying gun that’s super-lethal against anything on the ground, your mum included. In recent years, it’s also been upgraded with new sensors, wings and more advanced targeting systems.
  
 
 
Now think of it this way - while all those other hotshot fancy-pants jets are out there flying around doing fruity-ass loop-de-loops, feathering their hair and listening to "Danger Zone" with pretentious extravagant nicknames like "Eagle", "Falcon", "Tomcat", and "Raptor", the A-10 is the fucking Warthog.  Have you ever seen a warthog before?  It ain't pretty:

Squeeeeeee!!!

It's also also so heavily armored that it can withstand direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 37mm in size, can survive having a 2002 VW Beetle launched at it at extremely high velocity by a Russian-made Volkswagen Cannon, and has heat-shielded engines (and sundry other countermeasures).
 
 
A-10 maintenance members from the 392 Air Expeditionary Wing inspect their aircraft for any additional damages after it was hit by an Iraqi missile in the right engine. The A-10 made it back to the base safely.
 
 
But the Air Force is faced with a dilemma. Its main jet planned for the coming decades is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy multi-role warplane equipped for both air-to-air and ground-attack missions. The F-35, which is still in development, could eventually replace most of the Air Force’s fighter fleet.
 
At a cost of way more than $500 billion just to develop and build, the F-35 is the most expensive military project ever. (A single F-35 costs more than $110 million.) The Air Force is also being ordered by Congress to trim billions from its share of the defense budget.

As of November 2014, 115 of these planes were already built

As I was researching about the developments of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, I noticed that many military and ex-military man say hands down the Warthog is the best air-to-ground airplane. It might be true watching it from the attacking side of things, but it is pretty fucked when it comes to fight against AAs. From the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the biggest threat to them proved to be tactical SAMs. Two A-10s where shot down by SA-13s, one by an SA-6 and one by an SA-16 (shoulder fired missile).

SA-6 aka "The three fingers of death". It's been around since 1970 and is still a pain in the ass

The thing that shot down the Malaysian airliner? That was an SA-11, a generation beyond the SA-6. Let's look at this little nightmare for a moment. It's on tracked vehicles so it will be right there with the tanks. It can be set up to fire in 5 minutes. Max range is 40km. Maximum altitude is somewhere around low earth orbit. Minimum altitude is 15m. Kill probability is upwards of 90%. Your best hope is to put a piece of dirt between you and the missile. This is no "tailpipe bender" either. It carries a 150 pound warhead that will just plain ruin your day. When Russia and Georgia had their little spat in 2008, these shot down a TU-22M bomber and three SU-25s. In case you didn't know, the SU-25 is the Russian equivalent of the A-10.

The Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO reporting name: "Frogfoot")

The US needs something that can do air-to-ground as its primary mission with a secondary air-to-air mission. Most importantly it has to be survivable against 4th generation air defenses. Even if you think they won't fight Russia or China in the next 10-20 years, they may very well fight someone who has their stuff. Because they will fight somebody, they don't know who yet, but they will, because 'Murica.

What is that aircraft? I don't know for sure. It may or may not be an F-35 but it is definitely not an A-10. The A-10 has no air-to-air capability to speak of and it is most definitely not survivable against 4th generation SAMs. Unless its flaming wreckage happens to land on top of the bad guys, it will not get much close air support done if double-digit missiles (SA-10 or newer) are in the neighborhood.

"The F-35's blind spot will get it gunned every time" -Test Pilot

There’s one big problem. The F-35 is not particularly good at what it’s designed to do and certainly can’t replicate the A-10’s performance. The JSF is stealthy, which is okay for avoiding detection and sneaking past enemies before destroying them at long range.
 
But in a close-range fight, the F-35 is dead.
 
The reason is how its cockpit is designed. Instead of a bubble-canopy like the A-10’s, the F-35's windscreen looks like a giant clamshell. This means an F-35 pilot can see out of the front and sides of the cockpit, but not the back. That’s a huge problem in a fast-moving dogfight, and equally problematic while supporting ground troops. A JSF flier could never get the same view of the battlefield that allowed the Warthog jockies to save all those soldiers.
  
No line of sight to the rear, which is blocked by the pilot’s seat and the plane’s upper fuselage spine

Still, the F-35 will eventually replace the A-10 and be tasked with carrying out the same ground-attack missions currently assigned to the Warthog.
But the JSF just can’t do the job. Besides having a terrible view of the battlefield, the F-35 is also too fast and lightly built to loiter over a hot ambush zone — and its 25-millimeter gun comes with just 180 rounds, compared to the more than 1,100 bullets an A-10 carries.
Final verdict to this whole A-10 vs. F-35 thing: It's complicated



So ultimately the question is not "A-10 or F-35"? I don't envision the US Congress giving up on the F-35 at this point. The real question is "F-35 and A-10 or just F-35"? The answer is: how much does the US want to spend?

Cheers

DHR_000x

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