A-10C revolutionizes close air support
An A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 354th Fighter Squadron flies over the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, near Gila Bend, Ariz., Feb. 15, 2008. The A-10 received numerous upgrades, including the ability to employ the Joint Direct Attack Munition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Noah R. Johnson)
by Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
Air Combat Command Public Affairs
2/21/2008 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (ACCNS) -- Historically, A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots have never needed high-tech solutions for problems that can be solved with a few hundred 30mm armor-piercing rounds, but recent deployments of the newly upgraded A-10C are giving Hog drivers a new appreciation for the digital age.
Boasting state-of-the-art avionics, fully integrated targeting pods and new smart weapons like the 500 and 2,000 lb. Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the A-10C gives its pilots increased situational awareness and the ability to strike targets from further away.
"The A-10C is the heaviest modernization program the A-10 has ever gone through," said Lt. Col. Donald Henry, Air Combat Command A-10 Air National Guard Program Element Monitor. "This is what the A-10 was meant to be 30 years ago."
Colonel Henry has helped oversee that modernization process, directing and documenting requirements for the upgrade since 2005. He said the upgrade isn't just adding weapons or new features. It's revolutionizing the entire airframe.
"It's an effects-based upgrade to bring full integration of the targeting pod and its associated avionics. It's enhanced all the human factors in the close air support mission," he said.
Enhancing those human factors, such as situational awareness, have dramatically reduced the time it takes for an A-10 pilot to put iron on target, said Maj. Jerry Cook, 357th Fighter Squadron chief of weapons and tactics at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Being able to effortlessly integrate all the information an A-10 pilots needs to destroy targets without hitting friendly forces is the A-10C's greatest advantage.
"There are three major things I care about in any CAS [Close Air Support] situation," he explained. "Friendly locations, both ground and air forces; target information, description and location - particularly the relative location to the friendly ground forces; and threats. The integration of the avionics in the A-10C, particularly the integration of the Situation Awareness Data Link, results in a significant improvement in the time it takes to perform that detailed integration required for CAS."
In an A-10A, target information and the location of friendly troops had to be communicated by radio from joint terminal air controllers on the ground, Major Cook said. The pilot would then plot that information on paper maps to give them better awareness of what was happening on the ground.
Using SADL, the information is updated directly to the A-10C's new Tactical Awareness Display, giving the pilot a god's-eye view of the battle space instantly. The pilot can then slave all his sensors to the target and transmit that information to the other A-10Cs in the formation.
"The net result is a significant reduction in the time it takes to process the kill chain," Major Cook said. "Couple that with the A-10C's digital stores management system and new weapons, and you now have a more lethal, responsive and survivable Hog."
Colonel Henry got a chance to see the improved Warthog in action in October when he deployed to Afghanistan as an A-10C pilot with the 172nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from the Michigan Air National Guard.
During a normal overwatch mission, Colonel Henry's formation was contacted by a Joint Tactical Air Controller on the ground below them.
"It became apparent that he was being sniped at and asked us to evaluate the situation on the ground," Colonel Henry said. "We got the precise coordinates through the targeting pod and turned back around. I sent the coordinates to the JDAM via the HOTAS [Hands On Throttle And Stick] and dropped it right in the middle of the target."
Colonel Henry said it was almost too easy.
"I could see exactly where the friendlies were, where the enemies were," he said. "It would have taken much longer to verify their location, to roll in with dumb bombs (in the A model). The JDAM made it extremely easy and precise. The level of confidence in its precision was an order of magnitude more."
The JDAM's accuracy gives A-10 pilots more options when they move in for the kill.
"The JDAM allows us to drop from farther out," Major Cook said. "Additionally, the JDAM's improved accuracy allows a pilot to employ it closer to friendly positions than is possible with a similar type of unguided bomb."
With the targeting pod, A-10 pilots can hit targets even at night.
"With the targeting pod, an A-10C is night and all-weather," Colonel Henry said. "We can drop through weather without being eyes-on that target location. It complements what we can already do well with night vision goggles."
Major Cook said the large number of upgrades do not change what A-10 pilots do from day to day, but they are still very welcome improvements.
"Whether it's the A-10A or C, the fundamentals of CAS have not changed," he said. "Close air support remains the same. Things I did in the A model I can do easier and better in the C model. In this type of warfare, we are one of the power players. Durability, ruggedness and dependability; the C has all that plus digitally networked avionics that provide a leap in employment efficiency, and generally make it a more effective aircraft."
As one of the officers responsible for bringing the A-10C online, Colonel Henry said he was delighted that he was given the chance to fly it in combat himself.
"It was an incredible sense of satisfaction to see how well the design enhanced our job," he said. "I'm extremely proud to have been part of a team of professionals who were able to bring the upgrade to fruition. It's going to save a lot of lives."
The A-10C is already saving lives. The upgraded Warthog has flown nearly 1,000 combat sorties since it came online in August, providing combat air support to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.