Warplanes: September 20, 2003

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The U.S. A-10 ground attack aircraft is the best aircraft ever to serve in that role. Armed with a 30mm automatic cannon capable of destroying any armored vehicle, plus several tons of bombs and missiles and enough fuel for over six hours in the air, the A-10 could take ground fire and keep on going. Ugly, but efficient, pilots and troops call it the "warthog." But many air force generals hate the A-10, and have been trying to dump it for years. Yet every time a war comes along, the hogs are down in the dirt going for glory while the fast movers prance around at 10,000 feet.. Before the 1991 Gulf War, the air force and army were discussing transferring the A-10s the army. But the army turned down the offer because they have so little fixed wing experience, and would have to take care of the A-10 out of their own budget, while the air force had a chance to hang onto some of the money they formerly spent on A-10s. Marines would make a better home for the A-10s, as the marines have long operated fixed wing aircraft. But the hogs are getting old, no one wants to pay for a replacement and many air power experts believe smart bombs and missiles can replace much of what the A-10 does. With the A-10 gone, there won't be much choice. But it's good to remember that the A-10, which costs less than the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship, has consistently outperformed it in combat. A rugged, fixed wing ground attack aircraft is always going to be cheaper, and more reliable, than a helicopter. 

With no money available for an A-10 replacement, and the air force determined to retire the remaining A-10s in the next few years, the most likely replacement would be an unmanned aircraft (UCAV.) The air force and navy are already exploring this possibility. A ground attack UCAV would be smaller than the A-10, cheaper and even more resistant to ground fire. By the end of the decade, there are going to be a lot of UCAVs in the air, and one of them may be "son of warthog."


 


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