March 20, 2010:
The first three A-10C ground attack aircraft have arrived in South Korea. This new version of the A-10 first entered combat in Iraq three years ago. The last decade has been a busy time for the A-10, as it proved to be one of the more useful ground support aircraft around. The air force wanted to increase the number of A-10s in South Korea (currently 30), but has been unable because so many are in Iraq and Afghanistan, or undergoing upgrades (to A-10Cs) or refurbishment (to replace worn components).
Meanwhile, the upgrades continue. About fifteen months ago, the U.S. A-10C successfully dropped its first LJDAM (Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition). The main difference between JDAM and LJDAM is the sensor unit. The GPS sensor on JDAM is replaced with a laser seeker sensor, turning the JDAM into the LJDAM. The aircraft dropping the bomb uses its laser designator to track the moving target, and the LFDAM bomb hits the moving target. LJDAM can hit a vehicle moving at about 60 kilometers an hour. LJDAM entered service two years ago. It will be useful against enemy convoys of moving vehicles, since the smallest LJDAM uses a 500 pound bomb. A-10Cs will begin using LFDAM next year.
The A-10C is a refurbished A-10, with upgraded electronics. The basic A-10 can fly low and slow, and is 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 supporting the ground troops. 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 basic A-10 is a three decade old design, so the new stuff is 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 troop support.
While newly equipped A-10Cs showed up in Iraq three years ago, it will take another year before all 350 aircraft in service are converted. Beyond the new electronics the air force is upgrading the engines and structure 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 over a decade. But the A-10s are just too damn effective, and popular, when there's actually a war on.
The A-10 could always take out moving vehicles with its 30mm automatic cannon. But this requires getting down and within a few hundred meters of the target. The LJDAM enables the A-10 to stay out of range of ground fire to do the job, and also deliver a bigger bang to the target.
South Korea is the last combat zone to get the A-10C, although as each year passes, the fearsome North Korean army becomes less of a threat. But the North Koreans have not become "no threat" yet, so the replacement of the older A-10s, with the A-10Cs, is appreciated.