The US Air Force has announced its plans to upgrade the A-10 "Warthog's" targeting capability under the Precision Engagement Program. It is still undecided what type of structural work is needed to extend the service life of A-10s to 28,000 hours, so it can keep flying until 2028. The A-10 was originally intended to have a service life of 8,000 hours. Pilots have always wanted more powerful engines, but now more than ever since they are now operating at higher altitudes than originally designed due to doctrinal changes to avoid low-altitude air defense weapons and flight time over in the mountains of Afghanistan. Compounding matters is that the numbers of other US combat aircraft types in the Middle East have been decreasing while the use of the A-10s has increased with greater demands for close air support over the course of the past six months.
Upgrades include new multifunctional cockpit displays, situational awareness data links, digital stores management, the 1760 databus, helmet-mounted sighting system, and two targeting pods, the Litening AT and Sniper XR, plus new engine pylons. Both pods provide laser spot tracker, FLIR, CCD-TV, and laser target designation capability. Once installation is complete, the A-10 will be able to deliver JDAM bombs, Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser, and self-designate for laser-guided bombs. Pod adoption is also expected to help avoid fratricide incidents through the use of better day and IR sensors; A-10 pilots have had to ID targets with binoculars and NVGs.
One new weapon that may complement the rebuilt Warthog is a rebuilt Maverick missile. The Air Force plans to evaluate a lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) version of Maverick in early 2005. LOAL Maverick will incorporate a GPS receiver and a digital datalink so the missile can be fired at GPS-coordinates without a visual lock on a target. Once launched, pilots would be able to update and refine the missile's aim point through a video feed sent back on the datalink. The upgrade would allow the Maverick to be used at ranges of up to 35 kilometers; current versions max out at 10 kilometers. Upgrades would cost between $60-$70,000 for each missile, plus a one-time modification of the launcher of around $40-50,000. Raytheon has also proposed a version of Maverick with a booster-strapon that would increase launch range between 130-160 kilometers. Of course LOAL Maverick also gives the missile a new lease on life since the baseline Maverick is slated to be replaced by the tri-service Common Missile with a 16 kilometer range. The A-10 is a major user of the Maverick --Doug Mohney