A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II
The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. The primary mission of the A-10 is to provide day and night close air combat support for friendly land forces and to act as forward air controller (FAC) to coordinate and direct friendly air forces in support of land forces. The A-10 has a secondary mission of supporting search and rescue and Special Forces operations. It also possesses a limited capability to perform certain types of interdiction. All of these missions may take place in a high or low threat environment.
The A/OA-10 aircraft was specifically developed as a close air support aircraft with reliability and maintainability as major design considerations. The Air Force requirements documents emphasized payload, low altitude flying capability, range and loiter capability, low speed maneuverability and weapons delivery accuracy. The A-10 is slow enough to be an observation plane. This greatly increases the A-10's effectiveness at protecting ground troops.
The A/OA-10 is a single place, pressurized, low wing and tail aircraft with two General Electric TF-34-100/A turbo-fan engines, each with a sea level static thrust rating of approximately 9000 pounds. The engines are installed in nacelles mounted on pylons extending from the fuselage just aft of and above the wing. Two vertical stabilizers are located at the outboard tips of the horizontal stabilizers. The forward retracting tricycle landing gear incorporates short struts and a wide tread. The nose wheel retracts fully into the fuselage nose. The main gear retracts into streamlined fairing on the wing with the lower portion of the wheel protruding to facilitate emergency gear-up landings.
The A-10's survivability in the close air support arena greatly exceeds that of previous Air Force aircraft. The A-10 is designed to survive even the most disastrous damage and finish the mission by landing on an unimproved airfield. Specific survivability features include titanium armor plated cockpit, redundant flight control system separated by fuel tanks, manual reversion mode for flight controls, foam filled fuel tanks, ballistic foam void fillers, and a redundant primary structure providing "get home" capability after being hit.
All of the A-10's glass is bulletproof and the cockpit itself is surrounded by a heavy tub of titanium. Titanium armor protects both the pilot and critical areas of the flight control system. This titanium "bathtub" can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 37mm in size. The front windscreen can withstand up to a 23mm projectile. Fire retardant foam protects the fuel cells which are also self sealing in the event of puncture.
The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft. Designers separated all of the crucial battle and flight systems. The wheels can roll in their pods, which lets the plane perform belly landings without significant damage to the aircraft. Dual engines are mounted away from the Warthog's fuselage; if one is destroyed, the other can propel the craft to safety. Dual vertical stabilizers shield the hot exhaust from Russian-designed heat seeking missiles. The A-10 has two hydraulic flight control systems, backed up by a manual flight control system. This redundancy allows the pilot to control a battle damaged aircraft, even after losing all hydraulic power. Furthermore, redundant primary structural and control surfaces enhance survivability. Lastly, the long low-set wings are designed to allow flight, even if half a wing is completely blown off. No other modern aircraft -- including the F-16 -- can survive such punishment. The wings themselves are set low to allow for more weaponry to fit beneath the aircraft.
The General Electric Aircraft Armament Subsystem A/A49E-6 (30 millimeter Gun System) is located in the forward nose section of the fuselage. The gun system consists of the 30mm Gatling gun mechanism, double-ended linkless ammunition feed, storage assembly and hydraulic drive system. The General Electric GAU-8/A 30mm seven barrel cannon, specifically designed for the A-10, provides unmatched tank killing capability. The gun fires armor-piercing projectiles capable of penetrating heavy armor. It also fires a high explosive incendiary round, which is extremely effective against soft skinned targets like trucks. The cannon fires at a rate of 4,200 rounds per minute. The A-10's maneuverability, teamed with the gun's accuracy, allows the pilot quick reaction with lethal effects. Other weapons include the AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), compatible single-seat cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision. The ACES-II ejection seat safely operates from 518 miles per hour down to zero speed and zero altitudes.
Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation systems, computer-aided fire control and weapons delivery systems, electronic countermeasures, target penetration aids and self-protection systems. The A-10 employs both electronic and infrared countermeasures against enemy weapons systems. The weapons delivery system incorporates a heads-up display that provides the pilot with references for flight control and weapons employment. The weapons delivery systems include head-up displays that indicate airspeed, altitude and dive angle on the windscreen, a low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system (LASTE) which provides constantly computing impact point freefall ordnance delivery; and Pave Penny laser-tracking pods under the fuselage.
The A-10/OA-10 have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. The A-10 has half the turning radius of the Air Force's other primary CAS aircraft, the F-16. After initially leaving a target, the A-10 can turn around and hit the same target again, all in around 7 seconds. Due to its large combat radius, the Thunderbolt II can loiter for extended periods of time, allowing for the coordination required to employ within yards of friendly forces. They can operate under 1,000-foot ceilings (300 meters) with 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) visibility. Using night vision goggles, A-10/ OA-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness. The A-10s highly accurate weapons delivery system makes it effective against all ground targets including tanks and other armored vehicles.
The aircraft is capable of worldwide deployment and operation from austere bases with minimal support equipment. Their short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. In addition to its survivability, the A-10 has the ability to land on unimproved airfields and be flown and maintained near Army ground troops. Highly effective and efficient in combat, the A-10 is capable of sustaining operations on unimproved airfields near ground troops -- keys to success in conducting small operations against hostile forces. The A-10's rapid re-fueling and re-arming capability allows it to operate from forward bases close to the front lines. It is also capable of refueling in the air.