Warplanes: January 17, 2002


It appears that the A-10 close air support aircraft will be replaced with a UAV, controlled by a pilot on the ground. The U.S. Air Force has insisted that the 1970s era A-10s mission is being taken over by F-16s. But the F-16 is a much more expensive, and faster, multi-function aircraft that is not nearly as capable as the A-10. No one really expected the F-16 to do the job as well as the A-10. But the A-10 was designed to be simple and cheap and no one builds combat aircraft that way anymore unless they don't carry a pilot. The A-10 kept costs down by using the cheapest military engine available (the same one used on the Navy S-3). Cheap is chic for UAVs, and there is already a successful track record of Predator UAVs using Hellfire missiles on ground targets. But the Predator was too simple an aircraft for a lively battlefield. The Predator was slow and not able to fly right on the deck to avoid enemy fire like the A-10. In other words, an alert enemy on the ground could easily shoot down Predators. So faster and more agile combat UAVs (or CUAVs) are being considered as the A-10 replacement. 


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