The A-10 Warthog still appears to be true to its name, ‘Tankbuster.’ With its powerful cannon, the US Air Force recently demonstrated that the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a close-air support mission plane, can destroy modern tanks with armor enhancements.
The USAF disclosed the findings of the first-ever test of the A-10’s main cannon against explosive reactive armor on May 6.
In February, the Air Force conducted the test at the Nevada Test and Training Range, firing armor-piercing incendiary rounds onto up-armored surrogate main battle tanks with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), the Air Force’s 53rd Wing said in a statement.
The ERA is a supplementary armor system used primarily in main combat tanks. It is designed to protect modern tanks against missiles with shaped charge warheads. Before the projectile can penetrate the hull, ERA launches a counter-explosion to scatter it.
An ERA is extremely effective on High-Explosive Anti-tank (HEAT) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) rounds. However, several Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) with tungsten or depleted Uranium cores can penetrate most modern ERAs.
In the latest test, the A-10 pilots altered assault parameters and direction to study weaponry impacts against up-armored targets. Depleted uranium rounds can be used in the Warthog’s cannon, but their employment has been contentious in recent years due to worries about health and environmental effects.
The USAF said that analysts were able to determine that the battle damage sustained on the tanks made them inoperable using video analysis, photo imaging, and visual inspection of the targets.
The Air Force said the test “proved that modern-day armored vehicles equipped with Explosive Reactive Armor are vulnerable to the A-10C Thunderbolt II’s” gun.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II, sometimes known as the “Warthog,” is most famed for its GAU-8 Avenger, a powerful 30 mm gun protruding from the plane’s nose that can fire 3,900 bullets per minute.
“A typical A-10 gun employment uses 120 rounds, which means an A-10 is capable of employing fires on nine to ten targets before exhausting its gun munitions,” Maj. Kyle Adkison, the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron A-10C division commander, said in an Air Force press release.
“Against large fielded forces, A-10 formations are capable of engaging nearly 40 armored vehicles with 30-millimeter munitions,” he continued. “That’s a significant amount of firepower.”
The test also gathered information on the efficiency of the Raytheon AGM-65L Maverick and the BAE Systems AGR-20E Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System against armored vehicles.
“This has been an ongoing test effort since the idea originated in 2020,” says USAF operations test analyst 1st Lieutenant Christopher Earle. “Now that it’s come to fruition and proven successful, we will work towards testing other types of anti-armor munitions in the air force inventory against ERA, and collect more data.”
The Future of A-10
“In a contested environment,” according to the Air Force, the “A-10 can continue to deliver massive rapid firepower with devastating effects on enemy vehicles.” However, the Air Force has been attempting to retire it since 2015 to free up cash for other programs. Congress has frequently obstructed the service’s efforts.
Furthermore, the service wants to concentrate on capabilities that can better withstand a high-end battle against a powerful enemy like China or Russia.
The USAF wanted to replace the A-10 Warthog with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but it faced substantial opposition from A-10 supporters as well as concerns that the F-35 couldn’t do the close air support job as well.
In 2021, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall directly addressed the Warthog as an example of an aging plane that should be decommissioned to allow the service to focus more on China. He referred to the fleet’s old iron as “an anchor holding back the Air Force.”
In 2020, Deborah Lee James, the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, told Military.com, “No member of Congress wants to lose, or stand by and silently lose, a fleet of aircraft or a capability from their state or district, which, of course, translates to jobs.”
The A-10 is the Air Force’s first aircraft developed particularly to provide close-air support to ground forces, having debuted in the 1970s.
The Warthog has become one of the most iconic warplanes in the Air Force, owing to its powerful GAU-8/A Gatling gun. Meanwhile, the Air Force said that it would continue to test additional bombs against heavily protected vehicles.
A military expert talking to EurAsian Times recently called them the ideal fighter jets that Ukraine needs to battle Russia.