These Stunning Images of the U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts in Kuwait say a lot about their missions against ISIS

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.

Inherent Resolve

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.

Inherent Resolve

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).

Inherent Resolve

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.

Inherent Resolve

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.

Inherent Resolve

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.

Inherent Resolve

Inherent Resolve

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. First off pics like this shouldnt be in the public domain. Second, the LAU-131 is loaded with illumination Rockets. Sta 1 is not normally loaded (unless ECM pods are required) and Sta 11 is likely loaded with what is called a DRA as a contingency to allow for AIM-9s to quickly be uploaded. And yes, the Jets are very black due to excessive use of the GAU-8. Their gunshop will be very unhappy when they get home (inspection schedule is gone). It’s not just the GAU-8 that is being used, one of those pics shows Sta 4,5,7,8 all expended prior to being reloaded.

  2. And to think that the ‘tards in charge want to do away with these aircraft…The A-10 was originally designed to kill Soviet tanks in a war in Europe during the height of the Cold War, but even today it still fulfills a very important role and that is of supporting our ground troops. The A-10 is the best aircraft in the world at getting “down and dirty” when CAS (Close Air Support) is needed.

    The pilot is protected by a titanium “bathtub” around the cockpit. Impervious to enemy fire. The plane can take a ton of punishment and can still get it’s pilot safely back home even after having half of a wing shot off and even with the fuselage riddled with bullet holes.

    Will an F-35 be able to do this? HELL NO. Will the F-35 be able to carry 1000+ rounds of 30mm ammo? HELL NO. Does the F-35 even HAVE a functioning gun right now? HELL NO. F-35 is going to be an epic piece of shit. Colossal waste of money, (which is what happens when you have an aircraft that is designed by a committee,) and furthermore, the F-35 is supposed to be able to do everything, but in reality it will wind up being good at nothing and will do nothing well except for perhaps getting good American Airmen, Marines, and Naval Aviators KILLED…and this is what the Air Force wants to replace the A-10 with? Good God!

  3. I have been reading the mail here, and up and down the list, there is a lot good stuff pro and con on the A10. Not being an warfare expert, and a novice on the subject of CAS attack roles, I have only one comment. This mid-east conflict could be the A10’s last fight, a fight where it does not face any real ground or air threats; let’s drop the reins, and let the damn thing kill as many of the “bad guys” as it can. I would bet a king’s ransom, that a lot of the F15, F16, F18, and the list would go on and on….wish they where A10 “drivers right now.

  4. Burnt. Your calculations are off. You can´t compare a known factor like the price of A10 operations yearly with an unknown factor, and that is F35 operations.
    There is to this date only about 120 F35´s delivered, and those projected 2400 airframes will never be reached because the F35 partner nations have already cut down substantially on their purchases. So to say the F35 is cheaper is not correct at all.

    It is also not correct that the A10 can´t engage and attack anti air. The A10 among it´s substantial arsenal carries the AGM 65 Maverick missile, which can also be used to target anti air defence systems, as well as maneuvering targets.

    Ofcourse it can take on opposing fighters, will it be succesfull? maybe, maybe not, but it carries air to air missiles, and just as well as the F22 has been “shot down” during exercise by lesser equipped and capable fighters, in the hands of a well trained pilot, it would be able to engage and shoot down an opposing fighter.

    And no, the 20mm M61 which is carried by a lot of western fighters is not as potent as the GAU 8. It´s all a matter of ballistics, and weight.
    The 30mm bullet travels almost as fast as the 20mm bullet, but has superior ballistics, and on top of that is more accurate. The kinetic energy is ofcourse substantially higher due to the higher weight of the bullet.
    Even a modern tank would be in trouble if hit the correct place, because no, a tanks armour isn´t equal all around.

  5. Couple of points:
    Stats on the program cost is wrong, it is NOT 6 billion a year, it is much closer to 2, all depends on how people figure in the different mods and if they count against the program.

    A-10 can carry more “anti-armor” guided weapons, and a wider verity of them than the F-16/18/35 (F-15E IS better). Including the the newest guided cluster weapons (CBU-97/105), GBU’s, and Mavericks. A-10 can also dust off the old LAU-88’s and carry up to 4 AGM’s (in fact the default inventory for Sta 3+9 in Master Arm Training mode is LAU-88s), so it is not all about the gun.

    The gun is only for “soft targets”. This is kind of true, but debatable. However to say that a 20mm round (of any type, say HEI) has the same effect on a target area as a 30mm GAU-8 round is very wrong. A-10 30mm HEI can level a building, and much more effective at saturating an area (so many more rounds). The rounds are much larger, meaning more explosives with in, and more shrapnel around (they do have shrapnel in them!), all making for a much more deadly anti-infantry weapon.

    Strike fighter guns are set for Air to Air combat, they are not situated in the aircraft to make them CAS friendly. The A-10’s GAU-8 so famously sits dead center in the nose, with the firing position of the gun exactly in the center of the jet. Also the pilot can chose to disable a special stability system when firing, which will make the bullet stream less hose like and more spray like, again very useful for destroying spread out infantry. Also the 30mm can be employed to good effect from much further away than M61 series 20mm’s.

    Also the A-10 shouldn’t be concerned with enemy fighters at all, cause that means the whole system has failed. Think about it. The jet is supporting friendly troops, if enemy fighters can get to the A-10, that means they can get to our troops and something has gone horribly wrong.

    • “to say that a 20mm round (of any type, say HEI) has the same effect on a target area as a 30mm GAU-8 round is very wrong.”

      We should also compare the effect of 182 20mm rounds to 1000+ 30mm rounds, that makes quite a difference as well.

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