U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft face the threat of Man Portable Air Defense Systems in Iraq.
According to a report by Iraqi News, American A-10 were shot at with four Strela missiles during the recent air strikes carried out by the Warthogs (as the Thunderbolts are referred to by the pilot community) on ISIS positions near Mosul, in Iraq.
Based on reports by unnamed sources who witnessed the attack, the A-10s killed and wounded several terrorists but were also targeted by the ISIS militants who allegedly attempted to shoot down the U.S. planes fling at low altitude using 9K32 Strela-2 (NATO reporting name SA-7 Grail) man-portable, shoulder-fired, low-altitude, IR (infra-red) guided, surface-to-air missile systems.
Even though the Warthogs were not hit by the surface-to-air missiles, the episode seems to confirm that, flying at medium and low altitude and loitering over the battlefield, the A-10s deployed to Kuwait face the threat of MANPADS known to be in possession of Islamic State forces.
Still, the “Hog” is a tough plane, that has already shown its special ability to bring the pilot back to the homebase in spite of heavy damages by ground fire.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force
So 0-4 on the Strela shots if the reporting is to be believed – not bad. Either the A-10’s countermeasures / tactics are effective, or ISIS doesn’t know the Strela’s engagement envelope. Even then, A-10s are designed to survive damage from MANPADS, whereas other coalition aircraft – present and future – are not.
This is one myth that really needs to go away in the ongoing debate about the A-10. It’s not invincible. It can be and has been shot down going as far back as the first Gulf War.
It’s true that it was originally designed to be able to survive hits from ground fire, but
1) That was in the 70s. Air defense units have grown far deadlier in the 40 or so years since then. Just about any decently modern AAA or SAM system has more than enough punch to overwhelm the A-10s armor.
2) Surviving massive damage isn’t a very sustainable strategy in a war. Even if the planes do manage to make it back to base missing practically everything but the cockpit like people get so worked up about with this particular aircraft, they’re no longer combat worthy. They’d need countless hours of repairs if they weren’t written off as a loss. All the repair time/cost plus the lost missions that the damaged planes were unable to fly would be a huge detriment logistically. It’s far better to avoid getting hit in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, the A-10 has been useful over the course of its service, but it’s time to let go of nostalgia and move on at this point.
Being able to survive massive damage isn’t really about bringing an aircraft back to operational status. It has much more to do with not having to send a costly and VERY dangerous rescue mission in after one of our downed pilots, exposing perhaps a half dozen more aircraft and their crews to a zone now known to be laden with enemy combatants.
Now if you’re talking drones, survivability becomes a different story. But I still have yet to hear any of my friends who have been in the thick of shit praise the CAS abilities of a Reaper drone. If the ‘Hog is to be retired, we really need a good manned aircraft that can drop ordnance AND shoot a gun danger-close to our troops. Not an F-35, not a Reaper. Both of those weapons systems will have much usefulness on the modern battlefield, however they will not effectively fill this role. I am and always will be in favor of the A-10 staying around until they can find the correct replacement.
Yeah that was the issue for drones in Afghanistan.
They have great loiter time and are inexpensive to operate (per hour flight costs). They can also provide excellent aerial surveillance and drop hellfire missiles with impunity.
However, they, like fast movers, are not ideal for dropping ordnance in close proximity to infantry being engaged in small arms slug fests with bad guys, with the later often venturing within 100 meters if not closer in many instances. Drones also lack the spatial awareness of a human pilot in the cockpit, flying slow and low, which is absolutely critical in many instances.
Now, the laser guided hydras and SDBs bring much promise to supplementing the A10s 30mm, if they prove to be as accurate as advertised. Until those are rapidly fielded in large numbers, its purely theoretical. The 30mm is the best option for now.
How many ground targets did they take out vs. the numbers shot down? I rest my case.
You make some good points but I would rather fly a write off back to base than eject and have a high probability of losing my head. Also lets not forget the Strela is a 1960’s weapon, I am sure it was factored in as a weapon the warthog would encounter on the battlefield.
“but it`s time to let go of nostalgia and move on at this point”
You must have forgot about the B-52 when posting that comment.
The B-52 is still a viable asset, it carries strategic cruise missiles with a standoff range of over 1000mi.
You are wrong sir, revamp and upgrade is always the way to go rather than try and implement an excessively, exceedingly, exorbitantly over priced piece of crap like the f-35 monetary black hole which does not even fit this very specific role.
Hell for a tenth of the cost you could completely redesign and upgrade a brand new plane that did what the A-10 does + meet additional needs, all based off what was learned from the warthog. But then that really doesn’t provide various particular US cities with huge #’s of Govt funded jobs now does it? Big picture, just sayin.
The A-10 was designed for ground attack and to support the troops on the ground. It does that better than any plane we’ve ever had. Planes like the F-35 simply won’t ever be nearly as good at those missions. It isn’t close air support if you’re dropping bombs from miles away. As for taking damage, you’re right that the A-10 isn’t invincable. However, it can survive damage that would leave any other plane in the inventory a smoking wreck on the ground. Which is better – having to repair a plane or having to completely replace one (and its crew)? Even when operating in non-stealthy mode with tons of weapons hanging under its wings, the F-35 won’t be as capable at supporting the troops on the ground as the A-10. But then, ground support never seems to be a high priority with the Air Force. It’s dirty and dangerous down there. That’s why the Army has spent billions of dollars buying attack helicopters.
And wasn’t there a report last fall on the success / failure of the U.S. Air Force employment of a B-1 in a close-air / ground support role of an SF team in Afghanistan?
This wasn’t a “last minute”- “oh crap!” call out for any available “loitering” aircraft in a “broken-arrow” situation…It was a fully planned use of the aircraft in this specific role….
SUPRISE!!! Go figure, it was a complete failure…yes, with victims of fratricide.
There never was and NEVER will be
I don’t think anyone is arguing that the A-10 is invincible (although it is certainly more robust than go-fast jets.) The USAF is arguing that the aircraft is vulnerable to “modern” AD thus obsolete, and must be retired. The disingenuousness of their argument is clear: up until about a year ago when they ran out of money to pay for the extremely expensive and initially limited capability F-35, they had planned to keep the A-10s in service until 2028 (and are continuing to buy upgrade kits for it today.) Nothing has changed on the battlefield in the past few years to support its sudden obsolescence. The fact that this A-10 was able to complete its mission (killing insurgents) and avoid 4 missile shots – something that if you listened to the USAF fighter jock brass, only high flying jets could do today – illustrates that the aircraft is still relevant in the fights we find ourselves in today.
Is write-off due to the cost of repair or because it didn’t come home?
I would posit that a write-off that brings the pilot home is not a bad thing.
Indeed. Thats the one irrefutable point that he failed to address, again.
Ok, so lots of counter-arguments to address here.
1. The USAF didn’t just suddenly decide that the A-10 was vulnerable. They may not have made a big deal about its shortcomings publicly, but they’ve been scaling back it’s use for years with about 80% of CAS provided in Iraq and Afghanistan coming from other aircraft dropping precision weapons. They didn’t mind having the A-10 stick around for lower intensity missions, but then Congress forced their hand with sequestration. Now they have to choose whether to save the A-10 or cut into funding for future assets, and their case is clear. They’d rather spend that money on resources that could face all manner of threats present and future rather than one that’s only good for one mission and only when the enemy air defenses are close to zero.
2. Any statements to the effect that the A-10 isn’t invincible but can still survive more damage than XYZ are missing the point. The game has changed to the point that any kind of “low and slow” CAS (including helicopters) may very well be close to suicide against near peer enemies. We now need planes that can avoid being hit in the first place while performing that mission, and the faster jets operating at higher altitudes are going to be much better at that.
3. It just isn’t true that only the A-10 can properly perform the CAS mission. As already noted, 80% of CAS in recent years has been performed by aircraft other than the A-10 with no problems reported. That mission is already being performed and being performed well by the F-16, F-15E, F/A 18, and even occasionally the B-1. No drones needed.
4. On a related note, the idea that the GAU-8 (the A-10’s cannon) is the ultimate CAS tool are overplayed quite a bit. While the gun apparently produces a visceral reaction from those who have heard it fired, it’s never been the source of most A-10 kills. The vast majority of the damage inflicted by A-10 over the years has actually come from the AGM-65 missile which many multi-role aircraft are plenty capable of carrying. The notion that the A-10 is less prone to mistakenly hitting friendly forces because of it’s approach is also undercut by the fact that the A-10 has actually been involved in MORE friendly fire incidents than any other aircraft in the US arsenal.
Again, I’m not saying that the A-10 hasn’t had a good run or even that it’s totally worthless now. It’s simply that in a time of deep budget cuts, an aircraft that isn’t well-equipped for potential future threats or even higher level current threats and only performs a mission that can be capably handled by other, more versatile resources isn’t the necessity that so many make it out to be.
The Strela-2 has 1 kg warhead, modern Russian MANPADS like a 9K338 Igla-S / SA- 24 has 2.5 kg warhead. It can more harm A-10, but may be shotdown it.
Which is why its still an icredibly valuable asset when dealing with insurgents and other less equipped units. With proper intel they will always have a place on the battlefield
While it’s true that other planes can’t handle the manpads’ damage, I wouldn’t say that they cannot handle manpads at all. They just employ a different strategy; mainly simply staying out of the manpads’ reach.
Staying out of reach from ground fire is always a good idea, but sometimes you need to get down and dirty with the enemy. You can’t do close air support from 15,000 feet or by dropping a SDB from miles away. To do CAS, you have to be able to see the friendlies and the bad guys. Sensors can help but most have the pilot looking at the battlefield through a soda straw. Until they can resolve those issues, you’re going to need a plane that can get in close, deliver massive and demoralizing weaponry, and take a hit. No other plane in our inventory can do the job nearly as well as the A-10. Unless those fancy sensors on the F-35 are far better than they appear to be, that plane won’t be nearly as effective as the old Hog. It isn’t about nostalgia, it’s about supporting our troops in the ground. Shouldn’t that be the priority?
Well it should be, for sure. So you say it’s mostly about being able to identify the targets quickly and accurately? Wouldn’t that be something the ground troops can do for the 15000 ft CAS plane (be it the F-35 or F-15E or whatever)?
Also, I wonder whether small, “carryable” suicide drones can change the balance here. They seem to exist to handle roughly the same kind of situation, I suppose.
Listen last point is true but is ignorant of the main fact. Present and future aircraft are MUCH better at avoiding being targeted and hit than the A-10 (which I love) which is the best strategy. If you can’t be shot at why worry about being hit. The A-10 was maid for a completely different mission than current jets and it was built to sustain the damage they knew a slow low flying tank killer would get.
Any aircraft fulfilling the CAS role is going to put itself in a position of being shot at. CAS is simply not effective when done at medium altitude or from a standoff distance. Therefore, any aircraft that the USAF expects to assign to the mission had damned well better be able to survive a couple brushes with enemy fire.
Why? These days, it’s not that hard to lob missiles at targets from beyond manpad’s reach, with great accuracy. Why would it be necessary to come that close?
By your logic, why not just let the Army lob precision artillery in the direction. Then the ‘ol Air Force brass wont have to spend any money defending the grunts. Better call the Pentagon and tell ’em you figured out how to trim some more fat
Haha, very creative, but that’s not an answer to my question. ;) Why would an aircraft performing the CAS role have to come close per se? I would be glad to hear your explanation, as I hear this being said quite often, but have yet to encounter a strong argument for it.
CAS is a MISSION and NOT A PLATFORM. In 2001 in the early parts of Afghanistan some times the only aircraft that could provide CAS to AFOs or special forces were B-1, B-2, and B-52s. Even USN F-14Ds provided CAS during that time. As great as the A-10 is at its intended role, though for years now other aircraft have been fulfilling the CAS role. With modern PCMs and experienced ETACs; CAS can literally be done by almost any combat aircraft out there now or in the foreseeable future.
Who said it was a platform?
Well if you’ve read other comments not just from here but from other sites people pretty much say that only CAS can be done by a dedicated platform or design in a round about way.
What if you don’t have a skilled JTAC on the ground? With an A-10, you can work FAC-A, with a B-1, you can bend over and kiss your a** goodbye.
Notice any similarities between the 3?
It must take some balls to shoot at an A-10 from the ground. I hope that pilot saw the origin.
Besides popping chaff, it doesn’t hurt that the A-10 is highly maneuverable.
Can anyone give a projection for the sort of damages a Strela could inflict on the A-10? Do you reckon it could take it and survive?
Rockets are very sensitive to the ratio of ‘dry mass’ (structure, guidance, sensor, warhead, etc) to ‘wet mass’ (the mass of the propellant.). The higher the fraction is dedicated to propellant, the higher, or more slant range the missile will have. Given the fact that the unit is made to be carried by a person, this puts a real limit on the total mass of the unit. Electronics have made some real progress over the years. So I’d expect a substantial savings in mass that can go to a bigger warhead, or more range. But that said, it’s not substantial. Explosive energy and propellant efficiency has not made quantum strides in the past 30 years. Esp when you consider the propellant has to be stored and moved in close proximity to people in all climates and have a long shelf life with no/minimal danger of self igniting. All those additives to a solid propellant degrade performance because they add extra molecular weight to the combustion products.
My bet is man portable SAM’s have much better guidance, slightly better range, and about the same hitting power as a unit from 30 years ago. Keep in mind the A-10 was made to absorb hits while most aircraft take the approach of trying not to be hit in the first place. And should that fail, they go down. The A-10 takes it one step further.
Nice analysis, although you didn’t really answer the question of damage it could inflict on an A-10.
Good point. How about this. The chances of a hit are better than they were in the past. Modern IR sensors are probably imaging units and can probably seek out the engines. So chances of taking an engine out is better today than the past. But as you know the A-10 has podded engines and mounted far apart to prevent the loss of one, to cause the loss of the other. Since the warhead yield is probably about the same as an SA-7 you can look up the very well documented history of SA-7 hits on the A-10. It does a very good job of surviving hits from small arms and small missiles. As you know the A-10 is a flying experiment in redundancy and the ability of the pilot to fly the airplane back home after major aerodynamic modifications are made mid flight by opposing forces.
It’s an easy reply: it depends on several factors.
From some scratch to the fuselage to shooting it down.
It’s not a game, it’s real world, everything is unpredictable.
Strela is a really old design, first used in combat in 1969 – so it’s 45 years not 30 years old. (Stinger, Igla etc are 30+ years old and far more advanced)
Strela’s efficiency is subject to many limitations.
Even light single-engine jets (such as A-4) are known to have survived Strela hits – though that tends to be the exception. There are even cases of helicopters surviving hits (google “Motor sich akbar” ;)
But first you have to hit them. It is not that easy to engage a target with the Strela – as shown by the attempt by Muslim terrorists to shoot down an airliner in 2002, two Strelas fired and both failed to engage.
A low-flying A-10, despite its slow absolute speed, is difficult to properly track and engage with a Strela.
When it does hit, a Strela will knock out an A-10 engine but it couldn’t tear apart the airframe. Due to the positioning of the engines it won’t take out both at once.
What consequently happens to the A-10 will be some matter of luck and how well its resilient design holds up. Generally its chances are as good as it can get.
Liked that Motor Sich advertisement video. Tried and tested, I guess.
Considering what he has said, a direct hit to a wing would most likely take the A10 down, but I’m not an A10 know-it-all. But seeing battle damage on F-16.net of a 4th FS F-16, it appears that these weapons are designed to explode near the target since the aircraft is so fast moving, only causing shrapnel designed to rip off an aileron or rudder. Considering the A10’s rugged design it could probably take 3-4 missiles before hydraulics and fuel leak the aircraft unflightworthy, or the engine s are too damaged to carry the pilot home. Note the F-16 from the 4th Fs on F-16.net, did take a larger missile explosion from mobile AA, and still made it home with heavy fuselage damage, no gear control, a messed up intake, slight damage to the engine, and a heavily damaged wing. I’m sure everyone has seen the Israeli F-15 that landed with one wing too, so who knows, maybe if that A10 is as heavily armored as I hear, it could take up to nearly 10 of those missiles given the perfect circumstances. 3-4 is just my attempt to be realistic.
It could kill it.
I doubt the small warhead of a Strela would take out an A-10, it’s definitely taken worse.
The warhead is about 5kg / 11 pounds, and is detonated by either direct impact, or on newer models, a laser proximity fuse. The seeker is either optical or IR: the former looks at contrast between the target and the background (ever wonder why US jets are usually painted light grey?) or heat produced by the engines (or leading edges if it’s a go-fast jet.) The A-10s use high bypass turbofans mounted on pylons external to the main structure – the fuselage – of the aircraft. The cooler exhaust of the turbofan presents less of a target to IR seekers, and the pylon mounting provides protection to other systems if a missile strikes an engine. The aircraft has multiple redundant systems as well. So yea, it could and has survived MADPAD missile hits and returned to base. But others have been lost.
Its a small proximity warhead that inflicts damage more with shrapnel than the blast. They typically won’t blow up a plane unless it hits the fuel directly. They are adept at taking out engines and flight controls and other systems shredded by the metal . While the results aren’t usually catastrophic they can disable most planes.
Depends on where it hit. In short though, yes it could take a SA-7 and survive. Statistically, its more likely to survive than it is to be shot down by one SA-7. Missile would have to destroy both engines, or shear off a major piece of the flying surface for it to guarantee a kill. The warhead is only about 1kg depending on variant.
Fly on mighty Warthog!
That’s why it’s called a Warthog–ugly, vicious, and tough to kill.
Nothing like the layered air defense expected with a Sov-bloc attack on western Europe.
However, I think that the Kurds and the U.S. should also work on coordinated carpet bombing. The Kurds hold the ISIS jihadis, then withdraw quickly and let the B52s show the jihadis what Rolling Thunder really is. Then, let the A10s back in to clean up the left overs.
Would be too bad for the town, but, what’s the future under ISIS?
There is no future if you’re dead, there might be one after ISIS are beaten.
You just answered your own question, have a cigar.
I could never support that, the people living under ISIS have gone through hell, and they are the ones we are fighting for.
If this is true then it really highlights the need for the US to invest in a new dedicated CAS platform that can survive in the 21st Century battlefield.
Four misiles shot, no A-10s hit. The Congress is right in wanting to keep the Warthog in the US arsenal for now.
Oh, I thought it said shot down. My bad, although the A-10 still needs a valid replacement that’s not the F-35.
Personally I think that we’re not going to see a replacement for the A-10, and I doubt your going to see any new aircraft (beyond a Helo) that will be designed for the CAS Role specifically. Truthfully the A-10 is a Strike Interdiction Aircraft that was designed to operate at the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Area) and somewhat in advance of our own troops to chew down advancing Russian Armor Columns (the same sole the AH-64 was designed to do, or the Russian Su-25 “frog foot”). It’s CAS Role is a niche role to which it was naturally suited and naturally fell into as the threat of facing Russian Armor columns rolling through the Fulda Gap (Germany) became less and less.
As trends continue, these trends are still showing a need for this type of aircraft to operate in close proximity of ground forces with significant loiter times, but with the performance of the F-15E and a Strike/Interdiction aircraft it seemed. at the time, to prove that the need to get down and dirty with grunts was over estimated until Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan,The Taliban fighters were notoriously hard to dislodge by F-15E and similar strike aircraft who often had to make several passes to get some effect. In similar engagements, The A-10 could stay on target longer, be in closer contact with the enemy, and frankly deliver more precise strikes. It simply had a greater effect.
Yet, in the opinion of many this is just a unique case that A-10 was best suited for and will not be the hallmark of any future conflict. In the eyes of many we already have platforms that perform as expected in roles as they are expected to be in those future conflicts with peer nations. It’s because of this I expect to see the A-10 go away, and do not expect to see a purpose built replacement for use in the Air Force.
Until it’s shown that this type of aircraft is always needed- again.(of which I surmise it will be.) It’s smart people with some keen foresight that’s keeping the A-10 alive and in operation… just for how long remains to be seen.