Procurement: High Maintenance Hogs

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July 3, 2007: 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 as possible.

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.

 


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