This awesome shot, showing a A-10C Warthog bristling with a diverse array of weaponry, and its belly a sooted and greasy mess from continued firing of its GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon, is a reminder of just how relevant this aircraft still is today. And if the USAF had its way years ago, it wouldn't have had the chance to prove that it can be among the most deadly platforms when it comes to tearing apart Islamic State fighters and their material in Iraq and Syria, and it has been very busy doing just that.
Seen under its wings from right to left are a pair of AIM-9M Sidewinders, a AN/AAQ-28 LITENING targeting pod, a 500lb GBU-12 laser guided bomb, a 500lb GBU-54 Laser JDAM, a 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM, a AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, a LAU-131 2.75 inch rocket pod with seven rockets (or laser guided rockets), and another GBU-12 to round out the load-out. Of course, there's also the big drum of ammunition we can't see that holds 1,174 rounds of coke bottle-sized PGU-14 armored piercing incendiary or PGU-13 explosive incendiary ammunition. For ripping up the Islamic State, the PGU-13 is the flavor of choice.
The inclusion of the 2,000lb JDAM in this load-out is somewhat rare, but we have seen it before in the Iraq and Syria area of operations. Overall, this mix of weapons is a reminder of how versatile the Warthog is, as it gives the jet the flexibility to take out everything from moving heavy armor, such as tanks, to large strategic structures, such as multi-story buildings, to small groups of combatants or even a single ISIS member riding a moped. Additionally, it can attack targets in any weather as the JDAMs don't require laser designation to hit fixed targets. But even then, the A-10 can usually get down below the muck in most instances and bring its rockets, Avenger cannon and Mavericks to bear on the enemy—a feat jet fighters have a much harder time accomplishing.
The nearly orphaned A-10 fleet has been only second to the F-15E fleet when it comes to releasing the most weapons on ISIS from on high. Military.com's report from June states:
"Here are the figures for the 10 types of U.S. aircraft flying combat sorties: F-15E Strike Eagle, 14,995 weapons released; A-10 Thunderbolt II, 13,856; B-1 Lancer, 9,195; F/A-18 Super Hornets, 8,920; F-16 Fighting Falcon, 7,679; B-52 Stratofortress, 5,041; MQ-1 Predator drone, 2,274; MQ-9 Reaper, 2,188; AV-8B, 1,650; and F-22, 1,535.
Broken down by aircraft type, fighter and attack planes dropped a total of 48,635 weapons, or 72 percent of the total; bombers released 14,236, or 21 percent; and drones dropped 4,462, or 7 percent, according to the statistics."
It is also worth noting that each 100 rounds fired from the A-10's cannon is considered a weapons release.
These numbers don't tell the whole story, such as how many aircraft of each type have been deployed on average to the region over the course of the operation, or how many hours each type has flown over the enemy territory and so on, but the metric is still highly significant and telling. The fact that the A-10 also does the job cheaper than any other manned tactical aircraft on that list is important to note, as is the fact that it can engage the enemy under conditions other platforms simply cannot.
It's true, putting a weapon on a set of coordinates can be done by many platforms, and that is a good thing. But for close air support and counter insurgency operations, the A-10 has a much wider envelope to play in when it comes to what it can attack and under what conditions than other fixed-wing platforms. And that dirty warthog in the picture above is a testament to the fact that sometimes a hard-hitting cannon attached to an aircraft that can fly low and comparatively slow is the most surgical, and sometimes the only tool for a given job.
The USAF's latest andtotally ludicrous war to kill the A-10, which started following sequestration, seems to have been largely won, as the type is now slated to stay in the Air Force's inventory till 2030. Still, the USAF's attempts to undermine the A-10 community's future capacity to wage war continues. At this point in time, it looks like the hog will prevail in this battle as well, but don't expect the USAF stop its A-10 abuse.
But considering the flying service has tried to kill the jet time and time again, starting not long after it acquired the type decades ago, the Warthog's track record of surviving on battlefield Capitol Hill is even better than over actual war zones. The A-10's plight has also been helped uncannily over and over by the course of world events. Just when the USAF brass says they can get by without the aircraft and that it is not needed for battles of the future, it proves itself as invaluable in combat.
The A-10 is truly a "blue collar" plane. One that works tirelessly for its very survival and in doing so it wreaks absolute destruction on America's enemies. That's precisely why the most beautiful A-10 is one that is filthy and banged up from constant attacks on the bad guys. In essence, a begrimed and grungy Warthog means the enemy is dying, our allies on the ground are living, and the A-10 is proving its worth so that it can live to fight another day.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com