Congress has finally authorized the US Air Force’s intention to begin the process of retiring its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolts after years of dispute. Congress has hesitated to sanction the retirement of these deadly ground-attack aircraft because they are the only American military aircraft equipped for close air support.

The Thunderbolts were a critical asset in United States counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly two decades. However, since the United States no longer has large ground force units deployed in those theaters, the need for extended use of Thunderbolts is less and less. Regardless of the A-10’s retirement date, the aircraft will always retain its legendary status.

Introducing the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog.”

Designed as a World War II fighter bomber, the Warthog has been nicknamed the “titanium bathtub.”

The nickname comes from the reinforced titanium armor plating surrounding the cockpit to protect the crew from ground fire when strafing enemy targets. This twin turbofan subsonic aircraft was developed by Fairchild Republic for the US Air Force in the early 1970s and entered service in 1976.

During the Vietnam War, the United States lost more than 350 of its Korean-era Douglas A-1 Skyraiders. The need to replace these ground attack aircraft led to the creation of the Thunderbolt.

Why American Officers Love the “Warthog”

The US Air Force chose the A-10 for its lethality, extremely low-altitude maneuverability, survivability, and mission-capable maintainability.

The aircraft can remain close to combat zones for long periods at low speeds and altitudes, making it an asset for the protection of ground troops.

The A-10’s “titanium bathtub” protection protects crew members from direct hits from high-explosive shells and armor-piercing weaponry at extremely close ranges. Over the years, the A-10 has undergone major refurbishments, including the addition of better fire control systems, electronic countermeasures, and cockpit displays.

The entire A-10 fleet has been modified with the Precision Engagement system and carries the designation A-10C.

Armed to the teeth, the A-10 has an impressive rate of fire. The hydraulically powered GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun can fire 4,200 rounds per minute under the nose of the fuselage.

As Military.com explains, “The Avenger fires a mix of 30mm PGU-13/B High Explosive Incendiary (HEI) rounds with electrical prime and PGU-14/B Armor-Piercing Incendiary (API) rounds.

While the HEI rounds allow the Avenger to destroy light vehicles, the API rounds provide the weapon’s true power, each of which packs over half a pound of superdense depleted uranium. 

One hundred AN/GAU-8 rounds, each containing 65 pounds of depleted uranium, will be launched at 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) in a two-second burst, with eighty percent landing within twenty feet of the target.

Even Ukraine wants a fleet of A-10s to help its defensive efforts.

Despite the A-10’s advanced age, Congress has hesitated to retire the fleet due to the plane’s stellar performance in combat. The Thunderbolts have served honorably in conflicts as varied as the Gulf War and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, the powerful history of the A-10 has put this airframe at the top of Ukraine’s wish list – at least for a while – to fend off the current Russian invasion.