Skip to comments.Upgrades To Bring A-10 Into 21st Century
Posted on 06/24/2002 7:43:50 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
The Air Force is working on a series of upgrades to the A-10 Thunderbolt II that will add new avionics, digital communications links and satellite-guided precision weapons to the service's premier close-support aircraft.
The modifications are aimed at marrying advances in computer technology with the raw power of the largest, most powerful cannon ever mounted in an aircraft, the 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun. The Air Force plans to keep the A-10, which was first deployed in 1976, in service until 2028. A-10s are currently stationed in Bagram, Afghanistan, and played an important role supporting Army troops during the recent Operation Anaconda.
"The A-10 doesn't get the glory, but it gets the mission done and the Army couldn't do without it," said Lt. Col. Rhett Taylor, chief of the A-10 Weapons Systems Team at Air Combat Command, Langley AFB, Va.
"They did Anaconda," she said. "They're what saved the day."
The upgrades, which will encompass all of the service's 363 A-10s, will add the precision and standoff capability of the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser to an already potent arsenal of bombs and laser-guided missiles.
"You're taking an analog airplane into the digital world," Taylor said.
Lockheed Martin Systems Integration, Owego, N.Y., is the primary contractor for the A-10 Precision Engagement Modification, as the upgrade is known. Currently in full-scale development, the program has a full value of about $285 million, said Jeff Zeppetello, a support contractor to the program who works for Anser Analytic Services, Inc., a research institute based in Arlington, Va.
Originally, the program was projected to cost around $380 million, Zeppetello said, but Lockheed Martin and the Air Force shaved that figure about $100 million by combining several subprograms into the Precision Engagement Modification.
The system will "vastly improve precision engagement" for the A-10, allowing it to fire modern precision weapons from higher altitudes and farther away than is currently possible, he said.
The new displays and an upfront controller will "allow the pilot to see exactly in front of him and operate the controls on the upfront controller versus heads-down in the cockpit," he said. `We are going to be definitely high tech in this battlefield."
Produced by Republic Fairchild, the A-10 has the distinction of being the only U.S. aircraft designed specifically for close air supportproviding firepower to ground troops engaging an enemy force. Known as the Warthog, it is beloved by ground troops for its ability to loiter for long periods in a target area and destroy anything from enemy soldiers to the heaviest tanks. A-10 pilots are fiercely loyal to their craft, an ungainly looking, subsonic creature with a legendary ability to absorb battle damage and still make it home.
Taylor and Zeppetello noted that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper was a key supporter of the new modifications while he was commander of Air Combat Command.
A-10 advocates like to emphasize that their airplane, while often overshadowed by the service's sleeker fighters, such as the F-15 and F-16, is second to none in the close air support mission. A-10s are responsible for covering 30 percent of the Air Force's Combat Search and Rescue missions and performing 30 percent of its close air support duties, Rhett said.
"It's low profile because we're not unmanned and we're not stealthy," she said. "We just get the job done."
"What the A-10 gives that the F-16 can't, and we're not degrading the F-16, but the firepower that the A-10 carries and the loitering time can do a lot more than what an F-16 can ever think of doing," Zeppetello said.
An A-10 can loiter from two-and-a-half to four hours, depending on how it's configured, he said. Then it can top off at an aerial tanker and stay another four hours. Fast moving jets, on the other hand, measure their loiter times over a target in minutes, not hours.
Paving the way
The precision engagement upgrades, scheduled to begin installation in early fiscal 2006, will follow two programs that are already underway to get the A-10 ready for the new cockpit. The first is a better navigation system that combines a modern Inertial Navigation System with the Global Positioning System.
Zeppetello said three quarters of the A-10 fleet had already received the new INS/GPS system, which replaces the aircraft's old "basic INS 101 system."
The other modification is an Integrated Fire Flight Control Computer, which gives the A-10 the capability to deliver advanced precision weapons.
"Those are all precursors to the Precision Engagement modification," Zeppetello said. "Those are our baselines that have to be done prior to the PE modification."
The boxes for the integrated computer are already in production. Installation is slated to begin in February 2003 and take about two years, he said.
Desert Storm A-10 Mission Results Targets Confirmed Destroyed
Command Vehicles 249
Military Structures 112
Helicopters (Air to Air) 2
Scud Missiles 51
Anti-Aircraft Artillery 50
Command Post 28
Frog Missiles 11
Fuel Tanks 8
Fighters (Air to Ground) 10
A pair of Thunderbolts, new and old, closing with the enemy and tearing his liver out since 06MAY1941. Enjoy.
Maybe they mean the only current US aircraft designed specifically for close air support. Although the AD was actually originally designed as a divebomber. Too bad they can't modernize these! See http://skyraider.org.
I'll see your 30mm and raise a 105 (AC130). I'm thinking it also has twin 40mm, too.