Four A-10 tankbusters have landed on a highway (in Estonia): it’s the first time since 1984!

Jun 20 2016 - 3 Comments

A-10 Thunderbolt II practiced Cold War-style landing on a highway during Ex. Saber Strike 2016.

For the first time in 32 years, four A-10 Warthogs, belonging to the 127th Wing, Michigan National Guard, performed highway landing practice: it occurred in Estonia, as part of Saber Strike 16 exercise, on Jun. 20.

Saber Strike is a long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise designed to improve joint interoperability through a range of missions that prepare the 14 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations.

A-10 land Estonia 2

After WWII and through the Cold War some countries developed the concept of highway strips to get rid off one of the basic drawbacks of combat plane – runway dependency – in case of nuclear war. Airstrips and their coordinates were not secret, neither in the West nor in Soviet Russia. Obviously they would be destroyed in the beginning of any conflict.

Designed in the 1920s and 30s, the German Autobahn had sections that could be used as runways by tactical jets as well as military cargo planes: for instance, the A-29 between Ahlhorn and Groβenkneten is one example of highway where, during the Cold War, NATO planners built a road to accommodate NATO aircraft if a war with the Soviets broke out.

In that period, even Warsaw Pact countries had several highway strips: Poland had as many as 21 DOLs, Drogowy Odcinek Lotniskowy, which is a Polish name for highway strips: improvised runways made of hightway section with wider ends to provide parking spaces for the planes.

One of these is still located near Stettin (Szczecin) on the Voyvodeship Road 142 near the S3 State Road on the German-planned highway towards Kaliningrad. This highway was built in the 1930s by Adolf Hitler and was a part of the Reichsautobahn network which emerged before the WWII; the remaining ones are mostly out of use.

Highway landings were part of the standard training conducted mainly in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe during the Cold War. With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, highway take-offs and landings became less frequent.

However, with the renewed Russian threat, training for operations from dispersed places, including public roads, has gradually resumed and involves Finnish and Swedish planes and after more than 30 years, even the U.S. A-10 tankbusters, frequent visitors of Russia’s backyard lately.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You are correct this type did not land on Estonian/Soviet highways during the Cold War for obvious reasons. Su-25, Su-24, Su-22, Mig’s etc yes definitely. The last time the A-10 did road work was probably in West Germany in preparation of for WWIII during the 80’s. Securing these road lengths is/was going to be difficult. The refugee stream will be intense, and any high way clear enough to be used as an airstrip will find itself under attack by GRU, and intense air and eventually artillery. If you’re serious about using highways as airstrips you need to also bring in divisional level anti-air, and then you have to defend that. The best that NATO could do in the opening stages of a Baltic push by the Russians would be to sanitize Baltic air space as best as it can. In other words, operate no NATO aircraft except drones over the space and shoot at ANYTHING that shows up on radar or IR. Take away the difficulty of sorting out NATO from Russian aircraft and make the job of killing Russian aircraft easier. I think these highway operations make much more sense in Poland as a forward base to operate from once the Russian air force is slimmed down to manageable levels.

  • TheEvilBlight
  • brownies

    aviationist is boring.. It’s all just about planes of US and sometimes Europe. Very western centric