New Photos Of U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II Refueling During Anti-ISIS Mission Show Interesting Weapons Loadout

Warthogs have started carrying 2,000 lb bombs. You won’t find many photographs of A-10s with GBU-31s.

The photographs in this post were taken from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refueling mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Apr. 19, 2017.

Among that mission’s receivers, there was also a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.

Interestingly, the images of the “Hog” expose some changes in the weapons loadout of the A-10s involved in the fight against Daesh militants. Indeed, the aircraft depicted in the photos carries one GBU-12 Paveway LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs – on station 1 – the outmost one on the left wing), one AGM-65 Maverick missile (on station 3), one LAU-131 rocket launcher (station 2), three GBU-38 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions – station 4, 5 and 9), one GBU-31(V)1/B with MK-84 warhead (station 7) and an AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting pod (station 10).

Station 8 has a GBU-54 laser JDAM whereas the LAU-131 on Station 2 is a LAU-131A/A model used for the new (and very awesome) AGR-20 laser guided rockets.

Among the mix of missiles, guided bombs and rockets, that complement the A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type, the most interesting addition is the GBU-31, a pretty heavy (2,000-lb) general purpose bomb with JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) GPS guidance system intended for mobile and fixed hard (and soft) as well as maritime surface targets.

This A-10’s worn out nose proves the Thunderbolt’s been hit several times by the flying boom during AAR operations (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

Although the GBU-31 is a type of weapon certified for use with the A-10 you won’t find many photographs showing other “Warthogs” carrying a 2,000-lb GBU-31: a sign that the coalition may also rely on Close Air Support platforms to hit targets which require a significant destructive power and blast radius.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 19, 2017. The 340th EARS, part of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, is responsible for delivering fuel for U.S. and coalition forces, enabling a persistent 24/7 presence in the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

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About David Cenciotti 4451 Articles
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 four books.

8 Comments

  1. This is yet another illustration of how poorly designed the F-35 is for combat air support. For CAS, planes need to be on station, ready to act quickly with all the specialized ordinance they might need, much like this A-10. That little stealthy bomb bay in the F-35 can never carry all this ordinance.

    Military aircraft are like tools. Each needs to be designed for a specific task and do it well. The ‘one size fits all’ principle of the F-35 was flawed from Day One.

    • So why exactly wouldn’t the F-35 carry external ordnance? It is clear from the loadout that the A-10 is not expecting any opposition, nor does it have any great loiter time since it is a very draggy loadout. Let’s see, 5 JDAMs, Maverick, 7 laser guided rockets, and a LGB, all for use from medium altitude. Oh, and the gun of course but that is almost an after thought. And no external tanks, so it is highly dependent on the tanker. Outside of the laser rockets, which could be easily integrated on the F-35 and probably will be, nothing the F-35 couldn’t carry more of, further, faster, and with longer endurance. Of course it would probably cost way more doing it. What the picture really shows is how much the whole low and slow argument for CAS has been thoroughly debunked.

    • “This is yet another illustration of how poorly designed the F-35 is for combat air support. ”

      > personal opinion does not constitute fact…
      https://youtu.be/mssD0tw1xgA

      https://youtu.be/odhIhAiSfic

      https://youtu.be/Q9ITH4lDfEs

      The USMC are the ones primarily writing the TTPs for the F-35 for CAS operations.

      https://youtu.be/yENshsSDX4k

      https://youtu.be/tCZmPUQZGvw

      Good comms between JTAC and the pilot is more important then the type of aircraft being flown. Also what that pilot said is absolutely true. The training and experience of the pilot is far more important.

      http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/dynamic-duo-how-the-10-f-35-stealth-fighter-can-work-15914

      The loss of the training and experience of A-10 pilots would hurt the USAF and the ground troops more than losing the A-10.

      “CAS, planes need to be on station, ready to act quickly ”

      > people often criticize the F-35 for its “short range”.

      (If you don’t care about the opinion of experienced pilots just skip to time index 15:45 to get the point I am trying to make)

      https://youtu.be/QTgDTC8_PM0

      The A-10 is great to have when it’s there or close by. However when it is not, you need/want something that can get to you rather quickly. We’ve seen this in Afghanistan. When compared to other fixed-wing aircraft (F-16, F/A-18, F-15E, and B-1B) the A-10 (as well as Harrier) had relatively small AOs. One of the reasons for thus was that A-10s cannot cover distances as quickly as other aircraft mentioned. Where as a fully loaded A-10 struggles to just get to 350kn, a fully loaded F-16C can at least buster to you at 0.8 mach (534kn).

      “with all the specialized ordinance they might need”

      > specialized ORDNANCES are great but as we have seen for some, a 500lbs guided bomb striking at terminal velocity is just as effective at destroying a tank as an AGM-65. There are times and instances when specific type of weapons are needed, but all other cases; a general purpose weapon does just fine.
      Also the USAF has been having fun with the F-35A for wild weasel missions. Before the weapon of choice for such a mission was the HARM because it was specifically designed for that task. Now they’re finding out with the F-35As stealth and sensors, a general purpose SDB or JDAM is far more effective.

      “That little stealthy bomb bay in the F-35 can never carry all this ordinance.”

      > That’s because the F-35’s internal bomb bay was never meant to. The internal weapons bay of the F-35 was designed to accomodate two 2000lbs bomb load and 2 AIM-120 AMRAAMS (future Meteor missile being looked at). However the F-35 can potentially haul more weapons (in terms of payload weight and fuel) than an A-10 ever could.

      http://i.imgur.com/zhGRhG5.jpg

      “Military aircraft are like tools. Each needs to be designed for a specific task and do it well.”

      > However just like tools sometimes the user will have more than one intended purpose and can improvise. I don’t always need a hammer to drive in a nail. I can still use a flat head screw driver if I don’t have my Phillips head.

      “The ‘one size fits all’ principle of the F-35 was flawed from Day One.”

      > oh really? Explain to me these aircraft then? F-16, F/A-18, Rafale, Gripen. Also look at other aircraft originally designed for a single purpose now they have more multi-mission capability. Aircraft like Typhoon, F-22 Raptor, Flankers in the form of the Su-30M, and the F-15 in the form of the Strike Eagle

  2. Someone in the area is operating what looks to be a fairly modern and well irrigated agriculture sector. Turkey?

  3. The number #1 CAS aircraft in the world doing what it does best, protecting boots on the ground and killing the enemy.

  4. As a quick note, the F-35 does have more-or-less the same targeting pod-like capability (the integrated EOTS is broadly comparable with Sniper ATP, with slightly better FOV and resolution), though it doesn’t have ROVER in 3F, though ROVER is planned for Block 4. EOTS upgrades have also been a big push, with visible light capability being a major focus of attention (though a tricky one, because of the red-tinted LO coating on the EOTS).

    Air to ground communications systems are a bit less clear, though. The F-35’s CNI suite has SINGCARS capability, though how many simultaneous frequencies it can operate is less clear, with NG claiming 10, though there may be additional limitations on the somewhat-specialized low frequency SINGCARS bands.

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