Attrition: The Hogs Are Hurting

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October 30,2008: In early October, a third of the 356 U.S. A-10 aircraft were grounded because of wing cracks. This was discovered while A-10s were being partially disassembled during a major upgrade, to the A-10C standard. Some aircraft were also found with cracks in landing gear components.

Although A-10s were built to fly 8,000 hours, some are over 10,000 hours. The air force already has a plan to refurbish A-10s so they can fly for 16,000 hours. However, the first 240 A-10s built has components that were less robust than in later models (the "thin wing" versus "thick wing" models). The air force had already ordered the more robust components for the earlier A-10s, but this refurbishment wasn't to start for another year or so. Now it will have to be done earlier, and this will keep up to a third of the A-10s on the ground for two years or more.

In the meantime, the air force plans to move pilots around, so they can all get some air time (and not lose their flying chops). If a combat pilot spends too long out of the air, a month or so of requalification flying has to be undertaken before they can carry out combat missions again. All A-10s are being upgraded to handle smart bombs and use targeting pods. Only about ten percent of A-10s are in a combat zone at any given time, so fixing the wings will not limit the number of A-10s needed for supporting the troops.

The A-10 is a ground support aircraft. The air force loves to bomb, but, for a long time, not in a combat zone. Enemy troops shoot back and an aircraft has to be armored to survive. The A-10 was the U.S. Air Force solution to this problem. It carries 7.2 tons of bombs and missiles, in addition to a powerful 30mm automatic cannon. Although the air force would prefer to sidestep direct support of combat troops, they are reluctant to let the army have fixed wing combat aircraft. Although the A-10 did exceptionally well in its combat debut during the 1991 Gulf War (the first real combat test), it's slow speed and ground attack weapons make it different from other air force combat aircraft. The air force is reluctant to build a replacement and once even expressed a willingness to transfer its A-10s to the army. The A-10 remains popular with the pilots who fly them, and the ground troops that are supported by the "Hog."

 


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