January 16, 2009:
U.S. plans to withdraw half its 48 AH-64 helicopter gunships from South Korea, while adding a dozen A-10C ground attacks aircraft, have been modified. The A-10s are not available, because so many of them are having their worn out (cracks are developing) wings replaced. So the air force is sending a dozen F-16s to do the job.
The A-10 was designed for low level strafing, using a 30mm cannon, but F-16s, with a new, and more powerful, gun sight, have proved to be very effective at strafing. However, F-16s moves faster than the A-10, and is more difficult to control on the deck. That's a necessary trade-off, because the F-16 is a multi-mission aircraft, while the A-10 just does ground support.
Three years ago, an F-16 pilot was killed when, on a low level strafing run in Iraq, he was momentarily distracted, and his aircraft crashed. The U.S. Air Force considers it an acceptable risk to come in that low to use its 20mm cannon on a ground target. Because of safety concerns, pilots are not allowed to perform that kind of maneuver during peacetime training. Since it's now wartime, such training is allowed. Last year, an F-16 was practicing firing at ground targets at night (where much of the action takes place in Iraq), became momentarily distracted, and shot up an SUV on a nearby highway.
While F-16 pilots are willing to come in low and use their cannon, the F-16 was not designed for this sort of thing. The aircraft is too fast. An F-16 coming in low to use cannon on ground targets is going at least 400 kilometers an hour. An A-10 can slow down to 250 kilometers an hour. In addition, the A-10 is designed to more easily maneuver down low and slow, and is armored to better survive ground fire. Not so the F-16. But the air force insists the F-16 can do the job, and pilots die as a result.
What the F-16 can do is carry a dozen or more smart bombs, and in that role it is very useful to the ground troops. The newly upgraded A-10s can also carry smart bombs.