Just five years ago, the US Air Force A-10 fleet looked to be dead and buried as the type was offered up for divestment as a cost cutting measure. Yet lawmakers in Washington blocked the USAF from divesting itself of the A-10 and now the ‘Warthog’ looks safe well into the 2030s.
The A-10 Common Fleet Initiative will keep the aircraft alive and credible into the future. The USAF currently has 281 A-10s, so needs to have these available if the call comes for hig-end conflict. From a survivability perspective, the A-10 can move outside some of the threats if its pilots use standoff weapons from longer ranges. The A-10 can then act as a truck that sends weapons in, softening the target area before swinging into its more traditional mission.
A-10 pilots have recently started wearing an improved helmet mounted sight, known as HObIT (Hybrid Optical-based Inertial Tracker), which more accurately tracks pilot head movements. This is an upgrade for the Thales Visionix Scorpion helmet that A-10 pilots have been wearing for the past five years.
Adding the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) started this summer, and this gives the A-10 that new standoff capability. With a new multi-target engagement capability, the ‘Warthog’ will theoretically be able to target 18 weapons individually, making it a unique aircraft that fits well into the fourth/fifth-generation mix. ‘We’ll be able to carry four SDBs on a single hardpoint,’ said a 422nd TES pilot, adding that traditionally the ‘Warthog’ has only been able to carry a single weapon on each station until now.
Another plan is to pull out the central ‘six-pack’ of analogue flight instruments in the cockpit and replace this with a single large electronic primary flight display, which will work in conjunction with the two older multi-function color displays. This will likely be combined with a significant core processor upgrade, which will give the A-10 a huge jump in data speed and storage capacity.
There’s a host of other items on the A-10 shopping list including Link 16 data link connectivity to run alongside the existing but rather basic Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL). The type is also receiving a Synthetic Aperture Radar pod to supplement the existing targeting pod capabilities. Ongoing industry solutions are being presented along with currently fielded air force options, and these are expected to be reviewed this winter with flight-testing in 2020.
The air force says the A-10 is safe in the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2021 defense budget, and that while the overall numbers in service may reduce at some point, the ‘Warthog’ is set to not only remain in the inventory, but it will also be transformed into a potent supporter of the fifth-generation front line.
A full version of this feature with more details on A-10 upgrade plans will appear in the November issue of Combat Aircraft.