June 20, 2009: In Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force is working their butts off to support the increased operations on the ground. This can be seen by the record breaking number of hours (over 5,000) two squadrons (F-15E and A-10) flew in May. This is more than five times as many hours as a squadron would fly when not in combat. The A-10 squadron (the 74th) flies low altitude missions, while the F-15E outfit (the 336th Fighter Squadron) is an all-weather fighter bomber that delivers smart bombs. The high speed of the F-15E enables one or two aircraft to cover all of southern Afghanistan. However, things have been so busy, that there are often four or more F-15Es in the air to cover all the expected calls for smart bombs.
Earlier this year, another A-10 squadron (the 75th) set a record by flying 10,000 hours with their dozen A-10 aircraft (and 18 pilots) in a six month tour. Each pilot in the 75th averaged nearly a hundred hours a month. Each sortie averages about five hours, as the aircraft range all over southern Afghanistan, waiting for troops below to call for some air support.
For the last two years, pilots have been flying a new version of the A-10, the A-10C. The A-10 "Warthog" ground attack aircraft is popular with ground troops, which led to the "C" upgrade. The new goodies for the A-10C equip the pilot with the same targeting and fire control gadgets the latest fighters have. The new A-10C cockpit has all the spiffy color displays and easy to use controls.
The A-10, nicknamed "Warthog", or just "hog:, could always fly low and slow, and was designed, and armored, to survive lots of ground fire. The troops trust the A-10 more than the F-16, or any other aircraft used for ground support. The basic A-10 is a three decade old design, so the new additions are quite spectacular in comparison. New commo gear is installed as well, allowing A-10 pilots to share pix and vids with troops on the ground. The A-10 can now use smart bombs, making it a do-it-all aircraft for troops support.
While newly equipped A-10s are already showing up in combat zones, it will take several more years to upgrade all 350 A-10s in service. Beyond that, the air force is upgrading the engines and structures of the 1970s era aircraft. All the upgrades will cost about $13 million per aircraft. The air force has been trying to retire the ugly, and elderly, aircraft for two decades. But the A-10s are just too damn effective, and popular, especially when there's actually a war on.
The A-10 is a 23 ton, twin engine, single seat aircraft whose primary weapon is a multi-barrel 30mm cannon originally designed to fire armored piercing shells at Russian tanks. These days, the 1,174 30mm rounds are mostly high explosive. The 30mm cannon fires 12.7 ounce rounds at the rate of about 65 a second. The cannon is usually fired in one or two second bursts. In addition, the A-10 can carry seven tons of bombs and missiles. These days, the A-10 goes out with smart bombs (GPS and laser guided) and Maverick missiles. It can also carry a targeting pod, enabling the pilot to use high magnification day/night cameras to scour the area for enemy activity.
Cruising speed is 560 kilometers an hour, and the A-10 can slow down to about 230 kilometers an hour. In Afghanistan, two drop tanks are usually carried, to give the aircraft maximum time over the battlefield.