July 29, 2015:
The American A-10 ground attack aircraft recently reminded everyone that it can land pretty much anywhere. On July 20th, four A-10s practiced landing at a Cold War era airfield in Poland that that has been decommissioned since 2000. The cracked and crumbling runway was in bad shape from lack of maintenance. The last Polish units stationed there mainly used helicopters and conditions at the former Warsaw Pact airfield were always substandard for fixed wing aircraft. Not a problem for the A-10, which is nearly immune to FOD (Foreign Object Damage), usually caused by trash or debris being sucked into the engine air intakes during takeoffs and landings, thanks to its engines and their air intakes being mounted above the fuselage, far from the surface of the runway. The A-10 was built to absorb ground fire and keep flying, which helps dealing with sub-standard airfields. Thus the aircraft also has a more sturdy landing gear. All this makes the A-10 the perfect aircraft to deploy in such a location.
The long abandoned airfield had no control tower, lightning or runway markings anymore. The A-10 and the U.S. Air Force was ready for this as well. A Combat Controllers (CCT) team was sent in. These teams are part of U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and are trained to parachute near such a decrepit airfield, ensure that the airfield can handle the weight of the aircraft and the runway is not obstructed, mark the airfield, and then control the landings and takeoffs, in lieu of a proper control tower.
By having A-10s land and take off for night operations in such austere conditions, the United States is showing its NATO allies that it can deploy aircraft anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere, on a long forgotten ruin of a former Warsaw Pact airfield. The A-10s involved are part of the squadron (twelve A-10s) in Poland as a part of the European Theater Security Package, which is supporting Operation Atlantic Resolve, and are stationed in the Lask Air Base.
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 made of depleted uranium through the thin top armor of cold war era main battle tanks. However, currently it mostly uses HEI (High explosive incendiary) ammunition for its cannon, as armored targets are rare in the current conflicts where the A-10 is used. In addition, the A-10 can carry seven tons of bombs and missiles. These days the A-10 are often equipped 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. It can also carry two drop tanks which give the aircraft more fuel and maximum time over the battlefield.
The Operation Atlantic Resolve is an ongoing effort of United States in demonstrating its continued commitment to security of NATO allies in Europe in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine. The efforts include augmenting the air, ground and naval presence in the region, in addition to enhancing the scale of previously scheduled NATO exercises. ---Adam Szczepanik