The A-10 Warthog

An A-10 “Warthog” Thunderbolt II performs live fire exercises at the Grayling Air Gunnery Range in northern Michigan (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph R. Morgan)

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II — famously called the “Warthog” or “Hog” — is one of the most adored aircraft in the U.S. military’s arsenal, even though there are concerns about it being out of fashion for current needs. It’s a single-seat, twin-turbofan, straight-wing, subsonic attack aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces.

A-10 has been in service since 1976 when the U.S. Air Force commissioned it to provide close air support (CAS) to friendly ground troops by bombarding tanks and other armored vehicles of enemy forces. As they say, the A-10 isn’t an aircraft with a gun but an airframe built around a gun.

An A-10 Warthog prepares to take off from Al Asad Air Base to provide close air support to ground troops in Iraq.

The A-10’s most fearsome feature is the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun mounted on the nose, often stylized with shark teeth war paint to give it an intimidating look. The GAU-8 gun is designed to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium and high explosive incendiary rounds from a seven-barrel cannon. The magazine can hold 1,174 rounds at full load, but 1,150 is the usual load-out. Its practical range of fire is around 1,800 rounds per minute, implying it can deplete its entire load-out in nearly 40 seconds.

The rapid rate of fire of the GAU-8 makes it emit the brrrrrrrttt! sound that the A-10 is famous for. Here’s a cool fact; the speed of sound is 340m/s while the muzzle velocity of the GAU-8 Avenger tops 1,000m/s. Hence, you often hear the buzzing sounds of the cannon after already seeing the bullet impact. That’s why they say “If you hear the buzzing sound of the A-10’s cannon, then be sure the bullet wasn’t meant for you.”

The A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger is displayed next to a Volkswagen Beetle for size comparison. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The A-10’s 30mm bullet is displayed next to a beer bottle for size comparison.

The A-10 can also equip plenty of bombs to fire at the enemy. It can carry up to 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations. It’s common to see it outfitted with 500-pound Mk-82 and 2,000-pound Mk-84 general-purpose bombs or the AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder guided bombs.

An A-10 Warthog takes off with a heavy bomb load-out to provide close air support to ground troops in Iraq.

Though the A-10 is a beloved aircraft among military enthusiasts and a staple of morale for ground troops, there are valid concerns that it won’t prove very worthy in a near-peer fight against an enemy with real airpower. Because of its relatively low airspeeds and operational altitude, the plane is vulnerable to air defense systems, including man-portable ones, by capable adversaries. The US Air Force is desperate to retire many of its A-10s but the government has prevented it from doing so.

There are nearly 400 A-10 aircraft in service with the US Air Force.

Fast Facts about the A-10

Manufacturer: The original A-10 was manufactured by Fairchild Aircraft, a now-defunct company. Currently, Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the A-10 and Boeing also provides upgrades for the aircraft.

Top Speed: 706 km/hour

Cruise Speed: 560 km/hour

Ceiling: 45,000 feet

Rate of climb: 6,000ft/min

Range: 2,580 miles

Unit cost: $9.8 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars)