The U.S. Air Force is spending about
$8 million per aircraft to repair and reinforce the wings on 252 A-10 ground
attack aircraft. This will keep the A-10s flying for another twenty years. The
A-10 may be the last manned American ground attack aircraft, and the entire
fleet is being upgraded with new electronics, to make the aircraft as effective
The U.S. A10 "Warthog" has flown more combat
missions in Iraq than any other American warplane. Despite this, the U.S. Air
Force has never really wanted the A-10, and has been forced to keep it because,
every time a war comes around, it's the A-10 that has the most work to do.
Originally built in the late 1970s, the A-10s were scheduled to be retired by
2005. But the outstanding performance of the A10 during the 1991 Gulf War
caused the air force to undertake an A-10 upgrade program instead, that would keep several hundred of the A-10s
in service for another decade, or two.
The essential upgrades have to do with repairing,
or replacing wing components. Without that, many of the A-10s will have to be
retired because wear and tear have made them too dangerous to fly. Next comes
new electronics. This includes a targeting and navigation pod, new radios and
navigation gear as well as better anti-missile and anti-electronic warfare
gear. The A-10 can also deliver smart bombs. New engines would be nice, as they
would improve performance, but these are not essential, and are expensive. The
A-10 was designed to come low, and slow, and use its 30mm cannon to destroy
anything in its way. This impresses the ground troops no end. The A-10 also has
considerable armor, to protect the pilot and crucial components from damage.
This works quite well.
With the air force spending so much on new fighters
(the F-22 and F-35), there isn't much left to keep the A-10s flying. But since
the A-10s are the most in-demand warplanes, the air force cannot ignore the
need to keep the hogs flying. The next generation of ground attack aircraft
will probably be a UAV.