Theodore's World: A-10's Great in the Offensive

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September 04, 2006

A-10's Great in the Offensive

Bagram A-10s surge for summer offensives

Afghanistan --

Six U.S. and Coalition troops peer out from a remote position on a ridge top in Afghanistan. At sunset on the third day of their vigil, a large force of Taliban extremists carrying heavy machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades surround and pin the team down.

By design, an Air Force joint tactical air controller is with the team. His job is to direct strike aircraft to targets on the ground. The situation on the ridge line is desperate until an Air Force pilot flying an A-10 Thunderbolt II in the vicinity contacts him. Helping the A-10 pilot find and target his attackers on the ground, the JTAC stays in radio contact, except when forced to pick up his weapon and fire at the enemy closing in.

“Fifty minutes later the remaining enemy retreated and (the JTAC) and his team walked off that ridge to resupply and fight again the next day,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Keith McBride, commander of the 81st Expeditionary FighterSquadron. McBride, an A-10 pilot, uses this real-life story to illustrate his point that the A-10 is saving lives in Afghanistan.
“There have been numerous occasions where our troops have been taking heavy fire and we show up and either our presence ends the engagement or we employ against enemy positions and end the engagement,” said Air Force Col. Tony Johnson, the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander and an A- 10 pilot himself.

Flying hours and the amount of bombs and bullets expended by A-10 pilots here have increased all summer due to two offensives by ground forces against the enemy. Operations Mountain Lion and Mountain Thrust flushed Taliban extremists out of where they normally hole-up, exposing them to U.S. and Coalition forces on the ground, who called on A-10 pilots to provide close air support.

“The increase in weapons deliveries is primarily because U.S. and Coalition operations have carried the fight to the extremists,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Christopher Miller, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. One of his jobs is to advise Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, Combined Joint Task Force-76 commander, on the use of combat aircraft in Afghanistan.
“Where extremists have attacked the Afghan people and their infrastructure, we have helped defend them, and we have carried the fight to the enemy, to push them back and reduce their ability to carry out further attacks,” Miller said. “The whole A-10 team, from the Airmen who launch them, to the pilots who fly them, should be proud. They are saving the lives of Americans and many others they don’t even know—and in the big picture, they’re enabling the security Afghanistan needs to rebuild into a society where terrorists can’t flourish.”

The A-10’s ability to precisely hit targets also lends itself well to U.S. forces engaged in re-building Afghanistan, Johnson said. Preservation of infrastructure and limiting damage on the ground are crucial, since the country of Afghanistan is not the enemy.

“We’re also re-building a country,” he said. “I don’t know what other airplane would be better at this than the A-10.”

The A-10 was originally designed around its 30-mm gun, designated the GAU-8. The gun is more of a small artillery piece – firing huge bullets into target areas at a rate of 65 per second. The A-10 is the only Air Force aircraft
designed specifically for close air support -- providing firepower for ground troops in fights with enemy forces.

If the gun isn’t enough, 11 stations underneath the plane hold up to 16,000 pounds of bombs, missiles and rockets.

“Our weapons effects make a decisive impact on the battle,” McBride said. “Ground forces rely on our rapid response and our pin-point accuracy.”

The GAU-8, with its 8-foot, rifled barrels, delivers bullets at a blistering 3,000-feet-persecond.

When pilots pull the trigger, they aim using the plane’s computer, which takes into account factors like speed, altitude, the distance from the target and angle of the plane’s nose. This combination of physics and software
make the 30-mm gun on the A-10 extremely accurate.

“Just the large amount and type of weapons the A-10 can carry, combined with a long loiter time over our troops on the ground, makes up for the lack of organic, heavy weapons (carried by U.S. and Coalition forces),” McBride said.

But it’s not just the A-10’s firepower that makes it an excellent choice for supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. The plane is designed rugged – much like the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

To enable twists and turns through low valleys and high peaks, the wings stick straight out, allowing small, sharp
turns. It’s heavily armored for the benefit of its pilots and is built to land and take off from the well-worn surface of
Bagram’s runway.

The A-10 combines some of the best of today’s hightechnology Air Force with asolid, low-tech foundation. The addition of a targeting and laser-designation pod was a huge boost to the plane’s capabilities but still no substitute for the pilot’s eyeballs.

“Most other aircraft rely heavily on (electronic) sensors to find and target the enemy,” said Air Force Capt. Rick Mitchell, an active-duty pilot deployed here from Reserve’s 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base,Mo.
“In the A-10, it’s not unusual for a pilot to use binoculars.” When Mitchell flies, his preparation for the mission is extensive and can take more time than the actual combat sortie.

Once in the air, pilots can fly to pre-planned targets or fly in holding patterns above potential battlefields waiting to
swoop down when ground forces encounter the enemy.

The Combined Air Operations Center, in Southwest Asia, generates missions for Bagram’s A-10s. This high-tech command center runs air operations for both Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We work those guys pretty hard,” said Royal Air Force Flight Lt. Matthew Adamson- Drage, a fighter controller who helps assign missions to the A-10s at the CAOC.
“The A-10s are pretty much the backbone of (air operations in Afghanistan) because they’re flying all the time every day.”

“The A-10 is employing lethal firepower when it’s needed most by troops on the ground, ” Mitchell said. “There’s nothing more rewarding to a close air support pilot than knowing the firepower you employed just saved the lives of guys on the ground.”

Wild Thing's comment......

I especially love that last quote above. Don't you just LOVE our troops!

* Basil's blog

Posted by Wild Thing at September 4, 2006 01:55 AM


The A-10's are one mean aircraft but their slow as snails. We used to have to drag them across the ocean during their deployments. By drag, I mean a KC-135 air refuleling tanker would have to accompany them to provide fuel for the non-stop trip across the pond. Being so slow, the Tankers could only fly just above stall speed and it was a pain in the butt; took forever to make the trip.

Posted by: BobF at September 4, 2006 07:39 AM

It's one fine aircraft, even if it's slow. Who could have predicted a tank killer would be so well suited for ground support. I remember a close air support mission just outside Tam Ky where the A4's were flying through their own flak because of their high stall speed and the angle of attack, they had to fly like dive bombers and pull up before hitting the ground. You could see, hear and feel the bomb blasts, see the trash and shrapnel flying up and them flying into it. Those pilots knew they could be knocked out of the air by their own ordinance yet they saved lives on the ground by persevering through some tough ground fire too. I took a ladder and could stand up inside, without touching the sides, of one the holes inside the wing root of one of those A-4 Skyhawk's that was grounded after that, it's a wonder why the wing never came off and it ws only inches away from the cockpit. I have nothing but admiration for those pilots that provide ground support, they risk it all to save our fighters on the ground.

Posted by: Jack at September 4, 2006 11:36 AM

Bob thank you, that is really interesting.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 4, 2006 12:12 PM

Jack one of our neighbors was a pilot during Nam and when we talk about the war he always says, every single time, what an honor it was for him to be able to help the ground troops.

Thanks for telling about the A-4 Skyhawk, really interesting.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 4, 2006 12:16 PM

My cousin was a ground crew chief for an A-10 unit. He's back home now.

They are truly remarkable aircraft. But not nearly as remarkable as the men and women who fly them, service them or are provided cover by them.

May God bless them all and keep them safe.

Posted by: spacemonkey at September 4, 2006 12:33 PM

I liked helicopter gunships, A-1 Skyraiders and Spooky(C47). They were neat and proficient close support weapons in Vietnam.

The A10 has to be a real hoot for that CAS mission, just about perfect. The Air Force was going to trash them just before the 1st Gulf War. The A10 turned out to be a great infantry/armor support weapon and the Army begged the Air Force to keep them. And now the A10 has become a favorite old timer, soldiering on and loved by all, kinda like the B52 and the .45auto. How neat

Posted by: TomR at September 4, 2006 01:31 PM

Hi Spacemonkey, please tell your cousin a big thank you.
I agree they are all remarkable men.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 4, 2006 01:42 PM

I love how these planes and choppers are so loved. I have always been fascinated by them and how awesome the crews are to keep them running, flying the whole thing. Tremendous respect for everyone of them.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 4, 2006 01:44 PM

I think it was about 2 years ago I saw this
clip on an A-10 that was shot to hell,from
nose to tail with the right engine cowl shot
off,no hydrolics ,the Pilot flew the plane back
to base and a perfect landing all on manual
control...The best part was "SHE" was a
fantasticly good looking young woman whose
call sign was"KILLER CHICK"......

Posted by: Tincan Sailor at September 4, 2006 05:57 PM

As Paul Harvey would say Heres the rest of the

The Iraqi Republican Guard may have had luck on their side that miserable Baghdad day, but they did not know who was flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II they had just hit with a rocket.
It was April 7, 2003, and an elite unit of Iraqis had US forces pinned down along the Tigris River, firing rocket-propelled grenades into their position, not far from the North Baghdad Bridge. The word from the forward-air controller on the ground with the US forces indicated assistance was needed immediately.

Capt. Kim Campbell of the 75th Fighter Squadron, speaking to a large crowd at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum on March 24, said she knew there would be considerable risk involved in the mission. But she said that it is the nature of the beast for an A-10 attack pilot.

"These guys on the ground needed our help," said the captain. "That's our job -- to bring fire down on the enemy when our Army and Marine brothers request our assistance."

The day's mission had not been ideal by any means. Once she and her flight leader were airborne, with instructions to target Iraqi vehicles and tanks in the city, they had trouble finding the tanker for gas, because of inclement weather conditions in the area. Before leaving Kuwait, the weather prompted Captain Campbell's flight leader, who was also her squadron commander, to ask if she had her lucky rabbit's foot.

"I did not know how much luck I would later need," she told the Smithsonian crowd.

As soon as the call for close-air support came through, Captain Campbell said she knew the two planes would be over the target area within minutes. The pilots kept their planes above the weather as long as possible before descending in time to identify both the friendly and enemy locations. Then they unleashed their fury, beginning with the flight lead applying his 30 mm cannon on the enemy, and ending with both pilots making several passes, firing both cannon and explosive rockets.

Captain Campbell was leaving the target following her last rocket pass when she felt and heard a large explosion at the back of the aircraft. There was no question in her mind, she said, that the plane had been hit by enemy fire.

"The jet rolled fairly violently to the left and pointed at the city below, and the jet was not responding to any of my control inputs," she said. "I had several caution lights, but the ones that stood out in my mind the most were the hydraulic lights. I checked the hydraulic gauges and both read zero."

With both hydraulic lines gone, the only option was to put the jet into "manual inversion," a system of cranks and cables that allows the pilot to fly the aircraft under mechanical control. The captain said she saw it as her last chance to avoid a parachute ride down into the city.

It was a huge relief, she said, when the jet started to climb out and away from Baghdad. But that relief was short-lived. She still had to maneuver the plane back to Kuwait, much of the way through hostile territory.

"I knew that if I had to eject, my chances of survival and rescue would be much better if I could get out of the city," she said. "As we started maneuvering south to get out of Baghdad, we noticed that anti-aircraft artillery was coming at us from several locations."

With little control to keep the jet moving in the manual inversion configuration, Captain Campbell said she could only hope for the best.

"I was hoping that the theory of big sky, little bullet would work out in my favor," she told the crowd. "Amazingly, we made it out of Baghdad with no further battle damage."

The design of the A-10 restricts how much the pilot can see of the rear portion of the jet, so Captain Campbell was limited to her flight lead's description of the damage to her aircraft. His words were not encouraging.

"He did an initial battle-damage check and told me that I had hundreds of small holes in the fuselage and tail section on the right side, as well as a football-sized hole in the right horizontal stabilizer," she said. "I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I knew that that didn't sound great."

Soon thereafter, the captain began the long process of going through several emergency checklists. She said she had a decision to make -- stay with the jet and try to land, or get to friendly territory and eject. Pilots do not train very often in manual inversion -- only once during initial training to find out how the jet will respond, she said. In fact, one of the items on the checklist is to "attempt manual inversion landings only under ideal conditions," she said. Still, Captain Campbell said she was confident she was going to get the jet back safely on the ground.

"I felt that I had a lot of things going my way that day," she said. "The jet was flying extremely well, the winds at our home base were down the runway, and I had a very experienced flight lead on my wing, providing me with mutual support."

At the same time, the captain also said that A-10 manual-inversion landings had been attempted three times during Operation Desert Storm, and not all had been successful. One pilot had been killed when his jet crashed, and one survived after touching down only to find out that his jet had no brakes.

"The trip back to Kuwait was probably one of the longest hours of my life," she said. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen when I slowed the aircraft down in an attempt to land."

After she completed the emergency-gear extension, the gear came down with three green-light indicators, telling Captain Campbell that the gears were down and locked. Now it was just a matter of flying the aircraft through the continual haze of dust storms associated with Kuwait. The pilots contacted the tower and the supervisor of flying to say they were on the way in.

As Captain Campbell started on final approach, the aircraft was flying extremely well, she said. But, as the A-10 crossed the landing threshold, the aircraft started a quick roll to the left. The captain quickly counteracted that with flight controls, and the A-10 touched down.

"When all three wheels hit the ground, it was an amazing feeling of relief, but I still had to get the jet stopped," she said. "So I accomplished the procedure for emergency braking, and once again, that jet worked as advertised."

Looking back on the ordeal, Captain Campbell said she has nothing but kind words for those responsible for building the A-10, and for those responsible for maintaining it.

"I am incredibly thankful to those who designed and built the A-10 as well as the maintainers who did their part to make sure that that jet could fly under any circumstances, even after extensive battle damage," she said.

Captain Campbell told the Smithsonian crowd that experts believe a surface-to-air missile hit near the right rear stabilizer, a missile fired without the aid of any type of navigation system -- it was a lucky shot.

But that luck pales in comparison to the good fortune of Captain Campbell's A-10. Thanks to her, the plane has since found a nice resting place amongst the heroes of days gone by -- in the "Boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AZ) -- instead of becoming a burning heap of metal in Iraq.

Posted by: Tincan Sailor at September 4, 2006 06:06 PM

Thanks Tincan Sailor. That was a fun read.

Posted by: TomR at September 4, 2006 07:35 PM

You know the Air Force was all set to get rid of the A-10 because the pilots didn't like it. It was slow,ugly, and didn't fit the Tom Cruise image of a Fighter Pilot. The A-10 was going to be replaced by a modified F-16, which fit the Fighter Jock image to a tee. But, like Jack said above, the F-16's would have had the same problems as the A-4's. When Desert Storm kicked off, the A-10 became the hero to the ground forces. A-10 pilots were held in high esteem, more so than those flying the "sexy" fighters. Tell an infantry man your an A-10 pilot and you won't have to buy any more drinks for as long as you can stand.

Posted by: BobF at September 4, 2006 10:32 PM

Thanks Tincan Sailor, that was great!!!

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 5, 2006 01:51 AM

Bob........."Tell an infantry man your an A-10 pilot and you won't have to buy any more drinks for as long as you can stand.".......... I love it. Thanks Bob!!

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 5, 2006 01:52 AM

I pray they keep the A10 in service man can it deliver a load.

Posted by: Jack Hamilton at September 5, 2006 07:59 AM

Jack, I think they will be keeping the A-10 in service for quite some time. Thousands of Amierican Soldiers are alive today because of what only the A-10 could do. How do you explain to mom and pop America that their son's and daughters are dead because of USAF Pilots only wanting to fly "sexy" aircraft.

Posted by: BobF at September 5, 2006 09:28 AM