U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft sale to Ukraine, but Russia is not Iraq

Unlike aircraft such as heavy F-15 fighter-bombers or mass-produced light F-16s, attack aircraft are highly specialized machines. Their purpose is to strike at the front line of enemy troops and provide direct air support to ground units.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Ukraine may receive American A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, better known as Warthog (“Warthog”), if the United States refuses to operate them, says U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Candell, who did not rule out this option of helping Kyiv.

Speaking at the Aspen Institute, he was asked a series of questions regarding weapons that the United States may abandon soon. Candell said the Air Force could stop using it because the A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane is already old and does not match contemporary standards. To which he was asked the following question regarding the likely dispatch of decommissioned attack aircraft to Ukraine. 

Candell suggested that such a deal could take place, but it is unlikely since other weapons are available for delivery to Kyiv, including “older U.S. systems.” However, he did not rule out that the United States will consider this issue if it writes off attack aircraft in the future. In general, he noted, everything will depend on the interests of Ukraine and the capabilities of the United States.

He said that the U.S. would be open to discussing their requirements and how we can meet them.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian press reports that the United States is exploring options for supplying Western-made fighter jets to Kyiv, citing a statement by the head of the U.S. Air Force headquarters, General Charles Brown. It includes the American F-15 and F-16, the Swedish Gripen, the French Dassault Rafale and the European Eurofighter Typhoon. Nonetheless, it should be stressed that no final decision has been made on this matter as of yet; the Pentagon is “just studying” the feasibility of transferring aircraft and training Ukrainian pilots.

Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II 

The Fairchild Republic created the single-seat, twin-turbo, straight-wing, subsonic assault A-10 Thunderbolt for the American Air Force. It has been in service since 1976 and is named after the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a World War II fighter-bomber known as the “Warthog” or “Hog” that was efficient at hitting ground targets.

Unlike aircraft such as heavy F-15 fighter-bombers or mass-produced light F-16s, attack aircraft are highly specialized machines. Their purpose is to strike at the front line of enemy troops and provide direct air support to ground units.

A-10 Thunderbolt with payload
A-10 Thunderbolt with payload. Image: USAF

For this, attack aircraft are designed to be as durable as possible, armoured and armed “to the teeth”, relegating all other parameters to the background. That is exactly what the A-10 is, which has become the apogee of such a functional approach from the designers from the Fairchild Republic.

Firstly, virtually the entire aircraft is assembled around its main weapon, the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger automatic cannon, which weighs 1.8 tons. It has a rate of fire of 3,900 rounds per minute and fires 65 rounds per second, which can penetrate tanks up to 1.2 km away. This gun emits the “signature” sound Brrrrrrttt.

But this is not the only weapon it carries. It can carry up to 7.2 tons of weapons on its 11 hardpoints. Among them are AGM-65 Maverick high-precision anti-tank missiles with a launch range of up to 28 km, rockets, and high-precision and conventional bombs.

The usage statistics are the real description of a weapon. During Operation Desert Storm, 144 of these A-10 Thunderbolts destroyed 900 tanks, 1,200 artillery systems, and 2,000 other vehicles with a loss of just six aircraft. These data are approximate because it was corny and not up to an exact count. A-10 Thunderbolts were thrown into battle almost without interruption due to their ultra-high flight readiness, which turned out to be 20-40% higher than that of other aircraft. The A-10s demonstrated the highest airworthiness of over 90%, well beyond the capabilities of other U.S. aircraft at the time.

A-10 Thunderbolt II has several modifications:

  • A-10A is a single-seat air support aircraft for ground forces.
  • OA-10A is a single-seat air control aircraft.
  • Night/Adverse Weather A-10 (YA-10B) is a two-seat attack aircraft that can operate at night and in any weather. Only one aircraft was designed; this modification was not mass-produced.
  • A-10C is an updated model of A-10 and is equipped with modern digital equipment. The attack aircraft can carry high-precision weapons with a laser guidance system.

A-10 attack aircraft survivability

When talking about the survivability of the A-10 attack aircraft, it must be understood that it means the ability of the plane to return to base on one engine, with half the tail, one elevator or even half the wing. And this is not luck; it is simply built into the design of the aircraft.

Further, all control systems are backed up three times – two hydraulic and one manual on “rods”. The cabin and part of the systems are protected from 23-mm guns. The unusual location of the engines is also the result of their maximum protection from fire from the ground. Chassis, somehow unsightly sticking out – a pragmatic solution in case you have to sit down “on the belly”.

Finally, the A-10 is the easiest aircraft to maintain, which does not have huge requirements for the quality of the runways. And, of course, in these conditions, there is no room left for exquisite elegance and smooth lines. And if all other American aircraft are various “eagles” and “hawks”, then the A-10 is called the “warthog”.

Note that, despite being near the end of life, the A-10 will serve at least until 2040. To do this, the attack aircraft regularly undergo modernization and replacement of airframe elements. A few years ago, all attack aircraft received new wings.

A-10 Thunderbold Supply to Ukraine

The possible supply of the American A-10 attack aircraft to Ukraine was first heard in early March from the statements by former White House functionaries.

At that time, the Russian Army was rushing through Ukraine in huge columns, the length of which reached 60 km. For the A-10 attack aircraft, this was a fantastic target because the aircraft was created for the destruction of Soviet tank columns in the early 70s.

But, after the Lend-Lease flywheel for Ukraine begins its work in the near future, the deliveries of these aircraft become somewhat more realistic, but, of course, the question of expediency remains.

Also, do not forget that the A-10 was never exported, and the total number of these attack aircraft in the United States is about 283 units, which is not so much for the entire U.S. forces.

How will A-10 Thunderbold fare against Russia?

For the successful use of the A-10 in Ukraine, as in the case of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, it is first necessary to achieve an advantage in the air. And to do this without a full-fledged air defense and Western fighters is critically difficult. 

A1- Thunderbolt was built when Russia did not have modern air defenses like the S-400 and will be mince meat for the Pantsir air defense systems.


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