A-10s involved in Operation Inherent Resolve carry a full complement of air-to-ground weaponry.
The pictures in this post were taken at the end of January at Ahmed al Jaber airbase, in Kuwait, where A-10 Thunderbolt attack planes belonging to the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron “Blacksnakes”, part of the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, based at Fort Wayne, Indiana, are currently deployed to support Operation Inherent Resolve against IS militants in Iraq and Syria.
Although some videos of the Thunderbolts using their GAU-8 Avenger a 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon to support Kurdish fighters had already surfaced, the photographs released by the U.S. Department of Defense provide some more details and clearly show, for the first time, the loadout of the “Hogs” involved in the air war against ISIS.
Noteworthy, as noted with little differences on previous deployments in Afghanistan, along with their trademark cannon, the aircraft carry an interesting mix of rockets, missiles and bombs, that enable the pilot to select the proper weapon to attack any kind of target, from technicals, to tanks, to armored vehicles, to light and heavy fixed or moving targets: AGM-65 Maverick missiles (on station 3 and 9), LAU-131 rocket launcher (station 2), GBU-12 Paveway LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs – on station 5 and 7), GBU-38 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions – station 4 and 8) and an AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting pod (station 10).
Considered that there is no risk to meet any enemy fighter, the A-10s don’t carry any AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
By the way, as highlighted by Wim Zwijnenburg, the Pentagon has just confirmed that: “[…] US and Coalition aircraft have not been, and will not be, using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve,” meaning that the 30 mm Depleted Uranium ammunition has not and won’t be loaded onto the A-10s.
The pilots wear the Scorpion Helmet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS), the world’s only, full-color Helmet Mounted Cueing System: the helmet system enables the aircrews to rapidly cue sensors or weapons, and to designate targets by simply “looking at” the target or point of interest. Furthermore, it takes all the information collected by the plane’s sensors and positions it on the ground so that each pilot can look at a heads-up display and know exactly where the ground targets are positioned without the need to look inside the cockpit and never losing visual contact of these targets.
While the “Warthog” remains one of the weapons of choice for Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction missions against the Islamic State, the U.S. Air Force has announced that 18 planes (and maybe 19 more) will be mothballed later this year and placed into “Backup Aircraft Inventory” status to save money and free up experienced maintainers destined to the F-35 fleet.
The following footage shows B-1 Lancer bombers with the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron launch from Al Udeid airbase, in Qatar, to pound ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.
The “Bones” (as the B-1s are nicknamed within the pilots community), have taken part in the air strikes on IS positions since the beginning of the air campaign.
The heavy bombers have been involved in carpet bombings not seen since the 2003 war in Iraq: according to a recent story published by the AFP news agency, the B-1s had flown 18 percent of all the strike missions against the Islamic State and accounted for 43 percent of the total tonnage of munitions dropped in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan over the last 6-month period.
According to the pilots of the 9th Bomb Squadron who took part in the missions over Kobane and have recently returned to the U.S. after their deployment in Qatar, it was not uncommon for the B-1s to “go Winchester” (a radio codeword which means that the aircraft has dropped all the weapons on board) during air strikes over the Syrian border town.
The F-16IQ jets will be stationed in the U.S. until air bases are readied for the new planes and, above all, secured; in the meanwhile, the Iraqi pilots can be trained in a safe environment by the U.S. instructors of the Arizona ANG’s 162nd Wing, that already own an established experience with foreign students from the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore and Japan.
The training pipeline includes 14 Iraqi student pilots which will get qualified and combat capabable with the Fighting Falcon in about 300 flying hours. Then, they will return to their home and defend their own country with the new jet.
The Aviationist’s photographer Tony Lovelock was at Tucson at the beginning of February and took the pictures of the Iraqi F-16C and D models involved in local training sorties.
According to the German media outlet “The Local”, US Navy Captain Greg Hicks, who is acting as a spokesman of the US European Command, has confirmed that the Warthogs, after a stop in Germany, will forward deploy to locations in eastern Europe.
With several airbases able to host the Hogs, it is safe to assume the Thunderbolts may soon operate in the Polish airspace, since Polish Armored Cavalry brigades are currently in process of carrying out field training program related to introduction of the Leopard 2A5 tanks into active service.
What is more, some elements of the U.S. Army have already been deployed to Poland, as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The 6-month TSP is officially aimed at enabling joint training among NATO units, but the deployment of the 12 A-10s in eastern Europe is, among all the other things, just an another way to increase presence in Europe and reassure regional allies in light of Russian increasing threat.
As we already mentioned in our first report on the deployment, the A-10 was designed to play a vital role in a possible war against the Soviet Invasion across the German plain and the Fulda Gap.
The Thunderbolt has been one of the cornerstones of the AirLand Battle Doctrine which involved AH-64s, OH-58s, Abrams MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) along with Bradley IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and artillery – M109 and MLRS systems, along with numerous anti tank weapons. This stands in line with the fact that e.g. the Stryker APCs are currently stationed in Poland, and are taking part in some of the Polish Army exercises organized within the area of the Drawsko Pomorskie firing range. This is yet another argument, according to which forward-deployment of the Warthog in Poland would be possible.
On the flip-side, one should remember that the Russian air defense systems protecting mobile armored units, have evolved since the Cold War. As highlighted by some analysts, in case of a regional war in eastern Europe, should the NATO forces not gain total air superiority and support it with plenty of SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) operations required to neutralize enemy air defense systems, employment of the Warthogs would be quite difficult and risky.
Nevertheless, the A-10 has proved to be extremely effective role during the operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, where it is the platform of choice for the CAS (Close Air Support) mission, in spite of the impending retirement and subtle criticism: some arguments have been made in the U.S. that the A-10 is dangerous for the troops on the ground, due to the statistical data suggesting that when the Warthog was employed in that role, a rate of friendly fire incidents has been higher.
Nonetheless, it shall be clarified that it is the peculiarity of providing close air support with troops in contact – the A-10 may act close to the positions where own forces are operating, and this may lead to inevitable incidents.
Anyway, in case of full-scale air- and land-war, all the tactics would need to be ultimately reviewed and tailored to the real scenario, and little can be really predicted about the way a conflict in Europe may really develop.
The U.S. Air Force has deployed 12 A-10 Thunderbolt attack planes and approximately 300 personnel to Spangdahlem airbase, in Germany, as part of a so-called TSP (theater security package) in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The aircraft are from the 355th Fighter Wing, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and are expected to be ready to fulfil the TSP mission by the end of the month: TSPs are meant to augment U.S. Air Force in Europe support to Operation Atlantic Resolve, “the demonstration of U.S. European Command and United States Air Forces in Europe’s continued commitment to the collective security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region.”
The A-10 has been designed to attack Soviet tanks during a Soviet invasion across the German plain and the Fulda Gap and has been a part of the AirLand Battle Doctrine pursued in the late 1970s/ early 1980s; hence an eventual involvement in a (proxy or direct) war with Russia is quite unlikely.
Therefore, the Warthog return to Europe after the last permanent unit was withdrawn in 2013, is probably just symbolic. The A-10 is today more suitable for other scenarios, like Afghanistan or Iraq.
By rotating A-10s and other assets to Europe, Washington flexes its muscles amidst growing tensions with Moscow: officially, 6-month TSPs enable joint training among NATO units, but they are just another way to increase presence in Europe and reassure regional allies.
Noteworthy, after a first period at the airbase in Germany, the first TSP and its A-10s will forward deploy to some unspecified locations in Eastern European NATO nations.
According to the Air Force, TSPs have conducted similar activities in the Pacific area since 2004.